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August 26, 2005

Comments

"they're capable of understanding those reasons and acting on them, as my calculator is not."

Not yet.


'Explaining my behavior in terms of my reasons does not imply thinking that I act because "circumstances push my buttons".'

Here I think you lost me.

And here--

If you didn't know, and this isn't due to e.g. stupidity but to non-culpable ignorance, you are of course not to blame
--is where I really wanted to know more.

Jackmormon: what do you want to know? -- Suppose I am the bit player in the Manchurian candidate who turns up the Queen of Diamonds in the bar, which leads to what's-his-name's jumping into the lake. Suppose I didn't know that he had been brainwashed, or that the Queen of Diamonds had this sort of effect; I was just innocently playing cards. My flipping over the Queen of Diamonds was one of the causes of what's-his-name jumping into the lake, but I'm not morally responsible for his doing so. I just honestly had no idea.

Different sort of ignorance: suppose I shoot into a house for fun, just to see the windows shatter, and I kill someone. Suppose further that I didn't know anyone was home, but I didn't bother to check either. Here I did something I should not have done: shot at a house without checking to see whether anyone was home. This is not normal ignorance; it's culpable ignorance, since it is due to my failure to do what I should have done to inform myself.

My basic view of responsibility is: we're responsible for what reflects the kind(s) of people we are. When you do something that turns out badly due to something you were just plain (non-culpably) ignorant of, it doesn't reflect much about you, other than your not being omniscient, which is hardly your fault. When you're culpably ignorant, it reflects your negligence, self-deception, or whatever, and thus can fairly be charged to your account. As it were.

rilkefan: all I meant to say there was: when I explain why you did X by saying: you had these reasons, I need not assume anything about whether it was determined that you have them, or that you take reason X to be stronger than reason Y, or whatever. Just that these were, in fact, your reasons, and that they do, in fact, explain your actions.

I'd just add one thing.

How one should respond to a person's subjective reasons for his actions varies, based on how good or bad those subjective reasons are at ACTUALLY explaining or justifying or making more understandable his actions. If I kill you because of some insane delusion, knowing the exact content of my insane delusional belief about why killing you is justified is not so useful in determining what the response to it is. Whether I believe you killed my Grandma, are the antichrist, are trying to kill me, shot JFK--the correct response is to incapacitate me from harming others and get me on some sort of antipsychotic medication that will restore my sanity. In the short run, "she's having psychotic delusions" is all the explanation you need; standing around speculating about the exact content of those delusions, and whether you said or did something to me that contributed to them in some way, is a useless distraction from incapacitating me and preventing me from harming someone else.

A lot of people--myself included--think that Bin Laden's belief that he has the "right" to kill 4 million Americans including 1 million children, is analagous to this. It's an insane, evil belief. He is not a paranoid schizophrenic, but he is equally beyond reason, and it is equally useless to try to deal with his subjective justifications rather just incapacitating him. Same goes for Zarqawi, same goes for a number of other terrorists. I don't think it's immoral to try to analyze how they convince themselves this crap is justified, as long as this is in addition to rather than instead of efforts to incapacitate them, but I don't think it has much practical use.

But Bin Laden is not the only person whose actions we could try to explain. There are other people involved whose choices matter, whose choices are much more understandable than bin Laden's, and who are not beyond our ability to reach. I am less interested in the explanation for Bin Laden and Zarqawi and other terrorist leaders than I am in:
--the process by which they brainwash young men--or women, or boys or girls--into believing that God wants them to kill themselves and murder as many civilians as possible.
--the motivations of the insurgents in Iraq who do
--how terrorists have convinced majorities or pluralities of so many Arab or Muslim countries that their actions are at least partly justified.
--why people in the relevant faiths, countries or communities who know that terrorism is wrong have not always worked as actively against it as we might wish. (Do they think they are powerless to stop it? Are they right? Are they afraid of retaliation from insurgents in Iraq? Are we afraid we will torture their neighbor if we call in a tip on him?)
--why have those who have worked actively against it not had more success in convincing others?

I don't care so much what motivates Bin Laden or Zarqawi and don't think it's especially useful in knowing how to defeat them. But these other questions, I think are essential.

Just for the record, hilzoy, it was in fact Laurence Harvey his own self who turned over the card. I think you mean to specify the character -- I'm pretty sure it was the bartender -- who first says "Why don't you pass the time with a game of solitaire?" and then "Take a taxi up to Central Park and jump in the lake."

Carry on.

that second thing on my list should be "the motivations of insurgents in Iraq (if any) who attack military targets instead of murdering other Iraqi civilians."

Saiyuk: yup, you're right. Thanks.

Katherine: yes, I think understanding the fine details of the beliefs of the insane is something we don't really have to do, unless we are their therapists or something. But understanding what might make people who are sane make the decision to fight against us is key, and does not in any way involve excusing anything.

Katherine: "If I kill you because of some insane delusion... "she's having psychotic delusions" is all the explanation you need;"

Speaking only for myself, if you kill me, I'll be requiring nothing further thank you very much. Explanantion or otherwise.

Thank you for clarifying what I've always thought, and for why I thought Brad's response somewhat confused, although I probably didn't have the tools (or certainly sufficient interest) to say why.

However, if it can be arranged, I would be very happy to give you this sort of control over Newt Gingrich, were it not for the fact that it's possible that this might bring you unhappiness. But if not, I'm prepared to start setting The Apparatus in place. Just give the word.

(And Gingrich is actually only one or two points of separation away from me, thanks to his science-fiction writing and interest; I do know people who can reach him, bwahahaha. However, I might not be able to gain their acquiesence if I treated them as capable of self-governance in this matter. So maybe we shouldn't.)

the motivations of insurgents in Iraq (if any) who attack military targets instead of murdering other Iraqi civilians

Ah, Katherine hit on something I had been thinking about. Let's take that exact example, an Iraqi plants an IED in a rural area away from civilians and detonates it when a U.S. patrol passes by, killing U.S. soldiers. I wonder, is his (or her) action not justified?

I'm having a real hard time convincing myself these days that it was not. I hope that such things would not happen, and mourn for the families of the U.S. soldiers, and praise the soldiers for doing their duty, but are the Iraqi's actions really not justified? And if they're not, why? Help please.

Hilzoy--But the less rational or justifiable or understandable their response is, and the less their subjective beliefs about their reasons coincide with their actual reasons, the less chance we have of changing their behavior by changing ours.

"when I explain why you did X by saying: you had these reasons, I need not assume anything about [etc]"

I think exactly that is Brad's point. He's saying that our thinking is that if we do A they'll do B; we then analyze A vs B on a practical and moral framework, which we don't do for B - we do take a reductionist approach to A and A->B but a statistical approach to B.

it's culpable ignorance, since it is due to my failure to do what I should have done to inform myself.

Between your two examples, which are, thank you, very helpful for drawing bright lines of distinction, isn't there a lot of gray area of people lacking the imagination to guess what they don't know and should, or people lacking the reasoning skills to inform themselves?

I'm not coming up with wonderful examples off the top of my head here. Environmentalists often assign culpable responsibility to earlier scientists who created products they honestly thought to be godsends (a lot of plastics come to mind) but couldn't quite put their heads around the consequences that are quite clear to us today. People of my generation (I'm under 30) spend a lot of time thinking But couldn't you guys have guessed that lead-based paint might've been a bad idea?! But then we might be being unfair about what was possible to know in that earlier time.

(Another reason I might have been so intrigued by this opposition of "stupidity" and "inculpable ignorance" is that my friends and I spent about an hour arguing over what Kant meant by "stupidity" in the 1st Critique, A133-36. But this is probably totally tangential.)

Anyway, thanks for the earlier clarification of your terms. Gotta run--hott d4te!

OT: the Shias and Kurds are (according to the NYT) telling the Sunnis where to put their protests and taking the federalist draft to the people. I can almost hear the knives being whetted from here.

actually, "the less rational or justifiable or understandable their response is....the less chance we have of changing their behavior" is not strictly true. You could have a situation where it is empirically provable that a certain stimulus will generate a certain response, even if that response is totally irrational, immoral, inexplicable and whatever else. On the other hand, if the stated reason is not the real reason, if he's deceiving you or himself, than changing your behavior will not be useful. And the less the stated reason would justify, explain, or make understandable the reaction, the more likely we are to think it's not actually the real reason.

Jackmormon, I too am a d4 kind of guy, and I like the Indian defenses.

That was a chess "joke", by the way.

rilkefan: "I think exactly that is Brad's point. He's saying that our thinking is that if we do A they'll do B; we then analyze A vs B on a practical and moral framework, which we don't do for B - we do take a reductionist approach to A and A->B but a statistical approach to B."

I basically meant: when I ask myself 'should I do A?', and I believe that if I do A then you'll do B, I don't have to take any view on whether my doing A is just pushing your buttons in such a way as to elicit B from you in a 'zombie-like' way, or doing something that will make you think, as freely as you please: gee, hilzoy did A: that makes B seem like a better idea than it would have otherwise. (E.g., 'gee, hilzoy just replied to my comment; I guess I'll post a devastating rebuttal to her latest, which I wouldn't have done if she hadn't said anything'.)

I mean: freedom doesn't mean that what you do can't be predictable, at least broadly. (And 'broadly' is all that Brad's point requires.) I can predict that you will not kill anyone in the next hour, and even though I've never actually met you, I'd be willing to bet actual money on that. Why? I don't think you're the murdering type. I might also predict that if I offered you a million dollars if you would wear a blue shirt tomorrow, you'd probably do it (if you believed me, thought I didn't have evil ulterior motives, etc.) Does this sort of predictability make you less free? Not that I can see. All it means is that you're responsive to reasons, which we already knew, and which does not imply anything about freedom, one way or the other. (At least not without further argument.) It certainly doesn't make you a zombie.

Don't think Brad is arguing for the zombie view here, just (correctly) taking the effectively-zombie view. It doesn't matter whether they have freedom - we're considering ourselves as the causal agents because we're considering the effect of our causes. I mean, I think the idea of free will is really dumb, but that's not really relevant for the discussion as far as I can tell.

And Jackmormon: yes, there are lots of gray areas. One that particularly interests me is: to what extent are people responsible for a lack of what, for lack of a better term, I'll call moral imagination?

Example: Gandhi. Faced with the political reality of British rule in India (and S. Africa too, but let's not get complicated), he came up with a whole new form of political action and engagement, which was at once realistic and idealistic. It is possible to do this. But not everyone does.

Example 2: I was once in Turkey, which was at the time tremendously unjust. (Torture. Razing of villages. Killing. You name it. It was a horrible government.) The only political group that had not said, in essence, 'this torture stuff has gone a bit too far', or 'a little appalling repression would be fine, but surely we need to tone things down a bit', but had actually said, unequivocally, 'this is wrong', was the PKK: a completely horrible Stalinist group that had (among other things) carried out political assassinations and massacres of villages.

I knew people who were attracted to this group because of its opposition to the appalling injustice, and who made excuses for its horrible conduct. The reason, I think, was just that it was the only alternative on offer that had completely opposed torture. (The same reason, I imagine, that might have drawn blacks to the CPUSA in the 30s and 40s.)

But what the example of Gandhi is supposed to show is: it is not necessary to accept the political alternatives on offer. You can think up new ones. Especially in the case I'm thinking of, there were really good reasons to do this: the appalling conduct of the PKK, for starters, and its idiotic and morally abhorrent Stalinist views, but also the fact that that group's preferred tactics were, imho, totally and completely doomed. (The establishment of an independent Kurdish state, by force, against the Turkish army with American backing, on land with actual resources like water, strategically located on the borders (then) of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, and the USSR? Please.)

Here, it's not that the sympathizers I talked to didn't know that e.g. massacring villagers was wrong. It's that they saw no other option, and as a result they wanted desperately for this one to be OK. I think they are responsible for not seeing a better option, but what they're responsible for is: not doing something that is incredibly hard, namely constructing a whole new way of responding to their situation, or at least finding some way to oppose torture and injustice without sanctioning the killing of innocent people. (Harder than one might think, if you want to oppose torture and injustice not as a lone voice crying in the wilderness, but in some organized way. Or so I believe.)

I also think that in considering their responsibility, it would be wrong not to give them credit for being unwilling just to accept injustice, to keep their heads down and look out for themselves. And also that even the desperate desire that the one group they could possibly think was OK actually be OK is more complicated than it might look: it was both a very real desperation, which I completely understood and even sympathized with, and also a source of willed blindness to genuine evil.

"Jackmormon, I too am a d4 kind of guy, and I like the Indian defenses."

1.d4; 1...d5 or 1...e5;2.Nf3 f5!?;hedgehog against 1.c4; against 1.f3 or 1.b4 pass

I have had a hard day; I will reread this tomorrow.

For what a layman’s opinion is worth, hilzoy, you seem to be very good at the day-job. But I may be biased by the fact that I entirely agree with you.

Ugh: ...an Iraqi plants an IED in a rural area away from civilians and detonates it when a U.S. patrol passes by, killing U.S. soldiers. I wonder, is his (or her) action not justified?

As a citizen of a neutral country I can’t be accused of treason if I take an impartial view of this. Is the Iraqi fighting a just war? That depends. If he (in Iraq it’s a man’s job) is a Baathist trying to restore a tyranny then the answer is no. Once upon a time there were idealistic Baathists, but nowadays it is a gangsters’ movement. And even if we presume him to be a decent Baathist, his is a hopeless cause and therefore unjust. If he is a Salafist seeking to create a theocracy he is presumably acting in accordance with his conscience, doing the will of God. I cannot fault him for fighting but I can say that his beliefs are repugnant to me and I hope he is defeated.

To determine whether his action is justified you first need to consider his version of the facts.

Ugh: Let's take that exact example, an Iraqi plants an IED in a rural area away from civilians and detonates it when a U.S. patrol passes by, killing U.S. soldiers. I wonder, is his (or her) action not justified?

It is certainly lawful, though that's not the question: the Geneva Conventions allow for people taking up arms to defend their own country against an invading army. But an action can be lawful and not justifiable (in the US, it's lawful to execute a minor, but hardly justifiable).

Kevin says: If he (in Iraq it’s a man’s job) is a Baathist trying to restore a tyranny then the answer is no.

But what if she were a woman, and attacking the US patrol because they represent an army which is attempting to install a tyranny? (Not that I disagree with Kevin's assessment that this Iraqi is more likely to be a man...)

Going back to Cindy Sheehan, who is still waiting on Bush to break his vacation to explain to her what noble cause he thinks US soldiers are dying in Iraq for, isn't this the problem? US soldiers are being killed in Iraq to install a tyranny which will systematically remove civil rights from 50% of the Iraqi population - effectively, they are fighting so that Iraq can have a Taliban-style government. While individually Americans and Iraqis may have justifications for why they are fighting ("My country was invaded" - "I agreed to go where my government sent me, and I stand by my agreement"), en masse, none of them do: neither Americans nor Iraqis.

I don't care so much what motivates Bin Laden or Zarqawi and don't think it's especially useful in knowing how to defeat them.

I totally disagree with this. Knowing what motivates them is a big part of knowing what we have to do to beat them, and to defend ourselves. Eg: ask yourself whether Kansas City is at risk of an AQ-planned attack. Assume it very much less well defended than NYC or London.

CharleyCarp--

I think Katherine would agree with you that any aspect of their motivation that is pertinent to forward-looking preventive action is a matter of interest.

I took her to mean that certain fine details of their individual pathologies are not of interest. E.g., is Bin Laden a wack job because his mother was a disfavored wife being Yemeni? Or is it because he was traumatized by an early watching of a Bugs Bunny episode?

At some point, who cares? The guy is seriously sick; there's presumably *some* explanation* for the sickness; there is clearly *no* justification for the sequelae.

Now--if the full diagnosis could help us predict his next actions, then, yeah, I agree with you, and I think Katherine would too. (E.g., when he was a kid he went to a steakhouse in KC and assumed they only sold beef. He later learned he had been eating pulled pork instead, and decided there and then that some day he'd have his revenge on the crusader zionists, and those bastards in KC, too. *That* would be worth knowing.)

So I'm not sure you and Katherine are really disagreeing all that much, though of course Katherine is *amply* capable of articulating and defending her own position.

"It is certainly lawful, though that's not the question: the Geneva Conventions allow for people taking up arms to defend their own country against an invading army."

Where is Sebastian? I am not so sure you are correct here, I do recognize the importance of a distinction between soldiers and civilians. My argument with Sebastian and I think von is that civilians attacking an invading army belong to some local criminal justice system, are not suddenly without status. Let the IED planter be judged by a fair jury of his Iraqi peers.

It is up to the rest of us to protect each other from invading armies. Can we impeach John Bolton yet?

Technical nitpick: when you say zero-sum, I think you mean constant-sum. Even (most of) the people who (speak as if they) believe responsibility is constant-sum, would not agree that the constant is zero. Otherwise they would not talk about responsibility at all.

Amos: hmm. I checked before using it, on Wikipedia:

"Zero-sum describes a situation in which a participant's gain (or loss) is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the other participant(s). It is so named because when you add up the total gains of the participants and subtract the total losses then they will sum to zero. Cutting a cake is zero- or constant-sum because taking a larger piece for yourself reduces the amount of cake available for others. Situations where participants can all gain or suffer together, such as a country with an excess of bananas trading with an other country for their excess of apples where both benefit from the transaction, are referred to as non-zero-sum."

That sounded as though the zero in question meant: what I gain (in responsibility) must equal your loss, so that +me plus -you sum to zero, which means that there is a fixed amount of responsibility out there, which only needs to be divided. Which is what I meant. But if that's wrong, I stand corrected. (Game theory: something I only sorta kinda know anything about.)

Found what looks like a better source here. Amos was right (as I expected.)

This is one of the things I love about blogs (this one at least): I always learn things. Thanks.

I think it's the barn door for "constant" vs "zero".

"...but also the fact that that group's preferred tactics were, imho, totally and completely doomed. (The establishment of an independent Kurdish state, by force, against the Turkish army with American backing, on land with actual resources like water, strategically located on the borders (then) of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, and the USSR? Please.)"

Small language quibble: those aren't "tactics" at all; they're goals. Tactics are means.

I notice that d-squared has a post on this topic. Sensitive souls are warned that there is a vulgarism in it. His policy evidently is to write the way he argues in the pub. Hopefully it’s not, on that account, a breach of the posting rules to link to it. If it is then please just delete this, I hate reading comments about the rules.

Jes:But what if she were a woman, and attacking the US patrol because they represent an army which is attempting to install a tyranny?

It’s surely true that Iraqi women are worse off than they were before. That was part of the case against regime change. But it doesn’t change the rights and wrongs of fighting now. None of the insurgent groups seem especially concerned about women’s rights.

"Hopefully it’s not, on that account, a breach of the posting rules to link to it. If it is then please just delete this, I hate reading comments about the rules."

I'da been so gone from here years ago. Umm, moderators have discretion. Linking to a page created with a single large "&^$() YOU, (insert name)" might get a warning.

"Linking to a page created with a single large "&^$() YOU, (insert name)" might get a warning."

Having, essentially, done just that a few days ago, I'd hardly be in a position to complain.

The point of the profanity rule is just: some people can't read the site at work without it (obscenity filters, or whatever. Never having had a workplace like that, I take this on faith.) Also, over time, we've found that it helps with the civility thing. Linking to other pages is, according to me at least, fine.

(Oh no, another post about the rules ... sorry.)

As a very amateur Kantian, it was exactly the question of the failure of imagination that struck me in your earlier post.* Imagining possible harms, in my perhaps-not-entirely successful example of chemical engineers; imagining better political means, in your example of Ghandi and negative example of the PKK.

I suppose that even people reacting to circumstances of desparation and humiliation must be morally free agents, theoretically able to imagine better political avenues. And I suppose that even people reacting to industry pressures and excited by the possibilities of a cutting-edge technology should theoretically be able to forecast the effects of their creations if adopted and expanded a hundredfold.**

But, lord, it is hard to draw bright lines here. It is easier to condemn things and acts than it is to condemn people who simply didn't have the strength or the imagination to find a moral position against the pressures of habit, tradition, circumstance, psychological pain, career--and of course threat of reprisal, in some cases. I am reminded of how deeply unsatisfied http://jackmormon.blogspot.com/2005/03/historical-humiliations.html leaving a lecture by Hayden White, which advocated a more phenomenological approach to history-writing: once one understands how people feel, how their imagination might be restricted, why they act in awful ways--how then can one apportion responsibility or try to broaden the possible futures?
------------------------
* In purely theoretical terms, wouldn't this sort of thing by a negative sublime (Weiskel), where the sense of autonomy didn't result from the Sublime?

**Obviously, the responsibility for this sort of thing is usually distributed. A friend of mine is a chemical engineer who worked on reformulated gasoline for California. MTBE was part of the calculus of complying with fuel-emission that he showed his bosses. He projected the harms; others made the cost-benefit decision. I don't know how to weigh responsibility here.

If there were time-stamps here, you'd know for sure that I wrote this well before the last post here.

Jackmormon -- as a --well, what can I say other than: professional Kantian: his view is that we can never know our own motives, let alone anyone else's, so any serious apportionment of blame is out of the question (except in cases where it's clear that they could not possibly have had a morally permissible maxim. Rape leaps to mind.)

To me, the question: is someone morally responsible for what she does? is a way of asking: can this action be taken to reflect their character, and can it be appropriately laid to their account (so to speak)? If the answer is 'yes', the next question -- and the one I think you're stuck on -- is: right, so what does this action reveal? Something good, something bad, or what? That's the trickier part. Of course.

How was the date?

Gary, I'm sorry for my typo and admit my deep moral unseriousness by this apology.

Hilzoy, thanks for being patient for my sophomoric blunderings. I agree that the action is all we can judge from the outside, in the end.

The date was largely fun. There was a tense moment when a dim corner of Central Park turned out not to be uninhabited, but I won't go into details.

Just saw The Wedding Crashers, which (has a cameo by Jane Seymour and) raises a possibly-interesting moral question - is it ok to tell inconsequential lies in making others happy? - but two thumbs down from Mrs R. and me otherwise.

"Gary, I'm sorry for my typo and admit my deep moral unseriousness by this apology."

Don't be silly; I wasn't criticizing you, and there's nothing to be sorry for. I have the odd notion that if someone has a famous person's name misspelled, possibly they might want to know, so they don't go on doing it. But if I'm wrong, I'm not going to go fall on a knife about it.

Okay, and I do have the ulterior motive of hoping that one less person spreading the "Ghandi" meme is one less person infecting others with it. I'm not as great a soul about this as I might be, perhaps. But, then, I also don't sleep with women platonically to test my virtue, nor drink my urine (nor anyone else's, so far as I know, for that matter).

Jackmormon: I haven't noticed any need for patience yet, so I'll save the thanks for a rainy day. (Or something.)

(I mean: I like talking Kant. Luckily, given my choice of profession.)

I am feeling very virtuous, having assembled a whole new bookcase, thereby making it possible to deal with the towers of books that were growing on the kitchen table. Now every time I walk into the kitchen, I am amazed at their absence.

Gary: I'll agree with you that getting worked up about this is silly. Still, I will point out that in your link, you write that one should "never discuss x with one who cannot spell x." That may be a fine axiom, but one should not be surprised if others behave, well, a bit pissily if referred to it; it can't but be felt as a dismissal. I generally respond well to people who point out typos, on the other hand.

In other words, I don't think that linking to that post, which is clever in itself, ends up smoothing well-meant conversation. Hence my tart reply.

hilzoy, thanks for the clarification regarding profanity. The thing that interested me about d-squared’s post is that he highlights the kind of statement that raises hackles: an action is acknowledged to be wrong in itself, but excused because of (for example) the historical background. Call it “extenuation”, though I would be interested to know if philosophers have a jargon for it. It isn’t explanation because it introduces a value judgement but it explicitly denies justification. You refer to the case where an action is described as being comprehensible but still clearly wrong. Extenuation is a bit more indulgent than that.

I haven’t checked Weintraub’s examples; but having read quite a few posts on Normblog, where he got most of them, my guess is that most of the contentious statements are of that sort. Geras is quite bothered by such statements, especially when they are made in The Guardian or on the BBC and they relate to terrorism. Obviously there is limitless scope for bad-tempered arguments about whether a particular statement is explanation, extenuation or justification. As d-squared points out, justifying terrorism may soon be grounds for the expulsion of immigrants from the UK. The lawyers will have a lot of fun with this.

Kevin: None of the insurgent groups seem especially concerned about women’s rights.

Nor is the US occupation. That was my point, insofar as I had one. All of the armed forces in Iraq, including the occupation, are currently fighting to install a tyranny.

"Still, I will point out that in your link, you write that one should "never discuss x with one who cannot spell x.""

I didn't say that at all. I specifically said my rule of thumb was "Never discuss Israel with someone who can't spell it."

a) This on the (unexplained grounds) that if you've read so little about the country that you can't manage to spell the name right, I'd have to explain so many facts to you that the conversation is, with a complete stranger admidst dozens of other strangers, apt to be more effort than it's worth.

b) It was frigging tongue in cheek.

That's all. The other pet peeves on misspelled names are simply that. It gets tiresome to read them several times a day.

"In other words, I don't think that linking to that post, which is clever in itself, ends up smoothing well-meant conversation."

Probably not. It just happened to be coincidentally fresh, and I was about to fall asleep. My apologies for lack of clarity.

No harm done. Sorry to have been grouchy.

"Obviously there is limitless scope for bad-tempered arguments about whether a particular statement is explanation, extenuation or justification."

But isn't there just as limitless a scope for bad-tempered arguments about whether a justification is a "valid" justification? Or bad-tempered arguments about anything at all? I have to admit I can't really fathom all of hilzoy's logic, but I thought Weintraub's point was about language, not logic, in the first place:

"While it is certainly correct, and worth saying, to point out that NOT ALL analyses presented as 'explanations' are always or necessarily identical to justifications, it does not logically follow that NO 'explanations' (or pseudo-explanations) are intended to serve as justifications, apologies, or extenuations... or that they don't wind up being close to identical in practice, even when the people making such arguments aren't entirely aware of the conceptual slide themselves."

For example, when someone says "All of the armed forces in Iraq, including the occupation, are currently fighting to install a tyranny," some would see it as explanation - stating facts (or at least offering a plausible factual account) - whereas others would see it as (conceptually sliding into, perhaps) justification - insinuating a moral equivalence where none exists. It seems to me the bad-tempered argument is inevitable.

There are likely going to be some dead kids from this, I suspect.

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