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Reason's Ember

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  • Birthday 01/01/1978

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  1. Matt, Well, part of the confusion might be the way I am interpretting you. I think what you are trying to say is that you don't like the definition of knowledge as "justified true belief" because it implies that "belief" is the broader category and knowledge is a specification of it. This implies a certain categorization: (1) We have all these beliefs some of them are true / some of them aren't and knowledge is the left side of this subcategory. Similarly, we could say: (2) There are animals some of them are rational / some of them aren't and men are the left side of this subcategory. However, (1) does not work for knowledge, because the real way of breaking it down is: There are beliefs some are true / some are false / some are justified / some are unjustified. There is no "primary contrast" to knowledge, if what you mean is that their one simple contrast within the subcategoryof "belief" that establishes it. It is necessary that the belief be "true," and it is necessary that the belief be "justified," but it is not sufficient for the belief to be "knowledge" that it be EITHER "true" OR "justified" without it being the other as well. It needs to be BOTH. Is that a little clearer? **Forget about what I put in the footnote. It is not strictly relevant to this discussion.
  2. DPW, Thanks for the reply, and I will get back to you. As for the other responses, I think there is still a bit of confusion. How can it connote that when "justified" is part of the definition? You are making it connote that because it's what your definition of knowledge is chiefly set out to work against. Now, if you're saying that the definition can't stand alone as a guarantee of correctness for the concept of knowledge without seeing it "in action," then, yes, that's true, but that's also true of any definition, Objectivist definitions included. It's part and parcel with the fact that a word is an arbitrary sign and the concept behind it can shift as the system of meanings in a language shifts as new knowledge, new applications, and new sentiments get built into it. That's why we can say to others with a different vocabulary "that's not what I meant" and really mean it. It's also why we can occasionally have a thought desperately trying to find an intelligible expression in language, but also fail to find that expression right away (it's the old "Michael Angelo with no hands" problem). You are implying a strictly vertical or quantified system of classification, Chinese Box style. Complex definitions--those with more than two basic components--have to be dealt with in a different way. If you say, "man is a rational animal," then it is technically true that animal is a broader concept than man, one that subsumes man.(a) However, "knowledge" does not just deal with two components such as "belief + justification" or "belief + correspondence to fact"--it deals with three, "belief + rational justification + correspondence to fact". (a) Even this simple division work won't work because the "rational" component does so much more to establish the concept of man than other subdivisions of animal, such as "two-legged" or "land-based." What is important is essence, as you yourself point out when you say "primary contrast", and essence is more than a sum of parts. "Ignorance" is similarly a complex concept. There are different ways of being ignorant, with different conditions of necessity and sufficiency.
  3. My favorite argument for "no": http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people/Se...earle-con4.html The Chinese Room Argument Q: In your work on the mind and the brain you talk about how there is always a turn in an era to a metaphor that is dominant in technology, hence the dominant one now is to say that the mind is like a computer program. And to answer that you've come up with the "Chinese Room." Tell us a little about that. A: Well, it's such a simple argument that I find myself somewhat embarrassed to be constantly repeating it, but you can say it in a couple of seconds. Here's how it goes. Whenever somebody gives you a theory of the mind, always try it out on yourself. Always ask, how would it work for me? Now if somebody tells you, "Well, really your mind is just a computer program, so when you understand something, you're just running the steps in the program," try it out. Take some area which you don't understand and imagine you carry out the steps in the computer program. Now, I don't understand Chinese. I'm hopeless at it. I can't even tell Chinese writing from Japanese writing. So I imagine that I'm locked in a room with a lot of Chinese symbols (that's the database) and I've got a rule book for shuffling the symbols (that's the program) and I get Chinese symbols put in the room through a slit, and those are questions put to me in Chinese. And then I look up in the rule book what I'm supposed to do with these symbols and then I give them back symbols and unknown to me, the stuff that comes in are questions and the stuff I give back are answers. Now, if you imagine that the programmers get good at writing the rule book and I get good at shuffling the symbols, my answers are fine. They look like answers of a native Chinese [speaker]. They ask me questions in Chinese, I answer the questions in Chinese. All the same, I don't understand a word of Chinese. And the bottom line is, if I don't understand Chinese on the basis of implementing the computer program for understanding Chinese, then neither does any other digital computer on that basis, because no computer's got anything that I don't have. That's the power of the computer, it just shuffles symbols. It just manipulates symbols. So I am a computer for understanding Chinese, but I don't understand a word of Chinese. You can see this point if you contrast Searle in Chinese with Searle in English. If they ask me questions in English and I give answers back in English, then my answers will be as good as a native English speaker, because I am one. And if they gave me questions in Chinese and I give them back answers in Chinese, my answers will be as good as a native Chinese speaker because I'm running the Chinese program. But there's a huge difference on the inside. On the outside it looks the same. On the inside I understand English and I don't understand Chinese. In English I am a human being who understands English; in Chinese I'm just a computer. Computers, therefore -- and this really is the decisive point -- just in virtue of implementing a program, the computer is not guaranteed understanding. It might have understanding for some other reason but just going through the steps of in the formal program is not sufficient for the mind. And so the computer program, then, has not explained consciousness. That's right. Nowhere near. Now, that isn't to say that computers are useless and we shouldn't use them. No. Not a bit of it. I use computers every day. I couldn't do my work without computers. But the computer does a model or a simulation of a process. And a computer simulation of a mind is about like computer simulation of digestion. I don't know why people make this dumb mistake. You see, if we made a perfect computer simulation of digestion, nobody would think, "Well, let's run out and buy a pizza and stuff it in the computer." It's a model, it's a picture of digestion. It shows you the formal structure of how it works, it doesn't actually digest anything! That's what it is with the things that a computer does for anything. A computer model of what it's like to fall in love or read a novel or get drunk doesn't actually fall in love or read a novel or get drunk. It just does a picture or model of that.
  4. Not really my intention. The post was more of a rumination, inspired by an Objectivist position. If you look at an earlier thread, Rationality and Objectivity, you will see that what we are now going over was made apparent to me. Incidentally, "mental concept" was intended to emphasize that we are talking about an act of consciousness and not some free-floating proposition that can be divorced from the self-concious activity of a subject. I also said in that thread that most of what Objectivism is trying to accomplish with its definition of truth is accomplished by a common definition of "knowledge"--justified true belief. Stephen Speicher replied that the use of "true" in this definition was redundant, but as you can see by the course this thread has taken, I am still not sure. However, I want to hold off debating it more until I go through ITOE with a fine tooth comb, probably next week. Well, I don’t think any good correspondence theory “endorses” quite what you are implying. There are degrees between rational justification and arbitrary stipulation. However, I do agree that we are hedging around the edges of an essential difference between Objectivism and other robust philosophies. My suspicion is still vague, but I think much of the difference comes down to the way Objectivists use “context.” "Context"--as a master concept--does a lot work in Objectivist epistemology, in my opinion too much. The reductio of it would seem to be that no one who has ever had an erroneous belief could ever be held responsible for making a mistaken claim to certainty. The person could always say, with a degree of honesty, “I was not unjustified in claiming certainty, for I was simply speaking from within my context of knowledge.” At some point, people must become responsible for the state of the context of knowledge they are working from. Likewise, while no strict Analytic-Synthetic distinction exists, there does exist a continuum in the degrees of certainty we can claim about something--i.e., some parts of our context of knowledge are more unassailable than others.
  5. I'll will just say a few things on this topic, and then put them aside. I don’t expect or need a response. I just want to clarify. Some of the people who claim Rand's mantle do not do justice to the level of philosophy being discussed on this forum. I have seen claims made by self-described Objectivists to the effect that all of the fundamental advances in physics since Newton have been based on philosophically unsound principles (i.e., that the assumed metaphysics or actual epistemology behind them was unsound, and that therefore the physics itself was in some way suspect as an intellectual achievement). Likewise, some of the things Rand says about Kant's philosophy--especially when she tracks its cultural influence--are so wide off the mark that I literally can't understand what was the intellectual motivation behind them. Now, Kant's philosophy is something that I do know a lot about, as I do about the more general history of ideas. I think that when read in the right way–including the ethics!–Kant’s philosophy is a powerful tool for advancing Enlightened and benevolent thought about the nature of reality and the power of the human mind to comprehend it (undoubtedly a topic for a future debate on this message board). Likewise, Descartes may have been in error about the axiomatic validity of the senses, but the man who produced analytic geometry, who dared to doubt the existence of God in print in the middle of Europe’s worst wars of religion (albeit in what he took to be a counterfactual fashion ), and who deflated the air of meaningfulness from some empty Scholastic concepts is definitely someone who had a good influence on extending the influence of reason in our culture. Finally, Plato may have given us the notion of a mythical Platonic heaven where he believed the fundamental forms of reality reside (above and beyond the reach of sense perception), but he also gave us the literary character of Socrates. And as a scholarly note, he never explicitly formulated a Platonic Theory of Forms, which is something later commentators–many with their own agendas (especially the Stoics and the Patrician Fathers of the early Christian Church)--constructed out of the words of various characters in his later dialogues (especially the Timaeus). All of this is to say: it is not only possible but extremely productive to read central and even essential aspects of the philosophies of Plato, Descartes, Kant, Wittgenstein, and other major Western philosophers in a way that is sympathetic, much in the way Rand read Aristotle. I know this for certain , and I will attempt to elaborate this more in the future. I also noticed a tendency, which I despise, for some self-described Objectivists to psychologize the source of someone's philosophical beliefs (a la Nietzsche, except he always maintained an aura of “serious irony” in what he was doing). For example, if someone claimed to be a "fallibilist" in epistemology, then an Objectivist would immediately connect the statement to the fact that this person was a weak-kneed, government-grant-loving academic with no capacity for self-reliant judgment or independent intellectual achievement. Such ad hominem attacks may be a fun way of scoring entertainment points in debate, but they have a tendency to attract people who enjoy intellectual combat for its own sake rather than as a means for advancing human understanding. Consequently, my first instinct was to assume that something other than the soundness of the ideas is the driving force behind Objectivism's wide popularity (as far secular philosophical movements go in our culture). My instinct was extended when I saw that a lot of the people Rand beat up on in her published writings were second-rate op-ed writers, rather than the supposed philosophical originators of the obviously hackneyed opinions expressed by these op-ed writers. In other words, she would engage a strawman. However, some of my best friends are Objectivists . And I also don't want to lose any allies in the confrontation with post-modernism or the more vulgar forms of anti-realism, which has ruined wide swaths of the humanities. So I'm here to learn, as well as to point out that the view Rand took of certain philosophers is unjustified, whatever the source of the error. Well, I guess I had more than just a few things to say on the topic. Just one more side note. Harry Frankfurt’s gem of an essay, “On Bullshit,” is essential reading in the battle against post-modernism (don’t be fooled by the prima facie playfulness, it is quite deep: http://www.jelks.nu/misc/articles/bs.html ).
  6. Yep, I conflated two distinctions myself--maximum life span and average life span--and then misidentified the latter with average life expectancy. I was unfortunately following someone else's error who claimed to be an expert in a recent issue of The New Republic, which while not a scholarly journal has the pretensions of being a "learned" one. It's bad enough to have made the mistake, worse to have done it in the context of supposedly correcting someone else. I am by no means an expert, though I take an avid and current interest in this, because my main intellectual interest is in philosophical ethics. "Philosophical ethics" can be taken in the widest sense of forming basic principles that can answer the question, "how should one live?" Those principles will depend partly on an exacting understaning of just what a human being is or can be, so I am starting to read up on the relevant work in human biology, genetics, and anthropology. I am trying to prepare a paper this summer that responds to some of the writings by Leonard Kass, who is the Chairman of the President's Bioethics Council. The Council recently put out a publication: "Beyond Therapy: Bioetechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness." Some of the papers are available here: http://www.bioethics.gov/topics/beyond_index.html. My main point in the post above, which I do not want to get lost in all of this, was that we are on the cusp of a radically new possibility, which is what "amagi" has helped identify more clearly as the possibility of effecting "the basic rate of aging". I don't think this would have any direct effect or responsibility for putting a bottleneck on the material resources necessary for human survival on earth, for the reasons that Betty Speicher helped identify when she brought up Malthus' basic error (i.e., underestimating human ingenuity). However, I do think it's possible and worthy of debate to discuss whether or not this increase in maximum life span would affect the conditions of human happiness and the structure of much practical reasoning related to it. Kass harps on this all the time, using his wonderful to education to quote Aristotle, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Shakespeare on the nature of the human condition. If, as Kass points out, Americans spend more money trying to fight baldness than the world does trying to fight malaria, then that's an interesting fact, but it does not show that contemporary Americans or Westerners are any shallower than any other politically constituted people. It definitely does not show that our interest in prolonging life is an essentially cosmetic one. Thus, the point of my essay will most likely be that (1) these great humanists might have profound and valid things to say about the occasionally destructive form that a quest for a fountain of youth or immortality can take; (2) it is a very bad (not to mention very vague) reason to limit certain kinds of research because of what is commonly called "playing God." There may be other valid reasons to limit research on therapeutic cloning or stem cells, but the dangers of playing God is not one of them. Edit: My favorite quip when confronted with the "playing God" charge in debate is to say "no, we are playing Prometheus, and it's the only game in town."
  7. Thank you all for the comments. I will read more and come back to you. I would also recommend Paul Boghossian's article on the Sokal Hoax that I linked to.
  8. This may seem like a nit-pick, but there is a significant difference between "average life span" and "average life expectancy"(though they are widely conflated). "Average life span" is the description of the upper limit of years on earth that a healthy member of the human species can expect to get. In that sense, the average life span has not changed from the start of civilization until today. There were 105 year-olds in ancient Sumeria just as there are today. What has changed, and rapidly with the onset of industrialization, is "average life expectancy"--that is, how many human beings can expect to live out a time on earth that approaches this upper limit. What is new, and what bio-tech will only reinforce, is an actual increase in the upper limit of years that define the human life span. If the secret of reversing cell death is acquired, then humans will face the prospect of some previously inconceivable long lives. As you point out, I don't think that this will have any effect on our ability to use resources more efficiently and sustain life on earth. Malthus has been disproven again and again. I do think, however, that increasing the human life span, as opposed to average life expectancy, may have some impact on the existential perspectives that human beings adopt towards their lives, their attitudes toward death, and ultimately the kinds of choices that can dictate the overall happiness or unhappiness of a life (for example, people might be more likely to say, "I can always make amends later" or "another girl like that might come around").
  9. The "ice example" is interesting, because I think it encapsulates some of the problems that I am still grappling with in Objectivist Metaphysics and Epistemology. For a quick reference, David Ross also takes up this example: http://enlightenment.supersaturated.com/es...xt/ioe1/09.html. Note: when I identify a position as "Objectivist" in what follows, it should be read as "my understanding of Objectivism." I am doing this self-consciously so that someone can correct me when I am off the mark. In his essay on the Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy, Dr. Peikoff specifically uses the example of "doubting that ice will always float in water" as an aberrant thought-experiment that contradicts the Identity of ice. He doesn't say the thought-experiment contradicts the known empirical facts we have about ice or our current understanding of the properties of a collection of H20 molecules as it undergoes different changes in phase. Peikoff says that "sinking ice" would be a contradiction of ice's Identity, which is understood in Objectivist thought as a metaphysical principle of the form that reality takes. (In other circles, "Identity" might simply be considered a tool of coherent logical thought about reality--i.e., an epistemological principle whose relationship to the metaphysical reality it is used to represent still needs to be established. Objectivists would see no real distinction here--coherent logical thought is thought establishing the nature of reality, whose inherently logical character exists independently of our knowing of it and our bringing it explicitly to mind: "A is A," "existence exists," etc.). Consequently, Dr. Peikoff believes that doubts about ice's universal proneness-to-float should be dismissed as arbitrary and that any extended theoretical reflection based upon them would be groundless. Now, Stephen raises an extreme limit case where ice does indeed sink. I don't know the facts about this particular limit case, but let's say for the sake of the argument that the conditions in which ice sinks are highly artificial and only obtain in the laboratory. In other words, there's no reason to doubt that the property of always-floating-in-water belongs to the Identity of ice--that is, there is no reason to doubt this fact prior to looking for evidence that contradicts it. In other words, the doubt about ice's Identity precedes the perception of new, contradictory evidence regarding the facts of the matter. Epistemologically, such doubts can be primary. They can be the product of a "notion," which are occasionally fanciful. The act of re-examining the evidence and creating the special laboratory conditions is secondary (again, this may not fit the facts of the ice example, but it is easy to imagine other examples where this pattern of discovery might hold). I see a motivation behind Objectivist M&E, which is to put a stop to obsessive philosophical nit-picking and the excesses of "fallibilists" who emphasize how often we make errors in Identification. The problem is that fallibilists give aid and comfort to irrationalists who say that the whole notion of "knowing reality" is a comforting fiction and that science is on the same ground, "metaphysically speaking," as astrology in its attempts to describe reality as it is independently of our perceiving it. That conclusion--and its effects on our intellectual climate--has to be rejected at at all costs (See, Sokal Hoax, http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty...rs/bog_tls.html ). However, it has to be rejected without jumping the gun about sinking ice, the existence of life on Mars, the continuing presence of WMD in Iraq, etc. If someone had asked me about the possibility of "ice sinking" prior to reading Stephen's post, I might have said, "when pigs fly."
  10. And if you you're really intrigued . . . As has been said: "There is no proposition so absurd that some philosopher hasn't actually entertained. . ." http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/~axs/misc/rock/rock/ WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A ROCK? Aaron Sloman School of Computer Science, The University of Birmingham Birmingham B15 2TT England, UK [email protected] Abstract This paper aims to replace deep sounding unanswerable, time-wasting pseudo-questions which are often posed in the context of attacking some version of the strong AI thesis, with deep, discovery-driving, real questions about the nature and content of internal states of intelligent agents of various kinds. In particular the question `What is it like to be an X?' is often thought to identify a type of phenomenon for which no physical conditions can be sufficient, and which cannot be replicated in computer-based agents. This paper tries to separate out (a) aspects of the question that are important and provide part of the objective characterisation of the states, or capabilities of an agent, and which help to define the ontology that is to be implemented in modelling such an agent, from ( aspects that are incoherent. The paper supports a philosophical position that is anti-reductionist without being dualist or mystical.
  11. It doesn't look like you have a question, and I must it admit your overall point is eluding me (i.e., I don't know if you are asking for a response to something). That may just be because of my different vocabulary . Consequently, these are just thoughts provoked by your post: Didn't she use the word "selfish" to be deliberately provocative? I don't mean "deliberately provocative" in the shallow sense of shock-value for shock-value's sake. What I mean is: she wanted to engage people's "mental short circuit" and overcome it. She had other roughly equivalent terms with an established philosophical pedigree that she could have tweaked for her purposes (e.g.,"enlightened self-interest" or "rational egoism"), but she wanted to use a more vivid and problematic word to overcome her readers' knee-jerk value-judgments. "Selfish" produces a knee-jerk connotation and confusion in the reader (as you noted above). The very notion of a "virtue" of selfishness is shocking and completely counter-intuitive. Consequently, if you can learn to see "selfish" in Rand's way, then you can learn to question accepted dogmas. The word was employed not just out of a desire to use a term with a little more emotive force than "enlightened self-interest": it was employed to produce an implicit and compressed lesson in what it takes to form independent, rational judgments. So we have some basic premises: 1) Language does not create reality (that's actually a fundamental premise of a correct metaphysics and epistemology). 2) In order to communicate knowledge about the facts of reality we are not confined to the pre-existing or stable usage of a term or subject-phrase (i.e., truth is the result of a correspondence between a mental concept and an indepedent fact of reality, not between a sign and a concept). 3) In principle, you don't need Objectivist techinical vocabularly to express complete and accurate Objectivist ideas. 4) In practice, philosophy usually depends on such precise and consisent use of terms because equivocation between a technical and non-technical meaning of a term can easily breed confusion. Common sense terms can also be misleading in themselves, when they are standing in for common prejudices. 5) The flipside of (4) is that once the technical terms get defined narrowly they can be used automatically, without a full volitional process of thought. An analogy for clarifying (5) would be that a person's cognitive process becomes computational rather than discursive. The calcified mind acts like a computer in that it pasively accepts data as an input, performs an automatic algorithm on it (i.e., uses the right terms in the right predetermined combination), and then just as automatically produces an output or "conclusion." I submit that it is hard to know in practice when (5) is occurring. It is much easier to spot someone else falling into such a pattern than catching it in yourself.
  12. Building on something I said in another thread: Do people agree with those statements?
  13. Re-reading your post and Stephen Speicher's, I should note that the books I mentioned have more to do with the possible applications of evolutionary theory to human psychology. If you read them, you should take some of what they have to say with a grain of salt, because they can get quite speculative in a hurry. They are not primarily about outlining the details of man's natural history, though they will contain some background information about that, especially Stephen Pinker's book. More in line with what you are suggesting are books by Donald Johanson and Richard Leakey, who are two of the anthropologists who actually did the digging up of the bones of ancestral human species.
  14. That's quite a claim. If by underdeveloped you mean "still has a lot of prima facie mysterious brute facts to explain," then you are correct. If you mean "just another convenient place-holder until a better explanation arises for the development of life systems into greater levels of complexity and self-organization," then you are ceding territory to Creationists that they do not deserve. Also, how are you defining "ascendancy"?
  15. I'll think about this more closely. At first glance, the problem is that your formulation, or Rand's in this case, denies a very a real fact: the fact that when you and I talk about omniscience, we both know what we are talking about. Though omniscience or infinity may not be valid concepts "qua concept," they have a determinate sense and use in language. I can use omniscience in a sentence and make meaningful contrasts with it--for example, a contrast with my own knowledge of the universe. Talking in this way is different than talking about some nebulous sensation I feel, which I might arbitralily name a"#[email protected]$$#." It is also different than talking about a squared circle, which is literally inconceivable. God-talk may not be valid talk "qua concept," but it is not non-sensical in the way of talk about #[email protected]$$# or squared circles. Consequently, the definition of concept you provide seems to be leaving something out, because it does not allow me to make meaningful distinctions between things like omniscience and things like squared circles. By contrast, an epistemology that made a distinction between things that have sense and things that have reference would allow me to make the distinction. In this case, omniscience has sense, but no reference. A squared circle has neither sense, nor reference. This distinction has analogues to ones that we regularly make in ordinary, non-technical discourse. This is important for more than academic reasons. Failure to note the sense-reference distinction can gives theists an escape caluse. They can say, "If you can conceive of a perfect being, and you can conceive that one of its attributes is existence, then God has to exist. Otherwise, your conception of God could not be right. If it were not right, then none of your other conceptions could be right, because they look the same as a form of consciousness, even if they have different content. You must either give up your other certainties or admit that God exists. Crippling skepticism is a high price to pay for atheism. Ergo, God exists." The sense and reference contrast allows me to invalidate this argument without invalidating the fact that I do have a conception of a perfect being. Rand's definition of concept would not allow me do to this. Since I cannot honestly say that I do not conceive of a perfect being, Rand's concept leaves me stuck me with belief in God's existence (in theory). [Note: for those familiar with Anselm's ontological argument for God's existence, I am stretching its form a little to try to make it fit the context of this discussion. The real argument can be found here: URL=http://www.princeton.edu/~grosen/puc/phi203/ontological.html. My form of the argument has a prudential component--"if you don't want give up your other certainties"--that Anselm's argument does not strictly have. Therefore, it is kind of like a mix of Anselm, Pascal's wager, and Descartes' evil demon. That, if you will pardon the pun, is an ungodly mix.]
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