Archive for January, 2011

Wikipedia about it.

Download Martin Gardner – Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.

Thanks to the person who made this available to me via email. You know who you are if you’re reading this.

The book is consists of a series of chapters about different pseudoscientific ideas. It’s a must read for someone interested in pseudoscience. It could use more references.

His website.

Download The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Truth about Morality and What to Do About it (hosted here, it is also available from his website).

In it you will find: a defense of antirealism, an explanation of morality in evolutionary terms, an explanation of moral intuitions in neuroscientific terms, a discussion about what to do given that antirealism is true, his ideas about doing it. It’s not analytic enough making some parts a bit unclear (for instance, he talks about an analogy holding but only imperfectly cf. p. 254). I think the argument in favor of antirealism is unconvincing but worth reading. Perhaps something similar works. If you are a Hume fan, then you’d want to read this as a whole chapter is dedicated to how right Hume was about the source morality (the sentiment). I enjoyed reading it. 377 pages.

I have been wondering something. When one is theorizing about which theory of normative ethics is correct, what is one to do about moral intuitions? Most people seem to agree that moral intuitions function as data for moral theorizing. But how exactly does it work? It seems to me that there are precisely three possibilities:

  1. The theory is always right when there is a conflict between what the theory implies and what people’s moral intuitions are
  2. The moral intuitions are always right when there is a conflict between what the theory implies and what people’s moral intuitions are
  3. The theory is sometimes right and the moral intuitions are sometimes right

None of these seem satisfactory. I examine them below.

1. The theory is always right when there is a conflict between what the theory implies and what people’s moral intuitions are

If this is the case, how does one test the theory? Or test theories against each other? For instance, hedonistic utilitarianism vs. interest utilitarianism. It seems that moral intuitions are used to test theories. One question comes to mind: Which percentage of moral intuitions is the theory supposed to fit with? If 100%, then the theories are just theories about human psychology, which is interesting enough but it seems not to be what people have in mind when they do normative ethics. If some other percent, then it’s possible that more than one theory fit the same % of moral intuitions without fitting with the same intuitions. How should one decide in such a case?

2. The moral intuitions are always right when there is a conflict between what the theory implies and what people’s moral intuitions are

In which case we don’t need a theory of normative ethics besides: What human moral intuitions say is right. (And then something about when there is disagreement about intuitions.)

3. The theory is sometimes right and the moral intuitions are sometimes right

In that case: Under which conditions is the theory right, and under which conditions is the moral intuitions right?

Whenever I talk with continentals they keep getting angry at me. Because I continually claim not to understand what they say. An example. Some days ago I was at a party where a lot of phil. students attended. I talked with some of them that I don’t normally talk with (and now I have even better reason not to talk with them). I don’t recall why but we got into a discussion of scientism, and one of them advanced an argument against some kind of very strong scientism which he phrased like this (translated)
“Science has all the answers.”

And I asked him what he meant because, clearly, he was using some kind of metaphor. What would it even mean to say that science has an answer? I gave them an example of how “having an answer” is used literally. An example with a classroom and the teacher asking a specific student if he has the answer for a specific question. That is an instance of literal use of the phrase. The student has an answer iff he knows what the correct answer is to the question. I asked the person if he meant that scientists have all the answers (to all questions presumably). But he insisted that it made sense to say what he did. I asked him what it would mean to say that some other field of inquiry had all the answers, like mathematics. What would that mean? But I didn’t get any useful reply. After some minutes or maybe just seconds he gave up and stopped talking with me. So good for actually saying something meaningful.

I prefer not to use the phrase “has all the answers” at all since it’s pretty unclear. Presumably it’s about having (that is, knowing or at least believing) that something is a correct answer to some question. If I was to discuss scientism, I would phrase it something like: Are there things which if true cannot be discovered to be so by doing science? Something like that.

I think I recall why we talked of scientism. He thinks that analytic phil. ‘makes’ the claim that we talked about. Whatever that means.

Now, today I saw a relatively analytical person write something similar.

“PSR says: “For every fact F, there must be an explanation why F is the case.”

An atom of plutonium sits there in the canister of radioactive waste. It sits there and sits there and sits there … and then POW! … it decays.

Q: What is the explanation for why it decayed THEN? And not some other time?

A: Modern science says there is no reason. It is random. Which does not comport with the PSR.” (Smullyan-esque, post)

“PSR” =df “Principle of Sufficient Reason”

The interesting sentence in this case is “Modern science says there is no reason.”. It is some kind of non-literal language. It does not mean anything to say of a field of inquiry that it says something. But it seems to me that what he meant is that theories or findings in modern science imply that there isn’t a reason (i.e. quantum theory). But it isn’t entirely clear. I prefer literal language.

Read yourself.

It’s not done but I need to share it with a person, so I’ll just post it here for now.

Some analyses of the broad notion of begging the question and a novel concept