Review: Terence Horgan “Austere Realism”

As I noted at the top of my Amazon review (see inclusion below), Hogan’s “Austere Realism” and Graham Harman’s “Object Oriented Ontology” are, near as I can tell, exact inverses of one another. Harman’s view is that everything is real, everything is an object. Every star, planet, building, book, nation, thought, and all their relations, a virtual infinity of relations between everything and everything else taken individually and in sum. “All objects”. Horgan’s view it the exact inverse. For Horgan there is only one ontologically genuine concrete object in the universe, that being the universe taken as a whole, across all time, what he calls “the blobject”.

Both theories, in their own way, amount to saying the same thing. Whether “all is one” or “literally everything is an object”, both declare that “everything is the same”. On a strictly ontological level, there is no distinction to be made anywhere. This is not to say that the two theories say the same thing, not at all. But because they are both at the extreme ends of the metaphysical spectrum they both collapse all distinction and end up explaining nothing.

Horgan doesn’t mention Harman; not in the book nor the copious end notes. None of Harman’s books are even listed in the bibliography. I am surprised. Although the polar opposite of Horgan’s ontology, I would think the common feature of “being at the extremes” of ontological speculation would be worth a mention. I have dealt with Harman in several book reviews and essays here on the blog. Now it is Horgan’s turn.

In my review I do point out that Horgan’s book has two purposes; to set forth his “blobjectivism” and to show how, even if there is but one concrete particular in the universe (the universe itself) this idea is perfectly consistent with talk about a multiplicity of objects. “The United states dollar is the primary reserve currency on Earth” is true even though “the United States”, dollars, currency, and “the Earth” do not strictly exist. The same is true for more purely physical assertions. “Mars is the fourth planetary orbit outward from the sun” is true though there is no Mars, planets, orbits, or the sun. These statements can be true because their truth lies in semantic contexts that only “indirectly correspond” to some as yet unspecified phenomena of the “mind-independent world”, something both Horgan and Harman must accept as real or they wouldn’t be “realists” at all.

It is the social construction of language and so the presence of varying semantic contexts that make such statements true. They are true not because the things they purportedly reference (planets, money) exist, but because they meet the semantic standards of speech concerning posits about distinctions that exist only in a mind-dependent way. This connection between ordinary speech and ontology is a nice touch, but what is it about these “pseudo object posits” that makes them unreal ontologically speaking? Horgan points to vagueness (which he also calls boundarylessness) and the “Special Composition Question” introduced by a short detour through the work of Peter Van Inwagen. Much of this Horgan illustrates with what philosophers call “sorites problems” the most famous of which (and perhaps because of this Horgan doesn’t use it) is the “ship of Theseus”.

Theseus has a ship made from wooden planks. At some point one of the planks rots and must be replaced with a new piece of wood. Is it still the same ship? What if two planks are replaced, or ten, or all of them? Somewhere along the process some people would say that it is no longer the same ship though others would disagree. But the point is there is no definite point where the replacement of just one more plank makes a different ship. This observation suggests that the ship of Theseus (and most everything else) is vague and it is an axiom of Horgan’s ontology that “vague objects” do not actually exist as such. There is no such object as “the ship of Theseus” even though Theseus (who also does not exist) is plainly sailing in something.

The “special composition question” is related to this but has to do with what is and is not a proper part of a larger construct. Does a chair (some chairs) have parts? Does it have legs, a back, a seat, and perhaps arms? The chair is subject to sorites issues; if I remove a leg and replace it with another is it the same chair? But also we notice that legs, arms, seats, and backs, not to mention chairs, are all made of atoms. Perhaps the only real parts of anything are the atoms. A chair (Van Inwagen’s famous example) is nothing but “atoms arranged chair-wise”. It has no other proper parts because they are all merely atoms arranged leg-wise, seat-wise and so on.

So what does Horgan say is the chair in the mind-independent world? He says it doesn’t exist. It is not a “proper part” of the universe. Instead, what he believes, is that the blobject, the whole universe just is in some particular spatiotemporal location arranged chair-wise. Instead of a composition from atoms on up, the key insight for Horgan is that the differentiation goes from the top down. The mind-independent “whole universe” happens to be differentiated into everything that we take to be mind-independent about the world and according to Horgan (he is explicit here) this differentiation is both real and precise; not vague.

Yet, since the blobject is differentiated into something or other not-vague (chair shaped, rocks in orbits, suns, gas clouds, radiation) literally everywhere, and all of these differentiations have effects (gravitationally or otherwise) on other differentiations around them, how is saying what Horgan says any different from saying that all of the differentiations, taken mind-independently, are simply real objects with a genuine compositional structure? If the blobject’s everywhere differentiations are not vague, where comes from that vagueness he uses to insist that suns, rocks, gas clouds, and chairs don’t really exist? If the blobject differentiates precisely and the differentiations are mind-independent, the vagueness can only come from what is not mind-independent, namely the machinations of mind both pre-linguistic and linguistic!

The problem comes fully around to bite Horgan when he speculates on mind itself. If there is mind in the universe, the blobject also is differentiated spatiotemporally into minds! Mind itself, our phenomenology taken as a whole (Horgan suggests) is also a differentiation of the blobject and for that reason precise, though the contents of any given mind, for example propositions, can still be vague. But even with this little escape for vagueness’ sake, Horgan seems committed to mind-independent mind!

This result does not appear to have given Horgan any pause, but I think it is enough to show that there are difficulties with his view he does not address in the book. In the end philosophy is always trivially right when it takes positions at the extremes of ontology or epistemology. One cannot in the end refute a pure idealism, nihilism, solipsism, or a realism that says, one way or another, that “everything is the same”. In the end Horgan is not wrong. Nor is Harman. But Blobjectivism, like Object Oriented Ontology, is a difference that makes no difference! As concerns the “mind-independent world” saying everything, including all properties, are localizations of the blobject is the same as saying that all the localizations are real and exist. As goes ontology, Horgan (though not Harman) need not worry about baldness, nations, money, or even language since none of these phenomena are strictly mind-independent.

Austere Realism: Contextual Semantics Meets Minimal Ontology. Terence Horgan 2008

Interestingly this book is a counter point and the ultimate theory is exactly the inverse of Graham Harman’s “Object Oriented Ontology” (see my reviews of various Harman books). Ironically, the universality of their views cause both philosophers the same problem. If what exists is univocal (everything is an object [Harman] or there is only one object [Horgan]) you explain everything while explaining nothing. However delving into such philosophical matters is not the purview of a book review and I will talk more about this in my blog. Meanwhile, one of my criticisms of Harman is that he never really tells us why or how he came to his position, a complaint I cannot level at Horgan as that telling is the very purpose of this book.

Horgan first introduces us to realism in general and then austere realism. He spends roughly one third of the book (at the beginning and again at the end) characterizing austere realism and in particular his version of it, something he calls “blobjectivism”. Roughly two thirds of the book he spends not on his ontological theory as such but on how that theory relates to statements in ordinary and scientific discourse. If we want to say that planets, stars, buildings, and nations do not exist, how is the scientific statement “Earth occupies the third orbit outward from the sun” or the economic observation “the U.S. dollar is the world’s primary reserve currency” true? He says such statements are true not because the “objects” they purportedly name exist, but because talk of these categories only “indirectly corresponds” to the mind-independent world. The indirection goes through the process of conceptualization.

Much of the book is an exposition of this process works; how it is that many statements in ordinary and scientific discourse can be true even though the objects they purportedly talk about do not really exist. His direct argument for their non-existence has to do with vagueness, what he also calls the boundarylessness of discursive subjects, and the related “special composition question”. In stipulating a mind-independent world he also stipulates that no mind-independent object can be vague or boundary-less. Vagueness can always be made to look inconsistent. He gets into this issue by introducing what philosophers call “sorites problems” (take a man with 5000 hairs on his head. If I take away 1 hair is it still the same man? And this is only the beginning of a sorites problem). Anything we might call “an object” within the universe is subject to this sort of breakdown. Horgan insists that this being so, none of these postulated things exist in the mind-independent world. Objects of the mind-independent world cannot be intrinsically vague.

Horgan slides between mind-independence that cannot be vague, and discourse following general and not-fully-specifiable linguistic standards (themselves vague), to what he calls the vagueness of linguistic posits about the world. The problem here, the problem Horgan doesn’t seem to see, is that all the vagueness is mind-dependent. There isn’t any vagueness about the man with 5000 hairs in the mind-independent world. The vagueness enters only when mind directs itself at analyzing the concept of that man. Horgan is quite correct I think in that all that is mind-dependent is vague. I believe this is necessarily so, though Horgan does not (and says so). Nevertheless these indirectly corresponding posits cannot be real though propositions about them can still be true. Besides introducing us to the blobject, the point of the book is the [mind-dependent] connection between Horgan’s ontology and the correctness of ordinary talk thanks to semantic context and indirect correspondence.

To my mind, Horgan fails to appreciate some of the implications of his ontology. For him, the stuff of the mind-independent world are not parts of something greater but rather spacetime localisations, differences, of “the one concrete particular that exists”, the blobject. If this is the case, and he says this, these spatiotemporal localisations must be precise, not vague! There are many issues arising here I will leave for another venue (see my blog), but the bottom line is that if they are not vague we might as well call them objects! It isn’t that Horgan is wrong (let’s say). It isn’t that ontology cannot be as austere as he claims. But it doesn’t matter. Giving an inch here is worth a mile. If spatiotemporal variations in the blobject are real and precise then conceptualizing those variations as objects, saying “they exist” and “directly correspond” (in Horgan’s semantic scheme) to mind-independent particulars amounts to saying the same thing.

Still all in all Horgan does a great job putting this together. I gave the book four stars not because of philosophical issues but because Horgan’s writing is not as clear as it might be. There are many long sentences with multiple and parenthetical clauses. Sometimes his argument is a little difficult to follow. But what was worse, the Kindle version of this book (the version I have) has a serious problem! This is not the author’s fault. The publisher was way too casual with this conversion. There are a lot of end notes in this book. A considerable amount of detail in the author’s exposition is in the end notes! But while the notes are flagged in the text, flags are not made into links. You cannot press on an end note and go to the note as as is conventionally the case in most of the Kindle books in this and other non-fiction genera. Such features are, after all, part of the point of e-books! This is a serious omission in a scholarly work like this, and makes the whole, if you really want to see the end notes as they come up, way more difficult than it should be.

Two Books by Francis Fukuyama

Here are two reviews of books by Francis Fukuyama in which he traces the evolution of political orders from prehistoric times to the modern day. His point is to demonstrate that all human societies, growing larger, must solve common sorts of problems no matter where in the world they are. In these books he carefully describes how these solutions come out in political orders of vastly different types. He is also interested in what and how factors contribute to both the similarities and differences in the present political orders on Earth. These factors include geography, climate, foreign contact, ideas, economic activity, technology, external and internal conflict (war, civil-war, revolution), and ideas, especially the presence or absence of a culture-wide transcendental religion.

In another book, “The Shield of Achilles” 2011, Philip Bobbitt looks at the political evolution of Europe (to which Fukuyama gives much but not exclusive focus) and argues that the evolution of modern European states was very much a product of war and evolving military technology. In large measure Fukuyama agrees with this (especially as concerns Europe) although he suggests that many other factors are also important. Bobbitt distinguishes between four evolutionary stages beginning with Kingdoms in the medieval, and proceeding, in different places at different times and at different rates, through Kingly-States, State-Nations, to Nation-States. Fukuyama’s view cuts across these distinctions tracing the development of his three pillars of the modern political order (not any of them represented in literally everywhere on Earth in the present day) state-bureaucracy, rule-of-law, and upward and downward accountability. It is not the presence or absence of any of these that distinguishes the political orders described by Bobbitt, but rather the particular forms, especially the bureaucracy, taken in each place at various stages of history.

Bobbitt seems most interested in what he believes comes next in political evolution, the Corporate-State, something he notes is well underway in the United States, China, and in other places again evolving in different ways and at different rates. But what Bobbitt sees as a next step in political evolution, Fukuyama sees as “political decay”. The fundamental purpose of a State is to provide services that benefit the entire population as much as this should be possible. Such things as public school, medical care, roads, disaster mitigation, economic opportunity, and so on. Because the need for these things is global, throughout the nation, and because of this best coordinated, even if specific implementation directives are contracted to private enterprise, by the State. But when the State begins giving too much of this responsibility away to private enterprise it loses some control over the process. Moreover, when the private services become large and economically important enough, they become too big to fail and actually capture the political process. They come to control (usually by financial influence) those parts of the government that are supposed to be controlling them! This process weakens two of Fukuyama’s three legs, the State itself, and accountability! What for Bobbitt is the future is for Fukuyama a decline.

Origins of the Political Order

This is volume I of a two volume work. This first takes political and social evolution from pre-human times to just prior to the French and American revolutions. Fukuyama begins with pre-human (ape) social organization to put paid to both Hobbes who believed that the first humans were individually at constant warfare, and Rousseau who claimed that the earliest humans lived in idyllic individual circumstances because they were so distantly separated from one another. Apes live in family bands, early humans probably lived in family bands. These bands evolved into tribes whose organization had several advantages over family bands, and at one point, this stage of development characterized all human societies throughout the world.

Fukuyama distinguishes three broad aspects to any developing political order. A coherent “territorial state” administered more or less uniformly across some geographic domain. To be a true state, the central power (however it emerges) must control, more rather than less, the administration of its domain. Next, the “rule of law” which at a minimum means that the central authority recognizes that there are some (perhaps not many) codified limits to its power especially concerning property (land) rights. Third comes “accountability” which can go upwards (people become accountable to the government) and downwards (government accountable to people). These are broad ideas. Rule of law need not be constitutional (for example) and accountability of the government to “the people” might include only the noble class and not literally everyone.

Cutting across Fukuyama’s distinctions here are evolving groups within an evolving political order. There comes to be the king or other autocrat, some nobility (an elite class of one sort or another almost always land owners) and everyone else. Eventually the “everyone else” divides into skilled craftsmen, traders, professionals, a bourgeoisie and the peasantry. The non-peasant group he calls the “third estate”. There is a lot of variation within each of these groups and Fukuyama covers many of those variations as they bear substantially on how the three aspects (state, law, accountability) come together or fail to do so in different circumstances. The circumstances are the most varied of all as one might expect. War or the threat of war, famine, geography, climate, economics, evolving religion, accidents of succession (the king dies without heirs) and technology all played their part.

Fukuyama begins with China which developed “true statehood” by 300 BC, far earlier than any other polity. This is not to say the first state lasted. There were many ups and downs, reversions to a more tribal form of social organization and the evolution of new states. While China developed true territorial states with meritocratic administrations earlier than anyone else, it has not, even today achieved a true rule of law nor top down accountability. He moves on from China to South Asia where India was next to develop state-like organization while religion in its case (Brahmanism) actually solidified class differences along the lines of earlier tribal organizations. Today India has all three components in its polity, but the state is weak having far to much of the strong tribe-like organization competing with it. I am oversimplifying here. I cannot do justice to Fukuyama’s much more nuanced analysis in a short review.

Next he moves west and explores the emergence of Islamic polities and in particular the Ottomans who developed some of the strangest meritocratic institutions of all. Islam unified all classes in a religious sense, but it never managed to disentangle itself from secular institutions leaving this whole part of the world “caesaropapist” meaning that the head of the state is also the head of the religious order, though often there is a class of priests and scholars who are supposed to be consulted…

Lastly Fukuyama moves over to Europe where he focuses on France, Spain, England, Hungary, Russia, and the Nordic nations. In all of these countries the Catholic church had an enormous influence unifying law across all social classes and eventually separating from the early caesaropapist style into a true church separate from the true state that remained strong enough to impose rule of law (more or less) on kings. “More or less” usually because there were different balances between king, nobility, and all the others. Of these England, for historical and geographic reasons, had the best and earliest balance of all the various social forces leading to genuine rule of law and bi-directional accountability. Hungary had a version of the English Magna Carta, called the “Golden Bull”. But the Magna Carta left in place a strong king and a balanced nobility, while the Golden Bull made the nobility so powerful that its vested interests eventually destroyed the state.

By contrast to Catholic France, Spain, and Orthodox Russia, the Reformation was largely responsible for the evolution of upward accountability in the Nordic region because to realize the Protestant principle, that every man should interpret the Bible for himself, everyone, even the peasants, were taught to read! This enabled the peasants to organize politically, something that did not happen anywhere else except England where it occurred for quite different reasons. Among other factors English peasants were allowed to escape the land and become part of the third estate in evolving cities because the king used them to balance the lords. By contrast France, Spain, and Russia blocked this evolution because their kings aligned themselves with the nobility against the peasantry.

In his second-to-last chapter Fukuyama summarizes how these various balances worked themselves out everywhere from China around to Europe. In the last chapter he briefly covers how the play of these forces changed following the industrial revolution and how present technology and modern economics comes to bear on them.

This is a long scholarly work with lots of references. Throughout Fukuyama writes in an easy style and colors the analysis with enough specifics to keep it interesting without becoming over bearing. I am looking forward to volume II.

Political Order and Political Decay

This is the second of two volumes by Fukuyama on the broad subject of political evolution on Earth. The first volume (reviewed) covered with broad strokes the evolution of political orders on Earth from the times of universal band-level societies through to the French and American revolutions near the end of the 18th century. He chose this cut-off because the industrial revolution beginning in the early 19th century was for many reasons a turning point in the economics underlying political orders throughout the world.

There was substantial evolution of political systems around the globe prior to the 19th century. The universal band-level societies of 10,000 years prior had become tribal organizations of various sizes, and also true states (China long having the lead here with genuine political states preceding anything like them in Europe or elsewhere by a thousand years). In this evolution Fukuyama distinguishes between three threads that comprise separate (though co-influencing) threads of political evolution, the State represented by its administrative bureaucracy, the rule of law (which does not always evolve) and accountability upwards from the population to the government and downwards from the government to the population. There are modern States (China in particular) that have not yet evolved a true rule-of-law nor downward accountability. But all states prior to the 19th century did have one thing in common. All human societies of that time were dominantly agrarian.

The industrial revolution in Europe and the then nascent United States changed everything. Up until that point technological innovation was slow. Every advance in the production of more food and other goods was absorbed by expanding population that prevented any serious accumulation of wealth other than in and to very small classes of political elites. The industrial revolution changed all of this by generating increased food production, goods, and technological change faster than expanding populations could absorb them, leading to surplus wealth. In turn, surplus wealth led to a large scale differentiation in types of labor, specialization, which in turn led to the multiplication of political classes whose members, economic drivers who did not exist in earlier times (or existed in very small numbers), demanded and eventually achieved access to the political process.

In this volume Fukuyama brings his three political dimensions forward in time to the present age and demonstrates how the principle of development (evolution) and decay are everywhere playing out against the backdrop of what motivates them; economic activity, technology, war, ideas, and the changing communities of people themselves. He carefully investigates China, Japan, India, Italy, Greece, France, England, Germany, Russia, and the United States also comparing and contrasting their various forms with modern political and social evolution in South America (especially Argentina), the Far East, and sub-Saharan Africa. In the last, many problems are continent wide but he highlights two, Nigeria almost a failed state, and Tanzania being an African exception (in addition to South Africa) having achieved something of a stable balance between the three dimensions of state, rule of law, and accountability. I learned much about my own country they never taught me in school!

Fukuyama’s general conclusion is that every state must solve similar though not identical kinds of social and political problems and the solutions evolved are often similar but never the same. A combination that works in one place normally cannot be transplanted to another and what can be transplanted depends on what was there before. Furthermore at the present time everyone of these states is experiencing political decay in some of their institutions. The United States invented the political form he calls ‘clientalism’, the mass-oriented impersonal version of earlier ‘patrimonialism’, in the early 19th century. Italy and Greece are clientalistic states even today. America broke free of clientalism by the mid 20th century and built an efficient state which, since the late 20th century has fallen back through a process Fukuyama calls ‘repatrimonialization’ in which the state’s apparatus become captured by special interests.

All in all a very clear-eyed look at political evolution on our planet. There are keen insights and chilling possibilities galore. Fukuyama’s style is not dense and so reads easily. The book is long, but it rewards the reader with a deep knowledge of the nuances of modern political development.

Review: Habitation Velier-Foursquare 2013 Single Pot Still Rum

Review: Habitation Velier-Foursquare 2013 Single Pot Still Rum

I’ve tried a lot of Foursquare rum in the last year. Starting with the Port and Zinfandel cask bottlings, on to the 2004, Premise, then the 2005 (not yet reviewed), and now this collaboration with Habitation Velier on another “single rum” which in this case means it was made at one distillery and one particular pot still. The Back label on the bottle says:

“Foursquare 2013 Single Rum is the result of a collaboration between Richard Seale and Luca Gargano. This is the first time that Foursquare has bottled a rum distilled entirely in the pot still built by Green Engineering and Forsyths. Aged in prime-quality ex-cognac barrels. A world premire.”

The front label says a lot too. I have included a larger picture so the detail can be appreciated. Foursquare has been doing a lot of these special bottlings from special barrels. Port, Zinfandel, Sherry (the Premise) and now Cognac barrels. Each one is spectacular and so far every one I’ve tried has been better than the last!

Not only great barrels, but this offering is “cask strength” bottled at the alcohol percentage as it comes from the barrel after two years (clearly stated on the label) having experienced 15% evaporation (the “angel’s share”) in tropical aging. The note about the tropics is important because rum ages (and evaporates from the barrels) faster in the tropics. Two years of aging in the tropics would be equivalent to four or five years in a temperate climate. The rum comes to us from the cask at 64% ABV, a potent offering.

Let’s have a look..

Color: Light to medium amber with orange notes. This is a very pretty rum.
Legs: Swirrled in the glass the rum shows thin to medium fast running legs.

Aroma: OK, now to something more important. I expected a two-year-old rum to be a heavy on the alcohol, acetone, or varnish notes especially at 64%, but not so. There is alcohol there, but it’s clean, refreshing, and sets off otherwise deliciously deep aromas of raw sugar, light caramel, prune, raisin, and tobacco. Wow! Fabulous dark aromas from a relatively light rum. There is no vegetal or fruity funk in this aroma. Lightly sweet, but not overwhelmingly sweet. Dark fruit, but no over-ripe notes. I take this to be characteristic of a “Bajan rum”, and I don’t mind a little funk now and then, but this is so much more friendly.

Flavor and texture: Amazing! A rum with no additives this is immediately rich and creamy. How can that be with this much alcohol and only two years old? I imagine the tropics, and maybe the quality of the ex-cognac barrels makes all the difference. Despite its richness the rum comes off at first as crisply clear and dry, but the sweetness of it sneaks up on you. Raw sugar, caramel, not dark but light. Raisin, prune, and tobacco. I can’t remember another rum in which the flavor and aroma profiles matched so well. The finish is long and sweet, no bitterness here not even at its full 64% ABV. The heat sneaks up on you too. It never gets harsh, but it does get pretty hot! I added a little water to one glass taking the alcohol down to about 55% and the rum gets sweeter, the raw sugar a little stronger with green grape making an appearance. But this rum is easy to drink even at its original ABV. Like the aroma, there is no sort of funk in the taste.

At $75 the price is a tad steep for me, but it is the same price (roughly) as the 2004 and 2005 all well worth their cost. Velier has released almost a dozen collaborations in this series, not all with Foursquare. Of them all, this offering is the least expensive! I haven’t dared try the others ranging in price from $90 to $120! What if I like them??!! If you click on this link, you can see images of all the other offerings in this line. Good luck making a choice. My guess is they will all be outstanding examples of their types.

The Fat Rum Pirate and The Rum Project have reviewed other of the rums in this set. Have a look. These folks know their rums better than me.

Enjoy…

Letter to Philosophy Now Magazine Issue #129

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Philosophy Now Magazine has published a letter of mine in issue #129 responding to an article in issue #128. For reasons of space and others editors edit. That’s what they do. But in this case, the editors deleted some of the logical structure of my argument, particularly in the last part, my four-point summary. For reasons of completeness I replicate my original letter below. Interestingly, this particular letter, in only 500 or so words, encapsulates much of my philosophy work here on the blog and in my books. In particular see: Why Free Will?

The letter…

To: Editors, Philosophy Now

Oct. 13, 2018

Re: Reply to “Why Is There a World” Carlo Filice October, 2018

If there is a God questions about his (this pronoun for convention) motives will inevitably be speculative because our perspective is narrow while God’s would be, by definition universal. But the range over which we speculate can be narrowed. Answers must accommodate everything for which God is purportedly responsible directly or indirectly. For example, if God exists he must be “necessary being”. A contingent God is not God. By the same token, he must have certain other absolute qualities: infinity, unity, free (and unconstrained other than by logic) will, eternality (existence outside time, uncaused cause), unified purpose, and so on.

Speculation must also accommodate human experience, the physical universe of time and space, that we are made out of this physical stuff, that nevertheless we are minded, have an apparent(constrained by space and time) free will, and are in a vague way aware of values: truth, beauty, goodness, love, and so forth. From necessity, infinity, and unity, we get Leibniz’s correct deduction that God must create the “best possible universe”, something that we, on Earth, have certainly not got. If we can imagine better (a hate-free world for example), so can God.

An answer to the question why God created “this particular universe” or “anything at all” must accommodate all of these data points. This is not a project for a letter and I have written books and essays on the subject, but perhaps the editors will indulge a quick summary.

1. “Best possible universe” must be taken diachronically. It isn’t the “best possible” now (we are in time) but will become so.
2. Human free will must have something to do with this process. God’s purpose(s) must be unified. A physical universe of purposeless mechanism (the mechanics of the physical are not teleological) conjoined with the appearance of limited, purposeful, value sensitive free-will in this universe must have something to do with the process of achieving #1
3. #2 works to achieve #1 when persons (likely on many worlds) freely choose to avere truth, produce beauty, behave lovingly, when they use their free will in time to instantiate values into the physical world.
4. God created this particular universe to have partners (should we so choose) in the achievement of #1. Only by that partnership (apparently) will there come to be, eventually, the “best possible universe” as God conceives it — and nobody thinks bigger than God. If there was a better way to get there God would have chosen it.

Now the original question is answered and the answer isn’t merely for fun.

Matthew Rapaport
San Francisco, CA.

 

 

Cigar Review: My Father le Bijou

Cigar Review: My Father le Bijou

I haven’t posted a cigar review in a while. I am smoking a few sticks not reviewed yet and there are literally dozens, probably hundreds of reviews of this cigar. So why am I reviewing a 10 year old cigar (the le Bijou debuted in 2009) that I’ve been smoking since 2010? The answer is that this cigar illustrates some of the subtlety in the cigar smoking hobby. Some tastes change, some do not.

My taste in rums has changed entirely in the last few years. Rums I loved as little as 3 years ago are now vanished from my collection. There are only 2 rums, El Dorado 15 and Dos Maderas (when I can find it) I drank in years past that I would even consider now. But cigars are another story. Sure my taste has changed. There are dozens of cigars I smoked back in 2010, even down to 2015 that I no longer buy. Some because they have become too expensive, but also many that I enjoyed, even a few boxes worth, and then stopped buying because they weren’t interesting any longer.

Yet unlike the rums, there are quite a few cigars I enjoyed back in 2010 that I still smoke today, or would if most of them had not become so much more expensive. The le Bijou is one of those I still like and while its price has gone up in 9 years, it hasn’t yet priced itself out of my budget.

The le Bijou is released in some eight or more vitolas. Five of them (7 x 50 Churchill, 6 x 52 toro, 4.5 x 50 Petit robusto, 6 1/8 x 52 torpedo, 5 5/8 x 55 robusto grande) are regular production, and three (at least) were special releases made for specific retail outlets (a lonsdale [6.5 x 42], corona gorda [5.5 x 54], and short Churchill [6.5 x 48]), released with varying wrappers. Of all these vitolas, I have smoked only one, this petit robusto! The reason? For one I shy away from larger vitolas generally, and second, all of the others are more expensive. The blend is Nicaraguan puro. Little is said about the specifics of filler and binder but the wrapper is supposed to be a Habano Oscuro which Halfwheel also calls “Pele del Oro”. This is rather confusing so I quote from the HALFWHEEL REVIEW (linked):

“The wrapper on the Le Bijou 1922 was particularly notable as it is known as pelo de oro, or golden hair, which is considered to be the father of the modern corojo wrapper. TobacconistUniversity.org explains that the name references a Cuban varietal that was popular in the early and middle 20th centuries but fell out of favor due to its susceptibility to disease. It was created by combining pelo de oro and Sumatran tobaccos and is regarded as being strong, flavorful and sweet”.

I do not find “Habano Oscuro” and “Pele del Oro” connected anywhere else.. Which is it really?

Wrapper: Habano Oscuro (??)
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraquan

My vitola: 4.5″ x 50 Petit Robusto

Cold Aroma: Manure and barnyard. Rich and heady.
Cold Draw: Same notes as the cold aroma and a little leather

Construction: Always well made, the cigar is of medium weight for its size. Evenly packed, but not dense. With a simple straight cut the draw is always good. When smoked likewise, the smoke is rich and plentiful, though see below. The burn stays pretty even most of the time though I have smoked a few hundred of these and sometimes they do get a little wonky and require correction. These smoke pretty slowly. Takes about an hour to get down to the last inch of it.

Flavors: I have smoked many cigars made by My Father. Most are rich in flavors. The newer “La Opulencia” (see Review) is rich and sweet, but not this one. The le Bijou seems more like an A.J. Fernandez blend. Flavors of hay, flowers, black tea, barnyard, the barest hint of leather, perhaps an occasional hint of roasted nut. All of these flitter in and out of a general flavor of tobacco and mild pepper. The flavors first appear after the cigar is smoked for a few minutes. They come and go as the cigar progresses and do not change very much. They are never more than light hints at what should be a much richer cigar from a company like My Father. While the flavors here follow the cold aroma, that aroma is richer than anything in the flavor of the smoke. The flavors are good, even distinct, but they seem barely there.

My biggest gripe about this cigar is that the flavors often disappear completely in the last inch and a quarter of the stick and the smoke gets hot and flavorless no matter how slow I smoke it. An inch plus is a lot to throw away for a four-and-a-half inch stick. I can take any other My Father cigar and smoke it down to a half-inch before the flavors disappear. The flavors of the le Bijou vanish much earlier than that, though to be fair about one out of three of them remain flavorful down to about three-quarters of an inch.

This is a big disappointment in a My Father cigar. Perhaps this has something to do with how I buy these cigars. I buy boxes when there are good deals and discounts bringing the price down to $5 or so. Maybe I’m getting boxes that have sat around the warehouse a little too long and this is not one of those cigars that gets better with a lot of age? I keep telling myself not to buy these any more and then another deal comes along and I forget my own advice. This has gone on for years and I’ve probably been through a dozen or more boxes in that time. I do like the way they smoke.

All Will is Free

The goal of this short essay is to argue the word ‘will’ and the phrase “free will” are equivalent. The ‘free’ in “free will” is redundant. All exercise of will is free. There is no “un-free will” although there are un-free actions that aren’t willed.

First let me set some boundaries. I am not trying to establish that free-will is real. This argument is about the ordinary language, conventionally subjective view of our agency. We seem to ourselves (and as self-as-such) to be final arbiters of some physical (bodily) behavior, even if the result is not exactly what was subjectively intended. If with my arm, hand, and fingers, I propel a basketball towards the hoop my goal, to make the ball go through the hoop, may not be what occurs. Nevertheless, it “seems to me” that I, the subjective agent, am the agent-cause of the throw. My agency caused my arm to move or at least this seems to be correct from most people’s viewpoint. My argument below does not hinge on whether libertarian free will is real, but only that it is possible.

We, as agents, seem to make choices. Our [seeming] choices often precede a controlled action (behavior) of our body, and it is those physical actions that are causes in the physical world. These acts are efforts to constrain future possibility to present fact. These causes are NOVEL in the sense that they have, at their beginning a selection by a subject and not merely firing a neuron. A “selection by a subject” is novel because it does not presuppose any prior physical determinant as would the mere firing of a neuron. We are not simply aware of a choice having-been-made. Subjectively it feels like we are the initiator of the choice. A choice resulting in an act of a body seems always entangled with a willing. I decide to order item #26 from the menu before me, and in making that choice I will my vocal apparatus to express it to the waiter. Some would say the vocalization is making the choice and this would be true from a third-party perspective. Subjectively however, we do usually seem to make a choice (decide) before willing an action.

This does not mean there were not physical causes (brain states) before and so impacting the choice or the willing. Nor does this mean there is anything about the experience of choosing and willing, without some brain-state correlate. What’s importantly characteristic of our experience here is that all the prior physical causes together are not sufficient, subjectively, to determine rigidly what is willed; the agent has the final vote, and this vote matters. At least this is what it feels like.

Not all actions of human or animal bodies are a result of willing. Heart beat and breathing come to mind, but there are less trivial examples, including many habitual behaviors and other actions that occur without our thinking about them. Such actions are not ‘novel’ in the sense that I mean that term. They are not sui generis because they are fully determined, that is sufficiently, by prior (neurological) physical causes. Importantly, we do not usually think of ourselves as willing such acts. We are surely not willing a muscle reflex and it does not often seem to us, when habitual behaviors are called to our attention, that we are willing them either.

In addition, even consciously willed acts, if they are free at all, are not free in any absolute sense. It is the body firstly that is the starting point of the physical causal chain initiated in the world. The act is always physical. Once a body acts (freely or otherwise), the causal chains started are beyond that body’s control. In addition acts themselves are constrained by the limits of what the body can do. Moreover, they are limited by what that body’s [seeming] subjective agency recognizes of its alternatives. We cannot do what the body cannot do (for example fly) and we cannot choose from among genuinely available alternatives (physically possible actions we might take) of which we are unaware.

Nicholas Rescher (“Free Will: A Philosophical Reappraisal” 2009) makes a distinction between moral and metaphysical freedom. Metaphysical freedom refers to all the future possibilities that might contingently happen. Philosophers and physicists are used to the idea that the present physical universe is contingent meaning that what has happened might have happened otherwise. Many events might have happened in the universe that did not happen, and more importantly, many future events are possible and we cannot be sure which of these will occur. Metaphysical freedom in this sense has nothing directly to do with willful agency. In Rescher’s view it is genuine and we have access to it, but we have access merely because it is a property of the physical world with which we engage.

By contrast moral freedom comes down to a conscious agent being free to choose from contingent futures without a constraint (agent or otherwise) fixing the agent’s act (and so will) in some specific way. If someone puts a gun to my head and tells me to open the safe I am not morally free in Rescher’s sense. But I am still metaphysically free. I could choose (and so act) to resist the gunman! I will get to the implications of Compatibilism for this argument shortly.

Animals appear to exercise will. Are they also free? I believe the answer is yes, though their freedom, their awareness of potential freedom is more constrained ours. Animals can do what they want in the absence of constraint. In this sense (absent constraint) they are morally free in Rescher’s technical sense. If metaphysical freedom is real, then animals must also be metaphysically free (ontologically speaking). A lioness on the hunt willfully selects between two possible zebras present to its awareness and so willfully acts to chase one of them. But the lioness cannot choose to forgo the hunt and become vegetarian even if there is plenty of nutritious vegetable matter in easy reach. Selecting one zebra and not the other is a freely-willed act, both morally and metaphysically, within the scope of lion consciousness.

Richard Swinburne (“Mind, Brain, and Free Will” 2013) argues that only a rare, deeply considered moral act, is genuinely free-willed. Everything else, despite how it might seem to us subjectively, is determined. Galen Strawson (“Free Will and Belief” 1986) argued that because so many of the past influences on our choices, beliefs, and so on, were not freely chosen, we are not free ever! Strawson’s argument is that unless every influence on a present decision was freely chosen, the present choice cannot be free at all! Strawson does nothing to address the phenomenological (the seeming) or linguistic issue here. He denies the possibility of metaphysical freedom by fiat. But both human language and experience easily distinguish between a seemingly free act and an act that does not seem to be free. Perhaps not always, but if we can make the distinction even sometimes, then metaphysical freedom might be real! If in a long chain of influences not freely chosen a single choice, however narrow, is freely elected then free will is possible.

Assuming Strawson (or Swinburne) is correct in what sense are all of these determined choices “willings” other than merely being a “figure of speech” that has no referrent? If our brain alone fixes what we do in what way are we, our subjective self, willing that act at all? To be sure what seems like the result of a willing might be an illusion. But in that case, not only are we not free, we are not really willing anything either.

This brings me to Compatibilism. If someone puts a gun to my head and orders me to open the safe I am acting unfreely by compatibilist lights, and yet I am obviously willing in the conventional linguistic sense. I must exercise will to move my arm and hand to the safe and dial the combination. According to compatibilists my will is not exercised freely. Here Rescher’s distinction between moral and metaphysical freedom is helpful. The gun to my head makes me morally unfree. Few would suggest that I have a moral duty to resist the gunman. Yet according to Rescher, I remain metaphysically free. I could resist the gunman, or try to escape. These are genuine options in that they are possible courses of action, future potentials not precluded by physics from which I might select. My willing my hand to dial the combination is still an exercise of metaphysical freedom.

‘Will’ and ‘free will’ do come apart in Compatibilism because compatibilists deny that Rescher’s “metaphysical freedom” exists at all. That is precisely the compatibilist’s point. By compatibilist lights, metaphysical freedom in Rescher’s sense is mere illusion. To all intents and purposes, at least as concerns macro-physics, events of universe history are not contingent but fully determined.

If compatibilists are right however, it makes little sense to speak of any willing going on either way. If there is a gun to my head, my brain, and not any willing makes me, my body, open the safe. If there is no gunman, my brain might determine that I finish up some work before going home. Either way, what seems to me to be a free-choice willing (I could leave the paperwork until the morning) is not real but merely a seeming. For compatibilists, there is no will at all, only the illusion of one. Put otherwise, there is no such phenomenon as “unfree will” because there is no real will at all!

If compatibilists are wrong and Rescher is right (it is metaphysically possible to resist the gunman) then any “act of will” is an act of “metaphysically free will” notwithstanding there are many past influences, not freely chosen, impinging it, or even that the choice was not morally free. If agents are metaphysically free, if subjective agents can choose between genuinely alternate futures then the subject, and not merely the brain, becomes a part of the causal chain resulting in a particular future out of many possible. If ‘will’ represents anything more than a figure of speech, metaphysical freedom has to be real.

Compatibilists speak of will as though it was real but by their own lights it cannot be. We seem to perform choice-act combinations by willing. If we don’t “will it” (and I grant that not all acts are willed or free) then nothing happens; no act will issue from a body. Importantly it also seems that no act of a body that is not willed is free; we are not free to suppress a reflex and we easily distinguish between willed and not-willed action under normal circumstances. If every free act is willed, and will is not an illusion, and no un-willed act is free, then no “act of will” can be entirely un-free (fully determined) and the ‘free’ in “free will” is redundant.

Rum Review: Hamilton Pot Still: Black and Blonde

Rum Review: Hamilton Pot Still: Black and Blonde

Two more rums from Hamilton, both related to the Pot Still Gold I reviewed previously and one also to the Hamilton St. Lucian rum also reviewed — see links below for these reviews. I include both Black and Blonde in the same review here because while related (both rums start from the same stock) they could not be more different. Price on these is moderate, about $35 U.S. for each 750 ml bottle.

Pot Still Black 46.5% ABV

Color: Dark copper reddish. The rum, while not sweetened is colored with what the Ministry of Rum calls a “double strength black sugar-based caramel”.

Legs: Thin fast

Aroma: Some pot still funk, dark fruit raisin, prune, alcohol, burnt caramel.

The label and Ministry of Rum web site says this is a blend of light, very light, and heavy pot still rums aged “up to 5 years”. There is no mention of the sort of barrel (ex bourbon, or something else) used. The feed stock is molasses.

Flavor: raw sugar cane, burnt caramel, black molasses, coffee, tobacco, over-ripe banana and a little sherry-like smokey oak. A bit of fire on a medium and sweet finish,  not bitter. The funk is present but only underneath the sweetness of this rum. This is not a dry rum but distinctly sweet. The funk comes up as a background to the sweetness.

Texture: A little creamy, not very, but there is some body here. Not glassy or crisp or dry. Distinctly brown-sugar or raw sugar sweet.

This rum is delicious and reminds me of the Dos Maderas 5+5 if a more sophisticated (and unsweetened) version of it. Like the Dos Maderas, this is a great cigar pairing rum. I will be buying more of this one!

Pot Still Blonde 45% ABV

Color: very pale yellow tinge, more pale than the Hamilton Pot Still Gold (barely) but not all the way to clear.

Legs: Thin fast

Aroma: Funk of a sort I do not know. Rich rotten pineapple or lychee fruit. There is alcohol on the nose but all of it is overwhelmed by the aroma of rotting fruit which comes out a little like the smell of ether and old airplane glue.

The label and Ministry of Rum website say there is no coloring added to this rum which begins with the same rum stock as the Black (above) and Gold (see review) pot still rums. Then aged 18 months in barrels formerly used for Hamilton’s St. Lucian rum, finally being married for 6 months with a 1-year aged light pot still rum.

Flavor: A watery sort of dryness that fills your mouth with the funk of spoiled grape, way over-ripe pineapple, and lychee fruit. This might be the most awful  funk I’ve ever tasted. Undoubtedly there are some rum aficionados who will relish this, but I’m not one of them. The finish is short and dry but not bitter. There is no dark fruit here, nor coffee or tobacco flavors, nor caramel, molasses, or brown sugar. The over-ripe bright fruit funk dominates everything except the alcohol which is smoothed by the fruits. Possibly the aging in barrels used previously for Hamilton’s St. Lucian, among the funkiest rums I’ve had (see review) explains this strange and unfamiliar kind of funk but yikes, this is way over the top.

Texture: Thin, watery, not creamy. There is body here but it is all in the funk.

Perhaps my taste will evolve or the rum will evolve in the bottle. Right now, having had 3 glasses, I do not much like it at all.