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Everything posted by DavidOdden

  1. DavidOdden

    Just Shut Up and Think

    It’s not the quantity of agenda that matters, it’s the extent to which a subject knows or complies with the proponent’s agenda that is important. If the task were to construct one answer for each series, and the task were posed in a different context (for instance, were posted on “howsmartareyou.com” or “freeintelligencetest.com”), I would infer that the author’s intent was to provide some metric of intelligence, and they would at least (eventually) provide “correct” vs. “incorrect” scoring in response to answers. The present circumstances are so different that I have to dismiss the slight similarity to an intelligence test, and instead infer that the matter of interest is something about how Objectivists form concepts by identifying similarities and omitting measures. Asking for a second answer and a justification really puts this in a different domain. To the extent that cognitive tests work, they rely on well-established intent, where training starts (or started: I don’t know what the present state of affairs in education is) in elementary. As long as you at least passively have knowledge of that context, these tasks are not offensive, though I’m not persuaded that they measure what people think they measure. I don’t have any technical knowledge of research on “best answers”, just anecdotal knowledge coming from errors in ordinary-language quiz-composition. So I do not know for what classes of questions there is empirically verified overwhelming agreement on the “best answer” when there is more than one answer. I nominate “√4 = 2” as a probable best answer, better than “√4 = -2”, likewise “√3 = 1.7” as better than “√3 = 1”. The second answer is “more correct” in an obvious sense, because numeric precision is more valuable than brevity (in solving numeric puzzles), though “1” is infinitely more valuable if your life depends on a rapid ballpark computation (“2” might be even better). The first best answer probably wins (if it is actually believed to be the best answer) primarily because the second doesn’t occur to most people (i.e. it’s the only answer), and secondarily because most people will construct a decision-making principle that favors positive numbers (so, “negative numbers are not very good”, “there are no actual negative lengths”…). In other words, the key is correctly identifying context, to flesh out the unspoken rules of the game.
  2. DavidOdden

    Just Shut Up and Think

    One reasonable response to this is to dismiss the request, and my justification for doing that would be “this isn’t a serious information question”, “you’re just playing mind games”, or something like that. The first thing that needs justifying is responding at all. That means, I have to find some benefit to myself in giving this a moment’s thought. For me, the justification could reside an effect on the OP, or on “the rest of the world”, or some combination of the two. I know what I would want to say to the rest of the world, and it is not crucial to me whether the OP cares about / accepts my answer. A response by me would be justified, for me, just in case there is a reasonable chance that I could lay bare some fundamental epistemological and moral issues (you can see that I’m already onto that latter topic). I conclude that this is a teachable moment, which is sufficient moral justification. I don’t actually have any strong conclusions about the OPs agenda, and my response isn’t about understanding that agenda, in fact it is explicitly about rejecting probably assumptions by the OP (not because the assumptions are evil, but because in rejecting them, we can see their consequences). My tentative conclusion is that the purpose of the question is to reveal something about epistemological methods. This is not an information question about a naturally occurring phenomenon. I conjecture that the OP has in mind some set of “best answers” (I admit, I looked to see that there is supposedly a correct answer, which will not be revealed), and the issue of interest is, how do people judge the goodness of a response? There is no absolute standard of “goodness of an answer”. That question has to be answered relative to a goal. If we do not share goals and assumptions, we will obviously disagree on the evaluation of answers. My first answer is 14, 97, 32, 21. The assumed function maps from the integers {1…13} to {0,1,3,7,15,31,63,127,14,97,32,21,74}. There are uncountably many similar solutions. My second answer is 0,-1,-3,-7,-15. I assume the initial state is 8-bit binary 10000000, the operation is a version of shift-left where the low end bit is set to the opposite of the high end bit (in the input to shift). The result is interpreted as one’s complement (conventionally, +0 and -0 are not distinguished). The request to justify my reasoning is a red herring, and a nice distractor. Both answers are extensionally correct (as are some other possibilities such as 2n-1), and “justification” doesn’t enter into the computation of correctness. However, I might want to justify chosing one solution over the other. You can only do that if you have a purpose in mind: therefore, I have to articulate a purpose (as should the OP). Now I can reveal an assumption that I entertained (did not firmly commit to, but decided was more likely true than not), namely that the OP wanted there to be some general rule which yields these number sequences. My purpose behind the first answer was to reject that assumption (which I suspect was made by the OP). Answer 1 creates an opportunity to remind the rest of the world to check their assumptions and not buy a pig in a poke. If you specifically want a rule-based answer, that needs to be part of the question (request). Answer 2 accepts the assumption that there should be a rule. My guess (and here I am not even going to say “more likely than not”) is that this was not the OPs intended answer. So does that make answer 2 better, or worse? Better than what, answer 1? A justification for chosing answer 2 is that it illustrates the point that there can be rules whose outputs are the same in some cases but different in others, and you can’t “drop context” in rushing to an answer. Considering only my purely internal interests, I can’t decide between answer 1 and answer 2. I might prefer answer 2 over 1 on up-voting grounds, that is social media are more likely to approve of clever answer 2 over dumbass answer 1. Since in fact I don’t care about up-votes, it doesn’t matter. Answers 1 and 2 both have the merit of being assumption-denying responses. Because this is a man-made problem and it is contextually obvious that there is some hidden agenda (these are not literal information questions), assumption-denying is a good thing, if you want to use the full power of your rational mind.
  3. DavidOdden

    Red Cross

    The Red Cross does have a government "charter", see 36 USC 3001. It is "a Federally chartered instrumentality of the United States and a body corporate and politic in the District of Columbia", whose purpose is statutorily set out (giving "volunteer aid in time of war to the sick and wounded of the Armed Forces" and "to carry out a system of national and international relief in time of peace". Apart from organizational generalities, Red Cross operation is not statutorily controlled (though it is a federal crime to fraudulently pretend to be a member of the Red Cross, per 18 USC 706). It is one of a number of federally chartered organizations, see 36 USC Part B, which includes e.g. the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Chemical Society, the American Legion, Blinded Veterans Association and so on. The US signed on to the First Geneva Convention in 1882, which created the treaty obligation to have an American Red Cross. There are three potential objections to the Red Cross from the Objectivist perspective. The first is a possible connection between funding and force: but that is not a valid objection since the Red Cross is not funded by the government. The second is that it might gain improper power to indirectly use force, for example you could imagine a situation for they could force people to give blood. Again, this is not the case. They do not have a statutory or actual monopoly on the national blood supply. It is proper for the government to decide that the ARC has its relation to the military in terms of relief efforts. Finally there is the question of whether providing voluntary relief in case of disaster is morally skanky. Objectivism is not opposed to charity, and does not hold that all interactions between humans should be mediated by cash payments. Objectivism holds that your life is your highest value, and rejects the thesis that cash is the highest value. Objectivism also rejects the premise that you have an obligation to aid someone in need. The ARC clearly does not operate as a rational self-interest Objectivist organization, so we can assume that some morally skanky views are promulgated by individuals in the ARC. But that is not an essential fact about the ARC.
  4. DavidOdden

    Veganism under Objectivism

    Some of the stuff kids search for on Easter is not based on animals, so yes they could have milk-free chocolate, although it may be that a given vegan parent hates fun; or maybe they make special treats out of tofu. Breastfeeding yes, and that can be a problem since vegan breastmilk is defective unless the mother takes dietary supplements. It's all about cows and their free will: a cow cannot volunteer to give milk.
  5. It's not clear that this is a sufficiently significant distinction. The cases have in common that in the first instance you yourself accept an assertion without evidence, and in the latter case you present an assertion with the the intent that others accept it without evidence. You can always subdivide any concept into different types, for example "arbitrary, with respect to moral principles" versus "arbitrary, with respect to epistemological principles", but why would you? A hammer used to drive a nail is a hammer, as is one used to smash a window. Is there a useful reason to subdivide the concept "arbitrary" into "with respect to one's own knowledge" versus "with respect to the knowledge of others"?
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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?).
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. I have a fairly simple problem / question / or need (let my need become a demand on your attention!): what is a theory? From experience, I know a number of specific theories, but I do not know what the proper definition of “theory” is, and what its properties are. My ultimate goal is to say something about a particular scientific theory (to identify flaws stemming from a misunderstanding of what a theory is). To show this, I need to say what the essence of a “theory” is. By analogy, I know what the concept “concept” is. Knowing the nature of a “concept”, I know that “1967 Dodges, black cats and the act of running” –excluding all other things – cannot be a concept, since those things have no similarity. I confess that I have a draft of a theory of “theory”, in the more literal scientific or philosophical sense (thus excluding uses where someone says that they “have a theory that X”, when they mean that they “feel that X is so” or they “have an idea that X may be true”). A theory is (defined as) a system of identifications which allow man to grasp the nature of a (conceptualized) subject. It presumes a definition of the subject concept, thus “theory of gravity” presumes a concept “gravity”, which implies a definition of “gravity”. Likewise “theory of mammals” presumes a concept “mammal” (and therefore a definition of “mammal”). A theory of a subject is a set of (highly) probable propositions which state the essential properties of that subject. The underlined parts here are my theory of “theory”. I need to clarify a few points. A “property” of a thing is a fact about its composition that determines what it does, which is not the same as “an observation” or “a correlation” true of the thing. For example, Android is the most popular OS for smartphones, but this is not a property of Android. Plutonium is used in reactors and making nuclear weapons, but this is not a property of plutonium. As for “essential”, I first want to disclaim any connection to discussions of essential vs. accidental properties in professional philosophy, which gets bogged down in proper names as opposed to concepts, and “possible worlds”. What I mean is those properties that characterize the subject, and which are not already implied by some other property. For example, being warm blooded is a property of man, but it is not an essential property of man, since man is a mammal (etc.), and “mammal” implies “warm-blooded”. An obvious essential property of man is having the faculty of reason, also having free will. I stop short of requiring that the identifications which constitute a theory have to be proven to the point of certainly; a fairly high standard of proof is necessary, to distinguish a theory from a hypothesis. And finally, an explanation about “subject”: this is basically shorthand for “the existents subsumed by a concept”. Here are a couple of corollaries of this meta-theory. Because of the defining nature of “theory” – it is cognitive (it is created for a cognitive purpose) – theories inherit the economy requirements of concepts and their definitions. This derives various Occamite principles such as Aristotle’s “We may assume the superiority ceteris paribus of the demonstration which derives from fewer postulates or hypotheses”, and so on. “Grasping the nature of” an existent summarizes the Objectivist epistemology: it is a proper and objective relationship between a consciousness and reality. As a form of knowledge, there must be proper evidence for the claim, and a theory cannot be arbitrarily stipulated. I would appreciate any criticism of this meta-theory directed at whether it does correctly describe what a theory is. It is irrelevant to me whether contemporary science teaching sees “theory” as a social construct. It is likewise irrelevant that most explanations of “theory” insist on adding stuff about repeated testing, standardized protocols or “testable”, since these are non-essential consequences of more basic concepts such as “knowledge”, “non-arbitrary”, or “probable” which the concept “theory” depends on. In other words, I’m trying to say what a theory is, and I am not trying to recapitulate what others have said about theories. I had hoped that How We Know would have a pre-packaged answer, but it does not seem to. Of course, alternative theories of theory important, since any claim has to be evaluated against reasonable alternatives.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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?
  21. 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”).
  22. DavidOdden

    Quick Question: What time period was America at it's Best?

    I don’t see any sensible way to drop context and avoid the question “best in what respect?”. JASKN is absolutely correct about the numerous ways in which modern life is really excellent, and it’s only getting better (though not as good as the future is likely to be, which may give you motivation to continue existing). As for the quality of life from the political perspective, I don’t see the argument that things have gotten net better or worse: some things are better, some things are worse. There is a mistaken view that early America was a rights-respecting utopia, which stems from identifying “America” with “the federal government”: IMO the correct analysis is that “America” is the sum of governments within the US. Initially, the Bill of Rights did not protect the individual from state governments, it only applied to the federal government. Governmental violations of individual rights were more carried out by states, rather than the federal government. An example of that is the case of Gibbons v. Ogden. The state of New York granted a statutory monopoly to Livingston and Fulton (then tranferred to Ogden) to navigate between New York and New Jersey, and therefore Gibbons was prevented by law from competing: New York violated Gibbons’ rights. The Supreme Court correctly ruled that this intrusion on Gibbons’ rights was unconstitutional, in direct violation of the Commerce Clause. Nowadays, the Commerce Clause is most likely to be used as a justification for restricting business, not as it was used in Gibbons to liberate business from improper state intrusion. Economic rights of individuals have suffered over time: but non-economic rights of individuals have improved. There has been a steady improvement of procedural protections against government violations of rights, for example it is no longer legal to beat a suspect until they confess; it is now pointless to illegally search a suspect’s property because the fruits of such a search cannot be used as evidence. Homosexuality is no longer a crime, slavery, the greatest evil, was made unconstitutional, laws banning abortion are now recognized as unconstitutional. People other than white male property owners are now allowed to determine what form of government that will have. While the current situation with blacks in the legal system is far from ideal, it is vastly better than it was even as late as the 60’s. You can detect second-to-second differences just by tracking Supreme Court rulings. Sessions v. Dimaya (April 17) was good news, Oil v. Greens (April 24) was bad news. Focusing on the big picture and not hair-splitting down to the weekly level, I see no argument that at a net political level things have changed. Observing that we now have income tax where we didn't used to is a context-dropping non-argument that things are politically worse; observing that we no longer have slavery is the same kind of non-argument that things are politically better. With no actual full-context argument regarding the political situation, I have to rely on the obvious fact that I can post this from my phone, and not have to use a feather to write on parchment, and hand deliver this to some place where others could gather to read my words, if they were ever in that place.
  23. Seattle is generally 6 miles to the left of Stalin, and the Seattle Times is the fundamental propaganda tool of anticapitalism disserving the Seattle area. It is utterly surprising, then, that they published this editorial entitled "Crony capitalism and protectionism are the despot’s way" linking crony capitalism and unfree markets to despotism. It was just so surprising, that I just had to share.
  24. DavidOdden

    Coercive School Photos

    You should carefully scrutinize your contract with the photographer, in particular the part where you promised to return photos that you didn’t want and pay for the one you did. Oh, wait, there was no such contract. In other words, they took pictures, gave them to your child, and hoped that by handing it to a minor, they could get a binding contract with an adult. It’s not clear to me exactly which part you’re objecting to (there is plenty to object to). Obviously the fact that the pictures were taken can’t be changed, nor can you change the fact that the school allowed / encouraged this activity. If this is a government school, there is no contract between you and the school so no implicit “you agreed”. It is marginally possible that a private school contract would have some clause about school photos and your obligations therein. So you have no legal obligation to return the pictures or to pay for them. Is there anything that you actually want from them? For example, do you want better photos? Do you not want to pay? I suggest that you write a simple letter to the photographer acknowledging receipt of the photos, reminding them that they did not have your permission to take the pictures, and pointing out that you did not agree to return the photos or to pay for them: handing them to a minor child is a risk that they have to assume. It may be worth saying what you do not like about the pictures, though be clear that you are not interested in a retake (if that is the case). You could also mention (if it is true) that you will be separately raising questions with the school board, regarding the legality of taking your child’s picture without permission. You might mention that your understanding is that when one takes a non-public picture of a person for profit, they are legally required to obtain consent from the subject (or the parent, in the case of a minor). This is known as the "right of publicity" or "personality right". Then I would express my objections to the school board, or the state board of education. There may be specific laws surrounding photographing a student on school property (I haven't looking into that for Utah). Bear in mind that you may have unwittingly signed a release form earlier in the year, so they may respond with a copy of a form that you signed that has "school pictures" included in it. Unfortunately, there is nothing effective and immediate that you can do about the juvenile culture that you find yourself embedded in. If schools (at the adult institutional level and at the juvenile student level) “want” everybody to participate, then everybody either participates, or faces social opprobrium for not complying.
  25. Given the principle that force may not be initiated to override the choices of another, even when those choices are irrational, then there is clearly no room to use force to prevent suicide, eating lamb or cow, being naked, or jumping off a cliff. There is room in an emergency to use force to defend yourself against the initiation of force, and there is room to seek protection via government force of your rights under the law, which includes your property right to control your property. Your right to be irrational is precisely and narrowly circumscribed: you may be irrational up to the point of violating my rights. I understand the problem that “I don’t like X” easily turns into a law “You may not X”. Within the past 50 years, the concept of individual rights and limited government have substantially eroded in the US. The solution to this problem is not to prohibit persuasion, it is to try to restore the concepts of limited government and individual rights. So if a half a million people want to forego the joy of a good lamb kebab, that is their right. It is likewise my right to try to persuade them to lighten up. Or, to put the matter the other way, it is also the right of the vegan down the road to try to persuade me that animals have the same rights as humans and we should only interact with them if they give informed consent. Even though ethical veganism (or vegetarianism) is irrational, that irrationality is their right. So let me recapitulate: Objectivism does not support using force to prevent irrational behavior.