Archive for February, 2013

February 24, 2013

Illinois public pensions

by Neil Rickert

Public pensions have been much in the news recently in Illinois.  This is largely because the state has serious budget problems, and part of those problems are pension related.

[Full disclosure:  I am currently receiving a pension from SURS – the State University Retirement System]

Some state politicians see the public pensions as too generous, and as a drain on the state budget.  So they want to cut pensions.  There are three kinds of cuts that have been suggested:

  • Cuts to people currently receiving pensions;
  • cuts to future pensions of current employees;
  • cuts to pensions of people hired in the future.

I have no problem at all with the third of those.  The state, as employer, can set whatever employment conditions it wants.  People are free to choose not to work for the state of Illinois if they do not consent to the working conditions.

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February 22, 2013

On the keystone pipeline – an opinion

by Neil Rickert

There has been a lot of discussion about the keystone pipeline, and whether approval should be given for its completion.  A number of environmental groups have been pressuring President Obama to reject the pipeline.


The pipeline would bring crude oil from Canadian tar sands to refineries in the USA.  Extracting oil from the tar sands is a particularly dirty operation, in terms of its effect on the environment.  Environmentalists point to the pollution that will be caused by extracting this oil.  And they remind us of the global warming problem as they argue for rejection of the pipeline.

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February 15, 2013

Consciousness is unexplained; therefore Intelligent Design

by Neil Rickert

Of course I completely disagree with the claim that is suggested by my title line.  However, people are making that argument, so I want to comment.

Apparently, Thomas Nagel makes that kind of argument in his book “Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False“, or at least that is what I have gleaned from a recent review.  I have not read Nagel’s book myself — I don’t think I have the patience.  His reasoning in “What is it like to be a bat?” was already hard to take.

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February 6, 2013

The trouble with metaphysics

by Neil Rickert

When people are talking about metaphysics, they are usually talking about ontology, or the question of what exists.  This post is mostly about ontology as part of metaphysics.  However, I used “metaphysics” rather than “ontology” in the title, because I think that there is a role for ontology.  But, I see that role as calling for a different conception of ontology, such that it should not be part of metaphysics.

Metaphysical ontology

The trouble with ontology as metaphysics (or with metaphysical ontology, as I shall term it), is that it doesn’t actually matter what exists.  Maybe elves exist, but we have no access to them or to whatever it is that they do.  And in that case, having elves in our ontology (our list of what exists) serves no purpose.  On the other hand, maybe electrons don’t exist and gravitational fields don’t exist (as the anti-realists have been arguing).  But even if those don’t exist, we want to have them on our list of things because our science has a lot to say about them.

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