Friday Roundup

  • True: “Harris’ contention that terrorists are motivated more by the writings of the Koran, rather than by economic, political, social, and military oppression, is based on feeling rather than fact.”
  • Another scientifically “un-inclined” writer and his clashes with “science”…
  • Why does he open his mouth?  We may say of him as Wodehouse put it, “if men were dominoes, he would be the double blank…”
  • Why are there so many whom never received the memo regarding logical positivism?  Or maybe just a few who read this blog…?  Ummm, anyone ready to update their philosophy to the 21st Century? Anyone?
  • The world has gone to hell…
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30 Responses to Friday Roundup

  1. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    Re the Wittgenstein link …

    “It never seemed to occur to the Vienna Circle that the proposition ‘the sense of a proposition is its method of verification’ is itself a metaphysical assertion that cannot be verified by its own test: their doctrine is self-contradictory, and therefore must be false.”

    This would fall into the class of tautologies, in their scheme, being a self-evident property of a truth claim, saving it from being a bare, unwarranted assertion.

    But more generally, it is indeed nuts to limit language to the function of either truth claim or nonsense. There is infinitely more to our expressions. That was the problem with the school.

    “‘Transcendental’ is used here in a technical philosophical sense to mean that which is incapable of being experienced by any of the senses – and is therefore beyond the reach of science, which deals in what can be observed.”

    This is false. (And the author goes right on to conflate theological and philosophical transcendence later on anyhow.) It applies to concepts that underlie our cognition, per Kant's scheme, which are not conscious in the normal course of thinking, to the subject. That doesn't mean they are beyond the reach of science. Unconscious processes are very actively studied and important on many levels to our understanding of ourselves.

    Kant's a priori's are increasingly recognized as elements of our evolved, inborn cognition, validated by experience in the broadest sense, i.e. by empirical means, even though not being conscious.

    “There are indeed things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.”

    He does not say “truth”. He says “things”. There is an important difference. These could be experiences and subjective feelings all of which might be immediately true, as any illusion or dream might be. But that does not give them any truth status beyond that immediate experience. The author here is making a leap that you clearly like very much, to the claims of “truth”.

    And to say that ethics is transcendental is tantamount to saying it is not reasoned, but is of subjective origin, as I have been arguing all along. It comes from the unconscious, which is the seat of feelings first and foremost. If god mystically speaks to us through our feelings, that would be an alternate, but not empirically supported, hypothesis.

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  2. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    My interest in the link wasn't the over-all substance but simply the point of the quote you note here:

    “It never seemed to occur to the Vienna Circle that the proposition ‘the sense of a proposition is its method of verification’ is itself a metaphysical assertion that cannot be verified by its own test: their doctrine is self-contradictory, and therefore must be false.”

    “This would fall into the class of tautologies, in their scheme, being a self-evident property of a truth claim, saving it from being a bare, unwarranted assertion.”

    I don’t really see the criticism of the verification principle such that it is a tautology, but, rather that it, itself, is a metaphysical assertion and thus also cannot be verified empirically. In other words, it’s not that it assumes the very thing disputed or says something like, “Science is true because the science tells us it is true.” It is that the verification principle asserts that only those propositions that can be verified empirically can be true, while forgetting that this principle itself cannot be verified empirically. It is self-defeating rather than being a tautology. In other words, it was a completely self-unaware or clueless epistemology.

    “But more generally, it is indeed nuts to limit language to the function of either truth claim or nonsense. There is infinitely more to our expressions. That was the problem with the school.”

    My point however is that such is also the problem with much of philosophical naturalism/materialism/empiricism. It is not only “that” school that still misses the point of why the verification principle was self-defeating. If one says that we must limit language to mean that only empirically proven propositions can be called “true” in an objective sense while all other assertions must be limited to subjective status if they cannot be proven empirically, we fall into the same trap. This same principle is a metaphysical one and cannot be proven empirically. It too is the subjective faith-based assertion of a supposed universal objective principle and is self-defeating in that sense.

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  3. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    How about I agree that the point of verification is a metaphysical statement. It is one eminently reasonable, based on logic, on empirical experience, and on liguistics (i.e. logical tautology) … all conspire to tell us that taking truth claims withtout warrant is bad practice, if not meaningless. The point is quite valid, even if it defeats the positivist's desire to exclude metaphysics from philosophy.

    Perhaps the issue is what kind of metaphysics one is interested in … a formal philosophical kind, or a theological kind. They are different beasts.

    ” If one says that we must limit language to mean that only empirically proven propositions can be called “true” in an objective sense while all other assertions must be limited to subjective status if they cannot be proven empirically, we fall into the same trap. This same principle is a metaphysical one and cannot be proven empirically.”

    Well, I am not trying to limit language. I am trying to limit truth claims to those that have warrant in a philosophically justified sense. You can make all the assertions you like and call them objective… about transcendence, mystical inferences, etc. But making a persuasive truth claim, not just psychologically persuasive, but logically, entails much more.

    For instance, in the objective morals case, you claim that what you and others feel as the fundamental moral premises is objective, while I claim it is subjective. That is not a matter of philosophical nicities, but a substantive argument, about what prompts our moral intutions, feelings, convictions, etc.. whatever you want to call them.

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  4. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “How about I agree that the point of verification is a metaphysical statement. It is one eminently reasonable, based on logic, on empirical experience, and on liguistics (i.e. logical tautology) … all conspire to tell us that taking truth claims withtout warrant is bad practice, if not meaningless. The point is quite valid, even if it defeats the positivist's desire to exclude metaphysics from philosophy.”

    Well simply recognizing that one is being a philosopher and making metaphysical assertions even when arguing for empiricism/naturalism/materialism would be a great start. It levels the playing field, so to speak. Instead of using science as a weapon, one begins to see that their views are based upon a philosophical framework (narrative) that they bring to the evidence.

    We would all argue that our philosophical frameworks are reasonable, based on logic, on the empirical evidence and use of language. You can certainly say that regarding your own views but so can the theist. Yes, we disagree—we think there are holes in the other’s reasons, logic, and the way they view the evidence and use language—but that is a huge difference from thinking the other just doesn't get the science or know about the empirical evidence.

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  5. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    Fine, but at the same time, you can't just assert that evidence supports your side because someone said so on the internet. A little more specific engagement is really required .. to get back to Bernard's colloquy.

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  6. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “…because someone said so on the internet.”

    Stanford and the IEP are not just “someone” on the internet. Just “someone” on the internet would apply to me, you, Bernard and anyone else we've never heard of.

    If someone is going to cite “science” as an authority–they need to back it up and the Stanford and IEP “authorities” were on my side.

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  7. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    Well, here, the problem is that you conflate philosophers and scientists.. and science. I do take the IEP site as representing the philosophical zeitgeist. But as Bernard and I have argued, that does not fully deal with the current paradigm in science, and has some logical difficulties as well, ones that should be addressed by you. The fact that philosophers like to imagine that they have useful and instructive (even sovereign!) things to say about science, while scientists completely ignore them and continue to do their fruitful work .. means that you are exposed to a rather one-sided discussion, at best.

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  8. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    Yes, scientists are indeed philosophers when it comes to writing about what all their work means and should be applied, especially at an academic level. The problem is those scientists, or people in general, who can’t tell the difference between the evidence and their own metaphysical inferences and interpretations of the evidence and conflate the two (all the while unaware they are even doing it). This is the common error both you and Bernard make over and over.

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  9. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    An odd statement indeed from one who claims that all is interpretation. Science involves interpretation throughout. What is “accepted” and current in the field(s) is a matter of what the knowledgeable people in them think is warranted at the moment.

    So what is accepted in philosophy is quite different than what is accepted in the scientific fields where they think they overlap (sadly, perhaps). Who is right? Well, that doesn't matter in this particular discussion of what is contrary to the current scientific understanding.

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  10. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “So what is accepted in philosophy is quite different than what is accepted in the scientific fields where they think they overlap (sadly, perhaps).”

    But they do overlap–that is obvious. The Stanford and IEP entry, since they both dealt with evolution, were peer reviewed by biologists no doubt as well as other philosophers of science and philosophers in general.

    One cannot write this: “Science involves interpretation throughout.”

    And then write this: “So what is accepted in philosophy is quite different than what is accepted in the scientific fields where they think they overlap (sadly, perhaps).”

    If science involves philosophy throughout (interpretation) then there is always overlap.

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  11. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    Whether or not there is intrinsic overlap, there is little by actual communication and understanding.

    The IEP site has no review by biologists. In fact, it has review by “one or more” colleagues with PhD's in philosophy. That is it. And perhaps the editor of the site. Other than the citations, there is no communication between the fields. They are smart people and write well (well, not so clearly, but in legible sentences at least). I just think they are keeping various expired ideas alive for reasons that have nothing to do with their plausibility, let alone with science. Rather due to tradition in their fields, intuition, etc.

    The tone throughout is an extended argument against the current scientific consensus, to keep the writer's hobbyhorse alive. For what reason, I am not sure, because for all the apologetics, there is no direct case made for it, (the objective morality idea), that is unmakable, positing something that essentially amounts to magic, both out there in the “moral reality” and in our biology.

    cont…

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  12. Burk says:

    cont..

    Example:

    “The reason why philosophers tend to find a ‘mere rationalization hypothesis’ plausible for such beliefs as MJ2 and MJ3 is that (i) the justifications offered for them have consistently failed to stand up to critical reflection, and (ii) there are plausible alternative explanations for why people have really come to hold such beliefs, such as that they have misconstrued personal feelings of disgust as perceptions of objective moral wrongness, and projected those feelings onto the world as ‘moral impurity’.[6] Together, these considerations lend support to the hypothesis that the justifications offered are mere rationalizations, and that the beliefs are best explained by appeal to emotional causes.

    The central question is: How broadly does the deflationary model of the ‘mere rationalization hypothesis’ apply to moral judgments, and to what extent are evolutionary influences implicated in those cases?”

    This is a fair presentation of the opposing case.. how broadly indeed?

    .. then there is a long apologetic passage where he claims that reason counter-acts any innate moral programming. Which is completely off the point, since substituting a deep motivation (self preservation and general human flourishing) for a shallow one (purity and cleanliness) doesn't take morals out of a subjective status.

    “These issues remain challenging and controversial. But the controversies are as much ongoing philosophical ones as scientific ones, and it is therefore unlikely that scientific results will settle them. Science will plainly not settle, for example, whether or not there are moral truths; and if there are, they will likely play an explanatory role with regard to at least some of our moral beliefs—something we will miss if we approach these issues from an exclusively scientific point of view.”

    Well, if science can not settle whether there are moral truths, then the question, after thousands of years under examination by philosophy, will never be solved, and we, in all fairness, have to determine in the negative.. that even if they exist, we can not know them, or know they exist, so no difference. This is simply an assertion without foundation, and a gambit to keep the field under philosophical purview, where it has clearly languished. The fact is the as biology learns about our cognition and emotional makeup, we are learning about our moral nature, and that is telling us a great deal about its foundations.

    What we are not finding is an organ of objective moral reception … everything but that. There are empathy organs, and cost-benefit organs, and a great deal else, but no receiver of outside morals.

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  13. Burk says:

    Oh- I meant the SEP site, not the IEP, site. But doubtless it applies to both.

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  14. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “The IEP [SEP] site has no review by biologists.”

    Where are you getting that?

    “Welcome to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP). From its inception, the SEP was designed so that each entry is maintained and kept up-to-date by an expert or group of experts in the field. All entries and substantive updates are refereed by the members of a distinguished Editorial Board before they are made public. Consequently, our dynamic reference work maintains academic standards while evolving and adapting in response to new research.”
    http://plato.stanford.edu/about.html

    Here is a list of the group of experts in that area:

    “PHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGY:
    Paul Griffiths (University of Sydney)
    Lisa Gannett (St. Mary's University)
    James Tabery (University of Utah)
    Roberta L. Millstein (University of California/Davis)
    Melinda Fagan (University of Utah)”

    http://plato.stanford.edu/board.html

    So, what are you talking about?

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  15. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    These people are all philosophers. The site is by philosophers, for philosophers, of philosophers. (however “distinguished”) The review is also, as it typical for such things, a pretty light screen- by one or two other people.

    This is entirely typical, and I have no problem with it. Except for the weird idea that you seem to have that this speaks to the scientific consensus about the ability of biology and evolutionary biology in particular, to speak to morality.

    Now, biologists are not terribly expert in all the ins and outs of moral philosophy, just as philosophers are not expert in all the current science. So there is some problem in diagnosing what state the joint field is in. But this article in particular shows a very pronounced slant towards a philosophical hobbyhorse (objectivism) and away from the plain implications and widely shared beliefs of biologists. I.e. the science.

    Even Darwin spoke of how speaking baboon would do more for moral philosophy than all the armchair rumination heretofore. And to see what people like Jane Goodall have done makes one think that this knowledge has more or less come to pass.

    If you read the evolutionary biology literature, you find exhaustive accounts of costs and benefits.. why mate with this partner vs that, when to migrate, why to attack predators, when to run away, etc. This extends clearly to humans as well, in our super-complex social lives.

    But nowhere will you read about any objective morals. The topic simply never comes up, in sociology (as anything other than a matter of anthropological interest) or in biology generally. There is no evidence for it, either directly, or by way of an evolutionary innovation that uncovers it, as one might find sound by way of sonar or magnetism by way of magnetic senses.

    As mentioned before, the philosophers have already dug their own hole here, parroting precisely the theological line of some “possibility” or “chance” that morals are objective, without a whit of evidence other than their entirely self-serving intution. It makes me ill, frankly, in an intellectual sense. After a zillion comments, and millennia of sophistry, 'tis time to put up or shut up.

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  16. Darrell says:

    “These people are all philosophers. The site is by philosophers, for philosophers, of philosophers.”

    Wrong. There are plenty of scholars here who are also biologists or have a science background or under-graduate or graduate education.

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  17. Darrell says:

    “But this article in particular shows a very pronounced slant towards a philosophical hobbyhorse (objectivism) and away from the plain implications and widely shared beliefs of biologists. I.e. the science.”

    Ha! A perfect example of the very mistake we were talking about. Perfect.

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  18. Darrell says:

    I meant, “…have a science background in their under-graduate or graduate education.”

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  19. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    Misc cites on morality in the biological literature.

    The sociocultural appraisals, values, and emotions (SAVE) framework of prosociality: core processes from gene to meme.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24405363

    A relational developmental systems approach to moral development.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23865115

    Deontic reasoning as a target of selection: reply to Astington and Dack.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23768759

    Explaining moral religions.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23664451

    Evolving righteousness in a corrupt world.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22984510

    Nowhere here are people assuming or finding objective morals.. it just does not come up. Continue on your own with the search….
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=morality+morals+evolutionary

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  20. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    I guess you don't want to acknowledge that there were biologists who would have reviewed and had input into the SEP entry.

    Your cites, by the way, make my point. All your cites propose theories and different approaches to how we might think about morality, but nowhere is it assumed that these are settled scientific facts. Further, these writers know they are talking philosophically as well as scientifically.

    Remember, I'm not saying objective morality is the consensus or proven science. It is you guys who are claiming that your position is the scientific consensus and proven–which is clearly false.

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  21. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    You have doubly misinterpreted. The SEP site has nothing to do with biologists- only with philosophers.

    Secondly, my point was that the question of objective morals is not even a scientific question, let alone a topic of discussion or investigation. It is simply not on the radar screen, which makes it rather difficult to posit that it is “scientific” or consistent with science at all. It is purely a hobbyhorse of the philosophers who have inherited their fixations from theology and armchair intuition. The fields diverge utterly in that respect. So it would be quite ironic to call something “objective” that no scientist pays professional attention to.

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  22. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “The SEP site has nothing to do with biologists- only with philosophers.”

    Then why do they have a team, some of which, are biologists, but all have scientific backgrounds to address this area:
    Here is a list of the group of experts in that area:

    “PHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGY:
    Paul Griffiths (University of Sydney)
    Lisa Gannett (St. Mary's University)
    James Tabery (University of Utah)
    Roberta L. Millstein (University of California/Davis)
    Melinda Fagan (University of Utah)”

    http://plato.stanford.edu/board.html

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  23. Darrell says:

    Also,

    “Secondly, my point was that the question of objective morals is not even a scientific question, let alone a topic of discussion or investigation.”

    Yes, I agree, which is why my views don't clash with the science but with philosophical naturalism/materialism. And when biologists or scientists address the origins of morality and what it consists of (whether purely cultural/subjective or objective) they need to understand when they are philosophizing and when they are doing science. Most do, but many do not. And it sounds like you often do not see the difference.

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  24. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    But by the same token, it is meaningless to say it is “consistent with science”, since it has nothing as yet to do with science. It is like saying that Peter Pan is “consistent with science”. The fact that science doesn't study or even ask questions about Peter Pan doesn't mean that the idea is somehow scientific.

    Anyhow, your person list is all philosophers.

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  25. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “But by the same token, it is meaningless to say it is “consistent with science”, since it has nothing as yet to do with science.”

    But that would mean the non-realist view is also not consistent with science. The point is that the science does not rule out or disprove either view—both views are consistent in that sense.

    Further, Dr. Melinda Fagan is a biologist. Plus, yes, of course they are all philosophers as all have Ph.D.’s. So what? There area of expertise, their dissertations, what they teach and write about, are all in the areas of science and biology.

    At the end of the day, it is these people, whether you agree with them or not, that get the last word. It is not the mechanics who work on Ford’s or Chevy’s that get the last word about those cars, although indeed they can tell us much. But it is the engineers and the creators of those cars who get the last word. A lab biologist somewhere or a high school or community college biology teacher is never going to get the last word over those who write and teach in these areas—that is just the way it is.

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  26. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    Oh, now the status issues come out. The status of philosophy speaks for itself, in the current day.

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  27. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    It has nothing to do with status–it is simply how the process works. I include myself as one of those “working on the cars” so to speak. I'm not published. I'm not asked to contribute to encyclopedias. I'm not employed as a teacher at the university level.

    I just don't see how you write off an entire branch of people as “just” or “simply” philosophers. My goodness, that is what you are whenever you speak out of your philosophical naturalism/atheism. That is the whole point here–knowing the difference between that and science.

    Whenever someone disagrees with you, you write them off as philosophers (completely forgetting that you are one too)but if you agree with someone–they are just telling us the plain science and facts–no philosophy here. Please.

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  28. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    I always try to explain myself in explicit terms. And I recognize we are doing philosophy. The problem is that in my opinion, the field of academic philosophy has not covered itself in glory over the last century, and certainly has not merited any kind of “queen of the science” status. It has been characterized by endless quibbling over expired ideas, of which your SEP page is a shining example. So their judgement that something remains “live” is not, in general, a good sign. It is a protest against reality.

    This is why philosophy as a field has been such a boon to theists, (I am thinking of Alvin Plantinga here, as an example), since it licenses the conflation of live and dead ideas, dedicated as it is to the maintenance of expired ideas for their use in the “history of philosophy”, which is what most academic teaching consists of. It also licenses sophistry and an insulation from reality (see Plato as well), which has its good aspects as a ground of speculation. But determining what is “science” and what is not has not been its strong suit.

    It also licenses theism explicitly, as another one of those “live” ideas from the hoary history of philosophy can, because no definitive stake has been (or can be) driven through its heart, remains one of those topics that can be trotted out ( … Eric) as part of a philosophical curriculum, to students whether credulous or incredulous. It is a scandal, I would say, as much as the descent into pomo meaninglessness.

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  29. Darrell says:

    He said, speaking as a philosopher…

    That is my only point.

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  30. Darrell says:

    “…But determining what is “science” and what is not has not been its strong suit.”

    Agreed, especially when coming from philosophical naturalists.

    The best philosophy, such as the postmodern kind, helps us to see the difference between philosophy and science trying to masquerade as something other than philosophy.

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