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Category: Philosophy

The philosophy of science, empiricism, a priori reasoning, epistemology, and so on.

January 14, 2008 | 3 Comments

A video worth watching

Take three-quarters of a hour and watch the following video interview with Anthony Daniels, a.k.a. Theodore Dalrymple.

Daniels is one of our most thoughtful, intelligent, and compassionate writers on culture. A quick Google search will bring you many of his books and articles.

The streaming video, first appearing on Dutch public television, is here.

January 6, 2008 | No comments

Mr. Word’s definition of the day: to change

“To alter; to make different; to cause to pass from one state to another; as, to change the position, character, or appearance of a thing; to change the countenance.” — Webster, 1913.

Barack Obama is the official candidate of change. In last night’s debates in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton boasted that she was a bigger candidate of change than Obama, and further, she had been changing for thirty-five years! Mitt Romney, the next day, agreed with his Democrat cousins, when at a rally he said, “What is needed is change.” All of the other candidates, both Democrat and Republican, agree, more or less stridently, that change is a requirement for the new president.

By the way, an informal statistical count I conducted in last night’s debate shows Fred Thompson using this word the least. Obama, of course, used it the most.

Change is such a strong word, so often found in political rhetoric, because it is infinitely malleable. What makes it so powerful is that you define, to yourself, what change means. You then project this definition onto your candidate of choice and assume his definition is the same as yours. So when the candidate speaks of change, it is as if he is speaking directly to you.

That is, as long as the candidate does not go too far and make a statement that actually contradicts what your definition is. So the more the candidate vapidly speaks in generalities about change and concurrently avoids specifics, the better it is for that candidate, in the sense that use of change has the power to convince the largest number of people that the candidate believes as they do.

Change is also a weak, nearly meaningless, word because anything that happens in the future will be a change from what happened until now. It is hardly necessary to say that George Bush will not be president next year. His exit will be a change that whomever wins the election will bring. World events will certainly change by 2009, and the new president will certainly have to do things differently in the future to meet these exigencies. The membership of Congress will certainly be different in 2009, and this new Congress will put forward new bills which the new president will have to sign or not. So again, the new president will have produced change.

Change, then, is certain. No matter who is elected, that person must bring change, and so every candidate is therefore a candidate of change. It is impossible that they not be so. Therefore, to seek out the candidate of change is a useless activity.

Though perhaps you were thinking, what you really meant by change was, for example, when Obama said, “We need a change in foreign policy.” You assumed he meant by this an “abandonment of the Bush ‘Doctrine’.” And you might be right, but this was only a guess on your part. It is proof, however, that it was you who were defining what change meant. You cannot be sure it is what Obama also thinks unless he explicitly says what a change in foreign policy actually is.

As a note, it is also empty for a candidate to say, “We need a change from the Bush ‘Doctrine'” unless that candidate is also prepared to explicitly define what the “Bush Doctrine” is.

December 27, 2007 | No comments

Will Smith on reprogramming Hitler

Roger Kimball, in his blog, has an entry on the actor Will Smith’s “Reprogramming Hitler” comments. The subject is benevolence. It is well worth reading.

A quote: “The Australian philosopher David Stove got to the heart of the problem when he pointed out that it is precisely this combination of universal benevolence fired by uncompromising moralism that underwrites the cult of political correctness.” He goes on to quote Stove at length (go to the original site to read).

I thought it be helpful to extend Stove’s quote. To those who would suppose that, “Ought not wrongs to be righted?” is a rhetorical question, Stove writes:

It does not follow, from something’s being morally wrong, that it ought to be removed. It does not follow that it would be morally preferable if that thing did not exist. It does not even follow that we have any moral obligations to try to remove it. X might be wrong, yet every alternative to X be as wrong as X is, or more wrong. It might be that even any attempt to remove X is as wrong as X is, or more so. It might be that every alternative to X, and any attempt to remove X, though not itself wrong, inevitably has effects which are as wrong as X, or worse. The inference fails yet again if (as most philosophers believe) “ought” implies “can.” For in that case there are at least some evils, namely the necessary evils, which no one can have any obligation to remove.

These are purely logical truths. But they are also truths which, at most periods of history, common experience of life has brought home to everyone of even moderate intelligence. That almost every decision is a choice among evils; that the best is the inveterate enemy of the good; that the road to hell is paved with good intentions; such proverbial dicta are among the most certain, as well as the most widely known, lessons of experience. But somehow or other, complete immunity to them is at once conferred upon anyone who attends a modern university.

David Stove, On Enlightenment, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey, p. 174
December 22, 2007 | No comments

The impossibility of there being no truth.

One of the premises frequently used for the argument that “all cultures are equal” (multiculturalism), or for the argument that you should not be judgmental, is relativism, which is the idea that there is no absolute knowledge, that is, that there is no truth. Some would write it, “there is no ‘truth.'” The scare quotes indicate the author’s derision of the word. As the philosopher David Stove has made clear, the scare quotes turn the word from its obvious meaning, that something is true, to something that is only believed by so-and-so to be true. Thus, the quotes also serve to give their users a self-made patina of superiority.

Roger Kimball, in his blog Roger’s Rules, told of his attendance at a colloquium to honor the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski. In a session on ?Enlightenment, Modernity, and Atheism,? one of the participants began her statement, ?I know, of course, that there is no truth.?

And it’s in this sentence that we have the proof that its own conclusion is false. Which is another way of saying that the woman’s statement is paradoxical, and therefore nonsensical.

Why? If it’s not already obvious to you, “to know” can only mean that you are aware of a truth. And the truth that you know cannot be that there is no truth, because then you would not be able to know it.

The original sentence cannot be saved by changing it to “There is no truth” because, as Bill Clinton might remind us, it depends on what that meaning of is is. And the meaning is existential, which is to say, that the thing of which it speaks (truth) exists. In any case, the sentence “There is no truth” is either true or false. If it is true, then there can be no truth, and so the sentence cannot be true, hence a paradox.

All arguments against the idea of truth fail for the same reason. Because no matter how cleverly you couch your language, no matter the strength of your authority, in the end either your argument is true or it is false. If it is true, then there is no truth, and your argument cannot be true, and you’re right back in the same paradox.

The non-existence of truth is then an impossibility, thus true things exist. So the task becomes identifying what those truths are. And that’s no easy task!

What does this have to do with statistics? A lot, actually, because all statistics is based upon probability, the nature of which we first have to understand before we can use any statistical method. One view of probability, and the dominate one in Bayesian statistics, is the idea that probability is subjective, nothing more than a construct in an individual’s mind. In other words, subjective probability is a philosophy of relativism. Those who hold this view believe that there cannot be objective, i.e. true, probability.

Naturally, I believe this is false. Stay tuned for more.