Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Posts Coming

A bit busy at the moment. Posts continuing our Kekes series (Art of Life II) and our series on verificationism coming soon. A foreshadowing:

What would count as evidence that inductive reasoning does not provide justification for belief? What sort of evidence would that be? I mean, Hume's my favorite philosopher, but something is amiss in the problem of induction.

Imagine having to sacrifice something of enormous, but not the highest value to you for something of highest value to you. This would involve first having the wherewithal to make the evaluations of degree and the character to act in accordance with them. It is a test that shows whether you have good character. Without the test, and few of us are ever confronted with it, one never knows one's character. This is why passing such an abhorrent test can be immensely satisfying.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Illegal Immigration and Culture

Yesterday the federal government here in the U.S. began to take steps to let the 15 million illegal aliens living here stay. They way the government intends to accomplish this is by passing more laws on how the illegal aliens are supposed to go about immigrating. The new laws are more easygoing on the illegal aliens than existing laws.

The existing laws are hardly enforced at all. They already govern the way in which non-Americans are to go about immigrating. Millions ignore them with impunity and simply come right over from Mexico and elsewhere. Therefore, passing new laws with no sign of enhancing law enforcement does nothing to address the problem except make the government appear inept. That the new laws are more easygoing on the illegal aliens than the old shows that the government is caving in to illegal immigration by officially announcing that it has no intention of enforcing the existing, tougher laws.

Culture is exceedingly important. America has had a culture until now that has served it very well. Now we are going about changing our culture to make it more like Mexican culture, as we allow immigration rates to stay at a culturally indigestible level. We are also deciding that our culture does not need to have a rule of law to protect it.

All this is as it should be. It is time for American culture to perish. It is fat and sick. When a culture grows fat, wealthy, and slovenly, it is meet that it commit suicide. It's too bad, I suppose, but it is unavoidable and natural. When you have a good culture and life is difficult, you cherish and protect that culture. When you are fat and wealthy, you grow lazy and non-chalant. There is no use raging against this natural way of things. It is time for us to go.

Besides, there will be another great culture sometime in the future, now that Western culture is fading. It hasn't appeared yet, but it will. It will use Western culture (500 bc - 2000 ad) as its classical forerunner. And it will invent anew.

UPDATE: It's a fallacy to complain about a solution to a practical problem without proposing an alternative solution. Here's an alternative: a bill allocating an additional $1 billion each year to the enforcement employment laws prohibiting the employment of illegal aliens.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Richard Replies Readily

He has an interesting post here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Richard on my Verificationism

Richard takes up my verificationism here. He proposes that it's principle V (scroll down a bit below here) is wrong because it's too strong. He says I require

he requires that the base facts themselves be epistemically accessible, at least in the limited sense that we can envisage possible evidence for and against them. But while this starts in the right place, I think the added restriction goes too far. We should merely require that the base facts be comprehensible, in the sense that someone could understand the difference between scenarios where they do or do not obtain.

However, it seems to me that "understanding" requires epistemic content. If you understand what a z is, then you are able to explain to someone who doesn't understand, and that explanation entails saying how to recognize when there is a z. "I understand what a z is, but I just can't tell when I've got one, that's all." That sentence is suspect, in my view. Consider:

A: "A square without corners or sides? I don't get it. How do you tell when you've got one?"
B: "Well, it can fit into a square hole, but not into a round hole of its size."
A: "But how can you tell that it can or can't fit?"
B: "Dunno. But you do understand me, right?"


C: "A zombie? I don't get it. How do you tell when you've got one?"
D: "Well, he acts like a conscious person, and with all the brain states, only he has no consciousness."
C: "Eh? How would you know that he isn't conscious? Even he can't tell."

I'm still suspicious of things masquerading as "understanding" that are nothing of the kind. I think the mind is very big and complicated and that in its spaces it can play tricks on itself that it itself cannot very well detect. It can seem to itself to understand undetectable ethers, undetectable separate universes, undetectable lacks of consciousness, etc., all the while understanding none of these things.

Richard needs to say what is the difference between "comprehensible" and "suspiciously incomprehensible" other than a feeling of "I've got it!" I don't trust that feeling. I need epistemic, evidential terms.

Two side points:

1. As for Richard's worry that his view of moral facts supervening on base facts is "slippery", I say don't worry, Richard. What needs to be added to actions (say, of your Hitler) is that they are performed in a society of people with dispositions to disapprove of those actions (sentiments of a certain kind). You have to include the subjective base facts about sentiment, as Hume suggested. On a planet of cruel nasties who kill for fun, but where no one has a nature such that he is ever even slightly disposed to have concern for others' welfare, none of the nasty things done is wrong. I'll pursue it this week on Philosoblog.

2. Please keep in mind that in order for a term to be meaningful on V, it only need be the case that one can say what the evidence for the term's correct application would be. One needn't actually be in possession of that evidence. You don't have to have evidence that there is a presently-causally-isolated universe for that term to be meaningful. You only need to have the physics (or whatever) that would at least roughly give an idea of what such evidence would be. Similarly for brains-in-vats (in a comment thread a few posts below.)

UPDATE: I wonder whether Richard's view entails that one can understand an incoherent term (such as "square with only three sides"). After all, "I know what it means, I understand it, but I just don't see how it could be rendered coherent" sounds Richardesque. I suppose he might say that the incoherence precludes comprehension. But that seems arbitrary. Why won't he also allow that evidential vacuity precludes comprehension, as well? Again I say that the mind is large and its imagination powerful. It can imagine a logically impossible thing (especially if it's in a sort of dreamy state: try it, you can do it. Or if the contradiction is buried deep enough, you can accomplish the task in a clear-headed state.) It can mistake this for comprehension. It can imagine the correct application of an evidentiallly vacuous term (e.g., "zombie") and mistake this for comprehension, too. How can Richard distinguish these two, such that in the latter case there is in fact no mistake?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Richard Requests Reasons

Richard requests (in a comment thread below) reasons for my acceptance of verificationism. The audacity! Well, I made a half-hearted gesture in their general direction in a previous post, but let's begin to lay them out a bit more carefully.

By "verificationism," I don't mean the old-fashioned philosophy of the early 20th Century. I only mean V:

V: If S knows what S means by an X, then S has an idea of what S would take as evidence that the X correctly described a given object and what S would take as evidence that the X incorrectly described another given object.

I don't have an elaborate theory of meaning as the old positivists did. I don't reduce evidence to phenomenal states as they did. I simply offer necessary conditions of meaning in V.

Reasons for V:

1. Imagine that someone uses a word (a noun, verb or adjective) and you inquire as to its meaning. Upon being told, you nod and inquire as to how to recognize when the word was correctly applied to an object - you request circumstances of warranted assertability. Your interlocutor then shrugs and admits that there isn't any such way, that there aren't any such circumstances. Do you not become the least bit suspicious? Do you smell a rat, a poseur, or at best a deluded person who doesn't realize that he isn't saying anything? If you answered yes, then you have at least a toe in my camp.
So, reason 1 says that if a person has no idea how to tell whether what he's saying is true, then he doesn't know what he's saying and doesn't mean anything by it. He thinks he does, but then the mind is a subtle and devious thing, isn't it.

2. Knowing the meaning of a word typically enables one to use it warrantedly. Circumstances in which this is not so are unusual and usually correctable by consultation and rehearsal with people who do know how to use it warrantedly. When we find a word that everyone concerned admits cannot be used warrantedly, we have an anomaly. Here we have a choice: expand our conception of meaning to include the slovenly item, or move it into the category of potentially meaningless terms. As an analytical philosopher, I need a reason to wax vague about meaning. There being no reason here other than people's feeling that the term has meaning, I opt for the debunking.

3. When in particular cases, such as "zombie," we have components of a definition that militate epistemically against each other, I cry foul. Consciousness being private, and its evidence being behavioral, zombies are things that one is by definition not entitled to have even the slightest bit of evidence for. (This reminds me of the guy selling a snake oil remedy. When I asked how I would know it worked, he said that it was only a "subtle" cure, meaning one that I couldn't know of. For such a cure I will pay very, very little indeed.)

By the way, Richard's is a philosophy blog with archives from which the philosophy enthusiast can profit.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Kekes's Art of Life I

The Art of Life is about the meaning of life. Kekes even leaves nihilistic suicide on the table as an option for a short passage in the preface. But the thesis he explains is that there is an art to upholding the two components of a good life: satisfaction and moral acceptability. Satisfaction is the having of both the right ideals and the habitual dispositions to achieve them, as well as particular projects to which one is well suited (careers, in the broad sense of that term.) The art lies in selecting a good way amongst reasonable alternative ways of life, and that depends upon one's particular character and situation, creativity and imagination. There are only a few rules and not complete guidance from them. Yet, the art isn't the same as randomness or arbitrariness. There are bad reasons for selecting a way of life, as well as good reasons, and the latter evaluate well the promptings of creativity and imagination, whereas the former do not.

Thus does the book begin well: with what is only slightly controversial at most, and rather seemingly on target, as well as interesting. Good philosophy begins with the trivial and moves toward the interestingly true. Also, good lives are supposed to be morally acceptable. As a younger man I might have questioned that; why couldn't Stalin's life count as good? The answer is that it is possible in theory, though whether an evil sociopath has ever had a good life in fact, I doubt. But it is the exception that proves the rule: you have to be an odd specimen of human nature to achieve such a thing. Moreover, even thought it is possible for a man's psychology to be devoid of moral components, it is unlikely that what remains will function well enough because what remains is of such a nature that it functions well only with the moral component on board. Could there be a monster so malformed that by chance his amoral nature can function and thrive in a sort of happiness? Perhaps, but it is nothing for the rest of us to contemplate, for whom happiness is not a separate endeavor from morality.

We'll see what role morality plays in the good life for Kekes as we move through the book. For today, let's finish with a look at the first chapter. It treats of unconditional commitments. The good life requires these. They include career, family, religion, etc. and may in principle be whatever is appropriate for you, but you must have them. I suppose morality is the one that trumps the others, as if morality requires that you sacrifice all of your other commitments, I suppose that you are obliged to do so. But, that trump aside, Kekes speaks of the others as "unconditional." Putatively unconditional commitments may conflict, at which time one determines which is the actually unconditional one. Here Kekes gives the examples of Montaigne and Thomas More. Montaigne sacrificed clean hands to do what he could for his community as an eminent lawyer. More sacrificed his life (and by that the father of his young child, as well) rather than break his commitment to moral and religious sanctions against divorce. These men exemplify self-direction, a self-control one needs if one is to recognize and adhere to an array of values in their order of importance (a hierarchy the levels of which Kekes calls "unconditional," "defeasible" and, lastly, "loose" commitments.) One must know when to peel off and let go of the important in favor of the more important.

By the way, most of us never experience tests of such our self-direction as severe as those of Montaigne and More. But I will say that the test comes with a blessing: it lets you know that you are self-directed, a fact which may remain uncovered for most of us. Untested metal is lies shrouded in mystery. One doesn't know what one is made of. To discover it by trial results in a profoundly gratifying experience, which, as we have seen, and as Kekes quotes, Wharton's Countess Olenska describes in this way:

I WAS lonely; I WAS afraid. But the emptiness and the darkness are gone; when I turn back into myself now I'm like a child going at night into a room where there's always a light.

This is where you can see that you are a person of moral depth. It is a relief. You could always have supposed as much, but never known it without the test.

Kekes also explains that tradition offers a selection of formats in which we may compose our lives. It is not that traditional lives are the opposite of self-directed ones. On the contrary, tradition is a body of discoveries of ways of life that are fulfilling to people of various sorts of character. The self-directed life uses this body and creates a life best suited to a particular person: the one who lives it. It enables one to find desirable unconditional, defeasible and loose commitments and array one's life suitably with them. As an achievement of a cultural heritage, self-direction is distinct from liberal autonomy, existentialist authenticity, or other new philosophies, all of which are either not achievements or not cultural.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Stand-Up? Sit-Down?

It's stand-up. You've heard of "fisking" and "round-ups." I'd call this stand-up. This was sit-down.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Analytical Philosophy and Analysis

My thesis is self-serving, as I find that the stances I take in philosophy are often analyses that other philosophers dismiss out of hand as incredible on their faces. (On the other hand, which philosopher doesn't face the same predicament? So perhaps I am serving all today!) My thesis is that all interesting results in analytical philosophy, in a strict sense of that term, will seem untrue to most philosophers.

I take it that analytical definitions are the goal of analytical philosophy in the strict sense (the loose sense being philosophy that aims at uncovering the truth of philosophical issues by rigor of argument and clarity of terms.) If interesting, any viable analytical definition is by bound to appear to be incorrect or uninteresting. It is the expansion on, the unpacking of the sense of a term in order to draw out implications for philosophical issues to which it is relevant. If the analysis seemed correct it wouldn't have been interesting. It would have been a common-sense or lexical definition of the term. It just so happens that many terms relevant to philosophy have a large semantic space that is not transparent even after several passes and examinations and that after further scrutiny is found to have multiple compartments, as well as quite a few nooks and crannies. An analytical definition comes up with a summary description of this space and an identity of it with its packaging term: of definiens with definiendum. Due to the volume of space and the distance covered by the identity, any true analysis will seem false to most philosophers. They'll need to follow the sound argument in order to convince themselves. Otherwise the analysis would not be interesting, as, ex hypothesi, it is.

In the little series on verification I will give you a definition of "right". In the twelve years of its existence, no one has ever told me he thought it seemed true to him. This is evidence that it is true. Just kidding! But you see my point. In fact, I hope someone will come up with a refutation of the definition. No one has yet.