Friday, September 30, 2005

Moral Knowledge via Connaturality

Christians often appeal to God as the ultimate ontological basis for moral values, but less is said about the epistemological basis for moral knowledge. It is sometimes suggested that we have a set of innate moral first principles. Others say that moral knowledge is instilled in us by way of our upbringing and that moral knowledge may be refined by comparing our moral beliefs with the beliefs of society. Both of these accounts are lacking. The former is not helpful in explaining the variety of moral sentiments, while the latter is not helpful in establishing an objective morality.

Jacques Maritain's notion of moral knowledge via Connaturality (or by way of natural inclination) appears to alleviate the above problems. It is not that we have an innate knowledge of moral principles, rather we have a natural inclination toward moral action and judgment. This incliniation may be refined or distorted. It may be refined by a good upbringing and a reflective character, or it may be distorted by a poor upbringing and an uninteresting character.

In support of this view is the universal fact of moral judgment. We may grant the fact that various cultures differ in their normative prescriptions. However, we are still left with the fact that all cultures have some sort of normative standards. If it is the case that action flows from a things nature or essence, then it would appear that man is by nature a moral being. He cannot help but condemn wrong action and praise noble actions. Even if he is confused about the moral rightness or wrongness of a particular action, he is not ignorant of the fact that there are right and wrong actions.

What then is the immediate epistemological grounds of our moral knowledge? Man is. Our nature cannot help but tend toward some sort of morality. Philosophy's primary task is not to justify the objectivity of morality, rather its job is to reflect on and elucidate the principles inherent in the nature of man. Of course as Christians, this is not enough. This is rather the beginning point for our inquiry into the study of morality. Ultimately, there must have been a Cause of our essence who pointed our nature in a particular direction. That Cause is God.

Any thoughts? Criticisms? Has anyone here read anything by Maritain on Natural Law?

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Hours of Panda Blasting Fun: The New Panda-Monium Video Game

Posted in: Humor

The new Panda-Monium is here!!

Enjoy hours of manning the wheel of the "Dembski Dozer" and firing rounds at flying pandas as they scream "who designed the designer?" when they are hit.

You can play Panda-Monium here

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Friday, September 16, 2005

When arguments become lovefests

Posted in: Science

Here is one of a few discussion forum threads about Intelligent Design that I started: Is there such a thing as a testable and falsifiable ID theory?

Said and done, it seems we agreed to disagree in a sea of tentativeness, and suprisingly high levels of kindness abounded (that is, for the internet). It became a study in itself about the way 'social' interactions can work over such controversial topics as ID. You can see how people explain themselves, how people respond to questions, how people want to be viewed...all in all, the thread became a rather Socratic experience for me. Bear in mind that the anti-ID people who stayed with it were ostensibly scientists (Joe in physics, Peter in paleontology, Brandon in cell biology), and we few pro-ID people weren't so much geared that way. Whether that is typical or not doesn't really matter. I love stuff like this. I welcome comments, and many avenues weren't fully persued from the discussion.

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One Liners and Mixed Metaphors

Posted in: Humor

These one liners and mixed metaphors are courtesy of Dr. Richard G. Howe. His website is at

One Liners

I didn't know that ignorance was not an excuse.

Maybe I shouldn't second guess myself after all.

I have given up the observance of Lent.

Can you think of a question with the word 'cantaloupe' in it for no apparent reason?

If you give in to one slippery slope fallacy, pretty soon you'll be giving into them all.

I'm the only one here who is not unique.

Life is either an excluded middle or it isn't.

The word 'practically' had practically come to mean virtually the same thing as the word 'virtually.'

Ask me about my vow of silence. (with thanks to Doug Beaumont!)

If you like your job, are you a gruntled employee?

Everybody overgeneralizes.

Sometimes it's intermittent and sometimes it's not. (with thanks to Sonny Fleming!)

What if there were no hypotheticals?

In this business, you either sink or swim or you don't.

Surveys show that nine out of ten people say that if you get ten people together one person is always going to disagree with the other nine. (Colin Mochrie)

A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough and, after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.

Can you be a closet claustrophobic?

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

Just because you're a hypochondriac doesn't mean you're not seriously ill.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that only comes every so often. (Randy Moss)

Mixed Metaphors

We'll burn that bridge when we get to it.

We need to lower the playing field.

I wouldn't do that for a ten foot pole.

I wouldn't touch that with a million dollars.

He's a little green behind the ears.

We've just begun to scratch the iceberg.

I don't mean to be chasing a dead horse.

If you do that you'll open a whole ball of wax.

Everyone here is on the seat of his pants! [CNN reporter during the Florida presidental election fiasco]

That just tickled the pink out of me [with thanks to Joan Solheim].

I don't mean to throw a monkey into the wrench. [radio talk show host]

I don't mean to step on anyone's sacred cow … [radio preacher]

He was running around like a chicken with its legs cut off.

You don't have to be a rocket surgeon to figure that out.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Reductio Ad Conclusion

Posted in: Humor

I think it's time for some new informal fallacies . . .
It is fun to watch struggling new logicians and theologians attempting to refute thinkers who are, while wrong, still pretty darn smart (see the Dodecohedron of Opposition elsewhere on this blog). Now I am a neophyte as well in this area but I have seen some funnies that I think are worthy of a cool latin title.

For example, the other day I was discussing a certain highly respected theologian's view of God, time, and simplicity with a colleague. He was recounting a conversation he had with a student regarding the fact that if one accepts that God is in time they must also believe that God is not simple. The student was valiantly trying to use a reductio ad absurdum type argument to show that God being in time results in the absrud conclusion that He is not simple. But that is the theologian's own position! Thus, the student actually reduced the theologian's argument down to his own conclusion.

We decided to call this "Reductio Ad Conclusion" - the fallacy of reducing your opponent's conclusion to his conclusion.

It's a fine start, so please help add to the list and maybe we can get a freakin book published.

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How to Beg the Question

Posted in: Philosophy

(This is a re-post of an article that was lost in the great purge of '05)

This is a pet peeve of mine that I hope to solve beginning here. I am constantly hearing the expression "this begs the question . . . " on radio and TV and it is almost always used incorrectly. Begging the question is not simply raising a question. For example, if I see a car for sale that looks great but only costs $14.95 it does not beg the question "What is wrong with that car?" (although that is certainly a question that should be asked).

So for you non-logic-nerds out there, here is what this phrase means: To beg the question is a technical phrase in logic that refers to someone inserting the conclusion of an argument into the support for the conclusion. Thus, it "begs the very question" under discussion. For example, suppose that you and I are arguing over whether or not Star Wars is the greatest movie of all time and I give the following argument:

1. Whatever has nothing better than itself is the greatest.
2. There is no better movie than Star Wars.
3. Therefore Star Wars is the greatest movie.

The argument is valid (its conclusion follows necessarily from its premises), however I have sneaked in the conclusion that I was arguing for into premise 2 - thus, I have "begged the question." This is a fallacy and makes the argument faulty.

Ahhh. I feel better now.

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Hollywood Idiocy

Posted in: Culture

(This is a re-post of an article that was lost in the great purge of '05)

Since tu quoque has "culture" as part of its emphasis I thought I'd make my first post in line with one of my passions - movies. It seems that Hollywood has made itself a new enemy: Movie Sanitizers. It all started with TV Guardian - a product that automatically muted foul language based on a program's closed captioning and replaced the profanity with a cleaned up version of the audio in text form on the screen.
Now you can buy movies that have been edited by private companies, or purchase hardware that removes it for you. In 2000, Ray Lines created CleanFlicks, a Utah based video sanitizing company, that cuts nudity, sex, violence, and bad language from movies. CleanFlicks then records and sells the edited films to consumers for about $12-$17 depending on the amount of work involved to clean the film up. CleanFilms provides essentially the same service. Another company, ClearPlay, does not change the original movie, but instead provides hardware/software that skips flagged scenes based on the viewer's preselected choices.

In this article I wish to expose the faulty thinking of Hollywood on this issue. It is one thing to say that a particular action should not be done (such as enjoying bad music), and another to say it is unethical or illegal. Whether or not movie sanitization is "wrong" in the first sense is up for debate (my thoughts on this aspect are presented at the conclusion). Whether or not it is unethical or illegal is the focus of this writing.

What's the Issue?

Members of the DGA (Director's Guild of America) have begun an outcry against this practice, what they consider to be illegal, or at least immoral, tampering with their work. These “e-rated” (for “everyone” or “edited”) movies, they claim, violate federal copyright law. The sanitizers say the practice is protected by the law's “fair use” provisions (such as allowing parodies to be made without the original director's intent). Indeed, what the sanitizers are doing is not all that different from studios creating edited versions of movies for TV or airline flights. The directors answer that those changes are made with the directors’ permission and are true to their original intent for the film. To issue these e-versions with the director and studio's name is unethical.

From the Sanitizer's POV

Sanitizers argue that they have created a market for Hollywood that it would have otherwise lost. ClearPlay does not change the studio version, instead it merely creates electronic flags on certain scenes. Again, those who would never purchase a non-edit might now do so. Sanitizers say they are simply meeting a market need. Studies consistently show that the majority of Americans think movies are too violent / sexual and would like to have the ability to view the films with these elements taken out. Hollywood can produce whatever it wants under the First Amendment, and individuals can personally edit what Hollywood produces under that same Amendment. So long as these edits are not misrepresented as original works then copyright law is not violated. If this is the case then selling these edits is not illegal or immoral either.

From the Director's POV

The challenge to this practice is based on the fact that a screenwriter’s story, a director’s vision, or an actor’s art is the intellectual property of that person. To tamper with it is to change it into something its creator never intended. Members of the DGA were scandalized by what they consider to be poor editing and the destruction of their creation. Legally, the DGA can argue that Clean Flicks' business amounts to a violation of copyright laws. Or that this practice violates trademarks by using the studio's name on a product the studio did not make. This might also involve the charge of false advertising if the editing results in a substantially different product. This could extend to those involved in the films as well since anyone whose name is used for commercial purposes has the right to control the use of their name and image.

Analysis of Arguments


It's not about money - and few people seem to argue that it is, although it is often the first thing that comes to mind because, despite the evidence to the contrary, many are still convinced that Hollywood is just giving people what they want in order to make more money. Sanitizers are quick to point out that they are not robbing anyone of income - in fact they are increasing it by creating a market that the original movie would have missed out on. When CleanFlicks sells a copy of one of their sanitized movies the consumer is also sent a non-edited copy. Thus, for every sanitized DVD CleanFlicks sells, a corresponding non-edited DVD is also sold. These directors are not concerned over income loss - otherwise they would produce more family-friendly pictures that have historically generated more money than non-family-friendly movies.

Copyright Infringement

The facts seem to indicate that what these companies are doing does indeed fall under the Fair Use Act. Parodies, for example, do not require authorial consent to be protected from copyright infringement. Individuals may make edited movies on their own, and so long as they possess a copy of the original it is legal. Thus, so is selling said edits (along with the original).

The Copyright Office has testified that ClearPlay does not violate U.S. copyright laws either. This should be obvious, since ClearPlay technology does not alter the original film in any way. ClearPlay acts as a sort of "preset" fast forward or mute button, rather than creating an edited version of the movie. In fact, a new bill makes this explicit. The Family Movie Act may soon be passed into law protecting technology like ClearPlay's in order to help parents keep children from unwanted content.

Freedom of Speech

The claim that sanitization is a violation of the director's First Amendment Right is simply absurd. There would not be a sanitized version of a film if the director had not already been allowed to produce the original. Further, disallowing anyone from editing what they watch may very well be a violation of the First Amendment which includes protections from indiscretion. People clearly have the right to censure what they watch, and simply because a company is providing prepackaged censured versions of films does not change that fact.

False Advertising

The idea that directors/studios do not want their names associated with these sanitized films would be more legitimate if it was not done all the time for other reasons (e.g. airlines and television). Further, those who own a sanitized film are well aware that it has been edited. That's the whole point! The idea that people will credit the director with a bad film based on the edited version is rather ungracious. Besides, these directors obviously do not care about this particular audience anyway since they continue to make violent, sex-filled movies despite their proven unpopularity in the overall market.

Ratings and "Adult Oriented" Films

Hollywood directors seem to be altogether ignorant when they miss the point that this is not simply an issue of parental consent. They argue that parents should have an active role in determining what their children watch (which is true), and that this is the purpose of ratings (which is often a joke). However, it is not this simple. This is an individual moral question of whether or not certain material should be viewed regardless of one's age. Hollywood seems to think that once one reaches adulthood that offensive elements magically become acceptable (thus the euphemism used to refer to pornography as "adult films"). This leads to the next objection.

Who Decides?

One common objection to this process is that sanitizers are deciding what people should and should not watch. How, it might be asked, is this any different than what the directors are doing? They seem to think that what they create is what people want to see. The popularity of the sanitizing business indicates that they are in fact wrong in many situations. Studios playing the ratings game also have control over content - the existence of "uncut and unrated" versions bear testimony to this fact. All sanitization does is provide additional options (and isn't Hollywood all about pro-choice???). So why is it only the "moralists" who are being attacked? Perhaps the sanitizers should respond to Hollywood the way its members often respond to pro-lifers: "If you don't want a sanitized movie, don't get one."

As far as the actual editing decisions, it is a somewhat subjective process of course. In fact, different companies base their editing on very different standards. CleanFlicks and CleanFilms edit the kind of material most conservative moviegoers (religious or not) might find objectionable (such as sexuality, cussing, gore, violence). Another company, FamilyFlix, also edits out religiously offensive material (such as using titles of deity as curse words), homosexuality, inappropriate dress, crude humor, sexual innuendoes, alcohol and drug content, etc. and won't even edit films with objectionable themes. Thus, people now have more content choices than ever!

Turning the Tables

Some directors have asked, "Why not take all the sex and violence out of the Bible or Shakespeare?" This only reveals their ignorance of the world outside Hollywood, because this already takes place. Children's Bibles do not include such stories, and Cliff's Notes are well known for the violence they do to the texts they summarize. This does not make the process right, but it does show that originals do not lose value just because alternate versions exist.

Artistic Integrity

It should be noted at the outset that very few movies are the creation of a single source. The very existence of "Director's Cuts," "Unrated / Uncut Editions," and "Extended Versions" argue for this fact. Few directors are given carte blanche with regard to their films. The final product is a collaboration between the producer, studio, director, screenwriter, editors, actors, etc. In fact, there is even a title (auteur) given to directors who have gained enough control to be considered the primary source for a film. All of that to say this: the DGA's claim that editing their work is to destroy it are being somewhat whiny and dishonest about the actual process that led to "their" creations.

The fact is that many people make decisions about the "vision" of a film besides the director - and this often massively affects the final product. In fact, this is a large enough issue that official DGA policy has been enacted to address the situation. When directors believe that they have lost control of a project, and are so unhappy with the result that they no longer wish to be associated with it, they may appeal to the DGA to have their directorial credit listed as "Alan Smithee" (an anagram for "The Alias Men", and the only permissible pseudonym for a director).
Further, even if it were true that these sanitized films rob a given movie of its original intent, beauty, intensity, sexiness, or whatever - so what? If someone is truly concerned about these things they probably wouldn't watch the sanitized version in the first place. At least this gives people a choice (which is, ironically, the paramount ethical consideration in most liberal dialogues).

Finally, this position is incredibly hypocritical! Screenwriters and directors are constantly "adapting" books into movies without authorial input (or, in some cases, the author's approval - such as the case of Roald Dahl and the 1971 version of Willy Wonka). Why aren't these directors concerned about authorial intent when revising other people's visions? Within Hollywood itself countless "remakes" and "re-imaginings" of older films are done all the time - often without any attention being called, or credit given, to the original. It is widely known that these remakes almost never live up to the originals, yet no one complains about it except fans.

Creative Credit and Ego Issues

As a writer and musician I understand that creators do not like any secondhand distortion of their creation. Admittedly, this is often closely related to ego issues - credit is difficult to assess in a situation where the creator cannot claim sole responsibility. The main issue, as I see it, is that these directors want to be celebrated for their creations and can't seem to deal with the fact that the majority of moviegoers wish they had done it differently.

A case in point happened shortly after the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 1999. There was almost universal disapproval of the character Jar-Jar Binks. This created a demand in the market that was met by some clever folks with video editing software who released a new version of the film (variously referred to as The Phantom Edit and Episode I.I) with Jar-Jar and some other spurious material edited out. It quickly became more popular with many fans than the original. Director/Writer George Lucas (who himself has created several controversial edits of his own) was surprisingly non-outraged.

"Armchair Directors" have always existed of course, but never before have they been able to publicly do something about it. I believe it is an affront to some director's egos that others think they can "do it better than they can", and the popularity of their reedits is causing the directorial outcry. Most of the attitude seems to revolve around the directors' annoyance with "some amateur" messing with "their vision." However, if these amateurs were not producing something that literally millions of consumers are willing to pay extra money for it is doubtful that it would ever have become such an issue.


Reediting is no more immoral than hip-hop music sampling, cover tunes, parodies, Cliff's Notes, or paraphrases. Certainly these kinds of works do not reflect a high level of artistic quality, and only the original work should be considered when evaluating the director (or writer, or actors, or studio, etc.), but to consider this kind of work immoral or illegal is simply special pleading.*
Personally, I try to get as close to the director's vision as possible. I will almost always choose the Extended / Unrated / Uncut / Director's Cut versions of any movie I wish to see in order to best evaluate what the movie's creator(s) had in mind. Personally, I would not invest in edited movies because I believe that style elements should not be universally categorized as right or wrong without considering their intended effect. However, I would certainly consider making user-controlled filtering technology available for times when I did wish to remove objectionable elements in order to accommodate more sensitive viewers (not that I find de-sensitivity an admirable character trait, mind you).

The main problem I have with this whole thing is that rather than sanitizing Hollywood, Christians should simply make better movies themselves. For most of the Church's existence it led the way in the arts (and sciences, and philosophy . . . ). The expectation that the world will be better at producing these things is extremely new on the scene. But we (Christians) have sacrificed significance for style, and cultural relevance for cheap "gospel messages." Even in this fallen world, quality is what counts (as films like The Passion of the Christ have demonstrated). So long as artistic garbage like Left Behind is offered as the pinnacle of Christian creativity we will have little to complain about when it comes to Hollywood's popularity.

* "Special Pleading" is an argumentative fallacy in which a person applies standards to others while exempting himself without good cause.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

why is everyone scared of beauty?

Posted in: Philosophy

"we fly to beauty as an asylum from the terrors of finite nature." - emerson.

beauty ought to be a source of security and hope, yet it appears everyone is scared of it.

just because it's objective doesn't mean it's scary.

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Monday, September 05, 2005

beautiful assumptions

Posted in: Philosophy

most people have heard or used the expression, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." but only a few dare to question the validity of such a statement that seems so obvious at first glance. i refer to this statement as an unquestioned assumption. this statement, if i may be permitted to speak in general terms, assumes an idealist metaphysic. the idea behind it is that something is beautiful based on the idea of beauty already in the mind of the onlooker, hence, beauty is wholeheartedly subjective. however, maybe it is possible that the form of the object in extra-mental reality contains certain universal standards that render an object beautiful regardless of who likes it. in the current debate on beauty, the idea of taste and beauty have been used basically a synonyms. i think a distinction needs to be made between these two terms. beauty relates to the objective qualities of an object, whereas, taste corresponds to one's feelings and experience of the object. therefore, something which is beautiful does not have to be liked by everyone, and something that is ugly does not have to be despised by everyone either. regardless, of whether people agree with me on all of these issues, i still think it is time to question the notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Best Possible World Scenarios

Posted in:Humor

Over the course of the history of philosophy and theology, there have been skeptics who have challenged Classical Theism with various *Best Possible World Scenarios*

Some of these challenges have been rather mild (e.g. Couldn't have God created a world without evil?) and some a bit more rigorous (e.g. Couldn't have God created a world where everyone freely chose to do good? ala Flew). Regardless of the intensity of these challenges, someone of the Christian faith has always risen to the occasion and provided a good answer to the proposed possible world.

But, I think that Classical Theism may be in trouble this time. I believe that I have unfortunately come across a better possible world that God could have freely chosen to create that will go unanswered . . .

I mean, God could have created a world where everyone had a Mullet . . .

. . .Where the only sport that ever took place was NASCAR . . .

. . . and the only beverage that was available to sustain life was Budweiser

Alright SES Students and Tuquoque friends! Will someone boldly step up in the spirit of Aquinas and please refute this purported superior possible world, defend our actual world in contrast to this mullet/nascar/budweiser hypotheses, and subsequently save the day for Classical Theism!!

This post dedicated to the state of North Carolina. Represent!!

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The Flying Spaghetti Monster

Posted in:Humor,

Sometimes you just have to give the opposition (e.g. Evo-Devos) credit for coming up with something rather creative and funny.

For more on the The Flying Spaghetti Monster go here

Here is another that is rather funny too

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

A 5 Step Program of Recovery for Logical Positivists

Posted in: Philosophy

1. Logical Positivism holds that all meaningful statements have to either be varified by the five senses or they are true by definition

2. Premise (1) cannot be varified by the five senses nor is it true by definition

3. Therefore, Premise (1) is meaningless.

4. But Premise (1) is Logical Positivism.

5. Therefore, according to Logical Postivism, Logical Postivism is meaningless.

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