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June 23, 2008


Nell is probably right to suggest that Ambinder meant Hobbes. Silly him. But if I'd seen her comment before I posted this, I wouldn't have gotten to post that lovely excerpt from the Treatise. ;)

still seems like a strained, gratuitous reference though even if it is hobbes.

Let's put aside our humid selves, he quipped dryly.

"the greatest philosopher ever to write in English"

I'm not sure that's saying much ;).

Brit Hume, perhaps?

Maybe he has something against billiard balls.

Of Hume do Ambinder speak?

Dang, I changed you to Ambinder. Never try to second guess bad puns.

The name "David Hume" doesn't have an "S" in it. Thus, he can't be a philosopher.

"Let's put aside our Humean selves..."

Yes, yes -- reminds me of this one:

Jean-Paul Sartre: I'd like a coffee without cream.
Waitress: I'm sorry, M. -- we have no cream.
Sartre: In that case, I'll have it without milk.

I think that you can get into a state of almost pure perception now and then even if you are not a dog.

Perhaps former SDLP leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume?

Thomas Hobbes was born prematurely in 1588, when his mother learned of the impending assault of the Spanish Armada. Hobbes, according to Aubrey's unfinished biography (pdf, p. 2), later wrote:

Fama ferebat enim, sparsitque per oppida nostra Extremum genti classe venire diem; Atque metum concepit tunc mea mater Ut pareret geminos meque metumque simul.

That loosely translates:

For Fame now raised and scattered through the land
News that the day of judgment was at hand,
Which struck so horribly my mother’s ear
That she gave birth to twins, myself and fear.

It's doubtful that this is what Ambinder was alluding to.

Still, it's interesting: Referring to our Hobbesian selves as in some sense products of an external menace has a distinct resonance, though not one tied up with Hobbes' body of work. Why you would put that self aside to pursue Conrad Black's inquiry is, I'm afraid, beyond me.

I dunno, maybe it was a reference to the denial of causality...that was where my mind first went. After all, the discussion in question here is whether or not event X could cause outcome Y. So putting aside our skepticism about whether causality even exists...

or something. I dunno. Seems gratuitous even in that sense.

. . . to pursue Conrad Black's inquiry . .

Should be: Charlie Black.

Sorry, I've got Brits on the brain, it seems.

Of course to do this, you have to turn off your "This is dangerous" thoughts, and I wouldn't want the dog driving the truck.

Conrad Black

And here I thought this was a sly Heart of Darkness reference. The horror... the horror...

Any chance he meant to write "put aside our human selves"? It's only one letter off. Maybe the idea is that if we cast aside our human sentimentality we can think clearly about whether a terrorist attack would help McCain win, whether someone in the Bush administration is therefore planning one, etc.

Any chance he meant to write "put aside our human selves"?

That was my first thought too, but if that was his intent he wouldn't have capitalized it.

...We've put way too much thought into this.

It could be that Ambinder was referring to Hume's famous (notorious?) position that there was no necessary connection between cause and effect. Causation is a mere consequence of a habit of mind predicated on constant conjunction.

Black is making a causal claim. Perhaps, Ambinder is saying that Hume's position is anti-realism about causation, so that we have to reject Hume in order to evaluate the causal claim qua causal claim.


We've put way too much thought into this.

Indeed. You folks might enjoy this.

I'm just guessing, but perhaps Ambinder is thinking of Hume's skepticism, and by saying "putting our Humean selves aside..." he means, "let's not be skeptical of Black's twisting of this issue around for political advantage, and just examine whether or not he's right."

Has anyone tried asking Marc what he meant?

It's not the Hume, it's the stupidity?

/shows self out

The name "David Hume" doesn't have an "S" in it. Thus, he can't be a philosopher.


The name "David Hume" doesn't have an "S" in it. Thus, he can't be a philosopher.


His real name was Aristocles...

He might be referencing (an interpretation of) Hume on ethics -- that norms are defined not by reason, but by emotion. On that reading, Ambinder's telling us to put aside our gut reactions and merely judge Black's claim on the merits (i.e., rationally).

Ambinder's use reminded me of another interpretation of "Humean" that I'd read a little while ago, by primate behaviorist Marc Hauser. The interpretation is recapped here -

"Hauser distinguishes three models of the moral capacity, which he calls the Humean, Kantian and Rawlsian models. In the Humean model, the perception of an event triggers an emotion (love, hate, disgust…) which in turn is expressed as a moral judgement."

(In this case, Hauser is stretching "Humean" a bit to describe particular outcomes of psychology experiments.)

Oh, it looks like David Kilmer mentioned the Hauser usage in a comment on publius' post. If two people come up with the same theory independently, it must be right. :)

For the record (to all you readers of Hauser): He gets the philosophers wrong. The philosophers he mention are talking about the question: how do we justify moral claims? He treats them as asking about the very different question: what causes our everyday, off-the-cuff moral judgments?

Analogy: mathematical claims are normally thought to be justified by (mathematical) reasoning, not (e.g.) emotion; and if you want to get math right, you should aim to get those answers that are, or can be, rationally justified. But this does not imply that we make our everyday, off-the-cuff mathematical judgments "using reason alone". Maybe emotion plays all kinds of roles there. (Consider the role of hope and fear in everyday estimates of probability.)

There is precisely no contradiction between saying (a) emotion plays a large role in our everyday mathematical judgments, and (b) mathematical claims are justified by mathematical reasoning, not emotion. There's no contradiction between the analogous claims in ethics either.

This is less of a problem when you're talking about Hume than when you're talking about Kant: Hume doesn't think there is any rational justification of moral claims (though he thinks factual claims, e.g. "this would make X happy, play a role in them, and can be justified.

But for Kant, it makes a huge difference. Kant thinks morality must be justified by reason alone. This does not mean that he thinks that emotion plays no role in our everyday moral judgments. Nothing he says is falsified by evidence that emotion plays a big role in them. He has nothing like the view of human decision-making that Hauser calls "Kantian", any more than a mathematician who thought that mathematical claims should be justified by mathematical reasoning would have to have a view of human nature according to which, whenever we started counting things or estimating probabilities, "emotions" switched off completely and "reason" took control.

Hume Cronyn...Jessica Tandy's husband

He probably just misspelled 'human' as he tends to do that a lot.

I think north_aufzoo is right: it's Brit Hume, and "Humean" in this context means "hack-Republican."

Has anyone tried asking Marc what he meant?

Where's the fun in that?

Yo Danny!

**terrorist fist jab**


"The philosophers he mention are talking about the question: how do we justify moral claims? He treats them as asking about the very different question: what causes our everyday, off-the-cuff moral judgments?"

In the book, he sort of makes the distinction. He defines a Kantian "model" which relates to moral judgments. He doesn't define a Kantian "creature" per se - he posits the creature that makes off-the-cuff moral judgments as a combination of his Kantian and Humean models (and whose ideal is to apply a wholly rational judgment at the last step). Of course, this creates confusion when he refers to it as a "Kantian creature" a bunch of times.

In much of cognitive-science-based philosophy, there's an apparent conflation of reason-as-a-formal-process with reason-as-what-happens-in-our-brains. Some of this in unavoidable, since many of these philosophers see the two as being inseparable (much like your mechanists in F&R, who "insist that precisely because the self is part of the natural world, and its activities natural phenomena, 'my given reason for an action must be, or supervene on, a description of some natural phenomenon or state.'" [which is also why many of them would reject your Pocket Oracle argument]).

BTW - not defending Hauser. _Moral Minds_, IMHO, is both loose Philosophy and loose science.

Next interplay of philosophy with day-to-day campaign politics issue: In the radio segment related in this article, James Dobson, among other things, attacks Obama for thinking that people should have a public justification for their ideas. But I may be (actually, I know I am) forgetting my Rawls.

Republicans are always claimed to be more trusted in crisis than Democrats, by the media, by other Republicans, sometimes even by Democrats.

That hasn't changed any even though most people trust the Democrats more than the Republicans on all national security issues according to polls.

Part of why they make these claims is of course wishful thinking, also magical thinking, or attempting to create a self-fulfilling prophesy.

But it also occurs to me that if the crisis, emergency, or attack successfully reduces people to their baser natures and brings fear or rage to be the controlling force in the populace's decision making, then obviously Republican politicians are the ones who are the best prepared to appeal to those baser motives.

All of which I guess is just a long winded way of saying I think phillydog and Tom have a point.

"Jean-Paul Sartre: I'd like a coffee without cream.
Waitress: I'm sorry, M. -- we have no cream.
Sartre: In that case, I'll have it without milk."

That sounds like a Morganbesser story.

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