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Sunday, October 02, 2005

In defence of Bill Bennett part 4
What do Bennett's few defenders have in common ?

I agree with Brad's original post as I said here I don't agree with Brad's partial recantation. I agree with Matthew Yglesias but question his choice of words.

"Not only is Bennett clearly not advocating a campaign of genocidal abortion against African-Americans, but the empirical claim here is unambiguously true. "

Garance Franke-Ruta notes that Bennett's claim is not empirical. It was not a statement of fact, it was a conditional prediction. Thus the claim was positive (as opposed to normative) but not strictly empirical. Now Yglesias has a remarkable record of combing substantive and verbal brilliance with an odd tendecy to use the wrong word. However, his common error is to use a homenym, that is, roughly a spelling error that a spell checker wouldn't catch. He usually clearly knows what word he wants and just doesn't know how to spell it. Here I think there is another problem. Yglesias has a BA in philosophy and wrote his dissertation on meta-ethics. The difference between "empirical" and "positive" is right there in his field of expertise. I think this is why he miss used the words. I think Yglesias knows that he has to restrain his tendency to use "positive" to mean "as opposed to normative" because many readers just assume that "positive" always means "positive as opposed to negative" and don't know about the other meaning of the word.

He miss wrote because he is writing down to us, using the wrong word because it is better to use a word which doesn't quite fit than to seem pompous. I admit the poor kid is in bad shape if the closest he can come to regular guy speak is "empirical."

To add a personal note (and get back to Brad). In September 1978 Brad made me very irritated, embarrassed by my ignorance of fancy English and very eager to declare him pompous by using the words "normative" and "positive" in exactly the way I am using them here. He was talking about the Harvard prof who wrote about "the President in tennis shoes." Neustadt or someone. Now, since we were newly arrived freshmen at the time, it is pretty insufferable to have read a book by that fairly obscure Harvard prof. but, well Brad's just that way.

Speaking of which notice that Bennett's defenders, like Bennett, have all done time at Harvard. Couldn't be a bit of bunker mentality here ?

update: I found the link to Garance Franke-Ruta and replaced "???" with "Garance Franke-Ruta"

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