A telephone call with a friend of mine who has been a judge in traffic court reveals the most interesting things.
Favorite defendant: he was given a ticket going 103 miles per hour, and attempting to defend himself, said he didn't know how fast he was going because it would have been unsafe to look down at the speedometer because he was going so fast.
"So let me get this straight. You did know you were going fast, you just didn't know how fast. Let's see: that's a reckless enhancement to a two point speeding ticket. I wouldn't add anything more to your defense at this point. In the future, whenever you are driving fast enough to be worried about looking at your instruments, you're going too fast. Slow down. Next case!"
Sounds good to me.
One of those occasions is when you pick up a "classic" by WVO Quine, and read the introduction:
Logic, like any other science, has as its business the pursuit of truth. What are true are certain statements and the pursuit of truth is the endeavor to sort out the true statements from the others, which are false.
Uh, no. Logic is there to check consistency between statements, which is only one aspect of the truth of a statement. Statements, in turn, are representations of situations, and both their adequacy and validity can be assessed separately. Further, anyone who uses the word "business" like that in the first sentence must be alerted to the existence, and slipperiness, of metaphors, which dominate communication, and are the key to understanding what "statements" can mean.
And if he begins so badly, can he rescue himself later?
Frankly, I can't be bothered.
Dennis Prager proposed that instead of judging people on one behavior we instead judge them based on a kind of "moral bank account" in which we allow both the bad and the good they do to figure.
I suppose it's an improvement, but it tends to play into a piece of modern mythology about "redeeming virtues" -- the idea that you can be a terrible person in many ways as long as you are talented in one way and still be "a good person." That myth is responsible for a lot of disturbing things, including the many people who decide that if they develop a talent, or assert that they have a talent in an unjudgeable medium, they are immune from criticism because they are a good person.
The truth, however, is quite otherwise. Looked at from the viewpoint of a "moral bank account", almost everyone is a bankrupt. Those who are not bankrupt are so only because of a virtue in others: the others have forgiven them. None of us possess our own redeeming virtue: we possess it only for others. Most of those who would appeal to a moral bank account are appealing not to their virtues, but to our ignorance of the extent of their vices (note, however, that I do not mean this as a specific criticism of Mr. Prager -- whose many interesting thoughts have provided hours of useful reflection for me -- since I am neither an intimate of his or otherwise in contact with him frequently enough for my judgement to mean anything in particular).
From our individual perspectives, our job is a little different: to form good intentions, reason to the consequences of our acts, and test it against the millenia of moral insights, making progress as we can, bemoaning our failures, without the expectation that others should acknowledge such a position.
Reason is the yardstick of reality. That the world is rational is a philosophic postulate, for philosophy is the attempt to understand, and why set out on the enterprise of finding intelligibility in the world unless you believe it is there to be found? For the present, the world has a recalictrant way of rebuffing our attempts to find in it a rational order (we do not know what the reason is to roses being red and the sky blue). Hume believed we did not know why one billiard ball rolls away when another strikes it. Hume was right about what we did know and wrong about what we might know. Within every unvarying sequence, there is a reason, and, with time, reason may isolate that. Nothing in this world is single: every thing, event, and quality stands in relation to others, and is what it is because of those others. Hence we shall not fully understand it unles we see it in the context of those relations that determine it, and ultimately in the context of the universe as a whole. Whether any bit of knowledge is true will depend, in the first instance, on whether it coheres with our system of knowledge as a whole, and the degree of truth possessed by the system will depend, in turn, on its coherence with that all-inclusive system which is at once the goal of our knowledge and the constitution of the real.
Note the lack of a cybernetic understanding of feedback and feedforward, which limits this definition in a direction he did not anticipate. Still, quite a start.
I hear him lauded by those whose understanding of world affairs is suspect at best (Lew Rockwell comes to mind). And then, without effort, the quote that indicates he is a second-rate mind vainly attempting to sound authoritative:
Action based on reason, action therefore which is only to be understood by reason, knows only one end: the greatest pleasure of the acting individual.
Obviously he hasn't understood Plato, or he would know better than to confuse pleasure with the good.
All things end in bafflement: but it is well not to be baffled too soon.
A key insight.