Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Why There’s Still an Abortion Debate

May 24, 2019

So, in the United States the debate over legalized abortion has started up again, as some states are putting in tough new restrictive laws on abortions hoping, it seems, to get a new Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe vs Wade. In an article on Elizabeth Warren’s idea to have abortion rules set at the federal level, Andrew Sullivan comments that in the 45+ years since Roe vs Wade, opinions on abortion haven’t changed much:

But abortion? Roe was decided in 1973. Unlike many other progressive Court decisions, this one didn’t budge public opinion. In 1975, two years after Roe, some 22 percent favored a total ban on abortion in a Gallup poll; today that number is … 18 percent. Back then, 54 percent favored a middle ground: keeping the procedure legal under restricted circumstances. Now it’s 50 percent. Twenty-one percent believed in 1975 that abortion should be legal in every circumstance; today that number is 29 percent.

And while those who favour a total ban on abortion are a minority and a smaller one than those that believe it should be totally unrestricted, the vast majority of people support at least some restrictions on abortions, and that number has moved only slightly in the past 45+ years, and doesn’t really show signs of a trend.

So, why is this? Sullivan points out that for other progressive issues there has definitely been a strong trend towards the progressive side, so why not for abortion? What makes abortion different? In my opinion, the reason is this: the main argument in favour of unrestricted abortions is that the fetus should be considered as a clump of cells and not as a baby/person, but our entire view of pregnancy makes that idea highly implausible and counter-intuitive.

Think about wanted pregnancies. Here, the overwhelming cultural consensus is that the fetus at least represents a baby. When it starts to move or kick, that’s a joyful event. Prospective parents spend their time planning for it as a baby. If a miscarriage occurs, that’s a tragedy because they lost a baby, not some kind of potential that those cells might have turned into eventually. In a wanted pregnancy, the fetus is treated like a baby that is developing from the start, not like a clump of cells that, some day, will turn into one. So anyone who thinks of pregnancy from the perspective of wanted pregnancies is not going to find the idea that the fetus should be treated as a clump of cells that the woman can do with as she pleases very compelling.

But even in unwanted pregnancies, in general the considerations are about a baby and not about a clump of cells. The main reasons to have an abortion in those cases tend to be either about the health of the mother — and mostly in those cases about them both dying anyway — or about the health and quality of life of the baby when it is born or about the impact that having a child and having to raise it will have on the mother’s life. So even then we don’t treat it as a clump of cells, but as a baby and think about what life will be like if it is born. About the only cases where considering it as a baby are clearly not present are really shallow — and incredibly rare — cases like where someone says that she doesn’t want the pregnancy because she doesn’t want to be pregnant during swimsuit season, say. While these would fit the narrative, almost everyone finds them to be so incredibly cold and callous that appealing to those sorts of cases will in general do far more harm than good.

So the argument that the fetus is just a clump of cells isn’t very compelling, because intuitively we don’t think of the fetus that way. And yet the feminist arguments either make that case directly or rely heavily on it. Obviously, the argument that it is just a clump of cells so she can do whatever she wants with it relies on this, but the bodily autonomy argument and the argument from the “enslavement of women” relies on this as well, as people are hesitant to allow an unrestricted ability to kill someone else or even let them die because it is more convenient for the person who has the choice there. This is why most people favour at least some restrictions on abortion: when you’re talking about life or mental health, people can see how that might be a reasonable case for abortions, but as the reasons become more and more about the convenience of the mother people become more and more uncomfortable with it. If they thought of it as something like a wart, then that wouldn’t be a consideration, but since they don’t, then the discomfort sets in.

This, I think, even applies to the case of rape. People do seem to consider that the child itself is innocent and so doesn’t deserve to die for the crimes of the rapist father. So that argument does seem to have some traction. But empathy kicks in and we can all understand how difficult it would be for the woman to spend nine months carrying a living and developing reminder of the horrific suffering she experienced. So while someone who is willing to go through that anyway because the fetus isn’t responsible for that or even out of an attitude that bringing a new life into existence would have some good resulting from that terrible evil, we can certainly understand how it might be too difficult for some if not most women in that situation, and we hesitate to drive them insane just to have the child be born. But this still relies on considering the fetus as baby, not as clump of cells.

And I’m not sure this situation will improve, because various modern feminist debates are wearing away at the underpinnings of another assumption needed to make their arguments work. In various cases — especially the incel debate — feminists argue that it isn’t a huge or damning restriction for someone to not have sex, and so nothing needs to be done to address people who can’t have sex and if ensuring consent and the like reduces the ability of people to have sex or how much sex they can get, then that’s not in any way a problem. This, then, leads to the ideas that if you don’t want to fall afoul of the rules around sex, then you should choose to not have sex, and this is considered to be a reasonable and even moral position. However, there is a simple way for women to ensure that they never have an unwanted pregnancy and so never need an abortion: they can simply choose to not have sex except when they want to or are willing to risk a pregnancy. For now, the progressive position has been that denying people sex is terrible and has a huge and unwarranted impact on their happiness and welfare, being a big part of the abortion debate and the same-sex debate and even at times the trans debate. But as the arguments for sex not being that important gain more prominence and get accepted, that argument will no longer seem credible for the abortion debate either.

I don’t think that the argument for unrestricted abortions is ever going to gain that much traction, and will wax and wane as time goes on. The only way it will be able to do so is if we no longer consider pregnancies blessings and instead start to consider them as blah and blase everyday events. Given our biology and our culture, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

The Self-Corruption of Norman Osborn

May 20, 2019

The next essay in “Avengers and Philosophy” is “The Self-Corruption of Norman Osborn: A Cautionary Tale” by Robert Powell. Here, he compares Norman Osborn in the “Dark Reign” to Plato’s attacks on the Sophists and to his dialogue with Alcibiades where Socrates shows Alcibiades that he knows little about justice and, in fact, that because of that his attempts to help his city are actually causing more damage than it is fixing. Powell suggests that Osborn’s tale is a cautionary tale of the same sort.

The problem here is that it isn’t clear that Osborn’s main concern was indeed the state or society at all, whereas for Alcibiades — at least according to Powell, as I haven’t read that dialogue in ages — that was his main concern. Alcibiades both went about helping his city incorrectly and arguably let that concern corrupt him into focusing on power rather than on justice. It would be easy to see Alcibiades wanting to take more control and have more influence in order to ensure that what he wants to happen and thinks is necessary does happen. He might well follow a darker form of the reasoning Mordin Solus in Mass Effect gives for being the primary researcher of the Genophage: he’d rather he hadn’t had to make the choice, but it had to be him. Someone else might have gotten it wrong. Alcibiades — and other well-intentioned dictatorial tyrants — might well justify having to have complete control and influence over events because others might get it wrong, either from ignorance or corruption. This even explains not surrounding themselves with advisers who will tell them the unvarnished truth: they need advisers that they can control and rely on to simply do their bidding, or else, again, they might do things wrong. Independent-mindedness is not a desirable trait when acting on their own might get things wrong.

But we don’t really have any reason to think that Osborn is such a noble character. As even Powell admits, it seems that his actions were strongly driven, at least subconsciously, by his “Green Goblin” persona, who was not interested in civic duty. But even before that, Osborn himself was strongly motivated by self-interest. When Powell notes the manufactured crises that Osborn uses to gain power, it doesn’t seem like these are motivated like, say, Admiral Layton’s in DS9’s “Homefront”, where Layton fakes a crisis to spur the Federation Council to take action, done because otherwise they won’t take action until it is, in fact, too late. Osborn’s have always seemed aimed to give him, specifically, power and control. “National security” seems to be an excuse for him, not a motivation. And he surrounds himself with the villains he does simply because he knows that they will do the actions that he’ll need them to to gain power and that he can control them in various ways. That they betray him in the end is, of course, to be expected, but always happens when he loses power and control, and his entire purpose seems to be to gain power and control. If he falls enough so that they feel confident in betraying him, it would mean that he had already lost. Their betrayal, then, is the result of his losing, not the cause of it.

Norman Osborn isn’t a man with good intentions corrupted by his mistakes, his allies, or power. In some form, his intentions were bad from the start, and so lead inevitably to the end they are destined to. As a cautionary tale, it’s more about forming the right values rather than making sure that you go about achieving them in the right way.

With Great Power Comes Great Culpability

May 13, 2019

The next essay in “Spider-Man and Philosophy” is “With Great Power Comes Great Culpability” by Philip Tallon. This essay asks if Peter Parker is really responsible for Uncle Ben’s death, given that while he did refuse to stop the criminal from getting away who would go on to kill Uncle Ben, all of that was unintentional and due simply to bad luck. If the criminal had been caught before leaving the building or had done any number of other things that would have had him avoid even meeting Uncle Ben, Uncle Ben would have lived (and possibly depending on version no one else would have died). Peter didn’t intend those consequences and couldn’t have reasonably foreseen that those would be the consequences. Can he be held morally responsible for such situations.

Tallon seems to disagree that Peter is morally responsible, but he explores a counter-idea raised by Bernard Williams and Thomas Nagel that says that sometimes we seem to be held morally responsible for actions that depend a great deal on luck, using the concept of moral luck. The example Tallon gives is of someone who doesn’t get his brakes checked when he should, and of two different cases. In the first case, the man finally goes to get them checked and discovers that they are in such bad shape that his driving that car was a huge danger, but nothing bad happened. In the second case, a child runs in front of his car and due to his bad brakes he cannot stop in time and kills the child. The argument is that we would consider the latter case at the very least worse morally than the first one, indicating that we can indeed hold people responsible for outcomes even if the intentions are the same.

As this is a common argument against my preferred moral stance — intentionalism — the issue here is that in general intentions are taken too shallowly. Sure, the man didn’t intend to kill the child, but in the example given he did intend to be negligent about getting his brakes checked to a dangerous degree. Imagine this case: someone hears a noise that might indicate a problem with his brakes, but can’t hear it all the time and isn’t sure, and decides that instead of running to get them fixed right away he’d wait for a couple of weeks because he’s getting everything checked out then anyway, and if things get bad he’ll go then. Imagine that his brakes actually are bad and happen to fail so that he hits the child. We probably would consider it an unfortunate accident, because he did everything that we would reasonably expect him to. So it’s still not really the luck that changes the moral status at all, but instead what the person did and whether or not that was reasonable.

By the same token, maybe the mechanic shouldn’t let him off easily morally for driving with brakes that were that dangerous. If he knew that he really should have had then checked or fixed and did so anyway risking killing someone, it doesn’t seem to absolve him morally that he didn’t happen to actually kill someone. He still took the chance knowing that he was risking that. This also applies to the other examples in the essay, where someone tries to kill someone who trips and thus avoids being killed. While legally that would only be attempted murder, if that was the only thing that stopped them from doing so from a moral standpoint they’re still as much a murderer as if they had actually succeeded. So it’s not clear that the morality of an action ever meaningfully depends simply on moral luck.

Tallon does bring some interesting ideas here in reference to the Control Principle, where we are only morally responsible for things that are in our control. This would seem to refute the idea that we are morally responsible for those cases of moral luck, even if intuitively we might tend to think that we are. However, he cites Susan Wolf pointing out that moral people take responsibility for their actions and their consequences. Thus, a moral person who knows that they did nothing morally wrong in a situation that results in bad consequences might want to make amends or feel responsible for making amends because, ultimately, it was their action that caused those bad consequences to happen. This wouldn’t be accepting that they did something wrong, but instead accepting an obligation to, nevertheless, try to mitigate the damage their actions did to others. And it does seem a standard notion in morality that one should always minimize the damage done to others, even if the moral thing to do requires doing so.

But in the example — retconned — where Aunt May feels responsible for Ben’s death because he was only outside because he was cooling off after they had a fight we can see another and more likely possible driving force being Peter’s guilt, which I’ll refer to using the TV Tropes example of “Can’t Get Away with Nuthin'”. They feel that they did something wrong, and those consequences were the result of that. There was no way for them to know that taking that action would have that result and they certainly didn’t intend that result, but nevertheless they did something wrong and that’s what happened. If only they had stepped up and done the right thing, those bad consequences wouldn’t have happened. Thus, they feel moral guilt not because they are indeed morally responsible for the consequences, but instead because they failed to be properly moral which led to those consequences. In Raimi’s version of Spider-Man, Peter does seem to be less bothered by not stopping the criminal and more concerned by the fact that the only reason Ben was there at all was because Peter lied to him about going to the library to study and instead went to participate in the wrestling to earn money for a car. If he had simply stayed home, Uncle Ben wouldn’t have died, which ties in with Aunt May in the main continuity saying that if they hadn’t fought he wouldn’t have gone outside and so wouldn’t have died.

This also fits in to Peter in the main continuity and with his not stopping the criminal when he had the chance. He knew that he could have done so with no risk to himself, and knows that he should have done so. But he didn’t, and because he didn’t, Uncle Ben died. So he’s seen the consequences of acting against what is moral, and they were devastating. Thus, he needs to make sure that he remains virtuous and always does what he can to avoid those things happening because of his lack of virtue. With great power comes great responsibility, after all, as he is capable of preventing great wrongs and choosing not to do so will result in those great wrongs occurring.

So Peter seems to be more about avoiding his inner weaknesses than any direct responsibility for Uncle Ben’s death. As William Adama said in the rebooted Battlestar Galactica series (in the episode “33”): when we make mistakes, people die. When Peter fails to act morally, people get hurt and people die. Thus, he must always do whatever he can to prevent that, trying to at least get to the point where he can console himself with the idea that he’s done all he could, both in stopping things before they happen and in making things as right as possible when he can’t. It won’t stop him from feeling guilt for the bad things that happen nevertheless because he never wants to have his actions or inactions cause bad things to happen, but at least that guilt won’t be because he didn’t do all he could.

Extra Credits on Mental Health in Games

May 8, 2019

So, in a recent video, Extra Credits returns to their chiding ways by talking about how video games should represent mental illnesses better. The video itself is a bit of a mess, as it wanders back and forth between talking about how to represent mental illnesses when a game is trying to represent or make a point about mental illnesses and what games should just do in general when it comes to mental illnesses. I’m not going to talk too much about the clear cases where they’re talking about games focusing on that because not trying too hard to instill the actual feelings in those playing and talking to mental health professionals seems pretty reasonable. Thus, I’ll focus on those cases where they might at least be talking about games in general that aren’t trying to make a point.

One of the more minor points they make is that you can represent people with a mental illness in a completely mundane way, with them taking pills or referencing therapy and the like in ways that are mostly asides. This obviously is something that you’d want to include in a game that’s making a point wrt mental illness, but you’re obviously going to do far more than that. But in a regular game, doing these things runs into the problem of “The Law of Conservation of Detail”: if you do something to imply that they have a mental illness, then that fact is going to have to matter at some point later in the narrative. If it doesn’t, then at best it seems extraneous and at worst it seems like, well, an attempt to shoehorn in a reference to mental illness so that you can check that off on your representation box. The same thing can happen with references to a character being gay: unless you do something with it, like have them be a specific love interest based on that or have a lover later or face discrimination or something like that, then at best it looks like an irrelevant aside and at worst only there to scream “See, we have GAYS!” to the audience. So most games that are not trying to use a character’s mental illness for something are going to want to completely ignore it, especially since for the most part those sorts of subtle incidents wouldn’t be seen in real life anyway.

Another comment they make is about the representation of mental hospitals as places where violence has occurred and as being often horrifyingly unpleasant places, which they say can cause people to avoid seeking out help or checking themselves into one. One of the problems with this, though, is that in the past — and possibly even today — there were a number of them that were that bad. In modern times, stricter regulations won’t let them get away with that as much, and so they are better, but even then they aren’t likely to be pleasant. In top of that, this presumes that people can’t tell an exaggerated or deliberately subverted example from what would actually happen in real life, or are unable to go and check it out themselves before making that decision. After all, we don’t really seem to be all that concerned that people won’t buy old and creepy houses because of all the times they’re portrayed as being haunted, and it’s not just because that’s not that common an occurrence. We expect people to be able to tell the difference between fiction and reality, and so not automatically assume that asylums that are portrayed as terrible represent all of them. Yes, there are cultural expectations around that that the games are relying on, but the issue is with that cultural expectation, not the games or other works themselves, because in general they use it correctly: those specific asylums are bad, and we know that, indeed, some of them have or will be. Games don’t present them as the norm; no one, for example, would look at Arkham Asylum and think that that’s what asylums are really like. Games tend to present these sorts of places as either oddly evil themselves or existing in crapsack worlds completely different from our own, to give the players a reason to oppose them. To avoid using this because some people might mistake them for what happens in our world seems to demand too much from our fiction.

They also talk about presenting villains as having a mental illness which drives their villainy. The problem with this is that I think that, in general, they have the causation backwards. If you are going to have a villain do evil things, you have to give them a motivation for doing those things. The more vicious and nasty a thing you need them to do, the harder it is to find a motivation for them to do so. The easiest way to do this for the more sadistic actions is to simply say that they do that because, at some level, they enjoy doing it. But someone who enjoys torturing, raping, and murdering people really does seem like someone who has some kind of mental problem. There may not be a specific mental illness to appeal to, but someone who likes hurting other people in those extreme ways seems to have something messed up in them in general. But it’s really, really difficult to come up with a motivation that could justify those sorts of extreme actions. Interestingly, the video uses Killmonger from Black Panther as a example of a villain who simply uses different methods to achieve his goals due to poor life experiences … except that as I noted in my discussion of the movie he’s actually in general irredeemably evil. He’s willing to be far more brutal than he needs to be and is uncaring about even people we think he should care about, and the reasoning behind his actions is nonsensical at best. He’s so bad that we’re supposed to agree that he’s absolutely terrible immediately after winning a fair fight. He really does sound a lot like a psychopath: he lacks empathy for others and instead is focused on his wants regardless of how it impacts others, and doesn’t really seem responsive to negative conditioning. This is not an example of a villain whose motivations don’t smack of some sort of insanity or mental instability. Someone driven to extremes by conditions might be Miko Miyazaki from “The Order of the Stick” might work, as someone who is pushed further and further to the edge who slips over it briefly at the end. But not Killmonger. So very brutal villains are going to seem insane almost no matter what we do, even if they are only seen to be driven to it over the course of the game, because someone being that violent strikes us as someone who, at least in the moment, has deranged thinking in order to be willing to do those sorts of things. Attempts to justify those actions are likely to fail miserably … as they did for Killmonger.

I don’t have any objection to trying to avoid using stereotypical ideas of mental illness in game narratives. But surprisingly the video doesn’t really tell us how to do that, but instead picks some of the more common complaints and treats them rather uncritically without looking to see how they’d impact the narratives they are being used in. While their advice is to talk to mental health professionals and people with lived experience — and they reference people like that as contributors to this video — those people also need to talk to those responsible for video game narratives and those who don’t have that lived experience to see how making those changes would impact how they experience the game. Without that, all they end up doing is advocating for changes that will fail to provide either the original purpose of the character points or the more enlightened response that they are striving for.

Layla Miller Knows Stuff

May 6, 2019

The next essay in “X-Men and Philosophy” is “Layla Miller Knows Stuff” by George A. Dunn. This is examining issues around Layla Miller, a relatively new character in the X-Men family. What she has is the ability to, well, know stuff … and, in fact, to know pretty much everything. But she knows this by tracing complicated chains of cause and effect to see what is ultimately going to happen. Dunn likens this to the experimental method of Francis Bacon, and while it does align with that by focusing on minute details rather than on either philosophical ruminations or universalized principles, her method isn’t, in fact, experimental. She doesn’t go out to test things or, as mentioned, to run experiments to come up with generalized scientific models or theories that she can use to derive what will happen. She literally knows the entire chain of events that are going to happen and thus is more of a Laplace Demon than a scientist in the vein of Bacon.

This is what gets him in trouble when he tries to compare Miller to philosophers like Aristotle, who consider the more universal or philosophical principles of higher importance than the simply practical ones. As he says:

But the contemplative study of nature, undertaken for its own sake, was something Aristotle sharply distinguished from the practical know-how that puts us in a position to manipulate and control the world. As Thomas Aquinas wrote, clarifying Aristotle’s distinction:

Of the sciences some are practical, some are speculative; the difference being that the former are for the sake of some work to be done, while the latter are for their own sake. The speculative sciences are therefore honorable as well as good, but the practical ones are only valuable.

“Only valuable” means, in this context, second-rate.

Well, yes and no. The practical sciences — and, more importantly, the knowledge they produce — are second-rate in the sense that their entire purpose is aimed at producing useful knowledge for someone to achieve a certain end. If a practical science ever discovered knowledge that it considered useless, that would be considered a failure. There is indeed some at least intellectual honour in wanting to know things just because it can be known, without worrying about whether there is a practical use to it or not. And a science that aims at producing only knowledge that has a practical use will use that to determine what knowledge they pursue, which will put a constraint on that science’s intellectual curiosity. It’s less that that sort of knowledge isn’t useful — and, in fact, rather obviously not that case — nor that it being practical knowledge that can be used for a purpose makes it intellectually inferior, but that seeking out such knowledge is an inferior way to go about gathering knowledge, being totally concerned with practical ends rather than knowledge in and of itself. This is in contrast to the prejudices of those who are more inclined towards the practical sciences who see that more abstract knowledge as being useless and so not really worth pursuing.

As Dunn himself seems to hold. He describes a case where Layla Miller knowingly has to step into a time machine into the future knowing that in so doing she will be trapped in a dystopian future and enslaved and tortured. She says that she’s always known that that would happen, but she did it anyway presumably because she felt she had a moral obligation to. Dunn summarizes it thusly:

It’s hard to imagine the purely contemplative knowledge of Aristotle’s philosopher-gods and Marvel’s Watchers ever occasioning such anguish, since those rarefied knowers are neither pawns nor players in the games they observe from their “blessedly” elevated heights. But enviable as their existence may be, isn’t it nobler to be lowly Layla Miller, willing to “go under” because she has “bigger things on her mind than God”, such as the weal and woe of countless beings like herself, whose fates depend on her choices?

Well, first of all, the most active Watcher in the Marvel Universe — both in the sense of being the one most seen as well as being the one that most gets involved — Uatu has, in fact, on a number of occasions experienced precisely that sort of anguish, but from the other side: holding that the higher principle of not intervening is the more proper course despite the fact that he has come to know and care for the creatures he watches and doesn’t want to see them harmed. If you look at it only from the practical side of things, he might seem cruel or uncaring, caring only for knowledge, but looking at the higher principles involved we can’t be so certain of that judgement.

Which leads us to Layla Miller’s case. For her to make that choice, she has to be making it beyond the level of the immediately practical or, at least, beyond what is practical for her. Clearly, she doesn’t have an end to make herself undergo those terrible experiences. So she decides, as Dunn implies, to put the concerns of others ahead of her own. But this is a consideration of morality, and morality is one of those sorts of knowledge that philosophers care very much about and is very much seen as a speculative science for philosophy. If Layla Miller is reading “Atlas Shrugged” and pondering its message, then she’s stepped outside of the practical and into the speculative realm. And, in fact, it can be seen that it is precisely this sort of knowledge that Layla Miller is lacking and needs to get from somewhere else. While her examination of all the causes can tell her that her going to the future will cause her suffering but will reduce suffering for others, there is nothing in that that can tell her that she ought to go to the future to prevent the suffering of others at the expense. That’s in the realm of the speculative. The practical can tell you what will happen, but not what you, as a moral, upstanding or honourable person, should make happen. So the thing that Dunn is most proud of in Layla Miller is the one thing that could only come from the speculative sciences he derides.

Capitalism and Democracy …

May 1, 2019

So, through reading the criticisms of Objectivism on Adam Lee’s site and, well, any discussions on left-leaning sites, there’s a constant and steady harsh criticism of capitalism as an economic system, generally at its most polite considering it a system for exploiters and at its least polite insisting that there is nothing good about it at all. I’m not someone who thinks that capitalism is an incredibly and wonderful economic system and we should all just let capitalism run the world, but I also think that the criticisms are a bit harsh. Mostly because this is true of capitalism: capitalism is the most democratic economic system you can have because everyone gets to directly vote with their dollars and the most dollars wins.

This is not to say that there aren’t cases where this fails. There are at least two cases where this doesn’t work out the way we’d want it to. The most obvious is, of course, in the case of necessities. The idea behind capitalism is that if someone treats you badly or charges too much or doesn’t do things the way you’d like, you either go to someone else to get the product or else you go without it if it’s serious enough. For necessities, that second option is off the table. You’re going to buy it from someone because you need to. If that someone has managed to wrangle at least an effective monopoly on that necessity, then the consumer has no recourse: they can’t get it from anyone else and have to get it somewhere. Food is, of course, the ultimate example of a necessity, with shelter coming in close behind. Of course, in this society we don’t really have any actual monopolies on those things, but there isn’t really a lot of direct competition either, because we have enough people who have to buy those things to keep everyone currently in the business flush and the barriers to entry are high enough that no one else really wants to get into it to any large degree.

But the second case is where we, as the consumer, don’t exercise our ability to vote with our dollars. We seem to have gotten caught up in the most simplified notion of capitalism: consumers above all care about paying the lowest price, while producers above all care about extracting the highest price they can from the consumers. This also applies to labour, where employers want to pay as little as they possibly can and employees want to be paid as much as they can get. This isn’t how capitalism is supposed to work, though. You aren’t supposed to take the cheapest price you can get regardless of any other considerations. You’re supposed to pay for what you want. So if a company is doing things you don’t like but happens to have the lowest prices, under capitalism you are not rationally compelled to buy from them anyway. You are perfectly free to decide that you don’t like what they’re doing or how they’re treating you and go to somewhere else that treats you better.

As an example, I used to live near a grocery store that turned into one of those “No Frills” types of stores, where you had to leave a deposit for your cart, pay for your bags, and bag everything yourself. I hated that, and so despite the fact that it was the closest grocery store to me I refused to shop there unless I absolutely had to (or for things that I couldn’t get anywhere else, like at the time Garfield brand chips). I voted with my dollars. Now, looking at those examples, one of those things isn’t common (deposits in the carts), one is common but was imposed by the government (paying for bags) and one is common in larger stores (bagging things yourself). The market spoke on two of those annoying things and neither became universal — at least not yet — while the government got involved with the other and made the annoying thing universal. But the important thing to note is that what I did is not, in fact, something that is opposed to capitalism, but is instead the heart of it: I was willing to pay more for what I considered better service and so voted with my dollars.

Think of a restaurant. You might pay less at a cafeteria-style restaurant, but it’s going to come at the cost of service. If a restaurant gives you a meal with friendly wait staff that make sure that everything works out for you, is it irrational to be willing to pay more for that? No, it’s not. What would be irrational is expecting that a restaurant can do that and can charge the same prices as the restaurant that doesn’t do any of that. So you are generally going to have to choose between the lowest prices and the extras or enhanced experience. If you choose the lower prices, then you’ve chosen what’s more important to you, and it’s not the fault of the businesses if they all move to that model that allows them to charge less and still make a profit rather than provide those extras at a loss.

The same thing applies to employers. They, like consumers, don’t want to pay more than they have to but, in general, are willing to pay more to get better employees if it works out for them. When it comes to the “McJobs”, or general unskilled labour, they don’t need to, as there isn’t that much difference between an experienced worker than an inexperienced one, and there are always more people out there who want the job that they expect them to cycle anyway. Well, that’s generally, because there are cases in booming labour markets where there aren’t enough people to fill those jobs … at which point they usually start paying them more if they can. But it’s irrational to pay rock bottom wages and then wonder and get frustrated when your employees keep going to places that pay more and you can’t keep any good employee, meaning any employee that has any kind of a choice.

And this applies more broadly. Don’t like how Walmart treats its employees, but still shop there anyway? You’ve made your choice about what’s more important to you. In the Persona 4 game, the townspeople complain about how the arrival of Junes killed their local businesses, but they were the ones who stopped shopping there to only go to Junes. If they really thought that preserving their local businesses was that important to them, nothing in capitalism says that they couldn’t have kept shopping there anyway. Ultimately, under capitalism you have the ultimate responsibility to support or not support based only on your own desires and principles, and if you find yourself always making that decision on the basis of what costs the least then we know what really does matter most to you.

Things, of course, can be more complicated than this (there are always issues of convenience or even cases where you can’t afford more than the cheapest price and so either have to buy it where you don’t want to or go without). But ultimately, under capitalism everything ends up roughly how we, as people, want them to end up. And we often care most about the price and not about anything else. So we won’t get anything else until we start caring more about those other things.

“Killing Your Own Clone is Still Murder”: Genetics, Ethics and Khaaaaan!

April 29, 2019

The next essay in “Star Trek and Philosophy” is “Killing Your Own Clone is Still Murder”: Genetics, Ethics and Khaaaaan! by Jason T. Eberl. The problem with this essay is that, like the title, it seems to be trying to do a general survey of storylines around genetics in Star Trek without really focusing on anything, which makes most of it kinda a “Huh” moment and then nothing else really coming out of it. But if there is anything like a theme, it’s around the concerns over identity and genetic predestination that are, of course, inherent to any discussion of clones.

The issue is really this: to what extent do genes determine who we are and what we will do in life? To use an example that Eberl didn’t, if Seska is altered to look Bajoran while her genetics remain Cardassian, we’d say that she’s still Cardassian, just as Kira was still Bajoran when she was altered to appear Cardassian. So a big part of who we are can be literally read from our genes. But our genes aren’t just inert information about us, but also have a major impact on our physical and even mental capacities, and even on our personalities. How different of people, then, would we be if we started from or had our genetic make-up altered? This is why Doctor Bashir — an example Eberl does use — at least muses about being unnatural, as he was genetically altered and so doesn’t know how much of what he does or what he is is what he would have had unaltered or if it came from his alterations. Miranda Lawson from Mass Effect 2 has the same concerns, wondering if her skills are because of her hard work or simply because of her genetic legacy. It can be very hard to know how much of who we are and what we can do depends more on our genes than on us or even our experiences.

That leads to the fear that are actions are genetically determined, that if you took a person with the exact same gene structure and put them into the same position as us, they’d do the exact same things. This is one of the fears about clones that Eberl mentions: at some important level, they really are just us. Now, of course, as Eberl cites Carol Rovane as pointing out, this is never going to be the case in real life. Even if we could give the clone all of our memories, as soon as they started experiencing new things the two would become separated because they would always experience different things … even if that’s only whether they are the being on the left or on the right. But then we can see that the fear is that it wouldn’t matter which of the two walked out the front door or the back door to their new lives, or even which of the two walked out the door; at the end of the day, both of them will act the same way and nothing will change depending on whether the clone or the original returns to that life.

Of course, genetics does impact a lot of what we do. But also our choices determine what we will do, and what we do determines what we experience, and what we experience shapes us and our personalities. Yes, a clone that takes on all of my memories and all of my genetics would almost certainly act the same way I do, because they’d almost certainly at that point have all of my personality and all of my capabilities. But all this says is that someone with my personality and all of my capabilities is almost certainly going to do all the same things I would do. That doesn’t prove genetic determinism or identity. And if it doesn’t get my memories and personality, then it is almost certain that at at least some point it won’t do what I would do. Thus, a genetic duplicate alone is not in any way just me, and so genetic determinism isn’t a valid fear.

“A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy”: Star Wars and the Problem of Evil

April 22, 2019

The next essay in “Star Wars and Philosophy” is “A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villany”: Star Wars and the Problem of Evil by Christopher M. Brown. Here, the Star Wars content is weak, but there is a lot of content on various religious views, some of which rarely comes up.

The first theory that he examines wrt the Problem of Evil is Plato’s idea that God had to create the universe out of flawed matter, and flawed matter allows for evil, which then explains why humans made out of matter act evilly and why nature itself seems to contain “evil”, or at the very least odd and unexpected amounts of suffering. As Brown notes, this conflicts with the typical Christian idea of God being an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfect being. Why would a perfect being be forced to use an imperfect material to create its universe? However, I think there is a way to go here. We, as humans, are made of matter. Matter has needs, desires, and thus temptations. As Brown notes early in the essay, there is no need for the heroes to make a courageous effort to rescue Han Solo if Jabba the Hutt wasn’t evil enough to keep him as a wall ornament in the first place. By the same token, there is no need for us to ever face and overcome temptation if we have no needs or desires to be tempted by. And the New Testament in fact makes it clear that facing temptation is important even for Jesus, and so only the more so for us. This also ties into my theory that the redemption that Jesus brings us is less as an actual sacrifice but more as someone who faces the temptations that we ourselves face, and even the ultimate temptation of a painful death, and overcomes that temptation through faith in God to, nevertheless, do the right thing and what is required, and thus that must also count for us in our lives. Thus, the redemption Jesus brings is through example, not merely as a sacrificial lamb.

Brown then goes on to consider Augustine, but first considers the Christian sect he was originally involved with, the Manichees. They held that there is a constant battle between two equally balanced forces, one of Good and one of Evil, and it was the Evil forces or being that created the evil we see in the world. This, of course, would clash with the traditional idea of the Christian God, to argue that He had an opponent that He couldn’t overcome, but there is an interesting way to take this: that this conflict doesn’t exist in the universe, but instead exists in us. The whole point of this world, flawed matter and all, is to set up a situation where we have to choose between the Good and the Evil. In order for that to be a choice, it cannot be the case that one side is inherently more desirable than another. We have to be able to want to do Evil or to do Good, to be rewarded for choosing either and miss out for choosing either. This, it seems to me, aligns well with the depiction of the Light and Dark Sides of the Force in Star Wars: the Dark Side isn’t more powerful, but it’s faster and potentially easier, while the Light Side isn’t as fast and easy, but also doesn’t corrupt you physically and mentally either. As Corran Horn and Mara Jade commented in “I, Jedi”, she wasn’t really doing different when she studied with Luke, but instead was learning to power her abilities differently, with one that’s not going to burn out her engine as quickly. The same thing can be said for us: we feel good when we help people, but also can feel good when we abuse them to get something we want. We also feel deprived when we have to give something up for others, but also in general feel bad when we hurt others. We have reasons to prefer the Good or the Evil, and this material life may well be created precisely to facilitate us having to make those sorts of choices. This would also explain random suffering as both reflecting this natural dichotomy, and also providing test cases for us to make these choices. We can react to natural disasters by coming together and helping others, or retreating into our own little enclaves and focusing on our own self-interest. The world is set up to make each, at a practical level, somewhat desirable so that we always have reasons to act Good or act Evil.

Augustine’s move is to reject the Manchiean view and place the responsibility for all evil on the free will of humans. The problem is that this works for the free choices of humans, but atheists have rightly pointed out that that, in and of itself, doesn’t explain natural evil like natural disasters. The idea of this world being a test bed for us to make the choice between Good and Evil works for this, but that might not align well with Augustine who thinks the world is perfect because it came from God. Another alternative, then, is to ask if suffering is indeed bad. What is suffering, anyway? Well, in general, it’s pretty much pain. And pain is just a natural warning system telling us that something is harming us and so we should do something about that. So that, in and of itself, can’t be evil. However, we can consider suffering to be pain that is seen as random or capricious and/or that we can’t do anything about. This, however, requires beings that can understand that the pain is random, purposeless, and can’t be relieved. This, then, would mean that most animals, at least, can never actually suffer. Thus, suffering itself either isn’t necessarily bad, or else most natural suffering isn’t evil. And in the latter case if we accepted all suffering as being part of God’s plan, then it wouldn’t count as suffering either. While these arguments aren’t enough to overturn how unpleasant we find pain and suffering, philosophically speaking they’re fairly strong arguments against a philosophical and not emotional Problem of Evil.

Carrier vs Green on Origen and Josephus

April 19, 2019

I’ve been pondering talking about Richard Carrier’s Bayesian epistemology for a while now, but haven’t gotten around to it. But I also had an inkling to go over a typically insulting post Carrier made replying to a much earlier post by Colin Green because it reflects Carrier’s typical approach to arguing, where he spends lots of time insulting the person he’s replying to, playing up any chance he gets to mention that he has something peer reviewed as if that’s supposed to make us believe it, and generally missing what the other person is actually saying and arguing. Here, he also adds a hint of superiority in insisting that Green is an amateur — which, to be fair, is true when it comes to history — and using that at any opportunity as an “explanation” for the egregious errors Green is making. The odd thing here is that he seems to equate “having a PhD” with being not an amateur, which means that I could level the same criticizes at him when he talks about philosophy — which he constantly does — and arguably I’m an amateur philosopher since I only have a Masters. Which is completely ridiculous, since I’m clearly a “Freelance Philosopher”. He also criticizes it for being “tediously long”, at which point most people’s irony meters should have exploded. Sure, I often call Carrier out for being wordy while often writing long posts myself, but that’s usually because I’m arguing that Carrier should spend less time on the insults and more time on the actual arguments, and so not just that the posts are long as Carrier does here.

The base argument is this: in the existing copies we have of one of Josephus’ work, there is a section referring to a James that says, from Green “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. If this was actually in the original work, then it would strongly suggest the existence of a historical Jesus Christ, which Carrier denies. However, the section is controversial, with a number of people and experts in the field thinking that it wasn’t there in the original. The posts are debating whether or not this was there in the original.

Now, I’m not an expert in ancient history, or even in these time periods. I’m not an expert in ancient Greek either; unlike Latin, I never actually learned any of that. However, I am qualified in examining arguments, and given how strongly Carrier reacts to Green it seems reasonable for me to examine this to see if Green’s arguments really are that bad. So that’s what I’m going to do: go through the arguments in Carrier and refer them back to what’s said in Green to see if Carrier gets them right, if they are that bad, and if Carrier’s defenses of his arguments work. I’ve read both posts at least twice, but again will use Carrier’s as the main reference and only add additional things from Green as required. I’ve not read and am not going to read Carrier’s original paper, but good writing should make it clear what I need to know from it, and of course I’ll point out where either Carrier or Green aren’t clear enough about what was originally there.

The first thing to note is, again, the stakes here. Carrier doesn’t want this reference to be there in the original because it would provide a direct link to a historical Jesus Christ. So he needs to eliminate “who was called Christ” from the original text. The problem for this is that all of the existing copies of the relevant text have that in the original text. So the argument has to be that it was added later, either by mistake or by fraud. Carrier seems to be arguing that it happened by mistake, as the section makes a direct reference to “Jesus ben Damneus”, which is what that sentence should refer to, but that reference wasn’t in the original section, but was added later by a scribe, possibly as a correction from a mistake from an earlier scribe who accidentally copied a later reference to “Jesus ben Damneus” higher, corrected it by adding the line above the incorrect one, and then a later scribe simply replaced the existing text with the new one as was appropriate at the time. So an important thing to note is that Carrier seems to believe that there was no reference to “Jesus ben Damneus” in the original line, but only to “Jesus” there, facilitating the mistake. Note that, however, this seems to suggest that the scribes who made the mistake(s) did believe that the original text was referring to Jesus Christ and not Jesus ben Damneus.

That out of the way, let me start with the first substantive argument Carrier makes against Green. Carrier quotes Green as saying this:

“Carrier intends to disqualify Origen (and, with him, Eusebius) as a textual witness to the six words in AJ 20″ (emphasis added).

Carrier’s response to this “mistake” is this:

Green screws up almost from his first sentence about me. My article does demonstrate Origen is not a textual witness to three of those words existing in Josephus. But it also clearly and repeatedly states I believe Eusebius did find these words in his copy of the AJ (meaning Josephus’s twenty volume treatise, Antiquities of the Jews), or else believed he was restoring the correct reading from a marginal note.

Before I go back to look at the reference in Green, this is an extremely nitpicky objection looking at the quote. If it is established that Origen got the phrase from the original text, then this would establish that Eusebius wasn’t looking at a mistaken copy but at an accurate one when he took that phrase or interpretation from there as well. If, however, Origen didn’t get it from there because it wasn’t there, then Eusebius’ interpretation is wrong. Thus, if Carrier can take out Origen as seeing that in the original text, then Eusebius didn’t see it in the original text either. So Origen isn’t a witness to it being there in the original text, and so Eusebius can’t have either, or at least we have no reason to think so. To put this back into Carrier’s theory, the idea that Eusebius, as he says here, had a corrected or corrected the copy or reading is reasonable as long as we don’t have another, closer source to the original text. Thus, disqualifying Origen as getting that reading from the original text disqualifies Eusebius from doing so as well. “Textual witness” is of the six words in the original account, not just someone reading a text.

And this seems to be what Green is after. The quoted paragraph:

The main subject here is the passing comment in Book 20, and the scholarly understanding that the comment was known and quoted in ancient times. For example – and this is what Carrier’s article particularly contests – it is found in the work of 3rd century writer Origen: six words about Jesus and his brother James, verbatim as in AJ Book 20, together with material that seems to tie it to AJ 20. Also, in the 4th century writer Eusebius we find more extensive treatments which are more controversial and of lower evidential value (not least because Origen is the earlier witness). Carrier intends to disqualify Origen (and, with him, Eusebius) as a textual witness to the six words in AJ 20.

Hence, because Origen is the more reliable source, if he can disqualify Origen as having found and/or quoted it the six words the original AJ 20, then he can disqualify Eusebius as well. The point is about the six words being in the original and what Josephus himself actually wrote or meant, not about extant copies of the text.

So onto the next complaint. He quotes Green saying this:

I deduce that [Carrier] is suggesting Josephus originally wrote [“the brother of Jesus son of Damneus”] (see page 512). I cannot tell why the article does not set it out clearly, and why it is left to the reader to do.”

Carrier’s reply is this:

This is an extremely weird thing for Green to say. Because he even cites the page on which I do exactly that (a fact I even reference several times, on pp. 495 and 504). In fact, I devote an entire paragraph to this very point (spanning pp. 512-13), and even supply the likely Greek for it. So how can he know what page this is on, and at the same time claim it isn’t there? Your guess is as good as mine. But since what he says about my article here is 100% false, you can tell this already isn’t boding well.

The interesting thing about this, as mentioned above, is that my impression is that the mistake was copying “Jesus son of Damneus” into a place where it wasn’t originally and overwriting that as “Jesus the so-called Christ” later. But maybe my impression is wrong, so let’s keep this in mind as we go along. Anyway, here is what Green actually said:

6. Curiously, although Carrier argues at length ‘what Josephus originally said’ (to use one of his sub-headings), he never actually sets out in Greek what he thinks the six word phrase originally was. However, piecing together his comments, I deduce that he is suggesting Josephus originally wrote this: τὸν ἀδελφὸν Ἰησοῦ τὸν τοῦ Δαμναίου (see page 512). I cannot tell why the article does not set it out clearly, and why it is left to the reader to do.

Green is complaining that Carrier didn’t actually set out what the Greek phrase was. This is important because Green here in the rest of the points is talking specifically about the Greek phrases and if they are identical, close or verbatim in the other works. Carrier here translates the Greek phrase into English and then says that it all should be obvious, except that Green’s complaint is that he never specifies the Greek, making it hard to decide which ones are verbatim or identical or note. And one of the reasons this is important is because Carrier says that the phrase is Origen saying that in his own words, but too much variance would strike against that. The problem is that Carrier’s comments about quoting the paraphrase are about different Greek phrases, and so he concludes from Carrier’s “likely Greek” on page 512 that that’s the one he means. You can nitpick over whether or not that’s clear or not, but a comment about “likely Greek” when what’s under debate is a precise Greek phrase is probably not as clear as you’d think. It matters what Greek phrase is being talked about here, as Green himself notes after saying that his criticism might be nitpicky. Carrier doesn’t address it because he sidelines all discussion of the actual Greek phrase and translates it to English which hides the actual objection.

Next, Carrier quotes Green:

“I just wonder at the jarring shift of tone from earlier even-handed statements such as “Josephan authorship is not impossible” to assertively telling academia what to do [in the paper’s conclusion]”

Carrier’s reply:

Green is an amateur. He therefore doesn’t know that many journals have a mandatory editorial requirement of providing an “impact statement” laying out the significance and “impact” of your findings on the field. JECS is one such journal. The paper I submitted did not have the paragraph he is referring to. The journal’s editors specifically asked me to add it. So I did. And that’s the section at the end he is now referring to. They even asked that this explain how my conclusion should affect future research on the subject; so you’ll notice that’s exactly what I wrote. Experts are familiar with this. Amateurs act shocked.

That’s not Green’s complaint. His complaint is that Carrier shifts from a more careful tone to, at the end, expressing strong certainty. So he’s not confused by a summary, but is in fact confused that it seems to suggest conclusions much more strongly than the paper in its entirety did. Given that later quote will show Carrier claiming strong certainty for his claims, I don’t think it that valid a claim, but note what Green was after here:

Unevenness abounds. For example, of the ancient words “Jesus who is called Christ”, the article tells us that “Josephan authorship is not impossible” (page 496). Indeed, Carrier even-handedly goes on to say that the phrase “Jesus who is called Christ” is “not impossible for Josephus to construct on his own”. This even-handedness indicates that this article is at least a contribution to an ongoing academic discussion. However, the final paragraph boldly excludes such possibilities. It is a jarring contrast in tone:

“The significance of this finding [of an ‘accidental interpolation’] is manifold, but principally it removes this passage from the body of reliable evidence for the fate of Jesus’ family,[1] the treatment of Christians in the first century, or Josephus’ attitude toward or knowledge of Christians. Likewise, future commentaries on the relevant texts of Origen and Josephus must take this finding into account, as must any treatments of the evidence for the historical Jesus. Most pressingly, all reference works that treat “James the brother of Jesus” must be emended to reflect this finding, particularly as this passage is the only evidence by which a date for this James’ death has been derived.”

Setting aside that the final statement above is not wholly accurate (since James’ death can be estimated from Hegesippus who says it occurred shortly before the siege of Jerusalem), the tone of that final paragraph has attracted the ire of some. I just wonder at the jarring shift of tone from earlier even-handed statements such as “Josephan authorship is not impossible” to assertively telling academia what to do: “future commentaries… must take this finding into account… all reference works… must be emended…” That final paragraph is pure Carrier; so whose are the earlier moderate statements? In any case, the former two statements belong to a different kind of writing from the last, such is the unevenness of the writing.

It’s a style point, not a content one, and so didn’t need any kind of response and so isn’t a mistake. Green finds the shifts jarring. That’s it. There’s no need for him to assert the difference between what is possible and what is probable as he does immediately after (with a shot at him being a Christian apologist), although it is certainly likely that Carrier thinks that’s when he uses the shift from the more “even-handed” phrases to the more certain ones.

Carrier’s quote of Green again (note the reason I keep saying that this way is because Carrier doesn’t always quote the full context and so I want to distinguish between his quotes of Green and mine):

“[Carrier says] ‘We cannot use Origen as an attestation of a mention of Christ in AJ 20:200, and indeed, its absence in Origen’s text speaks against its authenticity.’ (emphasis added) What is absent in Origen’s text? I’m not sure what he means.”

Carrier’s reply:

Green is not very bright. Grammar, dude. Pronouns reference the last noun or noun clause. So. What’s missing? “A mention of Christ in AJ 20:200.” In other words, a quotation of AJ containing that material. There is none in Origen. As I’d just demonstrated. That Green can’t comprehend simple sentences in English bodes further ill here.

Green gets that. He just thinks it’s an odd way to phrase that given what’s come before:

There are moments where Carrier’s convoluted argument becomes very confusing. He writes,

“We cannot use Origen as an attestation of a mention of Christ in AJ 20:200, and indeed, its absence in Origen’s text speaks against its authenticity.” (emphasis added)

What is absent in Origen’s text? I’m not sure what he means. The mention of Christ is certainly not absent in Origen, which is the reason Carrier writes so much about it! Does the word ‘its’ refer to the same thing on both occasions in that sentence? The word “Christ” is one word that is most definitely not absent from any of our texts. Does Carrier mean that the narrative of the death in AJ 20:200 is missing? I am just not sure.

“Christ” exists in Origen and in that specific reference, so it’s not missing there. So at a minimum, if that’s what he meant, he made a typo and meant to refer to Josephus there, but then that’s what he needs to prove — that it’s not in the original text since it is in the extant copies — and so wouldn’t work as evidence in his favour. At first, I thought that this was trivial but on re-reading it in the full context, I admit to being as confused as Green. What’s missing in Origen that supports Carrier’s claim? It’s not the mention of Christ, nor is it the six word phrase, as both are therein Origen. So what could be missing? He claims that it’s a direct quote here, but that’s a) not clear from the quoted text and b) isn’t actually relevant anyway as Origen not claiming it is a direct quote doesn’t mean that it didn’t originate from Josephus, which is what’s in dispute.

Next, Carrier quotes Green:

“[I]n regard to AJ 20:200…Carrier omits to even mention recent work that has led other scholars to affirm the opposite conclusion – against interpolation – in academic publications; the footnotes in his 2012 article make no mention of significant modern work … For example, no mention of W. Mizugaki, ‘Origen and Josephus’ … and Z. Baras, ‘The Testimonium Flavianum and the Martyrdom of James’ …”

And replies:

Green credits O’Neill for this. Evincing his gullible trust in a crank. An expert would check if those two articles actually were relevant to the subject of my article before accusing me of ignoring them. An amateur just trusts a dishonest crank’s claim that they do.

In fact, neither the Baras nor the Mizugaki piece argue for the authenticity of the James passage. See my discussion of O’Neill’s dishonest claims that they do in More Asscrankery from Tim O’Neill. At most, Baras admits it’s possible inauthenticity and only mentions one common argument for its authenticity, without mounting any defense of that argument. An argument my paper already extensively addresses.

Green’s actual statement:

I would also make an observation about a statement on the first page of the article (page 489). Carrier says something very clear:

“The TF has already generated a vast literature and I will not treat the subject here except to say that I side with those scholars who conclude that the entire passage is an interpolation and that there was no mention of Jesus in the original text of AJ 18.” (emphasis added)

This statement is supplemented with a 25-line footnote – mainly Carrier’s arguments against authenticity of the TF – more than twice the length of any other footnote in the article.[2]

At first it seems helpful to have been given a sense of the author’s intentions and focus – but not for long. As if someone’s mind changed during the editorial process, Carrier unexpectedly launches a more detailed critique on the TF (page 492), and sustains this attack for three pages. Why write that you will not treat the subject if in fact you are going to do so? And having done so, why was the misdirecting statement on the first page not deleted in the editorial process? One is not sure where the article is going at times. Much of pages 494-495 are taken up with Carrier’s detailed response to Alice Whealey’s work on partial authenticity of the TF: perhaps he feels her work presents his biggest challenge on the TF, but surely this is not the matter at hand.

On the other hand – and in regard to AJ 20:200 which is the article’s subject – some disengagement with academia is evident in that Carrier omits to even mention recent work that has led other scholars to affirm the opposite conclusion – against interpolation – in academic publications; the footnotes in his 2012 article make no mention of significant modern work.[3]

So, the minor statement here is that Carrier says that he isn’t going to discuss the TF, then does discuss it, but then doesn’t address at all more recent work on the TF. Essentially, Green’s comment is that he wishes Carrier would have made up his mind as to whether or not he was going to take on the TF. Carrier’s reply is to point out that the modern works cited don’t actually impact his point. Sure, but that’s the sort of thing he should have mentioned in the paper itself if he was going to take on the TF, or not give a detailed response to Whealey if he was uninterested in that debate. To be fair to Carrier, there might have been reasons for him to do that — a parallel he wanted to draw — but it won’t be of much interest in this discussion. Still, it’s not as egregious a complaint as Carrier makes it out to be.

Carrier quotes Green:

“Carrier does not justify why the specific term ‘Christian’ should be an object of discussion in treating James and the Jerusalem Jesus-movement [in Josephus].”

His reply:

Here Green amateurishly confuses the word “Christian” with the identity being a Christian, i.e. being a member of a movement or sect, by whatever name, that Josephus would need to explain.

Of course, the Testimonium Flavianum does purport to call these people “Christians” and even says they were so-called owing to their founder’s designation as “the Christ” (although it never mentions anyone persecuting them). But if one agrees that’s fake, and Josephus never wrote that, then it’s possible he knew the Christian sect by some other moniker or description. That’s irrelevant to the point: Josephus would need to explain why James being the brother of a man called Christ had anything to do with his being not only illegally executed, but then his death avenged by the Jewish and Roman elite! As well as why this Jesus was even called a Christ, and what a Christ even was, or why his being so called, or his being mentioned at all, was even relevant to the story (despite the fact that Josephus always assiduously avoided the word Christ when describing other messiahs—one more reason we can doubt he did so here).

So my first response here is: what if his being a Christian didn’t have anything specifically to do with that? What if the whole “so-called Christ” part was just the most convenient way to identify which James Josephus was referring to? I’m pretty sure there’s more on this in a moment — things blend together when you’re reading it all at once — but the general thrust is that Green is saying that Josephus is using it merely to outline which James is being talked about and Carrier is claiming that the phrasing makes it more central to the story. That might be the case — there is evidence for that — but ultimately that’s what the two of them are disagreeing about, so it’s not an amateurish mistake.

Green’s actual quote:

In reviewing Carrier’s main argument, it is necessary to comment on his method of writing history. Significant planks of his argument are wrapped in an approach that is questionable, that makes the article vulnerable at an academic level. For example, his discussion of James as a “Christian” in the context of reading Josephus is problematic. Carrier writes, “James is not said to be a Christian here [in Josephus]”. He writes this about AJ 20:200:

“we would certainly find here an explanation of why this Jesus was called “Christ”, what that word meant (at the very least explaining its connection to “Christians” and James’s being one)” (emphasis added).

Carrier does not justify why the specific term “Christian” should be an object of discussion in treating James and the Jerusalem Jesus-movement. (NB. The use of that word in the TF would be irrelevant for Carrier’s purposes as he disallows the whole TF as inauthentic. He produces no alternative textual basis for applying the word here.) He insists that James‘ faith should have been explained in such terms by Josephus if he were the brother of Jesus Christ. But why? Although terminology casually used nowadays, there is simply no evidence, apart from inferring it from the TF, that the term “Christian” was ever attached to the James of Jerusalem, or the church of Jerusalem, by first century authors, even by followers of Jesus. It is cavalier to project onto Josephus that, if the passage were authentic, he “would certainly… at the very least” have called James a “Christian”. This is not an approach to writing history which shows engagement with current work on terminology related to the early church.[4]

Green is, however, playing a bit fast and loose with the quotes here. The first quote is the one that actually links it directly to the word, and it’s not as certain. The second quote can also imply it, but doesn’t have to … although putting the word in quotes does not help Carrier here. So I can accept Carrier’s reply that what he meant was what is implied by a “Christ”, and not the specific word itself. Still, unless Josephus was trying to link James’ death with actually being a Christian his thesis isn’t really supported either.

I’m going to skip discussion of the TF and move on. Carrier quotes Green:

“This is a remarkable leap. The figure ‘James ben Damneus’ is previously unknown to history. Such a personage is not found named in an ancient text, neither one by Josephus nor by anyone else. Why should the reader take the novel step of thinking that any such unattested person existed?”

Carrier replies:

This is an extremely bizarre thing to argue; but typical of amateurs, who don’t know how ancient historians worked or how the scarce survival of sources affects what we can expect to have today. Almost all the people Josephus mentions in the AJ are attested nowhere else: because he’s the only extant author for this material! Therefore, the probability we should expect someone else, somewhere else, to have mentioned these obscure figures in extant texts is effectively zero. So that argues nothing.

Josephus indeed only mentions Jesus ben Damneus because of the role he plays in the succession of high priests (we would never have heard of him otherwise); and Josephus never has any reason to mention his family at all, except once (just as he never mentions anyone else’s family without cause): to explain why this particular Jesus replaced Ananus. The reason he gives: that Ananus illegally executed his brother, generating general outrage, that led to Ananus being punished by giving Jesus his position. But for Ananus having done this to James and Jesus being thus compensated for it, we’d never have heard of this James. And indeed, that’s why James is only named as an afterthought; and why Jesus is in fact the actual primary subject of even the execution account—hence the way Josephus’s construction makes clear the only significance of mentioning James is whose brother he was. A fact that makes no sense otherwise (absent any further explanation; and no other is given). That’s precisely the reason we should doubt the authenticity of the added “Christ” comment.

So, my response to this is that this misses the point. The extant text refers to a James that is referenced elsewhere. Carrier’s theory, on the other hand, forces us to accept that a completely unattested person exists. While this isn’t a absolute refutation, it does put the onus on Carrier to demonstrate that this theory is superior, because it includes a reference to something that has to be true but that we have no other reason than Carrier’s conclusion to think is true. That oftentimes we only find such references in ancient works doesn’t help when we’re comparing a person that is referenced elsewhere to one that isn’t. And, sadly, Carrier could use this to support his own case, arguing that a Christian scribe, not knowing about any kind of James be Damneus assumed that it was a James that he did know about when clarifying the text … in short, that the scribe made the not unreasonable mistake of assuming that it referred to the James they knew about rather than a James they had never heard about.

Green’s actual quote:

Thus, having so primed you, the article will later assert that removal of “who was called Christ” reveals the original text and that the passage is really referring to “Jesus ben Damneus”, not “Jesus Christ”, so as to read either:

“The brother of Jesus, the name for whom was James, and some others…”

Or even to read:

“The brother of Jesus ben Damneus, the name for whom was James, and some others…”

In a stroke, this invents a brother called “James ben Damneus”. Carrier’s thesis of interpolation depends on the reader believing that a rewrite of the text justifies discovering, so to speak, that there was such as a person as “James ben Damneus”. That is, one figure has been newly written into history effectively to write an established one out of it (James, brother of Jesus Christ). Now the historical character Jesus ben Damneus has a brother called James!

This is a remarkable leap. The figure “James ben Damneus” is previously unknown to history. Such a personage is not found named in an ancient text, neither one by Josephus nor by anyone else. Why should the reader take the novel step of thinking that any such unattested person existed?[7] Carrier characteristically treats his theory with undue certainty, writing, “Thus, what Josephus meant was that this James was the brother of Jesus ben Damneus, not the brother of Jesus Christ” (emphasis added).

So pretty much what I said: we have to accept that a new person existed to do so. Carrier needs to establish that his theory is more probable first before he can say that with certainty. On the flip side, however, presumably that’s what Carrier tries to do, so other than to establish that Carrier has a burden of proof it’s not doing much, but doesn’t seem to be intended to do more than that either.

Carrier quotes Green:

“Notably, this argument that ‘so the scribe believed – the Jesus here mentioned is Jesus Christ’ does not work if ‘called Christ’ is supposed to have been written above ‘Jesus ben Damneus’. There is no historical basis for anyone believing that Jesus Christ was also known as ‘Jesus ben Damneus’.

Carrier’s reply:

This is another weird one. Green had just mentioned the whole page of my article where I explained the very common phenomenon of dittograph correction in textual transmission, and how it would cause the replacement of one phrase with another, and why. Green must not have understood any of it. Which is typical of an amateur.

My reply is that the question is not how one phrase gets replaced with another, but why that phrase was replaced with “called Christ”. If Josephus had written “Jesus ben Damneus” there, replacing that with “Jesus called Christ” would make no sense as a mistake and would have to be a forgery. If, however, as I believe Carrier’s argument ultimately ends up saying, Josephus didn’t mention it then what I said above would be one way for the mistake to end up there. Carrier fleshes out his argument:

As I wrote in my article (on p. 512; which Green apparently skipped or didn’t comprehend):

This is a common scribal error where a copyist’s eye slips to a similar line a few lines down (by mistaking which “Jesus” he had left off at), then realizes he had picked up at the wrong place, but corrected himself and then wrote a superlinear phrase intended to replace the erroneous material. A later copyist would then interpret the earlier copyist’s correction as calling for the erasure of “ben Damneus” as a dittograph, omit the words, and replace it with the gloss, “who was called Christ.” This was a frequent occurrence in manuscript transmission, resulting from scribes correcting a perceived error, but in the process, implanting their own error into the text.

In other words, when a scribe who wrote “Jesus,” looked away (such as to ink his quill or rest or attend to business), and looked back and started transcribing at the wrong “Jesus,” they would have written “the son of Damneus.” But then, catching their mistake, they would go back to where they left off and start transcribing the correct line; and above the mistaken dittograph (the erroneous “duplication” of “the son of Damneus” after the wrong “Jesus”), they would write what is supposed to replace it.

This would suggest that it wasn’t in the original but was added later as a mistake — copying from a later line — and then corrected to “called Christ”. But as that was the first mention of him, surely if Josephus was going to leave one out it would be the later one, not the earlier one. So it could have been dropped in a copy and then this mistake would have occurred. But this does require an additional mistake — the “ben Damneus” being dropped — which, while common, isn’t probable either.

Green’s actual quote:

‘”the one called Christ” is exactly the kind of thing a scholar or scribe would add as an interlinear note to remind himself and future scholars that – so the scribe believed – the Jesus here mentioned is Jesus Christ’. (emphasis added)

Carrier allows himself that this could be either an unnamed scribe or Origen himself:

‘It is likely that what he [Origen] found in AJ 20:200 was a reference to an execution by stoning of a certain “brother of Jesus” named James a few years before the war. Origen perhaps scribbled “who was called Christ” in the margin, or above the line…’ (page 511-2).
Notably, this argument that “so the scribe believed – the Jesus here mentioned is Jesus Christ” does not work if “called Christ” is supposed to have been written above “Jesus ben Damneus”. There is no historical basis for anyone believing that Jesus Christ was also known as “Jesus ben Damneus”. It is inconceivable that any scribe would qualify “Ben Damneus” with “called Christ”.

Therefore it is a supposed version of Josephus that just says “Jesus” (not “Jesus ben Damneus” or “Jesus Christ”) to which Carrier applies his argument about an interlinear note. So, it just said “Jesus” until an interpolator added to it. In this way, he is arguing that, in the absence of “Christ”, the second referent of “the brother of Jesus” would still be his favoured “Jesus ben Damneus” rather than Jesus Christ, a referent forged by arguing “Jesus” is linked with the appearance later in AJ20 of Jesus ben Damneus.
In both alternatives, Carrier is forced to speculate a convoluted chain of accidents, as we shall see. Trying to keep track of the dazzling range of speculations is like trying to nail jelly to a wall.

As we have seen, Carrier also brings into play his sketch of a shadowy scribe (or Origen) writing ‘exactly’ the kind of thing. The argument about the behaviour of a scribe writing an interlinear or marginal note is overstated. How does Carrier know, for example, that some unknown scribe in the 3rd century would write ‘exactly the kind of thing’ (that is, LEGOMENOU CHRISTOU as a note, those particular words and in the genitive to be in the same case as IESOU) when faced with the passage “the brother of Jesus, who was called James”?

Carrier cannot be certain, by Green, that this mistake it was would obviously have happened. It could have happened, but isn’t as common as Carrier implies. And, as noted, Green’s main complaint in that line is that if “Jesus ben Damneus” was there in the text when the mistake was made, no one would have replaced it with “called Christ” as a mistake. Carrier only addresses that by dropping the line from at least later versions of the text.

Carrier quotes Green:

“This argument for how the extant text in Josephus accrued an interpolation is speculative, not based on manuscript evidence.”

Carrier’s reply:

Only an amateur says things like this. Experts know a sizable amount of textual criticism argues from data without manuscript evidence. There are tons of examples in the expert literature. We have to. Precisely because most manuscript evidence has been lost (as I even prove has happened in this case: pp. 492-94). So most errors like this are only detectable through circumstantial evidence. Just like I literally fill my whole paper with. Which means my conclusion is not speculative. It is empirically proved with evidence. All experts agree this evidence does not have to include lost manuscripts, and know it often won’t. That’s why peer reviewers approved my paper.

My reply here is that this is important to establish: the conclusion follows only from Carrier’s theory and interpretation. As he admits, he only has circumstantial evidence for it. This puts it on the same level as other speculative or circumstantial theories. So we have to assess whether it is plausible that the sequence of events that Carrier speculates happened is, indeed, what happened. At best, Carrier has a possible sequence showing that it could have happened. It’s going to be his analysis that Josephus would not have said/meant that and that Origen despite claiming to get the story from Josephus didn’t that will have to carry the load, and we aren’t there yet.

Green’ actual quote:

This argument for how the extant text in Josephus accrued an interpolation is speculative, not based on manuscript evidence, despite the gratuitous tone of certainty. A word such as ‘exactly’ does not make it less speculative. The lack of consideration of alternative scribal formulations does not make it less speculative either. Of course, Carrier’s argument depends on the reader being convinced that what the scribe would write is exactly what is in extant Josephus because the putative scribe would thus be the indirect author of these few words in Josephus, which is the conclusion Carrier intends to lead us to.

Green complains about the tone of certainty despite it being speculation, and notes that we have to believe that this happened for this argument to matter. And note that even if Carrier had already demonstrated that this wasn’t in the original text, we still don’t have to accept his explanation, as there could be other explanations.

Carrier quotes Green:

“[T]he fact that Carrier does not turn his thoughts to any range of alternative permutations is frustrating. Could not other permutations be ‘exactly the kind of thing’ a scribe would write?”

Carrier replies:

This is another boner amateur mistake.

It doesn’t matter what else “could have” been written; because Josephus could also have written different things. So the many alternative permutations one can imagine are all equally likely on either hypothesis. These possibilities therefore cancel out, having no effect on the likelihood that this evidence arose by either hand. That’s why peer reviewers don’t require textual critics to discuss such things; and thus why they didn’t require me to.

If there is evidence for a differential likelihood, we are expected to discuss that. And thus I do: I devoted several pages in my article arguing that this phrase is definitely as or even more likely to have come from a Christian hand than Josephus; indeed, it is a direct lift from Scripture! (pp. 496-97 and 511) Who is more likely to do that? Josephus? Or a Christian scribe?

Starting to get a picture now of why my stuff passes peer review and Green’s doesn’t?

My reply is that Carrier is big on Bayesian epistemology, and a big part of that is looking at all the alternative explanations that you can and seeing which ones have the highest probabilities. All of the probabilities of all possibilities have to add up to 1, and so any possibility that is in any way credible at all will reduce the probability of any one of them being true. Thus, it is ludicrous to say that they cancel out. If they all did that, then we’d have a 50-50 probability about whether Josephus originally wrote it or not, which is not what Carrier believes. So what’s the probability of Carrier’s specific theory about how it got there being correct? That’s very much dependent on what reasonable alternatives there are and how probable they are, as well as how probable this specific theory is. And if Carrier is only interested in the conclusion itself, then he still needs to assess the probabilities of all the relevant theories, and so needs to consider alternatives that lead both to his favoured conclusion and the opposite one. Without looking to see if a scribe would have corrected it to something else in the situation Carrier describes — which even Carrier has to agree would count against his theory — hows does Carrier know or prove that his posited theory is what happened?

Green’s actual quote:

However, the fact that Carrier does not turn his thoughts to any range of alternative permutations is frustrating. Could not other permutations be ‘exactly the kind of thing’ a scribe would write? For example: simply CHRISTOU or HO CHRISTOS or HO CHRISTOS HOUTOS EN or a pious HO KURIOS – the possibilities are legion. No examination of relevant alternatives in scribal history is presented: there is no ‘control’ with which to compare how LEGOMENOU CHRISTOU is used. It is overly convenient to simply take only one possibility – extant Josephus – and assert that this is ‘exactly’ what the interpolating scribe would write.

This is probably nitpicking, though, at least at this point. Green would need to show that a specific phrasing was more likely given what the scribe knew. Then again, this really does seem more like Green striking against Carrier’s certainty here, which wouldn’t matter except for the unfortunate “exactly what an interpolating scribe would write” line.

Carrier quotes Green:

“Carrier’s concession that Josephus’ readership already had meaningful knowledge of Christians is exceedingly damaging to Carrier’s argument that ‘the reference [to Christ] is so obscure’.”

Carrier replies:

Another amateur remark.

Pliny the Younger, the most legally informed Roman of his time, didn’t even know why Christians were called Christians or what a Christ was until he interrogated them (see On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 342-43; with Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 418-22). Green is confusing knowledge that Christians were criminals who get executed, with knowledge of why they were called Christians, what a Christ was, or where they came from or why they are prosecuted (not least by Ananus, and that despite numerous leading Jews and Romans opposing his doing so). Pliny literally had to write the emperor to ask why they were even supposed to be prosecuted at all!

(Note: Carrier emphasizes a lot and, as usual, I’m starting to drop it except where I feel it critical).

If Josephus’ intent was just to identify which James he was talking about, and to his readers the term “Christ” was known well-enough to do so, then he would have felt no reason to explain the term, especially if he didn’t know what it referred to specifically (as Carrier says later). It’s only if Christianity was relevant to the account that he’d do that, but Green’s argument is that it isn’t.

Green’s actual quote:

A range of familiar arguments are presented to persuade the reader that “called Christ” does not belong in AJ 20:200. For example, Carrier argues that if Josephus was using the word “Christ”, he would have explained explicitly to his Roman readership the content of the term “Christ”. This argument of course is used by both sides in the interpolation debate to opposing ends.
The article uses the premise that the TF in Book 18, with its reference to Christ is entirely fake, and therefore all the burden of explanation for the term “Christ” falls on Book 20, wherein any such explanation, as we know, is absent.[8] (In fact, apart from these instances, “Christ” nowhere appears in Josephus, who prefers the word “Messiah” where it is called for.) On the basis that Josephus does not supply an explicit explanation of the significance of attaching “Christ” to “Jesus” in AJ 20:200, Carrier argues that it follows that “called Christ” is not authentic.

This requirement for explanation subsists because, Carrier asserts, “the reference [to Christ] is so obscure”. Carrier’s assertion of obscurity may be considered lacking in substance in light of the fact that Carrier himself, a few paragraphs later, indicates the opposite to obscurity. Referring to how, in the story in AJ20, the killing of James is met with official punishment, he deploys this argument which he thinks will show that “Christians” are not in view in the original text of Josephus:

“writing for a Roman audience in the era of Domitian… the execution of Christians was considered a legal matter of course”
On this basis, Carrier writes that the supposed idea of Christians enjoying any legal protection would be received as an “inexplicable” turn of events. Inexplicable to Josephus’ Roman readership, that is. The irony is that in saying that Romans would consider any legal remedy for “Christians” to be “inexplicable”, Carrier indicates that Josephus’ readership had an established perjorative view of Christians. This is not what obscurity looks like. Carrier’s concession that Josephus’ readership already had meaningful knowledge of Christians is exceedingly damaging to Carrier’s argument that “the reference [to Christ] is so obscure”.

That is not to say that Josephus couldn’t have cause to explain the content of the word “Christ”, but the “obscurity” argument is an unconvincing one for Carrier to deploy. Besides, there are reasons for doubting the claim that Josephus ought to unpack the content of the word ‘Christ’, and this is covered in footnote 4 below.

If Carrier needs the term to be so obscure that it needs explanation, then relying on the audience disbelieving the story because Christians had no legal recourse works against that. Green here is just going after Carrier’s claim that if Josephus had originally meant Jesus called Christ there he would have added more explanation because it was required for his audience. Green is disputing that, and Carrier’s remarks don’t address that, attempting to prove that the details were obscure but ignoring that in his counter he relies on the precise details that they’d need to know — a sect that was criminal — are what he himself claims are what was known at the time.

Carrier quotes Green:

[W]hy should the same readers who could supposedly infer that “Jesus” refers to “Jesus ben Damneus” be unable to infer a reason for the presence of “Christ” in the text?”

Carrier replies:

Because “Jesus ben Damneus” is already narratively explained in the text; “Christ” is not. Inferences require something present to infer from. There is nothing for the word “Christ” here to infer from, not even as to why it’s relevant or even important for Josephus to mention, much less what it means. There is for the idea that it’s Jesus ben Damneus whose brother is being murdered here because it’s the very same Jesus compensated for it. Green doesn’t even understand how inference works.

Except if Josephus was really just trying to identify which James was killed, adding “called Christ” to the reference would be required to differentiate that one from “Jesus ben Damneus”. So, no, there’s not nothing to infer from. It depends on your interpretation of the text, but that’s what Carrier needs to establish to make his case.

Green’s actual quote:

As Carrier accepts the word “Jesus” in AJ 20:200, it does seem careless that he exercised himself to write that Josephus “has no stated reason why… Jesus… is mentioned at all.” As confusing as that is, it becomes clear that only the word “Christ” is at issue for Carrier.

His argument is that in the absence of a “stated reason” for “Christ” being mentioned (as a descriptor of “Jesus”), then “called Christ” must be an interpolation. However, why should the same readers who could supposedly infer that “Jesus” refers to “Jesus ben Damneus” be unable to infer a reason for the presence of “Christ” in the text?

Indeed, any non-Christian reading the text can infer Josephus’ motive for using this word in the narrative. Put simply, there are two men called Jesus in the extant text of 20:200-203 (it was a common name).[12] A moniker for each Jesus is necessary so that the passage facilitates its reference to both Jesuses without confusing them. In extant Josephus, one of them is identified as “Jesus ben Damneus” and the other is identified as “Jesus called Christ”. (This well-known narrative explanation goes unmentioned by Carrier.[13]) Thus the “James” who is killed in the passage has been given his distinguishing referent, and it signifies two things: he is “the brother of Jesus called Christ”; and this Jesus is distinct from the “Jesus ben Damneus” mentioned later in AJ 20.

In itself it is little more than a passing comment that stops the reader from confusing the two Jesuses in the simplest manner. It is not necessary for Josephus to give a ‘stated reason’ why two different Jesuses in a narrative need two monikers, any more than it is necessary for a Welsh village to give a stated reason why two men in the town are referred to as Jones the Butcher and Jones the Postman. To claim (if anyone were to do so) that any inference to such a reason would occur only to a Christian would be off the mark.

He follows through with his alternative explanation: Josephus needed to distinguish the two people with common names.

Carrier replies to that:

This is funny. Because here Green just admitted Josephus’s readers would have “confused” them: meaning, they would have understood they were the same Jesus! Precisely my point he tried denying earlier. Consistency is also not a virtue common in the amateur.

I don’t see where Green says that they wouldn’t have understood that. Green says that the audience would understand that “called Christ” was used entirely as an identifying mark and so wouldn’t have required an explanation of the term. That’s not saying that without the “called Christ” they would have known that that was what Josephus meant, and in fact rather the opposite.

Carrier goes on:

But also, his point now doesn’t address anything I argue, illustrating how Green can’t even comprehend what my article actually says. Of course, I assume (?) Green knows “Jesus ben Damneus” isn’t in the text. “Jesus ben Damneus” is simply the Hebraic representation in English of the actual Greek which renders most literally in English as “Jesus the son of Damneus.” This is not the same as “so-called Christ,” which is not a patronymic. Josephus’s Gentile readers certainly understood patronymics. Josephus uses them routinely without explanation. But his readers would have no idea why Josephus isn’t giving one for Jesus, but instead giving them some weird ambiguous designator, a word that isn’t even being explained, nor why it matters. Josephus never elsewhere does this. Nor would he. It’s inexplicable.

This is not answered by saying “Josephus just needed to distinguish the two Jesuses.” The problem is that this isn’t how Josephus would do that—because it’s unprecedented in Josephus and makes the text even more inexplicable and confusing. Why are we not being given their patronymic? Why is Jesus more important than James who only gets named incidentally? Why is Jesus called a Christ? What is a Christ? Why are we being told he was called that? Why is James being killed? Why are we being told about his brother even though his brother apparently isn’t even involved? What does this Jesus have to do with any of this? Why are we being told this story at all?

So, the basic argument here once we strip out the crap is that Josephus uses patronymics to identify people and doesn’t use Jesus called Christ’s patronymic. This is actually a decent argument, but it can be explained by “Christ” being better known. If they knew about Christians, that’s not an unreasonable take. As for the narrative claims, those assume that Josephus would mention it because those are important to the narrative, which isn’t necessarily the case. About the best argument here is that if the phrase is just supposed to mention James and not tie it to Christianity, it should have been something like “James, the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ” rather than “the brother of Jesus called Christ named James”. That’s definitely something that Green needs to address, but it’s also not a smoking gun either because there are a number of reasons why an awkward phrasing might be used.

Carrier quotes Green:

“By [Carrier’s] own argument, the abuse of legal process was sufficient to warrant outrage and action.”

Carrier replies:

Green evidently did not read the account as Josephus wrote it. Josephus says James was only executed because Ananus was a Sadducee and Sadducees are overly strict with the law, so Ananus took an opportunity to enforce that strictness when he couldn’t be stopped. This means (a) Ananus was not allowed to kill people like James any other time (hence he had to “seize an opportunity” to do so) and (b) most Jews (not being Sadducees) did not believe James should have been killed—including Josephus himself, who distances himself from such viciously “strict” law enforcement by blaming it on the cruel Sadducees.

This is why the actual crime James was accused of isn’t even important enough to Josephus to mention: he considers it enough to tell his Gentile readers executing James was an excessive application of Jewish laws neither he nor most Jews would endorse anyway; and that that’s why Ananus could only get away with it when he thought no one could stop him; and this overstep of power generated the outrage that deposed him. Josephus even makes clear the Roman governor could have approved the assembly of the Sanhedrin to execute James—and Ananus would not have been removed if he did. Thus Josephus is telling his Gentile readers that even the Roman Albinus did not approve the execution of James.

That is simply inexplicable if this had anything to do with Christianity. Which doesn’t even make it likely it did (and thus Josephus never imagined it did, and thus never connected any of it to “Christ”). But even if contrary to all expectation it somehow still did, this would be so bizarre to the ears of Josephus’s readers he would absolutely need to explain it. So that he doesn’t is evidence he never connected any of this to a “Christ.”

It is typical of amateurs not to read the sources they are discussing, and to not correctly interpret what they are saying and its significance.

(Note: I sometimes keep the insults in especially when Carrier’s reply is underwhelming to show how Carrier isn’t that much more professional than Green).

Anyway, Green’s point is that in order for people to be outraged over the executions, all that’s required is that the people see it as an abuse of the legal process. That doesn’t require the fact that James was a Christian to be important, and that James was a Christian would not be enough to claim that the people wouldn’t be outraged at the abuse of the legal process. So this all comes down to the point I mentioned above: if this is in the original text, why did Josephus put “Jesus the so-called Christ” ahead of James, when it was James’ death that was the relevant causal event here? Contrary to Carrier, though, that doesn’t require him to have tried to tie the riots to James’ Christianity.

Green’s actual quote:

It is necessary to return to the story of the death of James, which Carrier says could not be about “Christians” since the story describes a legal remedy for those killed, which, he claims, would not have been made available to “Christians”. In short, this is the thrust of his argument: James and some others were killed; there was a legal remedy for their deaths; but “Christians” would not enjoy a legal remedy; therefore this James is not a “Christian” and has no relation to Christian events of the first century; therefore his brother Jesus was not called “Christ”. Do all of the steps in that sequence really follow on from each other? Surely the last is entirely a non sequitur.

There is something else curious here. On page 495, Carrier has said this about Ananus’ fault in the stoning which was ‘without following the appropriate procedure of involving the authorities in charge of the law. For this outrage, many leading Jews protested…’ (emphasis added). This triggered a chain of events ending in Ananus’ dismissal from office. Yet Carrier later writes ‘the execution of Christians was considered a legal matter of course, not an act warranting outrage and [Ananus’] dismissal from office’ (page 497, emphasis added). By his own argument, the abuse of legal process was sufficient to warrant outrage and action. Therefore, further outrage is irrelevant to the consequences, and his argument is not advanced by it, nor by bringing supposed public hatred of Christians into it.

If Carrier is indeed claiming that the people wouldn’t have been outraged because Christians didn’t enjoy legal protections, then that’s a problematic argument. Even if Christianity was a banned cult, someone murdering one of them would, in general, deserve legal protection, and there would be no indication here that they were being executed just for being Christians in accordance with actual law. But there’s more on this later.

Carrier quotes Green:

“He offers no explanation for why he thinks it was illegal to be in the ‘Christian sect’ in 60s Jerusalem.”

Carrier replies:

This is funny coming from a Christian apologist. But I’ll set that aside. “60s Jerusalem” was in a Roman province. Unless Green is also going to agree that Tacitus didn’t write what he did about Christians in the 60s being a hated criminal sect, and that Christians were never persecuted criminally by Roman authoritis until (for some reason) the second century, when Pliny knew they were as a matter of course (though not why), it’s hard to explain why Green would think Christianity was legally protected at the time.

But the important context is not the 60s. It’s the 90s. When Josephus is writing this. It’s the Gentiles of the 90s Josephus would need to explain this to. If Christianity was a legal association in the 60s but no longer by the 90s, that’s certainly a historical curiosity he would need to explain! And merely “presuming” that the state of affairs Pliny considers a matter of course had not existed just fifteen years earlier is to invent facts not in evidence. Why was their Imperial license to assemble revoked? How did we never hear of such a strange turn of events as the Emperor licensing the Christian sect even; much less the remarkable incident of that license then being revoked? If such a thing had happened so recently, why does neither Pliny nor even the Emperor Trajan know of it? Both of whom were holding imperial legal offices in the 90s.

This is another example of the danger of amateurism: Green does not seem to understand why Christianity was ever deemed illegal; and he seems ready to invent histoirical facts for which we have no evidence. We know from Pliny’s correspondence with Trajan that Christians were only being prosecuted for illegal assembly; and we know from that and other evidence that groups needed a license from the imperial government to assemble. The Jews had such a license (indeed at that time even by treaty). But we know from Paul certain factions of Jewish leadership considered Christians to be practicing illegally well into the 50s. So if Christians couldn’t assemble with Jews in service to the Jewish synagogue authorities, and they didn’t get specific legal recognition as a religious association by the imperial authorities, they were by definition a criminal organization under Roman law. Yet the Christians receiving an imperial license to assemble, or being welcome servants to Jewish synagogue authorities, are facts too extraordinary to just imagine true without any evidence of it.

The problem here is that Carrier would need to establish that simply being a Christian was enough to be executed — even if you didn’t “assemble”, which is what Carrier says they were only being prosecuted for — and that them being arrested for any reason wouldn’t have caused outrage. In short, Carrier’s presumption is that for the words to be Josephus’, he’d have to be saying that they were arrested and executed for being Christians but no one would have been outraged over that. But to do that he’d have to at least establish that they could be arrested just for that and that being arrested for that is the only explanation for that odd phrasing. He does neither in his reply.

Green’s actual comment:

But let’s entertain for the moment the idea that a second outburst of outrage ought to be pivotal. How well does the argument stand up? For one thing, the article asks the reader to accept that the response of sympathetic Jews to James’ death in the narrative is “inexplicable” and “makes little sense” if the referent was the execution of “the hated and illegal Christian sect”. Like a crime spree in a multi-storey car-park, that statement is just wrong on many levels:

the terminological problem of using the term “Christian”;
his questionable premise that “Christians” were far too “hated” to expect any legal remedy in 60s Jerusalem (how does he know this about 60s Jerusalem? – he doesn’t say);
was the Jerusalem church a “sect”?
and his surprising assertion that to be in the “Christian sect” in 60s Jerusalem was “illegal”.

On that last bullet point, it is difficult to imagine what law Carrier has in mind. He offers no explanation for why he thinks it was illegal to be in the “Christian sect” in 60s Jerusalem. This is baffling. In fact, it is plain wrong. This is not good history writing.

Perhaps he senses that he is on thin ice. He says that against his arguments, “One can advance explanations on all counts.” He does not tell the reader what these explanations are: “I will not delve any further into that debate”, he conveniently states, having given his polemical view good airtime. But, as if he had enabled a comparison to be made, he pronounces that his explanation that Josephus did not write “Christ” is “the most probable.”

Carrier addresses the last bullet point, but not the more important second one. And his insistence here that Green doesn’t know what he’s talking about conflicts with the quote here that Carrier thinks that one can find other explanations, that he never addresses. So either he’s presenting his view as being more certain than even he thinks it is, or else this isn’t that important a point. Still, Green does need an explanation for why Jesus is given precedence over James here.

Carrier quotes Green:

“[Carrier asks] “Why is ‘Jesus’ the primary subject in the execution of James, rather than James, the one actually executed?” This is a circular argument. [Because] only Carrier’s rewriting of the passage makes Jesus the central subject.”

Carrier replies:

Green goofs again here. Surprisingly for a self-proclaimed Classicist. He didn’t look at the Greek syntax. I am not the one who centers Jesus in the story. The Greek sentence structure Josephus chose to construct does—Josephus centers Jesus. Oddly. Just as I point out in my article: Josephus does not say “Ananus executed James, the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ,” Josephus oddly chose to say “Ananus executed the brother of Jesus, for whom the name was James.” It does not matter whether “the so-called Christ” or “the son of Damneus” is inserted here: it remains the fact that Jesus is the primary named; James is only named as an afterthought. In other words, the important person, Josephus is telling us here, is Jesus. James is incidental. Why?

Someone who had a Ph.D. in Classics would have gotten this. Which is why we can’t claim merely having a bachelor’s degree is sufficient to make you an expert. But it’s all the weirder that Green screwed this up, given that I devoted several sentences before the one he quotes explaining this syntactical fact (see p. 504).

Carrier is correct that the sentence structure centers Jesus in the sentence. What he’s not right about is that this centers Jesus in the narrative. Carrier is using the centering in the sentence to make a link to the more naratively important Jesus ben Damneus, but that’s not a clear link. After all, Carrier’s interpretation is that after his brother was killed Jesus ben Damneus became high priest as recompense for the death of this brother as opposed to being the one that the relevant appointing authority thought was best qualified for the job, which doesn’t seem plausible. But I admit that in the ancient world that that might have been common and Carrier might have argued for that in his paper, so I’ll let that slide for now. Still, that interpretation isn’t as clear as Carrier thinks it is.

Green’s actual quote:

Carrier oddly asks this question about the Josephus text which is the subject of the article: “Why is “Jesus” the primary subject in the execution of James, rather than James, the one actually executed?” This is a circular argument. To explain: only Carrier’s rewriting of the passage makes Jesus the central subject. Having rewritten the text, he then asks why Jesus is the central subject. It wasn’t so, until he rewrote it by substituting “called Christ” with “ben Damneus”. If the text is not rewritten, Jesus is not the central subject, and Carrier’s objection then falls away. In the extant text, Ananus is the subject, James is the object, and Jesus is in a passing comment in the genitive case. Thus AJ 20:200 says:

“Ananus [subject]… brought before them the brother [object] of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”

Carrier desires to re-write the text but it is not cogent to claim to have found a smoking gun in terms of Jesus being “the primary subject in the execution of James”, since such is only the consequence of his own rewriting.

It is James who needs introducing in the text, and it introduces him as the brother of Jesus. Jesus is only there to identify which James this could be. In the extant text, “called Christ” completes the identification, and prevents this Jesus being identified with another Jesus later mentioned. Carrier, however, wants the identification to be with the later mention, that of Jesus ben Damneus (20:203).

As it turns out, Green addressed Carrier’s grammatical argument, claiming that it was just a passing comment in the genitive case. I don’t know enough Greek to say which is correct, but Green is right to note that Carrier elevates it in the narrative from an argument about the grammar. If the grammar can support Green’s interpretation, then Carrier’s insults are unwarranted and his counter irrelevant.

Carrier quotes Green:

“[It] seems to me to be assuming too many things … [like] why should Luke have no source other than Josephus? How does this prove that Luke did not know of the death of James? Why assume that the story of James’ death would fit Luke’s narrative scheme in Acts?”

Carrier replies:

None of these are assumed. All of them are argued for and defended with evidence in my article (directly or by citation of the demonstrations elsewhere). So Green cannot even tell the difference between an assumption and an argued conclusion. (He also doesn’t seem aware that this James exists nowhere in Acts. Luke does not even appear to know he existed. Much less was executed yet vindicated by the authorities.)

Of course I never say Luke had “no source other than Josephus”; I argue, citing abundant scholarship proving the fact, that Luke used Josephus as one of his sources, the AJ in particular. Therefore he would have known this story, had it then existed in the AJ. And I never say “that Luke did not know of the death of James”; I say Luke did not know the specific account of it in the AJ (and therefore it can’t have been in the AJ at that time). And the evidence for that conclusion is precisely the very reasons Luke would have had to use it had he known of it, which I do not “assume,” but demonstrate with argument and citations of supporting scholarship (pp. 505-06). All of which Green ignores. Like an amateur.

Green’s actual quote:

Carrier deploys an ‘argument from silence’. He turns to Luke’s Book of Acts. As we all know, it ends about 62AD with Paul in custody in Rome still preaching the gospel, and with Luke having done what he set out to do: to tell the story of the gospel going from Jerusalem to Samaria and to the nations. Acts ends there in Rome, anticipating a trial before the Imperial court. It never gets to tell us of the deaths of Peter and Paul, or James.

Carrier interprets this ending as follows: “Acts does not know of a James “brother of Jesus Christ” killed by a high priest, by stoning… [Luke’s] neglect of this very attractive passage would be very hard to explain, unless it was not present in the AJ in Luke’s time”.

Carrier is assuming at least seven things here:

that Acts was written after AJ;
that Luke read AJ;
that Luke would have extended the ending of Acts to cover this incident had he known of it;
that the current ending of Acts does not really serve Luke’s narrative purposes adequately;
that Luke would have no other source of knowledge for the story but Josephus (if it were in AJ 20) and that Luke’s ‘silence’ is therefore indicative of the original text of Josephus in particular;
that any similar story of the death of James was entirely “unknown” in Luke’s day and was later invented by Hegesippus or someone around his time;
and that Acts pre-dates Hegesippus.

This seems to me to be assuming too many things, notwithstanding that Luke’s connection with Josephus deserves reflection. (It brings to mind Carrier earlier dismissing the theories of deliberate interpolation as ‘less probable’ because they ‘require more assumptions’ (page 498).[14] That seems somewhat ironic in light of a growing stack of assumptions in his article.) For example, why should Luke have no source other than Josephus? How does this prove that Luke did not know of the death of James? Why assume that the story of James’ death would fit Luke’s narrative scheme in Acts?

Carrier ignores the big list of assumptions, focuses on one, and gets it wrong. But the big point here, unaddressed at this point, is the assumption that Luke would have used the story if he had known about it. Green argues against that:

Luke chooses to end Acts with the gospel having travelled from Jerusalem to Rome and anticipating the trial before Caesar: it doesn’t necessarily fit his theme to drag the action back to Jerusalem. Indeed, not even the deaths of Peter and Paul get airtime in Acts, let alone that of James. Carrier’s theory is that Luke would want to make use of the story as potentially pro-Roman and anti-Jewish. That is what Carrier means by calling it a ‘very attractive passage’, but Luke’s stated narrative purpose is not that, but to show the gospel going from Jerusalem to the nations, so logically it ends in Rome, not in Jerusalem.

This is one of Carrier’s weaker arguments, but from this argument from silence he concludes this:

“the story [of Jesus Christ’s James] now extant in AJ 20.200 would have been unknown (since Luke makes no mention of it…) … The story… has nothing to do with Christ or Christians, which explains why Luke does not use it while Josephus does.”

This conclusion is surely based on a false dichotomy: that either Luke’s narrative intentions must take his narrative back from Rome to Jerusalem to get the death of James in; or else the Christian death story is deemed to be non-existent in Luke’s day. Carrier permits Luke to have no narrative intention of his own here, apart from what suits Carrier’s argument. It is worth adding that the argument that Luke doesn’t know of the death of James is precisely one of the factors taken into account by those who date the writing of Luke’s Acts to about 62AD. Carrier’s argument could actually be used to support an early date for Acts.

Green points out that the deaths of Peter and Paul aren’t mentioned in Acts, which if correct is a good reason to say that James’ wouldn’t be there either. Green also points to a narrative purpose for Luke that conflicts with including it. Carrier doesn’t address any of these, but these all work against his argument that if it had existed in Luke’s time he would have used it so it at least likely wasn’t in Josephus at the time. No amount of purportedly great argument and citations can make up for ignoring Green’s own arguments here.

Carrier quotes Green:

“Carrier unexpectedly calls James (the brother of Christ) ‘an unknown James’. He does not here explain how he arrives at the idea of James being ‘unknown’ as a person.”

Carrier replies:

This is another super weird goof. Directly refuting his false claim here, I in fact provided half a page of explanation! See the first half of p. 499. Maybe you can explain to me how Green missed this entire paragraph? Or how he doesn’t get why a James never introduced elsewhere and whose significance is never explained would be “unknown” relative to the actual, quite famous and well-described person whose death Josephus actually credits the fall of Jerusalem to? Perhaps Green is confusing people a Christian would know, with people Josephus’s Roman audience would know—which would be funny, because that’s evidence I cite that Josephus can’t have connected this James to “Christ.” Only Christians would not require an explanation of this James’s significance. Which is how we know only Christians can have produced this passage as we have it.

This seems non-responsive to me, as the only relevant part is saying that he did in fact explain it. I haven’t read the paper and so can’t assess whether he did or not.

Green’s actual quote:

In dismissing any connection between Christians and the AJ 20:200 story, Carrier unexpectedly calls James (the brother of Christ) ‘an unknown James’. He does not here explain how he arrives at the idea of James being ‘unknown’ as a person. Unless one knows more of Carrier’s work, this is an unexplained puzzle. If I may fill in the gap, Carrier’s approach separates James, sibling of Jesus, as a fictional character that has no historical connection with the James whom Paul met (Galatians 1-2; this James, according to Carrier, was real, but not a sibling of Jesus since he considers that there was no historical Jesus). Carrier regards these Jameses as two different things conflated by church tradition. Having this separation in mind, he would feel justified in calling the sibling of Jesus ‘unknown’. Of course, if one does not start from Carrier’s premise that these are two different James, one real and one fictional, then James, brother of Christ, is not unknown. If one does not know the background to Carrier’s thought, it would be difficult to understand why he calls James ‘unknown’ or why it is part of his argument.

The disconnect here seems to be that Green thinks that Carrier is calling James the brother of Jesus as unknown, but the impression I get from the above quote is that Carrier is claiming that of James ben Damneus. Why Carrier doesn’t think that that might be the error given that Green explicitly says that he’s talking about James the brother of Christ seems to reflect a lack of careful reading.

Carrier quotes Green:

“It is well known that Josephus tells the tale of a certain James’ death, set in the 60s. Origen does not: he merely mentions that he was killed.”

Carrier replies:

That’s not true. Origen does a lot more than “merely mention that [James] was killed.” That’s how we know Origen is confusing the account of Hegesippus as coming from Josephus. As I explain in my article (pp. 507-10), Origen says his source (whom he claims is Josephus) narrated an account of James “the Just,” that that narrative said he was so-called on account of the people thinking highly of him, and that this source linked his stoning to the fall of Jerusalem (causally and we must therefore infer temporally). All these details are peculiar to Hegesippus’s narrative of the death of James. None come from Josephus (nor are even plausibly Josephan). So again here we see Green ignoring facts to construct a false claim in rebuttal to my article, that ignores the entire argument of my article. That’s an amateur.

Green’s actual quote:

First, by way of background, it is important to state differences in how Josephus and Origen are approaching their subject matter. There should be some common ground here for those for and against interpolation. I will be a little more explicit than Carrier is. It is well known that Josephus tells the tale of a certain James’ death, set in the 60s. Origen does not: he merely mentions that he was killed. Origen’s narrative belongs in 70AD and later: the destruction of Jerusalem at the start of the 70s and that sometime between the 70s and the end of the century (after the destruction and before the death of Josephus), some Jews, including Josephus, retrospectively thought the death had been the cause of the destruction because it was the death of a just man. Both passages, however, have in common key features, similarities which are being contested by Carrier.

Green’s comment here seems to be that Josephus is telling the story as set in the 60s, while Origen is using it as a reference for events in the 70s. He explicitly admits that there are other details and that he will go on to talk in more detail about them. Carrier ignores that to take a cheap shot here. I know that later Green talks specifically about how whether you claim Origen got it from Josephus or Hegesippus there are significant differences. So to call him an amateur and to make a false claim is definitely too strong a statement. As I said, Green seems to only mean here that Josephus references it directly as part of a story while Origen is referencing it as an event to a further purpose.

Carrier quotes Green:

“[T]hese innocent words ‘the same writer’ are capable of other interpretations, [such as] just a way to avoid repeating ‘Josephus… Josephus…’ [so] these few words are not strong enough to bear the weight of Carrier’s assumptions and his bold conclusion that “Origen must have had an entirely different treatise in mind.”

Carrier replies:

At no point in my article do I say “Origen must have had an entirely different treatise in mind” because he said “the same writer.” Green has fabricated an argument I never made, and duly knocks down his straw man. There are several lessons here in how to spot incompetence:

Origen said a number of things that in conjunction lead to this conclusion; that one element alone would not be telltale, nor do I argue from it this way. Amateurs (and Christian apologists generally) have a really hard time grasping that a conjunction of several elements that individually are mundane can be itself no longer mundane. The conclusion follows from the conjunction, not the elements individually. Amateurs also tend to not understand what an argument even is, and thus, like here, Green mistakes my argument as “because x, therefore y” merely because I mention x. In fact my argument isn’t even from x. Green confuses the fact that I merely mention a thing, as my using it as a premise. But no competent diagram of my argument could conclude this.

Since Green is quoting that, the only relevant response who be that Green misquoted him. But Carrier doesn’t actually say that, and instead focuses on having more arguments. And the problem is that his own quote contradicts him:

Here is the actual argument Green is incompetently quoting from (from p. 499, emphasis now added):

[C]ontrary to previous assumptions, Origen does not say that Josephus said this in the AJ. He refers to a passage in Josephus attesting John the Baptist in AJ 18 (and, notably, not a passage that attests to Jesus in that same book, one of the many instances in which we must conclude Origen cannot have known the TF, which now also appears in AJ 18), and only then says, ‘the same writer says’ this thing about James the Just. Notably, he does not say Josephus says it in the same book, or even in the same work. Origen must have had an entirely different treatise in mind.(emphasis added)

Sure looks like he says that thing that he says he never said in his article to me. And his argument is weak because he’s relying on Origen not giving an actual reference to make the claim. Sure, Origen could have gotten that from another treatise, but there’s no evidence for “must” as Carrier explicitly states it here. So Green isn’t making a strawman at all: Carrier really does link the “the same writer says” comment to a claim that this must mean that he didn’t mean the AJ but some other treatise of Josephus’ that we have never heard of or come across.

And if you go to the article, this is Carrier quoting himself. So no incompetent quoting can be blamed.

Green’s actual quote:

On the first ‘mistake’, supposedly a mistake by Origen in thinking that he has got from Josephus some material about the destruction being caused by James’ death, Carrier draws on the fact that Origen does not specify a particular book of Josephus.[15]

For ease of reference, here are two instances in which Origen introduces his subject:

“For in the eighteenth book of his Jewish Antiquities, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist… and the same writer… says…” which then goes on to discussion of Jewish views of the destruction being caused by the death of James (Origen, Against Celsus 1.47)

“Flavius Josephus, who wrote the Judaic Antiquities in twenty books… said…” which then goes on to discussion of Jewish views of the destruction being caused by the death of James (Origen, On Matthew 10.17)

Can much be made of the fact that Origen does not say “in the twentieth book”? Carrier treats this as a smoking gun. He makes these assumptions about it, and the first one is perhaps the biggest assumption:

that Origen really has read such things in a book;
that Origen really did think that Josephus wrote said book;
that Origen searched diligently in Josephus for the source of these words but was unsuccessful;
that Origen’s words “the same writer” constitute hesitant language indicating that unsuccessful search;
that Origen nevertheless still thought that one of Josephus’ works was his source;
(and therefore presumably Origen did not consider whether anything else he had read by any other author could be the source, although Carrier does not say so).

However, these innocent words “the same writer” are capable of other interpretations. It could be just a way to avoid repeating “Josephus… Josephus…”[16] Anyway, these few words are not strong enough to bear the weight of Carrier’s assumptions and his bold conclusion that “Origen must have had an entirely different treatise in mind”, i.e. not AJ 20, and not AJ at all (emphasis added).

Of course, that conclusion merely rearranges the same problem: if Origen could have “had an entirely different treatise in mind”, why did he not search or name any possible non-Josephan source he had access to? Just as Origen does not name AJ 20, nor does he name some other book. However, Carrier simply uses that to lever open a door. Now it is fair game to search for another text, unnamed by Origen, that better fits Origen’s words about the cause of the destruction of Jerusalem. So Carrier proceeds on his key assumption that Origen really has read these things somewhere, and, innocently fixated on no author but Josephus, he really has forgotten where.

Carrier does need to explain what other source Origen had in mind here, and yet his actual move invalidates this argument entirely because, as already noted, he ends up linking the quote in question to Hegesippus, meaning that the “the same writer” isn’t itself even accurate, or at least relevant to Carrier’s theory.

Carrier quotes Green:

“[Carrier says] ‘Origen did not note the phrase, ‘who was called Christ,’ as original to Josephus.’ In other words, it is not Origen but other scholars (after Origen) who thought this phrase was original to Josephus. But Carrier’s statement is problematic. In particular, the words ‘who was called Christ’ account for only three of the six Greek words that constitute, in full, ‘the brother of Jesus who was called Christ’.”

Carrier replies:

An expert would already know that Origen is already talking about James the brother of Jesus, so we already know why he would say the phrase “James the brother of Jesus.” So that these three words would match in both texts would never be attributable to quotation. Otherwise we’d have to say every writer in all of history who says “James the brother of Jesus” is quoting each other. No. That’s just people using words as language requires. The only way to argue that maybe Origen is quoting Josephus is by claiming the addition of “who was called Christ” is telltale. But Origen does not say those words come from Josephus either. And as I go on to show, we would already expect Origen to use those words anyway. They appear to be Origen’s words. And indeed those three words only “appear” in Josephus after Origen; in time for Eusebius to find them there (when peculiarly Origen had not), and then present them as a quotation of Josephus (in exactly the way Origen didn’t).

This is why only those three words are relevant to our inquiry. That Green does not understand this is illustrative of his incompetence in literary and linguistic analysis and text-critical reasoning.

Except Green’s counter is that the six word phrase is exactly the same in the extant copies of Josephus and Origen, so Carrier would need to show why Origen’s comment in his own words would match that that exactly. And Origen in his own words, as Green notes, would not have used a phrasing that implies that Jesus is not Christ, whereas Josephus did. So we get to this point: with that phrasing, Origen clearly thinks that he’s referencing Josephus and not Hegesippus. But Carrier seems to accept that so this seems irrelevant, and here he doens’t address the oddity of the two using the exact same six word phrase. Admittedly, there aren’t that many ways to say that sentence, but Carrier resorts to insulting Green instead of simply pointing that out.

Green’s actual quote:

The second ‘mistake’ is the supposed mistake on the part of scholars, misled into assuming Origen is citing Josephus (misled by three presumed signposts: the occurrence of the phrase “the brother of Jesus called Christ”; the death of James; and Origen purporting to take Josephus to task). Here Carrier sets up the idea that the connection is all in the mind of scholars. So he says:

“Origen did not note the phrase, “who was called Christ,” as original to Josephus.”

In other words, it is not Origen but other scholars (after Origen) who thought this phrase was original to Josephus. But Carrier’s statement is problematic. In particular, the words “who was called Christ” account for only three of the six Greek words that constitute, in full, “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. This is significant, because it is due to this longer sequence, six words, and Origen’s mention of Josephus and the death of James, that scholars make the connection to AJ 20. No-one makes the textual attribution on the basis of three Greek words but on the basis of six words and all these things. The article does not establish why Origen would, or should, make a narrowly drawn note about only three words – “who was called Christ” – rather than Origen making a note about the fuller phrase he uses: “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. It is a difference between a Greek phrase of three words as against six words.

The fact is, it is Carrier, not Origen, who has an interest in isolating “called Christ” from the rest of the phrase. There is no reason why Origen should make a note treating the words “called Christ” in a manner distinct from how he treats the rest of the phrase. Why does Carrier frame the matter in this way? He is projecting his own concern about a three-word problem onto Origen. Carrier is merely priming the reader to be readier to accept his own argument that the issue is only three Greek words.

Carrier’s problematic statement needs further unpacking. It asserts that “Origen did not note the phrase… as original to Josephus, or claim that he was even quoting Josephus at all.” That is, Origen attributes views on James’ death and the destruction to Josephus, but does not attribute the description of James as “the brother of Jesus called Christ” to Josephus. I am not convinced of this. Origen does not draw a dividing line between his comments to imply any such distinction in attribution. In fact, Origen can be interpreted as explicitly stating the opposite, taken this way: “Josephus… says… the brother of Jesus who was called Christ.” Looked at this way, Origen precisely claims that he is taking material, including this phrase, from Josephus. Carrier accuses this of being a scholars’ mistake, but his assumption of a dividing line is no more convincing.

Note that Carrier also ignores a huge swathe of text talking about a lot of things, including the things that were the same and different in Origen and Josephus. And here Green is simply pointing out that arguing that Origen was not attributing the phrase to Josepgus isn’t clear.

Carrier quotes Green:

“[Carrier says] Hegesippus writes ‘as if originating the appellation’? That seems an ill-informed thing for Carrier to write. Although Carrier does not tell the reader, we know that the Gospel of Thomas also uses the appellation ‘James the Just’. And we know that many scholars date Thomas earlier than Hegesippus. … [and Origen knew GThom, so] the suggestion that Hegesippus is the originator of this phrase is not well made. What’s more, according to Eusebius, the appellation ‘James the Just’ was also used by Origen’s teacher Clement of Alexandria.”

Carrier replies:

We get a bunch of boners here. Hegesippus predates Clement of Alexandria. So that Clement used a phrase Hegesippus invented is not an argument against Hegesippus inventing it. And the Gospel of Thomas is not quoted or cited by any author before the 3rd century, so we cannot in fact establish the text we have of it dates earlier—and remember, just because our Medieval Coptic copy says certain things, does not mean those things were in the text of it centuries earlier; in fact we know they often weren’t: early Greek papyrus fragments show significant differences from the Coptic text Green is referring to. Scholars do imagine the original could date anywhere from 100 to 200 A.D. But that it was written in the 2nd century and that that is what it then said are both speculations based on no evidence.

In On the Historicity of Jesus (pp. 326-31) I suggest Hegesippus is actually quoting or adapting this story from a lost Acts of James, which could well date earlier that century. But I don’t bother with that speculation in the article Green is addressing. Because I don’t actually claim Hegesippus invented the appellation in that article; I only suggest it looks like this story originated it (hence the “as if” Hegesippus did). And I list evidence in support of that conclusion: the designation is derived in this narrative from the claim that Isaiah predicted the events in this story; and James is merely called “just” many times before one of his murderers sticks the term to his name ironically near the end of the tale—in other words, he is not introduced as “James the Just”; he is depicted as getting the name from this story.

The significance of this is that this story (wherever it originated) appears to be where the appellation came from. Thus that Origen cites numerous peculiarities of this very story (and only mistakenly attributes them to Josephus) is reinforced here as the very thing he is doing. This is not the same thing as arguing this is where Origen got the phrase. Amateurs have a hard time with probability reasoning. Saying that an item of evidence increases the probability of a conclusion is not saying that that conclusion is the only possible explanation of the evidence—it isn’t even saying that that conclusion is the most likely explanation of the evidence. The latter conclusion comes only after an accumulation of all the evidence together. Not from individual isolated items of evidence.

The problem here is that if Origen knew about the appellation of “James the Just” without referencing Hegesippus then Origen’s using that term is equally compatible with getting the story/phrase from Josephus, as he would translate that James to the one he knew, the Just, especially if James being a just man was important to Origen’s story, which it was. As Green notes, Origen was essentially taking elements of the accounts he’d come across and using them to make a specific theological point. As such, he definitely would go beyond the text when phrasing things if it suited his purpose. The reason he doesn’t do it in the six word phrase is because he is at least ascribing the view to Josephus and using it to criticize Josephus for his non-belief.

Green also notes that if it is taken as a recasting of Hegesippus there are also major differences that would need to be explained, so again it’s just clear that Origen references works creatively.

Green’s actual quote:

As mentioned, to help distance Origen from Josephus, Carrier wants us to think that Origen is nearer to Hegesippus.

Carrier makes great play of the fact that Hegesippus like Origen, and unlike Josephus, uses the phrase ‘James the Just’, but this phrase was in popular usage if Hegesippus is to be believed. It was an epithet that could be used whenever Christians spoke of James.

Neverthless. arguing that Origen owes the words “James the Just” to Hegesippus, Carrier writes:

“Hegesippus repeatedly refers to this James as “the Just” … and once explicitly calls him “James the Just” (indeed, as if originating the appellation…)” (page 508, emphasis added).

Hegesippus writes “as if originating the appellation”? That seems an ill-informed thing for Carrier to write. Although Carrier does not tell the reader, we know that the Gospel of Thomas also uses the appellation “James the Just”. And we know that many scholars date Thomas earlier than Hegesippus. We also know that elsewhere Origen names a Gospel of Thomas, whereas he never names Hegesippus. In summary, the suggestion that Hegesippus is the originator of this phrase is not well made.

What’s more, according to Eusebius, the appellation “James the Just” was also used by Origen’s teacher Clement of Alexandria. To convince, an argument for Origen’s dependence on Hegesippus should at least reference and compare the potential alternative sources for the appellation “James the Just” (Thomas, Hegesippus, Clement, popular usage). Why does Carrier omit this exercise? It is one of a number of examples of the article’s lack of engagement with relevant evidence. Dependence on Hegesippus for the epithet is not established.

Note that Carrier has skipped ahead here and ignored the entire argument where Green compares the texts in question and notes similarities and differences between them to focus on this point which is clearly less important to Green and even Carrier. Focusing on minor points at the expense of larger ones and especially ones that Carrier himself has insulted Green for not talking about does not lend confidence to Carrier’s interpretations here.

Carrier quotes Green:

“‘Vespasian besieged them’ (Hegesippus) and ‘Jerusalem’s destruction’ (Origen) are at opposite ends of the story of the war, years apart. … [So w]hy does Carrier make such an inaccurate statement as ‘according to Hegesippus, James’ execution… immediately precedes Jerusalem’s destruction’?”

Carrier replies:

This is not an error. Origen and Hegesippus both say the execution of James came years before the actual destruction. So that the ensuing destruction took a few years is not at all relevant to the immediacy of the consequence. And Origen and Hegesippus both say the destruction of Jerusalem was the inevitable consequence of the siege. There is no reason whatever for Hegesippus to conclude his story with the cause of the destruction “immediately” following the murder of James but to signal that was the punishment for it, as I show Eusebius correctly infers from this very passage. And indeed, Hegesippus’s narrative explicitly sets this up by noting Isaiah had predicted that, for this murder, “shall they eat the fruit of their doings,” thus signalling that how he concludes his story shall fulfill that prophecy. He is thus obviously referring to what happened: Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed. (See my whole argument, which lists multiple lines of evidence Green ignores: pp. 508-09.)

Green’s actual quote:

There are, in any case, difficulties with all these comparisons. A point made in some interpolation theories is that to derive Origen from Josephus, one has to allow that Origen is going over and above what Josephus says; but deriving Origen from Hegesippus (as Carrier does) has to allow that Origen is going over and above what Hegesippus says. This is not much in the way of progress, as theories go. Origen is still attributing to his source, rightly or wrongly named, things that neither Josephus nor Hegesippus says.

Yet Carrier insists, “this legend [in Hegesippus] must be Origen’s source.” (page 507, emphasis added). Carrier overstates similarities in the two authors, to put it mildly. Take this line in Hegesippus: “And immediately Vespasian besieged them.” That’s all Hegesippus says on the war.

Now here is Carrier’s unexpected take on it: “according to Hegesippus, James’ execution… immediately precedes Jerusalem’s destruction”, and Carrier reiterates, saying: “immediately before the destruction came” (page 509).

This is a highly inaccurate representation of Hegesippus. Does Carrier wants us to think that Hegesippus matches with Origen’s mention of the 70AD destruction? It is inaccurate in chronology and detail. That is, “Vespasian besieged them” (Hegesippus) and “Jerusalem’s destruction” (Origen) are at opposite ends of the story of the war, years apart. Hegesippus speaks of the start of the siege. Origen speaks of the destruction of the temple and city at the end of the siege.

Why does Carrier make such an inaccurate statement as “according to Hegesippus, James’ execution… immediately precedes Jerusalem’s destruction”? Why does the article include so many errors? If Carrier wants to satisfy us that Origen is borrowing from Hegesippus, why does he ask us to digest empty calories?

Carrier even goes on unimpressively to assert that Origen attributed to Josephus “all the same things that Hegesippus coincidentally says.” That does not square with the data, which shows that Origen’s riffing is far from entirely found in Hegesippus who does not mention the destruction and desolation of 70AD or views of Jews thereafter, nor seek explicitly for the cause of the fall of Jerusalem as Josephus does.

Carrier here yanks out one part of it that he can criticize and ignores the narrative point and the overall point that as there are things in Origen that don’t align with Josephus there are things in Origen that don’t align with Hegesippus either, so you have to accept that Origen is at least reading in no matter what source you start from, so that’s not good evidence that it was Hegesippus and not Josephus.

Carrier quotes Green:

Why oh why, has Carrier been labouring to tell us that Origen’s content ‘precisely matches with … Hegesippus’?; and that Origen’s words ‘construct a sentence that says exactly what Josephus does not say (but Hegesippus does)’.”

Carrier’s reply:

Green is not very bright. So he does not grasp what my article plainly says. Origen’s details match Hegesippus, not his words, because Origen is not quoting anyone, he is paraphrasing in his own words—as I demonstrate extensively. If you look at the lines Green quotes from me in context this is obvious (p. 510). Green amateurishly doesn’t understand the difference between “content” (what I actually said) and “words,” even after supposedly having just read an article that extensively argues all the words Origen uses are his own and only the content is matched.

So it makes no sense for Green to ask why Origen’s words don’t match Hegesippus. And on the interpolation theory the only words that matched Josephus at the time were “James the brother of Jesus,” a phrase Origen would always have written here anyway (see below), and thus cannot indicate any quotation of Josephus or anyone else. So the question is whether adding to that phrase “the so-called Christ” came from a direct quote of Josephus or from Origen’s paraphrase; in other words, whether those three words are Josephus’s or Origen’s. My paper presents extensive, peer reviewed evidence they were Origen’s. And that they only entered into Josephus’s text afterward, by accident. Green has failed to respond to any of my actual arguments for that conclusion.

Green’s actual quote:

Carrier compounds this error by reiterating that Origen’s content “precisely matches with Eusebius’s quotation of Hegesippus.” i.e. Origen matches Hegesippus. It is difficult to understand what causes Carrier to say that they precisely match. But he keeps saying much the same thing in different forms of wording. Thus apparently Origen’s words “construct a sentence that says exactly what Josephus does not say (but Hegesippus does).” But repetition of this theme does not make it any more accurate. In fact, the lie is given to this when Carrier states of the key six words that “none refer to the AJ or Hegesippus” (emphasis added). Let what Carrier says there sink in. Why oh why, has Carrier been labouring to tell us that Origen’s content “precisely matches with … Hegesippus”?; and that Origen’s words “construct a sentence that says exactly what Josephus does not say (but Hegesippus does).” In the end, Carrier has to say the opposite about the six word phrase, and hardly anything matches quite as well as Carrier asserts.

Green’s point is that neither the details nor the critical six words match, despite Carrier asserting that they do. Carrier doesn’t address that except to assert that the details do and to ignore that the criticial six words are not present and, in fact, wouldn’t be present as Hegesippus would never call Jesus “the so-called Christ”.

Carrier quotes Green:

“Carrier also gives himself a get out of jail card by saying ‘Origen would be using a source that simply confused Hegesippus for Josephus’ (page 510, emphasis added). So he says perhaps it was someone else’s mistake, just in case. This posits an unknown source. Is this not ‘complicated’?”

Carrier replies:

This illustrates another amateur inability to understand the logic of probability. Indeed Green screws up twice here: first, not comprehending how low probabilities can sum to a high probability; and second, not even getting right what I said in the first place.

On the first point, if we have two possible theories that both result in the same conclusion, and one of them is simple, and so has, say, a high probability (let’s say, 60%), and the other is complex, and so has, say, a low probability (let’s say, 10%), the probability of the conclusion is thereby increased. Indeed, in the hypothetical example, from 60% to 70%. Not decreased as Green seems to assume. Because the probability of the conclusion equals the sum of all possible paths to that result.

Thus Green mistakes my pointing this out, for instead leaning entirely on a less probable hypothesis. No. When I say both paths lead to the same conclusion, I am talking about the sum of their probabilities being thereby increased. The low probability of one of them makes no difference to that fact. Innumeracy is indeed commonplace among amateurs, and I find in Christian apologists especially. It does not reduce the probability of a thesis to propose multiple possible ways it could happen. It actually in fact increases that probability.

This, if true, would show why Bayesian epistemology, based as it is on probabilities, is utterly useless. Imagine that we have a theory that’s fairly probable that leads to a specific conclusion. And then someone posits a separate theory that is utterly improbable and yet comes to the same conclusion. How does that increase the probability of the first theory being correct? Carrier seems to be going for the idea outlined above that you add up all probabilities of all theories and they have to sum to 1, but this has to be considered only against that specific conclusion, which is not how these things are done. In general, we at least have competing conclusions and they have to be assessed against each other. You can’t just invent a theory that supports your conclusion, give it a probility, and then count it in favour of your preferred conclusion! Even Carrier here implies that it’s the more probable theory that’s going the heavy lifting here.

Let me use a hypothetical example here. Imagine that someone comes across a shopping list that we all agree was mine. Someone notes that “Hot peppers” are on the list. A theory arises that someone else added that to the list because I hate spicy food and so would never buy hot peppers. This is a pretty plausible theory. Then someone else comes up with a theory that I wouldn’t have added it to the list because the grocery store I was going to didn’t stock them, which is implausible because all the grocery stores I go to do stock them. Would that improbable theory make it more likely that I didn’t add them in any reasonable sense? It’s almost certainly not true. The same thing applies to Carrier’s hypothetical. If the reason we think the new theory is improbable is because it comes to an absurd conclusion, then that would immediately count against any theory that came to that conclusion. But if we had a probable theory that came to that conclusion, that obviously wouldn’t be the case. So the only possible difference between the two would be how they arrive at that conclusion. And a theory that arrives at a conclusion through unreliable reasoning — the only way it could have a 10% probability — isn’t going to add support that the far better reasoned theory isn’t already benefiting from.

Carrier goes on:

On the second point, here is my actual argument that Green is screwing up (p. 510, emphasis now added):

That someone else conflated these two passages before Origen, a conflation that he later employed, is also too complicated: this theory requires us to invent an unattested source that Origen does not mention and assume that the same improbable errors were made in that source. Again, it is more likely that Origen would be using a source that simply confused Hegesippus for Josephus.

In other words, I did not argue “Origen used a source that simply confused Hegesippus for Josephus.” I argued that that theory, even as improbable as it is, is still more probable than an even more complex theory (“that someone else conflated these two passages before Origen”). Which is correct. But as Green didn’t actually comprehend what the argument I made actually was, he wrote a completely incompetent response to it.

Green’s actual quote:

But Carrier also gives himself a get out of jail card by saying ‘Origen would be using a source that simply confused Hegesippus for Josephus’ (page 510, emphasis added). So he says perhaps it was someone else’s mistake, just in case. This posits an unknown source. Is this not ‘complicated’? It seems ironic to posit an unknown source, since just a few lines above, Carrier dismisses the idea of someone conflating Hegesippus and Origen with his remark that this ‘is also too complicated: this theory requires us to invent an unattested source that Origen does not mention…’ Surely what is good for the goose is good for the gander?

Carrier explicitly leaves out the important part of the quote: Green is noting that Carrier uses “We need to invent an unattested source” as being something that indicats that the theory is too complicated, but then invents an unattested source himself as if that’s perfectly fine. That’s not consistent, and Carrier never addresses it an explicitly ignores it.

Carrier quotes Green:

“[Origen] treats ‘called Christ’ as a statement that he needs to correct.”

Carrier replies:

There is no evidence of this. It is typical of amateurs to make things up, and then declare them facts. Which, by the way, is an actual example of substituting an assumption for a fact. Green is assuming this is what Origen is doing, but there is no evidence it is (the mere juxtaposition is not sufficient to conclude so), and even some evidence it isn’t. Indeed, the whole section where Green says this selectively ignores most of my actual arguments regarding that phrase and its history of use in Origen, the Bible, and other Christian authors. I needn’t repeat it here. You can see for yourself what my arguments actually are, and how they already refute Green (pp. 511 and 496-97).

Green’s actual quote:

In this instance, the issue is not merely that LEGOMENOS CHRISTOS is an unexpected phrase for a Christian commentator to use when writing for Christian readers who all customarily refer to Jesus as Christ, not as one who is “called Christ”. Rather more than that, although Carrier does not engage with this, Origen repeatedly rails against what he takes to be a non-believer denying that Jesus is the Christ. As such, he treats “called Christ” as a statement that he needs to correct. His antagonism surely makes it more probable that he is attributing it to his literary adversary in this respect, Josephus, than treating it as a Christian idiom of his own pen.[27]

Carrier doesn’t address the evidence that Green gives here about Origen railing aganst a non-believer, meaning that he clearly thinks that he is addressing one, meaning that he thinks he is addressing Josephus. The saddest thing about this is that both Carrier’s ideas of Origen either making a mistake or reading a copy that made a mistake are consistent with this, and so intead of saying that Green is making it all up could simply accept that Origen thought he was indeed referencing Josephus, which again Carrier already accepts. So he doesn’t refute it but doesn’t even need to.

Carrier quotes Green:

“Carrier does not account for why Origen would write [‘brother of Jesus’], rather than the standard pious ‘the brother of the Lord’ in common with patristic writings.

Carrier replies:

Origen never uses “Brother of the Lord” as a phrase in his own words. So we have no need to explain why he wouldn’t use it here. But regardless, as an expert could explain to Green: Origen thinks he is paraphrasing a non-Christian source (and even goes out of his way to say so); so obviously he would not do so by attributing to that source the identification of Jesus as “Lord.” That I even need to explain this to Green is a paradigmatic example of his being an amateur.

Which makes it odd that he claims that Green is making up that “called Christ” is a statement that Origen needs to correct since that’s pretty much only used to establish that Origen thinks he’s addressing a non-Christian source, which Carrier derides but then immediately goes on to accept. So what he explains to Green is not only what Green already knows, but what he’s relying on to make his point. So much for being an amateur …

Carrier continues on to essentialy keep saying that Origen wouldn’t use Lord, but does hint that he would have used “Jesus Christ”, which is also not used here. But Carrier uses a lot of insults to concede Green’s point: Origen clearly thought that he was referencing a non-Christian source. If the choices are Josephus and Hegesippus, then he thought he was referencing Josephus.

Green’s actual quote:

Nevertheless, Carrier believes he has adequately argued that the six word phrase first existed in Origen, by combining a mention of James as a brother with his supposed familiar idiom. In summary, on the two components of the six words in Origen:

1) “the brother of Jesus”: Carrier does not account for why Origen would write that, rather than the standard pious “the brother of the Lord” in common with patristic writings; and

2) “who was called Christ”: Carrier says Origen uses it as a familiar Christian idiom but there are weaknesses in this argument.

I’m guessing it’s this one since the quotes don’t align but this is the closest one. Yeah, it’s weak to say that Carrier’s argument hereis adequate.

There are a couple of other things in Carrier that I’ll skip and Carrier skips a lot in Green, but at the end of the day I don’t think Carrier’s defense of his article stand. He’s left out a lot of what Green says and ignores or misinterprets a lot of what he does say. That being said, I don’t think Green adequately addresses why Jesus was given more prominence than James in the relevant sentence. Suffice it to say, there’s more to debate here.

(I have almost 20000 words on this, which Carrier would find excessive, but in my defense most of them are quotes).

Paragons and Knaves: Does Good Character Make for a Good Character

April 8, 2019

The next essay in “Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy” is “Paragons and Knaves: Does Good Character Make for a Good Character?” by J.K. Miles and Karrington Hess. Unfortunately, from a philosophical angle, it mostly focuses on how alignment can be used to build a more interesting D&D character while slipping in a number of philosophical references. However, there is an interesting discussion to be had here, as they make the typical mistake made in assessing the various alignments:

Good characters are distinguished by their concern for the well-being of others. Neutral characters show only self-concern, while evil characters tends to harm others or place others in harm’s way for personal gain. Lawful characters tend to follow the rules given to them by society. Neutral characters follow the rules only when it is advantageous to them or they fear being caught. Chaotic characters actively seek to disrupt the rules placed on them by society, whether to promote social change or incite anarchy.

This is an … interesting interpretation of the alignments (I doubt that druids, who have to be neutral on at least one axis, would say that they are forced to choose between always acting self-interested or following rules only when they fear getting caught). But it does make a common mistake by making Evil, at least, dramatically evil and ignoring that most average, everyday people are of Neutral alignment. Good and Evil are the extremes, not the norm.

So what is my view of the alignments? Good characters are self-sacrificing, as they tend to put the interests of others ahead of their own. Evil characters are self-serving, and put their own interests ahead of those of others. Neutral characters will sometimes put the interests of others ahead of their own, and sometimes put their own interests ahead of others. Lawful characters follow the rules, whether those are the rules of a society or their own personal honour code. Chaotic characters always follow their own consciences in every situation, doing what seems right to them at the time. Neutral characters sometimes follow the rules and sometimes follow their own consciences.

Essentially, Neutral characters haven’t picked a side. This may be explicit — you can have a Neutral character who thinks that everyone must consistently balance altruistic and self-serving actions in order to maintain balance — or implicit in that they just happen to act that way without having a philosophical commitment behind it. Characters at the extremes have indeed picked a side, either others or themselves, rules or personal conscience.

The clash here seems to be that people don’t — or at least no longer — think that someone acting primarily in their own self-interest is necessarily evil. This probably follows from the reasonable intuition that a proper moral code isn’t going to demand that you sacrifice all of your interests for others, to the point where everyone gets a better life because of you while your life is miserable. It also probably follows from the rejection of intentionalism in morality, where we only look at what happens and not what our intents were. A character who does something that helps others only because it’s the thing that happens to most benefit them isn’t being in any way Good. And, in fact, if they would do so even if it hurt others we can call that a pretty consistent Evil character. Just because an action doesn’t actually hurt others doesn’t mean that it’s somehow good or altruistic.

To me, what characters the evil or the immoral is overriding personal self-interest. What characterizes the good is an overriding concern for others. Few of us can rise to that level, and so most of us mix the two and remain Neutral.