Saturday, May 10, 2008

veggie tales on metacafe


Open Access Logic Textbooks

I've decided that my students should not have to pay for a logic textbook. Most textbooks are obscenely expensive., but logic textbooks in particular get in my craw. The formal systems that they teach have been a part of the human intellectual heritage for over a hundred years, and the textbooks don't do anything in particular to make more approachable for students. They survive on the laziness of instructors, not on any originality content or presentation

So logic is going to be the first class that I teach to use a free, open access textbook. But which one? Changing textbooks is hard. For a long time I used Hurley at SLU I switched to Barwise and Etchemendy, but I never quite adapted to it, and since it was too sophisticated for LCCC students, I've gone back to Hurley. But Hurley is crazy expensive at $155. So what to do?

Here is my first very quick survey

blogic, by David Velleman: Respected author, looks like a nice approach, but seems to be pitched at the same level as Barwise and Etchemendy. Also, there doesn't seem to be a download or print version available.

For All x: Covers all and only the standard topics with the standard approach. It looks like I could take this on without seriously changing the preps from my Hurley course. Available as .pdf or as a print-on-demand book from Lulu. The author says that when he teaches it, he simply takes the book to the copy shop and has it printed as a coursepack. very nice.

Introduction to Logic Online interactive textbook. Would be nice if I were teaching online, but would be an adjustment from what I currently do. Covers all and only the topics I want to cover, though.

Introduction to Logic
A collection of modules from the Conections website of free course modules. Hard to adapt or for cc students to relate to. Tied to the Teachlogic website which looks mostly like it is about infusing logic into the computer science curriculum.

Formal Logic from wikibooks. Doesn't look approachable.

Heck, the Magnus book looks like just the item. That was quick. I wounder how quickly I can replace all my texts with open access books. There are some books, like Liszka's ethics text that I wouldn't want to replace, just because the book is so high quality. Munson's bioethics book is also very popular among students. My intro class right now relies on primary historical sources, which are generally available for free on line, but students have little problem shelling out $10 for the penguin version. I guess Critical Thinking should be next.

Other open access textbook resources

Make Textbooks Affordable



Also useful:

Some free logic software from Hatzic. Not sure how to work this in pedagogically.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


So I'm rereading The Watchmen and calling it work, because, well I can, and I've had a couple thoughts one of which made me a little dizzy.

I've been wanting to say that the real critique of consequentialism comes from Dr. Manhattan, esp with his comment to Veidt implying that the ends can't justify the means because nothing ever ends. I took this to embody at least two standard critiques of consequentialism. The first is simply the law of unintended consequences, which is illustrated well by events in the book. The second, and more interesting is the idea that since the future is infinite, outcomes in the distant future will always swamp (infinitely!) good outcomes here and now. More broadly, it is impossible to reason consequentially with an infinite time span. So you have to add some sort of discount rate, something that lowers the utility of outcomes as they recede into the future. But any discount rates are artificial and post hoc. So consequentialism doesn't work.

Re-reading the issue Watchmaker, however, I remember just how hard it is for Dr. Manhattan to embrace any moral worldview. He can only critique consequentialism to the extent that he critiques all human morality. Perhaps this fits with the general thrust of my essay, since I want to say that the book has small critiques of consequentialism and deontology which it uses to get to a critique of authority. Mostly, though, re-reading Watchmaker gives me that dizzy feeling you get when objectivity sucks away morality and feeling, the feeling Nagel writes about in The View from Nowhere. It leaves me unable to decide what to do at all, let alone write in my silly essay.

Other, less dizzying thoughts:

1. I hadn't noticed before that the history of superheroes in the fictional world of The Watchmen mirrors the history of the comic book in the real world, with a lively golden age in the 30s and 40s, a dead period in the 50s caused by public distrust of nonconformity, and a revival in the 60s.

2. What is the technical term for the kind of transition in movies and comics where a phrase or image is carried over into the next scene, acquiring new meaning?

Monday, May 05, 2008

More for the fallacy files

Via Molly, this bit of wisdom from Ben Stein, speaking to the Trinity Broadcasting system
Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.

Crouch: That’s right.

Stein: …Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

Crouch: Good word, good word.
In general, I'm having a hard time figuring out what the hell is going on with this line of thinking. I know it comes up under the general heading "fallacious ways bring up the Nazis in a political discussion." He could be using a straight fallacy of the undistributed middle, the central tactic from Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism.You could also call this a variation of the ad hominem, one that probably deserves its own subtype, along with ad hominem circumstantial and ad hominem to quoque. It could be the ad hominem "oh yeah, that's what Hitler thought." This would be a useful subtype to teach to undergraduates, who are used to thinking that ad hominem is simply a fancy term for insult. Here the fallacy occurs not because the speaker accuses the person holding a belief of being awful. Instead, he says the belief was held by someone else, who was awful.

I'm particularly distressed by this line
I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed
Wait. Scientists ran the death camps? And haven't done anything since? Remember that the next time your doctor tells you to get more exercise: the last time a scientist gave any advice about anything was when famous scientist Adolf Hitler greenlighted the final solution.

PS: I can't find the Unfogged thread where we brainstormed Republican Communism. I'd include a link if I could.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Cal State Instructor Fired for Statement of Pacificism

Since the McCarthy era, teachers in California have been required to sign a loyalty oath before taking their jobs. Wendy Gonaver, a quaker and pacifist, asked to include a statement about her commitment to nonviolence along with her pledge to "defend" the constitution "against all enemies, foreign and domestic." She was summarily fired from her adjuncting position at Cal State Fullerton.

The LA times reports that the effect of the loyalty oath has mostly been to drive members of certain religions, mostly Quakers and Jehovah's witnesses, out of the California school system. The report gives examples of people who refuse to sign the loyalty oath because of because it implies that they must be willing to use violence. A couple months ago, a math instructor was fired from Cal State East Bay for inserting the word "nonviolently" into her loyalty oath. She was rehired after enlisting the help of the UAW. The Times says that other teachers refuse to swear allegiance to anyone but God. The paper gives a couple of examples of Jehovah's Witnesses being fired on these grounds.

This is an installment in our ongoing series about government efforts to crack down on the menace posed by people who take a principles stance against violence.

Link via Unfogged, where Alex points out that John Yoo must have signed one of these things to teach at Berkeley. This gives us grounds to have him summarily fired, since writing the torture memo is clearly an attack on the constitution.