A Philosopher's Blog

Tobias, Abstinence and Massages

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 30, 2007

Deputy Secretary of State Randall L. Tobias was best known for being a vocal proponent of abstinence and a purported opponent of encouraging condom use to help prevent AIDS.

Interestingly enough, he recently resigned for “personal reasons.” To be more specific, it was revealed that he was involved with the so called D.C. Madam’s escort service. He alleges that he was merely being massaged and was not engaged in sexual activity.

This specific situation and so many like it, such as Newt’s recently revealed affair, help to show that conservatives who endorse a very strict sexual morality seem to all too often violate that morality in their own practices. It is rather ironic that they condemn liberals and others for their immoral ways. After all, these bastions of immorality compound their sins by being hypocrites.

On the plus side, the D.C. Madam situation does raise some interesting questions about human sexuality and behavior. I suspect, as many do, that the more vocal a person is in condemning human sexuality, the more likely it is that the person engages in the very acts s/he purports to despise. It seems slightly better to be an honest sinner than a lying ‘saint.’


Posted in Ethics, Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on April 13, 2007

As almost everyone knows, Imus got in trouble for using both a sexist and a racist term to describe the members of Rutgers basketball team.

While saying such things is not morally acceptable, it is important to keep in mind two moral principles.

The first is that it is unreasonable to expect moral sainthood from human beings. Human beings are fallible and make mistakes-often stupid and serious ones. This should always be taken into account when passing judgment on others.
The second principle is that of reversing the situation.  When passing moral judgment you should consider what it would be like to be the person on the receiving end.  So, think about something unpleasant or cruel you might have said or done that you were truly sorry about. No doubt you wanted to be forgiven for that offense. If we are to expect others to forgive us, we need to be willing to forgive them.

If Imus said what he did because of a stupid mistake and is truly sorry for his words (and not just sorry he is in trouble), then the right thing to do is forgive his offense…as we would want to forgiven for our offenses. Naturally, if he is not truly sorry, then he should not be forgiven.

I am old enough to remember when Jesse Jackson made his infamous “Hymie town” remark. It was a stupid thing to say and he paid for that thoughtless remark. At the time I thought that he should not have said it, but I also thought that he should be forgiven for the same reason I now think Imus should be forgiven.

Of course, these remarks were not directed against me and perhaps I would think differently if they were.

Florida A&M University Woes…

Posted in Race, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on April 9, 2007

As most people have no doubt heard, Florida A&M University is in some serious straits. The latest is covered here.

The gist of the problem is that FAMU has some serious financial management issues. At this point, FAMU is being subject to an audit and the state has given FSU financial control over the joint FSU-FAMU college of Engineering.

Some people have asked me if I think that there is racism involved. Although racism is still a serious problem, I do not think it is really a serious factor here (although the nature of the coverage of FAMU in the press does raise some questions…). The fact of the matter is not about black or white or any other color but green. The sad truth is that FAMU has been badly managed and the state is doing what needs to be done-stepping in and requiring FAMU to get things in order. Although I have my worries, I am confident that FAMU will get through this and emerge even stronger.

That said, I think that this same level of attention should be given to all universities and other public institutions. It would be interesting to see the results if, for example, the federal government were subject to such intense scrutiny and held to the same requirments as FAMU. I do not see that happening anytime soon. Politicians are often keen to check on other peoples’ houses (so to speak) but are loath to allow anyone to peak inside their house. And probably for some very good reasons (at the federal level: billions lost and misspent, pork, corruption, and many crimes).


Posted in Ethics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on April 7, 2007

Kermit Harrison II, one of my former philosophy students, is appearing in a new film. He is a philosophy professor (in real life) and is talking about race and identity in the movie. The film is opening at the Tribeca Film Festival. If you are in the NYC area, be sure to check it out.

Here is the press information about the movie:

“LILLIE AND LEANDER: A LEGACY OF VIOLENCE, a documentary directed by Jeffrey Morgan, produced by, Alice Brewton Hurwitz and Jeffrey Morgan. (U.S.A.) – World Premiere

Investigating the turn-of-the-century murder of her great-great aunt, a woman stumbles upon an explosive secret that hints at her own family’s involvement in decades of racially charged murders. More than a crime investigation, this documentary takes an uncensored look at a community trying desperately to bury its racist past.
Press Contact: Jennifer Morrill, Tribeca Film Festival / jmorrill@tribecafilmfestival.org / 212.941.2418

Brain Games

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on April 7, 2007

Many years ago I wrote a program called Fallacy Tutorial-a computer program that taught people about fallacies. The program became the basis of a site on fallacies. From these humble origins arose my contribution to the commercial software projects Brain Games,published by the famous Mac game company, Freeverse.The software is getting rave reviews. And they say philosophy is useless. 🙂

Executive Privilege and Spying

Posted in Ethics, Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 6, 2007

In the face of the inept lying on the part of Attorney General Gonzales, President Bush has decided to invoke executive privilege.

While this alleged power to invoke executive privilege is not specified in the Constitution, the gist of it is that the President can refuse to provide the public with information that he deems as privileged. This power is often invoked in the name of national security but is also justified by the claim that a President’s minions need to be able to freely provide advice without being worried that such advice will be made public. Thus, the justification is based on consequences: such things must be kept secret for the good of the country.

Oddly enough, while Bush and his minions are very much in favor of keeping their conversations secret, they are quite willing to violate the privacy of other people. The Bush Administration’s exploits in what amounts to domestic spying are both numerous and well documented.

When pressed on the matter of such intrusions, the standard justification is national security: by violating peoples’ privacy information can be gained that will help protect America from harm.

From a moral standpoint this practice can be justified on utilitarian grounds. To be specific, the harm inflicted by violating privacy can be justified by appealing to the fact that this practice prevents far greater harms.

Although the Bush administration has little to show for all its privacy violations, this moral logic is reasonable and can be presented as a moral principle: privacy can be violated when doing so will protect America from harm. Now, let us return back to executive privilege.

Bush and his minions have proven to be incredibly damaging to America and the world.

In the case of Iraq, Bush and his minions have directly contributed to the deaths of thousand of Americans and Iraqis. Further, America is wasting vast amounts of money and resources that could be be used to do good-such as providing health insurance to the millions of American children who lack that coverage.

In the case of Katrina, their bungling caused untold harm. In the case of their environmental policies they have continued America on a path towards disaster. In the case of their tax policies, they have helped the very rich and placed the burden of supporting the government on the middle class.

The list of harms could go on, but it is evident that Bush and his minions have hurt America more than bin Laden and all the terrorist in the world could ever dream of doing.

So, if it is acceptable to violate privacy in order to protect America from harm, then it is perfectly acceptable to deny Bush his executive privilege. After all, exposing what he and his minions have really been doing might very well help prevent further acts of Bush terrorism against this great country. The American people need to know what he has been up to…it is a matter of national security.