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Posts from October 2003

Blues for Dixie

Tomorrow–or, if you reckon it by the time of night when I’m posting this, today–I’m hopping on a Greyhound bound southward to Alabama for a weekend at the beach with L. You might find it a bit odd that I am bussing all the way down to Alabama for a weekend at the cold end of October; it might not seem so odd when I mention that our vacation is going to consist in going to the annual Alabama Philosophical Society conference in Orange Beach, Alabama.

For what it’s worth, I’ll be presenting a paper at the APS conference. It’s an essay on the Liar Paradox and other related paradoxes of self-reference. I argue against traditional attempts to rule out the formulation of paradoxical sentences through the employment of syntactical rules; using Tarski’s semantic conception of truth as a case study, I argue that the dream of a logical syntax leads either to overt ad hockery, or else systematic theories that go systematically wrong. In place of the syntactic method, I argue for a dialectical method of elucidations–rather than looking for prior syntactic rules, the right method is to explore the putative sentences and show how, even if they follow all the syntactic rules, they never succeed in doing propositional work. (To get a rough idea of the distinction, think of two different ways of talking about what goes wrong in a chess game. On the one hand, think of how you would react if someone tried to win by moving her bishop sideways: you would get out the rule book and point out the rule that specifies only diagonal moves as well-formed bishop moves. The syntactic method takes something like this picture as the model for deflating self-referential paradoxes: if you adhere rigorously to the syntactic rules of the formalism, there is no way for the paradoxical sentences to ever be formulated. The dialectical method, on the other hand, takes the matter to be more like moving your pieces into stalemate than like making an illegal move: all of the moves leading up to it are legal, and there’s no single non-trival rule to tell you why you can’t win from a stalemate. Rather, you realize that you are stalemated by trying out moves until you see that there’s just no more chess to play.)

In any case, I’m really looking forward to the upcoming weekend: what could be better than a restful weekend at the beach, a vacation alone with L., and a quality philosophy conference all in one? (Disneyworld, eat your heart out.) Also, I’ll get to head back to the South and spend a little time in Auburn again.

In related news, I won’t be taking much time out of my vacation to post updates to the weblog. (You might protest that I don’t take much time out of my work week or weekends to post updates, either. I haven’t gotten back into the groove of regular posting yet, no. But mostly because I’ve been busy with a lot of updates to various parts of the website that aren’t immediately visible in the form of weblog posts. I have a couple of posts in the queue that I’ll polish up and post on my return, and hopefully I’ll carry on from there.)

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. Ciao!

Who Has the Better Argument? We Report, You Decide.

One of the favorite satirical devices of Karl Kraus, an acerbic critic writing in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was to simply print verbatim quotes from prominent Viennese figures, without any additional commentary. Sadly, the tactic has only become more necessary since the end of the Great War–particularly within the discursive world of televised debate.

(link thanks to Tom Tomorrow)

Hannity & Colmes: Debate on Impeaching Bush

While inspectors in Iraq continue searching for weapons of mass destruction, some Americans are outraged at the president that so far no weapons of mass destruction have been found. Our next guest thinks that’s grounds for impeachment.

We’re joined by the publisher of Harper’s magazine, John MacArthur, who’s with us. And the author of the best selling book, Treason, Ann Coulter is with us.

It’s not even really intellectually worth discussing. After reading your article, my first reaction is to bubble and fizz and get mad. My second reaction is this is beyond silly, you know, but you really believe this?

Why do you invite me to go on the show if you think it’s beyond discussion?

Because Alan wanted you on. That’s why.

OK. But clearly…

It wasn’t my first choice.

Clearly, if the president of the United States has lied on a grand scale to Congress…

Name me one lie. Name me one lie.

Let me finish.

If you’re going to call him a liar, back it up.

I will, yes. I’ll talk about what he said to Bush…Blair at the press conference on September 7 at Camp David. He said…he cited a non-existent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that Saddam was six months away from developing a nuclear weapon and infamously said, What more evidence do we need? And from there…

We don’t have time for a speech.

… we moved on to aluminum tubes. We moved on to connections with Al Qaeda.

Did you call…

We talked about an atomic bomb threat that did not exist. Sean, this didn’t exist. This didn’t exist.

This isn’t a speech time.

You need me to give you the facts.

I’ve got to ask you, did you call for the impeachment of Bill Clinton?

I wasn’t interested in the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

You weren’t interested? So you’re only interested in the impeachment of Republicans?

No, no, no, no. I mean, it’s…Listen, I can’t stand Bill Clinton.

Did Bill Clinton lie to the American people?


Why do you have one standard for him and another standard for a Republican?

I have the same standard for both of them.

No, you don’t. Because you didn’t write an article asking for his impeachment.

Actually, what I’m trying to tell you is that if you, as Senator Graham put it a few months ago very intelligently, if you apply the same standard to Bush that was applied to Clinton, then it’s impeachable. He should be impeached. Absolutely.


Because as Alexander Hamilton said in The Federalist Papers, this has to do with the immediate consequences and harm done to society. What could be greater harm than the deaths of American soldiers…

Excuse me. The immediate consequences…Sir, you have yet to…

… in Iraq, who have been sent to Iraq on a fraudulent pretext, utterly…

My patience is really running thin.

… and they’re dying.

Could you please be quiet, because there are other people on the panel?

OK. Sure.

The idea here, he cannot give a specific example.

I did give a specific example.

He’s full of crap.

I did give an example.

And this is just, hatred of George W. Bush now has become a sport for these guys.

Ann Coulter?

First of all, I agree with you. I hate to treat this seriously by responding, but the particular lie that he cited as his leading, case in chief of the president lying, yes, Bush cited something like the Atomic Energy Commission. He misspoke.


It was the International Institute for Strategic Studies or something. He misspoke about the name of the institute.

No, he didn’t. He didn’t.

It’s my turn now. You stop that.


Point two, as you know, I’m something of an authority on the grounds for impeachment. And this is precisely the sort of thing that impeachment is not for. I mean, it’s not for policy disagreements. It’s certainly not for something that is in the president’s prerogative, such as waging war, for example.

To take a decision that I think is appalling, but is not grounds for impeachment. Bill Clinton sending a small Cuban boy back to a Bolshevik monster in Cuba. That is not grounds for impeachment, because that is part of the president’s authority.


You don’t impeach for disagreements over policy. It is for misbehavior; that is what misdemeanor means. It’s for bad decorum.

Ann, we didn’t let Rick make a speech. You can’t make a speech, either.

Well, actually, you did.

I know it’s hard, but if you look to your left, I know that’s difficult.

Look, I don’t think he should be impeached. I disagree with Rick about that.

That’s very big of you.

Thank you. I think I’d rather put our time and effort toward 2004, and just like I don’t think Bill Clinton should have been impeached, I don’t.

But I understand Rick’s point. There are many Americans who increasingly seem to feel that we were not leveled with, for whatever reason, whether it was Bush who did it or people in his administration who gave him false information.

He did say the IAEA reported that Iraq was six months away from a nuclear capability, which turned out not to be true. It’s a scare tactic.

He got the name of the institute wrong.

Saying I misspoke, and they said they misspoke about a number of things. Misspoke about uranium. They misspoke about tubes, misspoke about how many things.


Misspoke lets him off the hook?

No. Liberals don’t want to fight terrorism. You want there to be lots of 9/11’s.

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