Thursday, June 30, 2005

Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism

Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism appears on my reading list about once every 6 months. I admit to my dilettante status in regards to these matters, but Quine seems so concerned with semantic issues that he overlooks other analytical issues. Those regular consumers of Contingencies who care about such things might recall that the analytic/synthetic divide originates with Kant:

"Either (1) the predicate B belongs to the subject A as something that is (covertly) contained in this concept A; or (2) B lies entirely outside the concept A, though to be sure it stands in connection with it. In the first case, I call the judgment analytic, in the second synthetic."

Two examples which show the difference to some degree:

"Lawyers are attorneys" is 1 (analytic--synonymous in broad sense)
"Lawyers are professionals" is 2 (synthetic--or empirical in broad sense)

Quine denied the distinction. But there's more to it, it would seem. For instance, are logical connectives to be defined synthetically--Is the premise of an argument no different than the conclusion? Obviously the end result of a derivation or deductive argument is not the same as confirming a premise: and defining a variable is not the same as say putting some variable into a function and getting a result. Is the answer to a calculus problem done the way one traces the presence of toxins out in a grove of pine trees above LA? I think not.

As I am not a mystic or idealist, I agree with "physicalism" (and with Quine's arguments in TDOE for most part) usually, yet I do think there is a difference between truth via equations and functions and truth via empirical confirmation. But specifying the cash value of analyticity is not so easy; however, even a hard-core materialist or behaviorist, say like Skinner, needs to establish his own ontology, and thus needs to know what he is attacking. If you do deny analyticity and really platonic realism and "mind" it does seem that a Darwinian meat popsicle view of human nature follows, or at least is much more plausible.

So, in effect, I am not completely sure what Quine's removal of the analytical/syntheic divide "entails" as the good Panglosses say. Is it just semantic and linguistic--that "meaning" (or reference) must proceed by synthetic means? I follow his linguistics to a degree: the definitions of words are always changing (if not ostensible in many cases), thus it is not impossible that "lawyers are attorneys" may be, eventually, as synthetic as say a "lawyers are corrupt."

Additionally, given the Quinean emphasis on variables, predication, and statements instead of ordinary language--"to be is to be the value of a variable"--the move away from analytical statements might be read as affirming a view of nouns and names as variables. At least he's suggesting that--the language (any language) may evolve to where "oh X, he's a married bachelor" is acceptable semantically; though "oh X, he's a bachelor and he's not a bachelor" will not likely be acceptable. The claim that terms and thus sentences have no inherent or stable meaning also seems a bit Wittgensteinian--a sort of colder version of the language game.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Economic equity and conservatism

If conservatism is at least tangentially concerned with justice and proportion, then conservatives might themselves have reasons to criticize laissez-faire economics and "big business." The shortcomings if not absurdities of a pure laissez-faire economy are fairly clearly indicated in the California housing market and development business; with their man Ahhnuld at the reins, the contractors and brokers of LA and the Bay Area are presently raking it in. Yet teachers, engineers, and technical people are not faring so well, at least in California--I will leave it to devoted readers of Contingencies to locate the stats. Laborers and construction guys earn 30 bucks an hour while quite a few people with master's degrees in math or comp. science or history work as tutors for half that much.

Should conservatives simply applaud as housing prices soar and a few contractors and realtors make it big and the state educational and technological infrastructure collapses? Privatization--and the real estate racket is in some sense the epitome of privatization--in and of itself is not just or equitable; and that may be one reason why those children of conservative parents, after moving from the 'burbs to Westwood or Palo Alto or Berkeley, often join with the liberals and socialists--they realize that it is unlikely they ever will be able to afford the $500,000+ villa in the hills of Hollywood or Saratoga. Joining up with the marxists would, I agree, be a mistake, but the impulse to introduce some reason and planning into the market economy--say in regards to employment and rational development-- is not entirely misguided.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Feds crack down on medical pot

The Baronial Masters of the US Supreme court have delivered the Truth on Pot. Pot Puffin' is, if not Evil Incarnate, damn near, regardless if you have no other drugs to alleviate the pain from glaucoma or cancer treatment. Millions of humans--not all hippies or freaks either--voted in med. pot; a few months later the Courtly powers simply reverse that popular decision with a few waves of their corpulent hands and send out their Fed boys to bust some ma and pa head shops in California. That the Court would so blithely dismiss the will of the people should be a bit alarming to anyone who values the concept formerly known as democracy.

Although libertarianism might not be so great across-the-board, there are quite a few decent reasons to legalize drugs, or at least cannabis: eliminating the black market on drugs and offering addicts/drug abusers treatment instead of prison are two such reasons. Alcohol obviously is generally a far more dangerous drug than is pot, and yet society and courts have no problem letting fools buy a gallon of whiskey prior to some wifebeating and a wrong-way drive on the Interstate. Pot is illegal, I believe, due to judges or prosecutors' petty, fratboy-like desires to control other people's lives (and access to relaxants)--the judges are not so concerned with justice (much less human psychology), or with preserving Jeffersonian concepts of individual freedom, but with affirming their own Authori-TAY.

(Of course, most of the various cowards and frauds who call themselves California "democrats" could care less about another infringement on individual liberty.)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Ay Laddy

Contingencies is not usually one for the sportin' life, but here's to Kevin McBride, the Clones Collosus, for jacking Tyson.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

On Power, Russell

"The orthodox economists, as well as Marx, who in this respect agreed with them, were mistaken in supposing that economic self-interest could be taken as the fundamental motive in the social sciences. The desire for commodities, when separated from power and glory, is finite, and can be fully satisfied by a moderate competence. The really expensive desires are not dictated by a love of material comfort. Such commodities as a legislature rendered subservient by corruption, or a private picture gallery of Old Masters selected by experts, are sought for the sake of power or glory, not as affording comfortable places in which to sit. When a moderate degree of comfort is assured, both individuals and communities will pursue power rather than wealth: they may seek wealth as a means to power, or they may forgo an increase of wealth in order to secure an increase of power, but in the former case as in the latter their fundamental motive is not economic.

This error in orthodox and Marxist economics is not merely theoretical, but is of the greatest practical importance, and has caused some of the principal events of recent times to be misunderstood. It is only by realizing that love of power is the cause of the activities that are important in social affairs that history, whether ancient or modern, can be rightly interpreted."

Russell, On Power

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Jacko the Chester Show

Another episode in the Cali cartoon court system comes to a close. We may not care for Jacko or his cheap pop product-- I don't-- but when putting Jacko's actions in context, you realize the conservative "media" (tho neo-cons continually proclaim it's the "liberal media") have in effect tarred and feathered the freak.

Minds more acute than mine might speculate on whether these show trials are some sort of duplicitous, deceptive right-wing stunt that keeps the plebes from contemplating, say, the sight of Iraqi cities turned to rubble and decorated with human hamburger. The show trial has become some group ritual akin to cyber-stoning, wherein the selected chi chi celeb is put on display for the excoriation process; the Cali court as much a prime-time Reality Show as it is a form of due process.

As any one who has spent some time in the hands of the Black Gown Gang realizes, justice is about as dependent on a judge's or prosecutor's hangover status--or his whore's "complicity" status--as it is on the Constitution. Indeed were some magic lantern available--the old Twilight Zone truth serum, say-- to reveal the presence of Chesterness among various human-primates, one suspects most Judges and prosecutors would rate "Certifiable Chester," if not "Canberra-bound."

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Prospect Theory 101 and the Irrational Man Standard

Roger, the guy at Limited, Inc., has been lately engaged in a discussion of Prospect Theory (PT). Figures associated with PT, such as Kahneman and Tversky, assessed data from psychological testing in attempts to demonstrate patterns in human decisions relating to a person's perspective of probabilities, or imagined probabilities; the results from such testing altered the way economists and other social scientists think of the Rational Man Standard as it formerly was known. (Keynes, I believe, also addressed this issue somewhere--or at least questioned the objectivity of the standard.}

Paraphrasing Mr. Roger's paraphrase of Kahneman and Tversky, K & T discovered that certain patterns of error occured across groups, and that responses to certain questions seemed dependent on the wording or "framing" of the question, as some semanticists call it. As Mr. Roger said, "given a constant probability of a course of action, one can manipulate responses to that course [of action] by framing it in terms of gain or loss. K and T developed what is called the Asian disease problem. Using students and professors as their pool of respondents, they posed this problem:

"Imagine that the US is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual Asian disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. Two alternative programs to combat the disease have been proposed. Assume that the exact scientific estimates of the consequences of the programs are as follows:

If Program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved.

If Program B is adopted, there is 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved, and 2/3 probability that no people will be saved.

72 percent chose A, 28 B.

Then K & T proposed this problem:

Problem 2
If Program C is adopted 400 people will die.
If Program D is adopted there is 1/3 probability that nobody will die, and 2/3 probability that 600 people will die.
Which of the two programs would you favor?”
22 percent went for C, and 78 percent went for D."

Note that the programs offer the same probability of people being killed or saved, yet it appears that a majority of people prefer the frame of 200 people being saved to the frame of 400 being killed. Andre Breton might have applauded.

Here's more of Roger's analysis of the results of K & T's investigation: "The first question was framed in such a way that it brought out risk averseness: “the prospect of certainly saving 200 lives is more attractive than a risky prospect of equal expected value, that is, a one-in-three chance of saving 600 lives.” The second question brought out risk taking: “the certain death of 400 people is less acceptable than the two ­in­ three chance that 600 will die.”"

Any semi-awake undergraduate social-studies type would ask to review the sample and the distribution of the data--including the number of people questioned, their education, race, gender, and geographic location--but the research may at the very least provide more anecdotal evidence of the pathological status of your fellow primates.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The McSynthetic A Priori and Fries please

Here's a big issue with Kant, that I, low-rent Voltairean inductivist, discover when skimming through the 1st Critique: apart from the use of the categories from Aristotle's Physics (perhaps themselves sufficient grounds for Kant's inclusion into the Historical Interest Only category), the synthetic a priori argument is, as men more qualified than I have pointed out, resting on some rather flimsy support.

This is synthetic a priori according to Kant: "Every event must have a cause." Kant seems to be saying that the subject "Event" has within it the necessary predicate of causality, and that this is not something we learn by looking at the world. Yet as he says knowledge starts in experience. How do children learn this fact? THey learn the word and understand causality? It would seem the child does not undertand causality until he perceives it working in the world: he sticks a knife into the outlet and gets a nasty shock. Ouch--avoid it. Not all learning is like this, perhaps, but most is. And learning the meaning of the word "event" means looking at something--actions in the world as well as definitions, synonyms.

It is also unclear whether Kant means the fact of causality as it is in our brains, vs. the fact of causality in the world. If he simply means there are physical laws independent of our brains which are a priori, that seems an obvious empirical point and anyone (apart from extreme mystics or platonists) would agree. If he is saying a human's understanding of this fact--every event must have cause--is a priori and known without reference to the world, a type of innateness, then I think Herr Kant is to be rejected. There may be innateness--genetic and biochemical--but epistemological innateness of the sort Kant proposes seems implausible.

Mathematical terminology does not just appear in our brain, and it is not unrelated to physical events. At the very least Kant's definition seems as much linguistic as ontological. Consider any basic truth of classical physics--say Newton's equation stating weight as inversely proportional to the square of its distance from the center of the earth--it is synthetic a posteriori , derived from facts about matter and force, gravity etc. And if this is the case--that physical "laws" of nature come to be known to humans by inference, experience, and testing, it seems the edifice of the Critique is substantially ruined. Persons with more expertise in quantum physics than myself might advance some arguments in support of Kant's "noumena," but it should be remembered that Werner Heisenberg himself was rather critical of Kant, apres-Copenhagen.

One of Kant's favorite targets was the skeptic Hume; Hume held to a material causality though with reservations; he's Newtonian, I think, but would have said Newton's laws were not necessarily true but more a matter of probability. Nonetheless the general methods of Humean inductivism, refined by statisticians and figures such as Popper or Kuhn, are far more relevant to biology and economics--any sort of empirical endeavor--than is Kant's ghost architecture.
Custom Search

Blog Archive