Silliman's Papers

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Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Dear Dan:

Wrote earlier and did not like the letter. My question is, what "progress" has there been in art since Michaelangelo?

Is "progress" a measure of increasing excellence? If so, by what standard?

Is that standard to be found in public opinion, or some other opinion, and is excellence to be measured by conformity to, or offense against, that opinion?

Hope you are well,
Larry Arnn

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Kant’s categorical imperative and the is/ought problem

By Daniel Silliman

The is/ought problem is the trouble created by trying to deduce an ethical obligation from facts about the world. “Is” refers to data about the universe, statements of fact. “Ought” refers to the ethical command, statements that we should do something. We cannot deduce a command from facts. “Is” cannot give us “ought.” Data or descriptions about nature, man, or the nature of man do not tell us how to act.

If Kant was brilliant and influential, it couldn’t be guessed by his writing. Kant is an awful writer. He writes in circles that lead to obfuscation, not understanding. I think I see bad logic, but it may merely be bad writing. Kant sets forth five premises in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals from which he deduces the categorical imperative, saying man ought to act only in a way he could also will everyone to act (683). The five premises Kant uses intentionalism, will, reason, duty and universalization.
Kant’s first premise, though not the first one he argues for, is intentionalism. He uses this first premise in establishing the second and fourth premises. He says that the worth of an action can be found in the action itself and not in the results (683). This gives a statement, an “is,” not a command to action. Intentionalism is not an imperative.
Kant sets forth “the absolute worth of a mere will” and says, “qualities…have no inner unconditional worth but always presuppose a good will” (680). All qualities then are based on the will. Wills are good in themselves and “[u]sefulness or fruitlessness can neither add anything to this worth nor take anything away from it” (680). This premise, however dubious, is also not imperative. It is a statement about the way the world is. A psychologist or a physiologist would deal with such topics as the inner workings of man, describing the way things are.

While Kant thinks will is good of its own volition, reason must have a purpose. I’m not sure why he thinks this is so, but he does. “[R]eason…is given to us as a practical faculty” (681). He continues with the idea that the practical faculty the reason was purposed for is to produce the will. “[T]hen, where nature has everywhere else gone to work purposively in distributing its capacities, the true vocation of reason must be to produce a will that is good” (681). When describing reason Kant again is describing the workings of the mind and the nature of man—the way the world is.

Kant’s third premise is duty (681). I find duty the most confusing premise. He spends a lot of time distinguishing duty from self-interest and inclination. I see definitional arguments about duty; something a lexiconographer might spend his day on. Kant tries to distinguish between intention and action, but he never tells us how we ought to act. He wraps the question of duty into a very knotted and dense argument that isn’t (apparently) moving toward the conclusion of the categorical imperative. Perhaps he got distracted or I’m missing something, but duty would have been a good premise to use for a statement of obligation. An “ought” could have been produced in this premise—e.g., “one ought to do his duty”—but instead we deal with questions as to the meaning of duty, which is again statements about the world from which we cannot deduce an ethical code. Maybe Kant was assuming the “ought” of duty, but he skips over it without a defense so I don’t see why I should accept it as a premise.
With the first four premises—intentionalism, will, reason and duty—we are given statements about the way things work, but no imperatives about the way men ought to act. When Kant fails to use duty as an “ought” statement, despite it being handy, we find the premise argument producing four “is” statements and no “ought” statements. Since the conclusion is a statement about how we ought to act and we cannot derive an obligation from a description of the functions of the world around us, the first four premises do not take us to the conclusion. They cannot get us over the logical bar.

The final premise, universalization, is a bit tricky. The books and articles I read did not point to it as a premise and the students I spoke with do not mention it as a premise. Nevertheless, I think Kant uses it. After the first statement of the categorical imperative, Kant’s conclusion, he goes on to discuss the necessity of universalization. He calls universalization a compass by which we can “distinguish in every case that comes up what is good and what is evil” (684). Kant tells us that when we universalize our personal actions and look to see if we are content with the universalization we find out if they are good actions. This premise, if it is a premise, could be dug out, clarified and interpreted in two ways, but neither leaves us with a valid argument.

If we see universalization as an “ought” statement, we phrase it: “A man ought to act as if his personal actions were to become universally acted upon.” But this is no more than a restatement of the conclusion and we are presenting an invalid argument by begging the question. If this phrasing of the premise is the correct one, then we are saying: “A, therefore A.” Kant isn’t presenting a valid argument for the categorical imperative.

We can avoid this logical error by interpreting universalization differently, phrasing it: “Universalization of personal actions tells us if our actions are good.” This is the best premise in the argument for the categorical imperative, but it too is an “is” statement lacking a command on how man should act. If we had a companion premise stating a man ought to act in a good way, we would have an “ought” statement to deduce an ethical imperative. We have no such statement and are left, in this interpretation of the premise, with another “is” statement.

None of the five premises I could identify in Kant’s convoluted prose produced a valid argument. The is/ought problem almost incessantly plagues Kant and his categorical imperative. When we come close to avoiding the problem of deducing an obligation from a fact, we produced another logical error, begging the question. Kant’s logic transgresses the is/ought distinction and does not suffice.

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

A Conservative Revolution:
How the American War for Independence sought to defend the old order.

By Daniel Silliman

The English ideal of self-government stretches far into the past. The idea of men governing themselves has roots in Hebrew law, Greek democracy, and the Roman Republic. Yet, the ideal of self-government was an idea Englishmen clung to as uniquely their own. It was a habit; a sentiment confirmed in the hearts of all Englishmen, it had become a self-definition. The ideas of self-government and limited rule became firmly established as an English idea on June 15, 1215, when King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta by the barons of England. The tradition of the English assumed men had the right to govern themselves. They had the right to elect their representatives and to be tried by their peers. They had the final approval of, the ultimate authority over government. The tradition was maintained when settlers, subjects of the English monarch, came to North America. They settled in colonies that were given a charter by the crown, ruled internally. They were self-ruled by grant of the king and by their right as Englishmen. The English colonists of North America declared independence in order to preserve this old order, defending their habit of self-government.

The Americans were not upset about tea or stamps but about the imposition of a government where they felt they had no representation, about Parliament violating a tradition of self-government that defined free Englishmen. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason and imitated by Thomas Jefferson in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, declared in article IV:

"That all elections ought to be free, and that all men having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to the community, have the right of suffrage, and cannot be taxed, or deprived of their property for public uses, without their own consent, or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not in like manner assented, for the public good" (qtd. Rossiter, 60).

Self-government was being overturned by King and by Parliament. Charters and traditions—both written and unwritten contracts—were being dispensed with. The rights natural to Englishmen were being overthrown by a revolution led by the King. The colonists were, by nature, conservatives seeking to maintain the old order. Where king and parliament was implementing untried ideas the Americans held to the past, relied on the wisdom of experience. The colonists were trying to preserve their established rights, their contracted agreements. Contract theory, as political theorist John Locke wrote in his Second Treaties on Civil Government, allowed men to disband from a society when it was not fulfilling the needs of the contract. Locke wrote: “Men, as it has been said, by Nature, all free, equal and independent, no one can be put out of his Estate, and subjected to the political power of another without his own Consent” (330).

Historian Russell Kirk describes the conservative justification for the war of independence:
What Whiggish America stood for was the long established chartered right of the colonies to govern themselves. They looked upon George III as a monarch who intended to make a revolution, by subverting their old ways of self-government; they protested that they, in resisting Crown and Parliament, were preventing royal revolution (Kirk, 395).

Edmund Burke, a Whig in Parliament at the time of the war, in his Address to the King in 1777, said the Americans were British and saw a lack of self-government as slavery, for which they would not stand. But beneath the arguments of the definition of freedom and slavery we find the conservative defense of the American War for Independence:

"The grievance is as simple in its nature, and as level to the most ordinary understanding, as it is powerful in affecting the most languid passions, it is:


"Your Majesty’s English subjects in the colonies, possessing the ordinary faculties of mankind, know, that to live under such a plan is not to live in a state of freedom. Your English subjects in the colonies, still impressed with the ancient feeling of the people from whom they are derived, cannot live under a government that does not establish freedom as its basis.

"This scheme, being therefore set up in direct opposition to the rooted and confirmed sentiments and habits of thinking of an whole people, has produced the effects which ever must result from such a collision of power and opinion" (Burke, 150).

The Declaration of Independence referred to a “long train of abuses” (35). These abuses did not exist in a vacuum. They were abuses of the tradition and habit of self-government. As conservatives, they were bound by duty and responsible for the defense of their rights. The Declaration of Independence said
(36) it was this right and duty that made the revolution, the withdrawal from the contract that bound America and England, necessary and unavoidable.

The American colonists were facing the indignity of tradition being uprooted, cast aside without respect. The king was not, Burke argues and the colonists would agree, treating them as Englishmen. By tradition Englishmen have the authority to consent to their governance. By tradition Englishmen must consent to their rule and will not accept an imposition of government. By tradition they had the right to choose their representatives. But George III was casting aside experience for new and temporarily profitable ideas. The English subjects of the North American Colonies were facing a revolution by the throne of England. The King was instigating a revolution against the old order, tearing down established English ways and confirmed English rights. The actions of the patriots were conservative. Faced with a conflict between tradition and crown they sought to maintain the order, preventing its subversion. As Kirk explains: “In this, the American Revolution differed vastly from the French evolution. The Americans, in essence, meant to keep their old order and defend it against external interference” (396).

The English colonists of North America declared independence in order to preserve this old order, defending their habit of self-government. They were conservatives maintaining their tradition, defending their experience, upholding their habits of self-rule.

Works Consulted:

American Heritage: A Reader. Acton: Tapestry, 2001.
Burke, Edmund. On the American Revolution: Selected Speeches and Letters. Ed. Elliot R. Barkan. New York: Harper, 1966.
Declaration of Independence, The. Washington, D.C., Commission on the Bicentennial, 1991.
Kirk, Russell. The Roots of American Order. Washington, DC: Regency, 1991
Locke, John. Two Treatises of Governent. New York, Cambride, 1997.
Rossiter, Clinton. The Political Thought of the American Revolution. New York: Harcourt, 1963.
Tindal, George Brown, and David Emory Shi. America: A Narrative History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000.

Student facing 21 years imprisonment
Former basketball player had stolen credit cards, marijuana in his pocket when arrested

By Daniel Silliman, Collegian Staff Writer

A Hillsdale College student was arrested for allegedly stealing two credit cards Saturday.

Edward James Carter, 23, is facing six felony charges and one misdemeanor after he allegedly stole two credit cards from fellow student
Adam Schaper. When arrested, Carter had Schaper’s Visa and Discoverer credit cards as well as a plastic bag of marijuana in his pockets.

Court documents say Carter stole the cards from Schaper, taking them from Schaper’s unlocked dorm room. Carter went to Rite Aid to buy alcohol and then to Meyer’s Jewel Box where he purchased $1,482 of jewelry, court documents say.

Meyer’s Jewel Box employee called the police after becoming suspicious during the sale. The first credit card was at its limit and the transaction didn’t go through. The transaction was completed with the second card but when signing the receipt Carter started to write his own name, scratched it out and wrote Schaper’s.

“Apparently he started to write his own name,” Schaper said.

Two Hillsdale Police officers came to Simpson and spoke with Schaper, who stated he hadn’t spent any money on jewelry that day. Schaper then checked and found his credit cards missing.

“The police came and asked me if I was missing my cards,” Schaper said. “They were questioning me when Ed popped his head in the door.”

Police recognized Carter from the description given by the jewelry store and arrested him. Upon arrest they found the two credit cards belonging to Schaper in his pockets as well as more than one ounce of marijuana. The arrest came six days after Carter's birthday.

Carter faces a maximum sentence of 21 years imprisonment and $11,000 in fines for one count of larceny, two counts of stealing a credit card, two counts of using a credit card illegally and one count of possession of marijuana.

Schaper said he hope the court goes easy on Carter, who had been a friend of his.

“I told the DA I didn’t want to press charges. I wanted to see him punished but I didn’t want to mess him up for the rest of his life,” he said.

Dean of Men Aaron Petersen said he could not comment on the charges or the arrest for legal reasons.

“I can’t touch these things,” he said. “Any news like that breaks my heart and I hope he can straighten his life out.”

Carter returned to Detroit after finishing his course work last semester. He planned on graduating in May. Petersen could not comment on how the arrest and charges would affect his graduation.

According to Simpson residents, Carter came by to play inter mural basketball and see friends. Carter was a starting player for Hillsdale’s basketball team last year. It was rumored he was going to work as an assistant coach but he had not been offered a position.

Simpson residents were not surprised by the possession of marijuana charge, though Carter appears have been in little or no trouble in the past. Residents, who described Carter and Schaper as friends, were shocked by the fraud and larceny charges.

Carter was arraigned in court on Monday at 1 p.m. Bail was set at $26,000. At the time of publication the money had not been posted. Carter did not yet have a lawyer.

His pretrial hearing was set for Wednesday, March 20.

Saturday, March 09, 2002

I plan to throw my papers, some news articles and anything longer than normal over here. Thanks to Seraphim, Jeff and Andrew Sullivan for the idea.


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