3 November 2006 - Friday


I have decided that it is time for me to discontinue The Elfin Ethicist. In fact, I knew several months ago that I would end it around this time.

I began blogging early in my undergraduate career, while I was still a teenager. (That was probably a mistake.) Over the months, The Elfin Ethicist has revealed my moments of creativity and boredom; fear and optimism; irritation and joy; pretentiousness and silliness; and immaturity and, I hope, some growth in understanding. My audience has changed as I have changed, and the site seems to serve a different purpose now from what it once did, if any at all.

Interestingly enough, my subtitle is more appropriate than ever.

Because The Elfin Ethicist bears the scars of my undergraduate years, because it no longer has a clearly defined target audience, because of my desire for a clean break as I begin my graduate studies, and because I anticipate having little time or confidence to post this year, I am stopping now.

Of course, I do not anticipate leaving the blogosphere entirely. I will still be reading weblogs and commenting occasionally. And someday, I may start writing for the web again.

Goodbye, everyone. It's been interesting.

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2 November 2006 - Thursday

History Carnival XLII

The forty-second History Carnival has been posted at Holocaust Controversies. This edition has Pilgrims and castles and lawyers and suffrage and all sorts of other good things.

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1 November 2006 - Wednesday

Being a good neighbor

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I should buy a large bag of cheap candy. I consider myself, after all, a reasonably civic-spirited sort of chap, and it occurred to me that I might get Halloween visitors this year. They might expect candy.

However, I am also a citizen of deep moral conviction. I simply could not encourage the youth of this city to participate in such a wicked, not to mention dentally dangerous, celebration. And I don't particularly like visitors anyway. So last night, I turned off both my inside lights and my porch light to discourage anyone ghoulish from dropping by.

So now I still have this great big bag of candy. Civic-spiritedness should work out this well for everyone.

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The burden of proof

Quick background: in 1793, shortly after Louis XVI was beheaded, France and Britain went to war. Many British reform advocates were sympathetic in varying degrees with the French cause. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, then a moderate liberal in his early twenties, published a lecture entitled "On the Present War." In it, he protested the war with France and the related abridgements of British liberties (including the suspension of habeas corpus).

A few lines in this lecture caught my attention when I read it earlier this week.

But its total Causelessness must be proved: -- as if the War had been just and necessary, it might be thought disputable whether any Calamities could justify our abandonment of it. On a subject so universally discussed it would be a vain endeavour to adduce any new argument. The War might probably have been prevented by Negociation: Negociation was never attempted. It cannot therefore be proved to have been a necessary war, and consequently it is not a just one.
Challenged to show that the British war with France was unjust, Coleridge simply transfers the burden of proof to his opponents. Because they failed to exhaust the alternatives before going to war, they failed to prove the war just; therefore, the war is automatically unjust.

Of course, every time a nation goes to war, somebody is prepared to claim that the war was necessary and unavoidable -- even if it was a war "at a time and place of our choosing." But what actually goes into proving that? Are not our standards of evidence and our judgments about probability a crucial part of determining whether a war is conscionable, especially in democratic societies, where the war must eventually be justified before the people?

So Coleridge's remark got me thinking that it would be interesting to reframe just war theory in terms of probability and evidence. Sure, it's wonderful to declare that a war must be necessary to be just -- but how do we actually determine necessity? And how do we -- the citizens who are ultimately responsible for the actions of our government -- determine whether the war is waged with "right intention" or "proportional means"?

I'm not sure that I am saying anything useful. It's just a hazy notion I got while rushing through a school assignment.

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