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Saturday, August 29, 2015

My View of Locke's View of the Concept of "Sameness"

What makes someone the same person after a period of time in which they have changed, both bodily and psychologically? In answering this question, Locke involves himself in asking three questions. What constitutes sameness of substance? What makes someone at a later date the same man? And finally, what makes someone at a later date the same person?

It would be reasonable to argue that we were dealing with the same substance if none of the particles, of which an object is composed, have changed. Obviously, with a living organism this never occurs since parts are continually being lost or renewed. So sameness of physical substance won’t be a useful criterion for determining personal identity over time since no living human being ever maintains precisely the same physical constituents from moment to moment.

For Locke, a “man” is a particular biological organism: a member of the species Homo Sapiens. A man is like an oak tree in this respect. A huge spreading oak tree is still the same oak it was twenty years ago, despite having doubled in size and shed its leaves twenty times. It is not the same substance, but it is the same oak, in virtue of the continued function of its living parts. In the same way, I am the same person I was three years ago, despite both physical and psychological changes which anyone should be able to notice.

According to Locke, a person is “a thinking intelligent Being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider it self as it self, the same thinking thing in different times and places” (book2 ch27 §9). One might also want to include that persons are necessarily subjects of perception and authors of intentional action i.e. they’re both percipients and agents. In other words, a person isn’t simply a member of our species since some human beings lack the power of reason and self-consciousness.
According to Locke, the criterion of personal identity over time is not simply bodily continuity, since that does not guarantee us that we are dealing with the same person. Rather, personal identity stretches only so far as consciousness will stretch: as far as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought, so far reaches the identity of that person? (book2 ch27 §9). No matter how much I’ve changed physically, if I can remember my past actions as my own, then I am the same person that I was.

Locke emphasizes this idea with a thought experiment. Imagine that one day a prince wakes up to find that he has all the memories of a cobbler, and none of his own. His body remains unchanged. On the same morning a cobbler wakes up to find that he has all the prince’s memories. Locke maintains that, although the prince-bodied individual remains the same man, he is not the same person that he was when he went to sleep. It would not be fair to hold the prince-bodied person responsible for the prince’s former actions, since he would not have any recollection of having performed them. This example is proposed to bring out the important difference between the terms “man” and “person”.
It would seem that on Locke’s account we should never punish people for what they can’t remember doing since they would not be the same persons who committed the acts. “Person” for Locke is a term which is particularly relevant to legal questions which relate to the responsibility of one’s actions. It would seem then that we should never punish a murderer who can’t remember killing. Locke’s view on this is that in cases of memory loss or alleged memory loss, we tend to assume that if we have identified the man who performed the actions, then this must be the same person who committed them. We punish drunks for their actions even if they claim not to be able to remember what they did. However, this is simply a result of the difficulty of anyone proving their ignorance of what they did. The law has to be practical and so rarely accepts memory loss as an excuse.

The philosopher Thomas Reid countered Locke’s claim that memory provides an adequate criterion of personal identity with the following example. Imagine a brave officer who was once flogged at school for stealing from an orchard. In his first campaign as a young soldier he succeeded in capturing a fort from the enemy. When he captured the fort he could remember that he has been flogged as a boy. Later, he was made a general. By that time, he could remember capturing the fort, but he could no longer remember being flogged at school. The person who captured the fort is, on Locke’s account, the same person who was flogged, because of the memory link. Similarly, the memory link makes the general the same person as the young officer who captured the fort, but the general is not the same person as the boy. However, the principle of transitivity tells us that if the boy is the same person as the young officer, and the officer the same person as the general, then the boy must be the same person as the general. If X is the same as Y, and Y is the same as Z, then X is the same as Z. Reid’s point is that Locke’s account gives us two contradictory conclusions: both that the boy and the general are the same person, and that they are not. Any theory which leads to such an obvious contradiction must be false.

Locke’s response to this sort of criticism would have to be that the boy and the general are the same man but not the same person, and that it would be wrong to hold the general responsible for what the boy did. Locke could try to deny the principle of transitivity, but this seems exceptionally difficult.
Another criticism comes from the philosopher Joseph Butler. His argument was that consciousness of personal identity presupposes, and therefore cannot compose, personal identity. On Locke’s account, we can infer from the fact that I remember doing X that I was the person that did X. According to Butler, this must be false because the formulation of my memory claim already has built in to it the fact that I was the person concerned. We tend to say “I remember doing X”, but this is just an abbreviated version of “I remember that I was the person that was doing X”? His proposition is that the memory claim contains within it an assertion of identity, and therefore it cannot be regarded as an independent premise from which identity can be inferred. Consequently memory cannot be the only criterion for personal identity.

What these criticisms of Locke’s theory of personal identity show; is that we would have to refine his thoughts to get a better idea of exactly what constitutes “sameness”. However, this process might leads us so far away from Locke’s account as to leave them incomparable.

Written back in the good ole days of 2004.

Kant Revisited: Synthetic a priori Knowledge

Any attempt to understand knowledge inevitably leads to a series of inquiries into the nature of those things that we know and their relationships to those means by which we purport to know of things. Are there objects which are distinct from the thinker? If there are external objects, how can the individual assure herself that her understanding of the world is accurate?

    Immanuel Kant proposes a new science by which we would be able to examine and answer these questions. This science, transcendental idealism, finds as its focus the examination of what must necessarily be so to account for the experiences that we have. As part of his project, Kant looked to end the epistemological debate between the empiricists who held all knowledge to be dependant on direct experience and thus excluded any knowledge of abstract ideas, and the rationalists who allowed for innate knowledge of ideas far outside of the realm of experience.
    Kant argues for a radical reassessment of the relationship between our knowledge and objects. Rather than the traditional assumption that our ways of thought are determined by our experience with some inherent nature of things-in-themselves, Kant questions whether it may not be that our experiences with things are constructed by our ways of thought. Through this revolution Kant builds a bridge between the opposing sides, allowing for some knowledge a priori (before experience). He distinguishes between the noumenal world, which contains things-in-themselves and other transcendental ideas outside of experience, and the phenomenal world, which is the world as it appears to be and with which we can interact via experience. “We are capable of a priori knowledge solely with respect to how we organize the appearances of the phenomena.”

    He identifies two components of our perceptions of appearances, sensibility and understanding. It is by way of our sensibility that we are passively (as we exert no influence over them) given those immediate perceptions (i.e. the sense of a color or texture), which are named by Kant intuitions. Intuitions are then actively organized by concepts through the work of our understanding. “It is through the synthesis of intuitions and concepts that thinking occurs.”

    Kant, in an effort to answer both contemporary empiricists and rationalists, finds that he must be able to account for judgments where the predicate is not simply just a part of the subject but in fact adds to the subject, and the whole judgment can be made a priori (synthetic a priori judgments).

    Synthetic a priori judgments are the crucial case, since only they could provide new information that is necessarily true. But neither Leibniz nor Hume considered the possibility of any such case.

    Unlike his predecessors, Kant maintained that synthetic a priori judgments not only are possible but actually provide the basis for significant portions of human knowledge. In fact, he believed that arithmetic and geometry comprise such judgments and that natural science depends on them for its authority to explain and predict events. What is more, metaphysics—if it turns out to be possible at all—must rest upon synthetic a priori judgments, since anything else would be either uninformative or unjustifiable. But how are synthetic a priori judgments possible at all? This is the central question Kant sought to answer.

    Consider our knowledge that two plus three is equal to five and that the interior angles of any triangle add up to a straight line. These common truths of mathematics are synthetic judgments, since they contribute significantly to our knowledge of the world; the sum of two plus three is not contained in the concept of five. Yet, clearly, such truths are known a priori, since they apply with strict and universal necessity to all of the objects of our experience, without having been resulting from that experience itself. In these instances, Kant supposed, no one will ask whether or not we have synthetic a priori knowledge; obviously, we do. How do we come to have such knowledge? If experience does not supply the required connection between the concepts involved, what does?

    Kant's reply is that we do it ourselves. Consistency with the truths of mathematics is a requirement that we impose upon every possible object of our experience. Just as Descartes had noted in the Fifth Meditation, “the essence of bodies is manifested to us in Euclidean solid geometry, which determines a priori the structure of the spatial world we experience.” In order to be perceived by us, any object must be regarded as being uniquely located in space and time, so it is the spatial-temporal framework itself that provides the missing connection between the concept of two plus three and the sum of five. As synthetic a priori judgments, the truths of mathematics are both informative and necessary.

Written in 2005 creeper.

Intro to Immanuel Kant from a Young and Dumb Me

    Immanuel Kant has often been described as the philosopher's philosopher. Famous for his verbose philosophical texts but logical arguments, he was concerned with reason and its relationship with human experience and knowledge. Kant used synthetic a priori judgments in order to develop a logical argument which was completely original in the sense that it disregarded any influence from experience or emotion. Kant argued that reason should be applied to our actions in order to make them morally valuable in the form of a law, which he called the Categorical Imperative. This law is absolute and commanding and requires all actions to be validated by their motives (which must reflect the categorical Imperative) in order for them to be classed as moral.

    Kant believed that rationality, morality and freedom are all connected. In his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals he attempts to prove that we have moral obligation and so a categorical imperative and how it can make us more free and so improve our knowledge of and our relationship with the world. In short, his main aim is to produce the basis for a theory that can challenge the empiricist. Throughout this essay I hope to explain Kant's Categorical Imperative and how Kant rejects the empiricist view that all knowledge and concepts are acquired through experience.

    The guidelines of the Categorical Imperative are firstly, that when we are acting we should ask ourselves whether our motives can be universalized. Secondly, we should never act according to our inclinations instead we should act according to duty. Thirdly, we should never use another agent as a means to our own ends as that would destroy their agency and fourthly, we should impose the categorical Imperative on ourselves as a way of achieving the potential 'world of understanding' and in order for our will to be truly free. However, because humans are rational agents they do not comply with fixed and unchanging laws like those of nature and science (and if we did we would not have free will). These laws are controlled by pure reason yet we are influenced by a mixture of reason and passion. Kant says, if choices are made purely in the interest of our passions then our will can not be truly free as it is being influenced by the world (our senses and experience). Kant argues that in order to have a completely free will it can never act on the influence of any outside effect.

    Kant speaks of freedom as a concept of which we have no knowledge of because the only thing we have knowledge of is this material world of which we are a part of in body. However he says that when the categorical imperative is applied we can be part of a higher world of reason because we will achieve freedom. However in saying this Kant is careful to note that there is a difference between the phenomenal world which contains 'things in themselves' and the noumenal world (the world of senses). This is because freedom does not have a cause yet still produces effects and this could potentially invalidate his cause equals effect theory which he uses to explain the wills effect on action. However when Kant speaks of freedom as a 'thing in itself' we could ask if the same could be said for love. Love seems to be just as obscure a concept as freedom. If we can become completely rationally free then perhaps we can become completely emotionally free. However both forms of freedom seem impossible to achieve. It seems unfeasible to have one without the other.

    There have been a number of objections to Kant's categorical imperative. One of them is the claim that his fixation on contradiction has little to do with morality however one can see that this is not the case when applied to our faculty to reason and as a result morality. The fact that we do not wish to contradict ourselves seems to imply we do not wish to become less rational. Therefore, the will seems to strive for stability because to be less rational would be to become less moral.

    Are these categories, innate ideas, in terms of how we organize experience? If so, what are they? Our cognitive activity results from many factors and constraints, including: the world - the environment and its properties, our cognitive makeup, our goals, our language, meaning, and logical relations. Mathematics is built upon the logic of space. Our capacity to understand spatial relationships is inherent, and some of it innate, but it also requires the conditioning of normal experience to become functional.

    How can time and space be inherent in us before all experience and encounter with the outside world? A little child, who has no notion of distance, moves away from things he dislikes and goes near things that seem pleasant to him. Therefore, man knows whether such things are near or outside his reach as an a priori argument. In other words, the idea of space is already there in his mind without having previously experienced it. The same thing holds true for the time factor. The child has the sense of ‘before’ and ‘after’ prior to all perceptions. Had it not been so, all our perceptions would become chaotic, disordered in disarray.

    To conclude it seems in order to reject Kant we have to reject his initial value of reason and argue that morality should be explained through experience and emotion. Perhaps we do not need to apply synthetic a priori judgments to discover the true nature of morality. Empiricists would argue that judgments can be synthetic a posteriori. Kant's actual reasoning seems in itself flawless. The categorical imperative is argued logically and has room for maneuver when challenged.

Originally hand written on Papyrus way back in 2004.

Sartre and Star Trek: Existence Precedes Essence (i.e., Beam me up Scotty)

    This paper is over Sartre’s theory of “Existence precedes essence.”  I would have to agree with Sartre on certain points concerning existentialism in general, that being we are all responsible for how we act and what we are in life.  Although I believe his argument involving children having no essence is shaky at best, irresponsible at worst.  I will first try and give you some background into both existence and essence, as it applies to Sartre’s theories.  I will then show some consequences of these thoughts applying to humans only, followed by my inexpert opinion Sartre’s human nature proposition.  Then I will try to illustrate why Sartre believes that we are all condemned to be free.  Further on I will try to connect Sartre and Star Trek through their individual principles on freedom and responsibility.  In conclusion, I will summarize my own opinions as to the validity of Sartre’s claims.

    Sartre is well-known for his “existence precedes essence” theory, but what does he mean when he states that?  Well, existence precedes essence simply states that, in the case of human beings, our actual existence, or life, comes before what we call our “human nature”, or our essence.  An example for the parallel of “essence precedes existence” would be any inanimate object, be it a stapler or a DVD disc.  It’s “essence” comes before its existence because said object is designed with a purpose in advanced by the manufacturer.  In the case of humans the “manufacturer” is God, with objects, the “manufacturer” is in fact the company that designed and contrived the product.

    You may ask - what consequences does this view have for human beings?  We create the kind of person we are.  We are responsible for what we are.  Not just responsible, fully accountable for every choice we have made and every action taken.  Also, through inaction we can also be liable for anything that we knew but chose to ignore.  Every choice we make reflects humanity, because you are part of humanity and by acting you are condoning others to your line of action/reasoning.  That puts a lot of stress on persons living in today’s world.  It’s no wonder why we see a rising trend of neurosis and stress-related illnesses among younger and younger crowds.  Too much pressure, or perceived pressure, for some to handle.

    Sartre believes that there is no human nature.  I do not know if he is right or not.  I do not know if it is possible for that argument to be proved right or wrong.  I do know that since his theory does not apply to both animals and children, that there has to be something missing from the theory.  Stating that children do not have essence until they can reason is a little peculiar to me.  At what point, exactly, does a child acquire essence?  Is it before puberty, or after the infant stage?  Going by Sartre’s definition; abortion should be completely fine because a fetus is not truly human as it has no human nature.  I may be twisting his argument a little, but I’m not doing anything a shrewd observer would not do.

    What does Sartre mean by “man is condemned to be free?”  As human beings, we did not get to choose to be born in a particular circumstance.  Freedom is something you think you want, with freedom comes responsibility.  My must bare the anguish of our freedom of choice alone, because we alone are responsible for our virtues and vices.  An example would be if you receive an order from your boss o use underhanded tactics to sell a bad product and you choose to follow his orders; you are just as responsible as your boss for your actions.

    I can accept Sartre’s idea… I am able to accept anything.  I may choose not to believe or I may choose to accept only this.  But just because I am able to accept Sartre’s position does not mean I will choose to.  I do believe that we can create our own virtues and that there is nothing to guide us besides our own concise.  I also believe that in today’s society our conscience is formed by the mass media.  We constantly quote others and not ourselves, we are bombarded with false information and propaganda every day.  We are pressured by clich├ęs and sometimes kept from the information we seek.  If no one else is responsible then everyone is condemned to misery by his own parents, siblings, bosses, closest friends, and people they will never know.  If the media has no bearing in the responsibility of our actions then we can do whatever we want to do; albeit killing, robbing, or raping.  The media simply gives us examples of what we can do, nothing that we cannot.  You have no one to answer to besides yourself, assuming that there is not a higher power holding us accountable.

    Do you think any of the Star Trek captains would accept Sartre’s notions of freedom and responsibility?  I would have to say that Captain James Tiberius Kirk would have some problems with Sartre’s ideals.  In one hand, he would definitely take full responsibility for any action he deliberately did or accidentally did.  For example, if Kirk accidentally let a madman escape on a strange world; he would lead the away team himself to find and retrieve the man.  On the other hand, if some else was accidentally responsible for let’s say: bringing another Trible on board, Kirk would be quick to forgive the person and blame the evil alien that hid it in the person’s shopping cart.  In other words, he views himself as the only responsible person in the universe, he holds himself responsible for everything but he is quick to forgive the fallacies of others.  If a crewman was being manipulated by a robot Kirk would be quick to lighten the crewman’s emotional crisis of moral despondency by telling him that he was not responsible, the robot was the one to blame.  Now that is a nice thing to say to help them through a bad time, but it does not agree with Sartre’s position in the least, in fact it’s the complete reversal.

    My final thoughts about Sartre and his existentialist views are epigrammatic.  A brief quote summarizes in a way I cannot.
A man who lies and makes excuses for himself by saying “not everybody does that,” is someone with an uneasy conscience.
    What I believe Sartre meant by that quote is this:  when you choose to act, do so without hesitation.  If you regret your action, seek amends because what you choose to do and what you choose not to do reflect on all of us equally.  Any action you commit you also approve of, same as of inaction.  Anything you choose not to do is the same as approving that others do not do this act.  Even so, the responsibility is on your shoulders, it is your burden.  Do not bend from the weight; just think about your actions before you commit yourself to them.  Hopefully your conscience will guide you correctly.

Originally turned in Monday, March 28, 2005.

Hermeneutics and Constitutional Law: Orignialism v. Status Quo

    I believe Originalism, wherein you find the original intent of the author of any document, is not the right way to approach hermeneutics in regards to the United States Constitution.  Rather, me must study the context of the text and the surrounding sociocultural issues at had.  A prime example of a case leading to this is the Wickard v. Filburn case of 1942, wherein the United States Supreme Court held that a farmer raising and consuming grain on his own land is engaged in “interstate commerce.”
    “This is a decision that still stands, after more than fifty years, despite its patient sophistry and dishonesty.  Thus, it is a good example for a deconstructionist claim that a text can mean anything.  In a practical sense, that is certainly true.  On the other hand, there is little pretense that the Supreme Court decision was an honest reading of the Constitution.  The principle is now rather blatantly put forward that the Constitution means whatever the Supreme Court says it means.” (21)
    Steve Woolgar, a philosopher who specializes in science and theories, was quoted in saying; “[realist ontology is a post-hoc­ justification of existing institutional arrangements.” (qtd. 22, p498) That is to say, in regards to the law, that most theories tend to reflect a decisive sociocultural bias – meaning they are not immune from political events or popular trends.

    I will outline a number of cases which I believe reflect these views in our modern times.  In each case the court first claimed their interpretation of the Constitution was right – and in the next it was quite the opposite.  In my inexpert opinion it seems that each of these cases reflected the values related to the current status quo at that time.  I feel the evidence is overwhelming in light of the sheer number of cases wherein this dual outcome occurs.

    Pace v. Alabama was the case where the ruling was “that the statute did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it did not constitute discrimination for or against either race to prohibit interracial sexual relations.” (9)  This, in turn, meant that miscegenation was constitutional according to the Supreme Court.  In their defense; they did not have much key precedents to guide them.  This case was cited as a precedent for the Racial Integrity Act of 1924.

    So, in the courts interpretation of the Constitution they found banning interracial marriages to be in line with the the framers intended.  When speaking to an average person, such as a student (discounting law students, of course)  I found the most common response was that of, “well, they didn't know much better back then” or something close to similar in their responses as to why the court decided as they did.  How is this possible?  Aren't the judges of 1883 referring to the same Constitution of 2009?  How can one judge interpret  so radically different from another?  To even begin to address the problem we must focus on the hermeneutics of the Constitution.
    “In exegetical hermeneutics, interpretation was a means to achieve understanding – that is, interpretation preceded understanding.  In contrast, in hermeneutic philosophy – where understanding is primordial – in interpretation, understanding becomes explicit; interpretation unfolds what was already extant in understanding; interpretation does not yield a different understanding, rather primarily understanding becomes itself.” (20)
That is to say, we strive to understand through interpretation, yet our understanding does not come from the act of interpreting itself, but from something more basic than that.  It comes down to your own epistemic beliefs on whether or not not you believe their can be objective knowledge or not.  So interpreting anything does not change your understanding rather your understanding changes your process of interpretation.

    In hermeneutic philosophy, as developed by Martin Heidegger, the structure of the hermeneutical circle is constitutive for human existence in itself – and world-understanding. (20)  Within this context, the hermenuetical circle is the mark that points to the impossibility of objective knowledge. (20)  However, not everyone who studies hermeneutics believes there can eb no objective knowledge gained form such endeavors.

    “Hermeneutic theory shows us the dimension of meaning and understanding in knowledge, but the dimension of truth and knowledge as such still depends on a foundational, absolute, and objective aspect of reality.” (21) However, epistemology is not the focus of this paper we're studying the actual interpretation of the Constitution.

    Such political interpretations can stand only as long as no one, or no one with sufficient influence, cares about the original or honest meaning.  The dishonest interpretation of the Consitution can be made, indeed, only because people believe in different founding principles.  Their truth claim is not about the Constitution, but about the principles embodied in the interpretations, whether or not they have anything to do with the Constitution. (21)

    Plessey v. Ferguson was the landmark case that stated that segregation of the white and African-American races was constitutional.
    “When summarizing, Justice Brown declared, 'We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority.  If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act. But solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” (24)
    Unsurprisingly, fifty-eight years later, this exact same argument was voided and became the pivot point for the abolishment of the “separate but equal” did  violate the Fourteenth Amendment as well as imply inferiority.

    The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was the eugenics law that in addition to; providing for the sexual sterilization of State Institutionalized inmates in certain cases, also made marriage between white persons and non-white persons a felony. (6)  This decision stood till 1967 when it was repealed by Loving v. Virginia.  To those who think forty years is not the worse case, remember your own state's history: “The eugenics movement proved popular in the United States, with Indiana enacting the nation's first eugenics-based sterilization law in 1907.” (6)

    In 1954 the United States Supreme Court repealed the decision made in Plessey v. Ferguson in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case.  Using the same arguments from the Plessey v. Ferguson case; with several other supporting arguments.  Such as the right to education; which is both the basis for self-development and the very foundation of a good society.  These points can be summarized into a more general statement – desegregation is necessary to autonomy.

    Boiling v. Sharpe was the United States Supreme Court's decision, or lack thereof, in dealing with segregation in public schools.  It's often considered a companion case to the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.  “The court... decided unanimously in favor of the plaintiffs. ...while the 14th Amendment... did not apply in the District of Columbia, the Fifth Amendment did apply.” (8)

    Some controversy arose with this decision as many critics said it was difficult to reconcile with text of the Constitution. (8)  These criticisms arose from the Originalism / Textualism supporters who claimed the framers of the Constitution intended for the races to be separated.

    McLaughlin v. Florida was the case which finally overturned the Pace v. Alabama ruling of 1883.  The court decided that prohibiting interracial marriages was, in fact, unconstitutional.  Although, in this case they did not rule that whites marring blacks was constitutional.  That decision would come later; with the Loving v. Virginia case in 1967.

    In Loving v. Virginia, the United States Supreme Court finally ended all race-based legal restrictions on marriages in the United States.  It was “argued that the case at hand was not a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause because both the white and non-white spouse were punished equally for the crime of miscegenation.” (7)  This argument is almost exactly the same argument, which previously failed, in the Pace v. Alabama case of 1883.

    These are just a few of the examples of how radically different the Constitution can be interpreted depending on what issues are happening in the culture at the time of the case.  It's with these cases in mind that I continue to purpose that the hermeneutics of the United States Constitution are arrived upon in an ad-hoc fashion.  Always focused on the current situation and cultural paradigms.

    My last example of such an example is the Bush v. Gore case of 2000.  Just talking about this case makes me cringe physically.  In this case, the court actually ruled that it's ruling was specific to this case only.  Which is clearly evidence for my theory that all court decisions are devised in an ad-hoc manner.  They knew that if their ruling were to be applied to all elections, it would make all of them faulty!  Knowing this, they still preceded to rule in the favor of Bush.  They held that “the Florida Supreme Court's method for recounting ballots was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” (23)  Even though, this would nullify every single election in the history of the United States, local, state, and federal.

    The judges seemingly ignore or embrace the “original intent” of the framers when it does or does not suit their own social ideals.  However, that is just a superficial glance into the meaning.  Context is the deciding factor, to be sure.  With context we can interpret a variety of ideas originating from spoken or written language.  Ignoring context would be similar to ignoring the social conditions form which these beforehand mentioned cases manifested in their rulings.

    After reading more into the subject of hermeneutics I found several references to context and its impact on the act of interpretation.  According to Paul Ricoeur; context “is the play of affinities between certain dimensions of meaning of the various words in a sentence.” (16)  In short; context allows us to bridge the gap of ambiguous words with more complete structure.

    I believe context allows for the silencing of certain arguments, such as Simon Cozens' claim, that a highly-skilled sophist can present an interpretation of any law in a completely opposite sense to the laws intended meaning. (19)  Theoretically, the facility of context will avoid such interpretations from holding undue merit in matters pertaining to United States law.

    “Original Intent” or more commonly referred to as Originalism, maintains that “a court should determine what the authors of the text were trying to achieve, and to give effect to what they intended the statute to accomplish, the actual text of the legislation notwithstanding.” (1)  Hermeneutics originally meant taking counsel with.  It has sense evolved through a complicated set of definitions.  But in the United States Supreme Court it seems to work in both it's modern and ancient meanings.  The justices take counsel with each other (presumably), and, they try to uncover the meaning of the text in the Constitution, both as to what it meant then and what it means now.  This reveals an insight of hermeneutics; that what is meant then can differ from what it means now, and that the current reader may understand the text better than the author.  The Second Amendment is a good example of when these streams of interpretation collide.

    One's tempted to read the Constitution the way you'd read this paper.  One person wrote this paper over a relatively short timespan, so probably its the product of one intention.  But the legislation that created the Constitution in its current form is thousands of people over hundreds of years.  For any bill, there is typically legislators who oppose it.  Some might sign it without reading it.  Others support it only because it gains them votes that let them fulfill their real goals.  In a case like this, obviously there's no such thing as the legislator's intent.

    The distinction lies in the difference between the Constitution and regular law.  For example, the Supreme Court interprets laws with respect to the Constitution.  They may find a law unconstitutional, but they never find the Constitution itself 'unconstitutional'.  This merely means that they have changed an interpretation.  Also, the emending process is difficult – pretty much all states have to agree for there to be an amendment.  Nor can a single legislature circumvent the Constitution by passing on their own a law, because soon enough, if its objectionable, it will end up before the Supreme Court and be overturned.

    In conclusion, I believe Original Intent, or Originalism, is simply the wrong way to approach an interpretation of laws made today; by today's Justices.  How would you decide a case?  I doubt if you would use a time machine and go back and ask the original framers.  Which would be interesting, but you would not be bound by their views, would you?  All that being said, I think that it is near impossible to find the original intent of any document, especially one like the Constitution which has multiple authors, and thus at least, multiple intents.

    1. Original intent. Wikipedia. Available at: [Accessed April 19, 2009].
    2. Wickard v. Filburn. Wikipedia. Available at: [Accessed April 16, 2009].
    3. Privileges or Immunities Clause. Wikipedia. Available at: [Accessed April 16, 2009].
    4. Plessy v. Ferguson. Wikipedia. Available at: [Accessed April 16, 2009].
    5. Anti-miscegenation laws. Wikipedia. Available at: [Accessed April 16, 2009].
    6. Racial Integrity Act of 1924. Wikipedia. Available at: [Accessed April 16, 2009].
    7. Loving v. Virginia. Wikipedia. Available at: [Accessed April 16, 2009].
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Originally writ, err wrote, around April 30th 2009.