Thursday, November 30, 2006

Playstation 3, Cognitive Limits, and the Future

Many internet sources recently have been talking, analyzing, betting, and running social commentary on the arrival of the Sony Play Station 3. It is certainly one impressive machine, showcasing the latest, even controversial developments in consumer electronics (Blu-ray 50 gigabyte UHD optical disk drive) along with the newer-philosophy of multi-cored CPU chip fabrication. Here is a nice summary of the controlling processor from Wikipedia:

The PS3's 3.2 GHz Cell processor, developed jointly by Sony, Toshiba and IBM ("STI"), is an implementation to dynamically assign physical processor cores to do different types of work independently. It has a PowerPC-based "Power Processing Element" (PPE) and six accessible 3.2 GHz Synergistic Processing Elements (SPEs), a seventh runs in a special mode and is dedicated to OS security, and an eighth disabled to improve production yields. “[1]

As is often the case, hardware design leads software design, and the Nov 20th issue of Newsweek notes that programmers will not come fully to grips with the PS3's abilities until midpoint in the five year life-cycle of the machine. Multi-cored programming is complicated business anyway, since even standardized operating systems which allow such hardware are a fairly new development, much less compiler tools which run on those operating systems.

Apart from the well-earned “gee whiz” advances featured on such machines, further advances in game machines will begin to butt-up against certain biological features of the human organism.

First, as an example, consider the controller. The PS3 SIX AXIS is a controller named for its ability to detect motion in the full six degrees, which is to say (as a matter of mechanical movement in three dimensions) that it allows the full range of options: (1) Turning left and right (yawing); (2) Moving left and right (swaying); (3) Tilting side to side (rolling); (4) Moving up and down (heaving); (5) Moving forward and backward (surging); and, (6) Tilting up and down (pitching). There is still the symmetrically placed 16 buttons. Yet there are limits of the human hand, not the least of which is the presence of only 10 fingers, so the addition of extra buttons will sooner or later (if not even now with 16) be outside the range of depressability. Even when every finger is perfectly poised on a button, a button can only be depressed so quickly. Although a typical neuron can transmit 1,000 pulses per second, gross motor movement and control operates far slower than this. Even if your nervous system is sending multi1-Khz spikes down your legs, you’ll never see 1,000 leg movements per second on Dance Dance Revolution Extreme.

Second, multi-channel sound effects give the full depth of sounds in games. Even recent studies of ipods note that “a whopping four out of every five listeners set their volume higher than the 85 dBA”[2] which is the limit for safe, non-damaging hearing. So the thrill of thunder and explosions will only proceed so far until there is biological loss. But one can easily see that immature minds might calculate that the thrill of today is worth the sacrifice of some long term hearing later, “when I’m really old and going to be hard of hearing anyway,” as the rationalization might go.

Third, the human visual cortex is capable of distinguishing around 25-30 strobe events (i.e. ‘flashes’) per second, thus a 25-30 Hertz light signal. Anything that flashes at a faster rate appears as an uninterrupted light source. Also, visual processing also has something akin to a ‘short term’ perceptual memory, and only so many light objects can be tracked simultaneously (as old-school Robotron: 2084 players found much to their performance chagrin in 1982). Sure, ever faster processors can fill ever bigger screen real-estate, but you’ll never see most of it.

Fourth, currently you still just have to sit there and move controllers. Even Wii, with its fancy new controller, is still but a manual controller. I predict PS7 will have something akin to what current speech-to-text system have: a training regimen. What might happen, is that the V4 (and associated) visual centers in the back of the brain will be decoded, and one can then imagine mental images which will have direct control over game interaction. We might extend this further. There is some reason to think that the process could move the other way also, where passive electromagnetic feilds could be projected onto the brain to let you "see" (in the sense of imagine) game imagery. It would be full immersion, but w/o all that unweildy hardware hanging off the head.


[1] “PS3" WikiPedia
[2] "Could an iPod Really Blow Out Your Ears?" - Popular Mechanics

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Where Drummers are Heading

I've never really been big on long, concert drum solos. There are people who think that such percussive orgies are the most awesome experience in the world, something like a sonic return to the primeval ooze.

Well, maybe for them there is some special part of their lymbic system which gets activated by the concert drum solo, but for the most part that particular set of neural firings has never seemed especially important to me.

Still, there is something to this intuition exhibited by my lymbic-motivated peers. The oldest instrument ever found is a neanderthal flute, but I'd be willing to bet that the drum is actually the oldest instrument. Surprisingly, however, the *drum set* has not been around that long:

The first drum sets were put together in the late 1800s sometime after the invention of the bass drum pedal. This invention made it possible for one person to play several percussion instruments (snare drum, bass drum, and cymbals) at one time. The set developed as it was used to accompany jazz musicians in New Orleans during the 1920s.

As new instruments were introduced to the drum set (tom-toms and the high hat cymbal) in the late 1920s and 1930s, new techniques developed. Gene Krupa, one of the greatest jazz drummers of the big band era, highlighted tom-toms in his pieces and did solos using the drum set as the featured instrument.[1]

I used to be fairly impressed by a drummer named Buddy Rich, but that was a long time ago. However, and for the first time in decades (maybe ever), I've found a concert drum solo to be interesting. If you have a good pair of speakers (or headphones) hooked up to your computer (in order to appreciate the full effect of bass drum, and on up), then I'd highly recommend investing about eight minutes of your time in listening to this.

The drummer is Neil Peart, a member of long-established band called Rush. He is often billed as the most popular drummer today, since he is always voted number 1 in the magazines, Modern Drummer and Drummerworld. I think there is more to his success than popularity, for his use of tap-n-play, digital track music integration exhibits a cutting-edge, new form of life for the percussionist. In some ways, this moves drummers out of their speciality position into being much more general contributors to a band's overall sound. Again, some will find this a passe observation, but others might not have considered the full implication of this until they hear something like what Peart is doing. Listen for yourself.


[1] "Rhythmic Percussion" ThinkQuest Library (Accessed 11/21/06)


Friday, November 17, 2006

Q & A: If life was just a dream, would you want to wake up from it?

Dreaming of Peace

{Audio this essay; .mp3 1.5mins 1.45MB}

Dear Mr. Supposed Philosopher:

If life was just a dream, would you want to wake up from it?

~ Sleepy in Seattle

Dear Seattle Snoozer:

In some ways the question asks, What is our preferred relationship to reality?

Some people think that how reality happens to be is unimportant, "as long as I'm happy" (i.e. as long as I have a first-person perspective that's pleasing.)

Other people think that how reality happens to be matters, and often this is what's behind our wanting to know 'the truth'.

Imagine that you enjoy being around a certain group of people which you define as 'friends'. But further imagine that when you are not around they mock and laugh at you, and often discuss what a pitiful, disgusting person you are; but, they think it's great fun to pretend to be your friend - in fact, they've formed a little club that will pay-out a pool of money they all put in when they were kids, long ago. Whoever is alive at last and has maintained the "friend" illusion to you wins an extraordinary amount of money. But, alas, you'll never know.

Would it matter that your "friends" were all shams, as long as you never found out, and as long as you always felt that happy feeling of friendship when in the presence of shams?

Most people have the intuition that something important would be missing. Likewise with a forever-dream. Something is missing when the first-person presentation is not tied to the way things actually are -- again, when the element of 'truth' isn't an element in one's life.

So, yes, I'd like to wake up. (Now just *when* in my life, the exact timing I'd like to risk it all to know 'the truth', that's a tougher question.)


[image] "Dreaming of Peace" Gallery and Gifts (Accessed 11/17/2006)


Friday, November 10, 2006

Somewhere Between Einstein or Frankenstein: Where Shall Biotech Lead Us?

Review of: Genes: A Philosophical Inquiry (New York: Routledge, 2002) by Gordon Graham

[ Audio .mp3 5.3MB @ 5min ] These are heady days in biology. New developments over the past three or four years have been both exhilarating and stupefying. The Bible speaks of naming the animals, but it turns out there is more to naming than just assigning linguistic tags to the items found in God's creation. It is only recently that the full impact of “naming,” of determining the very essence of something, has come home in all of its power. To an increasing degree, Human beings can manipulate the very genome of living things. Perhaps this is fine news, for such new-found power might be used to conquer ever pressing diseases. Yet this power might also be the ultimate threat to human choice, quality of life, and even human existence, if we take “human” as a natural kind of thing that might be changed into something else.

Sometimes character flaws and the actions that follow from them are blamed on heritable traits. “My ol' man was that way, and so am I!,” is hardly a new retort in a counseling session. And a more general version of this is often advanced in the media - “It's all in the genes." Graham asks whether this is true, and if so, just what is all in the genes?

Beginning with an overview of the relationship between science and technology, Graham strives to explain and assesses the most important and controversial aspects of the genes debate: Darwinian theory and its critics; the idea of the "selfish" gene; evolutionary psychology; memes; genetic screening and modification, including the risks of cloning and "designer" babies. However, the results of his explanation and assessment are uneven.

Some people are interesting because of their flaws (e.g that misshapen, gentle-souled bellman named Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dam) and authors are no exception. Graham is a moral philosopher, but he has also published widely in aesthetics and social philosophy. Not himself a scientist, much less a geneticist, he wades into this new area portending the dangers at hand: “there is the constant risk of misrepresenting and misjudging the present state and future significance of scientific inquiry. In my view this is a risk we simply have to run.” He admits being in the same place as any other otherwise intelligent laymen, yet if we are silenced by our position, “we could say and think nothing about some of the most important topics of our time” (Preface). This is a laudable attitude, and clergy men and women, for example, well know the difficulty of being neither a theologian, a bible scholar, nor an anthropologist; yet being accountable to preach sound doctrine, rightly divide scriptures, and meet people where they are at. Contrary to St. Paul's wishful thinking, no one can be all things to all people.

Still, good intentions not withstanding, the book has its share of erroneous scientific misinformation earlier on, and this somewhat compromises the ethical discussion Graham advances later. A few flawed examples are instructive. In one place he writes that “a long series of volcanic explosions” (48) were responsible for extinction of dinosaurs, but this theory was nullified year ago. (It was an asteroid or comet that did them in.) In another place, he seems ignorant about how biochips have automated genetic testing, and that multi-disease detection is hardly, as he phrases it, a task “nothing short of Herculean” (99); in fact, I've been showing classes a picture put out by Motorola Semiconductor of such biochips for the last three years. Other issues, such as when microbial life on Earth was first present (3.5 billion years ago, not 2.4), and whether the genetics of human eye color rely on a single gene (it doesn't) are also flubbed. These are small instances of a mistake which he makes in a much broader manner when dealing with evolutionary biology: He relies on sources which popularize certain positions as facts, but which are either outright wrong or one-sided in their presentation. For instance, he has six works by Dawkins in his bibliography, but none to Stephen Gould, who argued against many of the positions that Dawkins advocates. (Both men have been respected popularizers of evolutionary theory.) That Graham is so naively one-sided in his sources is important, because the ethical discussion depends on just what the science offers for thought. If one does not have a well-balanced view of the science involved, any moral advice which affirms or denies a course of action is thereby suspect. It would be analogous to clergy preaching on Jesus by only citing the dialogue from movies -- hardly a well-balanced source for what were the views of Jesus.

Graham does have areas where he shines, and this is why I think the book is still to be recommended despite slogging along with a bit of scientific misinformation here and there. He considers areas often left out of the genes debate, such as the environmental risks of genetic engineering and how we should think about genes in the wider context of debates on science, knowledge and religion. His discussions of genetic screening and genetic information as relevant to the insurance industry were particularly hard hitting, and serves as grist for discussion for anyone concerned with social justice and compassion for the poor.

At the end of the book, Graham asks whether genetic engineering might be introducing God back into the debate and whether the risks of a brave new genetic world outweigh the potential benefits. And to this end, his final closing remark can be taken as a compliment, even confession, about a life of faith: “In the end, it seems, and in so far as the fear of Frankenstein will not go away, the secular mind that utterly rejects religion must rest content with a fractured image of science.” Though cryptic, I find this remark maximally fit for the current bioethical environment.


Brint Montgomery, PhD, is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Southern Nazarene University. He has interests in Cognitive Science and Philosophy of Mind.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Zerah & Perez, Supervenience, and Systemic Evil

[Audio .mp3 20MB 22Mins] When the time came for Tamar to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, "This one came out first." But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, "So this is how you have broken out!" And he was named Perez. Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out and he was given the name Zerah (NIV: Genesis 38:27-30)
Now that simple reductionism has gone out of fashion in theological circles, there can be a healthy re-analyzing of key Christian doctrines. Among such doctrines stands the ever monolithic Problem of Evil. The wind often bloweth where it will, but the problem of evil always bloweth us over. Let us confess we have no illusion of “solving” the problem of evil in this essay, or of giving a “proto-solution”, or of even saying anything particularly encouraging to those who continually kick against that old monolith, hoping to at least break something off and peer inside. We simply desire to scratch upon it an arrow, to suggest a new place to kick, as it were. There is more than just a little intuitive force to our suspicion that evil actions have a cumulative and lasting impact on systems of human culture. Systemic structures of evil suddenly and consistently appear in forms which are excruciatingly un-analyzable in terms of the mere actions of unholiness on the part of individuals. In this paper we count this as evidence for evil being an emergent property. By calling evil a property, we are counting it as a real feature of the world; and, this is in distinction from a concept, which usually is not considered as a feature of the world, but as a way we subjectively encounter the word. Ultimately, we want to suggest that evil is a supervenient property of human actions. To this end, we shall first develop a thought experiment to inform our intuitions about how evil acts operate systemically. Second, regarding the thought experiment, we shall explore three interrelated versions of supervenience as regarding acts and moral value (specifically evil). Finally, we shall discuss the limitations of viewing evil as harm to others (and other definitive statements about just what evil is), and move on to explore some of the various facets of systemic evil and how positions on this can (or can not) be held consistently with traditional views that what God creates is good. We close with a few remarks on our endeavors.


In the Old Testament we find an account of Tamar giving birth to twins. Suppose we were to interpolate a bit of the details here. It turns out that, as identical twins, Zerah and Perez share not only the same DNA, but the same type of behavioral dispositions. Where Perez is placed in combat with a 25 lb. battle staff and with two Canaanite soldiers assailing him, he maneuvers effectively and with key techniques to neutralize his foes. So too would Zerah, when likewise equipped and likewise placed, use those precise and exact techniques. Again, were Perez to see a man of Adullam, the first question he asks is whether that man knows Hirah, a friend of his father. So also were Zerah to see such a man would he ask the very same question, at the very same instant from their meeting. From the perspective of their acts, just when they are in indiscernible situations, Perez and Zerah are behavioral duplicates. (Of course, it was never the case that they were in indiscernible situations, so this curious fact was never noted by the Biblical writers, but God knew what counterfactually would have happened). Let us stipulate that they both grow up and enter Hebrew society, taking on all the standard tasks and responsibilities that living in a community of their type demands. We shall call all the states and events in which they find themselves their life domain.

If, in any given situation, were we to substitute Perez for Zerah, and they were to act in indiscernible ways, would they be morally indiscernible? Are behavioral duplicates necessarily moral duplicates as well? If you think so, then you are inclined to accept a value-action supervenience. Here no two persons can differ in a moral respect unless they also differ in some respect to action; indiscernibility of acts entail indiscernibility with respect to mental moral properties. This is the intuitive starting point for supervenience, but there are several alternatives for relating acts to moral value which are consistent with what we have so far noted.


As we move to tease out the various alternative for relating acts to moral value, let us incorporate into the notion of act both the behavior and the intention of the actor. Perez and Zerah behave the same way because, among other shared causes, they have the same intentions.

Depending on the domain they are in, we can attribute two kinds of properties to Perez and Zerah. One, $, consisting of their moral properties (e.g. evil); and the other, @, consisting of their action properties (e.g. neutralizing Canaanites in self-defense). With this shorthand notation of properties, we can ask: what is it for $ to supervene on @ in their life domain?

We begin by considering a case where Perez acts to murder Hirah out of envy. Alas–though Hirah was the friend of Perez’ father (Judah), and though Hirah had never done anything to provoke Perez, and was otherwise a righteous man to all who knew him–the close friendship of Hirah to Judah was more than Perez could take. Of Perez and somebody else, say Mr. X, we may suggest the following:

Weak supervenience: Necessarily (that is in every hypothetical world that God ponders), if Perez and Mr. X (in their life domain) are indiscernible in acting to murder Hirah, (‘@-indiscernible’ in shorthand), Perez and Mr. X are also indiscernible in being evil (‘$-indiscernible’).

On the weak value-action supervenience, no hypothetical state of affairs contains two individuals who are alike in their actions but not alike in their moral properties. What if Mr. X were Zerah? If Zerah, instead of Perez, were put in the same position, Zerah would act the same and likewise would be evil. Now if acting to murder Hirah out of envy were so comprehensive that it took the exact location, the exact weapon, the exact time from when either brother was born, and the exact spelling of the name of the murderer, etc., to qualify; then neither could have murdered Hirah in precisely the same way. But then weak supervenience would not come to much, for there would not be a way for it to properly obtain. The precise and exact conditions are so stipulated that the conditions for indiscernibility never come about in the right way! A useful version of weak supervenience has to be modified. (For example, the spelling of the name of the murderer would have to go; for, Perez spells his name one way and Zerah spells his name another, so Hirah’s murderers would not qualify as indiscernible in every hypothetical situation.)

Being careful not to violate The 2nd Commandment, let us pretend to step into God’s view of this matter for the moment. God is pondering (akin to Leibniz’ possible worlds) the various ways the world might have been. If God decides to stick to weak supervenience, God cannot place in the same world actor-twins like Perez and Zerah that are not also moral-twins–i.e. person of equal moral merit. But nothing about weak supervenience restricts God from creating two actor-twins that are not also moral twins so long as he would place them in separate worlds. Weak supervenience makes its demands on what can be within a single hypothetical situation, but it does not make demands on what can be the case across the whole set of hypothetical situations that God ponders. Just because God ponders that moral values of actions are distributed one way in one hypothetical world does not restrict God to saying that the moral-value of actions could not be another way in a different hypothetical world. God thinks how there are several options he has when sticking to weak supervenience: (1) God could ponder a hypothetical world exactly like the actual world where Perez acts the same way but where Perez is not evil. (2) God could ponder a hypothetical world exactly like the actual world where Perez acts the same way and in which Perez is evil in the say way. (Again, it would be a hypothetical world just like ours, but it lacks just one property: existence.) (3) Or God could ponder another hypothetical world, again just like where Perez acted, but where Zerah acted instead, but where Zerah was not being evil; (4) Or God could ponder another hypothetical world, again just like where Perez acted, but where animals and angels, though no people, have moral value; after all, one only supposes of God that God stick to the weak supervenience, and all four options noted are perfectly consistent with it.

Of course the last option, if not earlier ones, shows us that weak supervenience does not give us a strong enough connection between action and value to map our moral intuitions. We want facts about our actions to determine facts about moral judgements within our life domain. When Perez or anybody acts a certain way, we want a consistent way to judge the moral merit (or iniquity) of his actions. But (1)-(4) are all allowable ways on weak supervenience. Clearly then, we need God to pare down the criteria of moral judgement over the domain of Perez’ life. We want such actions in Perez’ domain of life, i.e., where he murders Hirah, to be evil in the sight of God in any hypothetical situation.

We must reconsider the case of Perez’ murdering Hirah out of envy. There are two other versions of supervenience we might use:

Global supervenience: Any two hypothetical worlds that God ponders that are indiscernible with respect to Perez murdering Hirah out of envy are indiscernible with respect to Perez being evil, which is to say Perez murdering Hirah out of envy in two hypothetical situations cannot differ in how moral merit gets attributed to Perez.

Strong Supervenience: For any two individuals, say Perez and Zerah, and any hypothetical worlds that God ponders, say W1 and W2, if Perez in W1 is @-indiscernible from Zerah in W2 (i.e., Perez and Zerah both murder Hirah in their hypothetical life domain), then Perez in W1 is $-indiscernible from Zerah in W2 (i.e., Perez is evil in W1 and likewise Zerah is evil in W2.)

Global supervenience applies indiscernibility considerations to hypothetical situations taken in themselves rather than to Perez or Zerah within those hypothetical situations; furthermore, Global supervenience requires that worlds that are indistinguishable in terms of actions do not differ in terms of moral value. Still, Global supervenience allows Perez to be evil and Zerah to be evil, yet for different reasons–as when Perez murders Hirah out of envy and Zerah murders Hirah for fun.

It turns out, however, that global supervenience is too weak a notion to capture the idea, that vices are dependent upon, or determined by, actions, since on the global supervenience position, there might be a hypothetical world which differs from the actual world in some most tiny way (e.g., Perez clears his throat while acting) but which is entirely devoid of moral value, or has a radically different, perhaps totally irregular, distribution of moral value over its actors (as when Perez and Hirah are and do exactly the same, but where they are accounted without moral value at all, must less as evil or innocent, while the surrounding rocks, sand, and bushes are all evil or innocent.). Global supervenience would allow the least differences in actions between any two worlds to support as arbitrary, and as large, a moral value difference between them as is logically possible. This would seem to threaten the traditional Christian position that God’s creation is somehow inherently good.

Luckily, strong supervenience implies both global and weak supervenience, so it allows us to maintain a consistent moral value system within any given world, and yet preserves the traditional Christian position that God’s creation is inherently good. The advantage of strong supervenience is that it maintains moral consistency across individuals in the same world, yet preserves the goodness of God’s creation in this way: whatever God happens to create, as inherently good, will support like evaluations for like acts across hypothetical *worlds, thus avoiding logical situations as noted above where Perez and Hirah do exactly the same thing, but where they are accounted without moral value while the surrounding, non-acting objects could yet be accounted with moral value.

Up until now, we have been varying the metaphysical systems within which moral actions may be (or might not be) exercised by agents, trying to map our moral and theological intuitions by means of adjusting our thought experiments with Perez, Zerah, and Hirah. It now remains to discuss how evil emerges and influences actors within a system of action and moral valuation. So at this point, and with three inter-related conceptualizations of supervenience, we are left wondering how the following might operate as a productive statement concerning evil:

(1) Evil is a supervenient property

This has a nice ring to it. But (1) is a dreadfully general statement. What do we mean by evil? What, precisely, does evil supervene upon?


The first question (i.e., “What do we mean by evil?”) is tough. Evil might be defined as harm to others, but there are some worries here. First just as there are victimless crimes, perhaps there are, oxymoronically, harmless evils, wherein a person is not directly harmed, but somehow misses out of what might have been the case. For example, if Mr. X knew there was pearl of great price in his field, he would not have sold it to Mr. Y, and thus unknowingly cheat himself out of practicing great charity to Mr. Z., a blind man. In this case, both Mr. X and Mr. Z have missed a potential for experiencing a great good. Second, although martyrdom entails a harm, it has often been accounted a great good, for perhaps what some intended for evil, God designed for good; thus, one need not necessarily count the sufferings of this age as comparable to the glory of things to come. Other definitions of evil can be advanced, but one of the traditional problems in analyzing evil is that tightening the definition to cover only and all evil acts and situations has proven elusive. So we must, to some degree, leave it as undefined and hope that we share enough intuitions on it to move our discussion of systemic evil forward. We shall, however, draw some clarifying distinctions among ‘sin’, ‘vice’, and ‘evil’. Vice is a kind within the category of evil. And sin is a particular instance of vice. Thus, for example, we might say that a particular event of stabbing someone to death is a sin, yet this sin is a particular event which is an instance of a kind, namely the vice of murder. There are other vices as well, but the full set of vices, their relations, and effects (if any) within the context of moral value we term evil.

The second question (i.e., “What, precisely, does evil supervene upon”) is easier to answer, though in the end harder to analyze. Evil supervenes on what people do, or to propositionalize it:

(2) Evil is a supervenient property on human actions.

Proposition (2) is the paramount issue. On any account, whether evil is the same as human actions, or distinct from them, we must be clear as to whether the issue applies to concrete events (e.g., individual behaviors by particular subjects at particular times) or to general kinds (classes of acts or behaviors) under which such concrete acts fall. To this end, a useful distinction is regularly drawn between tokens and types. Consider the following short list: blue, red, blue. Moreover, consider an inquiry: how many words are in that list? The question is ambiguous, as we could give reasons for there being either two words or three words therein. To speak precisely, there are three word tokens and two word types. This distinction allows us to now formulate some theories on the matter.

A token identity theory of systemic evil would hold that every concrete event (roughly, ‘behavior’) falling under a general kind can be identified with some action or other: instances of sin (herein murder), for example, are taken to be not only instances of a vice (e.g. murder) , but instances of some action as well (say, fatally stabbing one’s neighbor. Token Identity is weaker than Type Identity. A type identity theory of systemic evil would go so far as to claim that instances of moral value themselves just are actions of a particular kind. It has been noted that Token Identity is entailed by, but does not entail, Type Identity. Token identity is entailed by type identity because if types of moral value themselves are types of actions, then each individual instance of moral value will also be an individual instance of an action. Token identity does not entail type identity, however, because even if a concrete event falls under both moral value and an action, this contingent fact does not guarantee the identity of the kinds of moral values whose instantiations are constituted by the concrete events.

So an identity theory of systemic evil, taken as a theory of types rather than tokens, must make some claim to the effect that vices (and not just individual instances of sin, such as murder) are contingently identical with–and therefore theoretically reducible to–actions such as fatally stabbing someone. Depending on the desired strength and scope of moral value-cum-human action identity, however, there are various ways of understanding this claim.

It turns out a damaging objection can be made to a type identity theory of systematic evil which effectively retires such a theory from a privileged position in theological analysis concerning the relationship between evil and action. The argument can be outlined as follows: (1) according to a type identity theorist, for every vice there is a unique type of action such that a person can exhibit that vice if and only if one performs a given action. (2) It seems quite plausible to hold, as a hypothesis, that a person can exhibit the same vice without having murder, for example, be the same unique action (e.g. stabbing, clubbing, choking, etc.). (3) Therefore, it is highly questionable that the type identity theorist is correct.

In support of the second premise above, a "multiple realizability" hypothesis about moral acts, consider the following point: we now have at hand good reason to suppose that somewhere in the universe–perhaps in the actual world, perhaps in a counterfactual situation–there is a possible person capable of exhibiting vice X (e.g., capable of murder) without performing a given action Y (that is, without acting to murder by means of stabbing). A vice can supervene on a wide set of acts.

Interestingly, this multiple realizability of vice can be presented as a negative version of a Hauerwas-like perspective on communities of character. Vice similarities across kinds of communities may often reflect convergent cultural pressures rather than underlying dispositions for an individual to sin. On Hauerwas’ view, for example, the church’s inability to realize its vocation as a called community means that it fails to understand the ethical imperative in the Bible, and thus is not a true community. This flawed understanding leads to egoistic-individualism, self-indulgence, violence, and a host of other vices. These vices, in as much as they are maintained by a false community, allow a system of evil to emerge from humans acting upon flawed understandings of their relationships with one another. Communities, even false ones, can outlive their founding members, so the moral values which remain as emergent will have continuing effects on new (or newly joined) members of the community. If the systemic moral values are evil, then only a truly independent actor may break the cycle of sin and hence vice which allows the systemic evil to emerge and pervade. On Christianity’s traditional view, only the Christ could be such an independent actor.


In the end, we note that a token identity theory of systemic evil, realized under the form of strong supervenience, is fully consistent with the multiple realizability of vice and the subsequent emergence of systemic evil, which is hardly a controversial implication, as even Hosea notes, "Because Ephraim has made many altars for sin, they have become for him altars for sinning. I have written for him the great things of My law, but they were considered a strange thing" (8:11-12 NKJV)


[Image] "The Twins" by Jacob Wenzka, Strange Horizons Gallery (Accessed 11/08/2006)

[Authors] This paper was presented at the Wesleyan Theological Society in 2003 by myself and Robert J. Thompson


Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Haggard, Conservative Evangelical Voter

It's hard not to render a satirical opinion about Ted Haggard, the politically influential Colorado preacher who has been accused of using methamphetamine and of having a three-year sexual relationship with a former male escort from Denver. Haggard admitted he had bought meth, but denied using it and likewise denied having sex with the escort who turned him in (and who apparently told him where to get drugs.)

A minor note in this whole affair which I found of interest is the kind of viewpoint that people in his church exhibit concerning the political process. Here is a quote from a woman (Janette Wilson) who knew haggard 19 years:

"It's a political ploy by Satan himself and his minions to try and take the focus off the real issues of the election."[1]
How despicable is this kind of political analysis from right-wing, religious voting Republicans. Consider the context: A journalist is interviewing this woman, and the most immediate, relevant comment she gives is about Satan and his minions. The whole idea that an evil entity from a non-material dimension has a singular plan to thwart a political party by making a very conservative preacher publically admit his petty vices would be comic if there were not millions of plebeian voters who think along lines likeunto this pitiful woman. Stipulate there are both angels and devils. Wouldn't this be more like an angel which appears and points out a hypocrite's sin? Maybe I should have taken more theology in Seminary.

I can only image how the founders and framers of the constitution would wonder at the horrendous link between church and state which we endure today in the US. Just a bit of review:

"The U.S. Constitution is a wholly secular document. It contains no mention of Christianity or Jesus Christ. In fact, the Constitution refers to religion only twice in the First Amendment, which bars laws 'respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' and in Article VI, which prohibits 'religious tests' for public office. Both of these provisions are evidence that the country was not founded as officially Christian."[2]
The quote above is from an excellent article written by the organization, Americans United for Separation of Church and State. I'm sure it's not on the top of every conservative, evangelical Christian's reading list.


[image:] BBC News Online

[1] By Carol McGraw and Paul Asay "I am a deceiver and a liar" The
Gazette ;Colorado Springs. (Accessed 11/3/2006)

[2] "Is America A 'Christian Nation'? Religion, Government And
Individual Freedom
" Americans United for Separation of Church and
State. (Accessed 11/03/06)