Sunday, May 18, 2008

What follows?

Everything logical should be able to be stated in understandable and because of that memorable terms. That's not to say the world can be described understandably per se -- the world is not fundamentally logical. But if someone says "you just have to see it, or it just is", rather than "it follows from this principle working like this", it seems likely that they're more confused than you are. (I have already been proven wrong on these, but it's to a degree -- I assume I will discover the intuitive understanding.) There are, I suppose, important foundational principles which just have to be assumed.

How about morality -- is that one of these foundational principles? I think not. But it is clear that there is physical truth -- a fixed sort of truth -- and spiritual truth. And spiritual truth includes not only your wildest imaginations (and then some) but also things outside of your wildest imagination. But then how do we factor in the effect of data, then? All truth is constructed from some limited data of the real world. Its degree of truth, then, is a function of how close it comes to the real world. There is a truth for both physical science and human morality -- or does it? I'm not sure if we can describe what we should define as truly good -- but we can describe what we will define as truly good.

The test of a real philosopher: to learn without being taught?

If the harder disciplines (physics, mathematics) are half as screwed up as philosophy, economics, and medicine (in no particular order), then God help us.

I've forgotten everything else I wanted to say.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Affirming the Consequent, Denying the Antecedent

Both of these are misnomers. When you "affirm the consequent", you are actually affirming the antecedent upon observing the consequent.

If P, then Q.
Then P.

This is the fallacy that they call affirming the consequent. The fact that its misnamed makes it more difficult to remember.

Similarly, denying the antecedent:

If P, then Q.
Not P.
Then not Q.

Another fallacy, but again, it is misnamed. The denial of the antecedent is observational. The fallacy lies in denying the consequent based on the observation of not P.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Intuition Pumps (Thought Experiments), Free Will, and Nietzsche

In light of the way that modern philosophy works, this post by Adam Rawlings deserves to be spread far and wide. It's not often that you find philosophers rejecting (even to a degree) rather than analytically debating (fallacious) thought experiments (there are good thought experiments -- check out out I made previously by hitting the thought experiments tag).

I haven't studied modal logic, but it seems that what is "logically possible" is rather arbitrary. Logically possible in our physical world is likely not what philosophers think it is; some of these "logically possible" assertions strike me as similar to Descartes' claim that "the more perfect -- that is to say, that which contains in itself more reality -- cannot be a consequence of and dependent upon the less perfect. This truth is not only clear and evident..." (Third Meditation). ADHR criticizes all of the thought experiments on this basis.

There's another criticism for Frankfurt thought experiments. As a compatibilist, Harry Frankfurt accepts determinism. Yet if determinism implies that there is a single future path which rules out metaphysical responsibility, as Dennett, Pereboom, Honderich, Inwagen, Kane, and others believe, then Frankfurt has to explain how the "free will" necessary for moral (metaphysical) responsibility exists. His thought experiments assume "free will" because people make a free choice. He attacks what he calls the Principle of Alternate Possibilities, focusing this attack on actions -- but what really matters is choices. In Frankfurt's imaginary world, people can still make "free" choices for which they are ultimately responsible. (Technically, the agent in Frankfurt's experiment is only responsible for his action when the controller did not have to act.) What I'm saying is that Frankfurt's thought experiments don't get him any closer to the moral responsibility he wants; he still hasn't addressed the regular problems with "free will" moral responsibility. He won't be able to, either, because the metaphysical free will which allows ultimate metaphysical responsibility is incoherent. We are not responsible for our positions, and thus we are not ultimately responsible for our actions. We are only responsible in the sense that we have to be responsible (responsibility keeps people's behaviors in check). This critique is obvious, but somehow it hasn't gained traction in the philosophical literature; I imagine most philosophers would reject it out of hand simply because they don't want to admit that they've studied Frankfurt counterexamples these past 30+ years without noticing.

If we can get past this focus on ultimate responsibility, however, we can start to think about taking control of our lives and acting with at least some personal responsibility -- you aren't responsible for the position you're in, but goddamnit, you're gonna have to make the best of it. At the same time, this position recognizes (as we do legally) mitigating and aggravating factors in actions, and advocates that we study the causal factors behind behavior to maximize our ability to exert rational control over our bodies. Dennett struggles with this idea in Freedom Evolves, but this is Nietzsche's entire goal, actually, although he pushes people to do it without science (while recognizing that ultimately it may come only through science):
"learning to see -- habituating the eye to repose, to patience, to letting things come to it; learning to defer judgement (italics mine), to investigate and comprehend the individual case in all its aspects. This is the first preliminary schooling in spirituality: not to react immediately to a stimulus, but to have the restraining, stock-staking instincts in one's control. Learning to see, as I understand it, is almost what is called unphilosophical language 'strong will-power'. (Twilight of Idols, What the Germans Lack Section 6.)

Nietzsche makes the distinction between the causa sui -- the self-creating "free will" which we continually debate, and the self's "will to power", the causa prima which we really need to focus on. We can't be create ourselves, but ideally we can act with our rational self rather than our animal instincts, and avoid being jerked around by 'stimuli'.

UPDATE: Thinking more about the Frankfurt example -- in the linguistic sense, yes, Frankfurt's agent is responsible when he chooses to act as the controller wants him to act despite the fact that he cannot do otherwise. But this is a counterexample, and an outlandish one at that. It's really restricted to just this case -- when the agent acts differently than the controller wanted and must be controlled, the agent is no longer responsible. How is it supposed to apply in the real world?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Econometrics: Worse Than Useless?

Econometric Modeling as Junk Science.

The other one is in the May issue of The Pluralist Economics Review. Unfortunately not updated at the moment.

I really need start studying something really useful, like computer science.

Some feedback for the FBI

Since the FBI's Contact Us page doesn't allow you to email them, here's what my feedback states. Not that they'll listen to it.

First off, you can stop using these terrible feedback forms. There should be hardly any boxes, and more textual input. There's basically two things that people need to refer to: content and design. That's it.

Your main page seems somewhat overloaded.

Your Most Wanted terrorists page goes to a stange place where I can't go back -- it should be incorporated into your other page.

You shouldn't use tables for design. Update to more CSS.

Your History page should include links to laws that have affected you.

It's shameful that you have no email address on your website. I wanted to send this to you personally.

Usually I'm more harsh in my criticism, but again, it's not gonna matter anyway. The feedback goes into the void.