Liberal Arts

Economics – Law – Philosophy – etc.

Individual responsibility?

July 2, 2004 | 12 comments
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Frank McIntyre says “I am only responsible for that part of me that is eternally me.” Adam Greenwood agrees and wonders how to makes sense of that claim in light of the teaching that God oversees everything and brings about his purposes. Kristine Haglund implicitly assumes, I think, that despair, acedia, etc. are really individual psychological disorders because, like Frank and Adam, she assumes that individuals are the basic units, the units at which responsibility occurs. Of course that assumption is the norm. But why should we believe it is true? Read more »

Spirituality & Fundamentalism

June 28, 2004 | 18 comments
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Hello all, and thanks for Jim’s warm introduction and Lyle’s and Gordon’s welcomes. To get started, let me summarize some recent research I’ve done on current trends in the sociology of religion, and then pose some questions. Read more »

The Anti-Nephi-Lehite Puzzle

June 26, 2004 | 59 comments
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In the rather endless recent comments on war, torture, and politics, both Rob and Dan have made variations on the claim that it is better to suffer death rather than commit certain sorts of moral wrongs. Rob’s claim to me is more interesting, because as a pacifist he seems to claim that it is better to be killed rather than kill another. Dan and Rob, are of course, free to object that I am putting words in their mouths (which is probably correct), however, the basic proposition raises an interesting question: Why might killing be worse than death? Read more »

Constitutional Turnabout

June 25, 2004 | 34 comments
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According to reports this week, the leadership of the United States Senate is currently considering whether to bring to a vote a proposed constitutional amendment to define the nature of marriage. There is widespread agreement that the proposal lacks the necessary votes to pass, suggesting that the vote is primarily intended to make a political issue of the proposed amendment’s subject matter during an election year. Still, many constituencies remain highly exercised over what they perceive to be the necessity of such an amendment to resolve the matter of single-sex marriage. Curiously, these constituencies seem largely to be the... Read more »

Twelve Differences Between Taxation and Robbery

June 25, 2004 | 34 comments
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This is a short primer on the differences between taxation and robbery. At times these two phenomena are sufficiently difficult to differentiate that perhaps such a discussion will be helpful. Feel free to append your own differences to the dozen provided: 1. Taxation is done by a group of people that claim to represent you. Robbers do not claim to represent you. Read more »

Rationality

June 24, 2004 | 16 comments
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Occasionally there is some odd comment here or there on this site alluding to “rational choice” models. Now almost nobody in economics uses this phrase, because you don’t need a word to describe what everyone is doing. Yet rationality seems to get some non-economists excited. Why? Read more »

Oops — I forgot

June 21, 2004 | 22 comments
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The judicial nomination of Thomas Griffith, General Counsel of Brigham Young University and Bush appointee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals seems to have hit a slight snag — as reported by this morning’s Washington Post, Griffith appears to have been acting as the University’s chief legal officer without the little detail of a license to practice law. Apparently Griffith’s admission to the District of Columbia bar lapsed for failure to pay his dues, and he never quite got around to sitting for the Utah bar. Highly embarassing, but perhaps not fatal to the nomination if no one’s... Read more »

Blogging in a Different Voice

June 19, 2004 | 23 comments
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In my last post I raised several questions about the nature of participation in blogs and other computer mediated communication (CMC) fora, based upon research detailing the life-cycles of such fora. An additional, related line of research that seems to me important for the future of a blog such as Times and Seasons is a substantial body of work exploring the gendered nature of CMCs. This research arose out of observations that suggested a surprising scarcity of female participation in openly accessible CMC fora. Subsequent empirical and ethnographic studies by Susan Herring and others suggest that men and women... Read more »

The Market for Bloggers

June 17, 2004 | 36 comments
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Those of us who have been using the Internet for awhile have watched the waxing and waning popularity of a variety of discussion media – beginning with USENET newsgroups, then listservs and chatrooms, various types of conferencing interfaces, IRC channels, and now weblogs. A few of us even remember FIDONET and dial-up computer BBS fora prior to the general accessibility of the Internet. Blogs seem to be the latest in a long line of electronic discussion formats. Researchers who study the social structure of computer-mediated communication (CMC) have noted that CMC discussions appear to evolve through one of a... Read more »

The Hipness of Divine Society

June 17, 2004 | 10 comments
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The idea of “social construction” is really hip in the social sciences and the humanities, or at least it was really hip a decade or two ago. Generally the concept gets invoked with another idea, namely “essentialism.” Here is how the game works. We take some quality – say race – and then we argue about its nature. If we are essentialists (and it is pretty unhip to be essentialist about anything), then we would argue that race is somehow an inherent, natural, biological quality. If we are social constructivists (and being the hip, smart people that we are,... Read more »

Benevolent Theodicy: the Logical Necessity of Eternal Progression

June 14, 2004 | 15 comments
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Few Mormon doctrines cause traditional Christians more consternation than the belief in mankind’s potential to become like God. This is of course the reason the authors of the most famous anti-Mormon work chose for their title The God Makers. But hacks who deliberately produce fraudulent anti-Mormon screeds aren’t the only ones to be offended by our unique doctrine. Without exception, every thoughtful Christian with whom I’ve discussed the issue similarly believes our doctrine to be blasphemous (though they are circumspect in telling me so). But the Benevolent Theodicy, as I have called it, shows that they are wrong. Read more »

A Partial Response: Philosophy

June 8, 2004 | 26 comments
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I want to thank the many people who took the time to comment on my initial post. You’ve showed me that this guest-blogging stint will be both more stimulating and more time-consuming than I anticipated. I hope it is understood that I cannot possibly respond to all, or most, or even more than a very few of these comments. I’ll try to write two posts today, the first (this one) addressing the philosophical questions raised by Jim F and others; the second post will bring things back to Mormonism. I think the latter is important because this could easily... Read more »

Mormonism: The Postmodern Faith

June 7, 2004 | 59 comments
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First off, let me thank Russell, both for inviting me to contribute to Times & Seasons and for his flattering comments about me. After that introduction, I fear I may disappoint. As Russell notes, I spent two years teaching at BYU, and have enjoyed dozens of email exchanges about LDS-related matters with the handful of good friends I made during my time on campus. Since I don’t have An Agenda for the following two weeks, I think I’ll start by sharing a few thoughts that have grown out of those exchanges. Read more »

Collective Action: Is it a Problem?

May 29, 2004 | 6 comments
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Given our dependence on a lay ministry and an (almost) all volunteer workforce, the fact that the Church operates at all is something of a miracle. Most of us credit (perhaps self-servingly) the “20” in the “80-20 Rule,” that is, those few individuals in every ward who seem to be shouldering the greatest burdens. As my time in the Church has lengthened, my affinity for the 80-20 Rule has waned. The Rule makes sense only when you count all of those nominal members who have no emotional attachment to the Church, but these people are largely excluded from the... Read more »

The Criminal Law of Deseret

May 25, 2004 | 19 comments
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On January 16, 1851, the legislature of the State of Deseret passed a 34-section law entitled “Criminal Laws of the State of Deseret.” It actually makes for interesting reading. In 1851, the Mormons had been in Utah for only four years. The Territory of Utah had been formed in 1850, but federal authority in Utah was weak to completely non-existent. It would be another six years before any serious outside authority in the form of Johnston’s Army arrived. In other words, Mormon theocracy was firmly in the saddle, the real legal authority was clearly the State of Deseret and... Read more »

Mormonism, Liberalism, and Social Epistemology

May 20, 2004 | 20 comments
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In the most recent issue of Philosophy & Public Affairs, Allen Buchanan, a philosopher at Duke, has a very interesting article entitled “Liberalism and Social Epistemology.” He starts his argument with the observation that our knowledge of the world is inescapably dependent on social institutions. It is social institutions that allow for specialization, which in turn carried great advantages in terms of knowing the world. These advantages, however, come at a price. We must cede a certain amount of epistemic independence to authorities. This, he argues, creates great dangers. Certain authorities can be badly – horribly – wrong. He... Read more »

Fruity Con Law at Meridian

May 19, 2004 | 23 comments
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The ever exciting Meridian Magazine has been running a series of articles that purport to be “Constitutional Primers,” explaining to Mormons the way that the constitution functions. The most recent one argues that what is known as “selective incorporation” under the 14th amendment is a mistake. This doesn’t sound all that interesting or exciting, but it actually is. I promise. Read more »

Embodiment and Epistemology

May 19, 2004 | 9 comments
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Mormonism places unique value on embodiment. It is very interesting to ponder the implications of this. One set I've been thinking about today is the implications for epistemology, or how it is that we know things.

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A Mormon Theogony

May 17, 2004 | 21 comments
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Theogony is not a topic that comes up a great deal in discussions of Mormon theology. We tend to take the eternity of God for granted and as often as not end up affirming the eternity of man as well. The closest we generally get to discussion of the birth of the gods is when we ask the peculiarly Mormon question of how God progressed to become God. Orson Pratt, however, did get down to more fundamental questions of origins. Read more »

Some More Thoughts on Oaths

May 12, 2004 | 22 comments
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As I have a tendency to do, I have been reading law today. In particular, I came across a case dealing with the old rule against party testimony. Originally at common law, a party to a lawsuit could not testify in the suit. There were two justifications for the rule. The first was that the parties to a suit had an incentive to lie in their own interested and therefore their testimony was unreliable. The second justification was that testimony was given under oath, which gave it grave theological significance. Perjury was more than a crime. By virtue of... Read more »

Mormon Nominated to D.C. Circuit

May 11, 2004 | 38 comments
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For those who follow such things, President Bush has just nominated Tom Griffith, current general counsel for BYU, to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. For the non-law geeks of the universe, the D.C. Court of Appeals is an intermediate level appellate court (just below the Supreme Court) and after the Supreme Court it is widely regarded as the most important court in the United States, frequently serving as a training ground for Supreme Court justices. (Three of the nine current justices — Scalia, Thomas, Ginsburg — previously served on the D.C. Court of... Read more »

No More Kids, by Law

May 8, 2004 | 13 comments
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A disturbing case, all around. Read more »

The Epistemological Tensions of Mormonism

May 6, 2004 | 38 comments
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Now how is that for a pretentious blog-post title? What the am I talking about? In a nutshell, I am talking about the way in which Mormonism deals with how we gain knowledge and how that ability is socially situated. Here is my basic idea: Mormonism has a radically decentralized and democratic epistemology which is balanced by a highly centralized institutional structure. Read more »

Theology on the Model of Kuhnian Science

May 3, 2004 | 44 comments
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Many LDS thinkers are skeptical of “systematic” theology (e.g. Richard Bushman, whose posts we so enjoyed recently). Here’s a stab at a compromise. Thomas Kuhn presented a powerful way of understanding the development of scientific theories a few decades back in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; here’s a first pass at appropriating his work to think about how our knowledge of God and his ways might develop, in a way that is friendly to continuing revelation and eternal progression. Read more »