Thursday, July 28, 2005

Probably guilty, probably guilty, probably guilty!

Here's what grand jury duty is like. First, a joke:
A physics professor is lecturing. At one point he points to a formula on the board and says "And now, it's obvious that from this formula, this one follows" (writing another one). Then he stops, and says "Hold on a minute," and covers the board with equations while the students wait in silence. Finally he nods, and says "Yes, I was right! It is obvious that this follows from that."
What does this have to do with grand jury duty? I'll tell you. I don't know how things are in other states, but in New Jersey whenever they want to try someone for a felony (or, in NJ-speak, an "indictable offense"), they have to bring their evidence to a grand jury to show they have a chance for a conviction, that they're not grasping at straws (or railroading some poor schmuck or political opponent). The idea is that if they can't get a) a simple majority of 23 people to agree, even when b) unopposed by defense lawyers, that c) there is a prima facie case for guilt, then they would just be wasting everyone's time at trial, where they need a) unanimity among 12 people, b) in the face of a vigorous defense, c) that the guy is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Makes sense, I guess. It's just weird when there are disagreements about whether there is a prima facie case for something. It's like you can't give too careful an argument or it's not prima facie anymore, like in the joke (tertia facie?). Plus it's weird using a term like prima facie in non-philosophical contexts (of course, everyone else says "probable cause").

It's also funny hearing them read the law, where legislators have tried to cover all the bases in their definition (often this means lots of disjunctions, which for some reason can confuse people). "Knowing" that P turns out to mean being "aware" that P; while to do something "purposefully" is to do it "consciously." Glad we cleared that up.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Oh boy, another list!

As you may already be aware (see here and here and here, and links therefrom), the BBC has polled us all, philosophers and laity alike, in order to elect the Greatest Philosopher of All Time (so far).

Here is the resulting ranking:
1. Karl Marx [in a walk, apparently]
2. David Hume
3. Ludwig Wittgenstein
4. Friedrich Nietzsche
5. Plato
6. Immanuel Kant
7. St. Thomas Aquinas
8. Socrates
9. Aristotle
10. Karl Popper
Except for #s 1 and 10, this is a decent list, better than one might expect. It's not particularly informative, though, given the vagueness of "greatest." In coming up with my own list, I used more specific, if also subjective, criteria: points were awarded for influence (on me, past or current), present usefulness (again, for me), general importance, and other assorted intangibles.
1. Wittgenstein
2. Donald Davidson
3. John McDowell
4. Kant
5. Nietzsche
6. Dewey
7. Gilles Deleuze
8. Aristotle
9. J. L. Austin
10. Stanley Cavell
Honorable mention [points awarded for: same as above, plus (if the philosopher is relatively new to me at present) estimated future usefulness]: Putnam, Rorty, Peirce, James, Isaac Levi, Robert Brandom, Dennett, Danto, Anscombe, Frege, Heraclitus, Zhuangzi, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Gadamer, Schleiermacher, Merleau-Ponty, Bergson, Jennifer Hornsby, Charles Taylor, John Haugeland, D. Z. Phillips. Okay, I'll stop now.

Bottom five [using analogously subjective criteria]:
1. Colin McGinn
2. Jerry Fodor
3. Ayn Rand [but see Dr. P's comments here]
4. David Stove
5. Jean Baudrillard
Also: Kripke, Husserl, Michael Devitt, Churchland(s)

Opponents; that is, very good philosophers who are, in some important way, wrong, wrong, wrong, and helpful despite/because of their errors (see my earlier post about this phenomenon):
1. Barry Stroud
2. John Searle
3. Roger Scruton
4. Crispin Sartwell
5. W. V. O. Quine
6. Philip Kitcher (or Dennett in his specifically naturalistic moods)
7. Plato et seq.
8. P. F. Strawson (on some subjects)
9, 10. Descartes and his contemporary minion Thomas Nagel
For Sartwell's own idiosyncratic likes and dislikes, see here.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Symposium alert

Blogging has been light here recently, and it may continue to be so for a bit, as other obligations become more pressing. Bear with us!

On the other hand, one of those obligations is to contribute to a bloggy roundtable about Wittgenstein and literature over at the Valve, some or all of which (my contributions, that is) may end up here too. Incidentally, that site is currently running a similar event about a book called Theory's Empire (link to an early post; see subsequent posts for more). Not being a Theoretical duck, I don't have much to add to this one....

In the meantime, word comes of yet another Philosopher's Carnival. Check it out here. That should hold you.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Okay, it's later now

I had jury duty again today (it's one day a week for 8 or 9 weeks). We spent the day hearing about all manner of (apparent) miscreants and their (presumably) naughty behavior, and we settled their hash but good, or at least made it a bit less unsettled (it is for the petit jury to settle it completely). Of course I can't tell you anything specific, as that would require your imminent death. But I can disclose some aspects of the particular hash-settling procedure we employed, which might be amusing. Or not.

Here's what I was going to say last week. They give you a written intro to grand jury procedure (and then show a video with a judge reading it out loud to you). At one point the intention is to impress upon you that you, the individual juror, lack the powers of the jury as a whole; but that's not exactly what it says:
You must bear in mind that a Grand Jury exists only as an entity, [...]
Well, I'm glad we cleared that up. But is it identical with its essence?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Maybe later

Today I got up at an ungodly pre-noon hour and took the bus to Hackensack, New Jersey, where I spent several hours serving on a Grand Jury. I had heard a few comments about London (in the context of increased security), but I thought the reference was to the Olympics; it wasn't until I got home and turned on Macneil-Lehrer (uh, I mean the Lehrer News Hour) that I heard about what they were really talking about.

I was going to blog about something funny that happened today, but now I don't feel like it.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

A pledge to our readers

Word has reached us, via screaming headlines in the New York Times, among other sources, that there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, which of course will lead to all sorts of breast-beating and other sorts of strenuous activity unsuitable for hot weather. Have no fear: we here at DR pledge to you, the reader, that during this time the only SCOTUS blogged about here will be the Subtle Doctor of legend. (If that.)