Otalp

“The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human nature.”

Emerson said that. He also said that if superior men departed on a voyage in chains, one could be sure that the chains would be on the captors by the end of the voyage. From what I am about to tell, it may appear that I bring this up in order to claim superiority. I do not. Rather, I wish to point out a particular case read more

Salvatore

I’m an assistant D.A., a lawyer in other words, and people don’t think too highly of us. But let me tell you something: the rest of society doesn’t seem, from a lawyer’s point of view, to necessarily have its act together either. Maybe it takes a lawyer to get an honest picture of things, without any prettyfication. I mean, we encounter all types from the worst angle. We’re presented with every conceivable, or at least every conceived, perversion. Let me just give read more

Cleaning

When they gave me tenure at the university I flew out to Wyoming to give my mother the good news face to face. I knew she’d appreciate that, and it had been a while, quite a while in fact, since I’d seen her. It was not the easiest time for such a trip. My new book was just coming out, with all the last-minute changes and all the obligations that involves. But I was able to grade student papers on the plane. And I needed the change of scene. Even my familiar boyhood home constituted read more

Architecture

Talking in words about architecture is one of the most difficult activities I am aware of. Everyday talk along the lines of “Meet me in front of the yellow building on the corner,” is not too hard. Nor is commentary on a single building along the lines of “I like that one,” “It’s top-heavy,” “It’s joyful,” “It looks cheap,” “Why couldn’t they have used darker bricks?” But comparisons of buildings, descriptions read more

Derrida, Freud's Grandson, and My Dog

Sometimes my dog plays a game. It’s the first game he taught himself, and he plays it with all his toys. He’ll hold a toy in his mouth and run in frantic circles, and then toss the toy over his head. It’ll take him a long time to stop running and calm down. When he does he’ll begin sniffing for the toy, sniffing and not looking, for he won’t see the thing even if it’s right in front of him. He’ll sniff worriedly. But when he spots the toy, he’ll read more

Sisyphus's Blues

Good Morning, Blues.

How do you do?

I’m doing all right.

Good Morning. How are you?

The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

These words, both sets, are about an edge. They are about neither misery nor an easy comfort. Camus’ essay has a lot wrong with it. Camusian absurdity is too much a disappointed attempt to fulfill a desire we do not all share and are gradually putting behind us. It is too much a history. And the read more

Art

A high school teacher took his students to a museum where, among other things, they were to go into a particular room, one at a time, and select a great painting which they would tell the teacher about immediately upon leaving the room by the other door. One student reported that he had been unable to find “a great painting” in the room at all. Most of the others, on the contrary, reported having had a difficult time deciding which of the great paintings to talk about. Strangely enough, read more

NOTES ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE

NOTES ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE
January, 1999

We cruelly abuse those convicted of crimes. Some who are convicted protest their innocence. Some of these are later found to have been telling the truth. Others plead guilty in plea bargains despite being innocent. This eases our consciences, but does not necessarily promote justice.

This is from You Are Going to Prison by Jim Hogshire:

“The plea bargain is what keeps the courts going at all. Without them, the ‘justice system’ would read more

Utilitarianist Ethics

This paper has benefited from the complaints, exclamations, objections, and obscenities of posters to rec.arts.books and alt.postmodern.

Working Toward Good Results

I suspect that most Westerners at the end of the twentieth century would subscribe to the idea that when you do something, it’s a good idea to consider what the results of your action will be. That is, if without mentioning “ethics” or “morality” you ask someone “Do you think it’s a good idea, read more

Can pain be defined and can robots feel it?

To answer these questions requires sorting through a lot of interwoven beliefs or feelings. Where we think there is pain does not correlate with what we are reluctant to damage, and what we are reluctant to damage depends on the directness of the damaging.

Many of us eat dead cow, for example, but couldn’t bring ourselves to kill one. Similarly for capital punishment. Some of us sometimes wince with empathy when our cars are damaged, although often we think the car is not feeling pain. There read more