Welcome to De Dicto, the political, social, academic, and otherwise Left reflections  of Douglas D. Edwards and guest authors.

The name

The Latin expression “de dicto” (“of the word”) is used as a technical term in philosophy to refer to a way of ascribing a modality (such as necessity) to the connection between an object and one of its properties. Necessity de dicto connects a property not directly to an object but to a way of describing the object; its opposite, necessity de re (“of the thing”), connects a property directly to the essence of an object, regardless of how it is described. The distinction between de dicto and de re is ancient; it was used by Thomas Aquinas, and implicitly by Aristotle (Plantinga 1969). (And, yes, I have a background in academic philosophy, in case you were wondering.)

The symbol


The symbol used in the header is even more ancient: it is the cuneiform representation of the Sumerian word amargi, or freedom. According to David Graeber (Debt, pp. 65, 216), it is the first recorded word for “freedom” in any known language. Its literal meaning is “return to mother”, and it refers specifically to the freedom of enslaved debt peons to return home after a debt jubilee, or general cancellation of debts. The word amargi was used by King Enmetena of Lagash in the first recorded declaration of such a jubilee.

In a hilarious (and hilariously prevalent) misunderstanding, right-wing “libertarians” have taken the amargi to refer to their market-based concept of economic “liberty”, which holds contracts, including debt contracts, to be sacred and morally binding. This concept is an Orwellian perversion of the freedom symbolized by the amargi. A glance at history will show that the economic status quo is based on extreme violence and systematic fraud. It has no moral legitimacy whatsoever. Debt, like all contractual obligations undertaken from economic motives under such conditions, is at least in part a manifestation of duress, not of liberty. Any political movement that holds such contractual obligations to be sacred is retroactively endorsing the past exercise of arbitrary power. This valorization of arbitrary power in the past cannot be reconciled with respect for freedom in the present (Carson 2008, “The subsidy of history”; Carson 2012, “One-sided contracts”).

On this website the amargi is reclaimed for the Left, and used with its true and original significance: as a symbol of the quest for a debt jubilee—and, by extension, for a final end (as advocated by Graeber) to the exalted moral status accorded to economic debt, and to all other manifestations of the dominion of arbitrary power over human freedom.

The author

I was the only child of a right-wing fundamentalist career military chaplain and a teacher; my parents were from Mississippi and Louisiana. This by itself probably explains a lot about me, but if anything good came from my indoctrinated childhood, it is a love of learning, inside and outside the academy. My father liked to say “Never let your schooling interfere with your education” (a remark commonly attributed to Mark Twain). I’ve obtained a great deal of both, without losing sight of the difference. To my spouse Robin’s great annoyance, I was the Alaska state spelling champion, and placed 9th nationally. I currently live in California, where Robin and I share our domain with two very spoiled Chartreux cats.

I have an AB in philosophy from Harvard (1979; thesis on philosophy of logic) and a PhD in philosophy from Princeton (1985; dissertation on philosophy of science). I did postgraduate work in cognitive science at the Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI) at Stanford, and worked for several years on the TACITUS natural language processing project at the Artificial Intelligence Center of SRI International.

My political views shifted from far Right to far Left over the course of a single month in the late 1980s as I read Chomsky’s Turning the Tide. I taught philosophy and cognitive science for one year at the University of Maryland, College Park. As my interests in artificial intelligence evolved, I landed in UC Berkeley’s computer science PhD program. While there, I participated in the 1992 AGSE/UAW graduate student worker strike, organizing off-site picketing. I left Berkeley ABD.

More recently, I completed a PharmD at UCSF, pursuing a “Pharmaceutical Sciences” track that involved substitution of pharmaceutical research for some of the clinical rotations. I worked with UCSF PhD student Michael J. Keiser, who had developed a novel in silico (computer-based) drug effect prediction method known as SEA (Similarity Ensemble Approach). My use of SEA ultimately produced new scientific knowledge about the effects of the HIV medication delavirdine (brand name Rescriptor). This research was reported as part of an article (“Predicting new molecular targets for known drugs”) that was recognized by Wired as one of the 10 “Top scientific breakthroughs of 2009″.

Plantinga, Alvin. De re et de dicto. Noûs. 1969 Sep; 3(3):235–258.

Graeber, David. Debt: the first 5,000 years. New York: Melville House; 2011. [annotation]

Levine, Yasha. More great moments in libertarian history: ancient Sumerian word for “libertarian” was “deadbeat”, “freeloader”. eXiled Online. 2012 Jan 24. Available from: http://exiledonline.com/more-great-moments-in-libertarian-history-ancient-sumerian-word-for-libertarian-was-deadbeat-freeloader/. Accessed 2012 Jan 26. Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/64zWgdkRv.

Carson, Kevin A. The subsidy of history. Freeman. 2008 Jun; 58(5):33–38. Available from: http://www.thefreemanonline.org/features/the-subsidy-of-history/. Accessed 2012 May 18. [annotation]

Carson, Kevin. One-sided contracts. Center for a Stateless Society. 2012 Jun 20. Available from: http://c4ss.org/content/10713. Accessed 2012 Jul 18. Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/69GFRNvwm. [annotation]

Hobbs, Jerry R.; Croft, William; Davies, Todd; Edwards, Douglas; Laws, Kenneth. Commonsense metaphysics and lexical semantics. Computational Linguistics. 1987 Jul–Dec; 13(3–4):241–250.

Chomsky, Noam. Turning the tide: U.S. intervention in Central America and the struggle for peace. Boston: South End Press; 1985. [annotation]

Keiser, Michael J.; Setola, Vincent; Irwin, John J.; Laggner, Christian; Abbas, Atheir I.; Hufeisen, Sandra J.; Jensen, Niels H.; Kuijer, Michael B.; Matos, Roberto C.; Tran, Thuy B.; Whaley, Ryan; Glennon, Richard A.; Hert, Jérôme; Thomas, Kelan L. H.; Edwards, Douglas D.; Shoichet, Brian K.; Roth, Bryan L. Predicting new molecular targets for known drugs. Nature. 2009 Nov 12; 462(7270):175–181. Available from: http://dedicto.com/wordpress1/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Keiser_Setola_Irwin_et_al___2009___Predicting_new_molecular_targets_for_known_drugs.pdf. Accessed 2013 Jan 13. Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6Dda98TkE.

Top scientific breakthroughs of 2009, No. 7: Computer program predicts drug side effects [Internet]. Wired. 2009 Dec 31. Available from: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/12/discoveries-gallery/4/. Accessed 2012 Feb 21. Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/65dFgW7oj.


Shortlink to this page: http://is.gd/FtDgBy
Last revision: April 26, 2013