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On the Island of Logical Robots

Suppose you are a maintenance tech who works on an island with many different robots, in three different models. (1) Truthinator 9000, (2) D-Seevr 4.0, and (3) Benders. All three kinds of robots look exactly alike, so you can’t tell them apart based on what they look like. They all know everything there is to know. But Truthinators are programmed always to tell the truth; D-Seevrs are programmed always to tell lies. Benders mostly lie, of course, but they can choose to say false things and they also can choose to say true things. All of them only output intelligible declarative sentences with definite consistent truth values.[1]

Now suppose that a robot needs a repair and wants to identify its model to you. Truthinator 9000 would say “I am Truthinator 9000.” But then, D-Seevr might also say that, and so might Bender, if he chooses to lie, which he often does. Bender could truthfully say “I’m a Bender, bub” but a D-Seevr might say that too.

  1. Is there one sentence that a Bender could say that would allow you, as a sufficiently logical maintenance tech, to identify the robot as a Bender rather than a Truthinator or a D-Seevr? If so, what?

  2. Is there one sentence that a Truthinator could say that would allow you to definitely identify the robot as a Truthinator and not as a Bender or a D-Seevr? If so, what?

  3. Is there anything that a D-Seevr could say in one sentence that would allow you to definitely identify the robot as a D-Seevr, and not as a Truthinator or a Bender?


  1. [1]This is of course a modified Knights and Knaves problem, of the sort popularized by Raymond Smullyan. But the presence of Benders on the island should significantly change the sort of strategies available.

Enter the Molinari Review

Shared Article from Austro-Athenian Empire

Molinari Review 1.1: What Lies Within? | Austro-Athenian Empire

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL] The Molinari Institute (the parent organization of the Center for a Stateless Society) is proud to announce the publica…

Roderick @ aaeblog.com

Here’s an announcement from Roderick Long about the debut of the Molinari Review.

The Molinari Institute (the parent organization of the Center for a Stateless Society) is proud to announce the publication of the first issue of our new interdisciplinary, open-access, libertarian academic journal, the Molinari Review, edited by yours truly, and dedicated to publishing scholarship, sympathetic or critical, in and on the libertarian tradition, very broadly understood. (See our original call for papers.)

You can order a copy here:

Print Kindle
Amazon US Amazon US
Amazon UK Amazon UK
CreateSpace Store

It should also be available, now or shortly, on other regional versions of Amazon. And later on it’ll be available from our website as a free PDF download (because copyright restrictions are evil).


So what’s in it?

In “The Right to Privacy Is Tocquevillean, Not Lockean: Why It MattersJulio Rodman argues that traditional libertarian concerns with non-aggression, property rights, and negative liberty fail to capture the nature of our concern with privacy. Drawing on insights from Tocqueville and Foucault, Rodman suggests that privacy is primarily a matter, not of freedom from interference, but of freedom from observation, particularly accusatory observation.

In “Libertarianism and Privilege,” Billy Christmas charges that right-wing libertarians underestimate the extent and significance of harmful relations of privilege in society (including, but not limited to, class and gender privilege) because they misapply their own principles in focusing on proximate coercion to the exclusion of more indirect forms of coercion; but, he argues, broadening the lens of libertarian inquiry reveals that libertarian principles are more powerful tools for the analysis of privilege than privilege theorists generally suppose.

In “Capitalism, Free Enterprise, and Progress: Partners or Adversaries?,” Darian Nayfeld Worden interrogates traditional narratives of the Industrial Revolution. Distinguishing between capitalism (understood as a separation between labour and ownership/management) and free enterprise, Nayfeld Worden maintains that the rise of capitalism historically was in large part the result of a suppression of free enterprise, and that thanks to state intervention, the working-class benefited far less from industrialisation and technological innovation than they might otherwise have done.

In “Turning the Tables: The Pathologies and Unrealized Promise of Libertarianism,” Gus diZerega contends that libertarians misunderstand and misapply their own key concepts, leading them to embrace an atomistic vision of society, and to overvalue the market while undervaluing empathy and democracy. (Look for a reply or two in our next issue.)

Finally, Nathan Goodman reviews Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire, an anthology edited by C. B. Daring, J. Rogue, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Volcano. Goodman praises the book for its illumination of many aspects of the intersection between anarchist tradition and the LGBTQ community, with particular emphasis on the tension between LGBTQ activists who seek to dismantle oppressive institutions and those who merely seek inclusion within them; but in the area of economics, he finds its authors to be too quick to dismiss the free market or to equate it with the prevailing regime of corporatist privilege.

Want to order a copy? See the ordering information above.

Want to contribute an article to an upcoming issue? Head to the journal’s webpage.

Want to support this project financially? Make a donation to the Molinari Institute General Fund.

— Roderick Long, Molinari Review 1.1: What Lies Within?
Austro-Athenian Empire (19 May 2016)

Border Surge

Reuters reports that the Obama Administration’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans a new 30-day surge of raids, arrests, and deportations. The plan is to focus on mothers and children. This is appalling, and a shameful reflection on the sheer sadism of U.S. immigration politics. No matter what party it represents, no matter what name it assumes, no matter what liberalism it pretends, U.S. government, liberal or conservative, is an instrument of violent nationalism and a belligerent, destructive assault on migrant communities. Every deportation is a shattered family, and every border is a bloody scar cut across the human heart. The Obama administration’s record on detention and deportation of immigrant families has been outrageous and inexcusable, and this planned escalation of ICE’s war on undocumented families and communities of color will only make the damage even worse, and the legacy of this administration even more of an offense against human compassion and the basic human liberties of immigrants.

U.S. immigration officials are planning a month-long series of raids in May and June to deport hundreds of Central American mothers and children found to have entered the country illegally, according to sources and an internal document seen by Reuters.

The operation would likely be the largest deportation sweep targeting immigrant families by the administration of President Barack Obama this year after a similar drive over two days in January that focused on Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina.

Those raids, which resulted in the detention of 121 people, mostly women and children, sparked an outcry from immigration advocates and criticism from some Democrats, including the party’s presidential election frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has now told field offices nationwide to launch a 30-day “surge” of arrests focused on mothers and children who have already been told to leave the United States, the document seen by Reuters said. The operation would also cover minors who have entered the country without a guardian and since turned 18 years of age, the document said. Two sources confirmed the details of the plan.

The exact dates of the latest series of raids were not known and the details of the operation could change.

–Julia Edwards, U.S. plans new wave of immigrant deportation raids
Reuters (12 May 2016)

Shared Article from Reuters

Exclusive: U.S. plans new wave of immigrant deportation raids

U.S. immigration officials are planning a month-long series of raids in May and June to deport hundreds of Central American mothers and children found…


‪#‎Not1More‬ ‪#‎NiUnaMas‬ ‪#‎StopTheRaids‬ ‪#‎StopDeportation‬ ‪#‎NoBorders‬ ‪#‎AbolishICE‬

The Self-Confidence Argument for Anarchism Re-visited: Premise 5 and Marco Polo

Back in December, I posted about an original argument against the legitimacy of the state, which I called The Self-Confidence Argument for Philosophical Anarchism. Here’s the argument, again:

  1. This argument is a valid deductive argument. (Premise.)
  2. If this argument is a valid deductive argument and all of its premises are true, then its conclusion is true. (Premise.)
  3. Its conclusion is No state could possibly have legitimate political authority. (Premise.)
  4. If No state could possibly have legitimate political authority is true, then no state could possibly have legitimate political authority. (Premise.)
  5. All of this argument’s premises are true. (Premise.)
  6. This is a valid deductive argument and all of its premises are true. (Conj. 1, 5)
  7. Its conclusion is true. (MP 2, 6)
  8. No state could possibly have legitimate political authority is true. (Subst. 3, 7)
  9. ∴ No state could possibly have legitimate political authority. (MP 5, 8)

Q.E.D., and smash the state.

The problem, of course, is that if this argument is sound, then it seems like you could construct another argument that must also sound, simply by substituting Some states have legitimate political authority everywhere in lines 3, 4, 8 and 9 that No state could possibly have legitimate political authority. And then you’d get an apparently perfectly sound Self-Confidence Argument for the State. It’s easy enough to figure out that there has to be something wrong with at least one of those arguments. Their conclusions directly contradict each other, and so couldn’t both be true. But they are formally completely identical; so presumably whatever is wrong with one argument would also be wrong with the other one. But if so, what’s wrong with them? Are they invalid? If so, how? Whichever argument you choose to look at, the argument has only four inferential steps, and all of them use elementary valid rules of inference or rules of replacement. Since each inferential step in the argument is valid, the argument as a whole must be valid. This also, incidentally, provides us with a reason to conclude that premise 1 is true in both. Premise 2 seems true by definition, under any standard definition of deductive validity. Premise 3 is a simple empirical observation. If you’re not sure it’s true, you can just look down the page to line 9 and find out. Premise 4 is a completely uncontroversial application of standard disquotation rules for true sentences. That seems to leave Premise (5). And premise (5) may seem over-confident, perhaps even boastful. But what it says is that just all the premises of the argument are true; so if it’s false, then which premise of the argument are you willing to deny? Whichever one you pick, what is it that makes that premise false? On what (non-question-begging) grounds would you say that it is false?

On my first post, a commenter named Lexi made the following observation, in order to suggest that you might nevertheless be able to reject Premise 5 — they noted that Premise 5 makes a statement about the truth of all the premises in the argument. But one of the premises it makes the claim about is Premise 5 itself. And perhaps that allows you to cut the knot:

Premise 5 is, at least, unsupportable. In order for all the premises to be true, premise 5 must also be true. The only way to justify premise 5 is by circular reasoning. Given that, maybe it’s not so surprising that you can support any conclusion X with the argument, since circular reasoning can establish any proposition as true.

–Lexi, comment (23 December 2015)

They’re certainly right to observe since premise 5 itself is among the statements premise 5 is quantifying over, its truth conditions would have to be something like:

(T5) Premise 5 is true ≡ Premise 1 is true & Premise 2 is true & Premise 3 is true & Premise 4 is true & Premise 5 is true

That might seem curious, and it involves a certain sort of circularity, but I can’t say I see how it makes the premise insupportable, if that is supposed to mean that you couldn’t give non-circular reasons to believe that Premise 5 is true.

After all, statements like this really are a part of ordinary language in non-philosophical cases. For example, Marco Polo begins his Description of the World by making the following statement in the Prologue:

. . . We will set down things seen as seen, things heard as heard, so that our book may be an accurate record, free from any sort of fabrication. And all who read this book or hear it may do so with full confidence, because it contains nothing but the truth.

This is a pretty common conceit in traveler’s tales: the author frequently assures the reader that everything they say — incredible as it might seem — is true.

But that statement is among the statements in Polo’s book; if he asserts that it contains nothing but the truth, then that sentence, inter alia, asserts that it is itself true:

(M) Marco Polo and his brothers traveled the Silk Road to China, and there he befriended the Emperor Kublai Khan, and along the way they observed the decadent customs of Lesser Armenia, and along the way they traveled among the Turkomans, and . . ., and (M) is true.

Which makes its truth-conditions something like:

(TM) (M) is true ≡ Marco Polo and his brothers did travel the Silk Road to China, and there he did befriend the Emperor Kublai Khan, and along the way they did observe the decadent customs of Lesser Armenia, and along the way they did travel among the Turkomans, and . . ., and (M) is true.

But here’s the thing. It doesn’t seem to me like (M) is insupportable or viciously circular. In ordinary cases, wouldn’t we determine whether it’s true or not by going through the book and checking out the other statements? I.e., some people reading the book might take everything else Marco Polo says there as true; and if so, then they’d take (M) as true as well. Call someone with this attitude towards (M) and its truth-conditions the True Believer. On the other hand, some people doubt parts of his tale — some people for example doubt that he even went to China at all. If so, they typically think not only that the first conjunct is false, but also the last one — if one of his statements is an assurance that all the statements are true, and any of the other statements are false, then that makes at least two falsehoods in total. Call someone with this attitude towards (M) and its truth-conditions the Normal Skeptic.

But now imagine a reader who insisted that they were a skeptic about Polo’s claims — but then, when asked one-by-one, signed off on every one of his other statements, except that they denied the statement that the book contains nothing but the truth. Call someone who takes this attitude towards (M) and its truth-conditions the Degenerate-Case Skeptic. Would Degenerate-Case Skepticism even make sense, as a position you might take with respect to the truth value of the claims in the book? Would it be a supportable claim? If so, how? If anything, it seems like the fault of circular here is mots easily attributed to someone who denies (M), or who mutatis mutandis denies Premise (5), based solely on Degenerate-Case skepticism. If (M) or (5) is false for no other reason that you even in principle could give other than its sui generis falsity, then that seems like a particularly radical form of question-begging.

Of course, you might say that it is insupportable, but so is the alternative, the True Believer’s claim that all the statements are true. So there’s no non-question-begging reason you could give to say that (M) or (5) is true, and there’s no non-question-begging reason you could give to say that (M) or (5) is false. Since the function of an argument is to give reasons to believe that its conclusion is true, if one of the premises cannot have any non-question-begging reason given either for its truth or falsity, then it seems like the argument can’t provide reasons for any conclusions that depend logically on that premise. (As the conclusion of any Self-Confidence Argument does; the MP in the conclusion cites Premise 5.) So you could say that. But now the question is, why say that? Isn’t it normally possible to give reasons for being a True Believer, and reasons for being a Normal Skeptic, even if there are no reasons you can give for being a Degenerate-Case skeptic? Is this kind of claim of radical insupportability the way we normally read texts that make assurances about themselves, like Marco Polo? Should it be?

If it’s not, and it shouldn’t, then should it be the way that we read Premise 5 here, even though it’s not the way we read Marco Polo? If there’s some difference between the two, that suggests reading Marco Polo in this way but not reading Premise 5 in this way, then what if any reason (preferably a principled reason that’s not question begging, and not simply ad hoc) could we give for the difference in semantic treatment?[1]

  1. [1]Or is it a difference in their semantics? Or a difference in something else, e.g. the pragmatics of their use?
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