Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Fiction of Burden of Proof

QualiaSoup often has some interesting YouTube episodes on critical thinking; this one was on burden of proof:

Burden of proof in the sense used here is mythical, however. The basic idea here is that 'claim-making' gives an automatic obligation to give supporting arguments. This is not, in fact, something that anyone accepts as a matter of practice, and it is noticeable that in the above video the narrator makes a number of claims for which no supporting evidence is given. Indeed, it is logically impossible for a human being to fulfill an obligation of this sort because every supporting argument multiplies claims. The position that claim-making automatically gives an obligation to give supporting arguments for the claim implies that anyone who makes a claim has an obligation to make infinitely many claims. Since this is impossible, any supposed obligation with such an implication is obviously an absurd candidate for being an obligation. (Infinity could be prevented by allowing self-evident or properly basic claims that require no other claims as support. This would imply one of two things. Either there would be claims requiring no support, and thus bearing no burden of proof, or there would be claims whose burden of proof is met by something other than an argument -- direct experience, for instance. Either route would require a very different account of burden of proof than is given in the above video. And each one creates problems of its own, which I won't go into here.)

Claim-making, therefore, does not create any burden of proof; the burden of proof is not magically created when we assert things. Nor has it ever been plausible that mere claim-making generates obligations in this way. Further, when we look at rational interactions, we find that the whole "burden of proof is automatically on anyone who makes an assertion" falls apart completely. We get the problem that's never properly addressed in the video above that expressions of denial, doubt, skepticism, and criticism all admit of assertion. To handle this, people often fudge by talking about existence and nonexistence. This gives us the account of burden of proof (found here, for instance) in which claims that something exists automatically have the burden of proof. Virtually nobody ever bothers to prove that the burden of proof exists in such cases, even though this is clearly an existence claim and therefore would have the burden of proof. And when people do give arguments they are nonsense like the following (from the same source):

Well think whether or not it is a better way to proceed through life to accept anything and everything that people claim to be so. Experience should instruct every thinking human that there is a high probability that not everything that people claim to be true is actually true. Some claims might be made with the claimant aware that the claim is not true and some claims might be made with the claimant thinking that they are true but being mistaken. As it is for most humans not a very good idea to proceed through life based on beliefs that are false and thinking things to be true when they are not, most humans and those who would use reason to guide them will want some evidence and reasoning to support a claim being asserted to be true. So the burden is on those who make claims to offer reason and evidence in support of those claims.

It can clearly be seen that (1) this would apply equally to claims about nonexistence, or, indeed, any claims at all, and thus requires the more general position that claim-making on its own generates a burden of proof, and carry all the corresponding problems; and (2) this makes the absurd assumption that burden of proof is the only way to prevent oneself from "accepting anything and everything that people claim to be so" when it is in fact obvious that you could just judge in terms of your own assessment of the evidence instead of always demanding that other people do your rational work for you.

In general, the assumption that there is a burden of proof, and that it favors one side, is usually smuggled into the argument. This is often quite clear with more sophisticated arguments like 'epistemic modesty' arguments (of the sort discussed here). OK, so suppose a claim is more 'epistemically immodest' (or whatever you want to substitute for it). It's still an open question whether it imposes any obligation; we need an account linking the two, and this is generally lacking. All the most plausible attempts to give a good account of this sort of general and philosophical burden of proof essentially make it a matter of presumptive reasoning of some kind; but the same problem arises here: your presumptions don't obligate anyone else. Indeed, this could be the slogan for any kind of counter-response to accounts like the above accounts: they are attempts to give high ground to preferred positions by a hocus-pocus conjuration of nonexistent obligations. Moreover, people who propose such accounts are in constant performative contradiction with their own account: they never give their own account of burden of proof the kind of support that would be required if their account were true.

When we look at plausibly rational appeals to burden of proof in real life, we find a mess, and the better accounts recognize this. We get this sort of point from Nizkor:

In many situations, one side has the burden of proof resting on it. This side is obligated to provide evidence for its position. The claim of the other side, the one that does not bear the burden of proof, is assumed to be true unless proven otherwise. The difficulty in such cases is determining which side, if any, the burden of proof rests on. In many cases, settling this issue can be a matter of significant debate. In some cases the burden of proof is set by the situation. For example, in American law a person is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty (hence the burden of proof is on the prosecution). As another example, in debate the burden of proof is placed on the affirmative team. As a final example, in most cases the burden of proof rests on those who claim something exists (such as Bigfoot, psychic powers, universals, and sense data).

We have a form of the existence claim here, completely unsupported, but in general this description is properly hedged so that it applies to reality. It doesn't claim more than that burden of proof is found "in many situations," it recognizes that there is often a considerable amount of dispute as to who actually has burden of proof, and it notes that burden of proof is in some cases "set by the situation," which is the most notable fact about burden of proof and yet somehow not sufficiently remarked. But it's clear that these are merely the phenomena of burden of proof; they do not constitute an account, and, indeed, the constant need to hedge makes clear that accounts of the sort identified above, which can't account for all the anomalous situations that require the hedges, simply will not do.

Obviously there are cases where a burden of proof does exist. And there is a fairly obvious account that handles all the phenomena without falling into either absurdity or handwaving, and that is that the obligation of burden of proof is not something that accrues automatically. It is created, constructed, made, either by some competent authority or by the agreement of parties, or, in other words: by rules, laws, or decisions legitimately imposed by legitimate authorities, or by contract. I've talked about this before. This position has all the strength of presumptive reasoning accounts, but evades their problems by recognizing that the presumptions in question must be shared, and looks at how shared presumptions come about (i.e., by authority or by agreement). We see from this why it is so messy.

We also get from this why people spend such an extraordinary amount of time talking about burden of proof rather than giving arguments: they are negotiating their obligations to other people, not, as they often pretend (as part of their negotiation), merely identifying obvious facts. The reason people argue so much about burden of proof is the same reason that people argue so much about what they will put into a contract or treaty or agreement. But there is no way around the fact that, when there is no authoritative imposition, this negotiation is necessary for any obligation to arise -- and that the negotiation is two-way.

Make Haste to be Undone

Caged Rats
by Ebenezer Elliott

Ye coop us up, and tax our bread,
And wonder why we pine;
But ye are fat, and round, and red,
And fill'd with tax-bought wine.
Thus, twelve rats starve while three
rats thrive,
(Like you on mine and me,)
When fifteen rats are caged alive,
With food for nine and three.

Haste! havoc's torch begins to glow,
The ending is begun;
Make haste; destruction thinks ye slow;
Make haste to be undone!
Why are ye call'd 'my lord,' and 'quire,'
While fed by mine and me,
And wringing food, and clothes and fire
From bread-tax'd misery?
Make haste, slow rogues! prohibit trade,
Prohibit honest gain;
Turn all the good that God hath made
To fear, and hate, and pain;
Till beggars all, assassins all,
All cannibals we be,
And death shall have no funeral
From shipless sea to sea.

And another Elliott, because you just can't get more striking than talented and genuine poetic rage.

Friday, May 11, 2012

All in the Forest Blythe

The Woodman's Song
by Thomas Cooper

I would not be a crownèd king,
For all his gaudy gear;
I would not be that pampered thing,
His gew-gaw gold to wear:
But I would be where I can sing
Right merrily, all the year;
Where forest treen,
All gay and green,
Full blythely do me cheer.

I would not be a gentleman,
For all his hawks and hounds,—
For fear the hungry poor should ban
My halls and wide-parked grounds:
But I would be a merry man,
Among the wild wood sounds,—
Where free birds sing,
And echoes ring
While my axe from the oak rebounds.

I would not be a shaven priest,
For all his sloth-won tythe:
But while to me this breath is leased,
And these old limbs are lithe,—
Ere Death hath marked me for his feast,
And felled me with his scythe,—
I'll troll my song,
The leaves among,
All in the forest blythe.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hildegard von Bingen News

Some notable news for those who are interested in St. Hildegard von Bingen:

The Holy Father today received in audience Cardinal Angelo Amato S.D.B., prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. During the audience he extended the liturgical cult of St. Hildegard of Bingen (1089-1179) to the universal Church, inscribing her in the catalogue of saints.

St. Hildegard was already listed as a saint in the Roman Martyrology, which is one of the official listings, so (contrary, for instance, to what Wikipedia now says) this is not a canonization in the proper sense. However, like a number of other saints in the Martyrology, she was not on the universal calendar, which gave her a somewhat ambiguous liturgical status, since she could only be liturgically commemorated when it would be appropriate to use the Roman Martyrology, or when an approved local calendar allowed it, rather than in a regular way by the whole Church with the usual Mass or Office. The Pope has changed this by extending her cultus to the universal church -- her feast is now open to liturgical commemoration everywhere (assuming, of course, it is not superceded by Sunday or some other major feast). That is, there is now a universal Feast of St. Hildegard, on September 17.

There have been rumors that the Pope plans to give Hildegard the liturgical title, "Doctor of the Church," at some point this year; and this would indeed be the first step to doing so, so there is almost certainly something to it.

Pity for Them All

The Silent Cell
by Ernest Charles Jones

Composed during illness, on the sixth day of my incarceration, in a solitary cell, on bread and water, and without books, --August, 1849.

They told me 'twas a fearful thing
to pine in prison lone:
The brain became a shrivelled scroll,
the heart a living stone.

Nor solitude, nor silent cell
The teeming mind can tame:
No tribute needs the granite-well;
No food the planet-flame.

Denied the fruit of others' thought,
To write my own denied,
Sweet sisters, Hope and Memory, brought
Bright volumes to my side.

And oft we trace, with airy pen,
Full many a word of worth;
For Time will pass, and Freedom then
Shall flash them on the earth.

They told me that my veins would flag,
My ardour would decay;
And heavily their fetters drag
My blood's young strength away.

Like conquerors bounding to the goal,
Where cold, white marble gleams,
Magnificent red rivers! roll!-
Roll! all you thousand streams!.

Oft, to passion's stormy gale,
When sleep I seek in vain,
Fleets of fancy up them sail,
And anchor in my brain.

But never a wish for base retreat,
Or thought of a recreant part,
While yet a single pulse shall beat
Proud marches in my heart.

They'll find me still unchanged and strong,
when breaks their puny thrall;
With hate-for not one living soul-
And pity-for them all.

Jones was one of the most prominent Chartists, and actively worked to take the movement in a more socialist direction. The incarceration that was the occasion for the poem occurred because he had been advocating violent revolution.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Two Minor Things I Have Learned Today

(1) This blog provides three of the examples for wordnik's definition for epizeuxis. All three of them come from this post.

(2) Wikipedia has a list of common misconceptions. It opens with the words, "This incomplete list is not intended to be exhaustive." [ADDED LATER: Which I actually find funny in itself; under what circumstances would you open a list by saying, "This incomplete list is intended to be exhaustive"?]

If things seem to be slow around here at the moment, it's because it's the last week of term. I gave my Ethics class its final exam today, and my last class of term is tomorrow.

A Heart of Fire and a Soul of Steel

From "The Engine"
by Alexander Anderson

"On fire-horses and wind-horses we career."—Carlyle.

Hurrah! for the mighty engine,
As he bounds along his track:
Hurrah, for the life that is in him,
And his breath so thick and black.
And hurrah for our fellows, who in their need
Could fashion a thing like him—
With a heart of fire, and a soul of steel,
And a Samson in every limb.

Ho! stand from that narrow path of his,
Lest his gleaming muscles smite,
Like the flaming sword the archangel drew
When Eden lay wrapped in night;
For he cares, not he, for a paltry life
As he rushes along to the goal,
It but costs him a shake of his iron limb,
And a shriek from his mighty soul.

Yet I glory to think that I help to keep
His footsteps a little in place,
And he thunders his thanks as he rushes on
In the lightning speed of his race,
And I think that he knows when he looks at me,
That, though made of clay as I stand,
I could make him as weak as a three hours' child
With a paltry twitch of my hand.

But I trust in his strength, and he trusts in me,
Though made but of brittle clay,
While he is bound up in the toughest of steel,
That tires not night or day;
But for ever flashes, and stretches, and strives,
While he shrieks in his smoky glee—
Hurrah for the puppets that, lost in their thoughts,
Could rub the lamp for me!

O that some Roman—when Rome was great—
Some quick, light Greek or two—
Could come from their graves for one half-hour
To see what my fellows can do;
I would take them with me on this world's wild steed,
And give him a little rein;
Then rush with his clanking hoofs through space,
With a wreath of smoke for his mane....

You can read the rest of it here. Anderson, who became known as the Poet of the Iron Horse, worked in a quarry and was mostly self-taught. His most famous poem is probably Cuddle Doon, a very gentle poem about putting the children to bed; but for the most part he lauds the steam engine, the railways, and the working man.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Poor Man's Holiday

Poor Man's Sunday
by Gerald Massey

We thank Thee, Lord, for one day
To look Heaven in the face!
The Poor have only Sunday;
The sweeter is the grace.
'Tis then they make the music
That sings their week away:
O, there's a sweetness infinite
In the Poor Man's holiday!

'Tis here the weary Pilgrim
Doth reach his House of Ease!
That blessed House, called "Beautiful,"
And that soft Chamber, "Peace."
The River of Life runs through his dream
And the leaves of Heaven are at play;
He sees the Golden City gleam,
This grateful holiday.

'Tis as a burst of sunshine,
A tender fall of rain,
That set the barest life a-bloom;
Make old hearts young again.
The dry and dusty roadside
With smiling flowers is gay:
'Tis open Heaven one day in seven,
The Poor Man's holiday!

Massey was most famous in his day for his rather wild spiritualism, and notorious for arguing that Christian theology was closely related to Egyptian mythology. But he had good lyric sense, and was a strong advocate of political reform. George Eliot's Felix Holt is usually thought to be based on him.

Monday, May 07, 2012

We are Free to Pay

The Taxed Cake
by Ebenezer Elliott

Give, give, they cry—and take!
For wilful men are they
Who tax'd our cake, and took our cake,
To throw our cake away.

The cake grows less and less,
For profits lessen, too;
But land will pay, at last, I guess,
For land-won Waterloo.

They mix our bread with bran,
They call potatoes bread;
And, get who may, or keep who can,
The starved, they say, are fed.

Our rivals fatten fast,
But we are free to pay;
And dearly they shall pay, at last,
Who threw our cake away.

Lend, lend thy wing, oh, steam,
And bear me to some clime
Where splendid beggars dare not dream
That law's best fruit is crime!

Oh, Landlord's Devil, take
Thy own elect, I pray,
Who tax'd our cake, and took our cake,
To throw our cake away.

I think I'll do Chartist poems this week. Ebenezer Elliott is an interesting example. His life was very much an economic up-and-down. His father, a Calvinist minister, also owned a foundry, but the foundry had increasing troubles in the volatile times, and Elliott ended up losing absolutely everything when it went bankrupt. He was homeless for a while. Borrowing from his wife's family, he managed to start a new business, which prospered and became successful. He was always a little bitter about the bankruptcy and subsequent destitution, though, and became a fierce opponent of the Corn Laws, which he blamed. He was a poet of some talent, but the bitterness always shows through -- practically every poem he writes goes on in the same vein as that above. He wrote The Corn Law Rhymes and became famous for the seething fury and sarcasm with which he attacked the politics of his day. Others called him the Corn-Law Rhymer; he called himself the Bard of Free Trade. His most famous poem is The People's Anthem, a sarcastic re-writing of "God Save the Queen" that became so popular that it sometimes even ended up in hymn books.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Dashed Off

I'm a bit behind on these, so there will probably be a few of these in the coming weeks. As always, these are dashed-off notes, so take with a grain of salt.

probability in light of personal trust and love
- Newman addresses this from three directions before the Catholic period in University Sermons, Ecclesiastical Miracles, and Development of Doctrine

apologetic, polemical, & didactic evangelization

jury duty as a possible crime deterrent

In every age the disciplina arcani must be practiced but in every age its form must be different; for where the Spirit of the Age turns its gaze, and where one may hide from that gaze, changes from age to age.

three kinds of analogies in terms of which any moral principles can be exposited
(1) natural
(2) practical
(3) political
- i.e., morality being natural, practical, and political in some sense, there is always the possiblity of analogizing it to things that are natural, practical, or political in other senses

three stages of corruption by concupiscence
(1) frailty
(2) impurity
(3) wickedness

Kant's duty "to raise onself out of the crudity of one's nature"

Sabellianism, taken in the precise sense in which it is heretical, is known not by the form of words it uses nor by the approach it takes to teaching the doctrine fo the Trinity, but by its effect on the doctrine fo the Incarnation: that is Sabellian which affirms the unity fo God in such a way that the affirmation requires either Patripassianism or a denial of such personal or hypostatic union as is required to see the distinction of the Father and the Son.

assortative reasoning

With a dialogical argument evaluation of its status requires attention to the means used to excite apprehension of, and direct attention to, what is thought relevant.

Adequate refutation requires adequate diagnosis.

subject-making & exception-tracking & nonexception-tracking features of quantity
predicate-making & inclusion-tracking & exclusion-tracking features of quality

intrinsic & extrinsic notes of truth

Whether temporal prosperity is a note of the True Church necessarily depends on what is meant by 'prosperity'.

the explanation-like character of naming practices

Hope by its nature paints pictures of its object; these may be more crude or more sophisticated, and more or less imaginative, sentimental, or rational, without changing the object at all.

diamondward & boxward ampliation

Toleration works well if everyone can agree about the harmless and the harmful.

Monotheisms in contact with polytheisms develop theologies.

The spirit of antichrist rests on the anomos; the anomoi spread it like an infection, under the cover of good causes sincerely but lawlessly believed.

The darkness of an age is overcome by creating alliances among otherwise isolated islands of good.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, note the link between Gandalf's comment to himself in II.1 and Galadriel's gift to Frodo in II.8. Note, too, that Book II is framed by crises in which Frodo puts on the Ring and struggles with the power of Mordor, first the Ringwraiths, then the Eye. Note, too, that we have first Rivendell then Lorien:
Crisis - Rivendell ... Lorien - Crisis

Good statistics are always reasons to inquire but even good statistics are not always reasons to conclude.

analogical arguments as fugues

Gersonides' account of perplexity in terms of massive numbers of contradictory disjuncts

logic of analogical inference & logical method of counterexamples

finitary and infinitary polytheisms

metaphor as inviting the audience to fill in the canvas

acknowledgment and appreciation responses in conversation and texting

mendicity depots
general assurance societies

The philosopher with no metaphors can only recombine old ideas.

First approximations are not to be despised.

the importance of archives in The Lord of the Rings

People do not form relationships because they find them fulfilling, even if they are; they form them for other reasons and then hope that they will be, or will continue to be, fulfilling.

Reason is the guardian of understanding.

understanding, making, and healing

incommensurability of doubt and puzzlement

Love for the neighbor is that which is eternal in all love. (Kierkegaard)

Genuine competition occurs only in a Goldilocks Zone of moderate unpredictability.

Sport derives from training.

probability as guarded assertion (cf. Toulmin)

the mereological analysis of definitions

Human life does not sharply begin and sharply end; its edges are not clearly delineated at conception and death. People ar enot being unreasonable in puzzling over when human personhood begins and whether zygotes are living a properly human life; they are not being unreasonable in puzzling over whether heart death or brain death is the better endpoint or whether patients in vegetative states are living a properly human life. There are no manifest signs at either ends. But why should prudence and reason need such manifest signs and sharp cut-offs, as if they were incompetent to navigate any of the fuzziness of human life?

Theology is only queen of the sciences to the extent that it is the doctrine of saints; the teaching of this or that academic is often enough mere speculation and too often mere fantasy.

tu quoque as estoppel

justice as the structure of philanthropy

the ordering relation among preferences is irreflexive, imperfectly transitive, and asymmetric

topological interpretation of strict implication

Aesthetic consciousness -- seeing a circle, to recognize it as a cross-section of sphere and hypersphere, though still seeing only a circle; seeing a Pieta, to recognize it as a cross-section of something infinite, though seeing only this statue here.

to write with catholicity of thought

To do things only one way is to fail to give reason its due.

to prefer the chance of eternity to the certainty of time

Every genuine demonstration is a circle whose circumference exhibits infinite tangential possibilities.

wise, brave, sober, just Rep 427e

Spondaic Clouds

The English Metres
by Alice Meynell

The rooted liberty of flowers in breeze
Is theirs, by national luck impulsive, terse,
Tethered, uncaptured, rules obeyed “at ease,”
Time-strengthened laws of verse.

Or they are like our seasons that admit
Inflexion, not infraction: Autumn hoar,
Winter more tender than our thoughts of it,
But a year’s steadfast four;

Redundant syllables of Summer rain,
And displaced accents of authentic Spring;
Spondaic clouds above a gusty plain
With dactyls on the wing.

Not Common Law, but Equity, is theirs—
Our metres; play and agile foot askance,
And distant, beckoning, blithely rhyming pairs,
Unknown to classic France;

Unknown to Italy. Ay, count, collate,
Latins! with eye foreseeing on the time,
And numbered fingers, and approaching fate
On the appropriate rhyme.

Nay, nobly our grave measures are decreed:
Heroic, Alexandrine with the stay,
Deliberate; or else like him whose speed
Did outrun Peter, urgent in the break of day.