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Everything posted by Hal

  1. I think that what youre asking is partly a methodological question which lies within the specialist field of hstoriography rather than philosophy as such. Hence I dont think that Objectivism really says anything about it - I dont recall anything AR wrote that either addressed this issue or is directly relevant to it. Of course, this doesnt mean that Objectivist principles cant be applied when trying to assess a methodology - I would assume that some approaches are closer to the spirit of Objectivism than others. I admit this probably isnt very helpful I would say that this is an issue of aesthetics rather than history. The question of whether "historical fiction" should adhere to the accepted facts would depend on what the writer's purpose was. If he is claiming that the book is an accurate portrayal of what happened, then it would be dishonest of him to include information which he did not believe to be true. But there's no reason why a writer shouldnt base his work around historical situation yet alter it to make things more interesting, as long as he isnt claiming that his work is entirely historically accurate. It depends on your context of knowledge. If you're writing a novel set in Victorian Britain but you dont know much about this time period, then getting your information from a historian who had studied this period in detail would be perfectly rational - an appeal to authority is somewhat valid when the person actually is an authority. Similarly,if you wanted to research the period for yourself by reading history books/academic journals, you could justifiably believe their contents assuming that they were reputable (of course, this doesnt guarantee they are true). But if you had more knoweldge on the field - eg you were a qualified historian - you would probably have your own avenues of knowledge, and possibly your own individual research. Then you wouldnt necessarily have to rely on the authority of others. This isnt specific to history though - someone writing a novel which involved (eg) scientific concepts would be in the same situation. If they wanted to talk about a new invention which relied on concepts from advanced physics, yet had never studied this to any real degree, their best option might be to ask a physicist.
  2. Doesnt this have the consequence that a person can never atone for a crime?
  3. Here's an update on this: http://www.wired.com/news/technology/1,70619-0.html Regardless of whether you believe in a right to privacy, I dont understand how any American could fail to find this terrifying. I think when you combine this with the known governmental attempts to disrupt law-obeying political groups (eg COINTELPRO), it wouldnt be stretching the facts to describe modern America as a police state.
  4. Assuming theres an objective basis for disagreeing with those laws, then it is. The "Rule of Law" idea is oppressive and just serves to legitimise the status quo - "you must obey the rules, regardless of what the rules state". Unjust laws should not be obeyed, as long as you can get away with breaking them; it's grossly immoral to demand that people sacrifice themselves in order to uphold the legitimacy of a state which is passing laws which violate rights, regardless of whether these laws pertain to slavery, immigration or drug use. edit: I dont think theres a real distinction between "laws that are so unjust" (GC), they override Rule of Law and laws that arent and dont. The Fugitive Slave Act was obviously a travesty, but consider something more benign - laws which ban sodomy. Many states in the US have had these until recently, and as far as I know, several still do. I wouldnt say that they are a gross infringement of rights on the same level as the slave act - they can still exist within a society which is otherwise relatively free. But assuming that you are a homosexual, why should you obey them? Why would you give up sexual intercourse with your partner just because the government says you have to? Do you really want to say that gay couples who disobey this law are acting immorally?
  5. I agree with David's analysis of 1). 2) is interesting and relates to issues about pesonal identity and responsibility that Ive thought about a lot but still havent formed any particularly strong views on, so I have no answer. As for 3), you seem to be asking whether you have a moral obligation to help someone if theyve helped you out in the past. I would say that this depends on the nature of the help - if it was implicit that they were helping you in exchange for your services in the future, then yes, you would have an obligation to help them assuming you accepted whatever they were offerring (for instance, it would normally be immoral for someone to accept a bribe and then not do whatever he was bribed to do). But if it was just buying lunch, then no, I dont think that any real connection has been formed, so there would be no more obligation to help than there would be to help a stranger. Personally I think its nice to help people even if theres no moral imperative to do so, but whether the doctor wished to help the patient would depend on his personal circumstances (in a cost/benefit sense). Would breaking the strike cost him his career? Is the strike itself even justified? And so on. edit: 4) seems like a no-brainer; of course the pilot should jump out of the plane. Why on earth wouldnt you?
  6. I dont think HR's race was specified in the novel, but I could be wrong. With a name like Hank its probably fair to assume he's white, but still.
  7. Game theorists often try to wave away the problems relating to the lack of applicability of their work by claiming that what they are modelling is how people ought to behave, rather than how they do behave. However I've never encountered any particularly convincing arguments as to why anyone 'ought' to behave according to the axioms of utility theory. Personally I find game/utility theory, and neo-classical economics in general, to be fairly silly, although it is useful for problems where the compexity of the real world can be ignored (like analysing board games! Combinatiorial game theory has produced some pretty cool techniques for studying Go endgames, although interesting enough, even here its only applicable to the more 'simple' parts of the game and doesnt really shine any light on most of it). Elysium - thanks for posting the working, I'll read over it tomorrow.
  8. I've read it again, and I cant work out how you got your answer. I'd be interested in reading the working, if you want to post it. edit: actually your answer seems wrong, however you got it. If I'm the only person who witnesses the crime (N=1), and my expected utility from reporting is higher than my expected utility from not reporting, then probability of it not being reported should be 0. However your expression doesnt even give an answer for this, because you end up trying to divide by 0 (you have 2^(N/N-1) which is 2^(1/0) here)
  9. Leaving aside the problems relating to the oversimplifications in your assumptions, I find these equations strange. I dont really know what your working was, but if the probability that one person will report it is (1 - 1/(2^(1/(N-1)))), then it folows that the probability that either noone or more than one peson reports it is 1/(2^(1/(N-1))). But you then go on to say that the probabality noone reports is N times this number, which seems intuitively wrong. I'm also not noticing any binomial coefficients which is surprising - if the probability that a given person reports it is p, then the probability that only one person reports it should be N*p*(1-p)^(N-1), and its not clear how you can get the expression you mention from this. Finally, 1/(2^(1/(N-1))) * N = 1/(2^(N/(N-1))) isnt generally true (for N=0, you get 0=1). edit: Also when N is large, 1/(2^(1/(N-1))) * N is order(N), and hence tends to infinity at a linear rate as N->infinity, not 1/2 (although the expression you claimed it was equal to does -> 1/2).
  10. I'm not convinced proper names need to be defined ostensively. Noone has ever 'pointed' at Emperor Nero and told me that "this is the person the name stands for" - I've just picked up isolated fragments of information about him and know that (eg) he was a Roman emperor, that he is thought to be incompetant, and so on. I certainly couldnt recognise a picture of him and I'm not really sure that most of the things I 'know' about him are true, yet I'm able to understand and use the name properly despite this. Similar considerations apply to names like "Budapest", "Sydney", "Zurich" - all I know about these are that they are names of cities, but I couldnt tell you much about the cities themselves. I certainly wouldnt say that any of them have been ostensively defined, and I'm not entirely sure what an ostensive definition would involve here either. edit: I think some clarification is needed on what 'pointing' means. Its clear what this word means when youre talking about pointing at a person, but not so obvious when youre talking about (eg) pointing at an abstract philosophy. If someone asked me for an explanation of Objectivism, my explanation would probably be structurally similar to the way I'd explain idealism, empiricism, or any other philosophy. Yet these last terms are concepts, not proper names. It would be perfectly possible for someone who had read some AR novels to not know that Objectivism was a proper name, and this person would definitely explain it like he'd explain any other philosophy. So if explaining Objectivism involves 'pointing', then so does the explanation of concepts like empiricism. edit2: the 'abstract particular' idea sounds very useful, I'm not quite sure how I'd define it though. I dont think theres a fine line bewtween abstract particualars and concrete particulars - its more of a graded scale, with some names being more abstract and less tangible than others. A name like "New York" seems more abstract than "Tiddles" the cat, because I cant really point at a city (all I can do is point at individual buildings - to explain what 'New York' is I need to first explain the concept of a 'city', and this may not be trivial), yet less abstract than Objectivism.
  11. I'm not sure what you mean. My fridge comtains an 'empty amount' when there is nothing in it. {} denotes any set which is equinumerous with the set of all objects in my fridge when there arent any in there. edit: What youve written seems just as much an attack on the number '0' than as it is on the empty set.
  12. Sorry but I dont believe this, do you have a source?
  13. What does 'melding into society' mean, and is it meant to be a good thing? For instance, did Howard Roark meld into society? Excellent post by the way David, probably the best short essay on immigration I've encountered.
  14. I'm not interested in the Anthem anthology because a) I didnt particularly enjoy Anthem (especially when compared to either FH or AS), and I wouldnt have much interest in reading a collection of essays on a fictional work anyway. However, I would definitely be interested in a journal which promoted high standards of scholarship and actually engaged with Objectivist philosophy in a serious manner. I hadnt heard of the Objective Standard, but looking at the page, I dont think its the sort of thing I'd find interesting. It seems to be more focused on current events and politics rather than on philosophical matters. This isnt a complaint, just a personal preference. I thought that Don Watkins "Axiomatic" looked promising, although I havent got around to checking it out yet. I've no idea how many subscribers he's got but I'm quite curious. Quite a few of the essays in Sciabarra's "Journal of Ayn Rand Studies" also look worthwhile, and they deal with issues I find interesting to a greater extent than most of the other publications I've encountered. edit: If you were going to write on Objectist issues then I'd definitely be interested, especially since I enjoyed several of the essays on your website (particularly the one which gave an overview of the philosophy of mind presented by several prominent Objectivists). One of the things which irritates me about Objectivism is that there seems to be a lack of serious written scholarship being produced - most of it is uncritical repetitions of what AR said, without any real attempt at engagement. The stuff that seems genuinelly new seems to take the form of expensive audio lectures rather than being in essay/book form, which I find curious (the 'aynrandbookstore' is misleadingly named ). If Peikoff/Binswanger/etc were to condense their research into a book or series of essays which were written in a proper academic style, rather than selling it as a 4 hour lecture course, I'd buy it.
  15. scottkursk and RichardRahl: Are either of you still playing Go? If so, hows it coming along? I hadnt played for over 2 years, but I started again a couple of months ago.
  16. Hal

    Global Warming

    Perhaps, but arent the papers demonstrating that they are wrong also often published in Nature? The peer-review process may not be perfect, and there are probably legitimate complaints against it, such as how it's claimed to be systematically biased towards conservatism and maintaining the status quo. But, for anyone who is unwilling/unable to put in countless weeks/months researching a subject for themselves, trusting peer-reviewed articles seems the most sensible option (and its infinitely superior to trusting whatever turns on up a google search, or the propaganda put out by organisations which are obviously ideologically biased, especially when these dont cite primary sources). If you have no real knowledge about a subject and choose to believe fringe articles you find on the internet over respected scientific publications, then you might as well start believing the newsgroup cranks who claim to have refuted Einstein, and take 10 grammes of vitamin C every day. Pretty much every single widely accepted claim in science has dissenters, and some of these dissenters are intelligent and well-qualified. You can quite easily find scientists with relevant PhD's who reject evolution, relativity, global warming, the big bang theory, and pretty much anything else you could name. The question is who it is rational to believe, given that you are a layman without much knowledge on the subject - the scientific community as a whole, or the people on the fringes. While a dose of scepticism is always healthy, I'll generally tend to go with the former.
  17. Fair enough, its always struck me as being a pointless distinction anyway. Out of interest (because you probably know more about law than I do), isaac's above claim that "it can still be libel if its true" is false, isnt it? edit: actually rereading his post I'm not sure if he said that. He seems to be saying that it can still be libel if its true assuming that you cant _prove_ its true. I think this is correct - one of the things that unnerves me about libel is that the burden of proof seems to lie with the defendent.
  18. I dont think this is true, but I'm not sure. As far as I know, the distinction is to do with the permanancy of the medium - if I typed something on MSN for instance, it would be slander rather than libel. And if I was speaking on TV then it would be libel. Basically, its ibel if (and only if) it makes sense to talk about the words being 'published'. edit: The 'initiation of force' angle seems fairly dubious - it sounds like people have started off with the idea that slander must be punishable by law, and then tried to twist the meaning of the words 'force' and 'initiate' through linguistic contortions until they can be applied to it (I recall reading an analagous argument on another forum where someone claimed that public displays of nudity were an initiation of force because they made contact with your eyes without your consent, or something equally ludicrous). This sort of thing seems to reduce politics to a game, where the winner is the person who can successully bend words until they appear to cover exactly the things which he started off thinking they should, and nothing else. edit2: sorry, just noticed this thread was over a year old, and the above poster bumped it up.
  19. Hal

    Hackers "good"?

    I wouldnt even say cracking is necessarily immoral - there are further sub-distinctions to be made. White hat cracking (breaking in just to see if you can, and doing no damage - perhaps just acting for the intellectual challenge, or to learn) isnt particularly immoral imo, but black hat cracking (malicious entry, doing damage, stealing etc) obviously is. White hat cracking can actually be beneficial to the owners of the system, assuming the crackers report the vulnerabilities which they found. Richard Feynmann's anecdotes about the harmless (=non-malicious) safe-cracking/lock-picking he engaged in for intellectual stimulation are a good example of the (white-hat) cracker mindset, in a non-computer setting. Some people are just naturally curious and like to do things simply to see if they can be done.
  20. They didnt put me off abortion, but they did give me a newfound respect for biology. That picture of the ~3 inch long foetus lying on the guy's fingers is amazing - to think something like that eventually turns into an adult human blows my mind. I'm fairly desensitized to 'disgusting' pictures though (isnt the internet a wonderful thing?).
  21. Out of interest, just how prevalent _are_ monogamous relationships? Nominally of course, they are the cultural default. But is a relationship where the man cheats on the woman (or wants to cheat but feels guilty, or would cheat given a suitable opportunity, such as a beautiful woman propositioning him for sex) really a monogamous relationship? And could cheating perhaps be a problem with monogamy in general, rather than with the individual people invovled? I'm sure there are many people who can be very happy in a monogamous marriage. But this doesnt mean that everyone can. Several people have remarked in this thread that they couldnt personally imagine themselves being happy in a polygamous relationship, but this works both ways - there are probably also people who couldnt be happy in a monogamous one. But since these people often have had it ingrained into their heads since childhood that monogamy is the 'only way' to do things, its possible that they will find themselves forced into a style of relationship that doesnt suit them, with problems likely to arise down the line. I think the key point here is that a great deal of introspection is required to discover what is right for you, with the corollaries that a) you shouldnt place too much value on what other people claim is the 'right' form of relationship, and you shouldnt be too quick to assume that what works for you is going to work for everyone, unless you can actually demonstrate that your findings have universal validity. edit: my initial attempt at using gender neutral pronouns in the first paragraph failed miserably . There's an implicit 'or vice versa' there - I'm not suggesting that men are more likely to cheat than women are.
  22. What is a 'lib'? (I assume its either liberal or libertarian?)
  23. I think friendship is a better analogy. Although people talk loosely about having a 'best friend', it would be absurd to demand that a person chooses a single, exclusive member of the same sex to be their Best Friend ("could you really split your highest valuation of friendship between 2 people?!"). I dont think that I personally could share a girl I valued with someone else, but because I dont tend to feel this way about other things which I intensely value, I'm willing to admit that this is probably down to cultural conditioning (namely that I've been told since childhood that love = monogamy). To use an example which is perhaps overplayed, I doubt the Greeks would have had similar feelings (nor, I assume, would members of societies where polygamy is the norm). ~~ From a moral point of view, I think all that really matters is that you value your partner(s), and that you value them for the right reasons (exactly the same as when it comes to choosing friends). Making an exclusive choice isnt really necessary - we dont artifically enforce exclusivity in other areas of life, and there isnt really any objective justification for doing it here either (unless you want to start introducing considerations from evolutionary psychology relating to pair-bonding, which can be a fairly slippery slope). On a sidenote, I think that if you really want to make a serious arguement that monogamy is superior to polygamy, then youre going to need science to support your claims, not philosophy. I would want to see actual research from psychology/evopsychology which supported the claim that humans are happier in monogamous relationships, not philosophical speculation and anecdotes. edit: Regarding anecdotes, I think this is one of those cases where instrospecting our own beliefs about what it would be like to share a partner proves very little, since our beliefs are likely to have been heavily affected by the strong bias Western society tends to have towards monogamy. I know mine have been anyway.
  24. My knowledge of macroeconomics is limited so someone who knows more is free to correct me, but I dont think that the existence of inflation is caused by nationalized banks and/or fiat currency. If people tend to be saving money then youre going to have deflation, and if they arent saving much, then youre going to have inflastion. This would continue to happen in a system with fully private banking, perhaps moreso (some would argue) because you wouldnt have a central bank which was able to adjust the money supply to compensate, edit: also, if you had more than one bank printing money, then youd have 'inflation' in the sense of one bank's currency losing value against another - your wealth could decrease overnight if most of what you held were notes printed by bank X, while those of banks Y and Z increased in value (compare to loss/gain of money caused by exchange rate fluctuation today - youre essentially introducing the economics of foreign currency trading into your domestic market).
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