Ethical discourse on the street

Some comments I heard while walking on the streets of NY today:

        "Sometimes you have to do the right thing, you know?"

        "You did the right thing — there's nothing wrong with that."


Go in Israel


"Chess is a battle, but go is war"

The Economist's year end special issue includes a feature on go, which I've slowly been working on taking up. Here are some excerpts from the piece, titled "The game to beat all games: The most intellectually testing game ever devised?":
The heavyweight pros on late-night cable television boast nicknames such as Monster, Razor, Butcher, Assassin and Knitting Needle. The most famed matches in history include the Blood Vomiting Game of 1835, the Famous Killing Game of 1926 and the Atomic Bomb Game of 1945. No, this is not some bone-crushing contact sport. It is a simple parlour game where two opponents, comfortably seated and often equipped with nothing more than folding paper fans and cigarettes, take turns placing little stones, some black, some white, on a flat wooden grid. Simple regarding rules and gear, that is, yet so challenging that in this mind-game, unlike chess, and despite the long-standing offer of a $1.6m reward for a winning program, no computer has yet been able to outwit a clever ten-year-old.
Although the roots of chess extend to ancient India and Persia, its present rules were fixed only in the early 19th century. Arabic manuscripts do record, move for move, chess-like games from a thousand years ago, but the oldest fully registered game played by recognisably modern rules took place in Barcelona in 1490. By contrast, the earliest completely recorded game of go, pitting Prince Sun Ce against his general, Lu Fan, and showing tactics almost exactly the same as those used today, is believed to date from 196AD. The 12th-century go manual, “Wang You Qing Le Ji”, or “Collection of the Carefree and Innocent Pastime”, includes dozens of complete, numbered diagrams from actual games that were certainly played during the Tang dynasty (618-907AD), as well as complex puzzles that remain testing for present-day amateurs.
It was in Japan, too, that skill in the manufacture of go equipment reached its peak, in the cutting of perfect boards from the rare, 700-year-old kaya tree, the use of slate for the black pieces and clamshell for the white, and in the fashioning of bowls made of precious mulberry wood to keep them in. Today, a new, top-quality set of this type may cost $150,000.

Are you happy now Zev?

You act as if the end of the semester isn't an excuse for not posting! Hogwash!


I've long known that when I say someone is 'frum' I mean it pejoratively. When I just want to say that someone takes halachic judaism seriously, though, I often say they're 'Really Quite Frum'. (Thanks to Laura for pointing my usage out to me.) So there you have it: RQF — like FFB or BT but different! Spread the word and use it in health.

While you're at it, encourage the spread of 'The Help', 'all poshed out', 'beschmizzled', and 'them beans be chilly yo'!

Explanation & Insight

We are accustomed to say in philosophy "explanation must come to an end somewhere" or, as Wittgenstein puts it so well in the Investigations, "If I have exhausted the justifications I have reached bedrock, and my spade is turned" (PI §217; em. mine) — shouldn't we say the same of insight?

Extinction in Hawai'i

Aloha, Poʻouli ( NYT reg. req.)

The article mentions in passing the threat of the brown tree snake from Guam poses to Hawaiʻian wildlife, but doesn't say nearly enough about it. You can find out more from the USGS site The Brown Tree Snake on Guam. They have been known to enter the wheelwells of aircraft (usually military) on Guam and survive the flight to Hickam AFB on Oahu, only to descend and escape into the environment. It's disgraceful, though unsurprising, that more isn't being done to prevent snake species from establishing themselves in Hawaiʻi. Even with greater intervention, however, it seems likely that it will happen eventually.

This has some bearing on ethics, for this is one of those cases where I tend to think we have a moral/ethical obligation to act, even though our actions are unlikely to actualize — or, in this case, maintain — our preferred state of affairs. Consequentialism has it's limits (and they're reached in far more obviously significant cases than this).

Embracing consequentialism wholeheartedly is to confuse of a very good way of determining how we should act with what constitutes right action; a similar confusion occurs in epistemological reliabilism: the reliability of a method may be a good indicator of when we have knowledge (or are entitled to a knowledge claim), but it isn't constitutive of knowledge itself. These are confusions of a tool with the purposes to which it is put.