June 12, 2006

Philosophers' Carnival XXXI!

Greetings one and all, and welcome to blog.kennypearce.net and the 31st Philosophers' Carnival!

The Philosophers' Carnival is an every-few-weekly compilation of philosophy posts from blogs all over the web. The next Philosophers' Carnival is scheduled for July 3rd, and is still in need of a host! If you would like to host Philosophers' Carnival XXXII, visit the hosting guidelines then contact Richard Chappell of Philosophy, etc. to volunteer.

Today's Philosophers' Carnival contains a truly fantastic collection of deep and insightful posts which will be divided into the three traditional sub-divisions of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology (including logic/dialectic), and ethics (including political philosophy). Within each category the posts appear in approximate order of submission. As philosophy is a very hard thing to define and categorize, a couple of posts have had to be squeezed into categories they don't fit very well in. In these cases I've attached an explanation of why I put them where I did. I have also included my responses to each of the entries, in the hope of facilitating continuing philosophical discussion.

  1. Metaphysics
    • Dr. Justin Good of Design Observer discusses an interesting blend of metaphysics, aesthetics, ecology, modernism and wind farms (!) in his post "What is Beauty? Or, On the Aesthetics of Wind Farms." Discussing the opposing views on the aesthetic value (or lack thereof) of wind farms, Dr. Good concludes that "what at first looks like two subjective impressions of the same visual image turns out to be two different understandings of order in the world." The core of the argument is that our aesthetic sensibilities are deeply dependent on our understanding of nature around us. This does indeed seem to me to be an astute and substantially correct observation: in some sense, the natural world - the world around us 'as it should be' - is a paradigm of beauty by which other things are measured. Differing ideas about nature lead to differing ideas about beauty, but, as Dr. Good points out, this doesn't necessarily make beauty a purely subjective idea, because the ecological facts are quite objective.
    • Joe Kissel has posted a discussion of Zeno's Paradoxes on Interesting Thing of the Day. There is a long and interesting discussion of just what Zeno intended to prove and how this was supposed to support the Eleatic (Parmenidean) system of metaphysics as a whole. A very good read.
    • A post at On Philosophy develops a detailed and rigorous account of causation, complete with diagrams and formal logic. The theory is given briefly as "if we are looking for causes for event X at time T then Y is a cause of X if and only if removing Y from the universe at time T would result in the failure of X to occur." In other words, it is a temporally-sensitive account of necessary (as opposed to sufficient) causation.
    • Steve Esser of Guide to Reality discusses, the definition of physicalism/materialism, and relations between entities at different ontological levels. The key question seems to be whether someone who allows that worlds in which non-physical entities or relations "strongly supervene" on (i.e. arise with metaphysical necessity from) physical entities are physically possible should be considered a physicalist. As Steve observes, it is very interesting - and a far cry from the popular/naive version of the modern scientific worldview - that physicalist/materialist philosophers are recognizing the need to allow for the existence (on a lesser ontological level) of "relations (or entities) which go beyond current or contemplated physics."
    • Kevin Winters of Heideggerian Denken discusses the way of phenomenology, a very interesting discussion of the process of Heideggerian phenomenological investigation (a subject with which I am not terribly familiar). While I am generally sympathetic to the idea of arguing first and foremost from phenomena/experience (see my own contribution below), I must say that I can't see how Kevin can claim that "logic is not ontologically fundamental" and then talk about "presenting a coherent case." I would like to hear why he wants to, and how he can, present a coherent case (by which I assume he means a logical argument) if experience is more fundamental than logic. Of course, such is the nature of continental philosophy, and those of us more in the analytic tradition have always had difficulty comprehending it (when we have bothered to take the effort, which hasn't been often enough).
    • PathEffect blogs on, well, everything. I'm an appreciater of the Parmenidean overtones. (If I had studied more contemporary philosophy, I would probably also have intelligent and insightful remarks to make contrasting PathEffect's version of modal realism with that of David Lewis but, alas, I am underqualified for this task.)
    • I present "The Foundational Argument of Berkeleian Metaphysics." This truly spectacular post needs no introduction, should be read by everyone everywhere, and has no flaws whatsoever. I'm lying. (And also starting to sound like Isaac Asimov.) Actually, this post briefly discusses the argument George Berkeley uses to establish the foundations of his metaphysical theory. It could use some situating within the broader scheme of Berkeley's works and general view of the world, which is something I may tackle in future posts.
    • Dr. Alan Rhoda of Analyzer discusses the relationship between indeterminacy and libertarian free will. The post argues (correctly, I think) that as far as libertarian free will is concerned, determinism and indeterminism are on roughly equal footing.


  2. Epistemology

    • Chris Hallquist of The Uncredible Hallq discusses whether theories and propositions can be simultaneously unfalisifiable and falisfied. Chris argues that, counter-intuitively, they can. This happens in the case when there are observations which ought to falsify the claim, and those observations are made, but the supporters of the claim keeps supporting it anyway. While Chris is correct that those who charge others with making unfalsifiable claims that have been falsified are not necessarily caught in internal contradiction, these people are nonetheless speaking sloppily. The creationists in Chris's example ought to say to the evolutionists (and some of them do, in fact, say things like this): "the weight of the evidence is against your theory, yet no evidence will suffice to persuade you to reject it." To say that the theory is unfalisifiable yet falsified is sloppy and misleading because the unfalsifiable claim and the (allegedly) falsified one are not really the same: the (allegedly) falsified claim is a matter of science dependent on evidence, but the unfalsifiable claim is a matter of blind faith.
    • A post at A Brood Comb argues for philosophy as comprehension. Although this is, of course, meta-philosophy (for which I have not created a category), I've categorized it as epistemology since it talks a lot about the practice of thinking critically about human understanding.
    • Sam Douglas of Philosophy Hurts Your Head discusses the connection between mind and meaning. In particular, Kripke's account of meaning as having to do with passing certain speech-act tests is juxtaposed with Chalmer's 'zombie' [aka 'functional isomorph'] argument in a fascinating discussion of the question of whether an entity with no subjective experience of the world can actually 'mean' something by its words.
    • Clayton Littlejon of Think Tonk discusses the circumstances under which we ought to believe propositions, in light of Moore's Paradox. Since I'm not familiar with Moore's Paradox, and neither Wikipedia nor The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an entry on it, I don't have much to say here. Perhaps someone would like to further enlighten us on the various paradoxes and thought experiments Clayton refers to.
    • DuckRabbit has a post discussing our reasons for valuing truth, in conversation with some pragmatist thinkers. He argues that there is some confusion between truth and belief in this discussion, so that it's not clear what we actually value. As a commenter pointed out (sparking a long discussion), this already quite insightful post could benefit from more discussion about degrees of uncertainty in our beliefs: that is, most of the post seems to assume that belief is an "all or nothing" sort of thing.
    • David Corfield of Philosophy of Real Mathematics discusses Robert Brandom's recent John Locke Lectures in Oxford on his "objective pragmatism" and Wittgensteinian language-games and so forth. The post makes interesting application of the author's philosophy of mathematics focus to the subject at hand.
    • Doctor Logic discusses causation, on a verificationist epistemology, arguing that the Principle of Sufficient Reason is meaningless. The discussion is definitely worth reading, but if you're not a verificationist, don't expect to be convinced.


  3. Ethics
    • Alex Gregory of atopian.org argues against the idea of 'human rights' as a fundamental ethical principle. Alex's argument is that due to the uncertainty of the actual world, rules like "thou shalt not kill," interpreted to mean that one must not cause the death of another human being, on a human rights interpretation will make it wrong for us to interact with other people, since the interaction will introduce a possibility that we might cause the death of the other person, and we are not permitted to gamble with the rights of others, no matter how good the odds. In order to defend non-consequentialism in general, one might introduce intention and knowledge as relevant factors in the ethical status of an action, and this can also be used in a human rights theory to serve for the foundation of a libertarian political philosophy. However, the way in which this weakens human rights (it is not possible for someone to violate your rights unintentionally, at least in the type of violation that makes the violator morally culpable) is troubling.
    • Francois Trembloy of Goosing the Antithesis presents part one of his series The Morality Disconnect, a reflection on the reasons why most atheists insist on fact in virtually every field, but operate on a relativistic "true for you" model in morality. This post is part of The War on Relativism, with which I was not previously familiar; allow me to insert here that the idea of a movement in opposition to moral relativism among atheists/secularists seems to me to be an extremely good thing for the future of intelligent discourse on ethical issues.
    • Eteraz of Unwilling Self-Negation discusses the varying responses to Wahhabism available to traditionalist and 'pragmatic post-modernist' Muslims, and argues in favor of the post-modernist response. Eteraz states that, while traditionalist Muslims must give complicated arguments and often use questionable reasoning in order to condemn Wahhabi terrorism, the pragmatic post-modernist has an easier time because "The fundamental belief of a pragmatic postmodernist is that a belief can still regulate action, can still be thought of worth dying for, by people who are quite aware that this belief is caused by nothing more than the fact that we have belief in it." Of course, it is not clear how this view is supposed to persuade anyone, it just states (as a fundamental assumption) that it is ok for us to continue believing that terrorism is wrong and deserves to be punished, even though we (allegedly) have no justification for that belief. I can't say I find this very satisfying.
    • Professor Laurence Thomas argues at moralhealth.com that "good will" between citizens is a prerequisite for successful democracy, but notices with puzzlement that, although there is more equality today than at any other time in US history (world history?), good will seems to be decreasing. He concludes that "there is no logical connection between good will and equality." Of course, a libertarian (e.g., me) might argue that good will is actually inversely related to the prevalence of egalitarian politics, since the latter leads the poor to believe that others' hard-earned (and not-so-hard-earned) wealth is rightfully theirs and was somehow stolen from them, and puts the rich in the position of having their money confiscated by the poor, thus creating more rather than less opposition between socio-economic classes, and decreasing good will in society as a whole. When we had a lot of good will between people in America, we had a culture in which people were ashamed to accept government handouts and sincerely wanted to work hard and contribute to earn their own living. The welfare system has gone a long way toward destroying this.
    • Professor Steve Gimbel, in his post "Help, Help, I'm Being Oppressed!" at The Philosophers' Playground, discusses the criteria for oppression. Does it require intention? If a policy is implemented for good reasons, but happens to negatively effect an identifiable ethnic or socio-economic group, or one gender, disproportionately to others, is that oppression? Or what if a certain group just happens to be below-average in society according to some metric? I remember in the last US presidential election the Green Party candidate David Cobb arguing in a debate with Libertarian Michael Badnarik that the death penalty must be abolished permanently because it was racist and classist and therefore oppressive. Of course, Cobb's insistence that the death penalty was "inherently" racist and classist (and not just racist and classist right now due to biased implementation) is probably racist and classist itself, since it assumes that it will always be the case that most capital offenses are committed by lower-class members of ethnic minorities (a rather offensive notion - but maybe Cobb didn't mean it and simply doesn't understand the meaning of the word 'inherent'), but it is true that today many more poor black people are executed than rich white people. Does that in itself make the death penalty racist/classist? I tend to think that in this case it is pretty obvious that there is only oppression in the application of the death penalty if a greater proportion of poor black people convicted of capital crimes receive the death penalty, compared to convicted rich white people (and I remember reading somewhere that this IS the case in the US right now), but Professor Gimbel's post demonstrates that these issues are much more complicated than many people on both sides tend to think.
    • Speaking of discrimination/oppression and capital punishment (no, I didn't leave the submission order to put these two posts next to each other), David at Sago Boulevard discusses an argument by Earnest van den Haag that "If the death penalty is morally just, however discriminatorily applied to only some of the guilty, it remains just in each case in which it is applied." In other words, if it is morally legitimate to execute those convicted of murder by a jury of their peers, then this legitimacy is not undermined if only some convicted murderers are executed and the decision of which convicted murderers to execute is made in a discriminatory fashion. David seems skeptical. Personally, I tend to think that, granting the antecedent, it is not unjust to execute those who are executed, but it is unjust not to execute the others. At any rate, we seem to have a pretty strong moral inuition that selective or capricious application of penalties is unjust.
    • Richard Chappell in Philosophy, etc. wonders if there is objective, rational ground for our culture's almost universal moral condemnation of public sexual displays. He discusses several possible justifications and finds them all more or less inadequate. I would propose this line of reasoning: my mind is mine, and there are some things that I choose not to take into it. I act intentionally to avoid these things. If I have a personal objection to seeing something or other (say, for simplicity's sake, nudity in general), and I am somewhere where I have a reasonable expectation not to see nudity, and you walk by me naked, it seems that a case can be made that I am somehow violated or invaded by this. Of course, the 'reasonable expectation' part makes this culturally relative again, and so doesn't really answer Richard's question. It is more to the point to ask why I object to seeing these things in the first place, and this will take us deep into philosophical psychology. To make a brief suggestion: if we think about the very general type of philosophical psychology found in Plato, Paul, and Augustine, we might say that seeing this particular type of sight strengthens the 'bad part' of the soul (the 'money-loving soul' in Plato; the 'flesh' in Paul and Augustine) and causes it to rebel against the good part (the 'wisdom-loving soul' in Plato; the 'spirit' in Paul and Augustine). Of course, we will want to be careful not to become completely prude and make sexual desire evil (as, I understand, Augustine does), but rather to say that the types of sights we object to are those which direct our sexual desires onto improper objects (and we all agree that at least some persons are improper objects of sexual desire - children are the most obvious example). Since this means that viewing certain types of sexual behaviors - or even simple nudity - can perceivably be damaging to the proper order of the psyche, we can go back again to the first argument and say that to engage in public sexual acts violates the personal autonomy of those who view it unwillingly by denying them the opportunity to determine for themselves which things are and are not destructive for them personally, and to avoid the destructive things.
    • Hell's Handmaiden critiques a statement recently released by the Witherspoon Institute on the social effects of marriage. The criticism is essentially that the statement isn't what it pretends to be - an objective and cross-cultural look at the effects of the redefinition of marriage currently going on in the US - but rather presupposes certain goals for marriage which amount to question-begging in the broader argument.


Posted by Kenny at June 12, 2006 10:10 PM
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Comments

I linked here from Leiter Reports. This looks interesting, but it really hurts my eyes. You should change background and font color. It's just really tough to read. Sorry.

Posted by: play_jurist at June 13, 2006 4:35 PM

Wikipedia *does* have an entry on Moore's paradox. It's here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_paradox

It's not an overly illuminating entry, but it gives the general shape of the problem.

Posted by: Aidan McGlynn at June 13, 2006 8:13 PM

Thanks Aidan. Not sure why my search didn't find that. You're right that it isn't "overly illuminating," but I did find it quite helpful, personally.

Posted by: Kenny at June 13, 2006 9:39 PM

Augustine doesn't take sexual desire to be evil. He just thinks it ought to be subordinated to reason. The passions are actually good when they're submitted to reason, contra the Stoics. It's when your desires are ordered properly and you desire things according to how good they actually are that you're being a good person, and sexual desire is good when submitted to reason. Unfortunately, in the fallen state, we can't control the movements of our sexual organs the way we can control the movements of our limbs and tongues, and so sexual desire isn't always subordinated to reason in the sexual organs. But our limbs and mouths are under our control and can prevent our sexual organs from causing us to sin. But what he says is a result of the fall is not sexual desire itself or the pleasure that comes from sex. The result of the fall is that organs will act in a way that reason can't control.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at June 15, 2006 9:52 PM

Jeremy - excellent! He's even more Platonist than I thought, then :)
Thanks for the clarification. I haven't read nearly enough medieval philosophy/theology.

Posted by: Kenny at June 15, 2006 10:28 PM

I am writing a paper about reality television. My premise is that reality television is today�s sage. In the past the god�s and philosophers told us how to live. Today reality television tells the audience how to live their lives. My conclusion is that philosophers should be designing reality programming. If you were asked to design a reality television program that would enlighten the audience on the nature of life, what would the program look like?

Posted by: Ann Andaloro at October 10, 2006 2:54 PM

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