Breeched Wales Bloviating in the Hot Sun

Location: Long Island, New York, United States

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Books I have read on Economics/Libertarianism/Philosophy/Ethics

Posting now, will clean up and put in table format later.

Title, Author, Date Read (if known)

Making Economic Sense,Murray N. Rothbard,"April 30, 1997"
Why Government Doesn't Work,Harry Browne,
Society By Agreement: An Introduction To Sociology,Earl R. Babbie,1978
Drug Prohibition and The Conscience of Nations,Trebach and Zeese,
Man Economy and State,Murray N. Rothbard,"Jan 26,1994"
The Structure of Production,Mark Skousen,
"The Incredible Bread Machine: A Study of Capitalism, Freedom ad the State",R.W.Grant,
Economics in One Lesson,Henry Hazlitt,"Reread on Feb 3, 1996"
American's Great Depression,Murray N. Rothbard,"December 12, 1992"
How Wall Street Works: The Basics and Beyond,David L. Scott,
Child Labor and The Industrial Revolution,Clark Nardinelli,
"Unfathomed Knowledge, Unmeasured Wealth: On Universities and the Wealth of Nations","William Warren Bartley, III","April 7, 1994; Reread December 23, 1997"
The Ayn Rand Library Vol. I - Philosophy: Who Needs It,"Ayn Rand, With an Introduction by Leonard Peikoff","February 1, 1993"
The Ayn Rand Library Vol. IV - The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z.,"Ayn Rand, Edited by Harry Binswanger",Summer 1993
The Ayn Rand Library Vol. V - The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought,"Ayn Rand, Edited and With Additional Essays by Leonard Peikoff",Spring 1993
Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal,"Ayn Rand, With Additional Articles by Nathaniel Brandon, Alan Greenspan, and Robert Hessen",Spring 1993
The Virtue of Selfishness,"Ayn Rand, With Additional Articles by Nathaniel Brandon",Spring 1993
Seven Theories of Human Nature,Leslie Stevenson,Fall 1978
Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order,Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl,"September 19, 1993"
Liberty for the 21st Century,Tibor R. Machan and Douglas B. Rasmussen,
Free Market Environmentalism,Terry L. Anderson and Donald R. Leal,
Human Action: A Treatise on Economics,Ludwig Von Mises,
Inside American Education,Thomas Sowell,"December 26, 1993"
Why We Spend Too Much On Health Care,"Bast, Rue, Wesbury","December 5, 1992"
On Liberty and Drugs,Friedmand and Szasz,
The Tragedy of American Compassion,Marvin Olasky,"November 22, 1992"
The Fundamentals of Liberty,Robert LeFevre,
Environmental Overkill: Whatever Happened to Commone Sense,Dixy Lee Ray,
To Turning Back,Wallace Kaufman,"April 23,1997"
The Ideas of Ayn Rand,Ronald E. Merrill,
Trashing the Planet,Dixy Lee Ray with Lou Guzzo,"December 5, 1993"
Ecoscam,Ronald Bailey,"August 25, 1993"
Hidden Order,David Friedman,"May 25, 1997"
Crisis Investing for the Rest of the '90s,Douglas Casey,"December 11, 1993"
"Rhinos: Conservaton, Economics, and Trade-Offs",Michale 't Sas-Rolfes,"March 31, 1996"
Elephants and Ivory: Lessons from the Trade Ban,"Ike Sugg, Urs Kreuter","March 23, 1996"
The Evolution of Cooperation,Robert Axelrod,"August 22, 1993"
The Selfish Gene,Richard Dawkins,"1977-78, reread several times in the 80's and 90's"
Atheism the Case Against God,Smith,
The Ten Things You Can't Say in America,Larry Elders,
The Anti-Chomsky Reader,Peter Collier and David Horowitz,Summer 2005
The Extended Phenotype,Richard Dawkins ,
The Blind Watchmaker,Richard Dawkins ,
Population Biology and Evolution,Otto T. Solbrig and Dorothy J. Solbrig,
Freedom Evolves,Daniel C. Dennett,
The Other Path,Hernando De Soto,
The Roosevelt Myth,John T. Flynn,
Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme,Richard Brodie,
Preferential Policies: An International Perspective,Thomas Sowell,
Compassion Versus Guilt and Other Essays,Thomas Sowell,
A Conflict of Visions,Thomas Sowell,"Reread on June 7, 1993"
Markets and Minorities,Thomas Sowell,
The Vision of the Anointed,Thomas Sowell,"January 13, 1996"
Adam Smith's Mistake: How a Moral Philosopher Invented Economics and Ended Morality,Kenneth Lux,
Economics for Real People: An Introduction to the Austrian School,Gene Callahan,"July 4,2002"
Knowledge and Decisions,Thomas Sowell,
The Content of Our Character,Shelby Steele,"May 11, 1994"
"Hayek Co-Ordination and Evolution: His legacy in philosophy, politics, economics and the history of ideas",Jack Birner and Rudy Van Zijp,
The Theory of Money and Credit,Ludwig Von Mises,
The Experience of Free Banking,Kevin Dowd,
"Lift her up, tenderly",Bob LeFevre,
A Nation of Victims: The Decay of American Character,Charles J. Sykes,
Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality,Thomas Sowell,"May 8,1994"
Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980,Charles Murray,
Simple Rules for a Complex World,Richard A. Epstein,
The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America,Philip K. Howard,"February 11, 1996"
Is Reality Optional?: and other essays,Thomas Sowell,
Ethnic America: A history,Thomas Sowell,
The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism,F. A. Hayek - Edited by W. W. Bartley III,"May 1, 1994"
The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to Radical Capitalism,David Friedman,
Fiat Money Inflation in France,"Andrew Dickson White, with a forward by Henry Hazlitt","November 24, 1992"
Whatever Happened to Penny Candy,Richard J. Maybury,
Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life,Daniel C. Dennett,"August 22, 1995"
The Philosophical Scientists,David Foster,
Hen's Teeth and Horses Toes,Gould,
Vaulting Ambition,Philip Kitcher,
River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life,Richard Dawkins,"August 14,1995"
Climbing Mount Improbable,Richard Dawkins,"November 17, 1996"
The State of the Union: Essays in Social Criticism,Albert Jay Nock,
What Has Government Done to Our Health Care,Terree P. Wasley,
South Africa's War Against Capitalism,Walter E. Williams,
Forbidden Grounds: The Case Against Employment Discrimination Laws,Richard A. Epstein,
Social Security: The Inherent Contradiction,Peter J. Ferrara,
"Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins",Thomas G. West,
Crimes Crusades and Corruption: Prohibitions in the United States 1900-1987,,
Money Mischief: Episodes in Monetary History,Milton Friedman,"January 30, 1992"
What Has Government Done to Our Money?,Murray N. Rothbard,
Prices & Knowledge: A Market Process Perspective,Esteban F. Thomsen,
Welfare Economics and Externalites in and Open Ended Universe: A Modern Austrian Perspective,Roy E. Cordatoq,
"The Failure of the ""New Economics""",Henry Hazlitt,Winter 2004
The Excluded Americans: Homelessness and Housing Policies,William Tucker,
The Economics and Politics of Race: An International Perspective,Thomas Sowell,
The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America,"Burton W. Folsom, Jr. foreword by Forrest McDonald","March 7, 1993"
Capitalism,Arthur Seldon,
Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America,Richard K. Vedder & Lowell E. Gallaway,"October 16, 1993"
Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry,"John E. O'Neill and Jerome R. Corsi, PH. D.",
Whatever Happened to Justice?,Richard J. Maybury,"June 18, 1994"
Our Enemy the State,Albert Jay Nock,
Holidays in Hell,P. J. O'Rourke,
Capitalism and Freedom,Milton Friedman,
The Ruling Class: Inside Imperial Congress - Abridged Edition,Eric Felten,
Neither Bullets Nor Ballots: Essays on Voluntaryism,"Carle Watner, George H. Smith, Wendy McElroy",
Libertarianism in One Lesson,David Bergland,
For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto,Murray N. Rothbard,
"The Constitution of the United States of America, and The Declaration of Independence, with notes by Ralph Ashby",The Fouding Fathers,
A Call for Revolution: How Washington is Strangling America - and How to Stop it,Martin L. Gross,
The Power of Congress (as Congress Sees It),Edited by R. S. Radford,"October 4, 1993"
The Prince,Machiavelli,
The Philosophy of Ownership,Robert LeFevre,
The Anti-Captitalist Mentality,Ludwig Von Mises,"December 13, 1992"
The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation,Matt Ridley,
"Defending the Undefendable: The Pimp, Prostitute, Scab, Slumlord, Libeler, Moneylender, and Other Scapegoats in the Rogue's Gallery of American Society",Walter Block
The Territorial Imperative,Robert Ardrey
Evolution: The Fossils Say No!,"Duane T. Gish, Ph. D."
The Dangers of Socialize Medicine,Edited by Jacob G. Hornberger and Richard M. Ebeling
The Age of Reason,Thomas Paine
"Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder",Richard Dawkins
The Market for Liberty,Morris and Linda Tannenhill
The Capitalist Spirit: Toward a Religious Ethic of Weath Creation,Edited by Peter L. Berger
"The Capitalist Revolution: Fifty Propositions About Prosperit, Equality, & Liberty",Peter L. Berger
The Scottish Enlightenment and the Theory of Spontaneous Order,Ronald Homowy
The Lysander Spooner Reader: With an Introduction by George H. Smith,"Lysander Spooner, Edited by George H. Smith"
The Government Against the Economy,George Reisman
A Right to Bear Arms: State and Federal Bills of Rights and Constitutional Guarantees,Stephen P. Halbrook
"Economics on Trial: Lies, Myths, and Realities",Mark Skousen
The Morality of Capitalism,Edited by Mark W. Hendrickson
Original Intent and the Framers of the Constitution: A Disputed Question,Harry V. Jaffa
Payback: The Conspiracy to Destroy Michael Milken and his Financial Revolution,Daniel Fischel,
"Republican Party Reptile: The Confessions, Adventures, Essays, and (Other) Outrages of ?",P. J. O'Rourke,
The Origins of Species,Charles Darwin,
The Panda's Thumb,Stephen J. Gould,
Ever Since Darwin,Stephen J. Gould,
Immorality of Christianity,G. James Stewart,
The Farm Fiasco,James Bovard,
Taking Responsibility: Self Reliance and Accountable Life,"Nathaniel Branden, Ph. D.","February 3, 1996"
Animal Farm,George Orwell,
Ten Philosophical Mistakes,Mortimer J. Adler,
"Anarchy, State, and Utopia",Robert Nozick,Half way through and quit
The New Skepticism,Paul Kurtz,
Patient Power: The Free-Enterprise Alternative to Clinton's Health Plan,John C. Goodman and Gerald L. Musgrave,
"Atheism, Ayn Rand, and Other Heresies",George H. Smith,
Popper Selections,Edited by David Miller,"April 23, 1994"
Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical,Chris Matthew Sciabarra,
Judgment Day: My Years With Ayn Rand,Nathaniel Branden

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Did John Locke Model Property Rights Correctly?

I have devised an example, which follows property rights rules in accordance to Locke, and yet it strikes me as unjust.

A primitive community lives on a island. Their only source of water is a spring in a large field at the base of the mountain and to it's south. The spring is at the bottom of a depression and the sides leading down into the spring are treacherous and unimproved. Everyone in the community freely visits the spring to obtain drinking water. The land around the spring is uncultivated; no one bothers because of all the traffic to and from the spring.

The water running out of the spring only stays at the surface for a short while before resuming it's underground journey. The soil is very porous being made of volcanic ash, and pumice. It rarely rains but it is very humid on the island due to proximity to the sea. Mists do settle in the evening on the porous rocks at the top of the volcano and the water then drips deep underground. The only reason the water from the spring even comes to the surface is that the basalt bedrock is close to the surface at the spring. This impervious layer of basalt underlies the volcano but extends into the field only a short way before plunging straight down in an underground cliff. The water of the spring follows this path only appearing at the surface for a short while.

One day a castaway from a more advanced market based society is washed up on shore. He is a very technological oriented fellow and knows the basis of many of the improvements humans have made to their lives over the eons. He soon ingratiates himself to his guests with technological improvements. He is accepted into the community, marries a local, and plans on living the rest of his life there, given his options. This island was not on well-trafficked sea lanes so he doesn’t expect any rescue.

One of his first improvements was to pick the steep end of the spring to the north, which no one was using because of easier paths, and to install a stairway and walkway that greatly improved access. Since this area was not owned and he had mixed his labor with it he claimed it as his own. This was in accordance with local custom regarding huts, and gardens so the local chief let it stand. Individuals were allowed to homestead areas of the island, build structures and gardens, and exclude trespassers. The castaway then started charging others a minor fee for use of his walkway and stairs. Since it was so much more convenient everyone started using it.

After a long period it became apparent that the foot traffic had become more concentrated and orderly. This made the field around the spring open to cultivation. So the castaway removed the unwanted vegetation and started to cultivate the fields around the spring. He also installed a platform that extended out over the spring at the same location as his stairs, with a counterbalanced rope and bucket pulley system. This made fetching water even more efficient, as the user would only need to lift half the weight of the water for each bucket, instead of the full weight of the water plus there was no need to walk up and down the stairs. He started charging individuals for each bucket they fetched in this fashion and used the proceeds to install yet more pulley systems.

The spring was located between two villages. One village was to the northwest and one to the northeast. The footpaths originally beaten into the ground pointed directly out in these two directions, however there was also a direct path between the two villages that ran along the north edge of the field at the base of the mountain. Those two pathways had originally curved down towards the southern edge of the spring where the access was originally the best. So the three pathways formed a triangle with the spring on the interior southern corner of the triangle. The castaway had built his access point on the north end of the spring and walkway that served it ran due north into the originally unused ground at the interior of the triangle. His walkway was perpendicular to the village-to-village path. With this new access point the natural foot traffic shifted to the north with the spring now outside the resulting triangle.

The castaway was cultivating more and more of the land around the northern end of the spring. Everyone appreciated his efforts and tended to stay off his gardens but sometimes the beds closer to the northern entrance would get stepped on. This is when the castaway introduced fences. He decided to protect his beds by building a fence on either side of his walkway. Once installed this solved his problems. Everyone was entering his walkway from the open end at north. He extended this even further making additional land around the spring available for his homesteading.

Occasional stragglers would still sometimes walk on his beds, which were the most productive on the island because of the amount of irrigation the castaway could afford to provide. One of his innovations was to let the natives pay for use of his platform by fetching two pails of water, keeping one and dumping the other an irrigation system placed next to the spring. The castaway decided his crops were just too valuable to leave exposed like this, so he fences in the entire area he homesteaded. Since he had homesteaded all the land that was no longer being used for foot traffic this essentially closed off all points of access to the spring except his walkway. He now owned a defacto monopoly on access to the most valuable water resource on the island. No one complained because he didn’t charge monopoly prices and has vastly improved living conditions on the island. It was better for everyone.

The castaway however is lonely for his old life. Living on the island is pleasant but he missed many of the advantages of his original life. One day a ship arrived at the island. Due to an uprising in another area it had become dangerous to take the old shipping routes, plus a newly discovered area rich in resources put the castaways island along a new trade route. The castaway, after long consideration, decided to sell his holdings and move himself and his family back to his native homeland. He sold his lands to a shipping company which needed both the water and the food that this island could provide for the their trade route.

What happened next, was that, the shipping company started charging monopoly prices. Instead of getting one bucket of water for each delivered the shipping company charged the natives one hundred. Since the natives had no other source of water they essentially became the slaves of the shipping company. Which exploited them to the utmost. Not only for water but also for food production.

Life changed for the islanders. Many felt cheated. They liked their original lifestyle and are not interested in working so hard. Not only that but the more intense harvesting of fish, and other resources is destroying the possibility of living as they had, in a renewable fashion. They have had to make tradeoffs that they would not have had to do if they had free access to water. The shipping company started requiring that they pay a portion of the water fees in wood also and this has resulted in the denuding of the forest that once covered the island. Many of the islanders end up having to take jobs with the shipping company in order to survive. Some end up migrating off the island because opportunities that are better elsewhere.

From the perspective of a Lockean system of homesteading and property ownership it seems that at each step in this tale is just

Now the question is. Were the islanders cheated or not?

My position would be that they were. I think ownership over natural resources can be acquired by means other than "mixing ones labor" with them. I believe that mere usage of them can constitute a claim of ownership.

The response to that might be "ownership by whom?". After all, as originally stated no single native claimed ownership of the resource. It certainly wasn't private property. However, think about it more deeply. One could map what was going on to co-ownership instead of non-ownership. This might especially become apparent if the a chief of the two villages tended to be in charge of local justice and administering common assets. You could think of the entire social structure as a kind of cooperative with group ownership. Perhaps they don't elect the chief by voting, but who is to say voting is the only correct means to determine officials, and perhaps no one ever invented that technology. After all voting is a technology. Furthermore, perhaps they can’t dispose of their "shares" like we can with our corporations but otherwise it has quite a few similarities to a corporation if you think about it. There is mutual ownership and yet a single person, or group of people act as proxies in control of the resource for the true owners.

One of the problems I have with this Lockean homesteading of access to the spring is that the natives have been in truth defrauded. The social norms that were in place at the arrival of the castaway were founded on expectations that were violated in a way that was beyond the sophistication of the natives. The closure of access to the spring was an unexpected strategy. You will note that by the end of the story the castaway had not claimed ownership of the spring but only the land surrounding it. He had defacto ownership but not dejure ownership over the spring. Tricky bastard. The natives may have had concepts of private ownership and homesteading as part of their culture, but just never expected someone to use them in this way. They would be outraged against this behavior and frankly I think they would be absolutely correct in their judgment.

So what do you think? Do I fundamentally misunderstand the Lockean conception of property rights? If I have it correct, and this is a flaw, do all other schools of Libertarian thought on property rights also suffer from the same flaw? As far as I know they do. Why shouldn’t we consider other forms of collective ownership valid, that is, forms other than ones based on transferable stocks and contracts?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Some evidence that torture is not the official US policy

The conclusion I came to on the Abu Girab torture incidents was that it was some loose cannons operating of their own accord, not official US policy. There was not clear cut evidence in that case that it was the policy except for the claim of the perpetrators that they had been ordered to do so by higher ups.

Often when discussing the Abu Girab incident my opponents would then shift to other incidents to show a pattern. One often used was the killing of Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush by US Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer. The victim was suffocated in a sleeping bag in this incident.

During the trial, prosecutor Maj. Tiernan Dolan described a rogue interrogator who became frustrated with Mowhoush's refusal to answer questions and escalated his techniques from simple interviews to beatings to simulating drowning, and finally, to death.

"He treated that general worse than you would treat a dog and he did so knowing he was required to treat the general humanely," Dolan said.

Again in this incident the perpetrator claimed that his commanders had approved of his interrogation techique.

Well Welshofer was found guilty of negligent homicide on Saturday. Which again shows the difference between us and them. However, what is most interesting in this case is the e-mail trail that shows his defense was fabricated.

In an e-mail to a commander, Dolan said, Welshofer wrote that restrictions on interrogation techniques were impeding the Army's ability to gather intelligence. Welshofer wrote that authorized techniques came from Cold War-era doctrine that did not apply in Iraq, Dolan said.

"Our enemy understands force, not psychological mind games," Dolan quoted from Welshofer's message. Dolan said an officer responded by telling Welshofer to "take a deep breath and remember who we are."

In his own words Welshofer admits that there were rules in place that restricted him to the same policies used through-out the cold war. Presumably policys in place under Democratic as well as Republican administrations throughout the era. It also shows that he was aware of them and chose to ignore them.

This does leave me wondering about the commander who wrote this reply. Upon recieving such an email wasn't he the least bit curious to see how these interrogations were being carried out. From the article I get the impression that he dropped the ball on this one, especially given the following from the article.

Welshofer used his sleeping bag technique in the presence of lower ranking soldiers, but never in the presence of officers with the authority to stop him, Dolan said.

It might have been that his superior had popped in for the occasional visit but that Welshofer was actively hiding these techniques by keeping a lookout or doing them when he knew superior officers would not be present. If so then how much effort does it take to find out? Not much I think as he could ask who was involved in the interrogations and then query them as to the worst techniques used. Even better he could have just asked the Iraqi being interrogated and followed up on that.

All in all, I think this is not only a crime on the part of Welshofer but also a failing on the part of the army. It does show a lack of supervision. Clearly an Iraqi General is covered by the Geneva Conventions (assuming Iraq is a signatory), so torture is not allowed regardless of US policy. Officers are instructed in such things and Welshofer should have known that it would be a crime regardless of whether his superiors ordered it or not.

I will conceed that the fact that this was a Iraqi General whereas the Abu Gharib victims may not have been, and that there might have been a different policy for different types of prisoners. It's possible. That's why I titled this article "Evidence that ..." and not "Conclusive evidence that ...".

I do not in reality know what the policy was, not being there, however I don't like the standard of evidence that is being used to convict the Administration. Many of the "deaths in captivity" being counted by those arguing against the Administration were Iraqi soldiers who had died of wounds recieved on the battlefield. If you are going to argue a position at least do so honestly. I understand that who use these statistics to argue are often unaware of such things but I feel it is their responsibility to verify such facts. It is well established that such statistics are often already contain partisan interpretations if not outright deceptions.

How many times have we heard numbers on civilians killed where those citing the statistics count terrorists as civilians? Though it is technically true that terrorists are not soldiers it is deceptive to group them with innocents, as they are certainly not innocent. Frankly, this sort of thing gets me pissed.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Is Intelligent Design a Scientific Theory

In the comments section of an article he wrote David Friedman makes the claim that ID is a scientific theory:

As I argued in a different post on this blog, I think ID does make testable predictions--some of which turn out to be false, such as the prediction that humans don't have an appendix.

ID is not a scientific theory because it specifically does not make predictions. It is only a criticism, and a bad religious one at that.

That one can deduce certain things from a position and then falsify those things does not mean that position is scientific. The Koran states that the sun sets in a muddy pool, and that the Quran is literally true. We know that this is easily disproved empirically. One can also disprove many Christian beliefs both empirically and/or logically. One cannot have an omnescient and omnipotent being due to the inherent contradictions, so any religions theory that holds this as true is disprovable and therefore falsifiable. This doesn't mean Islam or certain brands of Christianity are scientific. A scientific theory cannot be ad-hoc the way these religions are.

By ad-hoc I mean one cannot shift ones position once something is shown to be false. It used to be the ID position that the eye was too complex to have evolved. This has been shown to be false. You'd think the argument (not theory) would be dropped at that point, but no they shift to some other organ or organelle. Now it's the flagella that they claim to be to complex to have evolved, or microcellular processes.

Well that is no theory, it's the same old, if I don't understand it then "God did it". I don't see how ID is any different then saying those words. First we have to show that Zeus doesn't throw lighting, then we have to prove the earth is not flat, then that the sun does not revolve around the earth, each time with assurances that the claimants knew the truth because there was a God and they knew what God had to say on the subjects.

Screw that whole argument. That we do not know exactly how a flagella evolved speaks to our ignorance about that one fact, and not to the existence of a designer.

We have overwhelming evidence that in fact the mechanism called natural selection can operate in ways that produce things that appear to be designed. In fact we can build computer simulations that apply all the relevant aspects of natural selection and the products will indeed look designed. Furthermore, we actually use such programs to automatic design. Designing is not something that only intellegent beings can do, totally unconcious and simple processes can do design and do so in novel ways. Ways the stump the most intellegent humans for generations.

So where does the "I" in "ID" come from. Religion that's where. They wish not to accept the fact that non-intellegent design can and provably does outperform humans in many cases. Here we have an area, biology, where over and over again designs beyond any know intellegent capacity were done so by non-intellegent processes. One would think that at this point it would be non-intellegent design processes that would be held in awe and not the baser intellegent kind. After all the only truly intellegent designers we have any experience with are men, and frankly we have yet to match nature.

So no, as a matter of fact, ID is not a scientific theory. It is merely a religious criticism, and a fatally flawed one at that.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Sure, Now They're Protesting ... But Why?

Via Instapundit I read an article "Al Qaeda on defensive as bombs begin to backfire". My initial reaction on seeing the headline, "What took them so long, do only Muslim deaths count?"

The article characterizes the protesters as moderate Muslims.

As moderate Muslims dare to protest at daily death tolls, even the prospect of one of Osama bin Laden's most feared cohorts, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, being handed over is being discussed.
So what did one of these "moderate Muslims" have to say.
"We came to support our nation and our unity," said Ibrahim Haniya, 22, who marched with a group of friends. "These bombers didn't differentiate between Muslims, Christians or Jews. They were against the world."
Oh, I see, it's OK to target and murder innocent Christians and Jews as long as no innocent Muslims are killed.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Copyrights as Physical Property Rights

This article is in draft and I will be changing it...

I don't see the problem that the anti intellectual property people have with copyrights. It's pretty damn obvious and in fact provable that if you produce a copy of "The Santanic Verses" that you haven't written it yourself from scratch. Even with complete freedom to use your own personal resources as you desire you cannot do so without using an existing copy. The odds are the universe will blink out before you manage to write "The Satanic Verses" without access to another copy. So it is no real sense restriction on the use of your resources to disallow you from copying my book. Go ahead, play with all your resources for the rest of your life and it will not result in you producing "The Satanic Verses" so long as you do not infringe the copyright.

Now it is possible for you to make a copy. However that requires that you obtain a existing copy. These can be of two kinds, authorized and unauthorized versions. If you use an authorized version to make your copy then you are in fact violating a physical property right. The owner of the authorized version has complete ownership of the physical copy except for the purposes of copying. Those rights are retained by the copyright holder. He owns the rights to the physical object with regards to copying. There is no way to make a copy without violating this physical right. What of the unauthorized copy. Well it was produced using the input of another persons property. Thus it is not properly owned by the person who holds it.

Perhaps you skeptics can get a handle on this if you think of a book not only as a consumer good but as a producer good. It is a producer good in the sense that it can be used to produce additional books. It is in a sense a factor of production like a printing press. The copyright owner retains ownership the right to use the good as a producer good. When a unauthorized copy is made it is tantamount to the unauthorized use of a productive piece of machinery. It doesn't matter whether you provide the raw materials in this process, you are stealing the use of the machine. In so doing you have mixed your private property with the owners in way that violates his rights and you must provide restitution. Can someone come onto your beachfront property, dump a bag of sand upon it, mix it in and then claim ownership? Of course not. Nor can I make a delivery of raw materials and employees to a Toyota factory after hours, build a minivan using their resources, and claim full ownership of the end result.

If someone were to hack into your computer to print off some photographs he liked on your paper you certainly wouldn't like it. Do you think it is any better if instead of stealing the copies he made with your property that he offered to compensate you for the cost of the paper alone?

This issue can also be extended to the issue of property abandonment. If a copy of a book that is copyrighted is lost but the copyright owner still retains ownership then the copy only represents a restricted copy. If instead the copyright holder should abandon ownership then it is up to anyone with a copy of the book to homestead this right.

Note that my argument does not hold water when trying to copyright phrases like "I'm Loving It". How exactly do you prove in court that someone else didn't independently invent that phrase. Also understand that there is a continum all the way from an exact copy to a book that touches on the same subject. Thus drawing a clear line is not possible. However the same holds for other physical property rights we recognize. Exactly how deep below the earth and how high above it does a landowner control? So this is another area where copyright ownership is similar to any other property right.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Do I Need to Speak Arabic to Judge the Koran?

Vavoom over at Tedrow Drive is now trying to argue that one must understand Arabic in order to properly evaluate the Koran. He did so in the 2:04 am comment in this article. I had stated that there were clearly evil and intolerant passages in the Koran and he came back with this.

I think there are passages in every text in every religion that are problematic. Part of this has to do with interpretation. No, I don't mean interpretation of English versions of the Koran. Rather, I mean that the tranlation from arabic to english is often sketchy. Also, context does matter. Often, statements are taken out of context, translated poorly and later misinterpreted. Can you read arabic? I strongly suggest you learn how, if you can't. It might help you make a better assessment. I focus on peaceful aspects of all religions. As such, I respect them all.
I don’t buy this argument for several reasons.
1) He is practicing the Tu Quoque fallacy again. Other religions wrongs do not forgive Islams wrongs.

2) Mistranslation runs both ways and not just the way he wishes. It might be that good things are being mistranslated into bad. However, it is equally likely that bad things were mistranslated into good.

3) He puts the quite unreasonable hurdle of requiring non-Muslims to learn Arabic before they can evaluate the morality of the Koran. Does he hold Muslims up to the same standard. By this standard non-arabic speakers can’t rightly call themselves Muslims, they don’t know what the Koran actually says. Perhaps the parts that are taken as "good" by non-arabic speaking muslims were mistranslated and are actually "bad" passages.

4) Just because there might have been a mistake in translation doesn’t mean there was in any specific case. The same holds true for context. This reminds me of the argument made by certain philosophers that we cannot trust our senses in general due to optical illusions, therefore reality is an illusion. Come on, you have to prove that in a particular instance a mistake was made. Using this criteria, I’ve seen Vavoom make mistakes in the past so I guess I’ll just assume everything he does is an error.

5) Despite his claims we do have the context. The translators don’t just translate specific quotes but the entire Koran. In fact this argument can often run the other way. Seemingly tolerant passages can be seen to be intolerant when taken in context. This is why there is a need to be specific.

6) We have multiple translations into English from the point of view of different religious interpretations by, of course, Arabic speakers. This presents no hurdle whatsoever, since we need only look at the multiple versions for discrepancies. If they all agree in principle, if not in exact wording, then we know that differences in religious interpretation was not a problem.

7) What the heck does concentrating on the peaceful aspects have to do with proper translation. If the Koran says to kill non-believers, and it does, then sticking your head in the sand isn’t going to change that fact.
I am using the Yufali English translation of the Quran as my source. This is the one recommended by many Muslims. I am also using the Skeptics Annotated Quran which is the Pickthal translation. Futhermore the Shakir translation is available online.

Take a look at these different translations and see if you don’t agree that the teachings in the Koran are intolerant if not just plain old evil. I see no important difference between these translations.

All three translations are available here. So you can go read them in context if you wish, but it doesn't help.

Of course I could have put more topics, and more quotes per topic, but I didn’t want to end up making you read the entire Koran. Peruse them and see. I have nothing more to say on the topic, as it is quite clear the Koran is intolerant.

Mandatory Religious Warfare
YUSUFALI: Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.
PICKTHAL: Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you; but it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not.
SHAKIR: Fighting is enjoined on you, and it is an object of dislike to you; and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know.

YUSUFALI: Truly Allah loves those who fight in His Cause in battle array, as if they were a solid cemented structure.
PICKTHAL: Lo! Allah loveth them who battle for His cause in ranks, as if they were a solid structure.
SHAKIR: Surely Allah loves those who fight in His way in ranks as if they were a firm and compact wall.

YUSUFALI: Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
PICKTHAL: Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.
SHAKIR: Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.

YUSUFALI: Go ye forth, (whether equipped) lightly or heavily, and strive and struggle, with your goods and your persons, in the cause of Allah. That is best for you, if ye (but) knew.
PICKTHAL: Go forth, light-armed and heavy-armed, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah! That is best for you if ye but knew.
SHAKIR: Go forth light and heavy, and strive hard in Allah's way with your property and your persons; this is better for you, if you know.

YUSUFALI: If there had been immediate gain (in sight), and the journey easy, they would (all) without doubt have followed thee, but the distance was long, (and weighed) on them. They would indeed swear by Allah, "If we only could, we should certainly have come out with you": They would destroy their own souls; for Allah doth know that they are certainly lying.
PICKTHAL: Had it been a near adventure and an easy journey they had followed thee, but the distance seemed too far for them. Yet will they swear by Allah (saying): If we had been able we would surely have set out with you. They destroy their souls, and Allah knoweth that they verily are liars.
SHAKIR: Had it been a near advantage and a short journey, they would certainly have followed you, but the tedious journey was too long for them; and they swear by Allah: If we had been able, we would certainly have gone forth with you; they cause their own souls to perish, and Allah knows that they are most surely

YUSUFALI: Those who believe in Allah and the Last Day ask thee for no exemption from fighting with their goods and persons. And Allah knoweth well those who do their duty.
PICKTHAL: Those who believe in Allah and the Last Day ask no leave of thee lest they should strive with their wealth and their lives. Allah is Aware of those who keep their duty (unto Him).
SHAKIR: They do not ask leave of you who believe in Allah and the latter day (to stay away) from striving hard with their property and their persons, and Allah knows those who guard (against evil).

Don’t befriend Jews,Christians, or any non-Muslim:
YUSUFALI: Let not the believers Take for friends or helpers Unbelievers rather than believers: if any do that, in nothing will there be help from Allah: except by way of precaution, that ye may Guard yourselves from them. But Allah cautions you (To remember) Himself; for the final goal is to Allah.
PICKTHAL: Let not the believers take disbelievers for their friends in preference to believers. Whoso doeth that hath no connection with Allah unless (it be) that ye but guard yourselves against them, taking (as it were) security. Allah biddeth you beware (only) of Himself. Unto Allah is the journeying.
SHAKIR: Let not the believers take the unbelievers for friends rather than believers; and whoever does this, he shall have nothing of (the guardianship of) Allah, but you should guard yourselves against them, guarding carefully; and Allah makes you cautious of (retribution from) Himself; and to Allah is the eventual coming.

YUSUFALI: O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.
PICKTHAL: O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. He among you who taketh them for friends is (one) of them. Lo! Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk.
SHAKIR: O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.

Reasons to hate Jews:
YUSUFALI: But because of their breach of their covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard; they change the words from their (right) places and forget a good part of the message that was sent them, nor wilt thou cease to find them- barring a few - ever bent on (new) deceits: but forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds): for Allah loveth those who are kind.
PICKTHAL: And because of their breaking their covenant, We have cursed them and made hard their hearts. They change words from their context and forget a part of that whereof they were admonished. Thou wilt not cease to discover treachery from all save a few of them. But bear with them and pardon them. Lo! Allah loveth the kindly.
SHAKIR: But on account of their breaking their covenant We cursed them and made their hearts hard; they altered the words from their places and they neglected a portion of what they were reminded of; and you shall always discover treachery in them excepting a few of them; so pardon them and turn away; surely Allah loves those who do good (to others).

YUSUFALI: Say: "O people of the Book! Do ye disapprove of us for no other reason than that we believe in Allah, and the revelation that hath come to us and that which came before (us), and (perhaps) that most of you are rebellious and disobedient?"
PICKTHAL: Say: O People of the Scripture! Do ye blame us for aught else than that we believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed aforetime, and because most of you are evil-livers?
SHAKIR: Say: O followers of the Book! do you find fault with us (for aught) except that we believe in Allah and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed before, and that most of you are transgressors?

YUSUFALI: Say: "Shall I point out to you something much worse than this, (as judged) by the treatment it received from Allah? those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those of whom some He transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped evil;- these are (many times) worse in rank, and far more astray from the even path!"
PICKTHAL: Shall I tell thee of a worse (case) than theirs for retribution with Allah? (Worse is the case of him) whom Allah hath cursed, him on whom His wrath hath fallen and of whose sort Allah hath turned some to apes and swine, and who serveth idols. Such are in worse plight and further astray from the plain road.
SHAKIR: Say: Shall I inform you of (him who is) worse than this in retribution from Allah? (Worse is he) whom Allah has cursed and brought His wrath upon, and of whom He made apes and swine, and he who served the Shaitan; these are worse in place and more erring from the straight path.

YUSUFALI: The Jews say: "Allah's hand is tied up." Be their hands tied up and be they accursed for the (blasphemy) they utter. Nay, both His hands are widely outstretched: He giveth and spendeth (of His bounty) as He pleaseth. But the revelation that cometh to thee from Allah increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. Amongst them we have placed enmity and hatred till the Day of Judgment. Every time they kindle the fire of war, Allah doth extinguish it; but they (ever) strive to do mischief on earth. And Allah loveth not those who do mischief.
PICKTHAL: The Jews say: Allah's hand is fettered. Their hands are fettered and they are accursed for saying so. Nay, but both His hands are spread out wide in bounty. He bestoweth as He will. That which hath been revealed unto thee from thy Lord is certain to increase the contumacy and disbelief of many of them, and We have cast among them enmity and hatred till the Day of Resurrection. As often as they light a fire for war, Allah extinguisheth it. Their effort is for corruption in the land, and Allah loveth not corrupters.
SHAKIR: And the Jews say: The hand of Allah is tied up! Their hands shall be shackled and they shall be cursed for what they say. Nay, both His hands are spread out, He expends as He pleases; and what has been revealed to you from your Lord will certainly make many of them increase in inordinacy and unbelief; and We have put enmity and hatred among them till the day of resurrection; whenever they kindle a fire for war Allah puts it out, and they strive to make mischief in the land; and Allah does not love the mischief-makers.

YUSUFALI: Thou wilt indeed find them, of all people, most greedy of life,-even more than the idolaters: Each one of them wishes He could be given a life of a thousand years: But the grant of such life will not save him from (due) punishment. For Allah sees well all that they do.
PICKTHAL: And thou wilt find them greediest of mankind for life and (greedier) than the idolaters. (Each) one of them would like to be allowed to live a thousand years. And to live (a thousand years) would be no means remove him from the doom. Allah is Seer of what they do.
SHAKIR: And you will most certainly find them the greediest of men for life (greedier) than even those who are polytheists; every one of them loves that he should be granted a life of a thousand years, and his being granted a long life will in no way remove him further off from the chastisement, and Allah sees what they do.

YUSUFALI: O Messenger! let not those grieve thee, who race each other into unbelief: (whether it be) among those who say "We believe" with their lips but whose hearts have no faith; or it be among the Jews,- men who will listen to any lie,- will listen even to others who have never so much as come to thee. They change the words from their (right) times and places: they say, "If ye are given this, take it, but if not, beware!" If any one's trial is intended by Allah, thou hast no authority in the least for him against Allah. For such - it is not Allah's will to purify their hearts. For them there is disgrace in this world, and in the Hereafter a heavy punishment.
PICKTHAL: O Messenger! Let not them grieve thee who vie one with another in the race to disbelief, of such as say with their mouths: "We believe," but their hearts believe not, and of the Jews: listeners for the sake of falsehood, listeners on behalf of other folk who come not unto thee, changing words from their context and saying: If this be given unto you, receive it, but if this be not given unto you, then beware! He whom Allah doometh unto sin, thou (by thine efforts) wilt avail him naught against Allah. Those are they for whom the Will of Allah is that He cleanse not their hearts. Theirs in the world will be ignominy, and in the Hereafter an awful doom;
SHAKIR: O Messenger! let not those grieve you who strive together in hastening to unbelief from among those who say with their mouths: We believe, and their hearts do not believe, and from among those who are Jews; they are listeners for the sake of a lie, listeners for another people who have not come to you; they alter the words from their places, saying: If you are given this, take it, and if you are not given this, be cautious; and as for him whose temptation Allah desires, you cannot control anything for him with Allah. Those are they for whom Allah does not desire that He should purify their hearts; they shall have disgrace in this world, and they shall have a grievous chastisement in the hereafter.

YUSUFALI: The similitude of those who were charged with the (obligations of the) Mosaic Law, but who subsequently failed in those (obligations), is that of a donkey which carries huge tomes (but understands them not). Evil is the similitude of people who falsify the Signs of Allah: and Allah guides not people who do wrong.
PICKTHAL: The likeness of those who are entrusted with the Law of Moses, yet apply it not, is as the likeness of the ass carrying books. Wretched is the likeness of folk who deny the revelations of Allah. And Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk.
SHAKIR: The likeness of those who were charged with the Taurat, then they did not observe it, is as the likeness of the ass bearing books, evil is the likeness of the people who reject the communications of Allah; and Allah does not guide the unjust people.

YUSUFALI: Say: "O ye that stand on Judaism! If ye think that ye are friends to Allah, to the exclusion of (other) men, then express your desire for Death, if ye are truthful!"
PICKTHAL: Say (O Muhammad): O ye who are Jews! If ye claim that ye are favoured of Allah apart from (all) mankind, then long for death if ye are truthful.
SHAKIR: Say: O you who are Jews, if you think that you are the favorites of Allah to the exclusion of other people, then invoke death If you are truthful.
YUSUFALI: But never will they express their desire (for Death), because of the (deeds) their hands have sent on before them! and Allah knows well those that do wrong!
PICKTHAL: But they will never long for it because of all that their own hands have sent before, and Allah is Aware of evil-doers.
SHAKIR: And they will never invoke it because of what their hands have sent before; and Allah is Cognizant of the unjust.

YUSUFALI: The Jews call 'Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!
PICKTHAL: And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah (Himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they!
SHAKIR: And the Jews say: Uzair is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!

YUSUFALI: Go ye forth, (whether equipped) lightly or heavily, and strive and struggle, with your goods and your persons, in the cause of Allah. That is best for you, if ye (but) knew.
PICKTHAL: Go forth, light-armed and heavy-armed, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah! That is best for you if ye but knew.
SHAKIR: Go forth light and heavy, and strive hard in Allah's way with your property and your persons; this is better for you, if you know.

YUSUFALI: If there had been immediate gain (in sight), and the journey easy, they would (all) without doubt have followed thee, but the distance was long, (and weighed) on them. They would indeed swear by Allah, "If we only could, we should certainly have come out with you": They would destroy their own souls; for Allah doth know that they are certainly lying.
PICKTHAL: Had it been a near adventure and an easy journey they had followed thee, but the distance seemed too far for them. Yet will they swear by Allah (saying): If we had been able we would surely have set out with you. They destroy their souls, and Allah knoweth that they verily are liars.
SHAKIR: Had it been a near advantage and a short journey, they would certainly have followed you, but the tedious journey was too long for them; and they swear by Allah: If we had been able, we would certainly have gone forth with you; they cause their own souls to perish, and Allah knows that they are most surely

YUSUFALI: Those who believe in Allah and the Last Day ask thee for no exemption from fighting with their goods and persons. And Allah knoweth well those who do their duty.
PICKTHAL: Those who believe in Allah and the Last Day ask no leave of thee lest they should strive with their wealth and their lives. Allah is Aware of those who keep their duty (unto Him).
SHAKIR: They do not ask leave of you who believe in Allah and the latter day (to stay away) from striving hard with their property and their persons, and Allah knows those who guard (against evil).

Attempted Assasination of the Word "Rational"

Over at Catallarchy I had commented on an article titled “Gerin Oil Addiction”, which was itself a comment on an article by Richard Dawkins titled "Opiate of the Masses" . I only mention this to point out that I came across someone in the comments there who seemed to have a serous issue with rationality. He seems to think of rationality as a source of evil. His name is Brian W. Doss and he has since posted an article titled “As if reading my mind” in which he advances the notion that the word rational has been stripped of meaning and should be discarded in favor of other more descriptive terminology.

In the Gerin Oil comments I was getting the distinct feeling that Mr. Doss was confused as to the meaning of the word rational when used by us rationalists. I didn’t however want to get into long discussion at that point. Now that he has declared war not only on rationality but also on the use of the word rational I am going to have to take issue.

The article “As if reading my mind” is in itself thin on argumentation and instead it extensively quotes another article at Crooked Timber, comments in that article, and quotes from an economist, Ludwig von Mises, on rationality. All the quotes he uses were on the term “rational” as used in economics.

Yet Doss uses these quotes to try to bolster the idea of getting rid of the use of the word “rational” in everyday language. I think I am justified in this interpretation because he links to the “Gerin Oil” comments, in his post thusly:

As if reading my mind
…or reading the blog comments, John Quiggin reposts a quick meditation on how ‘rational’ has been stripped of meaning and should be discarded in favor of more directly descriptive terminology:
Those comments were not about economics and thus the word “rational” was being used with a common language definition and not an economic one.

The common language meaning of rational, as used by rationalist, and the economic meaning as used by economists are different. Thus, none of the quotes cited by Doss count against the rationalists in the “Gerin Oil” blog comments. Trying to use them this way is committing the fallacy of equivocation.

I don’t know if this is intentional or not but by the end of the article Doss admits something I suspected all along.
“That word you keep using. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
NB: This applies to me equally.

He admits he doesn’t know what rational means. So perhaps we can forgive him his equivocation.

I think that was enough to put a bullet in the argument put forth by Doss but I would like to clarify why I disagree not merely with his argument but also his position. I don’t agree that the word “rational” is confused to the point of meaninglessness in common usage. I also would like to state why I agree with the article he quotes.

First I’ll tackle common usage.

Common Usage
When I use the word rational in the phrase “rational behavior” in everyday conversation I mean the following:
Rationality consists of recognizing the possibility of error in our beliefs and actions, then using every method available and commensurate with the situation to reduce such error.
As you can see this definition is in the realm of human behavior. It is used in categorizing human behavior. It may not draw a crisp line between categories but it is useful nonetheless. In this way it is like the word “bald” with regards to hair loss. There are degrees of baldness and there are degrees of rationality.

As a simple example one can clearly categorize these behaviors with regard to rationality in relationship to the situation.
Situation: A Catholic woman desires to meet a man for a serious relationship that leads to marriage and children. She is beautiful and intelligent and wishes to raise her children as Catholics.
Categorize these behaviors as to rationality if they are motivated by her desire to meet such a man.
1) She goes to a Catholic church
2) She goes to the library
3) She goes to a bar
4) She moves to Alaska. There is little competition for men there.
5) She goes to a Synagogue.
6) She goes to a Mosque.
7) She works at a strip club where she can meet lots of men and they can evaluate her assets.
Now I think we can all agree:
That 1) is the most rational behavior given her situation.
That 2) and 3) are fairly rational and that she can take addition steps to ensure success. That for various reasons 4) may or may not be rational.
That 5) 6) and 7) are irrational.

So given her situation and goals we can say that certain behaviors are more prone to error and are less likely to lead to satisfaction of those goals. Assuming that people wish to attain their goals, the definition of a goal, then we can see that rational behavior is the best means to that attainment. One can use less rational means to attain a goal but such behavior is less likely to result in success.

Note that this doesn’t mean that one cannot attain ones goals through irrational behavior. If our imaginary woman where working at a strip club and someone told her she was behaving irrationally, then that would not be the same as saying she could not find a husband that way. It’s possible that she would, it’s just not likely.

Using the fact that rational behavior leads to success in the attainment of goals we can derive normative statements. Thus we can say that, rational behavior in the attainment of ethically good goals is good, and that irrational behavior used to further such goals is bad. Thus in my example, given her goals, going to church is good behavior while being a stripper is bad behavior.

The objective facts also effect rationality. If there were no churches, bars, libraries, or state of Alaska, and such then being a stripper would certainly appear more rational. You'd have to eliminate lots of options however to make being a stripper look like a good option for meeting desirable men.

Since rationality has to do with human behavior which is in turn effected by knowledge it is only natural to expect rationality to depend upon knowledge. Thus in my example, if she were not aware of churches, libraries, and the state of Alaska, then going to bars would move up on the list of rational behavior and might be considered rational to her goals, given her knowledge.

The fact that rationality is relative to a persons situation and knowledge means it is in a sense subjective. However due to the fact that subjective situation and knowledge can change due to objective facts it is also in a sense objective. What was once a rational decision in ignorance of a fact may become irrational in light of that fact, or vice versa.

So I disagree with Doss. The word “rational” is useful (although a complex concept). The particular meaning of the word I have discussed here is clear. Not only that but that particular meaning describes a concept that is not only useful in it’s own right but also integrates well with other concepts such “good”, “bad”, “error”, “efficient”, “goal”, “behavior”, etc.

Usage by Economists

The prior discussion was all within the framework of common language usage. Let me move on its usage in economics and why I agree with the Crooked Timber article.

Often, scientists use common language words but give them a different meaning within their discipline? Thus when physicists name the charm particle that doesn’t mean that it has anything to do with transmitting aspects of personality. In this case it is merely being used as an identifier with no other meaning, and was probably done to make an otherwise boring topic more humorous. Scientists aren’t the only ones with specialized vocabularies either. Many other groups have developed special language suited for their discipline for various reasons. Examples run from fry cooks to gang members.

That economists would use this word in a special discipline specific way doesn’t bother me. Nor does it bother me if they give it a completely different meaning as per above. Both are compatible with the needs of specialized vocabularies. What does bother me however is the following:
1) Economics studies human behavior, not some esoteric thing like particles. This presents two problems
a) The word “rational” defined in terms of human behavior in both common language and economics. This causes confusion that is not likely in a discipline such as particle physics. When economists are talking about human behavior we cannot be sure which meaning of rational to take. When physicists are talking about human behavior we know what meaning of the word charm to take.
b) It is likely that the common language definition of the word would be useful to use in economics, since it does bear upon human behavior. People do act rationally and irrationally using the definition I gave above. Thus by redefining the word economics loses a powerful concept.
2) Economists from different sub-disciplines give the word different meanings. The Austrian concept of rationality is quite different from the Neo-Classical one.
3) Even within a particular economic discipline the word is not used consistently.
The reason these issues bother me is that they can and do lead to error. Since economists are free to coin new terms there is no reason I can see for them to continue in this behavior. To do so would be irrational.