Comments

  • What Constitutes A Philosopher?
    To philosophize is to pose (big? small? unbegged?) questions in such a way as to make explicit the limits of questioning (i.e. reason's limits).180 Proof

    I like that you always emphasize questioning, problematizing, etc.

    I've been thinking about an analogy to something people are sometimes inclined to say about art, sport, warfare, literature, chess, business -- in short, every creative field: there are interesting cases where people "break the rules", where "rules" means something like "received wisdom". And just as often, people will say that you have to know the rules, have to master the standard techniques of, say, painting, or playing saxophone, or rock climbing, whatever, before you can break the rules. (And alongside this, there is recognition of the occasional masterful folk artist or untutored genius who doesn't even know the rules they're breaking. The exception that proves the rule.)

    I've been thinking there may be an analogy here to philosophy's relationship to reason, because philosophy requires going beyond reason, but reason is often the best first step. I don't think reason can be self-grounding, define itself, judge itself, apply itself. There must be something more, and even if we can't pin it down, that more, that something else that might stand above or beyond even reason, is philosophy.
  • Chomsky's Mysteries of Nature: How Deeply Hidden? Reading Group


    Interesting stuff, particularly Daniel Dor. I am in your debt.

    My sympathies tend to be with the communication-first side, but of course language as a technology for communication is enabled by capacities not necessarily evolved for that. That’s saying nothing, so an example: I’ve never forgotten my German linguistics professor demonstrating the original purpose of vocal chords by lifting the end of a table as he spoke (they close the windpipe to maintain air pressure in the chest under load).

    In a related way, I find the speculation that language was originally gestural rather than vocal interesting, because vocal language also involves very precise gestures we don’t think of that way because they are done with the tongue and the mouth; thus not only are there obvious advantages to switching to sound as your medium, you may get to repurpose the brain’s existing skill at orchestrating complex fine motor movements. Which obviously also has other uses. Pure speculation.

    In that spirit, I have tried to leave room for what I think of as language to be dependent on something more like what Chomsky thinks of as language, which looks more like a mathematical symbol system. I do wonder if the communication-first, social technology sort of view — which, as I said, is where my sympathies lie — can quite reach to certain fundamentals: the distribution of sign tokens into buckets via systems of differences (as in phonology and morphology); the ability to take a sound or a mark or a gesture as a sign at all, to treat it as referential.

    It’s hard to shake the intuition that communication is late to the party in some respects, that certain key abilities must already be in place before we can talk about communication, language as a technology for solving coordination problems, and so on. So, as I said, I’ve tried to leave open the possibility that Chomsky’s little syntax engine, even if it’s really a machine for assembling a syntax engine, is one of those things, but that’s all.

    Again, really interesting stuff, Street. Much appreciated.
  • Why was my post on Free Will taken down?


    I recall the thread, and I believe I deleted what appeared to me to be a later duplicate post of the OP. I remember looking a couple times to figure out what was up, and assumed it was a mistake. I left the discussion standing as it was, I believe.

    Entirely possible I botched this operation somehow, and if so I apologize.

    Your OP was short, broad, and open-ended. Another mod may have looked askance at that.

    If you're still of a mind, just take another whack at it.
  • Chomsky's Mysteries of Nature: How Deeply Hidden? Reading Group
    That’s quite helpful. Thanks.

    Grammar simply has to 'fit' what is already in the theory, which accounts for all of grammar from the get-go, the only question being how.StreetlightX

    I’m not sure this is fair, historically. The search for “deep structure” may fail, but is analagous to the search for “logical form” — which Wittgenstein also concluded had failed. But it begins as an attempt to explain known phenomena: back in the days of transformational grammar, for instance, as an attempt to systematize the apparent connection between the syntax of statements and questions. Montague, who did his Ph.D. under Tarski, denied there was a distinction — as Tarski had assumed — between formal and natural languages. He seems to have believed that so-called natural languages are just more complicated, but just as a systematic as, say, first-order predicate logic.

    But for such a research program, the proof is in the pudding: can you produce a model that accounts for all the data? Tomasello is right that there is something suspiciously ad hoc about what various people think goes in the core — but it’s ad hoc precisely because it’s trying to track the data, again rather like geocentric astronomy. You see the claim that there is a core syntax as the equivalent of the assumption that the heavens revolve around the earth, the assumption that both adds complexity to the theory and limits it. People working on UG might agree that what they have so far is a bit Keplerian, but they’re all looking for that Copernican breakthrough simplification. To make your analogy hold, you, or Tomasello, would have to show that by dropping the assumption of there being a UG at all, you can produce a dramatically simpler and convincing account of syntax. Is that what’s happened?

    There’s another argument I think is lurking in the background: y’all have been at this for 65 years; if you haven’t figured out the elements of UG by now, it’s not gonna happen. You’ve been chasing a ghost. That’s not a terrible argument, but it’s not a great argument either. We’ve had quantum mechanics for a hundred years, and I don’t think anyone’s happy with the state of things, but our failure to finish it doesn’t mean we ought to just abandon the whole thing and start over.
  • Chomsky's Mysteries of Nature: How Deeply Hidden? Reading Group
    In a word, essentialism vs. materialism.StreetlightX

    Okay, but you’re answering a different question.

    As I understand you, you’re saying Chomsky’s — I don’t know — “underlying” philosophy or even metaphysics is suspect, and therefore to oppose Chomsky is to oppose him as a philosopher who belongs to the opposing school of philosophy. No more, no less.

    But you don’t see two scientists with different ideas here at all. And therefore there is nothing for philosophy riding on what some might see as an intramural conflict between scientists. There are genuine scientific disputes — I’m only assuming you agree — because evidence is incomplete and theories are imperfect, but this isn’t one of those at all.

    You chose your philosophy (or even metaphysics) first, and then offer your support to the professor who is more closely aligned with your philosophy, and you oppose the professor who seems more aligned with an opposing philosophical camp. Is that right?
  • Chomsky's Mysteries of Nature: How Deeply Hidden? Reading Group


    Can you explain to me like I’m five why it’s important for philosophy that Tomasello is right and Chomsky is wrong? What’s riding on this for philosophy?
  • Chomsky's Mysteries of Nature: How Deeply Hidden? Reading Group
    Tomasello wants to make a name for himself by going after Chomsky, but is as convincing as Everett -- who's a complete fraud.Xtrix

    I don’t have a pony in this race, but Tomasello looks like a guy worth learning about.

    The reality is that there has been much written about both mathematics and music -- including ideas about how they may be piggybacking off of language.Xtrix

    It did occur to me that there may be another option: perhaps what Chomsky has hypothesized as necessary for getting language going is the same thing that’s necessary for getting math or music going. He may even have said as much, I don’t know. Montague used to say that linguistics is a branch of mathematics (though he also thought Chomsky was full of shit).

    Because it's the best we can do to study thought. Language isn't the same as thought, of course, but it's related.Xtrix

    Hmmm. This is a mess, but I want to say that thought is a psychological phenomenon, but something else too. Maybe it’s only the having of a thought that is a psychological phenomenon. There are related problems with language as, on the one hand, a means of either expression or communication, but on the other hand as something symbolic. — There is at the very least Frege’s little argument against psychologism and for the ‘third realm’, that it makes no sense to speak of “my Pythagorean theorem” and “your Pythagorean theorem” but only of “the Pythagorean theorem”. Frege, Platonist that he was, certainly saw something, shall we say, objective in thought and language, something beyond what’s in an individual skull. It may be possible to locate that sense of objectivity in very many skulls and their history, but David Lewis tried to do exactly that in Convention and couldn’t quite pull it off.
  • Chomsky's Mysteries of Nature: How Deeply Hidden? Reading Group


    Right. The question was whether more general learning mechanisms could account for learning language as well. More or less as old-timey empiricists might have imagined.

    But it looks like a bad question to me now. We already know (as @Manuel reminded me) that linguistic functionality is localized in the brain, predictably so in normal, healthy brains, so it seems to be more a matter of activation, rather than learning or acquiring. — At least for certain aspects of linguistic capability.

    Do we know something similar about mathematics? It would make sense. Music I would guess is more complicated. (I remember hearing many years ago that when listening to music, it’s the left brain for musicians and the right for non-musicians that lights up, or some such thing.)

    I’m honestly not that interested in the brain science. I am interested in what philosophical hay we expect to make of all this. Thoughts? Why should current findings in neurolinguistics matter to us?
  • Chomsky's Mysteries of Nature: How Deeply Hidden? Reading Group
    similar sounding noise doesn't activate itManuel

    I’m almost certain there’s something similar with dogs. Did you hear about that little study? Somebody put a few dozen dogs into an MRI and had people speak to them. The result was that the dogs were responding not just to tone of voice, as one might speculate, but to specific words, because if you said some nonsense or some inappropriate words with the same tone and prosody as you usually said, “Good dog, Ginger!” the brain did not light up the same way. Dogs are able to learn to recognize specific words, as I suppose any serious dog trainer might tell you.

    On the point of learnability: there are certainly things we want to say based just on the fact that language can be learned — that we must acquire a system for producing and consuming language, on demand, not just a bunch of language, not just, say, the meanings of a large number of sentences. Just as interesting, it must be acquirable in stages and usable, if limited, at each step of acquisition.<note> That’s a whole different sort of structure, the sequencing of acquisition.

    I know that for concepts there’s work suggesting children generally start roughly in the middle on a spectrum of abstraction: you learn “dog” before “mammal” or “cocker spaniel”. I don’t know how the language story goes, but there are things about language use you clearly have to have some language to learn. (This is nearby the old criticism of older speculation about language acquisition, that people will tend to imagine it as learning another language, having already mastered one, and all the habits of thought that go with it, rather than genuinely imagining what it’s like to start from nothing.)

    It’s not perfectly clear what philosophical hay can be made of any of this, especially since mistaken views about mind or language that might be corrected by the science were not exactly philosophy anyway, but armchair science.

    I suppose what I’m wondering is whether learning more about how language is implemented will tell us more about what exactly it is — and that’s not perfectly clear, though it seems like it should. As noted above, we already know a little something of the constraints on what language can be just from knowing that it must be something that can be physically instantiated in a human being, and be acquirable. I suppose, in a sense, the controversy around Chomsky’s views is precisely about what could not conceivably be acquired and must simply be inherited.


    <note>
    (There is exactly one programming language I know of that took this lesson to heart — Raku, nee Perl 6 — because its designer, Larry Wall, did linguistics as an undergrad: you’re expected to speak “baby Raku” at the beginning, and be successful at that, and only gradually add more sophisticated constructions as you learn them.)
  • Chomsky's Mysteries of Nature: How Deeply Hidden? Reading Group


    It is curious not that the functions of a human brain are ‘localized’ to some degree, but that they are localized in the same places, which suggests existing and inherited specialization waiting to be activated rather than very general learning capacities. But maybe not, depending on what we take ‘activation’ to mean. After all, linguistic ability being localized is not quite the same thing as there being a ‘language acquisition module’ of some kind — which of the linguistic modules is the one responsible for acquisition, and what happens to it after the lion’s share of your language learning has been done?

    Anyway, leaving all that to one side, what does this evident brain specialization, however the details work out, tell us about the nature of language?
  • Chomsky's Mysteries of Nature: How Deeply Hidden? Reading Group
    But that there exists in the human brain a capacity for acquiring language is hardly metaphysics.Xtrix

    Isn't the question whether that capacity is specialized to language?
  • Why was my post on Free Will taken down?


    Reminds me of one of my favorite jokes:

    King Frederick of Prussia gathered his court scientists (i.e., philosophers) and asked them why a dead fish weighs more than a live fish. They each in turn offered a theory to explain this curious fact, and then he pointed out that it does not.
  • Examining Wittgenstein's statement, "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world"
    His research was flawed and useless, but there's other research that concentrates on color.frank

    I remember being under the impression that Sapir-Whorf had been straight-up refuted by the color research, and being disappointed to find it isn’t quite that simple, because research is fucking hard.

    One way to read this: people who speak languages that don’t have separate words for blue and green can still reliably distinguish blue and green color samples; one way to look at that is that this strongly suggests they are capable of learning a language that does have words like “blue” and “green”. So, perhaps, “my language” doesn’t mean English or German or Xhosa or something, but something more like “my linguistic faculty”. And then we could say the limits of what I could grasp, conceivably expressed in a conceivable language, are the limits of my world.
  • The existence of ethics
    I have no reservations, no, but the vocabulary is reserved for representing the conceptions of speculative metaphysics, in order to separate value as a quality from value as a purpose.Mww

    Mmmm. I think that’s a good answer, even though I’m not sure what you mean.

    I’ll say this much: I am weary of the answer to every question being “it’s purpose-relative”. First, I am wary of the feeling that comes along with this that there is something arbitrary about the relation between the individual and the purpose they pursue, the feeling that we ought generally to think of purposes as choices or preferences. That feels weak to me. Oxygen is useful and valuable relative to the purpose of the respiratory system, which is in turn useful and valuable relative to the purpose of remaining a going concern. Swell. But that’s not a choice or a preference in any simplistic way. (And I want to say that, the fact that we can choose to prevent ourselves from breathing, doesn’t mean that each moment we don’t we must have chosen to continue. Bollocks.)

    What’s more, even supposing you have some analytically arbitrary purpose — based in a free choice or a preference/passion — then you don’t also choose to value things relative to that purpose: it’s automatic. Given your purpose, the world presents itself to you a certain way, things announce their suitability or insuitability to your purpose, or occasionally, but not universally, as ambiguous, requiring reflection.

    (As above, at the modeling level, as they say, there’s no doubt something classificatory going on — we imagine this like a Terminator’s heads-up-display, identifying objects in the immediate environment one after another and running them through a “writing-implement-recognition protocol” or something, but of course it’s ridiculous to imagine that every time we need a pen we do a brute-force search through all the objects in sight — nope, bowl; nope, book; nope, spoon, though that’s ‘closer’ in shape; nope, glasses; ... — and at any rate, above that level of the “biological interface”, this is not at all how we experience “looking for a pen”.)

    On the one hand, I could simply note that a human life doesn’t start over again from scratch, from moment to moment, but is always layered with ongoing purposes, passions, and interests; thus the “raw” unvalued world never really gets a chance to present itself to us. (Or better: it is normal for it not to, and perhaps there are practices that can peel off some of those layers, as art students learn to overcome the biases of color constancy and finally see something more like the actual colors presented to the eye rather than the simplified version we’re accustomed to.) But I also wonder if there isn’t a regress lurking: choose your purpose; now choose how to achieve it; now choose to follow that process; now choose how to follow that process, ad infinitum. At some point, the world and the things in it must be understood in a certain way, things presenting themselves as what we want or not, etc.
  • The existence of ethics
    But if we classify something as valuable, value is then a contingent assignment, and cannot be existential in that to which we assign the valueMww

    Do you have any reservations about this vocabulary — that we classify something as valuable or assign it value?

    I just don’t think we experience the world that way — not universally. Maybe in some cases, we do something like “assigning” value, I don’t know. I think we mostly recognize value, understand things to have value. In this, I tend to think to think we are much like other animals: the world has things in it to be sought, and things to be avoided. Those are facts, not choices, not assignments.

    I mean, I get that a biologist or a psychologist is going to say things like this: the organism, or some subsystem of it, classifies a given entity encountered as “food” or “predator” based on this or that, and assigns it a role, as if the world were a play the organism is putting on. I’m not disputing accounts of how it’s done, what the mechanism is. But that’s not the organism’s experience, which is of a world populated with good things and bad things. We’re capable of theorizing that, of seeing around our own corner to some degree, so we’re in a position to say, it’s all assignment all the time: nothing has inherent value. But of course you can only say that and mean it if you’re not a human being or a dog or an amoeba, if you’re not a living thing at all. So it looks to me like an answer to the wrong question. We want to know how we find value in things and what it means for us, and end up describing what that would be like if we were completely different from what we are. Yes, we could happen to have grown up elsewhere, at another time, speak a different language and have different customs and traditions, but none of us only happen to be human beings and could happen to have been something else.
  • Chomsky's Mysteries of Nature: How Deeply Hidden? Reading Group
    his efforts to make communication a mere auxiliary of language - rather than its raison d'etreStreetlightX

    basically an allergic reaction to behaviourialismStreetlightX

    I was thinking he gets to the former from the latter via the competence/performance distinction...

    Can I just ask, what’s going on here philosophically? You accuse Chomsky of promoting various sorts of pseudo-science, which suggests you see the role of philosophical analysis of linguistics as demarcation. Is that how you see what you’re doing here?

    I’m just always confused by these discussions that pit one scientist against another. We’re amateurs at philosophy, and presume to pick winners and losers in various fields we’re even less qualified to judge than philosophy, not only that but presume to say who’s a real scientist and who’s a charlatan, even if he’s been teaching at MIT for a lifetime and the acknowledged leader of his field (though never without controversy).

    Is linguistics so easy that we can swoop in and settle all the outstanding issues in the field of an afternoon? Is it slightly easier or slightly harder than the other topics we discuss on this forum, such as evolutionary biology or quantum physics?

    This is all a far cry from that philosopher who felt his only advantage was that at least he didn’t think he knew what he didn’t.
  • Currently Reading
    Rogue Man
    — Srap Tasmaner

    Rogue Moon, right?
    Noble Dust

    Heh. Yes, you ordered the right book. I can’t even blame autocorrect, but I should’ve gone to sleep hours ago.
  • Currently Reading
    Yeah Rogue Moon is a little like that. Not quite ordinary people, but quite definitely people, with their own personal issues, and the book’s mainly about that. Which is why I thought of it — and because it’s curious that people don’t know it these days since it used to always be on “All Time Best SF Novels” lists. I don’t understand why it’s been out of print for so long, and it was presumably Budrys’s decision. (I only know one other book of his, Michaelmas, which I also loved.)

    (An unrelated case of being — less inexplicably — out-of-print is Cordwainer Smith. Whole different deal from Dick, or from anyone. Really, anyone. Of all publishers, Baen did a two-volume paperback set several years ago, but it’s already gone. Worth hunting down. Robert Silverberg used to say that the only consolation he could find for Cordwainer Smith writing as he did was that he was actually from the far future.)
  • Help With A Tricky Logic Problem (multiple choice)


    In modern times, universals are always interpreted as conditionals. Just translate in your head like this:

    “All F’s are G” means “If anything is F, then it’s G”
    “No F’s are G” means “If anything is F, then it’s not G”

    The upshot of the translation is that the bits on the right are still true, even when there’s nothing that’s F.

    You may also have to sit a while with this understanding of conditionals (known as “material implication”) until it feels natural.
  • Currently Reading
    A Voyage To Arcturus by David LindsayNoble Dust

    I know of it, of course, but I’ve never read it, so thanks for the endorsement!
  • Currently Reading


    I'll throw in a book not by Saint Phil that's nearly forgotten and strangely out-of-print: Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys.
  • Currently Reading
    his mystical preoccupationsNoble Dust

    Some of the novels amble along doing this and that, and then like 2/3 of the way through veer sharply into religious territory. Like he's really not able to control it. But then he saw a giant metal face in the sky, so ...

    I should read more. It's been too long. Maybe I'll try the VALIS books after all.

    I think really I just value his company. Like Bill Hicks. Just another confused guy you meet on the road, and he makes the journey more bearable.
  • Currently Reading


    There's also at least one collection of interviews available and it's good
  • Currently Reading
    Both good.

    Scanner is really special. That and Radio Free Albemuth are the most autobiographical I guess.



    I loved Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Has some of that Alfred Bester dazzle to it, and very Phildickian themes. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. Another early one, Clans of the Alphabet Moon. Plus all the usual ones we've already mentioned. Only stuff I've deliberately stayed away from is VALIS. There's an edited version of the Exegesis out now, but I won't be reading that I think.

    I've never been even slightly disappointed by any novel or short story of his. They used to be hard to find so my collection is slightly random. Feels like I'm forgetting an important one but I can't think of it
  • Currently Reading


    Ubik is excellent. I'm probably in the minority wishing the last sentence wasn't there.

    I've read a lot, but not everything, and I love him not for the what-is-real? stuff but just for the humanity. Somewhere he said that his typical novel is a guy who loses his job, stops at the bar on the way home to drown his sorrows, comes home drunk and out-of-work so his wife leaves him, and *then* aliens land in the front yard.

    He was a haunted man.
  • The existence of ethics
    And affect (happiness, sadness, misery, joy suffering pleasure, and so forth) is foundational for ethics.Astrophel

    Ah, then we're not having the conversation I thought we were.

    I have some attraction to a very old-fashioned "moral sentiments" view, such as you'd find in Adam Smith.
  • The existence of ethics
    Terms like courage are dangerous, because they imply a hostility toward and condemnation of those who we judge as lacking in courage.Joshs

    I can think of circumstances, institutions, where this is probably true, maybe in the military or in public safety. But in general? I think people mainly just marvel at courage. It's okay to be awestruck by Martin Luther King -- doesn't mean you implicitly condemn everyone else, does it?

    Anyway, don't you think your argument is overbroad? How you can you praise anyone for anything if it implies condemnation of everyone else?
  • POLL: What seems more far-fetched (1) something from literally nothing (2) an infinite past?
    I mean they are likely to be constructs we have developed that seem to reflect human experience and we use them conceptually in daily life to help us manage our environment.Tom Storm

    I really don’t get this argument. What could “our environment” possibly mean, if you don’t use space and time in defining it?
  • Help With A Tricky Logic Problem (multiple choice)
    don't know how to verify one way or the otherDavidJohnson

    Drawing a Venn diagram is always the right thing to do.
  • The existence of ethics
    I just don’t know what moral courage isJoshs

    Isn’t there a difference between the man who, being completely selfish, doesn’t give a shit about the Jews being rounded up and does nothing to help them, and the man who sympathizes and wants to help them but is too scared to follow his conscience?

    the self is some sort of fortress that has to be breached by force of will in order to want to do things for othersJoshs

    But it’s quite specifically not a question of whether you want to do the right thing, but whether you can muster the courage to do so. Are we wrong to admire that sort of thing? Often enough, someone who behaves heroically doesn’t see themselves as having done anything particularly extraordinary, and thus has no explanation, since there’s nothing to explain. (“I just did what anyone would’ve done.”) And often enough, people talk of hoping they would behave as the hero did, but admitting that they don’t know whether they would — in short, people will admire behavior that they also think of as not quite a matter of choice. It’s a funny thing all around.
  • The existence of ethics
    mysteriousJoshs

    transcendent or magicalTom Storm

    Timothy Snyder has an interesting book about the Holocaust, called Black Earth. He makes a particular point of explaining collaboration by pointing to the destruction of local institutions and the lack of "political capital" to organize resistance. It's understandable, he suggests, that people behaved badly in desperate circumstances. But then he spends a few chapters examining individuals who behaved heroically; he tries to find some explanation, but comes up empty. It's a really striking asymmetry.

    Isn't there something a little mysterious about moral courage? What's so awful about acknowledging that?
  • The existence of ethics
    didn't Hitler think he was doing the right thing?Astrophel

    But that's an argument, not phenomenology, right? It's also not an argument I find all that persuasive as it stands: I've always been struck by the Nazis trying to destroy evidence of the Holocaust as the red army advanced -- they were like children caught doing something they knew perfectly well was wrong.

    But, yes, history and anthropology seem to teach us that different communities have different values. Some apparently have no problem with practicing slavery, say, or genital mutilation, and then we seem forced to conclude that there is something relative about our moral judgments. This is all still argument though, rather than a phenomenology of ethical experience. It's just that the argument suggests such a phenomenology is useless, because in every case we'll find people experiencing what seems to them ethical in the same way. (Orson Welles explained Touch of Evil by quoting Jean Renoir: "Everyone has their reasons.")

    There are two ways to begin to answer the relativist (or perspectivist): one is to say that the claims of variation are overblown, that there is obvious and substantial overlap in the mores of different communities, and even some research to back that up; the other is to question the experience more closely. If those who practice genital mutilation have to overcome their recognition of a young girl's fear and trauma, have to suppress their sympathy for her, then that's not evidence that their conscience is constituted differently from ours, but that they choose not to listen to it, that they let some other consideration overrule it.

    I think the jury is still out on whether phenomenology is doomed to failure here.
  • The existence of ethics


    I think I'm trying to say that we experience the ethical as absolute, as something beyond our opinions, not up to us, something in a way external.**

    There is a word for this experience: 'conscience'. Maybe it's more phenomenologically sound to start with conscience than with The Good, which looks a little theorized already.


    ** There’s a nice bit of writing in “The Train Job” (Firefly, episode 2) that captures a difference I’m interested in:

    “Sheriff: When a man finds out more about a situation like ours, well, then he faces a choice.
    Mal: I don’t believe he does.”

    What the Sheriff says is nice, spotlights individual responsibility — things don’t just happen, people do them. Acknowledge your part. That’s a solid starting point, certainly. Mal’s not disagreeing with that, but shifting the locus of responsibility away from the choice. If you know what is right, the real question is whether you will do it. It’s not a matter of choice but of character.

    You see that sort of thing all through Confucius, as well: there are no moral dilemmas, there’s only degrees of courage and fortitude in doing what everyone acknowledges is right.
  • The existence of ethics


    Ethics is something to do with behavior, and in particular something to do with our behavior towards one another, but there are many ways to describe two (or more) persons in relation to each other without an ethical ‘dimension’, as we might say — biological, economic, and so on.

    I’m tempted to say something like this: suppose we start not with persons only, but with another element, something like The Good. Seriously, full-on Plato. Suppose we think the minimum configuration we’re interested in is two people in relation to each other and also in relation to The Good. This, rather than just taking “good” as a way we might categorize the relations obtaining between people, because we want more than that: an ethical act, an ethical moment would be one that is not just a matter of what I do to you “being good” or not, but also of my “being good”, of my acting out of goodness, of my sharing in goodness with you, inviting you also to be good, of inviting you also to take up a relation to The Good as I have, recognizing your capacity to relate to The Good as I do, and so on. Not a matter only of categorizing an action, but of a multifaceted interaction with this third thing.

    Reifying it like this can also serve to cut off the temptation to ‘finish’ good instrumentally — that is, as “good for” something or other. An ethical action is one that is good, full-stop, not good for you, or for your happiness, or your well-being, or for society, or for anything. Not in furtherance of some purpose, higher or lower, something we might eventually attribute simply to individual (or social, or biological) preference or habit or desire, but only in relation to The Good. If I act with one eye on you and the other on this third thing, The Good, with a commitment to you but also to this other thing, that is ethical. It’s not just you that has a claim on me, but this other thing as well.

    I generally go in fear of Platonism, but off the top of my head I can’t really think of another way adequately to convey the absoluteness of the ethical, if you see what I mean. And I can’t imagine how we give substance to this third thing, The Good. I’ve no idea what to say about it. Maybe it’s just a way of throwing everything that touches our ways of behaving toward each other into one basket — all the biological, social, cultural factors, all those little hints and warnings and exhortations about what is good. All of that taken together seems to have a life, or at least an existence, of its own, that we find ourselves beholden to as much as we are beholden to ourselves and to each other.
  • What's the fallacy?
    The person in question refused to accept that you must either believe God/s exist is more likely, or no God/s exist is more likely, or you believe that the likelihood of Gods existence is perfectly balanced.Jon Sendama

    Yeah, okay.

    Here’s the thing: “... is God” just isn’t like any other predicate, and neither is “... exists”. If you’re hoping to deal with this situation by appealing to straightforward logic, you’re out of luck. That you can cast the issue in numerical terms makes no difference, I’m sorry.

    Yes, for any two values between 0 and 1, they’re equal or one is greater than the other. It’s a ways from there to belief formation or belief attribution. It’s especially far if it’s not clear how anyone could derive the values to be compared. I just don’t think the usual ways of putting a number on it are much use here, so there’s no point to this analysis. (For instance, suppose you want to set your prior for God existing to the baseline, how commonly universes were created by God — how you gonna do that?)

    Formal methods are swell where they apply. You don’t get to assume they apply always and everywhere.
  • What's the fallacy?


    Maybe google “false dichotomy” as that seems to be what the person who doesn’t want to choose is claiming to be a fallacy in the reasoning of the person offering a choice. Should be some discussion of when that particular claim doesn’t apply — which is what you seem to be looking for.

    Surely it's their burden to demonstrate that their objection has grounds by showing that there could be other options, rather than just claimingJon Sendama

    Shrug. I don’t think there’s much joy in obsessing over fallacies and certainly not this burden-of-proof thing people get exercised about when debating online. Most philosophical arguments are informal and persuasive. If I tell you there are only two options, I should want to persuade you I’m right about that. What’s the point of not doing so?
  • The moral character of Christians (David Lewis on religion)
    Since humans only live for a finite number of years (and can commit only a finite number of evils during this time), they can commit only a finite amount of evil.

    Is that how that works? We count how many evil acts you’ve committed? More is worser?

    God could have done a better job letting people know about it (for example, God could have given Hitler, Stalin, etc. a few more hints on what would happen if they continued on their evil path.)

    So the argument goes like this:

    1. It would be appallingly unfair of God to allow Hitler and Stalin to experience eternal damnation (in any of the several forms contemplated, including annihilation).
    2. At most they should get a lot of damnation, but not an infinite amount.
    3. Honestly, they probably shouldn’t even get that, because how could they possibly know — really know — there would be a price to pay in the afterlife.
    4. The whole system was rigged against Hitler (and Stalin!) from the beginning.
    5. Guy that would set up a system like this, basically to entrap Hitler (and Stalin!), that’s not a good guy.
    6. Anyone who thinks it’s okay to treat Hitler (and Stalin!) so shabbily, is also morally suspect.
  • Not knowing everything about technology you use is bad
    Because of the magnitude of knowledge that is needed to support our daily living, the power rests solely in the dictates, goals, etc. of the business overlords that horde and produce that technology.schopenhauer1

    Are you still talking about the same thing now? Aren’t the business overlords by and large just as ignorant of the workings of the technology on which their own fortune is based?
  • The moral character of Christians (David Lewis on religion)
    he shows the people how to defy the cruel overlordIsaac

    Well no -- the villain here is the Pharisees.