Kant's Dialectic

PXL_20231229_211535558~2 Before going off for Christmas I made a doomed attempt to buy second-hand books as presents, and succeeded only in buying myself a few slim tomes (although one of those, In Defence of War by Nigel Biggar, did turn out to be a present for my wife).

One of which was the said Kant's Dialectic by Jonathan Bennett, 1974. I'm mostly interested in this via Popper (see Kant’s cats) who believed the Antimonies were designed to demonstrate how reason goes astray when unconstrained by reality. I think that's a good interpretation though (as I said there) I'm doubtful whether that was actually Kant's intent; certainly, IMO, if you're going to do something like that you should clearly state it, which Kant never does.

Sadly that doesn't get addressed in KD1. Instead, despite a refreshing beginning summarising the contents and some well-turned flings against Kant, we degenerate too much into philosopher-ese. My doubt now is to how far I bother go in discussing this.


In antient philosophy, people were interested - amongst a great many other things - in what the world is made of. Recall that they didn't know if matter is fundamentally "atomic" or continuous, and so the question of what is a fundamental "substance" arises. Section 19 offers "The concept of substance, dropped in §14, must now be picked up again. We have met the idea of a substance as something indestructible, but our considerations of the Dialectic will involve the stronger thesis that a substance cannot come into or go out of existence, or, as I shall say, cannot be originated or annihilated. By this criterion, a must be sempiternal, i.e. must exist at all times". That would have made reasonable sense all through classical antiquity and to Kant, but makes no sense by 1974, when we have had mass-energy equivalence and the creation and destruction of particles for more than fifty years. The section continues onwards, wurbling happily about philosophical things, totally unmoored by reality, almost as though determined to demonstrate Popper's version of Kant's point. Similar problem occur elsewhere.

As a slight aside, one can consider "the soul" under this rubric; if feeling religious, you consider "the soul" in it's usual "woo" fashion; if not, you consider consciousness instead. But either way the question arises: is it a "substance", i.e. indivisible? This, then has some eery echoes of the "splitting brains" discussions that Parfit was so fond of. There I've argued, effectively, that consciousness is indivisible; but I don't think it is meaningful to call it a substance.

Extension and divisibility

Kant presents arguments why extended things cannot be indivisible, largely following Descartes. But he is wrong, because, as we now know, matter is fundamentally "atomic"2, which I'll put in quotes, because as-we-all-know somewhat confusingly for conversations like this, the things we call atoms are not "atomic". But nevermind, electrons are "atomic", i.e. indivisible, and are extended in space, although in a slightly confusing way. Now we know that, we of course re-examine his argument for the crucial and illuminating error. But unfortunately it is simply and uninterestingly "if a thing is extended in space (and space is divisible) then we can consider the thing to have parts and so be divisible". All of the fascinating bits of QM that this has (inevitably, for its time) failed to take account of are the bits of interest. Sadly, KD fails to go that route, instead preferring to merrily emit a long string of words. See-also Ye workes of ye Francis Bacone.

As a sort-of ironic post-script, part of that stream-of-words is a discussion of Our Author's pet idea that compositeness, i.e. divisibility, might be nicely discussed in terms of breakability. But this fails, or at least is complexified, unbeknownst to him, due to quark confinement in protons.

Aside, in update: I think the modern notion that things can have several instrinsic properties also doesn't fit well with what Kant and Descartes and a host of other extension-is-primary people say. Electrons have mass, spin, charge, and something that can be considered extension. All of these different properties are intrinsic.

Infinite time

Having been nothing but critical I should leave you with the one where I do feel sympathy, which is the discussion of the finiteness, or otherwise, of past time. Kant's actual discussion of this is often uninteresting, because he doesn't know about infinity, Cantor being fairly new at that point and not something Kant has studied. But in place of his argument against the past being infinite, I'd put the rather handwavy "as we know, it takes about 13 b yr to get from formlessness to us, really there can't have been infinite time".

Kant's argument against "the world" having begun at some point is that there would be empty time before this. That makes sense in a Newtonian universe; but (I think; don't push me on this I'm weak on GR) doesn't in a GR universe with big bang: instead, time starts. Again, one doesn't blame Kant for missing this; I do blame Our Author for not mentioning it; because really it is the only interesting point in an otherwise long dreary stream of words.


1. From the head of chapter 7 will probably do: "In Kant's usage, an "antinomy' is a pair of good-looking arguments for apparently conflicting conclusions. In the chapter on the Dialectic to which I now turn, he offers four antinomies, each purporting to exhibit a conflict which can be resolved only with help from Kantian philo- sophy. Sometimes Kant suggests that his principles discredit the ques- tions to which the antinomal arguments offer answers, but he also suggests that in the first two antinomies each of the opposing conclusions may be false, while in the third and fourth both conclusions may be true. Indeed, no one account will do. The chapter is in fact a medley, and the several sorts of unity claimed for it are all spurious".

2. I know: we have no final theory. QM might get overthrown. But I'm betting on it to this extent, at least. Ditto on electrons being the bottom. If absolutely necessary I recast my argument into the form "there is a model of reality in which...", which suffices.

3. Since I have space, I'll include this here (from Critique of Pure Reason): It is not so extraordinary as it at first sight appears, that a science should demand and expect satisfactory answers to all the questions that may arise within its own sphere (questiones domesticae), although, up to a certain time, these answers may not have been discovered. There are, in addition to transcendental philosophy, only two pure sciences of reason; the one with a speculative, the other with a practical content-pure mathematics and pure ethics. Has any one ever heard it alleged that, from our complete and necessary ignorance of the conditions, it is uncertain what exact relation the diameter of a circle bears to the circle in rational or irrational numbers? By the former the sum cannot be given exactly, by the latter only approximately; and therefore we decide that the impossibility of a solution of the question is evident. Lambert presented us with a demonstration of this. The Lambert he refers to is Johann Heinrich Lambert, who proved in 1761 that pi is irrational. But WTF is Kant trying to say here? If he is trying to say that pi is irrational, he is choosing a wilfuly obscure method of doing so. Even "the question" at hand in "the impossibility of a solution of the question is evident" is obscure; the only question he has actually asked is "Has any one ever heard...", but he can't mean that. But the ratio of circumference to diameter is known exactly; it is pi; that pi doesn't have a finite decimal expansion doesn't mean we don't know its exact value. I think that just as he doesn't understand infinity, he isn't really comfortable with irrationals, which is like weird because sqrt 2 has been known to be irrational for a loong time.


* What's the difference between a mathematician and a philosopher? All a mathematician needs: pencil, paper, and a trash can. All a philosopher needs: pencil and paper. Source.


Happy Christmas

PXL_20231224_185434455.NIGHT Happy Christmas, world, and any remaining readers I may have. I encourage you to leave festive greetings in the comments so that you may be, as is traditional, enumerated in this season. This year, unlike last, we are unstruck by Covid or similar and so are at my Mother's. I have done my Christmas Morning Half, beating my nephew (he blew up in Churchill) and retaining my smugness for another year. The end-of-year review will follow in a day or so.

For those unfortunate enough not to be English: my picture, taken on the way back from the carols-on-the-village-green, is a knitted scene on top of a post box.


Introducing Justapedia?

PXL_20231203_144123066 Well, that's what Quillette says. I suppose they hope to do better than the failed Conservapedia. They have five fundamental principles and core content policies but I didn't even bother skim them1, because without editors, they're doomed. As a quick test, 500 changes in JP gets you back 3 or 4 days. 500 changes on Wiki gets you back... 4 minutes.

If I look at their current "Selected Contents" I find Outline of the American Civil War, Underwater diving, Poetry, Polar regions of Earth, Machine learning, Mormons, Philosophy and Adoption. Only one of those has had any updates since their import from Wiki, and that is a trivial update of a date in a flagging. That's powerfully unimpressive.

I haven't quite worked out when the import was done, but it looks to be around November 2022. Quillette gives the impression that JP is recent.

Why would you even bother doing this? Q talks about "Recent Wikipedia Controversies" but it is rather telling that issue number one for them is where the funding went, not anything to do with content. Next up is Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests/Case/World War II and the history of Jews in Poland, which was a thing but not that exciting (I didn't follow it). They then come to what I think is rather closer to their hearts, Race and intelligence and how it is controlled on Wiki. They may have a point; I would whinge about a variety of other articles and topics, if I felt like it. But... it all seems too thin to sustain what they want.


1. Well that sounded nice and dismissive, which is what I intended, but then I decided on a quick skim. The core content policy doesn't seem to significantly differ from what they imported; and the 5 pillars also seem eerily similar to Wiki's version.


Grasping at straw - Light Blue Touchpaper on plod and kiddy pron.


YAME: 3:01:58.4

Screenshot_20231208-191731 Every now and again I do a marathon on the erg, though I don't usually blog it. In fact I think I've done four over the years; the first was Ergathon in 2009, 3:20:58 (others: in early 2020, just before lockdown, on the Saturday of Lents was Wattmaggedon in 3:04:39; and also in 2020 I did one at home during lockdown, 3:16:45).

But the urge came upon me again, perhaps in order to dstract myself from my uncompetitiveness at 2k. And I noticed that the C2 ranking were a little soft this year. So with 1:28, 1:27 and 1:26 in the half-bag, and an abortive 2h a few days ago when my spirit broke in the yawning voids of about 1:45, I set off on Friday knowing I didn't quite need to hit 3 hours to get the coveted spot amongst the 55-59 lightweights.

Strava is interesting for my HR trace; mostly I was in the low 140's, with a bit of a peak just before half way; and then a spike at the end as I went down to 1:50 to get under :02 minutes. Compare that with a half, where I'm at 157 for much of the second half; though my split there is significantly lower. My peak HR, which I can only hit by really hurting and so generally don't, is in the low 170's.

Compared to what I said in 2009, I think I survived better this time. With my trusty gel seat-pad backed up by the cut-to-shape carrymat I have taped to the erg, my bum was fine. For most of the second half I backed off the arms / finish and tried to drive from the legs, since experience tells me that the arms, and whatever muscles drive the shoulder blades together, don't survive the distance if fully used. My calluses are bedded in and didn't suffer. I drank a small glass of orange juice at 1h and half way, and would have liked one at 2h and 2:30 too, though they eat up 30 seconds.

Having done a few halves, getting to half way was not too bad. From there to two hours is pretty grim, there's still so far to go, and there aren't any good markers. Past two hours I start to believe, partly by lying to myself about how my splits aren't going to decline too badly. Once the counter drops below 10k into four digits it's just a matter of grinding it out; again I lied to myself that my target was 3h, so I could pretend to be 2 mins closer than I really was. To get under 3h, apart from bringing myself to do it all again, I need to not decay so much in the second half; more bravery required.

Here's a link to the C2 rankings (arch). If I was a heavyweight (I'm 68 kg) I'd be #8. Next year I'll be 60, and the ranks are even less competitive. If it was the 2023 season, I'd be 7th (curiously, there's a huge gap from 2:58 to 3:09). If I was female... I'd have more than four minutes margin, irrespective of age and weight, in 2024. I'd be 4th in 2023. I'm currently 8th for the half; last year I was 14th.

Update: 2024/01: well, I'm no longer #1, I'm #3, behind a Kraut and a Frog. I might pull back #2 if I try again but I don't see any way to get to 2:54 so #1 is out of reach. At least, until I'm 60 in a few months time.


* 2024/01: new world record by Joel Naukkarinen @rowingfinn is a 1:39.6 split. I can't get close to that for 2k; or, indeed, 500m.


Spotify like fuckwits make you jump through hoops to get a copy of your playlists. Mine was:

* Highway to Hell / AC/DC
* World Shut Your Mouth / Julian Cope
* Unbelievable / EMF
* Geno - 2000 Remaster / Dexys Midnight Runners
* Monster / The Automatic
* Rocks / Primal Scream
* Girls & Boys / Blur
* Relax / Frankie Goes To Hollywood
* Nemesis / Shriekback
* Temptation / Heaven 17
* Gay Bar / Electric Six
* Antmusic - Remastered / Adam & The Ants
* Sheriff Fatman / Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine
* Mama Said Knock You Out / LL COOL J
* Bat Out of Hell / Meat Loaf
* Down At McDonaldz / Electric Six
* Street Fighting Man - 50th Anniversary Edition / The Rolling Stones
* Girls on Film - 2010 Remaster / Duran Duran
* From a Buick 6 / Bob Dylan
* Virginia Plain / Roxy Music
* Our Lips Are Sealed - Single Version / The Go-Go's
* Livin' On A Prayer / Bon Jovi
* Born to Run / Bruce Springsteen
* Rio - 2009 Remaster / Duran Duran
* I Have The Touch / Peter Gabriel
* Like A Rolling Stone - Live / Remastered 2009 / The Rolling Stones
* Seven Seas Of Rhye - Remastered 2011 / Queen
* Start Me Up - Remastered 2009 / The Rolling Stones
* The Struggle / Scroobius Pip
* When Love Comes To Town / U2
* Walk This Way / Aerosmith
* Slippery People - Live / Talking Heads
* 2-4-6-8 Motorway / Tom Robinson Band
* Thou Shalt Always Kill / Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip
* Everything Is AWESOME!!! (feat. The Lonely Island) / Tegan and Sara
* Eye of the Tiger / Survivor
* Don't Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake - 2018 Remaster / Kate Bush
* Life During Wartime - Live / Talking Heads
* Born in the U.S.A. / Bruce Springsteen
* Joan Crawford / Blue Ö?yster Cult
* New Moon on Monday - 2010 Remaster / Duran Duran
* Mr. Blue Sky / Electric Light Orchestra
* Pretty in Pink / The Psychedelic Furs


Richest 1% account for more carbon emissions than poorest 66%, report says?

bones More of the usual from the Graun. Let's quote:

‘Polluter elite’ are plundering the planet to point of destruction, says Oxfam after comprehensive study of climate inequality...

The richest 1% of humanity is responsible for more carbon emissions than the poorest 66%, with dire consequences for vulnerable communities and global efforts to tackle the climate emergency, a report says.

The most comprehensive study of global climate inequality ever undertaken shows that this elite group, made up of 77 million people including billionaires, millionaires and those paid more than US$140,000 (£112,500) a year, accounted for 16% of all CO2 emissions in 2019 – enough to cause more than a million excess deaths due to heat, according to the report.

The problem - apart from any quibbles with the doubtful quality of their analysis, which I suspect but am not very interested in - is that although they do their level best to present this as the 1% versus the 66%, they can't help notice that the 1% only emit 16%. So even after they've all been the first up against the wall after the revolution came, we've barely dented the problem. 84% of emissions remain - or at least they would, in the sort of static thinking that Oxfam do. Who is producing those emissions? You. Me. Our friends and colleagues. Everyone in the West. Well, everyone who isn't too dirt poor to do otherwise, really. Of course, different people emit differently, but it would need a much more careful analysis by less clearly biased people to produce something useful.

The Graun, which has the memory of a goldfish and the need to present things as though they were news, fails to point out that they've said all this before. Oh, duh, I've just realised: COP28 is coming up, hence the spam.


Clauser-ology: Cloudy with a chance of meatballs - RC - the long tradition of idiot physicists continues.

* "When Idiot Savants Do Climate Economics; How an elite clique of math-addled economists hijacked climate policy" - FFS - or, "A powerfully argued article on Nordhaus‘ climate economics" if you're SR.


Lancet report: Heat stress wiped out equivalent of 4% of Africa’s GDP in 2022

Or so CarbonBrief tells me. And it seems entirely plausible, so I won't quibble their numbers.

But looking at some of their other pictures, you immeadiately see the problem: they're poor.

And so we immeadiately see that there are several possible solutions: reduce GW - but this isn't much of a solution, as the pic shows, even winding back three decades doesn't get you close to losing 0%; or stop being poor, which reduces the problem to negligible levels.

As a bonus, not being poor has other virtues, too. Perhaps you can think of some.

Oddly, CB doesn't much consider that option, instead perferring to whinge about "unjust transition". The reason they are poor is, of course, that their govt is shite; which is a consequence of the state of society, alas. But addressing the real problem is difficult, and entails saying things that people don't like saying nowadays.


BTW, somewhere - but I doubt I can find it now1 - was talking about ye traditionale "GDP declines with increasing T" stuff, and quibbling its stats. But never mind the details, the interesting bit was that even if you took the stats unquibbled, as well as the strong "hot countries" T-up-GDP-down correlation, there's a weak T-up-GDP-up correlation in cold countries. But because cold countries dominate global GDP, the overall effect of T up is GDP up (possibily not-stat-sigly). I'm reminded of that by the "* as percent" qualifier in the pic above.


1. Temperature Shocks and Economic Growth: Comment on Dell, Jones, and Olken by David Barker.




Reporting of yer conflict

PXL_20231108_205142378~3 I've noticed that the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt is often described as "closed", rather than "closed by", as though it had a mysterious mind of its own. Which of course it doesn't. For example yer Beeb sayeth: "the Rafah border crossing (from Gaza into Egypt) is today closed" but doesn't say whodunnit. A bit later they say "Rafah border crossing is still closed this morning. Hamas say they want more injured people to be allowed out of Gaza through the crossing before more foreign citizens are allowed to leave" which would imply that it is Hamas that is keeping people prisonner in Gaza; if so, it isn't clear why yer Beeb wouldn't just say so. Instead of endless flows of repetitious "news" I'd kinda like it if they could get their reporters to actually find out who is keeping it shut; it would appear quite important.

While we're on this, yer Beeb also say War crime claims: Volker Türk, the UN commissioner for human rights... Some context: The rules for war, which are spelt out in the Geneva Conventions, prohibit hostage taking, and say countries engaged in conflict "may not deport or forcibly transfer the civilian population of an occupied territory". But this isn't right. The actual text is Parties to an international armed conflict may not deport or forcibly transfer the civilian population of an occupied territory, in whole or in part, unless the security of the civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand (my bold). Omitting the final qualifier is dishonest. By contrast, taking of hostages is unequivocally a crime. 

I also have a hard time taking displacing people quite as seriously as the "war crime" people do. I'm sure these people don't want to be displaced, and neither would I, but it is a far less serious matter than deliberately killing civilians. I'd rather be displaced a hundred times than killed once.

Since I've been tasteless enough to use the image I have: I think the recent habit of prolonging wars is bad, and it is better to let one side win. Hence calls for ceasefires or pauses1 in the Israel-Hamas war don't make sense and will likely lead to greater suffering. Also, per Hobbes, you're only allowed to rebel if you have a realistic chance of succeeding.

Update: What is happening at Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital and why?

The Graun is fairly typical of the abysmal state of reporting. Hamas, and carefully selected doctors at the hospital, swear blind that there are no Hamas in there. Oooohhh no indeed not. And yet mysteriously the Israelis are finding it hard to get in. Why don't they just walk in by the front door? For the obvious reason: the Hamas folk inside would shoot at them. Why isn't this obvious to the Graun and a great many other people? Because the bias of their world view is so strong2.

2023/11/15: the stupidity of some of the old fat white dead men is... well, I'd like to say astonishing, but in fact I'll say entirely predictable. For example, from the FT: International aid agencies expressed alarm at the Israeli incursion into al-Shifa. “Hospitals are not battlegrounds,” said Martin Griffiths, the UN aid chief. “The protection of newborns, patients, medical staff and all civilians must override all other concerns.” FFS you clown: it is definitely not true that "The protection of all civilians must override all other concerns", you know this very well, its part of the "rulez" of war. But more importantly, once the Israelis are in there, the patients and staff and evacuees are all safe, as long as Hamas doesn't shoot them. 

Al-Jazmagi has a go at answering "Why is Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital so important for the Israeli army?" in a way that avoids the obvious answer: they propound the symbol-of-resistance type narrative. But this is a dubious idea, and even they are forced to answer "Hamas", although they do it right at the end in the hope you won't read that far.

Update: forced relocation

People in warm safe comfortable houses like the UN hate what they call forced relocation; e.g. this press release. But what do Gazans on the ground think? We don't need to ask them, because we can see the walls that the Egyptians are building, so the answer is clear: they would very much like to relocate.


1. As if to prove me wrong, The US says Israel will begin to implement four-hour military pauses in areas of northern Gaza each day to allow civilians to flee. But firstly, that text is deceptive: the "pauses" referred will not "begin", they have already begun, and had when I wrote the above. The US is saying that for its own internal political reasons, post-announcing something already happening as though it was a success of theirs. A brief apuse such as that, over a route out, does indeed make sense. Note that there isn't the least hint of a response from Hamas, who offer no corresponding pause in their own fighting.

2. (belatedly: 2024/04): Al-Shifa Hospital and the crisis of the West - Spiked (arch).


* My comment at Jus in Bello by David Henderson. To which (2023/11/21) a belated followup here: given that innocent Palestinians and Israelis are morally equivalent (modulo slight quibbles about Hamas only being able to survive because it has popular support), then the Israeli hostages should not be the Israel's primary concern (prompted by this which suggests secondary-is-bad); just as they accept some regrettable civilian Palestinian deaths, they accept some regrettable Israeli civilian deaths.

The two-state solution is still best. Actually I think allowing the Pals to emigrate is best, but no-one seems to like that; possibly not even the Pals themselves, so trapped are they in their grievances.

* Arf: Turkish MP who collapsed after saying Israel will ‘suffer Allah’s wrath’ dies.

Why so many of us were wrong about missile defense.

An Actual Arab Genocide.


Care less

PXL_20231026_150144283 Following my acclaimed analysis of how I came to peace with the world, I feel moved to offer advice to the world: care less.

This applies generally, but is provoked by the current Israel-Hamas war. All over the world, stupid ill-informed people wish their opinions to be heard (sample: Councillors call on Starmer to resign over Gaza). And everyone is so busy offering their SII opinions that they have no time to listen to anyone else's, let alone think. All the chanting crowds should go home, and attempt to find meaning in their own lives rather than in other people's.

This naturally spools out... SII people have been offering their SII opinions forever, the difference now is that other people who really ought to know better seem to care, in turn, about these opinions.

Naturally, this should not be interpreted as preventing anyone from commenting on this blog :-).


1. My pic shows Magdalene, winner of Uni Fours, by five seconds over Cauis. Stroke's head-on-one-side posture is quite endearing.


* Keep your identity small - Paul Graham.

File:London anti-war protest bannersFile:Stop the war- American eagle.

*Book review: The Lions of Al-Rassan.

* ...the greater part of the population is not very intelligent, dreads responsibility, and desires nothing better than to be told what to do. Provided the rulers do not interfere with its material comforts and its cherished beliefs, it is perfectly happy to let itself be ruled. Quote from Aldoux Huxley.

* JEB: UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

* ATTP: What does net-zero actually mean?

LGB Fertility.


They call her Natasha when she looks like Elsie

PXL_20230831_172105039 "The exception proves the rule" is a well-known phrase with more than one meaning; the one I take uses "prove" in the sense of "test". In maths or science of software this makes sense: edge and corner cases are useful: my software must work given any legal but unlikely input, and must fail in defined ways if given illegal input.

It isn't so obvious in whifflier domains such as morality; hence the enduring popularity of talking about The Trolley Problem, wherein we are faced with a moral dilema well out of the bounds of any experience1. Morality is custom and so things well outside experience and therefore custom aren't subject to our moral intuitions.

This smacks once again of the softer sciences thoughtlessly aping the harder ones. If there genuinely are strict laws, then testing them with edge cases makes sense. If there aren't, trying to interpret out-of-bounds information within your (admittedly unclearly-)bounded framework will only confuse you.

Even less sensible is the attempt to think about TTP in the context of Implications for autonomous vehicles. No-one is going to write their software in a way that the question comes up.


(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea.

* Philosophy of Physics Seminar: Sabine Hossenfelder (Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy): 'Superdeterminism – The Forgotten Solution'

The FTC’s Confused Case Against Amazon.

* In talking about The Ethical Case for a Siege of Gaza, Richard Hanania says that Individual morality does not transfer to geopolitical issues. This is consistent with what I'm saying here.


1. This also doesn't begin to cover what people would do in practice if faced with such problems. And in practice they can't be: the conditions are not real-world.


Après ma mort, je ferai tomber une pluie de roses

My title isn't really related to this post in any clear way; Google recently reminded me of this photo that I took in Amiens in 2020 on the way back from the Ecrins; I didn't make much of it at the time, but appreciated it more in arrears. My title is from a little quote visible at the bottom and is from Thérèse of Lisieux. I doubt I'd have got on with her, but the words are lovely. The pix I show here has been cut and de-trapezoided by Googly magic; the original is here. It's only a humble Pixel3 though.

No, my post begins with Descartes; for some reason I feel the need to rant about this poor long dead chap. But really he is just an examplar; what I'm really ranting about is philosophy, and the lamentable state of philosophical scholarship.

But first a brief interjection: the other thing I'd rant about, if I could be bothered to, would be the vast torrent of crap that pours upon us. So many people writing some many books, papers, and articles because their voices are important, at least to them. And so many people consuming this torrent of drivel because our glorious free-market capitalism has delivered to them so much free time that they don't know how to use. I am minded of the quote about Hobbes from a previous post, which I'll repeat here: He had read much, if one considers his long life; but his contemplation was much more than his reading. He was wont to say that if he had read as much as other men, he should have known no more than other men.

So ignoring my own injunction: browsing a not-very-slim-tome (second hand, Heffers) on The Rise of Modern Philosophy I come to the chapter on Descartes, which is long on his virtues, and padded with the irrelevant stuff about him being in the wars, but very short on what he actually contributed. It includes the Cogito, of course; although that in itself contributes little; but like everyone else doesn't mention at all how badly it all breaks down after that; you may read my fine analysis here. The Cambridge Companion to Descartes is somewhat better, but that only leads me to his anti-atomism. As Stanford puts itDescartes rejects any form of atomism, which is the view that there exists a smallest indivisible particle of matter. Rather, he holds that since any given spatially extended length is divisible in thought, thus God has the power to actually divide it . In fact Stanford somwhat errs in reproducing his not-desperately clear thought, to the degree that we could blame God for his errors; what he actually says is something like things can't be indivisible, but even if they were, God could make them divisible if he felt like it; see here, here)4.

And that anti-atonism on the part of big D leads me to my startlingly original and definitely worth troubling the world with take on antient Greek physics, specifically that of Aristotle (see-also my not very original notes below). Which is: none of it matters to them, which is why it is all so badly wrong. One can go through identifying errors but that's all beside the point: the unifying principle is that their tech level was so low, they were too far away from it making any difference. Was the world continuous or atomic? They didn't know, and it didn't matter. They couldn't even observe Brownian motion. The penalty for guessing wrong was zero. The penalty for writing down a stream of words that appeared to be a logical argument, and which generations of philosophers were unable to correctly identify as drivel, was zero. It turns out that getting the right answer is hard, and so if you just randomly guess you'll continuously be wrong. See-also: science is grounded in experiment, which I forgot.

Returning to my picture: at some point I'm going to make a list of all the places I want to go to in France, and then go to them. Or alternatively just go to all the places in France. I should certainly visit all the cathedrals; I've made a fair stab but there are a lot left.

Aristotle's Physics

[I wrote this, but was never really happy with it, which is why I didn't publish it. But now is its time and place.]

If you want to read people being nice about A you will find no shortage out there1; so I feel no urge to join them. TL;DR The historian of philosophy, accordingly, must study them, in spite of the fact that hardly a sentence in either can be accepted in the light of modern science (that nice Bertrand Russell). But more that this, as I hope to show, it doesn't even make sense on its own terms. None of this is relevant to the problem of people being mislead by Aristotle for so many years; that was strictly their own fault, their own stupid reverence for authority and inability to think for themselves; Aristotle left any number of clues that his stuff was blatantly wrong.

There is quite a lot of words in the Physics. In a way, that's surprising: my mental image of those days is that paper3 wss in short supply, so you'd expect authors to have thought carefully before writing and to have compressed their work. Instead, A does the reverse: is discoursive and repetitive and doesn't follow a clear sequence. In this - as with the Politics - one gets the impression of a poorly edited collection of lecture notes. What it doesn't read like is ideas that have survived testing by rigourous dialectic.

Perhaps the greatest virtue of the work is as an example: that something that has survived for a long time can still be completely wrong, and yet still be defended. Consider what other ideas we see in the world today are similar. Of course, part of the problem is that anyone inclined to study this stuff deeply is going to be in sympathy with the material; no-one is going to waste much time ripping it to shreds. So why - I hear you ask - am I bothering? Well I've had these volumes on my shelves for many years now, and the time has finally come to finish reading and dispose of them.

Like say Hippolytus or Iphigenia in Tauris this comes into the "it lasted 2,000 years so there must be something worth while in it" but unlike them it is not literature; and it has not fared well. In the following I shall assume that the (English) words I'm reading have captured the original meaning of the text, despite the gulf that separates us; given the contortions that his translators and interpreters have gone through, I think it likely that I'm getting his best shot, or perhaps better than.

A discusses, let us say, motion. And he is smart enough to try to abstract; he is not interested in the motion of any individual ox-cart. Unfortunately, he abstracts all the way to abstraction; which I can best explain by comparing to, say, Galileo's experiments with rolling spheres down inclined planes. That abstracted to a concrete reality, and so was able to learn something, by observing how very simple entities behave. A abstracts out everything but movers and moving, and so is unable to learn anything.

A is interested in both the real world - or at least, in an abstract version thereof - and in the world of mathematics. Unfortunately he rarely distinguishes the two, or says which any given discussion appertains to; so much so that I doubt he has the distinction clearly in his mind. He is, however, aware that there is a distinction2.

In trying to think about how to Do Physics, A starts well Hence, in advancing to that which is intrinsically more luminous and by its nature accessible to deeper knowledge, we must needs start from what is more immediately within our cognition, though in its own nature less fully accessible to understanding. Now the things most obvious and immediately cognizable by us are concrete and particular, rather than abstract and general; whereas elements and principles are only accessible to us afterwards, as derived from the concrete data when we have analysed them. So we must advance from the concrete whole to the several constituents which it embraces; had he stuck to this, he would have fared much better. That's book I chapter I; chapter II starts off wondering how many "principle"s or "primary constituents" there are; attempting to translate this into ModernSpeak, it seems likely that he is wondering how many elements there are (rather than fundamental particles or states of matter) but - characteristically - his discussion is so unanchored by reality that one cannot really tell; he is already lost, and doesn't know it. He deduces that there must be either one, or finitely many, or infinitely many; after that he bogs down; then chapter VI concludes It is clear, then, that there must be more than one element or principle, and that there cannot be more than two or three. But, within these limits, the decision as between two and three presents great difficulties. This is based on "logic" along the lines of we need a pair of antithetical qualities; and (for the third, if needed) they need something to act on. So alas despite his declared intent to start with reality he falls at the first hurdle, and is reduced to being either Wrong, or perhaps Not Even Wrong. To the obvious rebuttal (which will come up time and again) "but in those early days it was really hard to know anything" comes the obvious answer: yes, it was. And so A, if honest, would have concluded that he simply didn't know and couldn't say anything useful on the topic. To some extent, supported by the end of book I, I believe that A was in this section merely surveying other opinions of the time, or felt himself unable to avoid opining. And sadly book II chapter I begins by stating that the elementary substances are earth, fire, air and water; see previous comments re badly edited lecture notes. Nothing else of interest appears in book II. I should perhaps note that there's quite a lot of stuff that my eyes just slide off... all the verbiage about causes for example; he does love classifying things, even if he has to make them up to do so.

Book III begins by defining motion; I took the piss out of that some years ago and don't feel much more merciful now. His problem is not realising that some things are better left undefined, as Newton did with time; we all know what it is (errm) so wrapping a pile of complicated words around a simple idea doesn't help; see-also Popper. That said, he is also covering too broad a scope; had he restricted himself to physical motion of inanimate objects he might have got along better. 

Chapter IV begins to talk about infinity; but in the context of Nature (and thus, implicitly, not Maths).

[I'm fairly sure I intended to write more, but realised that it was all drivel anyway, and badly organised at that. I did Aristotle and the continuum before.]


* Paul Graham: how to do philosophy.

Russell on Aristotle's Politics.

McTaggart on Time.

My Left Kidney - ACX.

The sleepwalkers.


1. Although to be fair, generally not about his Physics. The sort of defensive thing you can expect supporters to say about the Physics is along the lines of What, then, are we to expect from the Physics ? Something that is still of philosophical interest; very much that is of historic interest and that has entered deeply into the texture of our language; much of purely intellectual interest and bracing gymnastic; but also much that is of vital significance in relation to that borderland between physical and metaphysical thought where mathematics and philosophy meet, which I quote from the Loeb intro. Notice that they cannot even begin to mention that so much of it is wrong.

2. From book II chapter II: we have next to consider how the mathematician differs from the physicist or natural philosopher; for natural bodies have surfaces and occupy spaces, have lengths and present points, all which are subjects of mathe matical study. And then there is the connected question whether astronomy is a separate science from physics or only a special branch of it; for if the student of Nature is concerned to know what the sun and moon are, it were strange if he could avoid inquiry into their essential properties; especially as we find that writers on Nature have, as a fact, discoursed on the shape of the moon and sun and raised the question whether the earth, or the cosmos, is spherical or otherwise. Physicists, astronomers, and mathematicians, then, all have to deal with lines, figures and the rest. But the mathematician is not concerned with these concepts qua boundaries of natural bodies, nor with their properties as manifested in such bodies. Therefore he abstracts them from physical conditions; for they are capable of being considered in the mind in separation from the motions of the bodies to which they pertain, and such abstraction does not affect the validity of the reasoning or lead to any false conclusions.

3. Or equivalent.

4. Descartes is lead to this error by his idea that the "essential" property of a given object is its extension in space, which causes him to think in these terms; presumably, an indivisible object would have a property-in-itself that wouldn't fit into his schema. In turn this leads him to fail to get to momentum, despite some promising thoughts in that area. But analysing his errors individually isn't really interesting; my point rather is that there are endless ways of going wrong; you will always fall off the knife-edge of truth, unless you have something - in the case of physics, reality - to correct you.


Country capture

around-v Regulatory capture is a familiar concept, but "Country capture" in the sense that I mean it doesn't seem to be. State capture exists, but as a different concept. Country capture is when the govt has acquired the people. I'm prompted by the Economist's Tuvalu plans for its own disappearance (arch), where Tuvalu is (nominally), as the headline says, planning to keep going even if it physically disappears. 

Why would you do that? Obviously, if you're the leader of a country and would like to stay in power, you might do that. And yet no (democratic) leader is likely to stay in power for long enough for it to matter. Another possibility is that this is just PR wank, as a means to draw-attention-to-your-sad-plight kinda gumpf. As TE says, part of the plan is The government is especially keen to make explicit that it would expect to retain its claim on the waters surrounding present-day Tuvalu, but this isn't obviously a good idea either: why would Tuvalu manage them any better than those who might inherit them?

Instead, think of it from the point of view of the people of the country, which the govt is at least supposed to pretend to be serving. If the country vanishes, the people will be best served by moving somewhere else. Rather obviously. "preserve cultural traditions online" as Tuvalu pretends to be considering is drivel, founded upon the idea that natioanlism is a good idea, which it isn't. Think people, not countries.

The other obvious example of this is the poor benighted Palestinians, captured by Hamas and Fatah. Who would be far better off if they were just Human Beings, whereupon they could go to some other country and lead productive and useful and fulfilling lives, instead of locking themselves into their forebears stupid conflicts.

My pic shows a few days walking around Vallouise. Full write-up to follow.


My Book List by Bryan Caplan. You'll love it. Or The Identity of Shame.


The Struggle

PXL_20230926_113705658 Whilst mumbling in our beer about the failings of the world, Tom bemoaned the state of the blogging game. Which brings some thoughts to mind:

With success comes power and great success has been given me
And with great power comes great fuckability.

(The Struggle, by Scroobius Pip, as you doubtless recognise). I make no claims in that direction, indeed I am thinking of the opposite: with great lack of reach, comes great lack of responsibility.

By which I mean that I have come to terms with the world. A great many stupid, pointless, cruel, horrible things have happened, are happening, and will happen in the future1. In many cases far better outcomes could be achieved with little more that a small willingness to compromise, a slight ability to sift evidence and make accurate rather than partisan evaluations; and a whole host of other tiny trivial improvements that just won't happen.

I don't think I ever blogged with much hope of being listened to2. When I read Xitter posts of those who very much do want to be listened to it all seems rather desperate and most often doomed, and I'm certainly not going to make the attempts to shout that they do. The world has far too many competing voices searching for ears, and far too many of the people who do listen are listening for entertainment purposes only, not because they wish to have their prejudices challenged or corrected, or even wish to think.

So blogging is really only to have an interesting conversation. That doesn't always work, but at worst I'm having a conversation with my future self; and those who do comment here are always welcome, even if I don't always reply in the most temperate of terms. I write what I think is true, but I don't feel any obligation to temper my message into ear-shaped portions or strive to avoid offending fools.


1. For example, did I mention my brilliant solution to the Palestinian Problem? The Palestinians should surrender. They'd be far better off as second class citizens of Israel than they ever could be as even first class citizins of a Free Palestine, even if that were ever to come into existence. Self-determination is over-rated. Yes, I know there is no chance of this happening.

2. I've said this before, I find; see this comment on Yet more Exxonknew drivel.


* My pic: Assyrian relief from the British Museum. Still amazingly good, after all these years.

* For those interested in The Bell Curve, some interesting graphs from Cremieux on Xitter. Here is the male / female comparison: males are ~3 times as represented as females at IQ 140, but also at IQ 60 (note that these are SAT scores converted to IQ).

The Grave Evil of Unemployment / Intellectual Autobiography of Bryan Caplan.

* On the inefficient economics of US slavery. Note that while the rest is interesting, I don't endorse it all.

Conversations - ATTP. I notice, reading that, this post isn't quite what I thought it was... I was more talking about me being at peace with the world than specicially about blogging. ATTP mentions Substack, which is a thing; indeed I even have one but do nothing with it.

* Volokh: The Moral and Strategic Case for Opening Doors to Gaza Refugees.


Gray the sinner


John Gray was tending towards despair a few years ago, but has now fallen. He not so much mourns what he considers the death of liberalism as revels in it, owning the libs or whatever. He is probably aiming at the wise-elder-statesman or -philosopher type of approach, but I think he is more an old man mumbling into his beer bemoaning the young folks and their ways.

His analysis of the death is weak; indeed he largely simply assumes it. Because to him it is so obvious; but since I'm not willing to grant him so much, most of the rest falls apart for me. At least the bits I've read; I won't claim to have got far into it; I stopped around the Russia / China analysis.

But the "frame" he has chosen is Hobbes, and I can't dislike that, though I do dislike the use he makes of Hobbes and the interpretation he uses (and he thinks too much of Malthus). As to Hobbes on international relations, the answer is clear: without the Civil Sword to hold men in awe there is no peace, no compacts, and the concept of injustice does not apply.

But towards the start there are some quotes from John Aubrey's brief live of Hobbes. I like:

He had read much, if one considers his long life; but his contemplation was much more than his reading. He was wont to say that if he had read as much as other men, he should have known no more than other men.

There is a lesson in that for all of us. And for those who favour in-person debate:

He would say that he did not care to give, neither was he adroit at, a present answer to a serious query: he had as lief they should have expected an extemporary solution to an arithmetical problem, for he turned and winded and compounded in philosophy, politics, etc, as if he had been at analytical work. He always avoided, as much as he could, to conclude hastily.


* Liberalism’s obituarist: John Gray extends his dark critique of the modern world. Note the nice JCWBC framing though I don't think he is current there.

A multitude of possibly unsatisfying answers to "why is it suddenly so hot?".

Economists are not engaged enough with the IPCC says Ilan Noy, but "Economics is a purely quantitative discipline" is Shirley bollox.


A summer away

PXL_20230924_054022259 My pic shows a sunrise at Argeles-sur-Mer. I had a few days there, doing not very much, at the end of two months in France, having taken some unpaid leave.

There are an impossibly large number of pix available, but don't worry, I'll bore you with those later in detail (general: France 2023part 1: Bourg d'Oisans to Vallouise now available)

To celebrate my return, some links that I've faithfully collected during my time away.

We Can't Collect Economic InformationIndividuals do not act so as to maximize utilities, described in independently-existing functions. They confront genuine choices, and the sequence of decisions taken may be conceptualized, ex post, (after the choices), in terms of ‘as if’ functions that are maximized. But those ‘as if’ functions are, themselves, generated in the choosing process, not separately from such process.
Why so sad? I like the graph showing the alternation in sentiment when The Other Side was in power.
Age of Invention: Does History have a Replication Crisis? Some doubts about the Bulstrode / Cort slave metallurgy stuff, amongst others.
* OBEY (you may need to screw up your eyes).
Reflections on the Brook-Caplan Anarcho-Capitalism Debate. Trigger warning: uses the name "Ayn Rand".
The Supreme Court Isn’t Rogue by Ilya Somin. A bit sad that such titles are needed, but these are dark days for public sanity.
Capitalism is good. Let me explain says Sabine. And you know you trust her.
* Taxing the North Sea by Timmy, sadly as Note 44, The Global Warming Policy Foundation.
Scientifically intriguing? - ATTP; I go away and some things just don't change.


ClientEarth loses high court fight with Shell over climate strategy

tempt Sez the Graun, having previously drooled over the directors being personally sued. The ostensible reason for the lawsuit was that the directors were not acting in the best interests of the company, and that the claimants ClientEarth were therefore damaged. But this was obvious wank, and the ManInAWig seems to have spotted that. "the management of a business of the size and complexity of that of Shell will require the directors to take into account a range of competing considerations" is the right answer; and so just as in the much-heralded Alsup, the court isn't the right venue for solving these issues. In a way, it is great that our society is so rich that we can afford to pour money down the drain in this way; just as well there's no backlog of real judicial cases needing attention.


Are temperatures this summer hotter than scientists expected? - answer: no, not really, unless you cherry-pick your region carefully; but statistically, that's cheating.


Abuse of non-linear

358610673_817599326392037_7869233237770661970_n People are prone to saying things like "But impacts of climate change are different — they are non-linear" by which they mean scary, dangerous, worrying, problem-causing. But this is an abuse of terminology. A damage function that is, say, zero up to 2 oC and zillions above that is non linear; a damage function that is lots below 2 oC and zero above is also non-linear. But we only care about the first sort.

In the real world, pretty well everything is non-linear. So saying that the impacts of GW are non-linear is trivial and uninteresting, in and of itself. People segue far too casually from "non-linear" (trivial) to "thresholds exist" (largely undemonstrated) to "we're passing those thresholds and terrible things are happening" (using insurance in the US as an example is a terrible idea because the markey is so heavily distorted by regulation and govt intervention that market prices often don't apply).

Thresholds are lovely things in simple theoretical models but I think less applicable to the real world. Everything is fuzzy, distributed: there are rarely absolute thresholds.

Other confusions

Is GW accelerating? Just recently Hansen asserts "We did not say that the global temperature record to date shows an acceleration of the global warming rate". And yet Hansen-2020 says "Record global temperature in 2020, despite a strong La Niña in recent months, reaffirms a global warming acceleration that is too large to be unforced noise". Perhaps the addition data after 2020 to 2023 shows a slow-down?


* Are the impacts of climate change non-linear?

DICE damage functions.

Neoclassical tipping points of no return.

Economists greatly underestimate the price tag on harsher weather and higher seas. Why is that?

* ATTP's Abandoning the idea of an “optimal pathway” for climate policy makes me think of On getting out more. This is Jonathan Koomey's stuff; it is all so badly broken that it is hard to know where to start; see my comments chez ATTP.

* American universities have an incentive to seem extortionate. They are much cheaper than the “crisis of college affordability” suggests.

* Tipping points: AH likes good ones but doesn't like bad ones. Arf.



UK installations of heat pumps 10 times lower than in France, report finds

PXL_20230709_095959527~2 From the GraunThe UK is lagging far behind France and other EU countries in installing heat pumps, research has shown, with less than a tenth of the number of installations despite having similar markets. Only 55,000 heat pumps were sold in the UK last year, compared with more than 620,000 in France. Twenty other European countries also had higher installation rates than the UK.

The report continued: "We should try to understand why this difference is occurring". Ha ha, only joking, of course it didn't. Instead we get the familiar: "The MCS report, titled Heat Pump Rollout in France and the UK 2023, called on the government to make heat pumps mandatory for all new homes...". Why this insistence on force over understanding always?

On a similar topic, we have Michael Mann saying "Good doesn't defeat evil by trying to reason with it, normalize its underlying vices, or understand its ill-founded sense of grievance.  Good defeats evil by defeating it. That was true of the American civil war. And that is true going into the 2024 U.S. election." Confusing war and elections is a bad idea. And convincing yourself that you don't need to understand "the other side" is a really bad idea. What does "defeating" your "opponent" mean? Even in a war, fighting to the death is the worst option; in an election, the metaphor just confuses you, because "winning" means to persuade your opponents supporters to support you instead. And you persuade them by, ideally, reasonning with them; and you do that most effectively by understanding them.


* Heat pumps: more than 80% of households in Great Britain ‘satisfied with system’?

Book review: The Anome / The Brave Free Men / The Asutra.

* How Much Do Intellectuals Matter? Review of America's Cultural Revolution, by Chris Rufo.


On Personal Responsibility.

Warming: increases in variability as well as mean?

hansen Global warming makes the globe get warmer on average, with - naturally enough - year to year variabililty. If you're interested in detecting GW then looking at the average is best, because its a nice stable statistic amenable to analysis. But it is also a pretty boring statistic, since it's gone up by ~1 oC in the last century, leaving people prone to respond "is that it? Temperature changed by 10 oC during the course of today", or whatever. So people tend to prefer to find something more exciting to talk about.

One obvious thought is that perhaps, as well as the mean climate shifting, the distribution might too. For example, the left hand plot in my pic above, where we see that, for 2001-2011, not only is the mean higher but the curve has broadened, thereby strongly increasing the number of hot events (this is Hansen's stuff1; there's an animation here). However an obvious counter to that is: is that really what you expect? Why would it be so? IPCC AR6 sez "B.3 Continued global warming is projected to further intensify the global water cycle, including its variability, global monsoon precipitation and the severity of wet and dry events" but doesn't obviously say anything similar about temperature. But I've only skimmed it, and might have missed it.

We further notice that if you use a 1981-2010 reference period, you get strikingly different results: with that, the most recent period has less variablity. The paper notes this, and waves its hands, saying "Use of a recent base period alters the appearance of the distribution. Climate variability increased in recent decades, and thus the standard deviation increased. Therefore, if we use the most recent decades as base period, we “divide out” the increased variability. Thus the distribution function using 1981–2010 as the base period (Fig. 9, Right) does not expose the change that has occurred toward increased climate variability". But that doesn't explain it for me.

I finally got round to writing this post because of a tweet from SR, which says "This increase in extreme heat basically results from the same random weather fluctuations around the mean climate, just shifted by warming of the mean climate" which appears to directly contradict H. I'd be interested in other opinions.


1. Hansen is still pushing his stuff, but still relying on the 2012 results, and doesn't ref anything from the IPCC.


Morality is custom

PXL_20230711_064239131 Since Law is custom, and morality is a sort of localised short-range-interaction law, it follows that morality ought to be custom too. Having thought and written that, it seems uncontroversial; people are used to the idea that morality is customary.

This is not the same as morality-is-arbitrary, which people sometimes assert. There is a not-clearly-defined ground of morality necessary for a society to be stable enough to last long enough to develope customs1, 2. If you decided to assert that "theft is morally acceptable" you wouldn't last long, even if your law prohibited theft.


* On morailty, 2008. Not really satisfactory, because I'm not distinguishing L from M, but the direction is correct.

Monty Python, RAF Banter.

The Case for Libertarian Friendliness.

Human Deaths from Hot and Cold Temperatures and Implications for Climate Change (Patrick Brown, Breakthrough Institute) via RP.

Natural Variability, Attribution and Climate Models #6 - Science of Doom.


1. Hence the fairly common assertion that "without religion, you have no morality" is wrong.

2. See-also my Book Review: The Righteous Mind.


Law is custom

IMG_20230620_105541_769 I have frequent need to say "law is custom" and yet the post I use to link those words to - Hayek vs Hobbes and the theory of law - isn't the right one, even if it is in the right direction. What I want is a more explicit reference to James Coolidge Carter's "Law: Its Origin Growth and Function". I recommend that you read it.

In summary: law as opposed to legislation is primarily custom not command; and exists so that the reasonable expectations of reasonable people might be upheld, and violence be prevented; not to deliver Great Justice.

To pad this out, I'll quote some Hayek from my previous post: Law in the sense of enforced rules of conduct is undoubtedly coeval with society; only the observance of common rules makes the peaceful existence of individuals in society possible. Long before man had developed language to the point where it enabled him to issue general commands, an individual would be accepted as a member of a group only so long as he conformed to its rules. Such rules might in a sense not be known and still have to be discovered, because from ‘knowing how’ to act, or from being able to recognize that the acts of another did or did not conform to accepted practices, it is still a long way to being able to state such rules in words… all the famous early ‘law-givers’, from Ur-Nammu and Hammurabi to Solon, Lykurgus and the authors of the Roman Twelve Tables, did not intend to create new law but merely to state what law was and had always been... To modern man, on the other hand, the belief that all law governing human action is the product of legislation appears so obvious that the contention that law is older than law-making has almost the character of a paradox... the chief or ruler will use his authority for two quite different purposes: he will do so to teach or enforce rules of conduct which he regards as established, though he may have little idea why they are important or what depends on their observance; he will also give commands for actions which seem to him necessary for the achievement of particular purposes... The freedom of the British which in the eighteenth century the rest of Europe came so much to admire was thus not, as the British themselves ,vere among the first to believe and as Montesquieu later taught the world, originally a product of the separation of powers between legislature and executive, but rather a result of the fact that the law that governed the decisions of the courts was the common law, a law existing independently of anyone’s will and at the same time binding upon and developed by the independent courts; a law with which parliament only rarely interfered and, when it did, mainly only to clear up doubtful points within a given body of law.

Hayek doesn't say where he got his ideas from; perhaps he regarded it as a commonplace; but likely it came from Carter.

Downdate: what I wrote in 2018

I knew I'd written this stuff before, and indeed I did; here's a draft from 2018:

Law: its origin, growth and function is a "course of lectures prepared for delivery before the Law School of Harvard university" by James Coolidge Carter, 1827-1905. Unless you are a powerful legal scholar - in which case, welcome - you will benefit from refreshing your memory of Hayek vs Hobbes and the theory of law for context before reading here further. My interest here is largely in where Hayek's ideas came from, and my answer will be Carter. For those who didn't follow my refreshing advice, I will remind you of Hayek's To modern man, on the other hand, the belief that all law governing human action is the product of legislation appears so obvious that the contention that law is older than law-making has almost the character of a paradox.

I know what happened: I got that far, and intended to actually review the book, having finished reading it, but alas the re-read required never happened.



Gay cakes part two: Gay websites

curse But not Grindr or any of that stuff. No, this is the Supremes weighing in on whether people can be forced to make things they don't want to make. And the answer is no, which is the correct answer, and I think for the correct reasons, too. Read a more sober analysis at Supreme Court rules website designer can decline to create same-sex wedding websites.

First, a quibble: the standing of the litigants looks somewhat dubious to me and I think that in other circumstances the court might have ruled the case unripe, or whatever the correct legal terminology is: no-one had actually been sued. But let's ignore that quibble, since the court did.

This is yet another clash-of-rights question: how to balance people's "right" not to be discriminated against, against other people's rights not to do things they don't want to. At the top level, when one of the parties is Leviathan, then the answer is clear: the state may not discriminate and must treat all citizens on an equal basis. At the other end of the spectrum, on the individual level, citizens in their private lives are free to discriminate as they please in who they take for their friends and similar, without having to account for their choices.

But somewhere in the middle is the level of businesses, open to the public, providing services. One way to "solve" this might be to say that giant impersonal business may not discriminate, but small personal businesses may. That would be an unappealling solution, and lead to nasty fuzzy boundaries and have no clear principle. Happily, the Supremes managed something better: they made it turn on Freedom of Speech, which naturally implies no Compelled Speech; and so you can discriminate, if what you're selling amounts to "speech" defined broadly. This has the nice effect that supermarkets and other giant impersonal bizniz can't discriminate, because they aren't speaking. And unlike the original Gay Cakes, religious liberty doesn't come into it, which is correct: the court has no business elevating religious motives above others.

I won't bother analyse the reactions, because everyone said exactly what you'd expect them to.

Affirmative action

The other biggie was Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action programs in college admissions; this unkind Babylon Bee article may amuse. There is some (unreported, as far as I can see) tension with the previous, because having explicitly allowed discrimination there, they are explicitly forbidding it here. But then Harvard didn't claim any free speech defense, only a dubious "compelling" need to secure (racial) diversity. All of that seems like stale pies left over from our ancestors feasts, so I think it had to go.

On the other hand, all this Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution stuff binds the govt, not private entities; I am unsure why Harvard is bound. Probably, there are laws on top of the constitution.

I should add: I'm somewhat baffled why Harvard et al. are so determined to do this stuff. Probably, because they've been captured by the bureaucracy. This should be a signal that starting something better is possible.

Update: law-is-custom and deference: I like to shoehorn all rulings into my law-is-custom framework. This one fits fairly well: while it does overturn older rulings, and it does go against current university practice and desires, it also fits with the "tenor of the times". Affirmative Action's Demise and Higher Education argues that academia has left itself open to being overridden by Law, by losing (or throwing away) its prestige. There is something to this claim; indeed, the verdict does explicitly reject the "just trust us" that the universities were offering.

Economic perspective

One Clifford Winston attempts to put all this into an economic perpective. I think he fails. The judgements are about balance-of-rights, not economic impact. The reality is that the overall economic impacts (in terms of, say, effect on GDP) are small-to-negligible-to-impossible-to-forecast. Were the economic impacts foreseeably large-to-huge (e.g., were the Supremes to consider forbidding fossil fuel use) you would see them considered, though possibly in a disguised fashion.