Thursday, June 2, 2011

Is This What Scientists Think Philosophers Do?

Because if so, they think we are dumb assholes.

--Mr. Zero

Addendum by Jaded: This whole sausage making business is ridiculous. As if all philosophers do is sit around and do research. We also teach and sometimes make some really hard-and-critical-thinking sausages that go on to do some great things in the world in part because we've helped them become better at thinking. Sometimes we even educate scientists and they get better at thinking in virtue of thinking about non-sausage making arguments. And maybe their having thought about non-sausage making things for a while will help them go on to create sausages for whatever reason. I mean, I'm fairly new to the sausage making business, but I've probably helped to make some pretty good sausages in my time. I bet those who have been making sausages for years on end having made even more and better thinking sausages.

This is just to say, maybe we should expand what we think counts as making sausages. And, maybe we need to think more about the place of being intellectually curious in being well-rounded sausages. This isn't to license all philosophical projects, and maybe we should think harder about the types of projects we choose to pursue, but FUCK ALL THIS NOISE ABOUT PHILOSOPHERS NOT HAVING AN IMPACT ON REAL WORLD THINGS. As if students weren't things that existed in the real world. Also, sausage.

115 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the idea is that these are Christian anti-evolution apologist 'philosophers', given the fact that the blog is about answering these kinds of people?

Mr. Zero said...

Yeah. And those folks do not make a representative sample. But what if the scientists think they do?

Anonymous said...

then the scientists are the dumb assholes.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, a lot of them are poorly educated assholes. That Pharyngula dude is a bit of a tosser.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/03/how_not_to_write_an_atheist_bo.php

Comments are a lot of laughing at philosophers for using words like "epistemic."

AllanW said...

And rather than bitch about someone elses poor perception of the 'profession', what have you done lately to demonstrate the poor philosophical status of creationist arguments, hmm? Because in case you haven't noticed, creationists and other less rational and reasonable people are affecting our society greatly.

If philosophical arguments are so powerful may I suggest you actually deploy them in the service of society as a whole rather than just your own smug self-satisfaction?

In other words, turn on the damn sausage machine or get in the sack!

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Allan,

What are you talking about?

AllanW said...

The cosy little chat you and anonymous are having.

Mr. Zero said...

What I'm worried about is the philosophers that scientists tend to regularly encounter are scientifically illiterate and hostile to science. And that this gives us a bad name.

But I also agree that the scientists are not innocent. The meta-ethical views PZ Myers (of Pharyngula) expresses are silly--he clearly doesn't understand the depth of the problem. (Not that his Divine Command Theorist opponents do, either. I cannot tell you how tired I get of people saying, "how can anything really, truly matter in the absence of a guaranteed never-ending punishment for all of our misdeeds?")

And the Answers in Genes linked to in the OP is kind of dickish in that the philosopher is portrayed as dumb boob who has no understanding of the importance of empirical testing, while the suggestion that the scientist is ignorant of any interesting philosophy is held up for ridicule.

Maybe I should have put some of these thoughts into the original post.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Allan,

What, specifically? What makes you think I haven't noticed the pernicious impact of creationism on society? And what makes you think I don't address this influence in my professional life? And what is your suggestion about how to help?

AllanW said...

Then to answer your first point, make sure you and your colleagues on the scientifically literate side of the philosophy aisle spend more time with scientists than the numbnuts. No point in complaining about a situation you and your colleagues can address if you haven't bothered to address it, is there?

And if you're convinced that both the scientists and the DCT dolts are wrong then show them! Crank the machine and produce the sausages! Again, no point in complaining about it without producing the sausages. See how that guys' metaphor is becoming more and more apposite?

Finally, you may want to consider that the guy who posted the sausage machine metaphor wasn't so much making the point you've taken from it ('philosopher is portrayed as dumb boob who has no understanding of the importance of empirical testing') as another allied one; philosophers don't produce as many sausages as they say they can.

When you have a good reason for that I'd like to hear it, please as I think it a fair criticism.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Allan,

Then to answer your first point, make sure you and your colleagues on the scientifically literate side of the philosophy aisle spend more time with scientists than the numbnuts.

I do.

Crank the machine and produce the sausages! Again, no point in complaining about it without producing the sausages. See how that guys' metaphor is becoming more and more apposite?

To be honest, I'm not really sure what you think sausage is supposed to be a metaphor for. I took the point to be that the work of philosophers is often informed by, makes reference to, or otherwise requires the results of empirical data, and that philosophers refuse to perform the relevant experiment or ignore the relevant data.

you may want to consider that the guy who posted the sausage machine metaphor wasn't so much making the point you've taken from it ('philosopher is portrayed as dumb boob who has no understanding of the importance of empirical testing')

I didn't say that was his point. I said that's how the philosopher is portrayed.

I don't see what's wrong with putting up a quick blog post lamenting this fact. I don't see how that's inconsistent with actually doing stuff about it. I do what I can, but I'm not sure how much I can really do.

One thing I can do is use this forum to alert other philosophers to the problem and ask for suggestions about how to solve it. What you call "bitching" I call "disseminating information (by bitching)."

And if you've got a concrete suggestion about how to combat this perception of philosophy or the pernicious influence of creationism on society, I'd love to hear it. If there's something you think I should be doing, please let me know.

AllanW said...

"To be honest, I'm not really sure what you think sausage is supposed to be a metaphor for."

Material world effect. Something discernible in the real world.

I didn't say you were wrong to make this quick blog post, far from it. I'm always happy to see this kind of cross-posting going on; it shows that people can at least see outside their own silos. However I was reacting to my perception of your complaisancy in the chat with Anonymous and attempting to alert you to an allied point that I think does need to become more widespread within the philosophical community, that of lack of impact outside your own small coterie.

I have a very healthy regard for the achievements of philosophical rigour, training and thinking but cannot ignore the fact that the huge human strides forward that are represented in philosophical achievements are disseminated so narrowly. Suggestions for how to change this? Suggestions for how these human advances can be shared more widely? Plenty but let's start with some simple, easy steps; if faulty or erroneous arguments are made in major social fora (like creationism, supernaturalism or belief in the 'soul') then philosophers should be expending significant efforts to counter them.

Get in the game in a more meaningful way than the profession seems to be engaged at the moment; you have as much to lose if we don't win these arguments as anybody so help us out, please.

Justin Kalef said...

Allan W.,

I'm not sure whether you're aware of this, but philosophers have already completely refuted the best creationist arguments. We have set out these refutations clearly and decisively. Many of us make a practice of engaging, or trying to engage, with creationists in whatever forum is possible.

The problem isn't that we haven't been 'cranking the machine', or cranking it in the right way, or coming out with something good, or trying to get the results to the public. The problem is that far too few people listen to us.

Why is that? For a number of reasons, I suspect. But I think that foremost among them is an incorrect belief among members of the lay public (including many scientists) that philosophers do nothing but navel-gaze, or that we are obsessed with poring over the works of long-dead philosophers and do nothing new. This picture is not accurate of any important philosophers today, as far as I know; but the blog posting we are discussing perpetuates it.

So, yeah, that's one of our biggest obstacles in dealing with creationists, and the reason why that blog posting is stupid and counter-productive.

Anonymous said...

Not to return to the whole Synthese fiasco, but it seems like that's a pretty good example of philosophers "getting in the game," for example, by testifying in court that the creationist and ID nonsense is in fact nonsense.

But the larger queston, it seems, is how much time should philosophers spend trying to convince the (often hostile) public at large that philosophy is something important and meaningful, at the expense of actually DOING philosophy? Should we require scientists to do the same thing? How long should we expect scientists to try to convince the public that global warming is real, before moving on to doing more science? Isn't there a point at which defending one's profession gets in the way of doing it?

Finally, at the risk of turning a comment into a rant, why is it that philosophers (and scientists, and perhaps academics in general) are constantly called upon to defend and justify their existence, when other more spurius and destructive professions, from investment bankers to marketing directors, are not only not expected to do so, but are actually held up and admired as "productive" members of society?

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

AllanW,

Come on now. The "lack of impact outside your own small coterie" can assuredly be applied to a not insignificant chunk of scientific practice too. As if every single scientific article ever published has had a "discernible real world effect."

But, I'm not interested in making a glass house argument here. There's surely a place in the world for genuine intellectual curiosity about things both natural - the farthest reaches of space - and conceptual - the nature of mathematical objects - that might not have any effect in the real world - like making better bridges - but would satisfy something else. Certainly philosophers might do a better job of choosing interesting projects, but choosing those projects shouldn't be at the whim of common sentiment.

Moreover, I think you're right to claim that philosophers might do a better job about weighing in on debates in the public consciousness. But, even then, this might not have a discernible real world effect. If after weighing in, no one is convinced that ID is epistemologically bankrupt, were our efforts worthless?

I guess so since it didn't make any sausages. But, if you don't think that in virtue of educating young people as to how to think clearly and forcefully is of real world value, well then, you're barking up the wrong tree.

Remember, we teach too. A lot of people. And even if it's about a dumb topic, the point for the student isn't the content, but engaging in the practice of thinking.

AllanW said...

@Justin. Thanks for the comment.

"I'm not sure whether you're aware of this, but philosophers have already completely refuted the best creationist arguments."

I'm very well aware of that fact. Now at the risk of making you smile I'll frame a question for you in ironic homage to a favourite Creationist counter;

'If philosophers have refuted the creationist arguments, why are there still Creationists?'

Part of the answer is here;

"The problem is that far too few people listen to us."

Ah diddums. Does the nice big brain not understand that a crucial part of the argument is the winning part? Does the nice big brain not understand that you can't claim anything if the effect is not measurable? I'll stop this tone now.

Seriously though, you guys and gals need to accept, as most other professions do, that measures of success set by yourselves, administered by yourselves and adjusted for yourselves when empirical evidence refutes you is no basis for claiming primacy over anyone else. You have to be seen to win, accepted by others to win before you can say you have won.

And don't palm yourself off with weak points like 'Yeah, see, the reason they don't accept that we win is 'cos they don't unnerstan' what we do and the way we do it. We win really it's jus' they don' know we have.'

Produce the sausages. It's getting better and better as a metaphor :)

AllanW said...

No, Anonymous. One example (or even a few more) of you guys getting out into the real world is nowhere near enough to refute the star-spanning gulf or failure to engage that philosophers are guilty of. Luckily your post then descends, predictably, into stereotypical navel-gazing.

You need to read it again with tinted spectacles that reveal the solipsistic vortexes your enquiries descend into.

And your final point; appeal to pity AND fatwa envy in one point! I'm amazed at you.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

See addendum for my views on the value of teaching. Education is real. Right?

Anonymous said...

"But I think that foremost among them is an incorrect belief among members of the lay public (including many scientists) that philosophers do nothing but navel-gaze, or that we are obsessed with poring over the works of long-dead philosophers and do nothing new."

That may be one reason, but it's not foremost. Not by a longshot. I'd suggest that foremost reason is that when philosophers write/speak to the general population, they are looked down upon by others in their profession. Writing/Speaking to the masses is, we are often told, no way to earn tenure (or even secure a tenure-track position). There are too few philosophers willing to spend time and energy on publications and professional talks that will not earn them credit among other philosophers. On the other hand, this is something that Creationists (and others) need not fear. In fact, not being hired or tenured at an academic institution becomes a point of pride for them, as they can then point to the "biased academy" and proudly proclaim they are speaking truth to that particular power.

Mr. Zero said...

'If philosophers have refuted the creationist arguments, why are there still Creationists?'

My god, what a stupid question. If this seems to you to be a legitimate thing to ask anybody at all, or philosophers in particular (i.e. not biologists), then I don't really know what to say to you. Except maybe, grow up.

If this isn't a legitimate question, and you're just trolling, then I guess I don't have anything further to say to you.

Either way, I'm not going to approve further comments along these lines, AllanW. Please have constructive, non-moronic things to say.

AllanW said...

Anonymous;

"I'd suggest that foremost reason is that when philosophers write/speak to the general population, they are looked down upon by others in their profession. Writing/Speaking to the masses is, we are often told, no way to earn tenure (or even secure a tenure-track position). There are too few philosophers willing to spend time and energy on publications and professional talks that will not earn them credit among other philosophers."

Terrific and accurate point. I retract all my previous snark. You are absolutely right here. It is the same set of circumstances that pertains in most science branches and is incredibly slow to shift.

I suggest that if we could make progress on removing that perception in academia then the public usage and utility of philosophical concepts would explode.

AllanW said...

Oh for goodness' sake, Mr Zero, get off your high horse. Either demonstrate the stupidity or accept you cannot. Declaring by fiat that my question is inadmissable is, I'm sure you realise, rather poor form, don't you think?

Mr. Zero said...

Hi AllanW,

Either demonstrate the stupidity or accept you cannot.

What a stupid demand.

You said yourself that creationists have problems with rationality and reasonableness. Creationists don't accept creationism because of arguments. The existence of unreasonable people who don't accept that creationism has been refuted is not evidence that creationism has not been thoroughly refuted.

Shane said...

Hi folks, I'm glad to have stimulated a little discussion :-) For the record, a/ some of my best friends are philosophers (in the loose sense *and* the tight sense); b/ that blog post was fired up in all of 15 mins after reading a pompous tweet by a philosopher looking down his nose at science, and c/ it is deliberately extreme, as parables should be. It is to illustrate a point - the point being that you can have the most beautifully crafted argument you can muster, but you can't say it is *true* unless you can test its output against what happens in the real world (and even then there are epistemic wrinkles that mean you're stuck with a degree of provisionality that is stubbornly difficult to eradicate.

An example: Einstein's general relativity is philosophically watertight, and works beautifully in the real world, as has been confirmed many many times. But we *still* went ahead and launched Gravity Probe B.

So permit me a little jocular (and dickish - I'm proud of that) poking at the Phils of this world; recognise the limitations of your own enterprise, and remember that when we use words to describe the real world, there are dangers that the world does not necessarily work the way we think. After all, Aquinas and Augustine and Anselm thought they were on to something, but nowadays very few philosophers would regard their arguments as even *sensible*.

Love you guys really :-) Any comments you'd like to leave over on http://churchofjesuschristatheist.blogspot.com would also be welcome - I am trying to decide whether it's worth keeping at that, or just to let it wither (it's a bit trite).

-@shanemuk

AllanW said...

Oh dear Mr Zeno, you're not doing your cause as much good as you'd hope, I'm afraid.

I accept that creationist arguments have been refuted, you don't need to 'prove' that point to me. I accept it as proven. That wasn't the point at issue. Here it is again but worded differently;

'What use or validity is there to your claim that their arguments have been refuted if that produces no change in their adherence to those refuted arguments?'

Am I being clear? Is the analogy of the sausage machine plans becoming plain? I'm anxious to make the point at least understandable even if Mr Zero immediately declares it invalid or stupid or beneath his contemplation because at least then, in your heart of hearts, in some future scenario when the great theological government comes to you and abolishes your departments A little melodramatic I know but you take my point surely?

Anonymous said...

The existence of unreasonable people who don't accept that creationism has been refuted is not evidence that creationism has not been thoroughly refuted.

This seems a fair enough point, as well as straightforwardly applicable to instances of skepticism of widely accepted scientific theories. And the question posed applies equally to creationists - clearly they believe themselves to have decisively refuted some anti-creationist position, so why are there still anti-creationists?

Furthermore, it seems telling that Allen W. hasn't yet responded to Jaded's point about teaching. I personally always have to hide my confusion when people suggest that philosophy has no "real world application". Philosophy is just interpretation, of both the world and other people. It teaches you to interpret other people charitably and to help reach understandings when it comes to arguments. It conditions you to resist unjustified reasoning and to question unscrupulous authority, as well as to continually raise and provoke questions of ethics.

The above all seem fair examples of philosophical engagement external to academia. Honestly, I don't really think it's reasonable to ask for an external measure of the extent to which these habits manifest in students' lives - it just seems to me from experience that they do, both in my own case and in the case of others I know. And I imagine other philosophers at this blog and elsewhere will agree. So yes, anecdotal evidence, but evidence nonetheless. I'm not sure what there is left to be upset about, at least along this dimension. You can't really force philosophy onto people who aren't willing to engage seriously criticism and questioning any more than you force addicts into rehab who have no interest in getting clean. So if your point is about our numbers, well, all I can say then is to get in touch with our PR department. But it seems like science education as well has its own problems in that regard.

Euthyphronics said...

AllanW,

If Creationism isn't true, why are there creationists? If science has shown the world is flat, why is there a flat earth society? If all the evidence supports global warming, why are there climate-change deniers?

Also -- what the hell are the sausages? Or the "empirical results"? Or "getting in the game"? (Are these the same thing? I can't tell.) Like, does getting a hypothesis confirmed in a lab count? What about writing a paper that leads a bona fide scientist to come up with such a hypothesis? Getting written up in the NYT review of books? Testifying in significant court cases? Having a book available at Barnes & Noble that will get Joe the Plumber to vote for Obama? Since you've answered earlier such questions either with further vague claims or thinly veiled contempt, I seriously don't know what it is you think we should be doing that we're not.

Anonymous said...

So permit me a little jocular (and dickish - I'm proud of that) poking at the Phils of this world; recognise the limitations of your own enterprise, and remember that when we use words to describe the real world, there are dangers that the world does not necessarily work the way we think. After all, Aquinas and Augustine and Anselm thought they were on to something, but nowadays very few philosophers would regard their arguments as even *sensible*.

The first point is fair enough, though it's been made before, indeed by a philosopher, and remains one of the most enduring critiques of philosophy in the western tradition. =p

And secondly, just as a likewise friendly objection, I don't know if what you say about Anselm and Aquinas and folks is necessarily true. Now, I would agree that most philosophers today do not take what these past philosophers have argued to be *literally* true. But I imagine a fair amount of contemporary philosophers would find their arguments *reasonable*, at least in their general framework, if not the specific details where many contemporary philosophers would perhaps find holes. But essentially all arguments have holes, and holes do not make a philosophical position *unreasonable* per se.

Mr. Zero said...

I accept that creationist arguments have been refuted, you don't need to 'prove' that point to me.

I didn't try to prove that creationist arguments had been refuted.

That wasn't the point at issue. Here it is again but worded differently; 'What use or validity is there to your claim that their arguments have been refuted if that produces no change in their adherence to those refuted arguments?'

Maybe you think you asked that question. Maybe you were trying to ask that question. I don't know. I'm not Columbo. But you *did not* ask that question. The question you asked was the unbelievably stupid, "If philosophers have refuted the creationist arguments, why are there still Creationists?" I'm not going to chase your goalposts around the field.

Mr. Zero said...

it seems telling that Allen W. hasn't yet responded to Jaded's point about teaching.

That's not exactly accurate. He posted a highly trollish response that I declined to publish.

Charles Eggebrecht said...

Mr. Zero,

Perhaps his 'highly trollish' response is due to him being a troll. We shouldn't be feeding him. I wonder if he would require science to conform to his sausage logic.

Just because creationist don't accept (most are surely ignorant of)refutations of their claims doesn't disqualify the work of the philosopher. It disqualifies the philosophy of the creationist. Since Answers in Genes has made it Scientists v. Philosophers, I'll stick with that. Allan should ask himself: "What use or validity is there to any scientist's refutation of creationist's claims if they produce no change in their adherence?" I hope he agrees that the value of the scientist's refutation stands independent of its acceptance by an IDiot. Same with the philosopher's refutation. I mean, not everyone will like the sausages a philosopher makes, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

Anonymous said...

"I have a very healthy regard for the achievements of philosophical rigour, training and thinking but cannot ignore the fact that the huge human strides forward that are represented in philosophical achievements are disseminated so narrowly. Suggestions for how to change this? Suggestions for how these human advances can be shared more widely?"

Read the article on interdisciplinarity over at American Dialectic: http://www.americandialectic.org/

Small Fish said...

It's also been strangely funny to me that we've been using monolithic terms and judging entire fields. The "scientist" versus the "philosopher" as if those words really pick out much of anything to make a meaningful comparison.

If this is about creationism then I would suggest a similar sausage making claim: show me the philosopher who supports the claim!

There are few, very few. And if any scientist was forced, as an undergraduate, to take critical thinking courses then they should know, as well as anyone, that it is fallacious to attribute to an entire group a property that only a small number has.

Every argument being amassed here against philosophy as a branch of knowledge is so generalized that it applies, by parity of reasoning, to any branch of knowledge.

Philosophy hasn't stopped creationism? Neither has psychology. Neither has biology. Neither has physics. Neither has chemistry.

But one branch, perhaps more than any of those others, has amassed a series of quite detailed arguments against the view.

Philosophy has no practical impact? Define practical impact and then prove to me that most research in theoretical physics, most research in psychology, most research in chemistry, most research in biology, has an obvious and immediate practical payoff.

In most cases practical payoffs are years away. At the very least we should all acknowledges that the payoffs are different in different disciplines, that context matters, and that the causes of practical payoffs are sometimes hard to muster and sometimes (almost always) benefit from clarity of thinking. That is, benefit from philosophy.

To use this increasingly stupid metaphor: it is as if the only person to get credit is the gal/guy at the end of the sausage machine (and what an apt, gendered metaphor) and that we absolutely neglect everyone else whose input was vital to the creation of the machine and procurement of the sausage. In our day to day lives we wouldn't associate or think very highly of someone arrogant enough to try to take that kind of credit, I see no need for us to do so professional either.

Anonymous said...

Shane says:

and remember that when we use words to describe the real world, there are dangers that the world does not necessarily work the way we think.

I just want to point out that the most empirical of hands-dirty in-the-lab science is as vulnerable on this point as the most far-flung contemporary metaphysics (whom people seem to think are the worst of the bunch...angels on the head of a pin, etc.).

You have to collect the data, and then you have to interpret it, and at both stages your results are infected by whatever set of concepts you've got to work with. You test the corner cases again and again, and if things go wonky you go back to the drawing board and try to re-carve the conceptual space until you can make sense of things. Which is, of course, the same thing we do.

But you wanted the sausage...

People joke that whenever philosophers get something good going, it gets spun off into a special science (and of course at the start, physics as well...and no, we're not going to let you forget it!). The truth is that special sciences are the sausages. We hem and haw for a few hundred years, develop a set of concepts that are coherent enough to enable future-scientists to collect some data (see above; it's a prerequisite to get you guys off the ground), which they then organize well enough to pass on to their little sausages the engineers, who build bridges and iphones and electric toothbrushes. And so it goes.

Philosophy is, of course, an astronomically obtuse and inefficient method for creating sciences. Most of the work gets wasted, nearly no one has that goal in mind when they're working, and the results take centuries. It's awful, I agree. The problem is, nobody has come up with a better method.

When someone finally does, and what a happy day that will be, we'll probably do what the pure mathematicians do and go sit in the corner and play with our toys anyway because they are beautiful and it brings us joy.

Justin Kalef said...

Shane,

In defending the post on your blog that started this all, you advise: "recognise the limitations of your own enterprise, and remember that when we use words to describe the real world, there are dangers that the world does not necessarily work the way we think."

Have we, or a good portion of us, actually failed to recognize the limitations of philosophy? How and when? And do you have any good reason to think we have forgotten the relationship our thoughts bear to the world? If not, then I'm not sure how this justifies your sausage metaphor.

The sausage metaphor also has some other important failings, as is clear from the way this discussion has continued. Here's my attempt at improvement:

Two sausage-makers, called 'Philosopher' and 'Scientist', make sausages that are packaged, advertised, and sold to different shops. Depending on a number of factors (including pricing, advertising, availability, shop location, etc.), customers buy the sausages in different numbers from the shops.

The two sausage-makers have the following discussion:

Scientist: "Hey, look at that hungry person! Why hasn't he eaten one of your factory's sausages? How lazy you are!"

Philosopher: "Wait: why is it my fault that he hasn't eaten one of our products? Perhaps he can't afford it."

Scientist: "Oho -- got you! Look at that other person: walking down the street with a bag of groceries. Surely _she_ can afford your sausages. But she hasn't bought one! I refute you thus."

Philosopher: "Your logic seems deeply flawed."

Philosopher's assistant: "Agreed. What assumptions are you relying on, Scientist?"

Scientist's assistant: "Ah, there we have the philosophers in their true colors: talking back and forth with one another and hectoring us about assumptions... when they could be making sausages!"

Scientist: "Exactly. And ensuring that people eat them!"

Sure makes us philosophers look stupid, eh Shane?

Anonymous said...

The article over at American Dialectic titled "Interdisciplinarity: Some Lessons from John Dewey" by another Shane (who's a philosopher) is actually a fairly good response to the ridiculous challenges made by the Shane above.

Schopenhauer said...

"Two Chinamen visiting Europe went to the theatre for the first time. One of them occupied himself with trying to understand the theatrical machinery, which he succeeded in doing. The other, despite his ignorance of the language, sought to unravel the meaning of the play. The former is like the astronomer, the latter the philosopher."

Anonymous said...

Apparently our culture of emboldened ignorance reaches into some parts of the scientific world.

When the philosopher proprietors here engaged with this stuff, just what did you think was going to happen? what was the endgame going to be?

Joshua Harwood said...

Is the argument that philosophy reduces to degrees in critical thinking? If so, okay, but critical thinking isn't unique to philosophy, just more overt to it.

If this is the major defense for philosophy departments, color me unsurprised when higher-ups aim the bolt guns at the heads of philosophy chairs first.

Philosophers have the tools to make sausage machines, but scientists can make sausage machines and sausages. And by "sausage," I assumed he meant "accurate prediction(s)."

CTS said...

I tired to post over at Shane's blog, but got caught up in an endless loop between the blog comment and google.

It's worth noting that 'the philosopher' he seems to be aiming at is, in fact, a theologian whose position title includes 'philosophy.'

If Shane thinks that this person represents philosophers, his research methods need some retooling.

BunnyHugger said...

Shane wrote: b/ that blog post was fired up in all of 15 mins after reading a pompous tweet by a philosopher looking down his nose at science

Thanks for spending fifteen long minutes considering things before ridiculing an entire discipline. If one alleged philosopher said something pompous, then you have clear justification for responding in kind toward all philosophers. It is difficult to see why anyone here should take offense.

Anonymous said...

If nothing else, this just proves the natural sciences are a big sausage-fest.

Mr. Zero said...

Is the argument that philosophy reduces to degrees in critical thinking?

Is it not obvious that there is much, much more to it than that?

Clearly, one of the concrete "outcomes" of successful completion of a degree in philosophy is going to be a set of critical thinking skills. And it seems to me that these skills are important, and that a philosophical education has been shown to be related to higher scores on graduate school admissions tests in a variety of fields, and is probably related to enhanced success in a variety of fields. And stuff.

But the idea that this is all there is to it ignores the actual subject matter of philosophy, which a series of the most difficult, important, and interesting questions human beings have ever addressed. Such as, Is there a God?; Is there a sense of human free will and moral responsibility that is compatible with the physics of causal interaction?; Is morality real?; Blah blah blah. So one of the most important things I do is to contribute to an important kind of general intellectual literacy in my students.

For another thing, I teach intro to about 200 students a year, on average. In my intro class, we discuss (among other things) Paley's teleological argument for the existence of God based on apparently designed body parts. The principal objection to this argument is based on (what ought to be) the well-known fact that evolution is both true and well-suited to produce apparently designed body parts that are not actually designed.

Most of these students, who are typically 18- and 19-year-old freshmen and sophomores but who are often seniors or 40- and 50-year-old returning students, lack anything like an accurate or detailed understanding of the theory of evolution itself or the evidence in favor of it. They don't know what the theory says, and they don't know why it's true. So I spend about a day and a half going over it with them. I formulate the theory in a clear and detailed way, explain how it works, and give an overview of the massive body of evidence.

So another of the most important things I do is this: I make up for the shortcomings of our nation's high school biology teachers. Contrary to what is suggested by the "sausage machine" metaphor, I think a good philosophical education will involve a general scientific literacy.

And I also try to contribute to attempts to actually answer philosophical questions. I don't see how that's nothing, either.

Joshua Harwood said...

Unfortunately, Mr. Zero, it's much less obvious. And you haven't really argued that philosophy is more than a critical thinking degree, but that philosophy is critical thinking that casts a wide net.

I would challenge that the questions that you raise are interesting or challenging, but I would do so largely in appeal to cultural relativism (e.g. How many, say, Mongolians gave or give a damn about the existence of God when their culture simply did not invite it, and [assuming you're American] how much time do you spend bothering to know if Anekāntavāda is legitimate, if you can refine jing, to qi, to shen, or if fire is the foundation of everything?), neglectful empirical scrutiny into the question (How would you even determine that the non-causal mind existed?), or mere unimportance of the epistemic result to the pragmatic concern that the epistemic results aim to resolve (Would people behave much differently if "morality" were a myth?). And stuff...

Unfortunately, if you are right that people are grossly undereducated about science, but that you only spend a day to clarify the matter, you may also be arguing that people need more biology, not philosophy. If people understood biology better, it would pound their wilder conjectures down to size. It appears that people should be more scientifically literate, and since science departments can and do offer survey courses, they'd be better qualified to inform people about the errors of the argument from design than a philosopher would be.

The problem, Mr. Zero, is that you may be wrong to think that there are uniquely "philosophical questions," that a philosopher is specially equipped to answer a certain question, when in fact he has fewer tools than empirical scientists have (They study logic and probability theory, too, and use it well enough for their ends.) You know, too, that even philosophers have offered this route of self-amputation. What reasons are there not to do so when newer disciplines have devised better means of answering the questions of philosophers and gutting or re-sectioning philosophy departments would immerse philosophers with their specialized crowds?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Zero--

What you do with respect to teaching stuff about evolution--I do also. And I agree--we are filling a huge gap in our student's lack of education about what the view means. Shame on our high schools (especially here where a large proportion of my students go to private Lutheran schools--which actively oppose evolution!!). And good for you.

By the way I hated the "sausage" allegory. It should have been reversed: the scientists produce sausage, and then we ask things like: why did the scientists want to make sausage? Is sausage what we need? Are there sausage-like things that would be better? What were the assumptions behind their sausage-making methods? If sausage is useful or good, were there better ways to make sausage? Etc. Etc.

Mr. Zero said...

And you haven't really argued that philosophy is more than a critical thinking degree, but that philosophy is critical thinking that casts a wide net.

Come on. You're kidding. Ethics. Free will. The metaphysics of non-truth-functional logic.

if you are right that people are grossly undereducated about science, but that you only spend a day to clarify the matter, you may also be arguing that people need more biology, not philosophy.

1. I am right that people are grossly undereducated about science. To that end, I am helping the scientists out and we are on the same side. 2. The question of whether there is a God, for example, is not a question in biology. The results of biology are relevant to this question, but that doesn't make it a biological question.

they'd be better qualified to inform people about the errors of the argument from design than a philosopher would be.

There are non-biological design arguments--in fact, the ones that make reference to biology are dead in the water. The most compelling design argument is the "fine-tuning" argument, which makes reference to the fundamental physical structure of the universe. And there are other, non-design theistic arguments. I've read Dawkins on the cosmological argument. He's a wonderful biologist, I'm sure, but his discussion of the cosmological argument is pitiful. Pitiful.

The problem, Mr. Zero, is that you may be wrong to think that there are uniquely "philosophical questions," that a philosopher is specially equipped to answer a certain question, when in fact he has fewer tools than empirical scientists have (They study logic and probability theory, too, and use it well enough for their ends.)

I disagree. Some questions are not well suited to empirical study. Such as questions about what makes right acts right, or what makes one state of affairs better than another, or whether there are such things as rightness and goodness, what makes it the case that possibly p, etc.

Small Fish said...

"I would challenge that the questions that you raise are interesting or challenging, but I would do so largely in appeal to cultural relativism (e.g. How many, say, Mongolians gave or give a damn about the existence of God when their culture simply did not invite it"

Here is yet another reason for philosophy, in this case, theories of truth and, it seems, meta-ethics. This is NOT, despite the claim to the contrary, an instance of cultural relativism. The fact that two groups don't care about something doesn't say much of anything about the truth value of the content of their disagreement.

And frankly this is a good example of just what I take Zero to be saying. There were two failures in your example Joshua. The first was a critical thinking failure. You did not think through your example very well before lapsing into it rhetorically.

The second was philosophical. Cultural relativism is a position in meta-ethics. You misunderstand the position, its implications and empirical manifestations. Some background in philosophy would help there too.

Justin Kalef said...

Joshua Harwood wrote:

"The problem, Mr. Zero, is that you may be wrong to think that there are uniquely "philosophical questions," that a philosopher is specially equipped to answer a certain question, when in fact he has fewer tools than empirical scientists have (They study logic and probability theory, too, and use it well enough for their ends.)"

Just to be clear: shouldn't mathematicians also be satirized by silly sausage analogies, on these grounds? After all, mathematicians only study probability, logic, and other things that scientists work on as well. Moreover, mathematicians do not generate falsifiable predictions.

Joshua Harwood continued: "You know, too, that even philosophers have offered this route of self-amputation. What reasons are there not to do so when newer disciplines have devised better means of answering the questions of philosophers and gutting or re-sectioning philosophy departments would immerse philosophers with their specialized crowds?"

Wow, isn't that something? The special sciences have better means of answering "the questions of philosophers." I had no idea!

Well, here are some of the questions of philosophers. Please tell us -- without making any straightforward errors in reasoning -- just what methods these new disciplines have for answering them _more_ effectively than the methods of philosophy!

1) Are there any genuine ethical obligations beyond the obligation to maximize the happiness and preference-satisfactions of present or future beings?

2) Are everyday moral utterances best understood as statements of fact or as something else?

3) What, precisely, is the relationship between one's being in pain at a certain time and one's C-fibers firing at that time?

4) Is it possible to be morally responsible for one's actions if everything is fully determined (or for that matter, if not everything is)?

5) Can we be sure that we aren't brains in vats being given our experiences artificially? If so, then how? If not, then doesn't this create problems for all the empirical knowledge we typically think we have?

If you could please explain what superior methods the special sciences have for answering these questions -- citing one or two examples for clarification, if possible -- I'm sure we'd all be much obliged. If not, then I think you'd better face the fact that you've waded in far too deep already and think about backing out with apologies.

Joshua Harwood said...

“Come on. You're kidding [when you say that philosophy is broad-based critical thinking]. Ethics. Free will. The metaphysics of non-truth-functional logic.”

This sounds like you're just describing some of the dimensions of the net. Yes, philosophers are interested in all kinds of questions, even those that really matter to other disciplines. For instance, I've attended a conference in which a philosopher discussed the meaningfulness of diagnoses of schizophrenia. He was also a scientific investigator of the matter, but he addressed the anatomical challenges and the language of diagnostics, itself, differently.

"There are non-biological design arguments--in fact, the ones that make reference to biology are dead in the water. The most compelling design argument is the "fine-tuning" argument, which makes reference to the fundamental physical structure of the universe. And there are other, non-design theistic arguments. I've read Dawkins on the cosmological argument. He's a wonderful biologist, I'm sure, but his discussion of the cosmological argument is pitiful. Pitiful."

To be clear, I never said that the question of God's existence was a biological question. If the question appeals to cosmological claims, they can study more physics. If it appeals to some claim that certain places are magical, they can study more geology. If it has to appeal to a non-physical mind, they could consult a neuroscientist about it. If it appeals to definitions for 'God,' they can consult lexicographers. Also, if they want to learn how to outline their own premises and check for consistency, they can consult mathematicians and logicians (the latter of whom I know occupy philosophy departments).

"Some questions are not well suited to empirical study. Such as questions about what makes right acts right, […], what makes it the case that possibly p, etc."

More and more, value theory questions of all kinds (not just the ethical ones) are amenable to neurology, evolutionary biology (insofar as primate sociality is relevant to our own), psychology, and the tentative social sciences of economics and sociology. Also, if a question is not amenable to empirical study, what reason is there to continue pursuit in a philosophical fashion rather than await a period when it becomes more suited to empirical sciences, or do you think that some questions will never be empirically investigable?

Possibility is of interest, but as I recall, Heyting algebras can capture a sense of “possibly p” without metaphysical appeal. P ⊬ ⊥ doesn't strike me as very problematic.

Mr. Zero said...

Two parter. Sorry.

This sounds like you're just describing some of the dimensions of the net.

I don't know what you're talking about. I am talking about e.g. whether there are wrong actions, whether claims about rightness & wrongness should be understood as statements of fact or as ejaculations of emotion, what distinguishes the wrong actions from the right ones, and which particular actions (such as making sausage, for example) are right and which are wrong.

I never said that the question of God's existence was a biological question. If the question appeals to cosmological claims, they can study more physics. If it appeals to some claim that certain places are magical, they can study more geology.

None of this goes to show that there is no such thing as philosophy, or that there is no useful discipline that goes by that name. It just goes to show that philosophers rely upon the results of a wide variety of scientific fields.

I wonder what kind of question you think this question about God is. God is not a physical object, so it's not a question in physics. He's not made of chemicals, so it's not a question in chemistry. He's not a living thing, so it's not a question in biology. He's not part of the earth, so it's not a question in geology. He's not a group of people, so it's not a question in sociology. It seems to me to be straightforwardly philosophical.

If it has to appeal to a non-physical mind, they could consult a neuroscientist about it.

No, you couldn't. If you asked a neuroscientist about non-physical minds, she'd say, "I study neurons, which are physical objects." I'm not sure you've thought this through very carefully.

value theory questions of all kinds are amenable to neurology, evolutionary biology (insofar as primate sociality is relevant to our own), psychology, and the tentative social sciences of economics and sociology.

Only if you make a bunch of controversial philosophical assumptions about the relationship between neurological, biological, psychological, and sociological facts and facts about value (if there are any such facts, which is also a matter of ongoing philosophical controversy).

Mr. Zero said...

part two:

if a question is not amenable to empirical study, what reason is there to continue pursuit in a philosophical fashion rather than await a period when it becomes more suited to empirical sciences,

I feel like a broken record. It would be nice to know, for example, whether there are wrong actions, whether claims about rightness & wrongness should be understood as statements of fact or as ejaculations of emotion, what distinguishes the wrong actions from the right ones, and which particular actions are right and which are wrong.

I focus on ethics because that's my area of specialization, and because I think ethical questions are interesting and extremely important. Is same-sex marriage wrong? Are prohibitions on same-sex marriage wrong? Is euthanasia ever ok? Does the patient's quality of life relevant to the permissibility of euthanasia? Does the government have a legitimate right to govern? From what is this right derived?

Let's think about this question about same-sex marriage more carefully. Some people think that this practice should be illegal. These people think so because they think that homosexuality is immoral, and for the state to recognize homosexual marriage would degrade it in a profound manner. Both the key premise and the conclusion involve moral claims that resist empirical study.

But lots of people think these moral claims are a bunch of hooey. These people think that the government shouldn't prohibit same-sex marriage. These people think there is no reason to regard homosexual behavior as wrong, and that prohibitions on same-sex marriage are deeply unjust because they cause undeserved harm to thousands or millions of people.

But both of these reasons depend crucially on moral claims and principles that are not amenable to empirical study. The status of harmfulness as a wrong-making characteristic; the obligation on the part of the government to correct or refrain from perpetrating injustice; the existence and importance of justice in the first place.

I find it extremely difficult to take seriously the idea that we should wait on this question until the scientists have developed suitable empirical methods for studying justice and the nature of obligation.

or do you think that some questions will never be empirically investigable?

I don't see much reason to be optimistic about the development of the wrong-o-meter.

Heyting algebras can capture a sense of “possibly p” without metaphysical appeal. P ⊬ ⊥ doesn't strike me as very problematic.

Obviously you haven't read your Kripke or your Lewis. I think it's true that I might have been taller. You must think this is because of "P ⊬ ⊥". I think it is not true that I might have been a bicycle wheel. Is this because of "P ⊬ ⊥", too?

You didn't answer any of Justin Kalef's questions.

Anonymous said...

"if a question is not amenable to empirical study, what reason is there to continue pursuit in a philosophical fashion rather than await a period when it becomes more suited to empirical sciences"

Here is another, example I take to bolster Zero's worries. Back in the 1930's through the 60's behavioral psychologists (i.e., scientists) often argued against consciousness as a serious scientific subject matter. Consciousness (and other traditional, subjective mental states) are inaccessible to empirical observation, and, for that reason, ruled out as a serious topic for investigation (in certain cases, e.g., Skinner, it was denied they even existed). This is in line with the above quoted remarks because this line of argument was driven by a very strict empiricist approach to inquiry.

Well, thankfully philosophers of different schools defended the existence of consciousness and developed various theories of its nature, not waiting upon scientists to change their tune, or discover ways of investigating it. This led to a number of approaches which blossomed more recently among thinkers like Searle, Chalmers, and others over the nature of conscious states. Interestingly, neuroscientists and psychologists have come around and now take "a neuroscience of consciousness" seriously. So you have people like Crick (nobel prize) and Koch writing articles about consciousness and how to study it, etc. etc. Am I to think that this wasn't a case where philosophers were way out in front of scientists? Did consciousness and its nature resist any study until scientists decided more recently to climb on board? We have learned a tremendous amount about consciousness from philosophical reflection on it, and only someone who was unfamiliar with this work would think nothing of value has been accomplished. Also notice that the more recent empirical work on conciousness came *after* years of philosophical reflection which helped clarify the subject matter and questions involved in studying this issue. The empirical work might have been delayed even further were it not for the previous work that had been done.

Joshua Harwood said...

Mr. Zero, please! There's one of me and n of you. This is to Justin:

Just to be clear: shouldn't mathematicians also be satirized by silly sausage analogies, on these grounds? After all, mathematicians only study probability, logic, and other things that scientists work on as well. Moreover, mathematicians do not generate falsifiable predictions.

Mathematicians and logicians produce the tools that scientists use to design their experiments and to evaluate the results of their tests. There are mathematical problems and logical problems for which they are specially equipped.

Mathematical claims do have falsifiable axioms. Russel's paradox and the Banach-Tarski paradox are used to question the acceptability of certain axioms (Frege's V and the Axiom of Choice, respectively). Intuitionist mathematics successfully combated the axiomatic status of the LEM and provided more depth to the meaning of proof. There is an empirical project of deciding on the adoption of axioms and definitions wherein the proof is the consequent condition from the initial conditions of the experiment (the axioms).

Non-falsified mathematical theorems turn out to be pan-empirically true (assuming that an empirical object matches the mathematical definition), and in that respect, scientists can use their experimental results to form expectations for the mathematical results of certain phenomena, which a mathematician may prove or disprove. Mathematically disproven statements lead physicists to question their investigation or to use another model to outline their results, but in either case, they're using logic and mathematics.

Please tell us -- without making any straightforward errors in reasoning -- just what methods these new disciplines have for answering them _more_ effectively than the methods of philosophy!

1) Are there any genuine ethical obligations beyond the obligation to maximize the happiness and preference-satisfactions of present or future beings?


It really doesn't matter which of those philosophical questions you ask. The empirical means of their investigation isn't going to deviate from a basic DOE.

First, you'll want to clarify the empirical criteria for “someone being happy,” “something being genuine,” and “something being an obligation,” etc. You need to establish that every term actually has a referent and that every predicate on those terms has an empirical instance. You don't want to succumb to the reification fallacy before you begin.

Next, you'll want to set up the testable conditions for the statement. “Are there any genuine ethical obligations beyond the obligation to maximize the happiness and preference-satisfactions of present or future beings?” seems to ask, “If we genuinely oblige subject x to some P, will P is in Q where Q = 'Subject x makes other people, present or future, happy or satisfies their preferences?'"

Set up some initial conditions that will genuinely oblige subjects to some P. Similarly, you may genuinely oblige subjects to Q.

Confirm or disconfirm both groups were genuinely obliged to Q. If they were, then you've supported that said P is in Q. If you haven't, then said P is not in Q.

There's a rough DOE for a question. Different ones may call for different designs in the details, but I don't think that many philosophical questions will get past the first step.

You don't want to confuse the means of answering such a question with an actual answer to the question or with actual progress in answering the question.

Joshua Harwood said...

This is to Mr. Zero:

Obviously you haven't read your Kripke or your Lewis. I think it's true that I might have been taller. You must think this is because of "P ⊬ ⊥". I think it is not true that I might have been a bicycle wheel. Is this because of "P ⊬ ⊥", too?

Why would you think that it's not true that you might have been a bicycle wheel? Is it somehow impossible for you? If it is, then there must be some background assumptions that lead to an absurdity for you, and therefore some P is implying ⊥.

I think that I might have been a bicycle wheel. I wasn't, and have some reasons to explain why I wasn't, but I don't exclude the possibility that I might have been one.

Mr. Zero said...

I think that I might have been a bicycle wheel. I wasn't, and have some reasons to explain why I wasn't, but I don't exclude the possibility that I might have been one.

Are you really that dense? Do you really not see that this is not an empirical discussion? There is, of course, controversy about whether or not it is true that I might have been a bicycle wheel. But it's not an empirical, scientific controversy. Geez.

Anonymous said...

I think the lesson of this painfully fruitless discussion is that it's reassuring so many philosophers have a reasonably solid scientific education, and that it's shocking and horrifying how little rock-bottom entry-level knowledge and understanding of both critical thinking and philosophy some (not all!) scientists have.

Seriously, my jaw actually dropped (in the real world) at some of the arguments put forward against philosophy--worse than the worst of my first year intro students.

If you want to know why Creationists still exist. The answer is bad reasoning. The answer is you.

Anonymous said...

Joshua,

Thanks for your replies here (I'm anonymous 8:17). I think your attempt to deal with Zeno's ethical cases is problematic, but let me put that aside. What hasn't been taken into account is the consciousness example I offered above and I'd be interested to hear your reply.

Yes, you could try to recast questions about consciousness as questions about what states we could operationalize in our investigations (......first you clarify the empirical criteria for being conscious, then.....etc. etc.). The *point* of my previous example was that this was what was done by the behaviorists in psychology (=strict empiricists) with the result that consciousness, from the 1930-1960's, was either not seen as a legitimate subject matter to study, or it was denied it even existed. This was a direct consequence of scientists following an operationalist approach to the subject and the fact that scientists could not find empirical referents for terms about consciousness (they wanted to avoid your "reification fallacy"). Then, years later, after philosophers had been working on this problem from a nonempirical perspective, scientists completely changed their tune, and now declare (along with Crick and Koch) consciousness *IS* a legitimate area of scientific inquiry. This only happened because (1) scientists loosened their empirical criteria needed for investigating mental phenomena after realizing that it was too strict, and (ii) it was apparent to everyone as philosophers had argued for years that consciousness cannot be ignored as a psychological fact about people. So what moral can we draw from this example?

This seems to be an example which resists your operationalist approach to inquiry (which may work fine in other cases). It seems to me philosophers have made progress by approaching the subject matter in nonempirical terms and ignoring your strictures in this case. There has been a good deal of valuable work by philosophers over the years. So if you insist on saying that only an operationalized approach to inquiry will work, this seems falsified by the *actual* historical record whereby the scientific developments came after the philosophical developments had taken place for a while. So, with all due respect, I don't see how your explaining some version of operationalism to us does anything to address this kind of example. If we followed your approach, we would know less about the world than we do now.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:26 here again:

First of all this discussion has been very frustrating. Mr. Harwood seems content to assume his conclusion and build the world around it as an article of faith. That's fine; it's a mistake a lot of non-philosophers (and philosophers for that matter!) make. Pointing out these mistakes is one of many good reasons for having philosophers around. Mr. Zero, on the other hand, has the training to be able to spot these sorts of flaws and bring the hammer down, but repeatedly instead falls back to a style of argument (intuition pumping) that only works with serious and open interlocutors. I don't doubt Mr. Harwood's seriousness, but zealots are anything but open. Must do better, Mr. Zero.

As for the charge by Mr. Harwood that philosophy could find a happy home in the various departments that share its subject matter, well, in principle I don't see why not. The lines on university ledger sheets are completely arbitrary. Do whatever you like. But the idea that we would no longer be doing philosophy because it said Physics Department or Psychology Department on our business cards is absurd.

Further, while I have no in principle objection to exploding philosophy departments, I do have a practical one. The idea that training in Physics or Psychology is sufficient to do the work we do is absurd. We live in a time of highly specialized intellectual labor. I couldn't do what Mr. Zero does, much less what goes on in Math departments or Physics departments, but in terms of training people efficiently it makes much more sense that I get my training in the same place Mr. Zero does than Mr. Theoretical Physicist, even though my work is going to overlap much more with the latter. That's why we have Philosophy departments; it's a matter of (somewhat) shared methodology, not a matter of interestingly unified subject matter. Looking for a "uniquely philosophical" set of questions is barking up the wrong tree. There is no such thing, and the continued pursuit of philosophy requires no such thing.

Rex II said...

Relevant

Anonymous said...

Scientists so regularly complain of the (real and, I think, very important) problems of rampant innumeracy and scientific and mathematical illiteracy among folks who consider themselves educated. However, that there is rampant philosophical illiteracy is even more unsurprising, given the absence of philosophy from most secondary school curricula in the US and the mostly thin philosophy requirements at the university level. (My university is probably an extreme case: only philosophy majors are required to take philosophy; all others may graduate without ever studying the subject.)

As we all know, talking with would-be critics of philosophy who are uninformed about contemporary philosophical methods can be very frustrating. I've had some luck, though, with offering a quick and friendly recommendation of Eric Steinhart's book More Precisely: The Math you Need to Do Philosophy.

The recommendation can mislead the would-be critics. (They sometimes assume I must think philosophy that doesn't proceed as if math is needed is somehow nonsense, say.) However, for the most part, it seems helpful, since it signals that philosophers care about some of the same things the math and science folks do (precision) and that at least some strains of contemporary philosophy might be quite different from what the would-be critics had assumed.

The would-be critics rarely read the book, of course, and never really because I recommended it, it seems. But on two occasions I've had colleagues from across campus come back to me changed by reading the book, and some good has come of it (some collaboration on curriculum revision and innovation, for example). In both cases I was able to discover why the person had been so eager to tell me how stupid my discipline is, too. One fellow was disturbed about his bright teenager's curiosity about philosophy (which he thought would tempt her away from high achievement in science and into a life of drug abuse (!?)), and another was tired of encountering stupid objections to evolution from a contingent of not very talented, but very religious and politicized, "philosophy & religion" majors who, she rightly thought, needed to learn some science before criticizing it. She assumed they were learning this crap from me and my colleagues, or that we encouraged or at least tolerated it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that piece Rex II. It is quite relevant.

Justin Kalef said...

Thanks for your response, Joshua Harwood. I think your spelling-out of what you have in mind in this way makes it clearer where the issue lies for you (and perhaps for other philosophers).

I'll just comment briefly on the mathematics issue for now, since I'm sure others with a firmer background in the philosophy of mathematics and/or logic than I have will see more points than I have there. But I will make three general points about that part now:

1) The (legitimate) role you see mathematics as having in relation to the sciences is actually very similar to the indispensable, and I think therefore legitimate, role philosophy has for scientific inquiry. Scientists don't merely need to make empirical observations and use mathematical tools to derive conclusions from them: they also need to engage in conceptual analysis, etc. Your own idealized discussion of how scientists might try to investigate the sorts of ethical obligations we have blatantly involves this: more later. Also, among other things, scientific inquiry takes place against a background of philosophical assumptions (one hopes they are reasonable and reasoned through). The person who posted anonymously yesterday at 8:17pm and today at 6:51am illustrates that wonderfully in his discussion of consciousness.

2) Your discussion of falsifiability and confirmation in mathematics seems rather problematic, and seems particularly faulty where you discuss intuitionism in that respect. For now, I'll leave it for those better informed in that area to say more about that, if anyone is willing.

3) Lastly (for now): as Mr. Zero has been emphasizing, the very discussion you are engaged in here is philosophical! You are making a case for a position in the philosophy of mathematics; for a position in the philosophy of science (in particular, for a view about the proper role of empirical versus non-empirical components in science); etc.

I want to spell out the relevance of this more fully, to make sure the point is not missed. You are making claims about these matters. Either you think you have good reasons for your conclusions or you don't. If you don't, then it isn't clear why we should care what you are saying or why you would attempt to argue for them rationally. So, it seems you do think one can have good reasons (e.g. yours) and bad ones (e.g. ours) for positions on these matters, and that it is worthwhile providing these reasons to those who disagree with you.

Now, while you provide _reasons_ for your views, you are not building your case purely on mathematical analysis and/or a body of observations you have made or are reporting from some scientific study. Hence, you implicitly seem to accept that the best -- and, one would think on reflection, the only -- way of reasoning about these issues does _not_ rely entirely on observations and statistical analysis. In fact, it seems to rely little on these things.

Well, this is what philosophy is. It is the attempt to reason one's way to the truth on issues that are not fully (and perhaps not predominantly) empirical using the tools of non-empirical rational inquiry, the development of which is also the ambit of philosophers.

Hence, what you have done (and the best anyone with your aims in mind could do, it seems) is to use philosophy to argue that there is no use for philosophy.

Joshua Harwood said...

In Taipei time zone...

This is to Anonymous (8:17):

[Overview of the cognitive revolution...] So what moral can we draw from this example?

My knowledge of the cognitive revolution is from the work of scientists, namely because of my interests in linguistics and lexicography. Miller and Chomsky both issued empirical challenges to the behaviorist view and the move to the idea of certain “mental hardware.” The POTS argument, for instance, is an empirical challenge against behaviorist, blank-slate cognition. Now, perhaps you may clarify that others before or after them directly influenced their research or conclusions, but it appears that scientists were on track for this, and perhaps less dependent on philosophical research than you suggest, so such a move may not be due to the (sole) credit of philosophers.

Are Chomsky and Miller ignoring operationalist strictures in the landmark papers that usually receive credit for the cognitive revolution?

It seems to me philosophers have made progress by approaching the subject matter in nonempirical terms and ignoring your strictures in this case. There has been a good deal of valuable work by philosophers over the years. So if you insist on saying that only an operationalized approach to inquiry will work, this seems falsified by the *actual* historical record whereby the scientific developments came after the philosophical developments had taken place for a while. So, with all due respect, I don't see how your explaining some version of operationalism to us does anything to address this kind of example. If we followed your approach, we would know less about the world than we do now.

I don't know if you're implying causation here, but you did just say “the scientific developments came after the philosophical developments.” Are you implying that philosophers happened to get it right that time, but that scientists wouldn't listen for so long despite near-universal insistence from them, or that philosophers are coincidentally and earlier rejecting a view that scientists would later reject?

In either case, there may be another problem about which I'm not the most informed. How many philosophers were still arguing, non-empirically or empirically, in defense of behaviorism in the philosophical literature from the 30's to the 60's? (I know that Quine is characterized as a behaviorist in some discussions of his work.) If the pro-behaviorist literature is also substantial, is it really legitimate to say that philosophers were right all along if they were arguing both sides? If this is so, isn't your claim a bit...selective?

I do have one historical note, as well. History has a counterexample of consideration for non-empirical or unscientific approaches...in the scientific revolution. The scientific revolution is a product of Copernicus's, Galileo's, Vasalius's (sp?), Newton's, and others' work, which to varying degrees met with philosophical criticism from long-held Aristotelianism and Catholicism. Now, philosophers, too, have changed their tunes when empirical results have contradicted their non-empirical argumentation, but there should be a moral from this, too. You believe that I've picked a misplaced one, but your moral seems to hold here, as well.

If we followed a non-empirical approach as they did then, we would know less about the world than we know now.

If this reading of the history is correct, and if the responses manage to vindicate that point further, then philosophers may have much less to do with the advances in knowledge than you have credited them.

Joshua Harwood said...

This is to Mr. Zero:

Do you really not see that this is not an empirical discussion?

This may be me being dense, but I treat translations as empirical problems, even if the question is how to translate some sentences from a natural language to a formal one. A parsimonious translation is P ⊬ ⊥.

It may not be all-inclusive, and if it's not, we may consider alternative and more inclusive translations for whatever you can demonstrate people mean when they say certain things, but I do so only in order to translate the sentences from one syntax into another in a manner that encompasses all observed uses of sentences. We can import some special illocutions for your intended meaning of “might" to disambiguate it, but that does not imply that the matter is not empirical. Translation is a very obvious and straightforward empirical problem, or at least my dumb and dull head leads me to believe as much.

This is is to Anonymous (5:26):

Now, I haven't revealed much about myself. I do have a philosophy degree from a decent school and with a respectable GPA, and I don't think that I earned it on my charisma and good looks alone. Whether I get the label of a philosopher or non-philosopher is your call.

I am distrustful of intuition pumping. If empirical results just matched our intuitions, we wouldn't need rigorous scientific methods or tools like formal languages to filter nonsense.

The idea that training in Physics or Psychology is sufficient to do the work we do is absurd.

I think a training in mathematics and formal logic is needed for good physics, good psychology, … , and good handmaiden work on those subjects.

Mr. Zero said...

This may be me being dense, but I treat translations as empirical problems,

That's nice. Except, I didn't ask you how to translate the sentences 'I might have been taller' into a formal language. I asked you what makes that sentence true. Whether some sentence is translatable into a formal language has nothing to do with whether or not it is true--even contradictions are so translatable. In order to emphasize that the question was not a translation question, I contrasted that sentence with a similar sentence that I do not think is true.

You then gave me a little metaphysical argument for the conclusion that my contrast sentence is true, based on the principle that for any proposition p, possibly p unless p is absurd. You must be aware that there is no way to empirically verify this principle. Nevertheless, you did not merely translate the sentence and leave it at that. In your unguarded moments, at least, you don't regard questions like these as mere translation problems, either.

I am distrustful of intuition pumping.

I wasn't pumping your intuitions. I was demonstrating the existence of questions whose answers cannot be discovered via empirical means alone and whose answers are nevertheless of extreme importance. The question about same-sex marriage is pretty nice here because there are three possible positions with respect to this issue: one that says that homosexuality is wrong; one that says that prohibitions on same-sex marriage are wrong; and one that says that justice is unimportant. The first two inherently involve non-empirical claims; the last is manifestly absurd and implies that such things as slavery, Jim Crow, apartheid, factory farms, the Iraq War, etc, are no big deal.

So, I was not trying to get you to have one intuition or another about the issue of same-sex marriage. I was pointing out that no matter what you think about this issue, you must make some non-empirical presuppositions.

And so simply saying that you distrust intuitions is not good enough. In order to answer my question, you have to do one of two things: 1. explain which trustworthy empirical observations will serve to establish a criterion for justice or moral obligation; 2. deny that justice and moral obligation are important (this includes the view that we should refrain from attempts to correct injustice until suitable empirical methods of study have been developed).

Anonymous said...

Joshua: Thanks for your response. I think you raise some interesting points, so let me try to explain how I understand the examples we're discussing.

You are correct in your observation that Chomsky made certain sorts of empirical criticisms of the behaviorists and that this was influential in their demise; I agree. But this is separate from the issue about consciousness, which I don't take to be part of the main "cognitive revolution." After all, there were several psychologists (e.g., Hull) who allowed reference to "internal" states, but this was not really a concern with consciousness. With respect to the latter, there were philosophers who defended the existence of consciousness when behaviorism in psychology was all the rage, and consciousness was denied any legitimacy. Then, later on, in the 2000's we have Crick and Koch doing scientific work on consciousness. I don't know whether they were influenced by any philosophers--that's not my concern. The claim is that scientists only now seem to be catching up to what philosophers had earlier known. It's not that scientists have discovered something new here; the basic concern with consciousness as important is something some philosophers were convinced of already on nonempirical grounds.

On Chomsky: It's worth noting that he is not simply a scientist. There is a volume on him in the series, Philosophers and their Critics, and he publishes in the Journal of Philosophy and such. So I'm not sure his critique can be read as strictly scientific in this case.

"Are you implying that philosophers happened to get it right that time, but that scientists wouldn't listen for so long despite near-universal insistence from them, or that philosophers are coincidentally and earlier rejecting a view that scientists would later reject?"

I'm claiming the latter, and that the view rejected was learned on nonempirical grounds. Why wait for scientists all these years if there is something valuable to be learned from philosophical analysis of the mind?

Your worry about my "selective" reading of the history is interesting. There is some truth to this, since some were behaviorists too, but it is also true that there is a long history of philosophers taking consciousness seriously.

Your reference to the scientific revolution, though, seems to be a tangent. You are of course right that Copernicus, Galileo, etc. were reacting to Aristotelian and Catholic philosophy, which was retarding progress, and that in this case the scientists were "way out in front" of the philosophers; I agree. But I'm not claiming that nonempirical philosophical work trumps empirical work in all cases. Surely the study of cosmology, terrestrial motion, etc. is to be advanced by empirical research. Your claim was that there's not clearly a reason to study some subject within philosophy rather than just wait until it becomes amenable to empirical inquiry. I'm giving you a specific example where I think this is mistaken. So I'm not trying to compare historical records here in general or something. In the consciousness case, philosophers have learned something independently from scientists on nonempirical grounds. So why encourage peopole to wait?

Anonymous said...

All right. Time for history to speak.

If someone cannot see that Einstein's 1905 paper is a conceptual--just conceptual--reconfiguration of empirical data into a new philosophical paradigm of understanding, then that someone cannot see that Einstein's revolution was not a function of being moved by new data, but creatively rethinking it philosophically.

Special relativity is a gem of philosophical thinking.

And as such it even gave rise to new empirical hypotheses--like time dilation. Which proved subsequently emiprically fruitful.

Yes--no doubt revolutionary hypotheses have been opposed by stubborn conceptual prejudice--but it is undoubtedly true that many of the revolutions themselves were sparked by pure philosophical reflection.

Justin Kalef said...

Joshua, you wrote:

"First, you'll want to clarify the empirical criteria for “someone being happy,” “something being genuine,” and “something being an obligation,” etc. You need to establish that every term actually has a referent and that every predicate on those terms has an empirical instance. You don't want to succumb to the reification fallacy before you begin.

Next, you'll want to set up the testable conditions for the statement. “Are there any genuine ethical obligations beyond the obligation to maximize the happiness and preference-satisfactions of present or future beings?” seems to ask, “If we genuinely oblige subject x to some P, will P is in Q where Q = 'Subject x makes other people, present or future, happy or satisfies their preferences?'"...There's a rough DOE for a question. Different ones may call for different designs in the details, but I don't think that many philosophical questions will get past the first step."

I wrote a very lengthy response to this, but it didn't get added (probably due to its length). So here is a question for you that will allow me to respond more briefly:

You seem to suggest at the end of the quote that you are doubtful whether the empirical criteria for the question I mentioned (and for most philosophical questions) could ever be clarified sufficiently to proceed. Now, is it your contention that the empirical criteria for something's being morally obligatory can, or cannot, be spelled out in such a way that the question can be addressed (as you promised) by the methods of the special sciences?

I'll make clear to you the tack I am taking here: I will attempt to show you that your schema for dealing with philosophical questions skips over the most difficult parts without comment, and rushes to the much easier, straightforwardly scientific part. Once we get down to brass tacks, your method will be seen to fail even on your own account. Or so I propose to demonstrate.

So, to start with: is it your intention to solve philosophical problems, as you promised could be done? Or simply to dismiss them on some grounds as unsolvable or meaningless (in which case, I will question you about these grounds)?

Thanks.

CTS said...

First, Joshua Harwood appears to be a philosopher. From his google ID:

“I do a lot of work in the Analytic and Chinese traditions of philosophy of language, logic, metaethics, and egoism. I'm also heavily involved in (formal and natural) language instruction and in language learning freeware development.”

So, I would not take him to be a scientist arguing against the value of philosophy.

Second, most theoretical scientists and mathematicians of my acquaintance do value philosophical work. Not their students, perhaps, but they tend to regret this. Our neuroscience folks insist that their students take several philosophy courses.

Third, I think this idea that ‘everyone does critical thinking’ is a real problem.

That we seem to hear it from the English and Communications departments as much as from Economics and – though less often – the sciences should indicate that something is amiss. When students take our CT course, they tell us it is unlike anything they have experienced – including in math logics and stats.

So, clearly, we are not communicating to our own colleagues what passes for ‘critical reasoning’ in Philosophy. I'm not sure they understand what we mean by 'logic,' either.

Justin Kalef said...

I believe it's a historical error to view Galileo's and Newton's successes as a case of science rushing ahead of philosophy.

Yes, it is true that the philosophy being taught in the universities at the time (the 17th century) was held back by an unhealthy adherence to tradition (particularly, by scholasticism).

However, it is important to remember that science at the universities was in precisely the same state. In fact, there was at that point no difference between the scope of the terms 'science' and 'philosophy'. That came much later. It isn't as though there were scientists at the universities back then pursuing a progressive agenda in ways that philosophers didn't. Remember that Galileo was a sort of freelance intellectual and courtier, not a professor; and that Newton was a professor of mathematics, not science.

Yes, there were many scientists at that time -- including members of scientific societies -- who pursued useful and highly innovative research outside of the universities. But exactly the same can be said for philosophy. Of the greatest philosophers of the 17th century (Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Locke), not a single one made his living teaching at the universities. The reason was exactly the same: the universities were obsessed with old-fashioned Aristotelianism.

The ideological motivation behind Galileo's writings can be traced back to currents in 14th century philosophy, and particularly to the work of such figures as Ockham (whose razor is another great example of an indispensible but non-empirical precondition for scientific research), Buridan and Oresme. Many Galileo scholars have discussed this already.

As for Newton, it's important to remember that he saw himself as a part of the new current of both philosophical _and_ scientific thought, and was unquestionably influenced by the non-empirical philosophical work being done around him. While Locke famously praises Newton in the _Essay_, Newton in turn took Locke's limited skepticism to heart in the writings he produced after Locke's great influence. The famous General Scholium Newton appended to the second edition of the _Principia_, including the famous dictum "Hypothesi non fingo", was an application of Locke's philosophical work to some key assumptions in physical research.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to hijack the thread, but I thought it might be helpful to get down to cases a bit. Lets take scientists who are unquestionably good in the fields in which they have been educated and received academic or research appointments, and lets look at what happens when they try to apply their research to questions that are unquestionably philosophical. I think that if the critics of philosophy are right, we should expect conclusions that show careful attention to fine grained conceptual distinctions, literacy in the history of ideas, and compliance with basic norms of argumentation and reasoning.

Mr. Zero has already brought up Dawkins on the cosmological argument. I want to also bring to your attention: http://philosophybites.com/2011/05/david-eagleman-on-morality-and-the-brain.html
or Sam Harris' recent op-ed on the Huffington post:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/morality-without-free-wil_b_868804.html

I am counting these as three failed predictions for the more sausage crowd, and three succesful predictions of my own hypothesis, that is that when you are heavily trained in a hard science, that typically (unless you are really quite bright) comes with the opportunity cost of failing to understand the subtleties of debates in popular culture and the history of ideas, which leads to some pretty terrible failures when attempts are made to apply really good scientific research to those debates. This isn't a version of the silly claim that scientific minds are simply too shallow or non-artistic or whatever, to understand the deep issues in philosophy or art or whatever. That is a juvenile claim. My claim is different, and just follows from the fact that it takes time to acquaint yourself with major works in the history of ideas, and it takes even more time to untangle the messy arguments and claims thrown around in most public debates, and that you don't usually have time to engage in those two activities and become a first rate researcher in a hard scientific discipline, mostly because the hard sciences are really really difficult to master.

Now three observations isn't robust enough to settle things, but when philosophers are skeptical about how much scientists can do on their own when it comes to these really important issues, I think at lot of it has to do with the kind of material I linked to.

Again I don't mean to sidetrack anyone or disrupt the interesting discussion that developed after Allan decided to troll somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

From Rex II's link:

"I note that a nude glimpsed behind a shower curtain is more aesthetically pleasing, although presumably less arousing, than one that is completely exposed."

Wow, did McGinn get that ass-backward. But then I always knew philosophers generally don't have a lick of aesthetic--or erotic--sense.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Anonymous 6:08,

That's very nice, except for the fact that the author of the sentence you object to was not Colin McGinn, philosopher, but V.S. Ramachandran, Distingished Professor and Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California at San Diego which is paradoxically located in La Jolla, California. Nice try, though.

Anonymous said...

re: June 6, 2011 6:24 AM


*snap*

Joshua Harwood said...

This is to Justin:

So, to start with: is it your intention to solve philosophical problems, as you promised could be done? Or simply to dismiss them on some grounds as unsolvable or meaningless (in which case, I will question you about these grounds)?

I think that some sub-questions have empirical solutions, while others will be shown to be meaningless once one attempts to empirically isolate referents to terms and events to propositions, but that one won't know for realz until one actually tries. My hypothesis is that few to none of them will make it to the end (You'll see what I mean below.).

I'll just use that first question as an example: “Are there any genuine ethical obligations beyond the obligation to maximize the happiness and preference-satisfactions of present or future beings?”

There is decent progress in understanding these things empirically: when people are happy (vs. sad, or angry, or afraid, or anxious, or excited, etc.), how people become happier, what people broadly prefer (e.g. plenty of sleep over blunt force trauma), how people oblige people (assuming that you mean either “compel / force / make / oblige people to do something” or “contractually bind to do something”).

There is harder work at understanding these things empirically, if at all: when a person ethically obliges another person, how an event satisfies a person's preferences.

There are some parts that would likely dissolve under empirical scrutiny: that someone is “genuinely” obliged (versus being “not guinuinely” obliged? Maybe not hypocritically?)

The experimental steps probably won't come at once, and successive results will prompt further experiments. I answer with some assumed answers, but they are strictly hypotheses.
1. Can people oblige people to do certain things? Yes.
2. How (1)? ...in a lot of ways...
3. Can people oblige people to make people happier? Maybe, but presumably yes...
4. How (3)? ...presumably in many of the same ways...
5. Can people oblige people to do something other than make people happier? Yes.
6. How (5)? ...some ways, some vacuous, others not...
7. (1) ethically? You could individually test for things that the experimenter will count as having some “ethical” import (e.g., non-violently, non-coercively). Non-violent actions have much clearer parameters than unethical or non-ethical actions would.
8. How (7)? ...some ways (e.g. addicting incentives for non-violence, but probably not non-coercively)...
9. (3) ethically? ...similarly to (7)...
10. How (3)? ...similarly to (8)...
11. (7) genuinely? ...as opposed to what?

Does this second-order predicate “genuinely” add an actual element to the investigation? What sample would contain people who oblige genuinely (or ungenuinely, for that matter)? Is it just loose thinking? Loose language? Hyperbole?

Without exploring these options first, it's hardly justifiable to just proclaim, “Genuineness (or whatev') is non-empirical!” and by hand-waving legitimize inquiry into it, no matter the rhetorical immersion into it.

I am carefully avoiding the wholesale assumption that “genuineness,” “obligation,” “happiness,” yadda yadda are some sorts of metaphysical constants that one can discuss like they are standalone entities. People do different things, and we can observe and cluster our observations into groups, and we can investigate how (under what conditions and by what steps) they do them, with regards to this question.

Small Fish said...

I'd imagine, Justin, that part of the problem here is that what 'most people' think about what obligations are, when they are appropriate or inappropriate, or any of this kind of sociological data are at best tangentially relevant to the question of obligation.

Most people can be wrong about obligations unless you think that ethics just is what most people think. That, in itself, needs defense.

Whatever happened to taking the naturalistic fallacy seriously?

Joshua Harwood said...

10. How (3)? ...similarly to (8)...

should read

'10. How (9)? ...similarly to (8)...'

Justin Kalef said...

Small Fish: you address your comment to me, but it seems to be a response to Joshua. Was it a typo?

Joshua Harwood: I'm going to follow up on what Small Fish said here.

You claim that the empirical sciences can do a better job at answering the questions of philosophers. In demonstrating how this works, you suggest that the first step in answering the question what sorts of moral obligations people have is to specify the empirical conditions that would confirm or disconfirm the claim that someone has obliged someone else to do something (in the sense of having "contractually binding" the person to do that thing.

Already, I'm afraid you've committed a pretty spectacular error. The question philosophers are asking about the nature of our moral obligations _is_, in part, the question whether there can be obligations that go beyond the obligations we contractually bind one another to fulfill. So it simply begs the question to _assume_, by the very _conditions of enquiry_ you are stipulating in an attempt to answer this question, that there are no such obligations.

Of course, you are welcome to deny the existence of any such obligations if you like. But then, unless you want to just assert precisely what is in question, you will have to provide a reason for thinking that such obligations cannot (or do not) exist. And whatever reason you provide will be the very thing the philosophers asking the original question were asking you to provide in the first place.

So, the only way your proposed method of enquiry will work is if you get to start off, before using the method, with the answer to the very question you propose to answer using the method.

Anonymous said...

"That's very nice, except for the fact that the author of the sentence you object to was not Colin McGinn, philosopher."

Oops, Mr. Z, you're right. I mixed that up. But it's equally unsurprising that a scientist would lack aesthetic and erotic sense.

A naked form behind a shower curtain is less arousing and more artistically pleasing? So that's why the shower scene is such a staple of classical art, while nudes are nowhere to be found!

Joshua Harwood said...

You suggest that the first step in answering the question what sorts of moral obligations people have is to specify the empirical conditions that would confirm or disconfirm the claim that someone has obliged someone else to do something (in the sense of having "contractually binding" the person to do that thing.

...in a sense of “contractually binding.”

The question philosophers are asking about the nature of our moral obligations _is_, in part, the question whether there can be obligations that go beyond the obligations we contractually bind one another to fulfill.

First, you didn't say, “go beyond” in your original question, so now you're changing it afterwards, and making a huge difference in the process.

“Can there be x beyond y?” I have taken this “beyond” to mean “outside of” / “not including” and thus working only as a logical connective, then the question as a selection: ∃x∃y(¬(x ∈ y) ∧ (Px ∧ Py)) ∨ ¬(∃x∃y(¬(x ∈ y) ∧ (Px ∧ Py))), or more simply: ∃x∃y(¬(Px ⇒ Py)) ∨ ¬(∃x∃y(¬(Px ⇒ Py))).

“Can there be x that go beyond y?” What do you think you mean here? “Surpass?” “Circumvent?” “Ignore?” If you mean “surpass,” you've completely changed it to something like: ∃x∃y(((y ∈ x) ∧ ¬(x ∈ y)) ∧ (Px ∧ Py)) ∨ ¬(∃x∃y(((y ∈ x) ∧ ¬(x ∈ y)) ∧ (Px ∧ Py))), or more simply: ∃x∃y((Py ⇒ Px) ∧ ¬(Px ⇒ Py)) ∨ ¬(∃x∃y((Py ⇒ Px) ∧ ¬(Px ⇒ Py))).

I pick the logically shortest and parsimonious interpretation that I know and can translate from the sentence that you pick. So...just pick one! (FYI, this ambiguity in English beyond is harder to fit into other languages, but I don't think that you meant this as a deliberate rhetorical escape tactic.)

So it simply begs the question to _assume_, by the very _conditions of enquiry_ you are stipulating in an attempt to answer this question, that there are no such obligations.

Whether people can oblige other people to do something other than (a) make people happier or (b) satisfy people's preferences is an open question insofar as one can provide an empirically coherent model for it. I think hostage situations involve instances in which people oblige (“compel / force / make”) other people to do things that do not satisfy (a) or (b), but empirical tests can more clearly confirm or rebut that impression.

Of course, you are welcome to deny the existence of any such obligations if you like.

I haven't reached any conclusions. I explicitly told you that the answers to the questions as I raise them are strictly hypotheses (for the sake of this dialogue, at least). They are not mere guesses, but they are not definitive answers, either.

Now, if you mean instead that we must consider coherence to the idea of “non-forcibly oblige” in addition the ones that exist in any normal use, then that person has lost contact with linguistic reality and the linguistic history that informs that reality. No one gets to pick loose, conjectural senses of words out of thin air and remain relevant to anything, especially not when the definitions of the juxtaposed terms are logically inconsistent.

Mr. Zero said...

Why would you be obligated to do something just because you had agreed to a contract or whatever? What would be wrong with agreeing to be bound by the contract and then just not doing what you had agreed to do?

Justin Kalef said...

Excellent point, Mr. Zero.

Further, Joshua, your answer to my last post begins with a false claim (you claim that I originally asked nothing about obligations that go beyond a certain range, but that is in fact precisely what I asked in my original question -- please read it again) and then goes downhill from there. Did you really read my last response?

You spend a great deal of space attempting to map out formally what could be meant by 'going beyond'; but after and through all that, you go back to assuming illegitimately the very thing I said you had illegitimately assumed last time: namely, that all talk of X's being morally obliged to Y must come down to whether _some people_ can oblige X to do Y, forcibly or non-forcibly.

Please consider, for a moment, the real-life cases that prompt these philosophical questions in the first place. For instance:

1) I mistakenly see the answers to questions on an examination I am about to take, and I wonder whether I am morally obliged to inform the examiners.

2) In considering whether to endorse a project to build a dam and hence seriously damage an ecosystem, I wonder whether I have moral obligations toward the ecosystem and unique plant species there per se and not just to the conscious beings who might enjoy or otherwise benefit from the ecosystem.

3) I have the ability to persuade a deluded but happy person of the truth, but predict that the person will not be made happier in the long run by hearing the truth; and moreover, this person doesn't seem to have a clear preference toward knowing the truth. I wonder whether I am nonetheless morally obligated to tell this person the truth.

Now, in none of these cases is the question whether some people can oblige me to do one thing or another. The question, instead, is simply what the right thing to do is, morally speaking -- or to put it another way, what we are morally obliged to do. That seems straightforward. So what one is _morally_ obliged to do does not come down to what others can oblige one to do.

Joshua Harwood said...

This is to Mr. Zero:

Why would you be obligated to do something just because you had agreed to a contract or whatever? What would be wrong with agreeing to be bound by the contract and then just not doing what you had agreed to do?

It's one of the senses of the verb oblige that one commonly encounters and which one could simulate in an experiment. In the experiment, it may well turn out that mere presence of a contract does not compel people to act in any particular way, or at least not reliably. It does provide extra independent variables, which are the contract's contents. People probably wouldn't sell their limbs for a dollar a pound, but they may sell chunks of their organs for millions. In both cases, they may take the money and not fulfill their end of the bargain, if such an action can occur. Again, hypotheses.

One could list ways in which cut-and-run tactics disadvantage contract makers and contract breakers via economic descriptions, but I wouldn't touch “x is wrong” with a ((n+1)*10)-foot pole until people said what they meant by, “Φ is wrong!” and didn't just give a roundabout lecture on our lexicon of normative terms.

Joshua Harwood said...

This is to Justin:

I said you had illegitimately assumed last time: namely, that all talk of X's being morally obliged to Y must come down to whether _some people_ can oblige X to do Y, forcibly or non-forcibly.

I make no such assumption. Nothing in what I've written in, “People oblige people,” excludes, “Subject A obliges Subject A.” They may be the same person. They may not be. If you want to add that particular stipulation for some subgroup of experiments, feel free. Of course, you're going to have a hard time about it for the following reasons:

All of your examples assume that social infrastructures exist, and thus rely on the presence and actions of other people. Can their actions, alone, oblige them? Well, then it sounds like you're asking a “Can a person oblige a completely different person to do something?” under various imagined conditions. Dreaming up certain control variables may be productive to my methodology.

A clearer example would be this:

1.) A lone hunter-gatherer with no social history throws a piece of flint and unknowingly burns down a village. He learns that he did this later when he sees charred human remains. Does he wonder whether he is morally obliged to...bury them?

This example and ones like it undo ethics if we just followed our intuitions on this matter because there's no cause for one's own control of his behavior when what he does doesn't affect others.

My examples and impressions may include instances of other people obliging other people, but don't take those to mean something that the logic does not.

That seems straightforward. So what one is _morally_ obliged to do does not come down to what others can oblige one to do.

It only seems straightforward to you (I have no idea why, and I don't think you do, either.). Maybe it's how it rolls so easily off your tongue. Maybe it's because you marvel from the armchair without placing strict scientific controls on experiments and doing the hard work that knowing such answers, if there are any, would involve.

It seems so straightforward that the Sun goes up, and then it goes down. Ignore that the Earth rotates to turn away from the Sun and then face it again alternately, as we can demonstrate empirically. Heliocentric intuitions must be the right way to address the question of our astronomy, so it must similarly work to explain what moral scope we may or may not have. Or is that completely bonkers? (Hint: the answer is, “Yes.”)

It's easy to play intuition games and to do “conceptual analyses” this way. You don't have to bother getting your own empirical results, so no concrete evidence stops you from navel-gazing or facing ridicule from your own community for doing it. Ramachandran put it correctly in his citation of Francis Crick: “My dear chap, there was never a time in the early years of molecular biology when we sat around the table with a bunch of philosophers saying ‘let us define life first.’ We just went out there and found out what it was: a double helix.”

Justin Kalef said...

Joshua,

You respond to Mr. Zero's excellent point by saying that the sense of 'obligation' you are relying on is consistent with _one_ of the dictionary definitions of the verb 'oblige', and that is probably the definition most amenable for the purposes of empirical verification.

True enough. But it is _not_ the definition that is at issue in the question of mine you said you were dealing with, or indeed in most of these sorts of puzzling moral questions. So your reaction is akin to the drunk who loses his housekeys in a dark back alley but looks for them under a street lamp because the illumination is so much better. The very problem I and others here have been trying to emphasize with your approach is exactly the problem you keep committing: that of changing the method from a tricky but necessary one to a simple but clearly irrelevant one.

I didn't intend to saddle you, in my characterization, with the claim that all obligations are a case of someone obliging a different person to do something. But even so, I'm not sure how this helps you.

Consider, for instance, a non-moral sort of obligation: epistemic obligations. It seems that someone who wishes to maintain both 'Either A or B' and 'Not-A' is thereby epistemically obligated to admit that B. That is, she could reject the truth of B only on pain of failing in her epistemic duties.

This seems straightforward to most people, I daresay (not to you?). But it also seems clear that it cannot be cashed out in terms of the person obliging herself to accept that B or being obliged by others to do so.

After all, we can easily imagine that nobody really knows about her maintaining the other two views and that she doesn't really care about consistency. Whether she cares about it or not, though, she is doing the wrong thing, epistemically speaking, by continuing to reject not-B. In other words, she is failing to do her epistemic duty.

So, again, your notion of obligation misses the mark for the purpose at hand.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Joshua,

Suppose an experiment revealed that people reliably behave as though signing a contract creates a moral obligation. That would, at best, reveal something about what people think or how people behave. But because--as you have acknowledged--we must be open to the possibility that people are wrong about this sort of thing, such a result would not establish the actual existence of an actual moral obligation.

And it doesn't reveal anything at all about why signing a contract creates a moral obligation to perform the contracted behavior, if it does.

And that Crick quote is a classic example of a brilliant scientist demonstrating a degree of philosophical unsophistication do deep and dark that even light can't escape it. "We found life! It's the double-helix!" I sure hope that was an unguarded moment when he was speaking loosely and was not attempting to say something serious and true about the nature and significance of his work. What a bunch of shit.

What if we went to Mars and found objects that ambulate, forage for nourishment, and reproduce sexually. Suppose they communicate verbally and have sophisticated technology--they tell us that's how they were able to hide from us for so long. But they didn't have double helixes. Crick's little remark implies that they aren't alive. SETI continues. Carl Sagan would be Bummed.

What if it turned out that everything had a double helix? Pan-bio-ism!

Without philosophy, otherwise brilliant people go around identifying life with a double-helix. Ergo, we need philosophy. QED,

Small Fish said...

Justin,

Yes. I goofed there. Apologies. Thanks for making the point far better than I.

Joshua Harwood said...

This is all for Justin. I hate to piss off the tl;dr crowd, but these points apparently need repeating in more than one place, and thus is in two parts:

You respond to Mr. Zero's excellent point by saying that the sense of 'obligation' you are relying on is consistent with _one_ of the dictionary definitions of the verb 'oblige', and that is probably the definition most amenable for the purposes of empirical verification.

I never said that it was “probably the most amenable for the purposes of empirical verification.” I said that it was amenable.

[That] is _not_ the definition that is at issue in the question of mine you said you were dealing with, or indeed in most of these sorts of puzzling moral questions.

It is one of the two relevant uses of the term, so it's just as relevant to your concerns as it is to his. (There are three. The third more commonly expresses a V,Perfect... → A form, and is often used for statements of thanks, like “Much obliged!”)

Second, I've already addressed this. These questions can be quite puzzling when you make no effort to get actual hard, scientific evidence for any of these intuitions about “obligations” and “moral scopes” that, to you, just float about people's heads in some non-empirical stasis, which you also believe, apparently without justification. By the by, where are you going to get any such defense? Axioms of logic and mathematics? Fat chance! Empirical studies? Ha! Other people who publish like-minded material? That's my guess!

So your reaction is akin to the drunk who loses his house keys in a dark back alley but looks for them under a street lamp because the illumination is so much better. The very problem I and others here have been trying to emphasize with your approach is exactly the problem you keep committing: that of changing the method from a tricky but necessary one to a simple but clearly irrelevant one.

Keeping this metaphor afloat, you're assuming that there are keys to find at all. Prove that they're there!

Saying that an empirical method is irrelevant because it doesn't suit your or some group's intuitions and proving that it's irrelevant on the basis of empirical facts are different. The former charge of irrelevancy isn't worth anything, since you're thus far arguing that my method is irrelevant to something that you can't even demonstrate exists.

This seems straightforward to most people, I daresay (not to you?).

No, not to me. And now the move is from brute intuition to appeal to the population? Really? I don't care how many people just seem to feel that have this “moral sphere” or “obligation as metaphysical spooks (read Stirner!)” any more than I care how many people just seem to feel like they don't share a common ancestor with orangutans, any more than I care about how many people just seem to feel that they've got “people who tell them to decode cryptograms that the Reds are trying to transmit through American magazine clippings.” It doesn't matter how they feel! And if it did, and if you were sincerely interested in the facts that ground their feelings, you'd exercise more rigor and do psychology and neuroscience.

Joshua Harwood said...

Consider, for instance, a non-moral sort of obligation: epistemic obligations. It seems that someone who wishes to maintain both 'Either A or B' and 'Not-A' is thereby epistemically obligated to admit that B. That is, she could reject the truth of B only on pain of failing in her epistemic duties. But it also seems clear that it cannot be cashed out in terms of the person obliging herself to accept that B or being obliged by others to do so.

Evidence is mounting that you don't know what it means for someone to oblige someone when you don't introduce all of these adverbs. Now you want to introduce even more confusion into this by adding epistemically instead of ethically. I just watched David Sosa do something quite similar in this fad at a conference this weekend and I was fidgeting to keep myself from shouting out, “WTF!” (Actually, it was damned cold there...)

“Cash out” didn't show up in Blackburn's Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (must have been an oversight, Philipp Mainländer doesn't have an entry either); and I'm betting that it has nothing to do with early acquirement of securities (because that would be economic talk, and this is pure ethics, right?); and you're not talking about gambling. So...what does it mean to you?

After all, we can easily imagine that nobody really knows about her maintaining the other two views and that she doesn't really care about consistency. Whether she cares about it or not, though, she is doing the wrong thing, epistemically speaking, by continuing to reject not-B. In other words, she is failing to do her epistemic duty.

No, she's just demonstrably stupid and apathetic. You don't even need to introduce “duty,” or “epistemic obligation,” or any more empty prose to try to “explain” what happens in these cases. She makes the wrong inferences. That's stupidity. She doesn't care. That's apathy.

You can evade saying what you mean and pout around and tell me that you're just not getting at the definition that you want, or that “they” discuss, but that makes it no more meaningful than any other fiction that you imagine has a basis in reality.

Do you have any empirical knowledge of obligation at all? I mean this. Could you walk down the street, witness some event, and tell me, “That person has ethically obliged himself,” or, “From the way he behaves and from his brain state that I can read with my imaginary brain scan gun, I can tell that he's obliged?” Or is it just this rhetorical haze that only “real philosophers” get (I mean symptomatically, not comprehensibly)? And if you can't, what makes you think that you're really dealing with anything that exists at all? Is it just that you and however many people you've met in your life share this intuition about it? That's asinine reasoning!

CTS said...

Could we , please, distinguish between ‘being obliged’ and ‘being obligated.’

Justin Kalef said...

It's very simple, Joshua.

You claimed that the methods of the special sciences could do a better job at answering the questions of philosophers than the methods of philosophy can. I called you to demonstrate that in connection with particular instances.

A successful response, on your part, would have shown how to answer the questions using those methods.

What you did, instead, was to propose a method for answering a question very different question.

I pointed out that what you attempted to 'solve' is not the question philosophers have in mind.

Your answer to that is that you simply don't care what philosophers have in mind any more than you care about what lunatics have in mind.

In other words: you admit now that you have failed to show what you promised to show, and your defense is that you don't care.

Along the way, you have relied on at least the following non-empirical principles (contrary to the approach you endorse):

1) a criterion for knowledge of properties (presented in your last paragraph);

2) a theory of meaning (presented in your second-last paragraph);

and so on.

I don't know about you, but I'm satisfied, at this point, that we've come to the end of the debate. I just can't think of what could be more decisive than this.

Thanks for your time. If you'd like to discuss it further, perhaps others will take it from here.

Anonymous said...

Is Hegel wrong because we can't empirically test the movement of Spirit?

Anonymous said...

CTS, now you know how Herbert Hart felt!

Joshua Harwood said...

Hey...I want some closing remarks, too...

I pointed out that what you attempted to 'solve' is not the question philosophers have in mind.

Actually, I told Justin that I would append an empirically viable solution that would solve philosophical problems or that I would show that the questions that they ask are meaningless because they are grounded on nothing (except their ill-suited use of language, their naked intuitions, and [I just learned] the convictions among other philosophers and their fanboys that those intuitions are meaningful).

Your answer to that is that you simply don't care what philosophers have in mind any more than you care about what lunatics have in mind.

I must be hurdling through ancient Chinese and reading through the early Analytic and pragmatist thinkers just so that I could tell myself that the problems that they describe don't matter to anyone. Forget also that I think that logic is one of the most fundamental studies in academics and the only reason I stayed in philosophy at all, and that one of my professional ambitions is the reinstitution of logic instruction to youths. If he thinks “that I simply don't care,” then he can eat me.

By contrast, I don't care when a “philosopher” complains that his definitional “needs” aren't being met, yet will make no effort to amend them to the satisfaction of anyone but his own ilk or will demand that the definition resist empirical scrutiny (a persuasive definition error).

In this sense, I am even more satisfied than I expected I would be. Philosophers have sophisticated the means by which they argue on potentially significant topics with demonstrably inferior methods, which remains essentially unchanged from the method of the dilettantes of ancient Greece (read Peirce).

Schizophrenics and philosophers make good company, then. They both believe in things that they can't substantiate with empirical evidence, and they insist to others that what they say from these “intuitions” is meaningful and true.

I'm happy that I demonstrated these three things:

* Philosophers are critical thinkers. Few argue that philosophers are just dumb apples. Unfortunately, they're not committed to empirical standards or scientific rigors, so they're just critical thinkers.

* Some philosophers believe that their work “informs” or “predicts” empirical science, but they selectively read the history of their own discipline and conform it to the self-evolving scientific revolutions of their day. (Ironically, they denounce cherry-picking, ad hoc and cum hoc errors, and the Texas sharpshooter fallacy.

* The statement in Tractatus 6.53 is tentatively correct, and this interaction marks one verification of that claim.

The more interesting thing that I haven't discussed in detail is that philosophers themselves have reacted against the inferiority of philosophy to empirical science and evidence. It's present as early as Mozi and as late as Richard Rorty.

Regarding the “scientists are philosophers, too” plea, Lawrence Krauss rightly pointed out that even Einstein would have thrown his general theory of relativity in the garbage if it hadn't been up to snuff empirically. Ramachandran and Crick, too, were right, because obviously no one in biology wastes their time pondering whether there are Martians with different patterns for life (which biologists don't define by DNA, anyway, which high school sophomores know). Also, it doesn't disagree with my argument at outset, that scientists have philosophic tools (math and logic) plus some that make them better at finding the truths of the world than philosophers will ever be.

Nevertheless, thanks for tolerating my nagging at your practice on the board.

Mr. Zero said...

Unfortunately, they're not committed to empirical standards or scientific rigors, so they're just critical thinkers.

The idea that you have "demonstrated" this is ridiculous. We have demonstrated, among other things, that philosophers tend to be more up on science than scientists on philosophy, and that even hard-nosed, empirically rigorous, scientific-minded people cannot get through a weekend without making unnoticed or unacknowledged references to purely non-empirical principles. Examples off the top of my head from this comment thread include a brief discussion of modality de re (whether I could have been a bicycle wheel); the importance of justice; the nature of contractual obligation; the relationship between the (nonphysical) mind (if there is any such thing, which I doubt at least in part because of neuroscience) and physical neurons; etc.

The statement in Tractatus 6.53 is tentatively correct, and this interaction marks one verification of that claim.

If only you could have demonstrated that it was possible to follow this advice. I would love to see the empirical experiment that demonstrates that it's possible for me to have been a bicycle wheel unless there are some background assumptions that lead to an absurdity.

even Einstein would have thrown his general theory of relativity in the garbage if it hadn't been up to snuff empirically.

Philosophers do this, too. Presentism in the philosophy of time is a prescient example in this context. Presentism is widely regarded as having been refuted by (the confirmation of) relativity theory. Current research in presentism does not make the argument that since presentism is true relativity must be false; current research in presentism seeks to show how presentism is compatible with our empirical observations.

Ramachandran and Crick, too, were right, because obviously no one in biology wastes their time pondering whether there are Martians with different patterns for life (which biologists don't define by DNA...)

All I can do is read the text and respond. I specifically mentioned (and hoped for) the possibility that Crick was speaking loosely and didn't mean what he said. But what he said was, we didn't wonder what life was; we went out and found that it was the double-helix. If he meant something less stupid than that, I wish he would have said what he meant instead. If he doesn't identify life (he explicitly does not "define" it) with DNA, I wish he would have said so.

And if you wanted an good example of how obviously correct this approach to researching tough problems is, I wish you would have found something more cogent. Because people do waste their time looking for life on Mars.

Joshua Harwood said...

And if you wanted an good example of how obviously correct this approach to researching tough problems is, I wish you would have found something more cogent. Because people do waste their time looking for life on Mars.

That's nice, but they're not pondering the existence of life on Mars. They're actually doing the empirical investigation and searching for it. So my example is still cogent, and your counterargument is still irrelevant.

The discovery of distinct Martian may falsify Crick, but your armchair argument never will.

Mr. Zero said...

They're actually doing the empirical investigation and searching for it.

Yeah. And what they are empirically searching for are organic structures that do the things that are characteristic of life. They are not specifically looking for double-helixes. When you find something, in order to know whether you have found life, you need to do the philosophy. If life is to be identified with double-helixes, and you don't find any double-helixes, then you didn't find life. If life is to be identified with organic structures that exhibit certain characteristic functional behaviors, and you find some, then you find life, even if you don't find any double-helixes.

So Crick's (unserious) account of what they are/should be looking for is incorrect, and symptomatic of a deep and fundamental philosophical error. The "armchair argument" is refutes Crick's claim concerning what life is, and is independent of any claim about what has been or ever will be found.

Mr. Zero said...

Do you think that I think something like the search for life on Mars could be conducted in the absence of empirical research? Because your little retort at 12:55 makes it seem like you think I think that the search for life on Mars would involve only "pondering" and not any actual looking.

Joshua Harwood said...

Still to Mr. Zero:

Do you think that I think something like the search for life on Mars could be conducted in the absence of empirical research? Because your little retort at 12:55 makes it seem like you think I think that the search for life on Mars would involve only "pondering" and not any actual looking.

My point was just to show that you misquoted me at 9:52 and sought an incorrect counterexample.

Instead, I think that you ignore how dependent you are on the empirical results of such searches (as if behaviors weren't empirical?) and how vital they are to the formation of definitions over what qualifies as life, or anything. Biologists went out and defined life after some rudimentary searching, as well, have regularly amended it with new discoveries, and may very well amend it more to specify what they'll count as biological research. For instance, some biologists have noted that computer programs may begin to satisfy all seven parts of the definiens to which I linked earlier. They can keep the definitions as they are, or amend them and consequently narrow the empirical domain of their science (and presumably leave the rest to others).

Crick's and Ramachandran's point is that the solutions come from "going out and looking," not sitting around and arguing about it. Crick didn't go out looking for DNA, either, and biologists definitely don't, so why assume that they'll make that kind of naive trek? If it's still sensible to read it as such, why would you suddenly turn literalistic to a scientist? They already have clear means of reference without your philosophic intervention.

Mr. Zero said...

I think that you ignore how dependent you are on the empirical results of such searches

I have no idea why you think that. It can't possibly be because of anything I've actually said. I don't know what I could possibly have done to make it more clear that I take science extremely seriously. What I deny is that it is the only legitimate epistemic practice. I argue that topics that resist the methods of empirical science are not ipso facto immune to fruitful study, and that it is not possible to meaningfully interact with the world around us without presupposing the results of these studies.

For instance, some biologists have noted that computer programs may begin to satisfy all seven parts of the definiens to which I linked earlier. They can keep the definitions as they are, or amend them and consequently narrow the empirical domain of their science (and presumably leave the rest to others).

Here is yet another unnoticed or unacknowledged appeal to non-empirical philosophical principles. When they do this, they are doing philosophy, not empirical science. They are not doing experiments in order to figure out what life is like or how it works; they are settling on a set of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for something's being a living thing.

Crick's and Ramachandran's point is that the solutions come from "going out and looking," not sitting around and arguing about it.

My point is that if you don't sit around and argue about it at least a little, you won't know what it is you've found.

Anonymous said...

I can't resist interpolating this comment from the entry on "Life" in the SEP. Hogben is himself a scientist.

"Lancelot Hogben, in his book The Nature of Living Matter, which was dedicated to Bertrand Russell, argues for a reductionist epistemology and ontology. For Hogben, as for Haldane, consciousness is seen as an integral part of the problem of life, “an inquiry into the nature of life and the nature of consciousness presupposes the necessity of formulating the problem in the right way” (Hogben 1930, pp. 31–32). Indeed, “no problem of philosophy is more fundamental than the nature of life” (Hogben 1930, p. 80)."

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/life/

I'm inclined to think that the reason Crick felt he didn't need to worry about definitions was that there was already much previous sciento-philosophic discussion in the immediately preceding period about what life was. See Sect. 1 of the entry on the mechanist/vitalist debate for the flavor of this.

C said...

I pronounce Mr. Zero the winner.

Anonymous said...

C,
Really, we're now at the rubble-bouncing stage.

politricky said...

nice post :D

Anonymous said...

I haven't got much of an interest in digging out a foxhole to hunker down in for this debate, but I thought I might try a little something. The largest point of contention I have noticed is Joshua's insistence that science should pick out the referents for all our terms, and if science is incapable of doing so, then we should regard the term as empty and meaningless. Nevermind that this view is naive (science is going to find "1" or "Sherlock Holmes"? somewhere beyond the solar system?) and not generally accepted by even many people working in semantics and linguistics, not just philosophy. I want to present a problem that this framework could supposedly encounter and ask how Joshua would solve it without out appeal to conceptual or generally non-empirical principles. Imagine we have an experiment going to see what should be the referent for happiness. The experiment has produced two competing referents for the term. assuming we want a universal referent, like we want for most other terms, we need a way to decide which referent to pick. On what grounds do we evaluate the entities? Do we then ask scientists to start looking for the referent of "betterness"? Even if we do, suppose the same problem occurs for "betterness" as for "happiness." What criteria are we to fall back on now?

I think it is worth pointing out that the simple verificationism that Joshua is appealing to here, has gone the way of the dinosaur. One may well wonder how the verification principle may, in fact, be verified itself.

WV: coyin- as shy but alluring piece of legal tender.

Joshua Harwood said...

[Joshua insists that] science should pick out the referents for all our terms

I don't know why you think that I'm endorsing verificationism. Plenty of things are false, but still comprehensible fictions. BFD...

The problem that I raise is that empirical sciences produce empirically relevant conclusions from their methods of testing (and I take an empirical criterion for truth). Philosophers think that they do, but cannot demonstrate as much unless they actually subject their claims to empirical testing, which I accuse that they actively resist. They think that “the things” of their study do it, but I've since accused them of a string of fallacies that they don't address, most significantly, the appeal to individual intuition and reification.

Some of this may seem like verificationism because pieces of it come from the Neurauth & Co. play book. That doesn't mean that I associate the meaningfulness of terms with their ability to be explicitly confirmed by science.

Imagine we have an experiment going to see what should be the referent for happiness. The experiment has produced two competing referents for the term. assuming we want a universal referent, like we want for most other terms, we need a way to decide which referent to pick.

The most accurate science doesn't talk about what scientists want to find, but about what they expect that they will find.

Also, scientists wouldn't study happiness, they would study the behaviors and attitudes that common speakers would associate with being happy. That makes a world of difference in itself, because it undoes a compulsion among philosophers to have empirically ungrounded abstractions, which would distance them from highly suspicious inference chains off to infinity and into oblivion. In simple terms, an argument, alone, isn't worth jack if an empirical scientist refutes any part of it.

Semantics, interestingly, can refute the meaningfulness of terms, and is a scientific discipline (because they survey what people comprehend in use of languages).

Let me give a short example:

“Abstractions are non-empirical entities. Non-empirical entities are not knowable by empirical testing. Genuineness is an abstraction. Therefore, genuineness is not knowable by empirical testing.”

The inference is valid. Is it unsound? How did you know? How would you even test for the truth of the premises? By group intuitions? That's an ad populum, unreliable test. By definition? The statements are then just instantiations of a tautology. By empirical testing? But the premises imply that they exclude that option. By appeal to other premises? Then I'm just going to ask this series of questions for the soundness of those premises again. By some other means? If so, name that means.

If you're specifically interested in happiness, Dan Gilbert is a pretty accessible scientist on it.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Joshua,

I think you may have misunderstood anon 6:11's quip about the verification principle. 6:11 can correct me if I'm wrong, but I did not take it to be a literal claim that you accept the verification criterion of meaningfulness, according to which a sentence S has meaning only if S can be empirically verified. I took it to be a reference to a principle you clearly do accept, according to which if a subject S is immune to empirical study, then it is not possible to know claims involving S, nor to fruitfully study S.

It seemed to me that 6:11 was pointing out that this principle is itself immune to empirical study, and so is self-refuting in the manner of the verification principle.

Anonymous said...

Joshua Harwood, you've already clearly lost this debate. But just now, you found yet another, independent way to lose.

You are confusing empirical relevance with empirical confirmation. Most of us philosophers _do_ claim that our discoveries are empirically relevant: that is, they relevantly inform the empirical work that others do. A number of other non-empirical disciplines, like mathematics and logic, also are relevant to empirical inquiry.

However, it obviously doesn't follow from that these disciplines are empirically testable.

So, there is no question at all of our "actively resisting" the empirical testing of our conclusions. We simply acknowledge that our conclusions and arguments are non-empirical but relevant to some empirical matters.

Since you don't understand that simple and fundamental fact, you obviously don't understand much about philosophy and are talking out of your ass (as you have been from the start). It's time for you to call it quits and find out something about the subject you're discussing before trying again.

Joshua Harwood said...

Oh, but Anonymous (9:30, 6:11?) chimed in just before I was going to post that last response:

You obviously don't understand much about philosophy and are talking out of your ass (as you have been from the start .)

I guess you'll have to tell that to the philosophy department at the university who granted me my philosophy degree. I'm sure that they'd love to hear you tell them that I managed to dupe all of them into a fresh diploma.

But I will withdraw now that I see exactly how maturely you actually discuss this topic.

Anonymous said...

I find myself oddly in agreement with the two previous posts. With anonymous 9:30, for suggesting that Joshua is running together ideas of empirical relevance and empirical testing, in ways it would be useful to distinguish in this context. But then also with Joshua's post, for suggesting that unnecessary ad hominem attacks are, well.....unnecessary. Boys....please don't fight sand in the sandbox.

Anonymous said...

6:11 here,

Just to be clear I'm not 9:30, I'm not especially interested in calling people's competence and credentials into question. Though I do feel that Joshua is confused about several of the points made here, I suspect there are plenty of philosophers that are similarly confused. It also looks like Joshua will have no problem generalizing some overly gross comments to the entire philosophical community, instead of an individual blow-hard.

I'd also like to point out that Joshua has been, maybe to his own chagrin, philosophizing for much of this debate. As Mr. Zero kindly pointed out on my behalf (thanks!), many of the principles Joshua has relied on can only be formulated on non-testable, conceptual rules of (at times) meaning and (at other times) significance. I do still hold that in several cases Joshua is employing some outright, though modified, form of verificationism about what belongs in the domain of quantification.

WV: tomatol- a new government subsidized by product of fermented tomatoes used to power stealth planes.

Anonymous said...

I'm the one who made the point above about Special Relativity being a conceptual and armchair revolution instead of a purely empirical one. (Though I could have expanded that to General Relativity as well. The Equivalence Principle wasn't due to an experiment in a lab.)

If the point is that science can't do without philosophy--and given the dilation of argument on this thread I can't say I even remember what the point is--Einstein's work is the gold standard of that.

So what are we arguing about here?

wv: skijocce, which is either a downhiller, pilot, or God (who apparently was a co-pilot)

CTS said...

@Anon June 8, 2011 3:39 AM


"CTS, now you know how Herbert Hart felt!"

HLA all the way!

WV: piosings. Something about the turn this discussion has taken?

NChen said...

My response to that blog:

Philosophical sausages produced so far include:

-the scientific method

-modern science of economics

-many economic systems

-modern psychology

-crucial developments in modern cognitive science

-modern sociology

-many kinds of political systems

-political science

-crucial developments in decision theory

-crucial developments in logic resulting in the modern electronic and computer revolution

-foundations in our legal systems

-our modern conceptions of justice

-conceptions of morality

-our modern common sense views on a host of issues

Philosophy does not need lesser men to smugly demand it produce more "sausages."

John said...

now if enrollment would just stop declining in philosophy classes...it's hard to make good sausages when your losing your meat...