Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cleese on Reductionist Explanations

This has been going around lately, and it is indeed worth watching.

Cleese is always great for a good philosophy joke; he has a background in philosophy.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Logical Judgment

Still moving, and with settling in and the like, posting will likely be light over the next week or two.

I've been looking into the theory of logical judgments, an area of logic that isn't much studied (at least as such) these days, but used to be considered quite important; so I was reading up on Kant's account of logical judgment, and, in particular, Robert Hanna's very good discussion of it in the SEP. I recently realized, although I don't think it was from Kant, that it makes at least a bit of sense to take judgment to be the quality of the predicate of the meta-proposition. That is, suppose we take a proposition,

All black cats are ninjas.

Assuming that this sentence is not intended to be ironic, the proposition expressed by it it has affirmative judgment. This is the same as to say,

The proposition, All Black cats are ninjas, is true

expresses a proposition with affirmative quality. If the proposition at hand is expressed by the sentence,

It is not the case that all black cats are ninjas,

then, assuming again that it is not ironic, it has negative judgment. This is as much as to say that

The proposition, All black cats are ninjas, is not true

expresses a proposition with negative quality. The result remains stable when we factor in modality, which is the part that really makes me think this way of looking at it has promise. If I say without irony,

It is possible that all black cats are ninjas

this judgment (affirmative problematic) can be understand us saying that

The proposition, All black cats are ninjas, is possibly true.

And so on for assertoric (of course, since we've already done those above) and apodictic judgments. And if that works, that means we can regard propositional modality as the predicate modality of the context proposition, what I called the 'meta-proposition' above. And this itself makes some sense in light of the relations between propositional modality and predicate modality. And it makes propositional modality reducible to predicate modality , which I think is a nice result, despite the widespread attachment to the idea of the fundamental character of propositional modality.

In any case, this is all roughly sketched in my mind right now; it's possible that I'll hit some serious wall at some point. But I'm liking the way things look so far. As far as I know, no one has suggested this so far; but given how many things in the history of logic have disappeared down some black hole in a dusty section of a library, I'm rather expecting to come across a case of someone having suggested something like it any day now.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Notes and Links

* I will be moving to a new apartment over the next few days; I don't know how that will affect posting.

* Philosophers' Carnival LXXVII is being hosted by Kenny Pearce.

* Speaking of which, Kenny is doing some guest blogging at Houyhnhnm Land; his first post, on Berkeley's account of ordinary objects is a good one, and it looks like it might receive some good discussion. Go over and join in.

* Also, I'm looking for other guest bloggers at HL; the posts have to be on some facet of early modern thought (or approaches thereto), but just about anything falling under that label would work. I'd love, for instance, to get historians of all kinds, literary scholars, and the like adding their two cents; I'd also love specialists from outside the early modern period looking at how later periods viewed the early modern period or how earlier periods prepared for it; and so forth. With Houyhnhnm Land I really am trying to break into new ways of doing history of philosophy, taking it to new heights through new interactions, new methods, etc. But, however clever I may be, doing that successfully requires more than myself alone. So if you're interested, let me know what you have in mind.

* St. Jerome on educating little girls. Fascinating stuff; some commentary here.

* Yup'ik Tundra Navigation. How the Yup'ik navigate the frozen wastelands. A quite sophisticated set of methods and rules of thumb, as you might expect. (ht)

* Michael Flynn on his short story, "Quaestiones Super Caelo et Mundo," an alt-history science fiction tale toying with the idea of a scientific revolution in the Middle Ages due to a counterfactually early translation of Philoponus. (It's quite a good story, if you haven't read it and are interested in medieval philosophy; you can find it in some issue or other of Analog.) Incidentally, and I do mean 'incidentally', since it is entirely tangential, I don't think I've mentioned Flynn's book In the Country of the Blind
before here; I highly recommend it, and think it Flynn's best work so far (much as I like Eifelheim). You would certainly like it if you like psychohistory or Analytical Engines.

* D.G.D. Davidson reviews the Girl Genius comics. Girl Genius is online. It's pretty decent if you like long story arcs and fiction in the style of steampunk; although the authors call it 'gaslamp fantasy' in order to mark out the fact that it diverges from standard steampunk tropes. You really do have to read it from the very beginning to make sense of much; but you can get a taste from the short stories page.

* But you shouldn't hold it against Girl Genius that it's praised by someone who can write a post on the strengths and weaknesses of the first season of Battlestar Galactica and not only not mention Laura Roslin's quiet yet ruthless awesomeness, but say nothing more favorable about her than "moderately tolerable." Moderately tolerable!

* Michael Liccione on whether freedom is the ability to choose rightly.

* YouTube Finds:
Al Stewart, Merlin's Time.
David Gray, Ain't No Love.
Tsofnat, Umbrella (Rihanna cover).
Tapio Heinonen, Vanhe Tie.
Blind Willie Johnson, John the Revelator.
Billy Joel, Pressure.
Golden Earring, Twilight Zone.
Logic gates using toys.
Dr. Kamala Krithivasan has a series of lectures on logic (computer science) for her Discrete Mathematical Structures course. Part 1: Propositional Logic, Part 2: Propositional Logic (cont'd), Part 3: Predicates & Quantifiers, Part 4: Predicates and Quantifiers (cont'd), Part 5: Logical Inference, Part 6: Resolution Principles & Application to PROLOG, Part 7: Methods of Proof, Part 8: Normal Forms, Part 9: Proving Programs Correct, Part 10: Sets, Part 11: Induction, Part 12: Set Operations on Strings Over an Alphabet, Part 13: Relations, Part 14: Graphs, Part 15: Graphs (cont'd), Part 16: Trees, Part 17: Trees and Graphs, Part 18: Special Properties of Relations, Part 19: Closure of Relations, Part 20: Closure of Relations (cont'd), Part 21: Order Relations, Part 22: Order Relations and Equivalence Relations, Part 23: Equivalence Relations and Partitions, Part 24: Functions, Part 25: Functions (cont'd)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Abba Agathon on the Irascible Man

"An irascible man, even if he is capable of raising the dead," said Abba Agathon, "will not be received into the Kingdom of Heaven."

Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Socrates and Apollodorus

From Xenophon's Apology:

One of those present was Apollodorus, who was a great devotee of Socrates, but was not particularly bright. He said, 'But the most difficult thing for me to bear, Socrates, is that I see you being unjustly put to death.' Socrates (as the story goes) stroked Apollodorus' head and replied with a smile: 'You're a good friend, Apollodorus, but would you rather see me put to death justly or unjustly?'

[Xenophon, Conversations of Socrates, Tredennick & Waterfield, trs. Penguin (New York: 1990), p. 48.]

Experience and the Presidency

I was a bit exasperated by the attacks on Obama's 'inexperience', but didn't say anything about it because I thought it was inevitable that someone would eventually point out how utterly absurd it is as an argument. No one really did. And now that Palin is on the scene, we have long arguments of attrition in which Palinites and Obamans argue that the other is more inexperienced, and therefore less fit for office, arguments that have gone from absurd to straightforwardly stupid. It's playground politics, with both sides shouting "I know you are, but what am I?" at the top of their lungs. (It's curious, too, in that I hadn't realized Obama supporters were running him against Palin for Vice President rather than McCain for President.) I'd like to remind everyone of a few points that seem to be overlooked.

(1) If experience were such a key issue for the Presidency, we would expect second-term Presidents always to be better Presidents than first-term ones. After all, they have the maximum amount of experience possible not just with "national office" or "executive office" but with the Presidency itself. But in fact we do not see any such increase in quality. Second terms notoriously tend to fizzle and stutter. Second-term Presidents are regularly accused of not knowing their limits and of excessive confidence in their own ability to handle the problems faced by the country. Second-term Presidents stop making some kinds of mistakes, but always end up making new kinds of mistakes.

(2) Politics is extraordinarily scalable. The basic skills used by a successful small-town mayor and a state Governor are not fundamentally different: the politics of the two positions consists of exactly the same thing. There are really only four things you do in politics: sell, bully, bargain, and organize. The policies may change, as may the rules and the stakes; but the political skills, which are the greater part of what experience in politics actually brings, are pretty much the same everywhere. What is important is not experience but adaptability: i.e., the ability to adjust one's skills to new conditions and rules. This is one of the things of which we can sometimes get a rough idea by looking at the details of a candidate's experience; but looking at a candidate's experience in this way and trying to sum up their record simplistically as "Experienced Enough" or "Not Experienced Enough" are radically different things.

(3) The features of the President that you most want to avoid mistakes with are not the sorts of things for which experience is easy to obtain outside of the Presidency itself. Being a Senator or a Governor does not prepare you for carrying around the U.S. nuclear launch codes in your pocket. Nothing in the experience of either will be adequate preparation for what to do when you are faced with the question of how to respond, in military terms, to a terrorist attack on American soil. What you need in such circumstances is not experience but prudent judgment. This, too, is something of which one can sometimes get a rough idea by looking at someone's experience; but, again, this is not a question of being 'experienced enough' but of being able to handle new circumstances well. We shouldn't be looking for people who already know how to do everything important; we should be looking for people who have developed the ability to learn quickly how to swim when you throw them into new waters.

(4) James Buchanan was an astoundingly experienced candidate for President. He had served six years in the state legislature, ten years in the House, ten years in the Senate, eight years as ambassador, four years as Secretary of State. He lost against Abraham Lincoln, who had served eight years in state legislature and two in the House. I'm not sure we are really going to cry over that one. Woodrow Wilson's experience consisted of eight years as president of Princeton and two years as Governor of New Jersey. Grover Cleveland's consisted of several years as sheriff, a term as Mayor of Buffalo, and two years as Governor of New York. Given cases like these, one wants some sort of careful analysis of the role experience really does play in the Presidency. This is hard to do, but this interesting website makes a rough first attempt at it.