Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Links for Thinking, Notes for Noting

* Philosophers' Carnival CV is up at "Kenny Pearce". I found especially interesting Jason Zarri's post on divine freedom and teleological arguments (which, however, I think trades on an ambiguity; perhaps I'll write a post on it at some point) and Richard Chappell's post on hypothetical imperatives.

* John Wilkins has a very nice post on thermodynamics and the evolution of replicators. The post is the first in a series.

* Incidentally, I've just finished reading his book, Species: A History of the Idea, which is quite good. More books should be written like this one: clearly it is one that sums up in a clear way an immense amount of scholarly time and effort. Too much Great Chain of Being, though; much as I like Lovejoy, if the phrase means anything, it identifies positions that clearly combine a law of plenitude with a law of continuity, and such positions are relatively rare -- plenitude requires a very robust rationalism, which is why you only find clear statements of it in very rationalistic systems. When people are talking about scala naturae or using the metaphor of a chain, they are usually doing no more than indicating a general sense of hierarchy or order. We see this especially clearly in someone like Berkeley, whose Siris is based entirely on the metaphor of the chain (hence the title of the work, which is an anglicization of sereis, the Greek word for chain, and based on a passage in the Iliad involving a chain linked to Zeus's throne), but who has no commitment either to plenitude or to continuity. Likewise, medieval 'chains' usually just mean that reason is superior to sense and intellect to reason, which is a pretty minimal sense. Hierarchical order and continuity are common enough; plenitude turns out to be very difficult to find, and is usually explicitly rejected as inconsistent with the distinction between creature and Creator. (Lovejoy argued for it in Aquinas, but it is clear enough that this was an error, as Pegis argued.) Thus I am very skeptical of the view that Albertus Magnus, for instance, reflects any sort of "Great Chain consensus of the period" (p. 43), in part because there is no such consensus -- at least, what 'Great Chain' here would have to mean in order to be applicable is a weaker and different position than what is elsewhere called 'Great Chain' -- they should not be lumped under the same term. But that's a small thing, and perhaps a controvertible one; I recommend the book highly and, as I said, philosophy would be healthier if more books were like it.

* Since I'm talking about books by bloggers I've recently read, I've also recently finished David Corfield's The Philosophy of Real Mathematics,
which I also recommend highly. I liked the early parts of the book best; they discuss the roles of conjecture, induction, and analogy in actual mathematical reasoning. Since I am very anti-Bayesian in epistemological matters I was not expecting to like the Bayesian middle part of the book, but I was pleasantly proven wrong. And the latter parts of the book were good, too; especially the chapter on higher-dimensional algebra, which I am going to have to read more closely. I had been trying to get a hold of Corfield's book for almost a year now, but it was always checked out of the library -- which I suppose is a good thing. But having a little more month in my book budget this room, I went ahead and bought a copy, and am glad I did.

* David has an interesting recent article (PDF, can load slowly) in the Newsletter of the European Mathematical Society on nominalism versus realism in mathematics

* Along the lines of LOLCat, there's a common game of taking various pictures and captioning them with a claim plus "Your argument is invalid." My favorite is: Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. Your argument is invalid. Prepare to die. I should put this at the top of my next logic quiz; I'm grading logic quizzes right now, and it sums up the mood in which I sometimes find myself.

* Gondor and Byzantium.

* This website, which week by week explains the joke in the xkcd comic, is hilariously funny. Much funnier than most xkcd comics, in fact.

* Lucas and Sheeran, Asperger's Syndrome and the Eccentricity and Genius of Jeremy Bentham (PDF). The authors consider whether Bentham can be seen as having a form of the syndrome. Bentham had a notorious inability to sympathize with others; almost everyone who knew him mentions it at some point or another.

* Jon Haidt has argued that moral reasoning is built on five basic conceptual distinctions (loyalty/disloyalty, deference/nondeference, purity/impurity, fairness/unfairness, harm/care). He's adopted an interesting idea for testing this: hold a contest for the best ideas for additional distinctions or for reconceiving how the original five relate to each other. A very nice idea.

* Barro, McCleary, McQuoid, Economics of Saint-Making (A Preliminary Investigation) (PDF). A problem with the paper is that canonization isn't saint-making or sanctification but entry of a person into a canonical liturgical calendar -- usually the universal or catholic calendar of Rome.

* Obviously French TV producers have never taken basic psychology. (ht) But it is very difficult to imagine that the people involved weren't just thinking, "It's a TV show, so there's obviously some trick."

* An interesting post on St. Patrick and the snakes at "The Wild Hunt", from a pagan perspective.

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