One Of Their Gods: Ashton Kutcher Crossing Seleucia’s Marketplace

I usually think of Ashton Kutcher when I read C.P. Cavafy’s ONE OF THEIR GODS.  The translation is from Daniel Mendelsohn’s translation of Cavafy’s poems:

One of Their Gods

Whenever one of Them would cross Seleucia’s

marketplace, around the time that evening falls —

like some tall and flawlessly beautiful boy,

with the joy of incorruptibility in his eye,

with that dark and fragrant hair of his —

the passerby would stare at him

and one would ask another if he knew him,

and if he were a Syrian Greek, or foreign.  But some,

who’d paid him more attention as they watched,

understood, and would make way.

And as he disappeared beneath the arcades,

among the shadows and the evening lights,

making his way to the neighborhood that comes alive

only at night — that life of revels and debauchery,

of every  know intoxication and lust —

they’d wonder which of Them he really was

and for which of his suspect diversions

he’d come down to walk Seleucia’s streets

from his Venerable, Sacrosanct Abode.



On Cruelty, And The Distinction Between Amorality And Immorality

This comes close to nailing it.


My two cents:


The context was attitudes toward cruelty in the ODYSSEY.

Tom Morris I like to think there is an objectivity to beauty, alongside the subjectivity of experience relevant to it and what delights us or attracts us. I would view cruelty the same way. Cruelty is first an inner state, an intent to harm without reason or beyond justification, to inflict pain, physical or emotional, for its own sake, outside of any other goal. Cruel acts I would define as acts that arise from that intention. That leaves space for a harmful act that was not intended to be such being viewed by the harmed person as cruel, even though it literally wasn’t. Cruelty is an inner state of the soul or mind and heart. I see it as distinct from sadism, which I could define the same except to add an element of pleasure to the mindset. I don’t see cruelty as demanding pleasure on the part of the cruel person. That just makes him a sadist. Some of the suitors were cruel, I think. Others were just selfish and oblivious to the max. Does that make sense to you? Great questions as always.
Cliff Wirt
Cliff Wirt Tom Morris I’ve been looking for a way to distinguish ‘amoral’ from ‘immoral,’ and this may give me a START. An unambiguously amoral action (putting lead in gasoline because that is the easiest way to make money; firing large numbers of employees because that is a way to temporarily bump up the stock price) is one in which the harm one inflicts is in service to a goal; one does not have the specific intention of inflicting harm even though they may know that harm will be inflicted; accomplishing the goal is more important to one than any harm one may inflict ; and a norm is violated — i.e., the goal SHOULDN’T be more important to one than the harm one inflicts. By contrast, a cruel action would be unambiguously immoral, i.e., an action in which one has a specific intention to do harm. (By ‘specific intention’ I mean one has not accomplished what they set out to accomplish unless harm was done, no matter what other goals one may have had in performing the act.) This is just a start.
Tom Morris
Tom Morris Cliff Wirt I like it, and even more than hitting ‘like’ would indicate.

Apple Math, Comprising Some Basic (Doubtlessly Ninth-Grade Level) Probability Theory

Nota Bene:  This little bit of math is the keystone in my attempt here (still in draft status)  to provide a sharp, clear articulation of the concept of relevance as that concept pertains to Relevant Logic.  Here I invited members of the online Physics Forum to point out any mistakes in the math should I have made any.  Since no one there pointed out any such mistakes, I will assume that the math is correct.  Naturally, should it turn out that I did make mistakes in the math, I will be royally pissed.  🙂

This post belongs to the ‘I invite anyone and everyone to tear this to pieces, should they uncover any missteps’ category.

The subject here isn’t roses (this is an obscure allusion to a movie I saw in my childhood), but wormy and non-wormy red and yellow apples.

Wormy Red Apple Image courtesy of

First Situation:  All Of The Red Apples Are Wormy; Only Some Of The Yellow Apples Are:  Let’s start with the following situation:  the pile of apples in the orchard comprises 16 apples.  Eight of the apples are red.  All of the red apples are wormy.  Eight of the apples are yellow.  Of these yellow apples, four are wormy.  Let’s suppose that the DBA in the sky has assigned an identifying number (doubtlessly using the Apple Sequence Database Object in the sky) to each apple.

The Sample Space Ω =

Ω = { a1rw, a2rw, a3rw, a4rw, a5rw, a6rw, a7rw, a8rw, a9yw, a10yw, a11yw, a12yw, a13yw, a14yw, a15yw, a16yw }

where a1…an indicate the numbered apples, and the superscripts r, y, w, and w indicate a red apple, a yellow apple, a wormy apple, and a non-wormy apple respectively.

E is the event ‘a red apple gets drawn from the pile’ =

E = { a1rw, a2rw, a3rw, a4rw, a5rw, a6rw, a7rw, a8rw }

F is the event ‘a wormy apple gets drawn from the pile’ =

F = { a1rw, a2rw, a3rw, a4rw, a5rw, a6rw, a7rw, a8rw,a9yw, a10yw, a11yw, a12yw}

And of course the intersection of E and F, E ∩ F, the set of apples that are both red and wormy =

{ a1rw, a2rw, a3rw, a4rw, a5rw, a6rw, a7rw, a8rw}

I will be assuming that each apple in Ω has an equal probability of being drawn.

The conditional probability that the apple drawn from the pile is wormy given that it is red is 1, as you can see from the following three steps:

P( F | E ) = P( E  F ) / P(E)

P( E  F ) = |E  F| / |Ω| = 8/16 = 1/2

P(E) = |E| / |Ω| = 8/16 = 1/2


P( E  F ) / P(E) = 1/2 / 1/2 = 1


P( F | E ) = 1

The conditional probability that an apple drawn from this pile is wormy given that it is red is 1.

Now P(F) = 12/16 = 3/4.  Since P(E) = 1/2, P(E) * P(F) = 1/2 * 3/4 = 3/8.  So in this case P(E  F) != P(E) * P(F),  since 1/2 != 3/8.  But two distinct events are independent of one another if and only if

P(E  F) = P(E) * P(F)

So in this case E and F are not independent events.   The probability that the apple is wormy given that it is red increases to 1 from the 3/4 probability given just the draw from the pile, before observing whether the apple drawn is red or yellow.  (Conversely, the probability that the apple is red given that it is wormy increases to 2/3 from 1/2 given just the draw from the pile.)

Today’s homage to Plato’s SYMPOSIUM is this image of a young boxer appearing on the cover of a computer book.


I have to admit that this is the only computer book I have ever bought just for its cover.

How can anyone get anything done, much less study computer science and ninth-grade math, with beauty like this walking the earth?

The Difference In A Nutshell Between Medieval and Modern Philosophy

From a commenter on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog in the ATLANTIC:

Aristotle, like Hobbes, did think that knowledge came from the senses, but he had a very different view of how senses worked. Aristotle believed that every physical object has a form or essence, and a substance. So a clay model of a tree and real tree share commonalities of form, although their substances are totally different. Aristotle also thought that the psyche is an instrument whereby we can receive the form of objects without the substance. He compares sensation to a signet ring making an impression of wax.
Hobbes, however, does not really believe that the concept of “essence” is useful in explaining the world. He is basically a materialist. He believes that the only things worth talking about are matter and its interactions. Therefore, his account of how we obtain knowledge through the senses has to rely on interaction between matter.
This might sound like an obscure difference, but it has a lot of consequences for how one studies the world. If you agree with Aristotle, the implication is that by observing the world, you can get an idea of the real essence of things. Acquiring theoretical knowledge is then a matter of thinking rationally about the implications of this knowledge. Thus physical science is a matter of everyday observation followed by rigorous thinking.
However, if the information you get from the senses is just a bunch of particles bouncing off of your sensory organs, as Hobbes believes, then there’s good reason to be worried that the senses are unreliable, and you need to spend time carefully tweaking the information you get from the senses to make sure you have it right. This gives rise to an experimental model (which Hobbes’ contemporary, Francis Bacon, focused on far more than Hobbes did).
As for how commonplace it was – Aristotelianism was basically the dominant philosophy from the time of Thomas Aquinas (1200s) up until the 1600s. Hobbes is writing around the time of transition away from Aristotle’s position as the preeminent thinker on matters such as this. I actually am not sure how dominant the view still was among academics by the time of the Leviathan.
As an aside, the reason Hobbes talks about mediate and immediate interaction is that, at the time, people who subscribed to this materialst view did not believe that matter could interact with other matter at a distance. The only interactions allowed into the theory were direct ones. The view of no interaction at a distance was thrown out after Newton’s theory of gravity became the consensus view – since gravity is interaction at a distance.

The Quality Quest

[The following is a letter I wrote a while ago to the editor of Chicago’s NEW ART EXAMINER responding to an article by Betty Ann Brown.  Betty Ann Brown’s article is badly vitiated, if I may say so, by the sort of sloppy reasoning peculiar to postmodern political flimflam.  As might be expected from the low quality of Brown’s article, Brown’s only response was to engage in some perfunctory hand waving.]

Betty Ann Brown (“A community self-portrait,” NAE, December, 1990) would have us return the word “quality” because she believes that the concept the word expresses has built into it standards which improperly and objectionably tend to exclude women and artists of color from museums, galleries and exhibitions.  (I will put “quality” in double quotes when I am talking about the word, and in single quotes when I am talking about the concept.)  That is to say, the concept is constructed along class/race/gender lines.  She seems to identify ‘quality’ with the concept of formalistic quality, i.e., a work’s excellence or lack of excellence considered as hinging on such factors as line quality, tough, handling, composition, spatial balance, relations between forms, relations between colors, and so on.  ‘Quality’ interpreted as ‘formalistic quality’ is the concept, she asserts, whose use excludes women and artists of color.  Instead of the word “quality,” she would have us use “worthy.”  According to Brown, a work is worthy when its content “…authentically [accurately?] reflects the artist’s social/historical/political moment.”  She prefers work that grates on her, reflects experiences beyond her own, and concerns issues of race, gender, and class.

I very much doubt whether Brown is really rejecting the concept of quality at all.  If she uses “worthy” in such a way that “This work is good or excellent” follows from “This work is worthy” (surely the word means nothing if this does not follow), then the concept of quality has not been done away with.  For if a work is high in quality, it is good or excellent, and if it is good or excellent, it is high in quality.  Thus I suspect Brown is really just advancing a different theory of what artistic quality (worth, merit, excellence, being good) consists in.  She thinks that a work’s quality hinges not on its formalistic values, but on its authentically reflecting an artists’s social/historical/political moment.

However, Brown’s theory of quality (or worth, merit, excellence, or whatever) is obviously false.  Consider all the dull, heavy-handed, poorly observed works stemming from the nineteenth century that use vicious stereotypes to depict African Americans, male and female.  Surely these works reflect their artists’ social/historical/political moment in the most authentic way possible.  They even grate on me, reflect on experiences beyond my own, and concern the issues of race, gender, and class that Brown holds so dear.  Brown is not about to value them as worthy.  If her theory of quality is true, however, there is no way one could escape the conclusion that they are worthy, their shoddiness and viciousness notwithstanding.  Brown could try to avoid this unappetizing conclusion by claiming that the content of  work must reflect the correct politics if it is to count as excellent, but such a move would be clearly ad hoc, if not laughable.  The only reason to make such a move would be to save Brown’s theory.

In the absence of any plausible alternative, one is left with the formalistic theories of quality.  Do these theories in fact have built into them standards that improperly and objectionably tend to exclude women and artists of color?  Consider the following theory, and see if it has any such standards built in.  I submit that the concept I describe below is the one operative in most critical discourse.

A work of art is a symbol that both expresses and sometimes denotes (to use Nelson Goodman’s terms) a content or subject matter.  The work’s excellence or lack of excellence is a function of both its formalistic values and what it expresses.  If what the work expresses is of low value, the work itself is of lesser value, even if (and in fact partly because) its formalistic values express its content perfectly.  Suppose, for example, that Jones, a critic, becomes convinced that Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings express the same types of feelings expressed by New Age music.  Since Jones holds those feelings in low esteem, she values the paintings less than they are usually valued.  Similarly, Smith, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, holds in low esteem what Anne Ryan’s collages express, namely, a sense of intimacy and pleasure (usually regarded as feminine) in materials and fabrics.  The fact that the formalistic values of the collages expresses those things perfectly hardly commends them to him.  He therefore places the works in storage.

Clearly, Smith’s application of the concept ‘quality’ has been guided by his gender attitudes.  He regards feminine stuff as minor and of lesser value.  I take it this is the sort of case Brown has in mind when she claims that ‘quality’ has built into it standards that improperly and objectionably tend to exclude women.  In what follows, I argue that the claim is nonetheless false.  The argument focuses on the expressive content of an artwork.

There are two possibilities concerning the value of what an artwork expresses.  1) Conventional, relativistic, folk wisdom is correct.  Conventional folk wisdom would like to relativize value the way Einstein relativizes motion.  In Einstein’s theory, of course, the speed of an object is relative to a frame of reference.  In one frame of reference, the speed is 60 mph, and in another it is 1 mph.  Folk wisdom treats Smith and Jones as on-person frames of reference.  In the Smith frame of reference, what Ryan’s work expresses has a low value, while in the Jones frame of reference, say, it has a high value.  Just as there is no absolute measure of speed, but only the speed in this frame of reference and the speed in that one, there is no absolute measure of value for what Ryan’s work expresses.  There is only its value for Smith, and its value for Jones.  2)  What an artwork expresses has a value that is not relative to particular individuals, and Smith and Jones can measure that value accurately or inaccurately, correctly or incorrectly.

Assume that 1) is right.  Suppose also that Jones is a feminist who wants to believe that Smith’s exclusion of Ryan (and the exclusion of other women artists on similar grounds) is improper and objectionable.  Jones, however, cannot cogently criticize or object to Smith’s exclusion of Ryan’s work.  For surely the following thesis is true:

A) If an artwork is of low value (is not good, excellent, worthy, etc.), excluding it (putting it into storage in a museum, not exhibiting it in a show, not buying it, and so on) is not objectionable or improper.

This is, I suspect, an intuition everyone shares.  Even Brown’s view commits her to it, since if a work is worthy, it is surely not low in value.  Now in the Smith frame of reference, Ryan’s collages are low in value.  It follows from A), then, that Smith’s putting her work into storage is not improper or objectionable.  The mere fact that in the Jones frame of reference the collages have a high value does not make the exclusion objectionable.  For disputing the exclusion on those grounds would be like disputing a measure of speed made in another frame of reference on the grounds that it does not match the measure one has made in his own frame of reference.

So if the relativism outlined in 1) is correct, Smith’s exclusion of Ryan’s work is not objectionable.  I assume, by the way, that Brown objects to ‘quality’ because it allegedly leads to cases of objectionable exclusion.

Assume now that 2) is right.  Smith has either correctly or incorrectly valued the expressive content of Ryan’s work.  If he has valued that content correctly, then Ryan’s work is of lesser quality and therefore of lesser value.  It follows from A), then, that Smith’s exclusion of Ryan’s work is not objectionable or improper.  Smith’s exclusion has not resulted from biases and prejudices that have prevented him from valuing the work correctly.  So the concept ‘quality’ is not open to criticism in this case because it has not led to an improper or objectionable exclusion.

Suppose now that Smith has valued the expressive content of Ryan’s work incorrectly (presumably because of gender biases).  He was wrong to put it in storage.  (This is, incidentally, the view I hold, and I suspect Brown would prefer to hold it as well.)  In this case, however, the fault does not lie with the concept ‘quality,’ but with a bad and misguided application of that concept to a particular case.  The application of ‘quality’ went afoul because prejudice prevented Smith from valuing correctly the expressive content of Ryan’s work.  In cases like these, then, the concept ‘quality does not have built into it standards that improperly and objectionably exclude women; rather, it is particular application of the concept that can objectionably exclude women (not all women, by the way) when the expressive content of a work gets wrongly valued.

In each case, then, either the concept ‘quality’ is not the culprit, or the exclusion in question is not objectionable.  Contrary to Brown, it turns out that ‘quality’ does not have built into it (through some kind of white male conspiracy) standards which improperly and objectionably exclude women.  If women are underrepresented in museums relative to their population, the fault lies not with ‘quality,’ but with other factors, including bad applications of the concept (assuming that relativism is false and that female concerns are incorrectly assigned a low value — if relativism is true and female concerns are correctly given a low value, cases of the sort discussed above, which I take to be bad applications of the concept, are in fact not objectionable), prejudice, and social discouragement.  The same analysis applies mutatis mutandis to artists of color.

Cliff Engle Wirt                                                                                                                                        Chicago, IL

Today’s homage to Plato’s SYMPOSIUM takes the form of James Dean and Sal Mineo.


‘Look at me the way I look at Natalie Wood,’ James Dean reportedly told Sal Mineo during the filming of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.  Mineo, having a crush on Dean, needed very little prompting to heed this instruction.  Homoerotic expression is, I dare say, something that in the past has been given an incorrect valuation.

“How Can We Know What The Probability Is?” And Other Objections And Remarks

The following, of course, is not yet developed.

“Where did you get that 99% probability from?” someone may object.  “Did you pull it from your ass?”  Well, I did stipulate it.  But the general objection remains valid nonetheless:  it would seem that there is no way to come up with an objective evaluation of what the probability actually is unless it is 0 or 100%, these figures being based on the physical laws of the universe or the laws of probability.  Deal with this.  See if Dretske’s discussion of this works.

Inductive:  probability of less than 100% but greater than 0.  Deductive (or what supports deduction):  conditional probability is 100%.  Absolute reliability, absolute safety.  What makes the transmission a case of information is also what makes it something supporting deduction.

IF p THEN p — either a complete lack of transmission of information or the exact opposite — a complete surfeit of “transmission” (quote unquote) at the “zero point”.

Update: 09/08/2018: Graying this out because it is too revealing of my vast ignorance of subjective vs. objective probability.


The Problem

The Problem:  What Does Relevance Consist In?  Following Relevant Logic, we can avoid Classical Logic’s paradoxes (or at least weirdnesses) of Material Implication, according to which the following statements are true…

1) If Cliff lives in Houston, Texas, then the earth has just one moon

2) If Cliff lives in Orange County, California, then Paris, Texas is the capital of France

…by insisting that the antecedent p be relevant to the consequent q.

But what is it that makes p relevant to q?  What is relevance anyhow?




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Edit Log: June 04, 2017: Made some minor changes.