Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On "Act-Types" and "Act-Tokens" and ... Huh?

My friend Policraticus takes the bloggers at Catholics Against Joe Biden (which includes yours truly) to task:
“Catholics Against Joe Biden” is a disappointing reminder that Catholic moral teaching is still thought of categorically by the masses rather than contextually like the saints.
Ummmm, okay. To which I responded:
As for those criticizing the Catholics Against Joe Biden effort, I don’t recall similar consternation over the Catholics Against Rudy effort. And I assure you that if McCain is stupid enough to pick a “pro-choice” Catholic like Tom Ridge, I will be at the forefront of a Catholics Against Ridge effort.
But Policraticus wasn't done:
While there may not have been “consternation,” there was most certainly concern, which many of us mentioned in the thread to my post on “Catholics Against Rudy.” This second manifestation of “Catholics Against _________” is disappointing, not least because it fails to understand a whole range of moral issues that any trip through the annals of Catholic morality could remedy. The ignorance of differences between moral judgment and moral action, between act-type and act-token, between categorical and contextual ethics, between ethics and politics, and between formal and material cooperation. This, of course, leaves out the selectivity that these sites display when it comes to condemning intrinsic evils. “Pro-life” is taken in the Evangleical sense, not the Catholic sense (which is not surprising given that so many of these initiatives are not done by theologians or ethicists, but by converts who specialize in neither field). “Right to life,” promoting so potently by Archbishop Chaput is contorted into this Evangelical sense, yet is passed on as “orthodox” Catholicism. As you mention on “Catholics in the Public Square,” “Catholics Against Biden” is a teaching opportunity for those who use faith inaccurately to attenuate real political issues.
Huh? Would you mind translating that for those of us out here among the unwashed?

Zach of Civics Geeks responded to Policraticus thusly:
While I understand you are trying to be holistic and precise when you say things like this,

“The ignorance of differences between moral judgment and moral action, between act-type and act-token, between categorical and contextual ethics, between ethics and politics, and between formal and material cooperation.”

I have to gently suggest that politics and Catholic morality are not just for scholars or people who were taught big words. But these fancy terms do help to confuse people and help to hide your un-argued assertions. For: It is not at all clear how these sites are not pro-life “In the Catholic sense”, unless you define pro-life so as to exclude people who favor in general a limited government. it is not at all clear how these people are “attenuating real political issues”. Quite to the contrary, it seems these people are people who want to deal with real, concrete political issues, not just the fanciful constructs of their intellect.
Next up is my Catholics Against Joe Biden co-contributor, Darwin:
If you find some good instances of “The ignorance of differences between moral judgment and moral action, between act-type and act-token, between categorical and contextual ethics, between ethics and politics, and between formal and material cooperation.” I strongly encourage you to comment or post on them.

Otherwise: What Zach said.
And, finally, my slightly bruised feelings at Policraticus' somewhat harsh criticism (I could at least make that much out of all the philosophical jargon) got the best of me:
With all due respect, like Darwin, I, too, would like for someone to point out specific instances of where my blogging is guilty of the deficiencies that Policraticus describes.

If the charge is merely that I have little patience with apologists on the left and on the right who engage in high-falluting, philosophical-sounding justifications for voting for people whose policy preferences are out of step with my values and my conscience, then guilty as charged.

If, on the other hand, the assertion is that my status as a convert and/or a non-theologian disqualifies me from forming moral judgments as to whether particular candidates fail to measure up, in my own opinion, to some aspect of Catholic teaching, and of formulating arguments in an attempt to persuade others to that view, then I say “Nonsense!”

I particularly welcome any specific examples of where I have displayed “selectivity” in condemning ANY intrinsic evil. Or where I have taken a “pro-life” stance in anything other than the Catholic sense, much less an “Evangelical sense”. Or have used the Faith “inaccurately to attenuate real political issues”.

Perhaps I’m missing it because I’m not as well versed in “true” Catholicism as my theologically trained betters. I’m just some regular guy trying to form my conscience to what I believe the Church asks of me, and to live out that Faith in all aspects of my life, including how I vote.

It is on that basis that I have concluded, at least at this time, that neither of the major-party candidates merits my vote. I will continue to make arguments at my own blog and at the other blogs on which I participate in order to justify my conclusions and to persuade others to my viewpoint.
And a special thanks to Michael Denton of For the Greater Glory for his defense:
I think there are a few people that you can make the charge that they’re using faith to attentuate political issues or reducing pro-life to the evangelical level; but Jay Anderson is not one of those people. If anything, I think Jay has been one of the few bloggers to not get sucked in this cycle by one candidate or the other.
But don't mind me. I freely acknowledge that my limited intellectual capacity precludes me from distinguishing an "act-type" from an "act-token". Or giving a rat's ass, for that matter.

Labels: , ,

28 Comments:

At 8/26/2008 1:34 AM, Blogger Michael R. Denton said...

Jay, don't sweat it. Whenever they start demanding fancy words again, just say "Well, chap, I theorize that Obama is immanentizating the Christian eschaton by employing a pseudo-hegelian dialect." which is fancy speak for "the moron thinks he's the messiah."

 
At 8/26/2008 6:11 AM, Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Huh? Would you mind translating that for those of us out here among the unwashed?

He said, "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Just vote pro-abortion, like me!"

When "Catholics" start criticizing pro-life efforts, instead of making their own pro-life (and, yes, anti-abortion) arguments, you know they're just trying to throw up a smokescreen and confuse the masses into voting the way the abortion lobby wants them to.

Unless I'm mistaken, this is called "scandal," and I believe that it's intrinsically evil.

When they criticize you for saying that Biden or Obama are pro-abortion, instead of going after Biden or Obama for being pro-abortion, they betray their actual stance on the issue, the protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

It's like Archbishop Chaput said, if Catholics in the Democratic Party objecting to the party's stance on abortion, it would change to tomorrow. Clearly, they don't object to it.

 
At 8/26/2008 7:22 AM, Blogger Donald R. McClarey said...

Jay, cut Michael Joseph some slack! It must be rough running a Catholic blog where a fair number of contributors are supporting the Abortion Messiah. As our profession demonstrates, the weaker the case, the denser the verbiage when making the case.

 
At 8/26/2008 8:15 AM, Anonymous crankycon said...

Sorry, but I have to relate my new take on and old joke:

A man dies, and winds up at the pearly gates, where he is greeted by St. Peter. St. Peter offers the man a tour of heaven to get him acquainted with the place. He takes him to a room, where all the people are laughing and dancing and having a good time. "Who are these people?" the man asks. St. Peter replies - "These are the Catholics."

St. Peter then takes the man to another room, and once again it's filled with people laughing and dancing and enjoying the beauty and fullness of heavenly life. "Who are these people?" the man asks. "These are the Jews," St. Peter responds.

St. Peter then takes the man to another room. This time, it's filled with a few people all sitting quietly, reading over old theology books, every now and then nitpicking the errors of the fathers of the Church.

"Who are these guys?"

St. Peter says, "Shhhh. They used to blog for Vox Nova. Don't disturb them. They think they're the only ones up here."

 
At 8/26/2008 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"which is not surprising given that so many of these initiatives are not done by theologians or ethicists, but by converts who specialize in neither field"

What does this say about the theologians and ethicists who are doing... well... what ARE they doing?

 
At 8/26/2008 9:52 AM, Blogger Rick Lugari said...

lol@crankycon

It's funny too, in an ironic way, in that I suspect they (they meaning certain VN contributors) would change the joke and apply it to many of us. In fact, it's that sort of thing that motivates the act-types and act-tokens speak. The idea is that we (accept inclusion in the "we" if you wish) are too black/white and confuse apples, oranges, Red Delicious and Granny Smith when it comes to moral matters.

I reject that. I, and I believe most people around here do understand these matters, that we simply reject feeble attempts to apply these where they are unwarranted in order to provide cover for wrong decisions. i.e. I presume most of Jay's readers would disagree with MM's reasoning in supporting Obama. It's not that we don't understand matters of act-types and act-tokens (though the terminology may be alien to us), willful consent, ignorance, culpability, prudential judgment, blah blah blah, we just outright reject MM's reasoning and supporting arguments. It's that simple and I'm sure many find it offensive when a defense hinges on "you're just a convert", "typical dualistic American", "Calvinist", "you don't understand act-tokens sufficiently to speak to these matters", etc.

 
At 8/26/2008 9:59 AM, Blogger Morning's Minion said...

"This time, it's filled with a few people all sitting quietly, reading over old theology books, every now and then nitpicking the errors of the fathers of the Church"

Very interesting-- if only because VN appeals to the Church fathers more than most, I would say. Look up the history of Henry's posts.

 
At 8/26/2008 10:33 AM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

I'm still waiting for someone to point out where my blogging is deficient in the ways that Polcraticus describes.

And I mean something more substantive than inanely pointing out a link in my sidebar to a friend's parody site lampooning Sen. Obama, and accusing me of being, thereby, indirectly implicated in a plot on the Senator's life.

 
At 8/26/2008 2:10 PM, Anonymous Policraticus said...

Well, these are not "fancy words," but very simple distinctions in most any introductory ethics textbook. They distinguish between a category of action (act-type) and actual, singular acts (act-token). Catholic moral theology assumes this distinction in all of its teachings on morality. I assumed that you would understand nuance and necessary distinctions given your background in law. So perhaps before criticizing someone's invocation of them, perhaps it is better to gain a working knowledge of basic moral concepts before proceeding to issue moral judgments on politicians and epistemic judgments on those who use common ethical terms.

I'm still waiting for someone to point out where my blogging is deficient in the ways that Polcraticus describes.

Well, this post is a prime example. Your "huh" response is exactly the sort of thing to which I refer. Again, basic ethical terminology.


Very interesting-- if only because VN appeals to the Church fathers more than most, I would say.


This is true, from what I observe. I find that many Catholic bloggers are unable to identify the positions of fathers and Church doctors in much of what we write. My hope is that many will turn to these figures rather than to contemporary "apologists." The sort of CliffNotes Catholicism (different than "cafeteria" Catholicism) is rampant on the blogosphere. Fortunately, the scope of its influence is minimal.

 
At 8/26/2008 2:29 PM, Blogger Michael R. Denton said...

Policratius:

Jay didn't criticize your invocation of the fancy words. If you had a post explaining the terms and/or utilizing them in a post and even suggesting that it would be important for Catholics to understand them and their role in Catholic ethics, that would be one thing. However, you pretty much went ad hominem against Jay and the others by making understanding these specific terms a requirement for participation in debate and that is neither good philosophy nor good Catholicism. A Church steeped in the preferential option for the poor and one that made St. Therese of Lisieux a Doctor of the Church is not one to hold that the understanding of certain philosophical terms (which, by the way, not in an ethics introductory class, or at least not in every one) is necessary to engage in thinking about moral choices.

These aren't students writing philosophy or theology papers; they're mostly professionals writing a blog explaining their political preferences in light of their faith. If they're doing it wrongly b/c they fail to comprehend nuances of Catholic ethics, don't criticize them for failing to know the nuance; explain it to them with charity.

 
At 8/26/2008 2:44 PM, Blogger Dale said...

So perhaps before criticizing someone's invocation of them, perhaps it is better to gain a working knowledge of basic moral concepts before proceeding to issue moral judgments on politicians and epistemic judgments on those who use common ethical terms.

So, Policraticus, you regularly converse with your fellow parishioners on moral issues using the same terminology?

If not, why not?

Really, this sort of goofy condescension in defense of *needless* academic jargon is a half-step removed from academic self-parody.

 
At 8/26/2008 3:39 PM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

Policraticus,

You and I have always been on friendly terms, even where we may have had substantive disagreements. I hope that will continue. I referred to you in this post as "my friend", and I sincerely mean that. I think you know that I have valued your opinion during our acquaintance with one another.

But I must admit to being a little stung by the sweeping statements you made yesterday in condemning the alleged blogging deficiencies of those of us blogging at Catholics Against Joe Biden. I do not believe they fairly represent how I have operated at this blog or on other blogs.

You are right that my legal background does give me some knowledge regarding ethical distinctions. Perhaps I'm not as intellectually inhibited as this post is intended to make me appear - I think the point of my post (which is mostly tongue-in-cheek) is to poke fun at my alleged lack of knowledge of these ethical concepts, which you attributed to me in your comments at Vox Nova yesterday. If you believe (rightly) that my legal background allows me to "understand nuance and necessary distinctions", then why were you so quick to assume that I lacked these basic abilities in your comments yesterday?

If you disagree with me on a given subject, say so and we can continue to be friendly while agreeing to disagree. But please don't call into question my intellectual capacity, my good faith (it was one of your co-contributors questioning my good faith a while back that led me to step back from commenting at Vox Nova), or the authenticity and/or completeness of my conversion. I hope you and I have more respect for one another than to impugn one another in such a fashion.

But in all things, I hope you know (and I believe you do) that I have tried to conform my conscience to the will of Christ and His Church in reaching moral judgments regarding the political realm and elsewhere.

Peace.

 
At 8/26/2008 7:12 PM, Anonymous Victor said...

I find myself quite comfortable in saying that "act token" is not intelligible English to a nontechnical audience.

There's no reason not to say "rules about acts" and "particular acts," or even just "rules" and "acts" frankly, if understanding and communication to a nontechnical audience is the point.

I really try (sometimes unsuccessfully) not to use terms like "nondiegetic" or "intertextual" when talking with people who don't know Hong Sang-soo from Jang Sun-woo, i.e., most everybody not from Korea. Even though "nondiegetic" and "intertextual" are more precise than "outside the film" and "in both works" the latter pair are far more easily understood.

 
At 8/26/2008 7:38 PM, Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

You know, Jay, you really don't have to kowtow to these arrogant blog-bullies with their two-dollar words intended more to impress than communicate, and their essays intended more to obfuscate than illuminate.

It's bad enough that these guys call themselves Catholic but don't want to fight abortion. But it's maddening to see how they take offense when you, and me, and other faithful Catholics do want to fight abortion.

These guys have negotiated a peace that should have been non-negotiable. You shouldn't worry about what such people think of you, or say about you.

Catholics Against Joe Biden is a much-needed service, and if the Vox Nova guys don't like it, they can continue their philosophical masturbation on their own blog. Let them lay down their pro-abortion smokescreens there.

As Cardinal Egan said this week, "Anyone who dares to defend that they [the unborn] may be legitimately killed because another human being 'chooses' to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name."

But Obama/Biden needn't worry. In spite the Cardinal's obviously true words, they'll still have the votes and support of the Vox Nova guys.

 
At 8/26/2008 9:29 PM, Anonymous Policraticus said...

Jay didn't criticize your invocation of the fancy words.

I know; you did. And the fact that you think they are "fancy" suggests to me that your criticism is groundless.

However, you pretty much went ad hominem against Jay and the others by making understanding these specific terms a requirement for participation in debate and that is neither good philosophy nor good Catholicism.

Ad hominem arguments come in two varieties: abusive and circumstantial. My claims about their inability to make important moral distinctions that are foundational to Catholic ethical considerations is a mode of neither. In fact, my claim seems to be validated by Jay's own admission that he "doesn't give a rat's ass," and by his "huh?" response.

A Church steeped in the preferential option for the poor and one that made St. Therese of Lisieux a Doctor of the Church is not one to hold that the understanding of certain philosophical terms (which, by the way, not in an ethics introductory class, or at least not in every one) is necessary to engage in thinking about moral choices.

Wow, right after accusing me of an informal fallacy in logic, here you go incorporating a fallacy of relevance into your counter-argument (red herring). It is not the issue that one can or cannot "think" about moral choices without philosophical understanding, and no one posited it either way. A careful reading of my claims would reveal that my criticism of "Catholics Against Biden" stems from the site's public attempt at grounding political options (e.g., voting) on normative moral principles. If you are going to make philosophical-theological-ethical claims publicly, then you can at least suspect that some objections to your position may be raised. To my knowledge, St. Therese did no such thing.


These aren't students writing philosophy or theology papers; they're mostly professionals writing a blog explaining their political preferences in light of their faith.


Preferences? So it's just a matter of taste? The evidence seems to suggest that there is an actual attempt to form moral judgments based upon objective criteria. That's not merely expressing preference.

If they're doing it wrongly b/c they fail to comprehend nuances of Catholic ethics, don't criticize them for failing to know the nuance; explain it to them with charity.

Which I already did in my comment above, and which I do regularly at Vox Nova.

So, Policraticus, you regularly converse with your fellow parishioners on moral issues using the same terminology?

Yes, I do. Clarity in thinking is important, I think, when we make moral claims. The difference between type and token is so very basic and so very obvious that my middle school students grasp it after a ten minute lesson. Don't sell short the intellect of the common Catholic (that's what liberal priests have continued to do). I tend to find that most Catholics are more than capable of working with basic, real distinctions.

Really, this sort of goofy condescension in defense of *needless* academic jargon is a half-step removed from academic self-parody.

This quip actually makes little sense, but I'm sure you thought yourself rather witty when you wrote it. Again, I am not drawing from "academic jargon." My mother, for example, can tell the difference between spices as a category or type and oregano as a kind or member of spices. The type-token distinction is readily at hand to anyone's mind.

You and I have always been on friendly terms, even where we may have had substantive disagreements. I hope that will continue.

So do I, and I apologize for the biting tone I used.

I find myself quite comfortable in saying that "act token" is not intelligible English to a nontechnical audience.

In my experience in teaching middle school students in Catholic theology and teaching philosophy to community college students, I can quite comfortably say that this is demonstrably false.

 
At 8/26/2008 9:59 PM, Anonymous Victor said...

"I find myself quite comfortable in saying that 'act token' is not intelligible English to a nontechnical audience."

In my experience in teaching middle school students in Catholic theology and teaching philosophy to community college students, I can quite comfortably say that this is demonstrably false.


And the fact that you think a classroom environment and the context of formal study has anything to do with the point I was making lets me quite comfortably say that your condescension is greater than your comprehension.

 
At 8/26/2008 10:03 PM, Anonymous Victor said...

Again, I am not drawing from "academic jargon." My mother, for example, can tell the difference between spices as a category or type and oregano as a kind or member of spices. The type-token distinction is readily at hand to anyone's mind.

No ... you are using academic jargon to make a simple point that doesn't require using academic jargon.

The fact that your mother understands the underlying point has nothing to do with the necessity of using those technical terms to describe it and your making name-drop understanding of those technical terms some sort of intellectual entry barrier.

 
At 8/27/2008 1:06 AM, Blogger Michael R. Denton said...

I know; you did. And the fact that you think they are "fancy" suggests to me that your criticism is groundless.

I feel a flashback coming on.

Policratius to Jay Anderson:I assumed that you would understand nuance and necessary distinctions given your background in law. So perhaps before criticizing someone's invocation of them, perhaps it is better to gain a working knowledge of basic moral concepts before proceeding to issue moral judgments on politicians and epistemic judgments on those who use common ethical terms.

As far as me saying fancy words, I was making a joke. I didn't realize jokes made criticism groundless.

The rest of post shows that we're arguing on two different levels. You obviously meant in your original comment back on VN to introduce a general moral distinction that you think people need to understand. However, the tone of your post makes suggests something different: namely that one has to be aware of particular terms to be able to comprehend the debate.

The former is fine; the latter is not. I'm sure if I asked you what percentage of solid Catholics could tell me what an act-token was, you would give me a pretty low number, despite the ease you believe the term to have. My concern was that by limiting the debate to particular jargon, you were limiting the number of participants to those fortunate enough to have the education (hence option for the poor & therese)

So if you could be more careful with tone, that would be awesome :)

 
At 8/27/2008 3:22 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said...

Paul

You have said on many blogs you don't read Vox Nova, and yet you comment all the time about Vox Nova, making outright false claims. Your ignorance is willful when you say things like, "It's bad enough that these guys call themselves Catholic but don't want to fight abortion."

First, we are Catholic. Not (as Tito says) in name only. We let Catholicism, not political loyalties, define who we are. We don't use political loyalties to define orthodoxy, we use orthodoxy to criticize political loyalties.

Second, we are very much opposed to abortion. We fight abortion. At times, some of us think the ways abortion is being fought are wrong, and actually, not strong enough (we think that the encouragement of a culture of death reinforces abortion); but such disagreement does not mean there is no fight against abortion.

 
At 8/27/2008 6:06 AM, Blogger Donald R. McClarey said...

Friends, do you wish to write like some of the Vox Nova contributors, but a readable prose style and common sense stands in your way? I have the solution. The Postmodernism Generator! Soon you too will be able to produce turgid essays filled with academic jargon to baffle your friends and lose readers!http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/

 
At 8/27/2008 8:10 AM, Anonymous crankycon said...

I am five weeks away from defending my dissertation. One of the things I am most proud of is that I have written what I think is a very good academic work, and I have done so using language that the layman can understand. My boss, who is not a political science major, has read it and enjoyed it, as have others who are not in my discipline.

There is absolutely no need to load up academic works with incomprehensible language. I have always felt that writers who do so are trying to mask their work to a degree. Producing material that is incomprehensible to large swaths of people is not a sign of intelligence, it is a sign that you are a bad writer.

Please mark that I am not singling out Michael Joseph. In fact, despite my disagreements with him, I have always felt that he was a fairly accessible writer. But in my course of studies I have often encountered writers who just made no sense, and to me that's just not right. It is a dereliction of duties to write in a manner that is not clear to many. If we're truly academics wishing to impart knowledge, it is necessary to be clear. That isn't to say that we must dumb down our writing. People are smarter than we give them credit for being, and we should have some minimal standards of rhetoric. But beyond that, chill out with the academic speak. No one is going to listen.

 
At 8/27/2008 11:11 AM, Blogger Darwin said...

Policratus,

One can get a room full of middle schoolers to understand a great deal of terminology if one spends a bit of time on it. That does not, however, mean that using that terminology in a general conversation without explanation is generally helpful.

Perhaps part of the question here is what your object is in stating your objection. A bit of reading around quickly makes clear to me what your terminology means -- since the concepts are certainly not unfamiliar, just some of the terms you chose to use.

But when you complain about "The ignorance of differences between moral judgment and moral action, between act-type and act-token, between categorical and contextual ethics, between ethics and politics, and between formal and material cooperation." your reader is not immediately informed of what you actually object to about the effort against Biden. What the reader most immediately knows is:

1) You think that the authors of that site are not very well educated.

2) You think that you are.

Perhaps it was your intent to convey something more than this, but this really is all that your prose itself conveys. (For more on this, you might investigate Arthur Quiller-Couch's _On the Art of Writing).)

If you want to convey to people just what it is that actually giving you pause, you might say something like, "While it's certainly true that the Church teaches that abortion is an immoral act, that does not necessarily mean that Catholics _must_ seek to enforce a legal ban on it. And even supposing that they must, it does not follow that voting for a particular politician who, among other things, opposes restricting abortion is itself immoral -- even if it is immoral for the politician to hold that view."

Of course, the difficult with expressing a specific objection is that we might then clarify by saying, "We do not say that a Catholic _may not_ vote for the Obama Biden ticket. However, we do believe that Biden is not acting in accord with Catholic teaching, and we have set up our blog in order to make the case that Catholic _should not_ vote for Obama/Biden given their current views."

 
At 8/27/2008 12:45 PM, Anonymous Policraticus said...

In (brief) response to Victor and Darwin, you are making far to much of the so-called academic or scholarly language. As I have said many times, type/token distinctions are commonplace. Sometimes they are cast in alternative language (e.g., group/element, set/member, genus/species), but what the type/token terminology extends to is very basic. I also do not think the words themselves are mystical or esoteric. So whatever terms you would like to have extend to the concept, the concept holds. And it is the concept that I remarked was absent. You seem bent, however, on a rather secondary debate, which ends up obfuscating the real issue at hand.

As far as me saying fancy words, I was making a joke. I didn't realize jokes made criticism groundless.

Another red herring. Whatever may be the status of jokes and their context, either type/token are fancy or not irrespective of whether or not you are joking.

You obviously meant in your original comment back on VN to introduce a general moral distinction that you think people need to understand. However, the tone of your post makes suggests something different: namely that one has to be aware of particular terms to be able to comprehend the debate.

Terms play an ancillary role to comprehension are essential to any dialogue. One need not know what specific terms extend to in order to comprehend, but terminology that is canonized and basic to a determined discourse (in this case moral discourse) elucidates the concepts and refers to them (language is symbolic). Thus, when one wants to enter into a specific discourse, it is helpful both to him/her and to those with whom he/she will converse to employ terminological precision. Type/token, for instance, is a basic distinction in moral discourse. If one prefers not to use this distinction in discourse, then the risk is present to misinterpret and to be misinterpreted. Well and good. But the concepts to which these terms extend can still be comprehended. So you are wrong to assume that I think terminological precision is necessary for comprehension. However, if I were to attempt to enter into legal discourse with Steve and Jay, for instance, would it behoove me to learn the terminological distinctions of law that extend to conceptual distinctions? Would this not help me to clarify my own ideas and contribute more responsibly and precisely to the discourse at hand? Of course it would.

As I stated above, however, it is what is signified by type/token (the concept) that I sensed was lacking.

I'm sure if I asked you what percentage of solid Catholics could tell me what an act-token was, you would give me a pretty low number, despite the ease you believe the term to have.

Of course. Just if I were to ask what percentage of solid Catholics could tell me the difference between substance and accident, or nature and person, a similarly low number would result. Does this mean the terminology is pointless or unnecessary? I believe you and I would agree that it does not. Language is how we communicate and signify concepts, and standardizing specific language is what permits discourse in the first place.

 
At 8/27/2008 1:28 PM, Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Henry,

Thank you very much for taking up my earlier comment. I sincerely appreciate it, and would be delighted to be proved wrong.

My view is that the fight against abortion must include legal restrictions on abortion, in the same way that opposing liquor store robberies requires outlawing them, and opposing slavery required the 13th Amendment.

Obviously, a legal ban on abortion is not the only approach, but I believe it is an indispensable element to the fight.

I also believe that there is no more important issue in our nation today.

Too, I think it is clear, to the point of being undeniable, that Barack Obama, despite his talk of respecting contrary opinions, believes that abortion is a right. He has promised to sweep away all current legal limits on abortion, appoint justices who will protect abortion, publicly finance abortions domestically and internationally, and even abort his own grandchildren. He has opposed medical care for abortion survivors.

Political support for Barack Obama, however motivated, is therefore support for a legalized and subsidized abortion on demand regime stretching well into the future.

Now, will you assert that if I spend the time to go over to Vox Nova, I will find any sympathy for these views from most of the contributers?

Or will I find post after post defending Obama on various issues, and making the case that these issues are more important than abortion, and that the support for abortion that necessarily accompanies supporting Obama is OK?

Because here on Jay's blog, or on my blog, you can find post after post faulting McCain for his lack of solidity on abortion and especially recreational embryo-destructive stem cell research.

Will I find such scruples at Vox Nova about Obama's active support for abortion?

 
At 8/27/2008 1:59 PM, Blogger Darwin said...

Poli,

Terms play an ancillary role to comprehension are essential to any dialogue. One need not know what specific terms extend to in order to comprehend, but terminology that is canonized and basic to a determined discourse (in this case moral discourse) elucidates the concepts and refers to them (language is symbolic). Thus, when one wants to enter into a specific discourse, it is helpful both to him/her and to those with whom he/she will converse to employ terminological precision. Type/token, for instance, is a basic distinction in moral discourse.
...
As I stated above, however, it is what is signified by type/token (the concept) that I sensed was lacking.


Okay. I think we all get now that you consider the terms that you used to be the best way of discussing the topic at hand.

Do you have any intention of revealing in what sense you think our writing shows a lack of understanding of the concept signified by the type/token distinction?

Or would that be too straight forward?

 
At 8/27/2008 2:50 PM, Blogger Dale said...

This quip actually makes little sense, but I'm sure you thought yourself rather witty when you wrote it. Again, I am not drawing from "academic jargon." My mother, for example, can tell the difference between spices as a category or type and oregano as a kind or member of spices. The type-token distinction is readily at hand to anyone's mind.

I could deploy the standard Vox Nova "you have reading comprehension" problems, but I admit to being unclear, and frankly this was far from my best work. I've been tired of late.

Let's be more blunt: your comments to Jay and your interlocutors on this thread have been a case study in superciliousness.

There--crystal clear.

 
At 8/27/2008 6:49 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said...

Paul

From one of my posts on Obama:

"From my point of view, much of Obama’s speeches and noted policies indicates he is as much as an idolater as GW Bush. Being pro-choice is not the same as being pro-abortion (just as being pro-choice in embryonic stem cell research is not the same as being pro federal funding of embryonic stem cell research). But even thinking that abortion should be permissible is a great error. So from the get go, Obama’s freedom and justice is freedom and justice for some, not for all. But this is no different from GW Bush or McCain. It is no different from the politics we find in the land we live in. It is wrong, but it demonstrates the cruel center of the American political system. The culture of death provides for it its foundations; and this culture of death needs to be overcome if we want the system itself to be fixed."

 
At 8/30/2008 10:42 PM, Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Henry, it's not honest to say that Obama's support for the deaths of millions of innocent is "no different" from the policies of McCain, who has opposed them.

And for someone to fault Catholics for pointing out the pro-abortion tendencies of Catholic politicians, as Policratus has done to Jay, is just counter-productive, in my view.

 

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