Beliefs About Beliefs:
1. Some of my beliefs are not supported by the evidence and should be changed. I believe things that are not true.
2. I believe that the potential benefits that come from publicly stating my fundamental beliefs outweigh the costs.
3. I believe that when the benefits of a course of action outweigh its costs, the action should be taken.
4. The benefits of this statement of beliefs may include: (1) allowing students to consider and criticize beliefs that influence my presentation of class materials, but which may go unstated in class, (2) having my beliefs challenged and possibly reconsidered, and (3) providing insights or fodder for helpful discussion for the few that chance to read this page.
5. The costs of this statement of beliefs may include discomfort to friends and acquaintances who read this page and have deeply held beliefs that differ from my own.
Beliefs About Law and the Supreme Court:
6. Any theory of constitutional theory that completely ignores consequences and focuses exclusively on text or original intentions is wrong.
7. Any theory of constitutional interpretation that completely ignores either text or original intentions and focuses primarily on consequences is wrong.
8. Certain times and places are better suited to one theory of constitutional interpretation than are other times and places.
9. The Court should include justices with different approaches to constitutional interpretation. A Court without dissenters is a Court that will not adequately inform us of the costs of choosing the path taken.
10. Madison was basically right: the best way to preserve liberty is by maintaining a system of government in which ambition counteracts ambition.
11. In general, federal programs in specific areas (e.g., law enforcement, resource preservation, pollution control), although perhaps not run well, are run better than are state programs in the same areas. There are, however, significant benefits that come from various states experimenting with different approaches to problems, and federalism is a good idea.
12. No law or decision on a subject of real significance that is fundamentally at odds with the prevailing economic and social forces in society will long endure, and that is a generally a good thing in that law's adaptability to prevailing forces promotes political stability.
13. Law, including constitutional law, is shaped far more by social forces than are social forces shaped by the law.
14. Today, presidents seem intent on nominating Supreme Court justices who are smart and who pass certain political litmus tests. Far better to look for wise justices than smart ones. We need justices with a range of experience, with self-doubt, who are pragmatic rather than ideological, and who always think hard about the human consequences of their decisions.
Beliefs About Some of the Issues of Our Times:
15. The performing of an abortion is morally dubious conduct, and we need to worry whether the acceptance of morally dubious conduct will increase the likelihood that we will come to accept morally wrong conduct.
16. The costs of prohibiting abortion in the first several months of pregnancy are significant, and outweigh the benefits of prohibition. In the later months of pregnancy, the benefits of prohibiting abortion probably outweigh its costs.
17. Life is a process that begins at conception and ends with death and decay.
18. A few affirmative action programs are good (e.g., college admissions, police hiring), but most are bad (e.g., faculty hiring, set-aside programs). In each case we need to consider whether the substantial costs associated with making distinctions based on the color of one's skin are outweighed by the benefits realized in the program.
19. The biggest cost of affirmative action programs is their tendency to reinforce racial identity and to cause political constituencies to mobilize along the politically de-stabilizing lines of race and ethnicity.
20. In general, the law should neither prohibit nor encourage affirmative action programs in the private sector based on race.
21. A person in a persistent vegetative state has no meaningful life, and if the people closest to the patient want to hasten his or her death, they should be allowed to do so.
22. Assimilation has proven to be a good thing and we should encourage it.
23. Our tax system is too complex and should be made more progressive, not flatter.
24. The law should not concern itself with sexual conduct in private between consenting adults, except insofar as it attempts to avoid the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
25. Laws prohibiting pornography should be repealed, except those aimed at the sale of pornography to minors or pornography involving children. Prostitution should be legalized, but closely regulated for health reasons.
26. Market-based approaches to problems are usually best, as most people are motivated by self-interest.
27. Gun control would do little to reduce violent crime. Nonetheless, we should ban silencers, devastator bullets, assault weapons, and some of the other really bad stuff.
28. Most violent crime results from the deprivation of love and opportunities to develop empathy during the early childhood years.
29. We should spend a lot more on public early childhood programs such as Head Start.
30. Marijuana should be legalized and heavily taxed. Cocaine and other hard drugs should not be legalized.
31. Punishments for violent crime should be tougher. Punishments for non-violent crime should be reduced.
32. Mandatory minimum sentences are a bad idea. So is waterboarding. So is locking up 1% of our adult population, the highest incarceration rate of any country on earth.
33. The costs of the death
outweigh its benefits. Moreover, if there is anything that the
does that can be said to be immoral, executing people is
it. Although the vast majority of
(probably over 98%) are guilty, many innocent people have been
and some innocent people have been executed, usually on the basis of
34. Casino gambling
sports betting) should be legalized, but states should not operate
lotteries (government shouldn't encourage people to spend their money
foolishly--but if people want to, government shouldn't stop them).
35. Same-sex marriages should be allowed by law.
36. Animal rights will be the great civil rights concern of the 21st century.
37. Over 98% of the genetic information found in chimpanzees is identical to that found in humans, which raises a strong presumption that chimpanzees are deserving of something similar to the respect and treatment that we give our fellow human beings. (If we discovered a band of Neanderthals, how would we treat them?)
38. Education should concern itself with values more than it now does.
39. We should set aside more land for preservation purposes.
40. It is socially irresponsible to drive a gas-guzzling S.U.V. Large S.U.V.s pollute more, consume more gas, cause traffic congestion (by taking up 1.4 times the space of an average car), and are more dangerous both to the occupants of the S.U.V. and--especially--to those the S. U. V. might run into (a crash with an S.U.V. is three times more likely to result in a fatality). S.U.Vs should not be banned, but they should be heavily taxed to reflect their true costs to society.
41. We should consider abolishing the income tax in favor of a consumption-based tax.
42. The beliefs listed above are already enough to positively foreclose the possibility that I could ever receive a judicial appointment.
43. The faculty at most universities are too concerned with being politically correct, and there is far too little candid discussion of issues related to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and physical disabilities.
44. The greatest obligation of a college teacher is to call 'em as he sees 'em.
45. Overpopulation is the cause of most of our most serious environmental problems.
46. We should devote more resources to the preservation of biological diversity.
47. We should devote more public resources to space exploration.
48. Large discount stores such as Wal-Marts have sapped most small towns of their vitality and character.
49. Local television news is superficial, sensational, and driven by more by the availability of visuals than by the newsworthiness of the content. The media is also too obsessed with achieving "balance"; it should be concerned more with taking the side of truth.
50. The media's preoccupation with violent crime causes people to develop an unhealthy fear of spending time in public places.
51. Evil is most likely to be the consequence of over-identification with a popular cause.
52. The odds that the Republican Party's prescription for America would move us in the right direction is less than 55%, and exactly the same thing could be said about the Democratic Party's prescription. Chaos theory suggests how difficult it is to predict the future-- a small change in the state of things today may affect a big change sometime in the future.
53. Individual senators have too much power.
54. We need more moderates in Congress. We especially need to reduce the number of partisan right-wingers who believe that they have a monopoly on the truth--and who leave members of the opposition party completely out of the decision-making process. (We also need more moderates on the Supreme Court.)
55. The sociobiologists are right; men and women have different behavioral tendencies that are not simply the result of their learning or environment. That said, environment is very important and men and women are more alike than different.
56. We are primates and to understand the different behavioral tendencies of male and female humans, it makes sense to look at the differences we see between the male and female members of other primate species (e.g., primate males generally tend to be more aggressive, initiate sexual activity, and have a stronger preference for multiple sexual partners.)
57. The job of prosecutors is to secure justice, not convictions.
58. There is other intelligent life in the universe.
59. We have gone too far in eliminating opportunities for voluntary risk-taking.
60. People were not created equal, but there are reasons to treat them as though they were.
61. Historical figures are better judged by the understandings of their times than our own.
62. Too much that is funny is considered inappropriate humor in the modern university.
63. Public discourse should be made more civil.
64. People who are driven to connect with other people and build communities are generally happier than people who are driven to acquire money, material goods, power, or fame.
65. Amidst our constant celebration of diversity, we should remind ourselves that there is something to be said for homogeneity. People with similar backgrounds and values can interact at a deeper level than can people with different backgrounds and values.
66. Restrictive covenants have done more harm than good; they have made America a more sterile and boring place. We should encourage, not discourage, people who would like to express their individuality through their homes.
Beliefs About Religion and the Meaning of Life:
67. One should believe in a miracle only if the possibility of the miracle having not occurred, based on available evidence, would be even more miraculous than the miracle itself.
68. People benefit from examining their lives.
69. Religion should concern itself more with comforting souls than with saving them.
70. Death makes life meaningful.
71. Christianity as we know it was the creation of the Apostle Paul. Christianity, or "Paulism" as it could be more accurately called, suggests a path that many people would benefit from following.
72. It is in the searching for the good, the true, and the beautiful, that people come closest to God, if God can be said to exist.
73. Our obligations to our families are greater than our obligation to our community; our obligations to our community are greater than our obligations to the rest of the world.
74. The "Big Bang Theory" is more-or-less accurate.
75. Good and evil are not true opposites; good is in the striving for God.
76. It is helpful to think of your life as a story being written, and that your goal is to make it a story that in the end would be worth reading.
77. People should try to find new and surprising ways of looking at the stuff of life. (On this topic, see Walker Percy's The Message in the Bottle.)
78. There are some core values of civilization that should be accepted, not examined.
79. Promises are important: they integrate the past, present, and future of our lives. They look backward to a relationship of trust, are made in the present, and enrich our future with the expectation of their fulfillment.
80. Time seems to go faster and faster because we experience time as a fraction of our lives, and a given period of time is always becoming a smaller fraction of our whole lives.
81. One of the great benefits of raising children is the opportunity that it provides to vicariously experience the early stages of life and, as a result, better understand how you were shaped.
82. The universe--actually universes, as I think there are millions of other universes besides our own--was not created by a supernatural being.
83. No one religion provides a fully credible explanation of reality.
84. Ecclesiastes is the most profound and best written book in the Bible.
85. Modern American lives are too complicated, and there will a growing movement advocating making lives simpler.
86. We humans are inclined to think of ourselves as the culmination of the evolutionary process. We aren't.
87. A theology should be concerned with balance: the balance between the Dyonesian (receptivity, wonder, femininity) and the Apollonian (creator, achiever, masculine) modes of existence.
88. The compromise that led to the inclusion in the Bible of the Book of Revelation was a mistake.
89. It is important for a society to have some transcendent values, whether they be distinctly religious or a sacred sense of Nature.
90. Creation science is not science, it's nonsense.
Beliefs About What is Good, True, Beautiful, or Interesting
91. The two countries where people have the best chance of leading a good life, with all that I think that implies, are Iceland and New Zealand.
92. Social isolation--loneliness--is America's biggest problem and the cause of untold psychological stress.
93. People are not as socially engaged as they once were, whether measured in terms of voting rates, club membership, church attendance, or simply spending time with friends and family. Technology, and especially television, is primarily responsible for this sad development.
94. The Midwest gets no respect--and it should. People on the East and West Coasts too often dismiss the Midwest as a barren landscape full of uninteresting people, when in fact Midwestern lives (overgeneralizing here) are on the whole deeper and more connected than those found on the coasts. (It would also be nice if the networks, with their news and entertainment operations centered on the two coasts, would acknowledge that the Central and Mountain time zones exist.)
95. CBS's Sunday Morning is the best show on television. Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion is the best show on radio. America's best 20th century essayist was E. B. White. America's best humorist was James Thurber. The best author of books for children was Roald Dahl.
96. When their full potential is realized, the two best pies are cherry and key lime.
97. Intelligence is like a four-wheel drive vehicle: it allows you to get stuck in a more remote place than you would without it.
98. The Electoral College is too much fun to give up.
99. There are happy people, sad people, and in-between people. Happy people may sometimes be sad; sad people sometimes happy; but people tend to gravitate to their natural state.
100. Truth-telling is important, but overrated as a virtue. I'd much rather live in a community where everyone was kind than one where everyone told the truth 100% ot the time.
101. Our best president was Abraham Lincoln. The best president of the twentieth century was Theodore Roosevelt. The most under-rated president was Jimmy Carter. The things he's blamed for (high inflation, the Iranian kidnappings) were beyond his control and he was right on the big issues-- international human rights, civil rights, the Camp David Accord, wilderness preservation, the Panama Canal.
102. Our goal-- for management of natural places and for architecture-- should be to create environments worth experiencing.
103. World population is probably now near its maximum and is more likely to decline than to increase over the next centuries.
104. The states which provide the best opportunities for a good quality of life, with all I think that implies (a quality environment, highly educated population, low crime rate, tradition of tolerance, etc.), are--in no particular order--Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Washington, and Oregon. (Click to see "State Enlightenment Rankings.")
105. We should colonize Mars to increase the odds of long-term survival of our species.
106. A common mistake is to assume our own specialness-- the specialness of our species, our time, our place in the universe.
107. Language mavens are too obsessed with misspellings and what they see as improper grammar and word usage. They should let language evolve: let more sensible spellings evolve over time, let new words enter the language that better or more efficiently express ideas.
108. Nebraska, which has a unicameral legislature, hit upon a good idea. The benefits of unicameral state legislatures (lower cost, increased accountabilty, reduced game-playing) far outweigh the small benefits of having two legislative houses.
109. The rarest thing in politics is to find a politician who says what he believes, not what he thinks will get him elected or re-elected.
110. We have seriously overreacted to the 9-11 crisis, and sacrificed precious liberties. We should let prisoners meet privately with lawyers. We should not hold people indefinitely without charges. And it is patently absurd for airport screeners to ask a grandmother from Des Moines to take off her shoes, on the chance that she might be planning to blow up the plane with a shoe bomb.
111. We should teach young people to use alcohol responsibly, rather than preach abstinence. The drinking age should be lowered to 18.
112. Americans, largely because of our geographic isolation, are far too provincial. We would have more sensible policies if people travelled more widely or read foreign sources.
113. Our futures--both individual and collective--tend to be more different from the present than we imagine them to be.
114. Global warming is real and we should take immediate steps to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
115. Jefferson Davis approved plans to kill President Lincoln (and approved plans as well to infect Union troops with yellow fever and poison water supplies of northern cities), and he stands only one small step better than a terrorist like Bin Laden. Efforts to rehabilitate Davis, as well as efforts to apologize for the Confederate cause, are badly misguided and people need to say so.
116. Americans, in general,
we need to work on this problem. Fast food companies such as
(with their "super-sizing") deserve a lot of blame for our obesity
problem. We need, however, to take individual responsibility and
exercise more--at least five or six days a week of aerobic workouts.
117. Among the most
things parents can do for their children is to help them build a
passion. It matters much less what the passion is.
118. Bob Dylan is the
most important songwriter of the 20th century, followed by Cole Porter.
119. Despite the fact that
Hussein was a genuine bad guy, we should never have invaded Iraq (which
had nothing to do with 9-11), which has distracted us from our more
important mission in Afghanistan and created millions of new
America-haters in the Arab world.
120. If you can eat only
it should be blueberries, which helps both the brain and the heart (two
pretty important organs). If you can eat more, among the best
foods are low-fat yogurt, salmon, green tea, spinach, dark chocolate,
and pinot noir (it helps that I like all of them).
121. There is a point in
lives, usually around middle-age, when they lose their covetousness and
some of their ambition, and in the process they and their lives become
122. Happiness, despite
what we might think, is a very subjective thing. We have almost
no clue what makes other people happy. (For example, almost all
adult conjoined twins--despite the obvious difficulties inherent in
their condition--say they are happy to be conjoined and have no desire
to be separated.)
123. Society is moving away
top-down structure of its past to a horizontal structure. People
are becoming more influenced by those with backgrounds and attitudes
mirror their own, and less influenced by traditional sources of
Much of this cultural change is the result of technology.
124. Our best holiday is
125. The main thing that
separates humans from other species is our ability to imagine our
futures (beyond the very immediate future), including our own growing
old and dying. Although we do a very poor job in our imagining,
this ability is what saves us from shallowness and gives life its
126. People suffer today
having too many choices more than two few. Too many choices
causes too much time to be spent evaluating choices (which is the best
of 50 types of toothpastes or 120 possible mutual funds?) and increases
127. Scientists tell us
that within a decade or so it might be possible, having complete DNA
information about both species now available, to re-create the extinct
hairy mammoth or Neanderthals. If we can, let's go ahead with the
mammoths--but not with the Neanderthals. The re-creation of a new
(or old, depending on how you look at it) human species raises too many
disturbing ethical questions which we haven't yet begun to seriously
128. We learn more from our
failures than from our successes.
129. We should put down roots, be kind, keep open minds, spend time with children, and keep our promises.
For anyone who
had his or her fill of my opinions, here my self-indulgent "Take
5." Take 5 is a list of my five personal favorites in a
of categories. The favorites listed may or may not be best in an
absolute sense, but they are best based on my own subjective--and
Also, I have posted on
the Web a chart that shows my personal beliefs concerning the guilt or
innocence of various defendants in famous trials: Guilty
or Not Guilty?
Somewhat dated, but a compilation of
statistics that produces "State