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DavidOdden last won the day on June 18

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  1. It may be useful to look at some more arbitrary statements which might actually be true: “Easy Truth has red hair”; “StrictlyLogical is 6 ft. tall”, “Invictus2017 owns a Ford Explorer”. Each of these statements does, on linguistic grounds, either describe a fact, or else it describes a non-fact – they are objectively true or false. But I personally have no basis in knowledge for making those statements, and they do not contitute the recognition of a fact of reality. They differ from Peikoff’s parrot or sand message examples where there is no proposition (the thing you see or hear merely physically resembles what could be speech or writing in another context). His savage math example needs to be modified since it is unclear what his point is, so I’ll rewrite that as an illiterate and innumerate person uttering the sentence “the fourth power of 3 is 81” (you can say this based on experience, without understanding what it means, since in English, you can put words like “second, fourth” before “power” and follow that with another number). This statement too is arbitrary, and in that context it is like the parrot utterance in that the person utters the word “power” without grasping what that term refers to. In fact, I would not even call the sand / parrot / savage math examples “statements”. So compare my examples to Peikoff’s “soul survives”, “fate determined by date of birth”, “sixth sense” and “convention of gremlins”. In those examples, the arbitrariness of the statement largely depends on the fact that the statements presuppose the existence of entities for which there is no evidence. In my examples, all of the concepts involved do unquestionably exist: I just made up relations between actual existents, without any factual basis for claiming those relationships. Arbitrary statements are not necessarily utterly devoid of relationship to reality, because they can refer to actual existents and invoke no mythical entities. In How we know, Binswanger has an extended analysis of “arbitrary”, which you may find clarifies the nature of the arbitrary. "Global warming" (which is nowadays not even a statement, it's just a noun phrase assumed to represent some statement), is an example of the arbitrary: it is asserted as self-evident, needing no evidence.
  2. It is pretty easy to distinguish an arbitrary statement from a non-arbitrary statement, so indeed you should be able to judge quickly. For instance, “Some trees commit murder” is arbitrary, and you can judge that it is arbitrary within seconds, once you know that I’m done talking. I’ve given you no evidence to support my claim. If I say “Some trees commit murder. For example the black walnut poisons its enemies with juglone”, my statement isn’t arbitrary (it is a bit whacky, but at least I give some support). In case you didn’t know about juglone, and as a polite rhetorical device, you can say “What evidence do you have that some trees commit murder?”, since the other guy may think that everybody knows about killer walnuts. You should cultivate the habit of identifying and challenging arbitrary claims. Arbitrariness is about the evidence for a claim, and evidence has to be given, it doesn't just present itself magically. Perhaps your concern is that someone makes a true statement without stating the evidence, because the evidence is so well-known that it needn't be stated. The global warming claim has two problems, first that it's meaningless (it's an expression, a meme, and not an actual proposition: it stands for many imaginable propositions), and second, it is arbitrary (99% of the time it is accepted on the basis of no evidence). If we take the claim to be that "human activity has changed the atmosphere to the point that average planetary temperatures have increased significantly", we would at least have a concrete proposition. Then there is the question of whether there is any evidence for the claim.
  3. DavidOdden

    Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    You should see the circularity of your theory of ownership: “to own a thing, it must be rare enough to own”. How rare is that? What do you count? Or do you determine whether is is rare enough by knowing whether you own it? This is where studying Rand’s theory of property rights would be useful. From ‘Man’s rights’: “Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object”. From ‘The property status of the airwaves’: “Any material element or resource which, in order to become of use or value to men, requires the application of human knowledge and effort, should be private property—by the right of those who apply the knowledge and effort”. The only hope I see for justifying subpoena power is via “proper function of government”. Your “if I were in their shoes” alternative is the alternative to subpoena power, and it is certainly the first thing that should be thought of. The “subpoena question” is, simply put, “under what circumstances may a person be compelled by the government to {produce evidence, appear in court}?”. If people provide document and testify voluntarily, that is the best outcome. But hoping that men will always act rationally is unrealistic, just as anarchy is unrealistic. So at some point, the government will have to use force against those who do not conduct themselves rationally. The question that needs addressing is about the contingency that not everybody acts rationally.
  4. DavidOdden

    Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    First, saying that “use of information implies a right to the information” is not an argument that you own the information. You can say all sorts of things: saying something doesn’t make it so. Let’s say that you meant “Does the fact that I can rightfully use information show that I own the information?”. You can rightfully use something if you own it, if you have permission of the owner to use it, or if it is unowned. You can look at the stars and breathe air (thus using them), because these things aren’t owned. I urge you to not proliferate rights beyond necessity: there is no “right to not talk back to someone that is talking to you”, nor a “right to eat yogurt that is past the pull date”. You have a right to do what you want, as long as you do not initiate force, and that is all you need to say about it. I also very strongly urge you not to think of government as a party to a contract. Contracts are voluntary arrangements, law and governments are not. Contracts presuppose government and law – without governments and laws whereby contracts can be interpreted and enforced, there are no contracts. Making government be a “kind of contract” inverts that relationship. If any government grabs you based on “might is right”, be it your government or someone else’s government, that is not a proper basis for government action. Your cooperation is essentially irrelevant. I would say that you have an obligation to yourself to live qua man, and that any other notion of obligation derives from that. One example would be the obligation to respect the rights of others. If a government makes a demand of you, you have to decide what your obligation is, based on all of the facts. Is the demand rightful? Is resistance to an unrightful demand more important to you than the penalty for resistance (the income tax question)? Thus we return to the fundamental question (which has no clear and official answer in Objectivism), whether one should follow an improper law. Objectivists are not anarchists. As for subpoenas, the propriety of subpoenas is an even more difficult question, and in my opinion, too broad to answer without more context (demand what or whom, based on what?).
  5. DavidOdden

    Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    Permission is not required for a person to leave premises, not under an Objectivist view of rights or indeed anywhere in the world. It may be impolite to just walk out on a host, but that is a matter of civility and does not get entangled with issues of rights. Permission is required to enter, and once granted it can be withdrawn. This stems from the fact that the property owner has a right to his property, meaning he can do what he wants to with it: you need my permission to use my property. The owner controls the property, not the people on it, so permission cannot be required to depart. I don’t know what you mean by owning the information that you have, but under a fairly literal interpretation of the expression, this is simply false that societies may decide that you initially “own” all the information you have. If I know (am in possession of the information) that gas is $3.18 at the Quickymart, I do not have the exclusive and enforcible right to know that fact: the mind of others cannot be forced. Intellectual property laws do grant a person the exclusive right to certain intangible things that can be classified as a kind of information. It may be that some dictatorships will use force to get a person to divulge information, but this is not a matter of “owning information”, it is simply a reflection of the fact that dictatorships are not concerned with the concept of rights. It appears that you’re trying to resolve the matter of subpoenas by reference to “permission”, “contract” and “ownership of information”, and I think that is a serious mistake. First, information cannot be owned. Second, contracts are voluntary agreements, and force negates all contractual concepts: a subpoena is an in involuntary requirements imposed by force, and thus is entirely outside the domain of concepts of permission and contract. There is no contract or other agreement involved when you live in the US, or any other country. The concept of privacy is fundamentally about property (see A. Peikoff The right to privacy), and contracts become relevant only to the extent that once may negotiate away some of one’s “right to privacy” by contractually relinquishing some control over your property. Subpoenas do not involve contracts, so the concept of privacy is irrelevant to an analysis of the subpoena issue. In an Objectivist country, you will probably voluntarily pay for legal protection, but that is not a requirement; there is no agreement involved when it comes to the protection of your rights by the government. You do not enter into a contract with the government: that is the anarcho-capitalist view, that there would be no real governments, there would be competing vigilante squads that you would choose between to enforce your particular view of your “rights”. In the Objectivist view, you may lose your right to invoke the concept “rights” (and thus the claim to protection) if you have been living like a predatory animal, denying the concept of rights to others. Failing to comply with a subpoena is not a violation of anyone’s rights, and it is consistent with your right to act freely as long as you respect the rights of others.
  6. DavidOdden

    Just Shut Up and Think

    Bearing in mind the cognitive role of propositions and concepts, an answer is relative to a knowledge context. Also bear in mind that simplicity is a comparative measure. Let’s start with a developmentally-early context, where a person doesn’t have the concept “polygon” but they do have the concepts “hexagon” and “octagon” (also no doubt “triangle” and “square” – but none of the other gons). If my answer is “These are all plastic hexagons”, we rely on at least two concepts, and a relationship between them (the proposition states that relationship, i.e. “those which are both plastic and hexagon”). Every answer asserts a relationship between the proposition and existents. We can count that as 4, and can nit-pick later over the technology of relating sentences to propositions. In that context, I could also answer that “These are all plastic polygons”, which requires me to further introduce the concept “polygon”. At this point, I confess that I haven’t analyzed the conceptual structure of triangle, octagon etc. so I don’t know exactly what conceptual stuff has to be created to create the concept polygon. The point is that my alternative answer is, contextually, more complicated since it relies on a new concept. But we are not permabonded to the perceptual level. Once fully integrated into an epistemology, “polygon” is on a par with “hexagon”. I find that the main impediment to people’s understanding the nature of “simplicity” is the tendency to drop cognitive context. If you have never thought about binary numbers, certain numeric and logical relations are not available to you, so an answer that relies on such concepts and propositions is more complex than one that doesn’t. If you (as proponent of an answer) incorrectly presuppose that such concepts are freely available to everyone, you have dropped context.
  7. DavidOdden

    Argument about rights

    Do you have the same problem with intellectual property rights, or, the time-dependent right to seek compensation for breach of contract? I assume you know for example that an author has the exclusive right to exploit a work that they have created; do you not know why that right is recognised for the author’s life plus 70 years, and not 50 years, or life plus 10? Do you don’t know why your right to compensation for breach of contract is 4 years (a mild overgeneralization). If these are also matters of unclarity for you, I think the issue is not the general concept of rights, but the problem of codifying the concept of rights in a legal system. Certain concepts regarding rights are of necessity defined only in the context of a law-governed society, such as statutes of limitation or IP duration. They cannot be divined by sheer reasoning. In my opinion, riparian rights are a problem because if you banish the word “riparian”, it’s not clear what right you are claiming (or: what right you would be denying). What exactly do you mean by “riparian rights”? How do they differ from dirt rights? I don’t deny the validity of riparian rights: rather, I say they are the quintessential case of how articulating the exact extent of rights requires a legal context.
  8. DavidOdden

    Just Shut Up and Think

    Simplicity refers to a count of things: the more things, the less simple. If you can analyze the structure of an "answer" in terms of concepts and propositions introduced in the answer, you can count. In the other sense of "possible" (i.e. "can you actually do it"), no, you probably can't: it requires reducing a sentence or sequence of sentences to concepts and propositions.
  9. DavidOdden

    A theory of "theory"

    "Probable" comes from and is as defined in OPAR: above "possible", below "certain". I added "highly" to indicate that the propositions should be closer to "certain" than "possible": I admit that the "highly" part needs more elaboration. Tenatively, I would sub-divide Peikoff's evidentiary strength binarily into "weakly probable" and "highly / strongly probable" (likewise, "weakly possible", though "certain" and "arbitrary" have no subdivisions). "Plausible" isn't part of the OPAR system, but I think it is the same as "possible", and thus "highly plausible" is too weak. As in OPAR, this is about objective evidence / proposition relations, so the proposition is "certain" or "probable", and we don't talk about the emotional state of the person evaluating that evidence.
  10. DavidOdden

    A theory of "theory"

    “Fact” refers to the existent and not to a proposition, whereas “theory” etc. are epistemological. By “random”, I assume you are referring to the arbitrary, that is, statements having no relationship to knowledge – they have no proper place at the table of epistemological discussion. The difference between hypothesis and theory is not just position on the certainty scale: a theory has wider scope. A theory entails predictions (hypotheses) about innumerable concretes, and when applied to a specific instance, you have a hypothesis. For example I might have a theory of chemical reactions that predicts a foamy mess if I pour this bottle of vinegar into that box of baking soda (it predicts a lot of other things). The theory gives me the conceptual grounds to say that this is a probable outcome, and after I do it, the hypothesis is now confirmed as a certainty, and the theory that generated the hypothesis is advanced in probability. Even when a theory is confirmed beyond reasonable doubt, it generates concrete hypotheses (which can be confirmed, if you want). I’m afraid I don’t get the point you’re making. Are you referring to distance from the directly perceived? For example, “mammal” is perceptually further from perception than “dog” (it is more abstract). The question that I’m raising is not about how most people normally talk about theories (if they talk about theories at all), instead I’m looking into the question of what “theory” refers to. In normal talk, you don’t say “based on the theory of gravity, it is very likely that this will slam against the floor”, partly because you’d have to say “based on Newton’s theory of gravity”, and mostly because 99.9% of people who say that are lying / bloviating, in that they don’t actually know that basis, and really they mean “based on prior experience” (which is not a theory). I think AlexL could legitimately get away with appealing to Newton’s theory; I certainly can’t. If you don’t talk about theory at all when you talk about gravity, that’s okay with me. The Law of Identity would be a theory if and only if it is a system of identifications regarding an existent which allows man to grasp the properties of the existent. Is existence an existent? Are there facts about the composition of existence that determine what existence does? I would say no, and therefore the Law of Identity is not a theory. Axioms (true axioms) are not theories. I don’t frame the theory of theory in terms of “mutability” because I don’t understand what that means. I will say that “mutability” is a desideratum of my metatheory: new knowledge does not automatically invalidate existing concepts, in case we learn that the theory is in error in some way and needs correcting. OTOH I reject the Popperian requirement where it must be possible to disprove a theory (the reasons are complex: it suffices to point to the sloppy modal “can”. If a theory is in fact correct, it cannot be shown to be wrong). Objectivist ethics and epistemology are good examples of non-scientific theories: they are true and in the relevant sense not mutable, but they are not axiomatic.
  11. DavidOdden

    A theory of "theory"

    I’m going to say “no” (to adding to the theory of theory), for three reasons. First, that is not part of the definition of “theory”, i.e. it is not crucial to distinguishing “theory” from other things. Taking the definition of “man” to be the classical example of the definition of a concept, the facts that man can talk and freely make choices are true of man, but that is not part of the definition. Second, the description “attempted epistemological representation” is problematic. All representations are epistemological; and I don’t see what “attempted” buys you – so, why not just “a representation”? Third, the connection to epistemology is via the fact that a theory “allows man to grasp”, which directly says “Hey guys, this is something epistemological” – there is no need to further say “Also, this is an aspect of epistemology”. The underlying principles of cognitive economy are part of the general Objectivist epistemology: and I grant that if you take extract the two line theory of theory and deposit it in a neo-Kantian epistemological framework, questions will arise. But burdening the theory of theory with stuff that contradicts the theory (“too much non-essential verbiage”) poisons the theory.
  12. The underlying theory behind this head tax is (as always) that by taxing the rich, we can solve the homeless problem, or any other problem. As for this particular issue, I propose, first, that people do a bit of critical thinking about how to determine that there actually is a problem. (Hint: it isn’t by monitoring the media to detect an uptick in homelessness claims). People familiar with social science research will recognize the underlying problem: what fact is purportedly being quantified? To what extent is the “problem” a by-product of changing definitions? If we assume that there is a problem, then we have to ask, what causes it? Superficially, it appears that (a) there are more people with mental problems in the area, and one of their problems is that they don’t deal with their housing issues, plus (b) non-mental-problem people can’t afford housing because it costs too much. I think these two issues are in fact related. Problem (a) has plagued Seattle for more than a half a century: I don’t know if there is any research that substantiates this, but one theory is that since we don’t get killer freezes, it’s actually possible to live under the bridge as a lifestyle. At any rate, there is not a general belief here that the problem is due to a surplus of people with mental problems, though it is likely that that is the main cause of the problem. Which reduces the issue to “affordable housing”. Housing is affordable if you make enough money to get housing. There are very many places which I cannot afford to live in, and a few which I really would like to live in, but can’t. How can this affordability problem be solved? One solution would be that I should be paid more money, so that I could afford that house (that solution was been implemented some years ago with a massive spike in the minimum wage). Another is that some clever person comes up with a way for me to get a place in a house in an area that I’d like to live in, but it would somehow be cheaper. I do favor that approach, though there are issues to be addressed. The third solution, which is not discussed as a solution, or, if discussed, is seen to be part of the problem, is that we recognise a basic fact that nobody has a fundamental right to live in a particular neighborhood. If you cannot afford to live in Queen Anne, you have the right to live in Skyway (lower rent, less trendy). Or, ultimately, you have the right to live in a less expensive county. There is no question that property costs a lot in the Seattle area. But there is no law requiring you to live in Seattle. The connection between mental problems and affordable housing is this: if you can’t afford to live in Seattle, chose to live elsewhere. If you can’t make that decision, there is a mental problem, that you don’t understand how you do have free will, and you have to have a hierarchy of values. Is it more important to live indoors, or is it more important to live in Seattle? Of course, this cannot be part of the public “conversation” on homelessness – the actual right to live in Seattle (if you can manage it) has gotten corrupted into an entitlement to a domicile in the area of your choosing, even if you can’t afford it. And therefore if you cannot actually afford to live here, rather than this being a personal problem where you have to move to a cheaper area (on the premise that you don’t have job skills that garmer more than the local inflated minimum wage), this is a public problem where the city must provide housing for you, so that you don’t have to move away. As a sound bite, it is correct that zoning laws are a substantial part of the availability problem. Pointing to the Redfin blog post on the other hand is utterly the wrong thing to do. Note that that they support “zoning for more affordable housing, and higher taxes on corporate income or high personal income to fund subsidized housing and homeless services”. They are not opposed to zoning laws and they are not suggesting eliminating zoning laws; they are not saying we should let the market solve the problem. The main failure of the Zillow blog is that it fails to show concretely how or even that existing zoning laws have the effect of reducing available housing. By not specifically identifying the cause-effect relationship, and by not identifying the specific cure, we are left with a vague idea that it’s “about zoning”, and we simply need to change zoning laws to require all new construction to be low-cost mega-multi-family storage units. Ultimately, the head tax will have the result desired (by the proponents). Businesses will leave, there will be a substantial crash in real estate values, and more housing will become affordable. Property taxes contribute to homelessness (average house property taxes in the city are around $8K a year, and will be increasing as the scope of local government increases). That’s a pretty hefty chunk of change, which obviously contributes to rents and the possibility of owning a home. Driving big business out of the city will eliminate many of those 6-figure employees who create demand for housing (balanced by supplier’s increase demand for compensation in exchange for a house); when demand crashes, prices will drop, assessed values will drop, and we’ll get a bit of property tax relief. So I guess the head tax might result in “more affordable housing”, in a cynical way.
  13. There is so much not a scientific consensus about free will that there is not even a suggestion of a sensible procedure for experimentally testing the claim.
  14. DavidOdden

    A theory of "theory"

    I am been struggling to understand the import of your answer, and cannot find common ground. Alternatively, I’ve been struggling to figure out whether there is any difference between your account of theory and mine, apart from mode of expression. The main difference that I see is that my account ties a theory to a thing, and yours ties it to a field. The main reasons why I can’t relate to your treatment of the lorem ipsum problem is that you assert without giving evidence that the material you are analyzing is language; you also presuppose something about what the individual recurring symbols are, and I don’t know what that assumption is or where it comes from. It doesn’t come from the field of linguistics, which simplifies my problem – this is work carried out in some other field (just guessing, maybe computer science). I'm not just nit-picking, but it seems to me that your account is based on some number of field-choice stipulations, and not on observations of things out there. You sought to illustrate three models within a theory, and by adjusting the content of the theory, you can just as well illustrate a single model resulting from each of three different theories. Here are three alternative and competing theories: (1) Word→P* and P→{lorem, ipsum…}, (2) Word→P* and P→{a,b,c…}, (3) Word→P* and P→{lo,rem,ip,sum…}. Each theory has a single model, so there is no issue of evaluating models within a theory; you just have to decide which theory you plan to use. I don’t know how you would do that. My theories are embedded in an integrated epistemology, where theories are inextricably bound to the thing that they are a theory of, and are independent of specific field of study (granting that linguists usually don’t make theoretical statements about quarks and physicists usually don’t make theoretical statements about the structure of syllables). And you?
  15. DavidOdden

    A theory of "theory"

    When you say “collection of assumptions”, is this intended to refer to refer to something different from my “system of identifications”? Typically people see “assumptions” as being closer to the “possible” end of the evidentiary scale, so is that what you have in mind. Your theory of “theory” relies on the concept “model”, and I do not know what a model is for you. I assume that in using “experiment”, you’re referring to any kind of observation. To be concrete, can you illustrate your characterization of theory by presenting a simple theory of “atomic nucleus”? I have not thought about this, myself, and I’m not a physicist so it is certainly a very amateur theory, but I would say that a nucleus is the dense center of an atom, composed of protons and neutrons which are held together by the nuclear force. I would also say something about the relationship between the number of protons in a nucleus and what an atom “does”, but that’s above my pay grade. The two things I’m most interested in are (a) whether I’ve left out important assumptions that your theory would include (I'm addressing the question of essentiality here), and (b) what are one or two predictions of a/your theory of the nucleus? The point is that I’d like to understand how you make “prediction” part of what it means to be a theory. In my account, predictions derive from something different (knowledge of a thing’s nature means knowing what it does, so this is separate from the concept “theory”).