Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lingo: Locutionary, Illocutionary, and Perlocutionary Acts

John: "Darling, do you want to go out to the show tonight?"

Laura: "I'm feeling ill."

John: "That's ok. You stay there and I'll make soup."
Notice how Laura didn't respond to John's question by saying, "No, I don't want to go out to the show tonight." What she actually said — her locutionary act — was "I'm feeling ill."

An illocutionary act is what a person does in saying something else. Locution is speech. In-locution (in speaking) becomes il-locution through phonetic assimilation. In saying that she feels ill, Laura was telling John that she doesn't want go out.

Beyond communicating the state of her health and the answer to John's question, Laura accomplished one more thing through saying "I'm feeling ill." She got John to make her some soup. A perlocutionary act (per-locutionary, through speaking) is focused on the response others have to a speech act.

These terms from J.L. Austin's 1962 book How to Do Things with Words are used extensively in philosophical literature today. And in fiction, having a character who is deaf to the illocutionary force of language is always good comedy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Words Defined by Words Alone

In Chapter Three of The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, Gleick (2011) wrote:
The dictionary ratifies the persistence of the word. It declares that the meanings of words come from other words. It implies that all words, taken together, form an interlocking structure: interlocking, because all words are defined in terms of other words. This could never have been an issue in an oral culture, where language was barely visible. Only when printing—and the dictionary—put the language into separate relief, as an object to be scrutinized, could anyone develop a sense of word meaning as interdependent and even circular. Words had to be considered as words, representing other words, apart from things. (p. 66)
This passage had the unintended effect of moving me farther away from Gleick's views than I was before reading it. It's an old rule to "define" words by using any other words but the one currently being defined, and a synonym for "definition" is "meaning," so it can be easy to think that some correct string of other words is what constitutes the meaning of a word. Gleick carries this to the conclusion that any given word only has meaning by virtue of other words which themselves only have meaning by still more words, or maybe the original word. He considers this as an insight gained through literacy and dictionary making; preliterate people simply weren't in a good position to notice that word meaning arises from a network map of individually meaningless words.

I consider this sort of view an illustrative overreaction to the crude philosophy of language that all words stand directly for things. Gleick would have us believe, instead, that all words stand for words. Not only would this fail to hook up to the world of things, it fails to hook up with the world of ideas. (At least, any ideas which can't be captured by graph theory.) A moderate take is that perhaps some words stand only for words or only for things, but many words stand for ideas. If I want to convey a certain idea to you, I select words intended to evoke that idea — or a similar enough idea — in your mind when you hear my speech or read my writing.

What are dictionary entries under this moderate view? Acts of communication. Dictionary writers are trying to evoke the ideas which are usually intended to be evoked by the use of a word. A good dictionary definition does two things: it correctly identifies the list of commonly-intended ideas behind the use of a word, and it successfully communicates these ideas to dictionary readers. Dictionaries may be artifacts of literate culture, but I would find it very hard to believe everyone waited for dictionaries to be invented before thinking to ask speakers for clarification of strange words. So under the moderate view, an analogue of dictionary use was probably already happening in oral culture. I suspect the major difference in written dictionaries is that authors were expected to define common words, and may have found unexpected challenges in that task.


Gleick, J. (2011). The information: A history, a theory, a flood. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom

The fields of Knowledge Management, Information Systems, and Information Science use a theoretical model called the knowledge hierarchy, the information pyramid, the DIKW model, and several other mix-and-match terms along these lines. Not only the name of the model but the details of the model itself change significantly depending on who is teaching it,1 so it would be more accurate to say it's a family of models.

Three core features of these models:
  • Data, information, and knowledge are distinct concepts (as opposed to synonyms).
  • Information is higher-level than data. Knowledge is higher-level than information.
  • There is at least one more level above knowledge.
From what I can tell, the relationship between data and information is the most common focus of this theorizing, with less agreement on what knowledge is and how it's supposed to relate to information, and even less agreement beyond that.

Data vs. Information

There is a lot of emphasis on the etymology of "data" as something which is "given"; it's there from the start and needs to be processed, refined, selected, vetted, etc. in order to produce information. A common analogy is the refining of pure metals (information) from ore (data). Sure, someone had to mine the ore or collect the data, but it's only useful as raw material for the process of creating information.

Problems with Data vs. Information

"Data" and "information" are both common words in non-technical English which don't convey the kind of sharp contrast used in DIKW models. We can already talk about "raw data" as opposed to "processed data" or "organized data." There's nothing odd about using "personal information" to refer to a Social Security Number, though this would fall under the data category in many DIKW models.

Considering (1) these are fairly close synonyms in non-technical English, and (2) the important distinction captured by DIKW's contrast of data vs. information can be conveyed by a variety of evocative phrases like "raw data" vs. "processed data," I argue that re-using these words in a technical sense muddies up communication without a good reason.

Plus, one person's given data is another's processed data. For example, the global average temperature in 1845 may look like a simple point of data to someone collecting such numbers for use in climate research. But that number has a complex origin story involving instrument calibration, tree ring measurements, statistical analysis, etc. There isn't a natural distinction between input stuff and output stuff when data/information is so often processed in an iterative or recursive way.

Information vs. Knowledge

According to different versions of DIKW, knowledge concerns the application of information, or "know-how" as opposed to "know-what," or expertise that exists within a human being, or an understanding of how different kinds of information relate. I'm seeing all sorts of ideas here, usually (but not always) about the transition from inert facts to taking action.

A Problem with Information vs. Knowledge

In non-technical English and in mainstream philosophy of knowledge, we do understand that what we know — or at least what we believe — has a profound effect on the way we take action, but also that knowledge is more-or-less inert before adding motivation or goals. "The application of knowledge" is synonymous with "the application of information."

The most charitable way I can see knowledge working as a "next step" to information is to focus on the implication that knowledge is internal to a decision-maker. The word "information" seems to more easily allow disembodiment; but then again, we don't think it strange to point at shelves of books and talk about "all that knowledge."

Overlapping Meanings, Not Hierarchy

You may have figured out by now that I'm not a fan of the DIKW hierarchy. I believe its success is due to the way it suggests new value or new information can be added to existing data/information/knowledge by doing some work with it. Information professionals would, of course, want to promote this general idea. It is an important idea!

However, the DIKW hierarchy doesn't seem to reflect either the common usage of its terms or how the world works. Nor are the technical uses of its terms well-defined enough to let professionals in these fields communicate precise concepts without further clarification. Its vices outweigh its virtues as a conceptual model.

If someone could come up with a catchy way (besides a pyramid chart) to convey the key idea about adding value through working with information, I think we could manage to do away with DIKW.


1. Rowley, J. (2007). The wisdom hierarchy: representations of the DIKW hierarchy. Journal of Information Science, 33(2), 163-80.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Metaethics Summary

I've added a My Metaethics link to the sidebar. Hopefully this will serve as a quick introduction to my views on the nature of moral judgments. Might footnote it up a bunch later.

And if you haven't noticed it yet, farther down the sidebar there is a new external link to the Directory of Open Access Journals' category on philosophy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Two Reasons to Sign Up For PhilPapers

I'm taking better advantage of http://philpapers.org in a couple of ways. You should too!

Raise your awareness

Click on My Profile, find Areas of Interest along the left side, and click (edit). Here you can select up to ten areas of interest.

Now, you could just check Send me digests of new papers in my areas, but the much hipper thing to do is click on New Items, fiddle with Custom Filter settings, then scroll down and click RSS Feed. This generates a custom feed to plug into your Google Reader account or whatever you prefer.

It can take some effort to figure out which articles you can read through your school, public library, or state-provided access. Remember, there's always the open access only filter; I would still get 5-15ish daily open access alerts in my areas of interest.

Build your paper library

Click Help and More then click Bargain Finder. PhilPapers automatically checks Amazon Marketplace prices for ridiculous deals in the areas of interest you selected earlier. For many of these, you'll be paying mostly shipping!

While there is an RSS option on this page, it doesn't work in any useful way.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Objective Moral Facts vs. Objectively Moral Facts

Having a rule capable of kicking out "right" or "wrong" for any particular act (cross-culturally, across time, no matter who is appraising the situation, etc.) is not sufficient to demonstrate the sort of objective morality that skeptics are skeptical about.

It's one thing to say, "Here's an objective fact; this sort of fact is what morality is about; so here's an objective moral fact." It's quite another to uniquely justify the middle step of saying what morality is about. Some examples...

Objective fact: Action X increases overall suffering in the world.
Middle step: Moral wrongness consists in increasing overall suffering in the world.
Conclusion: Action X is objectively morally wrong.

Objective fact: Action X would not be effective if everyone acted similarly.
Middle step: Moral wrongness consists in doing what would be ineffective if everyone acted similarly.
Conclusion: Action X is objectively morally wrong.

Objective fact: Action X is forbidden by God.
Middle step: Moral wrongness consists in doing what is forbidden by God.
Conclusion: Action X is objectively morally wrong.

Objective fact: Action X is out of line with God's nature.
Middle step: Moral wrongness consists in doing what is out of line with God's nature.
Conclusion: Action X is objectively morally wrong.

Objective fact: Action X goes against the overall desires of the person performing it.
Middle step: Moral wrongness consists in going against one's own overall desires.
Conclusion: Action X is objectively morally wrong.

Objective fact: Action X shortens the life expectancy of the person performing it.
Middle step: Moral wrongness consists in shortening one's own life expectancy.
Conclusion: Action X is objectively morally wrong.

Objective fact: Action X is done out of ill will.
Middle step: Moral wrongness consists in acting out of ill will.
Conclusion: Active X is objectively morally wrong.

Moral skeptics don't typically question the facts in the first lines above (except maybe the God ones). Instead, we question whether there is an additional objective fact that makes one "middle step" true and the others false.

P.S. — I wrote this post after reading the Sep/Oct 2011 Philosophy Now article "Our Morality: A Defense of Moral Objectivism." It's a defense of objectivism which doesn't seem to do much more than affirm metaethical relativism. But if you do get a chance to read it and disagree, let me know.

P.P.S. — Some of the above uses of 'objective' are questionable, but they're questionable in the direction of being too inclusive for objectivity so it's not a rounding error in my favor.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Response to Richard Carrier

(I had intended to post this as a comment in this thread, but it's either too long or uses characters picky-picky Blogger doesn't like. Please see the original post and comments for context.)


Dr. Carrier,

Thank you for your response!

It seems there are two basic issues under contention here:

1. What counts as morality.
2. The semantics of 'ought.'

We can set 'ought' aside for a moment. Even without ever mentioning that word, you could claim that morality is identified with — not merely associated with or marked by — what a person has most reason to do by virtue of her desires (or a certain class of her desires). I concede that once this identity is in place, your basic argument follows nicely...at least on the individual level.

Why aren't metaethicists flocking to this identity? I suggest it's the same reason metaethicists aren't flocking to Sam Harris' externalist identity between morality and what promotes the flourishing of conscious creatures. Namely: many philosophers and non-philosophers think morality has a different identity, which only partially or contingently overlaps with your answer or Harris' answer. In the May 2011 Craig vs. Harris debate, Craig argued that Harris "isn't really talking about moral values at all. He's just talking about [the identity Harris favors]." Then, in the same debate, Craig implies that morality is identified with a humanity-transcending legal authority; if a proposed description of morality isn't about that, it isn't really morality!1

So whose identity is correct? Yours, Harris', Craig's, etc?

It begs the question to insist that other answers are incorrect because they don't line up with a person has most reason to do by virtue of her desires. Harris could say your answer is incorrect insofar as it doesn't line up with the well-being of conscious creatures. Craig could say your answer is incorrect insofar as it doesn't line up with God's transcendent laws.

Now we can get back to 'ought.' Your main answer to why your identity should be recognized over the alternatives appears to be that unqualified 'most ought' refers to your answer, and people are likely to admit that morality is identified with what we 'most ought' to do. This way, two paths are meant to lead back to your one answer:

Path A. Agreeing that morality = what a person has most reason to do.
Path B. Agreeing that the moral choice = what a person most ought (or actually ought) to do.

I'm trying to block Path B by denying that there is a single meaning to what a person most ought to do.
"Michael ought[some end] to contribute to UNICEF" can only be true if it converts to the conditional, "If Michael wants [some end], then P" where P is your proposition.
Except we use 'ought' in situations where it doesn't seem plausible we're talking about what the agent wants. Suppose Supervillain McGee empties Fort Knox, launders the gold bars, and successfully hides away in Argentina with his wealth. I expect a lot of people would still say, "Whoever stole those gold bars ought to bring them back" and mean it in a moral sense. But neither McGee's superficial nor his deep desires would be best satisfied by doing that, because he's so good at getting away with crime. Would these people take back their moral 'ought' claims if they knew about McGee's psychology and success? I don't think so!

Nor is it pointless to morally condemn agents who don't give a damn. Others who hear the condemnation might give a damn and conform — at least somewhat — to your negative attitude toward theft.
That's why there can never be a single true proposition of the form "Michael ought[1] to X" for any X, because we can invent countless "some ends" and thus countless "Michael oughts[1]" that are all (by your scheme) equally true, which is impossible (because they all contradict each other).
I agree that there can never be a single true proposition involving 'ought' without an end, just as there can never be a single true velocity without a reference frame. The utterance, "Michael ought to X" could be interpreted as an endless array of true and false propositions, depending on the end. In theory anyway. In practice, we tend to use a fairly small set of ends which can often be successfully inferred from the context of the utterance.
That's why your ought[1] cannot produce true propositions.
Just to be clear:

utterance: "Michael ought to go boating tomorrow."

propositional schematic: In order that [some end], it ought to be the case that Michael goes boating tomorrow.

a complete proposition: In order that Michael keeps his promise to his children, it ought to be the case that Michael goes boating tomorrow.

another complete proposition: In order that Michael appease Dagon, it ought to be the case that Michael goes boating tomorrow.

a third complete proposition: In order that Michael best fulfill his desires, it ought to be the case that Michael goes boating tomorrow.

Now, supposing Michael promised his children a day at the zoo, the first proposition may be false while the third is true. But since they don't logically conflict, this is ok. And of course I put the third one there to show that your supposed base case can easily be seen as a special case.
BTW, in regard to my use of the terms "objective" and "realism" (which are in accord with standard references in the field), see my discussion of the ontology of my moral theory on my blog: Moral Ontology.
Unfortunately, a number of quite distinct uses of those terms are consistent with professional usage. You (and I) could count as moral realists, but on the "low bar" side of the spectrum. Similar deal for 'objective.' These terms tend to get used as badges rather than useful classifications.


1. http://www.mandm.org.nz/2011/05/transcript-sam-harris-v-william-lane-craig-debate-%E2%80%9Cis-good-from-god%E2%80%9D.html

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Establishment Clause

Time to take a break from summarizing ACLU policies. The policy guide is due today and I don't intend to check it back out for a while. (If you're wondering, I did get through roughly 40% of the guide by number of pages, not counting the internal ACLU policies I don't intend to cover anyway.)

Instead, I would like to explain one major point of disagreement I have with the ACLU.

Establishment Clause → Non-Endorsement

First I want to make it clear that I agree with the ACLU when it comes to interpreting the Establishment Clause as a ban on the government endorsing a particular religion or religion over non-religion. At least I believe it does now that the Bill of Rights has been largely understood as affirming individual rights against the government as a whole (thanks to Incorporation).

Even if there does turn out to be a flaw in such legal reasoning, I still wholeheartedly support the principle of government neutrality toward religious beliefs.

Non-Endorsement → Exclusion on the Basis of Religion

The ACLU overcorrects by insisting that non-endorsement requires that no public funds go to religious groups. Take the issue of school vouchers, for example. Here is a recent and typical formulation of the ACLU's stance:
This is not to say that parents don't have the right to provide their children with a religious education. The principles of religious liberty protect the rights of those who wish to observe their faith as they see fit. What these legal precepts should not allow, however, is for a religious education to be provided at taxpayer expense.1
I believe what's happening here is that the ACLU (rightly) understands that public funds going to religious organizations is often a bad means to the end of religious freedom, but failing to notice that it can be a neutral or good means to the end of religious freedom.

In the case of vouchers, the government would not be favoring one kind of religion over another, or religion over non-religion. The entirety of that kind of choices would lie with parents. So the money and the endorsement come apart in this situation, nullifying the usual grounds for objecting to public funds going to religious organizations.

I'll go one step farther. Imagine if voucher programs were implemented but parents were not allowed to choose otherwise-acceptable religious schools, simply because of the religious element. Wouldn't this discrimination be a clear violation of the Free Exercise clause?

By the way, why does the ACLU keep mentioning a "right" for parents to send their children to religious schools, while admitting poor parents might not have the ability to do so?
Freedom of religion does not extend so far that parents may withdraw children from classes which they feel conflict with their religious principles, even when they cannot practically avail themselves of the right to send their children to private schools.2
Can we infer that poor defendants have a "right" to counsel, but that it's acceptable for them to lack counsel because they can't afford attorney fees?

1. http://www.aclu.org/blog/religion-belief/school-vouchers-inflict-more-harm-good
2. American Civil Liberties Union (1986-1995). Policy guide of the american civil liberties union. New York, New York: ACLU. Policy 86. p. 168.

Reading the ACLU Policy Guide (Pt. 7)

Series explanation and overview here.

Note: These are my summaries of the 1995 version of the guide, not the policies themselves.

Separation of Church and State

Policy 80 — Bus Transportation, Textbooks, Other Services

The ACLU interprets the establishment clause as forbidding any government funds going to religious schools, and the free exercise clause as guaranteeing the right of religious schools to exist. The former part includes a ban on lending any books or other instructional materials to religious schools; or any help with facilities; or bus services.

However, "hot lunches or public health services" can be directly provided (i.e. not through religious schools) by the government to all children, even those attending religious schools because these involve community concerns for children that exist separately from education.

The ACLU therefore also opposes voucher plans on the grounds that "[a]ny public aid to a religious school inevitably benefits the entire institution, regardless of the particular uses for which it is designated" and this would clearly go against the First Amendment. This includes any kind of tax benefits, even benefits commonly granted to parents who send their children to public schools.

Policy 80a — Church-State Task Force

This policy calls for the formation of an internal ACLU task force to track and respond to Church-State issues.

Policy 81 — Religion in Public Schools

Public schools may not indoctrinate children in religious beliefs, whether in an obvious or subtle manner. They distinguish "the teaching of religion" from "teaching factually about religion," where the latter may be appropriate for history and social science classes.

Regular Bible reading, organized prayers, teaching religious doctrines as if they were scientific, and celebrating Christmas, Channukah, or Easter as religious holidays are all methods of subtle indoctrination.

Public funds should not be used for displays of religious symbols. Nor should public facilities be used for religious purposes either during or after school hours. Public school teachers should not be allowed to wear "distinctively clerical garb," but religious belief or associations should never count against a teacher professionally.

Value education is important, but must be carried out in a secular way rather than as a "subterfuge" for introducing religious indoctrination.

Policy 82 — Shared Time

"Shared time" refers to students attending both public and religious schools, usually to pick up certain classes unavailable in the other context. This isn't necessarily unconstitutional, but does tend to result in public funding going to religious schools. In addition, it can give educators at religious schools some influence over public school operations, such as pressure to agree on common textbooks.

Policy 83 — Released Time

"Released time" is the practice of letting children choose to leave public school at certain times, but only to attend some form of religious instruction. This is quite different from simply releasing all students to do what they like, and so it encourages religious participation...and usually specific kinds of religious participation at that.

Released time also disrupts school for the other students and teachers who remain. For these reasons, the ACLU opposes it.

Policy 84 — Pledge of Allegiance

When the words "under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, the ACLU held that the principle of separation of church and state was violated.

Students who have secular or religious reasons for not saluting the flag or swearing an oath of allegiance should be excused from any such requirement.

Policy 85 — Government Jurisdiction Over Parochial School Lay Teachers

Government intervention in the form of the National Labor Relations Board is not necessarily a problem for church/state separation.

Policy 86 — State Educational Standards

The ACLU opposes allowances for parents to opt their children out of public school classes they feel conflict with their religious beliefs, as this gives religious bodies indirect control over curriculum. This includes parents who would prefer to send their children to private schools but cannot afford it.

State educational standards — which cover both public and private schools — should make exceptions for religious schools in "right of conscience" cases, which occur when parents believe they themselves would be guilty of a great wrong for complying with the law. That is, unless the "safety, health, or welfare of the child" is put at risk.

Policy 87 — Higher Education

Colleges and universities which are sponsored by religious institutions but are not run in a way that promotes religions may be eligible for public funds. Nor does the inclusion of a seminary program disqualify rest of the institution from receiving public funds.

Practices which would disqualify the institution as a whole include: religious discrimination affecting faculty or students, any requirements to attend religious events, any courses which foster religion, any religious symbols intended to foster religion in buildings other than chapels, or prayers at any "institution-sponsored events."

Policy 88 — Military Chaplaincy

The ACLU believes the free exercise clause requires that members of the military have access to religious ministers of their own sect, and therefore that such ministers have access to members of the military.

However, the current (as of 1973 and from what I gather still current) form of the chaplaincy often discriminates against minority religious beliefs.

Policy 89 — Prison Chaplaincy

As with the military chaplaincy, there is a tendency to select only from the religious majority, without adjusting for the actual religious beliefs of those served. This combined with "the prominence accorded religious observance in evaluating a prisoner's success in conforming to the rehabilitative model at the core of the parole process" translates into an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Beyond parole, prison chaplains can often coerce religious participation through their influence on the institution.

For these reasons, the ACLU opposes the way prison chaplaincies are implemented. Prisoners should have free access to "a religious or ethical counselor of his or her choice" and such counselors must in turn be allowed to access prisoners.

Policy 89a — Privileged Communications with the Clergy

The ACLU believes the free exercise clause guarantees clergy the right not to be compelled during testimony to disclose information received in confidence in their professional role.

Policy 90 — Blue Laws

While the government may mandate a six day work week for secular reasons, special "Lord's Day" laws restricting behavior on Sundays for religious reasons violate the establishment clause.

Policy 91 — Marriage

Laws against plural marriage — marriage to more than one person — violate "constitutional protections of freedom of expression and association, freedom of religion, and privacy for personal relationships between consenting adults."

In cases of civil divorce, the government may not compel people to have their marriage dissolved by religious authorities.

Policy 92 — Religious Bodies' Tax Exemption

The ACLU considers tax benefits to be the equivalent of giving public funds to religious groups, and so opposes the practice.

However, benefits or funds may properly be given to charitable organizations sponsored by religious groups, so long as "religion plays no part in the delivery of such services" i.e: no religious message with the service, and neither workers nor recipients are subject to a religious test.

The ACLU opposes making exceptions for taxes — such as social security — for religious sects who claim conscientious objection. Slippery slope.

Policy 93 — Collection and Dissemination of Religious Information

During a census or similar state information gathering activities, the ACLU believes there are reasons for the government to ask about race, but not about religion. The main justification being that the state is not allowed to discriminate based on religion, but has an "affirmative obligation to act in order to combat massive discrimination" when it comes to race.

In fact, the government should not even record volunteered information about religious beliefs, except in special cases like military and prison chaplaincies.

Policy 94 — Non-Belief in a Supreme Being

The ACLU supports the Supreme Court's affirmation in Torcaso v. Watkins that state or federal office-holding may not be contingent on a confession of belief in a God.

Non-believers in a God also face unconstitutional discrimination when their conscientious objections to military service are ignored, whereas a privileged kind of religious belief would be respected.

Citizens — religious or not — who have an objection to swearing an oath to God must always be given the opportunity to 'affirm' their words rather than swear.

Policy 95 — Church Political Activities

Religious groups may be as involved in politics as any other groups of citizens.

Policy 96 — Charitable Contributions by Private Utility Companies

If utility rates are increased for citizens because a private utility company is donating to religious causes, the ACLU will object. This is effectively a form of taxation.

Policy 97 — Public Assistance to Members of Religious Orders

Being a member of a religious order should not disqualify a citizen for welfare or other government services that would otherwise be due to them. This is the flip-side to the ACLU opposing special positive state treatment for the clergy.

Policy 98 — Government Funding of Social Service Programs of Religious Bodies

In general, state funds may not go to social programs sponsored by religious groups. It may be appropriate in special cases where these services are rendered without any mention or sign of religion and in a non-discriminatory way.

Policy 99 — Use of Public Property for Religious Purposes

Public property which is known to be open for anyone's use as a public forum may, of course, be used to express religious ideas without any implication of government endorsement. So public parks and streets may be used for religious purposes, but the same sorts of things in most government administrative buildings would be — or would be perceived to be — state endorsement of religion.

The ACLU considers public school buildings to be among the kind of government buildings which cannot allow any religious activities (even "student initiated religious clubs"), at least not during school hours or immediately adjacent to them. "The school is inextricably linked with religious activities if it sanctions religious clubs." For this reason, the ACLU believes the Equal Access Act is "a flagrant violation of the Establishment Clause" and should be repealed.

UPDATE: I did some Googling; it appears the ACLU now frequently invokes the Equal Access Act because it's so helpful in starting Gay/Straight Alliance clubs.

Policy 100 — Governmental Use of Religious Organizations for Overseas Relief Programs

Secular programs should be used instead whenever possible. Religious channels may be used to deliver emergency aid when necessary if the public funds only apply to secular aspects of the relief program, proselytism is contractually forbidden while the religious group is distributing public benefits, and there is no religious test for those receiving or distributing benefits.

Policy 101 — Kidnapping Young People from Religious Groups

In lieu of physical coercion or threats of physical coercion, the government may not remove people from religious groups on grounds of "brainwashing." This is obviously meant to apply to small religious movements considered to be "cults."

Policy 102 — Diplomatic Relations with the Vatican

The ACLU is opposed to the United States establishing a "formal diplomatic relationship with the Holy See," since this is a level of official recognition of a religious authority not afforded to other religious groups.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reading the ACLU Policy Guide (Pt. 6)

Series explanation and overview here.

Note: These are my summaries of the 1995 version of the guide, not the policies themselves.

Academic Freedom

Policy 60 — Teachers' Freedom and Responsibility and Due Process in Higher Education

"Academic freedom and responsibility are the liberty and obligation to study, to investigate, to present and interpret, and to discuss facts and ideas concerning all branches and fields of learning."

The ACLU believes the only limits that should be imposed on academic pursuits are "standards of responsible scholarship." So it's not a question of what is discussed, or what is concluded, but how scholarship is carried out. Furthermore, teachers in higher education should be free to express themselves however they like as private citizens when not speaking for their institution. Loyalty oaths are specifically condemned.

"A teacher should be appointed solely on the basis of teaching ability and competence in the professional field, without regard to such factors as race, sex, nationality, creed, religious or political belief or affiliation, or behavior not demonstrably related to the teaching function." Same goes for advancement or dismissal. However, the ACLU does recognize the right of religious schools to discriminate by religious beliefs, so long as these criteria are narrowly defined and made public.

Teachers should be given an impartial hearing before they can be dismissed. There are several pages of details on due process in this area.

Rather than avoiding controversial issues or presenting them as if they are settled, teachers should teach about a variety of viewpoints and may identify their own position on the matter.

The ACLU approves of tenure, but not of tenure quotas.

Policy 61 — Academic Freedom in New Colleges

Standards of academic freedom should play a role in accreditation.

Policy 62 — Teachers' Rights in Primary and Secondary Education

Essentially the same as the rights of teachers in higher education, described above. There is a special mention of giving these teachers some autonomy in selecting supplemental materials, beyond standardized textbooks. (As opposed to being told exactly what to cover and no more.) And if parents complain about the "suitability of any material, out of concern for maturity level, morality, patriotism, literary merit, etc.," a "representative professional committee" should decide the matter.

Primary and secondary education teachers should not be subject to special behavioral rules in their personal lives.

Policy 63 — Academic Due Process for Graduate Students

A thesis rejection must be explained, to guard against rejection for "improper considerations" such as ideology rather than academic merit.

Policy 64 — Release of Information about Students

Teachers should be careful not to pass on the personal views of current or past students to government investigators or prospective employers, otherwise there will be a chilling effect on academic expression. The ACLU recommends teachers attach a standardized explanation that certain kinds of questions will not be answered, until outsiders get the message and stop asking.

The ACLU opposes making academic information available to selective service, since this can make grades "life and death" (literally!) and will encourage students to take easy classes to avoid being drafted.

Schools should keep no more records than necessary, and keep different kinds of information in separate files (academic, medical, disciplinary, etc.). "Disciplinary records should be destroyed upon graduation." Access to records should be regulated, and students must be able to view their own records.

Policy 65 — Administrators' Rights

Essentially the same rights to private expression and association as teachers.

Policy 66 — The University and Contract Research

Research money comes with the danger of outsider control. There are some guidelines here to keep outside parties out of the university's own domain, such as not meddling with promotions, not demanding loyalty tests, and not suppressing unliked research results.

Policy 67 — C.I.A. and the Academic Community

Secret research is acceptable, if the guidelines in Policy 66 are followed...which includes not keeping it a secret that secret C.I.A. research is going on.

University employees who recruit other employees for the C.I.A. must notify the university of this role. Potential recruits among the staff must give consent before being investigated, and gathered information must be destroyed if that person is not hired.

It harms international academic cooperation when the C.I.A. asks traveling academics to gather intelligence.

Policy 68 — Academic Freedom and Scientific Research

Scientific research may be restricted with regard to actions, but not with regard to exploring ideas.

[There is no Policy 69.]

Policy 70 — Federal Scholarships and Exchange Programs

Such scholarships and other financial aid must not be contingent on the private political beliefs and associations of students.

Policy 71 — College Students' Civil Liberties

The ACLU affirms the freedom to learn as a counterpart to the freedom to teach.

Admission standards should be clear, public, and fair. There is a note to see the policy about "Affirmative Action in Employment and Education," which I'll try to remember to number here when I reach that policy.

Care should be taken that audio and video recordings in the classroom don't "inhibit free and open discussion by teacher and student." All involved should be notified when recording is going on.

Representatives of the student body should at least be able to advise, if not actually vote on aspects of school administration.

Students should be able to form officially-recognized clubs without restraint and without being discriminated against for doing so. These clubs should not discriminate "on grounds of race, religion, color or national origin." When applying for official recognition, the names of officers may be presented, but the names of all members may not be required. Student organizations should be able to choose their own faculty advisor, or no advisor, if they wish.

Speakers brought in by student organizations are not implied to be endorsed by the university. The university should make this clear if complaints are made regarding an unpopular speaker. Nor are universities responsible for bringing in opposing viewpoints.

Student newspapers should be free from university control, even if funded by the university. If there is just one newspaper, it should include opposing viewpoints. Similar freedom for student radio, television, and other communication media.

General freedom of speech and association policies apply to university students, both on and off campus. Nor is it appropriate to limit the personal conduct of students.

Unless a university bars all career recruiters from campus, it can't fairly bar military recruiters.

Policy 72 — Sexual Harassment on College-University Campus

Schools should have policies against using academic rewards as sexual blackmail, and against related patterns of behavior that hinder the ability of students to learn.

Policy 72a — Free Speech and Bias on College Campuses

Free speech includes the freedom to make racist, sexist, and homophobic speech. The ACLU is against policies that restrict such speech, whether in private or in public.

Of course, if such speech is part of speech acts like "intimidating telephone calls, threats of attack, extortion and blackmail," then offenders may be held accountable for those acts as usual (but not the offensive content).

Schools do have a duty to ensure equal opportunity and teach against bigotry. The idea is to persuade people not to use such speech, not to restrict speech outright.

Policy 73 — Discrimination in Public Colleges

The ACLU opposes the involvement of state commissions in allegations of institutional discrimination in public colleges. This may be tempting, but once non-educators start making decisions about academic hiring and promotion, they may expand their control in undesirable ways. Best to leave this to the schools themselves and judicial review, when necessary.

"Moreover, it would be tragic indeed if the intervention of a state discrimination commission, real or threatened, led recruitment officers and committees to appoint or promote persons not simply on grounds of competence but on the basis of overt or covert religious 'quotas.'" (How does this square with the ACLU's current defense of affirmative action?)

Institutions of higher learning which receive public funds may not have any different admission or program requirements based on sex. Or offer governmental scholarships which depend on sex.

Policy 74 — Student Evaluation of Teacher Performance

Students may administer surveys on their own and publish results freely. Same goes for teachers conducting surveys in their own classes for feedback.

If surveys are used officially to measure job performance, they should not be relied upon more strongly than their design warrants. Teachers should have access to surveys about themselves, and be allowed to attach explanatory notes. Students should be notified that surveys are being used in this manner, and must be administered in a way that protects student identity.

Policy 75 — Compulsory Education

"The element of compulsion should lie in assuring the attainment of at least minimal levels of literacy in order to further preparation for effective citizenship and the transmission of democratic values, not in prescribing how those levels are to be attained." The ACLU therefore explicitly supports the option to home school (but does not believe parents who choose private or home schooling are entitled to vouchers or similar means of payment).

"Compulsory education of children generally should not be imposed in ways that contravene the religious liberties of parents and children[....]" That is, unless doing so is necessary to either "guarantee the health and safety of children" or "guarantee that the individual will be sufficiently educated to have the minimum competence to participate a a citizen, if he/she chooses, in the democratic governing process of the community."

Policy 76 — Secondary School Students' Civil Liberties

Generally, these are the same as for college students. Students should not be punished for things which aren't against clearly defined rules ("rule by law" vs "rule by personality" is mentioned here). Nor should students be punished for expressing unpopular ideas. Restrictions on speech are only appropriate when safety is a factor or teaching is disrupted. This freedom extends to students putting out newspapers, newsletters, etc. Students may also form official clubs for any lawful purpose, so long as they don't discriminate beyond the narrow "purpose of the organization" (the example given is French competence for a French club.)

Any kind of loyalty oaths "as a condition for enrollment, promotion, graduation, or financial aid" are strongly opposed.

"The school has no jurisdiction over its students' non-school activities." Even illegal activities should be off the table for school treatment of students, so long as they don't specifically concern educational activities.

Demonstrations are allowed, though schools may restrict time, place, and manner so as not to disrupt classes or cause a safety hazard. Students may distribute print material. They may also wear clothing which expresses membership in a group or support of a cause. Lockers may not be searched without probable cause and a prior description of what is being looked for.

"As long as a student's hair style, dress, or personal grooming does not, in fact, disrupt the educational process or constitute a threat to safety, it should be no concern of the school."

Policy 77 — Elementary School Students' Civil Liberties

Every child has the right to free, public, and non-discriminatory education. Non-discrimination includes guarding against passive stereotyping in educational materials and activities (such as sports education).

Students who don't understand English must be taught English and, meanwhile, be taught other subjects in a language they can understand now.

Though there are times when disabled children can't participate fully with other children, this should be kept to a necessary minimum rather than a broad segregation.

States have a duty to provide an equal education to all children, regardless of the wealth of the local tax base. National funding may be necessary to do the same for especially poor states. This doesn't necessarily mean the same dollar figure per child, as this goal can be substantially met by aiding schools most in need.

Student government should be implemented in a meaningful way from early on to prepare children as democratic citizens.

Elementary students — unlike high school and college students — are not likely to know when their rights are being violated and report it. Parents need to be informed to take such action on behalf of their children. "Parents are entitled to an opportunity for full and effective scrutiny of the character and quality of the education their children are receiving. They should have as full access to the school as is possible without substantial disruption of the school's work." And all parents should be able to influence school policy through "school board elections, public hearings, parent councils" etc.

Policy 77a — Classification and Tracking in Schools

Putting elementary students in separate "tracks" is a denial of equal opportunity. It often has the effect of magnifying and preserving racial, gender, and class stereotypes in the next generation. And even if it is supposedly a separation by ability, it becomes hard to fairly re-evaluate students later on.

If any sort of student classification is carried out, the ACLU has a checklist here involving things like making sure this arrangement is better for every student involved.

Policy 78 — Selection of School and Library Materials and Pressure Group Attacks

The ACLU promotes an "atmosphere of free inquiry and discussion" as an effective means of preparing students for citizenship.

Instructional materials covering a range of ideas and political viewpoints should be available in the library and used in classes. Instead of trying to keep all controversy out of schools, a fair and balanced array of views should be available. For example, it is appropriate to have materials about religious views, so long as they're not being used to indoctrinate students in a particular religious view.

Educators have a duty to promote this diversity of ideas, even against objections that some ideas are: "un-American," "communistic," "obscene" or "irreverent." The ACLU pledges to support such educators. "But the ACLU also recognizes the right of parents and students to some measure of protection from compulsory use of instructional materials which they believe assault religious and moral beliefs."

Library materials should be selected by librarians to reflect "pluralistic society" and all its controversies. School boards may not ban or remove such materials.

Parents and other community members have the free speech rights to complain about materials. Schools should have well-defined procedures for accepting any official complaints, then review requests for withdrawal publicly, and settle the matter in a timely fashion. The material may not be taken off the shelf during this procedure. "Objection to the particular language or viewpoint of material cannot be justification for the exclusion of classroom or library material."

Policy 79 — ROTC

ROTC programs must be voluntary and must be taken for credit only when under the control of a non-ROTC educator. Regular principles of academic freedom apply to students involved.

The ACLU opposes Junior ROTC programs in high schools as being "inconsistent with the primary objectives of secondary school education."