Weekend Reading

Can Liberals Take Their Own Side in an Argument? (PDF) Robert Talisse takes on Robert Frost and Mozert v. Hawkins.

Epistemic dependence is unavoidable because every individual has limited
cognitive resources. However, this dependence in itself is not a bad
thing; great stores of knowledge and information that could not be produced
by a single person are available to us precisely because of the division
of epistemic labor that epistemic dependence necessitates. Nonetheless,

Epistemic dependence is unavoidable because every individual has limited cognitive resources. However, this dependence in itself is not a bad thing; great stores of knowledge and information that could not be produced by a single person are available to us precisely because of the division of epistemic labor that epistemic dependence necessitates. Nonetheless, epistemic dependence is risky, because one may defer to the wrong persons to the wrong extent and so become vulnerable to developing beliefs and epistemic habits that engender and sustain falsehood. The risks associated with having false beliefs are both prudential and moral: They are prudential insofar as false beliefs frustrate one’s deliberations about means; they are moral insofar as they can lead one to adopt immoral ends.

In light of the risks associated with unavoidable epistemic dependence and our strong interest in getting moral matters right and avoiding moral error, we should agree that those social institutions are best which tend to minimize the risks of dependence while maximizing the benefits of the epistemic division of labor.

Arthur Koestler and his Century: Louis Menand reviews Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic by Michael Scammell.

In 1976, he published “The Thirteenth Tribe,” a book purporting to prove that Ashkenazi Jews are descendants of eighth-century converts, the Khazars, who immigrated to Europe from the Caucasus. The book was a best-seller in the United States. Koestler, who was Jewish, claimed that his argument refuted anti-Semitism by showing that European Jews were not related to the Jews whom some anti-Semites blame for the killing of Christ. But the book was popular with Arabs, since it implied that European Jews settling in Israel were returning to the wrong homeland, and with neo-Nazis, since it suggested that Diaspora Jews constituted a pseudo nation constructed on a racial myth, and that Jews should either immigrate to Israel or assimilate—which is, in fact, what Koestler himself believed.

Breakdown in the Academy: Peter Berkowitz reviews The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University by Louis Menand.

As Menand sees it, one big problem, or one big cause of problems, in America’s vast empire of advanced education…  is that faculty are too conservative. He does not mean that professors are conservative in the partisan political sense — he cites data that demonstrate that a substantial majority of today’s professors are left of center — but rather in the professional sense that they seek to preserve their discipline’s established ways and in the vulgar sense that they selfishly seek to protect their entrenched privilege. While eager to impose dramatic reforms on the rest of society, professors, he argues, demonstrate a decided preference for maintaining the status quo inside the university.

Climate Rules Set from the Top Are Not Enough: Spiegel Online interviews Elinor Ostrom.

Ostrom: Successful communities often have a few common design principles — monitoring and sanctioning of the participants, for example. They also have conflict resolution mechanisms in place and the people have some authority to make their own rules. Under those circumstances humans can develop some trust in each other — faith that if they take a costly action that benefits everybody in the long run, others will also invest.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why is it less effective if governments establish strict rules from the top down?

Ostrom: Because people will not identify with it. My research has shown that forests managed by local communities are in a far better state than state-run parks, where locals feel left out and officials can be bribed. Let us imagine, we live in a village and have all agreed that none of us is going to be in the forest on Saturday or Sunday, so that we can give the forest time to recreate. If I then see you in the forest when you’re not supposed to be, I will probably yell at you. If only the state is in charge, I will just walk on past.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In other words, an anti-corruption task force — like the one that exists in Indonesia — might be the best environmental protection agency?

Ostrom: Absolutely! If you look at the role corruption plays in giving away forests to big corporations and in looking away if forest protection rules are broken, you will see that bribery is one of the main contributors to environmental destruction.

If Only Tiger Were a Socialist:

Tiger Woods is the reason Americans cannot get universal health care. Allegorically speaking.

Second Opinions