Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Links and Notes

Busy time of year! Posting may be light this week and next.

* The newest Philosopher's Carnival is at "The Uncredible Hallq".

* At AskPhilosophers.org, Jasper Reid gives an excellent answer to the question of who is the first definite atheist philosopher, a tricky question to answer. Reid suggests Jean Meslier (1664-1729) as the first person who can definitely be tagged as a philosophical atheist.

* The best LOLCat ever.

* Orac argues that some Nazi science was good science. It is a sign of how radically the image of science has changed since the nineteenth century; most of the major scientists of the middle of the nineteenth century would have denied that anything clearly morally wrong could be 'good science' rather than merely a perverse mockery of it, being among those who, in Whewell's words "love to contemplate the union of intellectual and moral excellence". Science, at least ideally, was not a method for understanding nature; it was a whole approach to nature, consistent with many methods, undertaken to benefit everyone. (One can only imagine what Faraday, who went into science because there was too much room in business for being immoral, would think of a conception of 'good science' that put his work in the same category as some of that of Josef Mengele.) This romantic conception of science seems to have vanished entirely; but sometimes, I think, one can reasonably have a bit of nostalgia for the innocence of the days when Victorian scientists were seriously distressed over the possibility that Newton might have blemished his moral character simply by being unfair to Flamsteed, and were so distressed because the authority of the scientist derived, as they saw it, from trying to improve humanity's stock of knowledge in a virtuous way, since they regarded true science as the work of the "whole man". (It's an interesting question why they held this view, just as it's an interesting question why we don't. One reason contributing to their view was that many of them held that science was ultimately consistent with itself and were holding out a hope for a science of morals. Indeed, Mill and Whewell both did their work in philosophy of science partly in an attempt to contribute toward the science of morals. But if some science can yield moral conclusions, and every science is consistent and linked with every other, no science be genuinely amoral. But there were other reasons as well.)

In any case, the claim that science is amoral in the strict sense isn't a claim that endures close scrutiny; there are moral values which, by whether they are involved in the work, affect whether something is good science: honesty in reporting results, for instance, or responsibility in organizing one's inquiry, or patience in drawing conclusions. The list massively expands if we consider not merely ways a particular individual may do particular things in science but ways of doing science so that science is a sustainable social activity among a community of scientists. And when we recognize this we are left with two options: either we can consider morality disjoint, so that the weak morality involved in basic good science is simply an isolated morality from morality in the more robust sense, or we can say that things that don't meet rather robust moral standards are not good science but defective imitations of it (even if good scientists are still able to do something with the defective mess of bad science).

* By coincidence I'm reading Eichmann in Jerusalem, and just after reading Orac's post came across that famous and chilling passage in Chapter V (emphasis in the original):

The moment, one of the few great ones in the whole trial, occurred during the short oral plaidoyer of the defense, after which the court withdrew for four months to write its judgment. Servatius declared the accused innocent of charges bearing on his responsibility for "the collection of skeletons, sterilizations, killings by gas, and similar medical matters," whereupon Judge Halevi interrupted him: "Dr. Servatius, I assume you made a slip of the tongue when you said that killing by gas was a medical matter." To which Servatius replied: "It was indeed a medical matter, since it was prepared by physicians; it was a matter of killing, and killing too is a medical matter."

* A recent study seems to indicate that for Muslims performing the Hajj increases belief in the equality of all human beings, more favorable attitudes toward women, more tolerant attitudes toward adherents of other religions, and a greater sense of harmony with other Muslims. (The study was done on Pakistani pilgrims.) The authors suggest that the primary reason is that the Hajj brings together Muslims from all over the world, allowing them to be exposed to and interact with Muslims of different cultures and views. (ht)

* Things I will be reading more closely:

Volker Peckhaus, Algebra of Logic, Quantification Theory, and Opposition Theory (PDF)

Seth Lloyd, Ultimate Physical Limits to Computation (PDF)

David Ellerman, Concrete Universals in Category Theory (PDF)

* J. D. Williams, The Compleat Strategyst (PDF), the classic popular introduction to game theory, is free online through the RAND Corporation. You can also purchase a hardcopy through their website. Also free online from RAND:

Jonathan Cave, Introduction to Game Theory
J. C. C. McKinsey, Introduction to the Theory of Games
Melvin Dresher, Games of Strategy
Martin Shubik, On Gaming and Game Theory
Thomas Schelling, Prospectus for a Reorientation of Game Theory
Kahn and Mann, Game Theory
Lloyd Shapley, n-Person Game Theory
Lloyd Shapley, Utility Comparison and the Theory of Games
Berkovitz and Dresher, A Game Theory Analysis of Tactical Air War
Bohnenblust, Shapley, and Sherman, Reconnaissance in Game Theory
Hamilton and Mesic, Using Game Theory to Analyze Operations against Time-Critical Targets
G. Haywood, Military Doctrine of Decision and the von Neumann Theory of Games
Samuel Karlin, The Theory of Infinite Games

And, of course, many more.

* Matthew Milliner, When The Eagles Don't Fit in Capistrano discusses the most probable option for a restauratio of Christian art. (I think I may have linked it before, but it's still worth thinking about.)

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