A Philosopher's Blog

For Better or Worse Reasoning in Print

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on March 30, 2013

For_Better_or_Worse__Cover_for_KindleWhy listen to  illogical diatribes when you can read them? I mean, read a rational examination of the arguments against same sex marriage.

This concise work is aimed at presenting a logical assessment of the stock arguments against same-sex marriage. While my position is in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, I have made every effort to present a fair and rational assessment of the stock arguments against it. The work itself is divided into distinct sections. The first section provides some background material regarding arguments. The second section focuses on the common fallacious arguments used to argue against same-sex marriage. The third section examines standard moral arguments against same-sex marriage and this is followed by a brief look at the procreation argument. The work closes, appropriately enough, with a few modest proposals regarding marriage.

Amazon (US)

Amazon (UK)


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DIY: SSD & Headlights

Posted in DIY/Recipes, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on March 29, 2013


Samsung SSD 830 Series 128Gb 2,5

 (Photo credit: Tolbxela)


Today’s post is about two of my recent DIY projects (or, rather, DIM-Do It Myself). As a general rule, I endeavor to do as much myself as possible. First, I do this to save money and time. I work cheap and I do things quickly-plus I know I am always available when I need something done. Being sensible, I do consider the value of my time and will pay other people to do stuff if they can do it as good for less (in terms of the dollar value of my time).  Second, I do this because I believe that people should be as self-sufficient as possible. I hold to this on both moral and practical grounds. Morally, a person is acting wrongly when he is an unwarranted burden on others-that is, he expects others to do for him what he could reasonably do for himself.  Naturally, if a person cannot do it herself, hiring others is morally acceptable (in general). Also, being a competent human being is very useful. Third, I often find such things satisfying-it is nice to work with actual physical objects  since I spend most of my time working with words.

Recently I repaired my door, my sink, added an SSD to my PC and “de-yellowed” the plastic headlight covers on my truck. I thought I’d share how to install an SSD and get the yellow out.

After reading an article in PC World about upgrading to a SSD (Solid State Drive) I decided to give it a shot. As I noted in an earlier post, this was an experience in blue screens-but it was ultimately worth it.

Now, as far as why you might want to do this upgrade to a desktop, the main answer is speed-an SDD is much faster than a traditional hard drive so you’ll enjoy faster boot times and your programs will be snappier. A secondary answer is that SSDs do not have moving parts (well, on the macro level) so they tend to break less than traditional mechanical drives. For laptops,an  SSD is lighter and is vastly less susceptible to problems caused by motion relative to a traditional drive.

If you plan to upgrade a laptop, make sure that 1) you have the right (SATA) interface for the drive and that 2) you have the right sized SSD. While SSDs are generally laptop sized drives, they do not fit all laptops. In general, you’d want to get a 7 mm drive with an adapter unless you are sure of the size of your existing drive.

If you plan to upgrade a desktop, you will probably want to get an adapter so the SSD will fit into the normal drive bay-as noted above, the typical SSD is a laptop style drive and will not mount as is in a desktop bay. Fortunately, the adapter is cheap. If you are using a card (see below) that allow you to mount the drive on it, then you would not need an adapter.

Before spending any money, you will want to check to see what your options are and a rather important factor to consider is what sort of hard drive connectors your computer supports. Really old PCs have IDE connectors. If you have that, you should just get a new computer rather than spending money to try to stick in a SSD. If you have SATA connectors, check to see what version you have. My aging PC has SATA II. New PCs should have SATA III.

If you have SATA II connectors and want the most speed, check to see if your PC has a free PCI Express slot. These come in various sizes-such as the PCI Express x16 slot that is commonly used for video cards. Since my PC only has SATA II, I got a the Apricorn Velocity PCI Express card Solo X1. It will fit in a PCI Express x1 slot (or larger). This card (and others like it) add SATA III support and have a mount for attaching an SSD. The one I bought also has another SATA connector (internal) that can be used to speed up another internal drive.

Once the drive is on the card and the card is installed, be sure to format the drive. Once it is formatted, then clone your boot drive to the SSD. Since I was using the Apricorn card, I used the EZ Gig IV software. Since SSDs tend to smaller than traditional hard drives (my SSD is 256 GB) you’ll need to clean up your drive and will want to use what are probably the advanced options in the cloning software to only copy Windows and your programs.  Cloning software tends to default to just copying everything-including any data or recovery partitions on the drive. Of course, you can also just do a new install on the SSD.

After you have your boot drive cloned (or Windows installed), reboot and set your BIOS so that the SSD is the boot drive. If you don’t get any blue screens, then you can enjoy the new speed.


CleanedTurning now to headlights, yesterday I decided to replace the headlight bulbs in my 2001 Tacoma. I  noticed that the plastic covers over the lights were foggy and yellowed. I had seen various kits for de-yellowing headlights, but had also heard that Scratch Out (or similar products) would also do the trick. Since I had some Scratch Out, I put some on a paper towel and rubbed the plastic. Turns out that it does work. Of course, I suspect that even toothpaste would work. So, if you have yellowed/foggy headlights and some Scratch Out (or maybe toothpaste) give it a try

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Alito on Same Sex-Marriage

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on March 27, 2013
Official 2007 portrait of U.S. Supreme Court A...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The United States Supreme Court is now considering a case involving same-sex marriage which has once again brought this matter into the media spotlight.

My view is and has been that legitimate marriage is essentially a legal and economic contract between two consenting adults. Because of this, I have argued in For Better or Worse Reasoning at length in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. Jokingly, I have also suggested that people who dislike homosexuality should be for gay marriage because this would inevitably lead to the suffering of gay divorce.

Recently, Justice Alito had the following to say about the matter:

Traditional marriage has been around for thousands of years. Same-sex marriage is very new. I think it was first adopted in The Netherlands in 2000. So there isn’t a lot of data about its effect. And it may turn out to be a — a good thing; it may turn out not to be a good thing, as the supporters of Proposition 8 apparently believe.

But you want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution, which is newer than cell phones or the Internet? I mean we — we are not — we do not have the ability to see the future. On a question like that, of such fundamental importance, why should it not be left for the people, either acting through initiatives and referendums or through their elected public officials?

It is tempting to see Alito as committing an fallacious appeal to tradition. After all, one of the stock “arguments” against same-sex marriage is to appeal to claim that traditional marriage is, well, traditional.  This a fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that something is better or correct simply because it is older, traditional, or “always has been done.” This sort of “reasoning” has the following form:

1. X is old or traditional

2. Therefore X is correct or better.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because the age of something does not automatically make it correct or better than something newer. This is made quite obvious by the following example: The theory that witches and demons cause disease is far older than the theory that microorganism cause diseases. Therefore, the theory about witches and demons must be true.

This sort of “reasoning” is appealing for a variety of reasons. First, people often prefer to stick with what is older or traditional. This is a fairly common psychological characteristic of people which may stem from the fact that people feel more comfortable about what has been around longer. Second, sticking with things that are older or traditional is often easier than testing new things. Hence, people often prefer older and traditional things out of laziness. Hence, Appeal to Tradition is a somewhat common fallacy.

It should not be assumed that new things must be better than old things any more than it should be assumed that old things are better than new things. The age of thing does not, in general, have any bearing on its quality or correctness (in this context). In the case of tradition, assuming that something is correct just because it is considered a tradition is poor reasoning. For example, if the belief that 1+1 = 56 were a tradition of a group of people it would hardly follow that it is true.

Obviously, age does have a bearing in some contexts. For example, if a person concluded that aged wine would be better than brand new wine, he would not be committing an Appeal to Tradition. This is because, in such cases the age of the thing is relevant to its quality. Thus, the fallacy is committed only when the age is not, in and of itself, relevant to the claim.

One final issue that must be considered is the “test of time.” In some cases people might be assuming that because something has lasted as a tradition or has been around a long time that it is true because it has “passed the test of time.” If a person assumes that something must be correct or true simply because it has persisted a long time, then he has committed an Appeal to Tradition. After all, as history has shown people can persist in accepting false claims for centuries.

However, if a person argues that the claim or thing in question has successfully stood up to challenges and tests for a long period of time then they would not be committing a fallacy. In such cases the claim would be backed by evidence. As an example, the theory that matter is made of subatomic particles has survived numerous tests and challenges over the years so there is a weight of evidence in its favor. The claim is reasonable to accept because of the weight of this evidence and not because the claim is old. Thus, a claim’s surviving legitimate challenges and passing valid tests for a long period of time can justify the acceptance of a claim. But mere age or persistence does not warrant accepting a claim.

However, Alito’s remarks could be taken in a somewhat different manner. Rather than interpreting this as an indirect appeal to tradition, Alito could be seen as arguing that he does not have enough information to properly assess the consequences of same-sex marriage because it has not been around long enough for its consequences to have been properly assessed. Thus, Alito concludes that since he cannot see the future it follows that the decision on the matter should be left to the people.

This reply does have a certain appeal. After all, determining the consequences of same sex-marriage will take time. Part of this involves the obvious fact that consequences have to occur before they can determined and it will take time for the consequences to play out. Part of this is also the fact that a proper assessment of such a matter takes time to conduct.

That said, this seems to be more of a concern about scientific methodology (or moral assessment) rather than a concern about the matter of constitutionality. After all, determining whether or not denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unconstitutional does not seem to require assessing the consequences of allowing same sex-marriage. Assessing it ethical, in terms of an appeal to consequences  would  obviously involve considering the consequences-but this is a rather different matter than sorting out the constitutionality of the matter.

The key question, as I see it, is not “what might be the consequences of allowing same-sex marriage” but “does denying same-sex couples the right to marry violate the constitution?” I am, of course, inclined to answer the second question with a “yes.” To borrow from and modify Kant’s view, we do not need to wait and see the consequences of same-sex marriage in order to determine the constitutionality of the matter.

There is also the obvious response that we can predict what is likely to occur in the case of same sex marriage. After all, we have centuries of information available about marriage and same-sex relationships and we can make inferences from that evidence. To borrow an idea from Mill, when considering the consequences we would not be setting out into a vast unknown. Rather, we would be setting out on a sea that we have charts and maps for. Laying aside the metaphor, we have a reasonable idea of the consequences of allowing same-sex marriage. The main one would, of course, be that we stop denying people a legitimate right.

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Why I’ll (Probably) Never Work With a Publisher Again

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on March 25, 2013

76_Fallacies_Cover_for_KindleWhen I first became a professional writer (that is, I sold my writing) the options for self-publishing were rather limited. They mainly involved vanity presses, running off lots of copies at a copy shop, or paying for the printing oneself. So, back then, I worked with various publishers. As might be imagined, the results were mixed. Some publishers were quite good-they paid reliably (and on completion) and the work always made it to print in a timely manner. Others were not so good. I was involved in a major project in the early 1990s that ended up tanking. While that is part of the game, the publisher did not do much in regards to informing me about this.

Back in the 1990s, game companies seemed to be folding left and right, including GDW. I had written a lot for GDW and when they went under they owed me a nice chunk of change. Unfortunately, they could not pay actually money so they shipped me dozens of boxes of games. I gave away some and sold the rest for a fraction of what I was owed.

As might be suspected, the 1990s soured me a bit on writing for other people. I started giving away my work for free via the web, mainly on the idea that if I was not going to get paid at least I could share my work with others.

In 2008 I got back into the game, getting a contract for my What Don’t You Know? book. Despite my fears, the company was quite good to work: I got an advance and the book came out on time. Over the next few years I was contacted by various publishers interested in my work. Although they contacted me, they ended up just not replying to my last emails. Lest you think I said some crazy stuff, rest assured that I did not. I’ve been in the game long enough to know that projects can be golden one day and dumpster filler the next-but a short email saying “hey, sorry to tell you but the idea got nixed” would be nice to get.

So, in 2010 I published my first Kindle book, 42 Fallacies. I had not intended to make any money from it-in fact, I tried to set the price to free, but the minimum was 99 cents. I was asked to make it available on the Nook as well, so I did. I more or less forgot about the books…at least until the royalty checks started showing up. I started writing more books and rather liked the way Kindle and Nook publishing worked. To be specific, I can count on the Kindle and Nook system to work-I upload my stuff and it is almost automatically published. When I sell books, I get paid. On time. As such, the burden of success and failure is on me-I do not have to count on a publisher having their stuff together enough to get the project completed. I do not have to worry about someone in management having a bad burrito and taking it out on my proposed book. I do the work, upload the book and then it sells or it does not. While I give up a cut of the book, this is a fair deal for the cost of distribution. My royalties are vastly better with Amazon and Nook than with traditional publishers.A_Six-Gun_for_Socrat_Cover_for_Kindle

After my fallacy books started doing very well, I was contacted by a publisher about having them published. I exchanged emails, spoke to the person who was pitching the idea to management and so on. I never heard back from them. But, that was just fine-sales of the books are good and I’m confident that any deal I got with the publisher would have resulted in less income for me.

I recently decided to go retro and get my Kindle/Nook books into print format. Learning to do page layouts and design print covers was a bit of a challenge (and I freely admit that I am a best a semi-skilled amateur). That has been working out well in that my books are selling.

Going it on my own is not without its downside. After all, I have to do everything myself-write, edit, layout, cover design and so on. The promotion of the book is also up to me-I do not have the media machinery of a big publisher to get the word out. However, I have made far more on my own than I ever did working with a publisher.

To be honest, this is good for me because I am a small fish. If I were a big fish author, then going with a publisher would be a good idea-they could get me onto the talk shows, into the news media and so on. But, as a small fish I am doing well in my area of the ocean. I also like the idea of being a free fish-I can swim as I will and I do not have to appease any corporate masters or media muffins.

While I often get cast as a lefty, I would seem to be a small business owner and a job creator. After all, I buy software, hardware and such to operate my business. The books I sell contribute to the employment of the folks at Amazon, B&N, Create Space and elsewhere. I also rather like this model-I succeed or fail based on my own efforts. If I write books people want to buy, I make money. If not, I do not. Speaking of buying books: My Amazon Author Page.



A Six-Gun for Socrates in Print

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 25, 2013



This short book presents a series of philosophical essays written in response to gun violence in the United States. While the matters of guns, violence and rights are often met with emotional responses, my approach has been to consider these matters from a philosophical standpoint. This does not involve looking at them without emotion. Rather, it involves considering them in a rational way and this requires considering how our emotions affect our views of these vital matters.

Available via Amazon.

If it isn’t broke…

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on March 22, 2013

Wisdom comes with experiences that result from unwise choices. Unfortunately, experience can be like cheap tape-it might take a while to get it to stick.

Over the years I have learned the wisdom of not tinkering with my computer when it is working, mainly because one way to make it stop working is to tinker with it. As might be guessed I learned this by tinkering with many a computer. On the plus side, I know a lot about computers. On the minus side, this knowledge cost me a great deal of time and those nasty cuts you get from sharp PC components.

Today, my wisdom failed me. I decided to revitalize my 2009 PC by adding a SSD. It seemed simple enough: attach the SSD to the SATA card, plug the card into a PCI-E slot, clone and then reboot after adjusting the BIOS.

If you are a tinkerer, you know what happened next: blue screens. Not only did the clone SSD not boot, my original drive got whacked. I got that fixed and called it a day. But, I’ll get that drive to work…

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Opinion Over News

Posted in Philosophy, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on March 20, 2013
The Rachel Maddow Show (TV series)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my critical thinking class I teach a section on critical thinking and the news media. One of the points I focus on is the importance of distinguishing between someone presenting an opinionated perspective and someone engaged in actual reporting.

Obviously, any report is going to be colored by the perspective of the person presenting it, but there are clearly degrees and important distinctions. It would be an error to merely assume that all reporting or opinion giving are equal-that is, that everyone is just as bad as everyone else.

Interestingly enough, MSNBC is the leader in relying on the presentation of opinions over reporting, at least according to this study. While I try to avoid watching MSNBC, the study is consistent with my own experiences with the network and there seems to be little reason to doubt this. Naturally, one can easily check on this matter by enduring a marathon watching session of the station. Apparently 85% of MSNBC’s airtime is composed of the presentation of opinions.

While MSNBC leads the way in opinion over news, FOX and CNN have also cut back on actual news reporting. Fox News is mostly (55% opinion). CNN is still mostly news.

One obvious reason for the dominance of opinion is that chatter tends to be cheaper than investigative journalism. Since news is a business and the business of business is making money, it is hardly surprising that the news corporations have slashed back their reporting budgets. Since they still have hours to fill, opinion segments provide the media equivalent of pink slime-a cheap filler product.

A second reason for the dominance of opinion is that such material can be more entertaining than the news-in many ways, the pundits at Fox and MSNBC (and to a lesser extent CNN) are putting on news theater that aims more at entertaining than educating. This, obviously enough, ties back into the idea that the business of the news corporations is to make money.

A third reason is that Fox and MSNBC are strongly linked to political agendas. Fox is, obviously enough, very closely tied with the Republican party. While MSNBC seems to be less formally linked to the Democrats, this could be chalked up to the nature of the Democratic party rather than a lack of desire to have such a relationship. As might be imagined, objectively reporting on the facts generally does not do much to advance a specific agenda. In contrast, opinion segments are tailor-made to do just that.

This dominance of opinion should be of concern for those who wish to be well informed rather than well propagandized. As might be suspected, I would suggest avoiding MSNBC-something I have done for years.

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76 Fallacies in Print

Posted in Philosophy, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on March 19, 2013


76 Fallacies is now available in print from Amazon and other fine sellers of books.

In addition to combining the content of my 42 Fallacies and 30 More Fallacies, this book features some revisions as well as a new section on common formal fallacies.

As the title indicates, this book presents seventy six fallacies. The focus is on providing the reader with definitions and examples of these common fallacies rather than being a handbook on winning arguments or general logic.




The book presents the following 73 informal fallacies:

Accent, Fallacy of

Accident, Fallacy of
Ad Hominem
Ad Hominem Tu Quoque
Amphiboly, Fallacy of
Anecdotal Evidence, Fallacy Of
Appeal to the Consequences of a Belief
Appeal to Authority, Fallacious
Appeal to Belief
Appeal to Common Practice
Appeal to Emotion
Appeal to Envy
Appeal to Fear
Appeal to Flattery
Appeal to Group Identity
Appeal to Guilt
Appeal to Novelty
Appeal to Pity
Appeal to Popularity
Appeal to Ridicule
Appeal to Spite
Appeal to Tradition
Appeal to Silence
Appeal to Vanity
Argumentum ad Hitlerum
Begging the Question
Biased Generalization
Burden of Proof
Complex Question

ion, Fallacy of
Confusing Cause and Effect
Confusing Explanations and Excuses
Circumstantial Ad Hominem
Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc
Division, Fallacy of
Equivocation, Fallacy of
Fallacious Example
Fallacy Fallacy
False Dilemma
Gambler’s Fallacy
Genetic Fallacy
Guilt by Association
Hasty Generalization
Historian’s Fallacy
licit Conversion
Ignoring a Common Cause
Incomplete Evidence
Middle Ground
Misleading Vividness
Moving the Goal Posts
Oversimplified Cause
Overconfident Inference from Unknown Statistics
Pathetic Fallacy
Peer Pressure
Personal Attack
Poisoning the Well
Positive Ad Hominem
Post Hoc
Proving X, Concluding Y
Psychologist’s fallacy
Questionable Cause
Red HerringReification, Fallacy of
Relativist Fallacy
Slippery Slope
Special Pleading
Straw Man
Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy
Two Wrongs Make a Right
Victim Fallacy
Weak Analogy

The book contains the following three formal (deductive) fallacies:

Affirming the Consequent
Denying the Antecedent
Undistributed Middl

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Portman & Same-Sex Marriage

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 18, 2013
English: Portrait of United States Senator Rob...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Republican senator Rob Portman recently caught the attention of the media with his coming out in support of same-sex marriage. Given his conservative credentials, this has stirred up discussion of the matter.

While I am generally not in favor of marriage, my view has been that consenting adults should be able to engage in that legal contract. If arguments are wanting, see my For Better or Worse Reasoning. As such, I agree with Portman’s new view.

While Portman is well known as a conservative, his social conservatism seems to have been almost a matter of rote. That is, he consistently voted for or against laws in a way consistent with the stock social conservative positions but he was not particularly active in regards to expressing views. His main focus has been on fiscal conservatism rather than social conservatism.

As I have noted in earlier posts, the Republican party faces the challenge of having (crudely put) two main divisions: the social conservatives (which is exemplified by the religious right) and the fiscal/political conservatives. While politician in the party generally have had to appeal to both views, these views are clearly distinct. After all, it is one thing to hold to be opposed to same-sex marriage and quite another to be opposed to big government. In fact, there can be clear conflicts between the views of the political conservatives (most notably the libertarians) and the social conservatives. After all, someone who does not want big government acting as a nanny state should be against having the state intrude into marriage with a ban on same-sex marriage.

In regards to why Portman changed his views and came out in favor of same-sex marriage, his answer is that it is because one of his son’s is gay. Portman claims that he wants his son to have the same right as him in regards to marriage. Some who are more cynical  than I might point out that Portman learned his son was gay a few years ago and note that this change coincides with the need for the Republican party to gain a broader appeal. However, I will accept his claim, namely that he had to work through his view of the matter.

One of the most interesting aspects of the matter is that Portman seems to have been influenced by the family effect, an effect that struck Dick Cheney. The idea is that people sometimes change their views on same-sex marriage when they learn that someone they love (in Cheney’s case, his daughter) is gay. It is one thing to hold a stance on a matter when those it impacts are strangers. It is quite another when it impacts one’s own family. It is also one thing to hold a view about a group when the group is composed of people one does not know. So, for example, it is easier to attribute all sorts of moral defects to gay folks when one does not really know a gay person well. However, when a loving parent finds out that his son or daughter is gay, this makes it much harder to gay people as being morally defective simply because they happen to be gay. This is not to say that being gay makes a person good. Rather, being gay is just like being straight: it does not make a person morally good or bad.

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30 More Fallacies in Print

Posted in Philosophy, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on March 15, 2013


Now available in print on Amazon and other book sellers.

30 Fallacies is a companion book for 42 Fallacies. 42 Fallacies is not, however, required to use this book. It provides concise descriptions and examples of thirty common informal fallacies.

Accent, Fallacy of
Accident, Fallacy of
Amphiboly, Fallacy of
Appeal to Envy
Appeal to Group Identity
Appeal to Guilt
Appeal to Silence
Appeal to Vanity/Elitism
Argumentum ad Hitlerum
Complex Question
Confusing Explanations and Excuses
Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc
Equivocation, Fallacy of
Fallacious Example
Fallacy Fallacy
Historian’s Fallacy
Illicit Conversion
Incomplete Evidence
Moving the Goal Posts
Oversimplified Cause
Overconfident Inference from Unknown Statistics
Pathetic Fallacy
Positive Ad Hominem
Proving X, Concluding Y
Psychologist’s fallacy
Reification, Fallacy of
Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy
Victim Fallacy
Weak Analogy

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