Monday, April 30, 2012

Paul vs Paul

Best paraphrase:

Krugman: You want to go back decades ago in time.

Ron Paul: You want to go back a thousand years, two thousand years, to Roman and Greek times!

It's interesting to see that Krugman understood exactly what Paul was saying and attempted to deny his support for the Emperor Diocletian's policies, although Diocletian-style inflation precisely what he's advocating. And if we're not sure where the line between money and non-money is, how on Earth can we expect to correctly manage the economy through the use of precise interest rates?


Dissecting the skeptics V

Having completed my critique of To Know Our Unknowing, I'll now proceed to examining the second of Delavagus's two posts on Pyrrhonism, entitled To Unknow Our Knowing:
My previous post ended with the self-defeating conclusion that, as far as we know, we don’t know that we know anything (with the correlate that, insofar as we’re constrained by rational norms, we’re constrained to abjure knowledge-claims). This conclusion was reached a priori: by attempting to think our thought, reflect on our reflection, know our knowing.

For as long as there have been skeptical arguments of this sort, there have been two stock counter-arguments: the peritropē, or self-refutation, argument; and the apraxia, or impracticability, argument. Sextus Empiricus, the only ancient Pyrrhonian whose texts (or some of them, anyway) have come down to us, was perfectly aware of these objections; he argued that they are only effective against an incomplete or distorted understanding of Pyrrhonism. The short version is that Sextus concedes self-refutation, but denies that it constitutes a counter-argument against Pyrrhonism (indeed, the self-refutatory character of skeptical arguments is central to his use of them), but he outright rejects impracticability arguments. Pyrrhonism is not (or at least is not merely) a philosophy; it is an agōgē, a way of life. Sextus characterizes the Pyrrhonian agōgē in terms of living adoxastōs, meaning without opinions or beliefs. In this post, I want to suggest a way of understanding what it means to live adoxastōs.

As I said, Sextus embraces the self-refutatory character of his arguments. He likens them to purgative drugs, which drain themselves away along with the humors they were administered to treat, or to a ladder one kicks away after having climbed up over it (an image appropriated, though probably at second- or third-hand, by both Nietzsche and Wittgenstein). Those who charge Pyrrhonism with self-refutation think that it falls into a dilemma: either the skeptic accepts her own arguments, which (given their self-refutatory character) is logically impossible, or the skeptic doesn’t accept her own arguments, in which case she must also reject (or at least not endorse) their conclusions. But the self-refutation charge overlooks two crucial features of the Pyrrhonian strategy: first, that charging the skeptic with self-refutation amounts to charging philosophico-rational thought as such with self-refutation; and second, that the target of Pyrrhonian arguments at their most general is not any particular content of philosophico-rational thought, but rather the very framework of such thought.
As I showed in Dissecting the skeptics IV, Delavagus's conclusion to his first post is not self-defeating, but rather invalid, because his suddenly universal claim about the human lack of knowledge is totally dependent upon a peculiar philosophical definition of knowledge and is undermined by no less than eight specific errors in his reasoning. In his second post, Delavagus doesn't waste any time before resorting to what we have observed is his customary handwaving. Apparently he expects us to simply accept Sextus's outright rejection of the apraxia argument on the basis of his ancient authority, which of course we can no more do than we can expect Delavagus to accept the historical existence of the Olympian gods on the ancient authority of Homer. So, is Sextus's outright rejection of the impracticability argument justified?

Well, yes, as it turns out, but only because Sextus makes it very clear that the Pyrrhonian agōgē does not actually entail living by skeptical principles. In Chapter IX, The Criterion of Scepticism, he writes:

"It is evident that we pay careful attention to phenomena from what we say about the criterion of the Sceptical School. The word criterion is used in two ways. First, it is understood as a proof of existence or non-existence, in regard to which we shall speak in the opposing argument. Secondly, when it refers to action, meaning the criterion to which we give heed in life, in doing some things and refraining from doing others, and it is about this that we shall now speak. We say, consequently, that the criterion of the Sceptical School is the phenomenon, and in calling it so, we mean the idea of it. It cannot be doubted, as it is based upon susceptibility and involuntary feeling. Hence no one doubts, perhaps, that an object appears so and so, but one questions if it is as it appears. Therefore, as we cannot be entirely inactive as regards the observances of daily life, we live by giving heed to phenomena, and in an unprejudiced way. But this observance of what pertains to the daily life, appears to be of four different kinds. Sometimes it is directed by the guidance of nature, sometimes by the necessity of the feelings, sometimes by the tradition of laws and of customs, and sometimes by the teaching of the arts. It is directed by the guidance of nature, for by nature we are capable of sensation and thought; by the necessity of the feelings, for hunger leads us to food, and thirst to drink; by the traditions of laws and customs, for according to them we consider piety a good in daily life, and impiety an evil; by the teaching of the arts, for we are not inactive in the arts we undertake. We say all these things, however, without expressing a decided opinion."

In other words, the Pyrrhonian is eminently practical, because he lives his daily life by giving heed to nature, his feelings, the tradition of laws and customs, and by the teaching of the arts, without any concern for his suspension of judgment or inability to express a decided opinion. The philosophy cannot be impractical because the skeptic maintains a firewall of sorts between his reason and his daily life. This means, of course, that the oft-seen attempts of the modern skeptics to utilize skepticism as a weapon in order to influence these phenomena is a breach of the firewall and therefore intrinsically non-Pyrrhonian. But regardless, we can conclude that Sextus does successfully address the apraxia even if it calls into question the behavior of many of those who claim, incorrectly it would appear, to be Pyrrhonians.

As for the defense against the peritropē charge, I previously explained its flaws in response to an earlier request from Delavagus. Sextus's argument against peritrope fails on three counts. First, Sextus erroneously conflates the subset of his particular philosophy with the set of all philosophico-rational thought; because we can observe there is philosophico-rational thought that is not Pyrrhonian skepticism, all refutation of the latter cannot automatically be taken as any refutation of the former. Second, even if Sextus were correct and charging the skeptic with self-refutation actually did amount to charging philosophico-rational thought as such with self-refutation, that doesn't change the fact that if the charge is substantiated and all philosophico-rational thought is, in fact, self-refuting, then the charge of peritrope against Scepticism must also be correct! If the set is refuted, then the subset is refuted as well. So, it's not a valid defense against the charge. Third, Delavagus doesn't realize that the intended target of Pyrrhonian skepticism is irrelevant with regards to its self-refuting nature; it doesn't matter what Sextus is intending to target when it can be shown that the same arguments can be used just as effectively against his own clearly stated aims.

In that earlier exchange, Delavagus attempted to respond to the first point by claiming that Pyrrhonism is not a philosophy and therefore not a subset of all philosophico-rational thought. He wrote: "Pyrrhonism is a metaphilosophy, not a philosophy: it is philosophizing about philosophy itself, about rational thought as such. On my view, it contains no first-order philosophical claims whatsoever. In other words, it is NOT a member of the 'set' 'Philosophies'; it is a critique of the set-as-such."

But this is another inept attempt at a bait-and switch, because even if we accept his contention that Pyrrhonism is not a philosophy, it still specifically purports to be rational thought, as shown by Delavagus's heavy reliance upon the Agrippan Trilemma, and therefore remains a subset of the set of all philosophico-rational thought. Moreover, Delavagus's view that Pyrrhonism is not a philosophy is provably wrong, as in Chapter I, The Principal Differences between Philosophers, Sextus writes:

"It is probable that those who seek after anything whatever, will either find it as they continue the search, will deny that it can be found and confess it to be out of reach, or will go on seeking it. Some have said, accordingly, in regard to the things sought in philosophy, that they have found the truth, while others have declared it impossible to find, and still others continue to seek it. Those who think that they have found it are those who are especially called Dogmatics, as for example, the Schools of Aristotle and Epicurus, the Stoics and some others. Those who have declared it impossible to find are Clitomachus, Carneades, with their respective followers, and other Academicians. Those who still seek it are the Sceptics. It appears therefore, reasonable to conclude that the three principal kinds of philosophy are the Dogmatic, the Academic, and the Sceptic. Others may suitably treat of the other Schools, but as for the Sceptical School, we shall now give an outline of it, remarking in advance that in respect to nothing that will be said do we speak positively, that it must be absolutely so, but we shall state each thing historically as it now appears to us."

So, Delavagus is clearly wrong, both in claiming that Pyrrhonism is not part of the set of all philosophico-rational thought and in claiming that it is not a philosophy. Indeed, Sextus not only declares skepticism to be a philosophy, but one of "the three principal kinds of philosophy". (I suspect he's also wrong to say it "contains no first-order philosophical claims whatsoever", but we will examine that assertion in a future post.) And therefore, Delavagus's attempted defense of my attack on Sextus's argument against peritrope clearly fails, as does the argument against peritrope.

Finally, with regards to Delavagus's claim that Pyrrhonism is more than a philosophy, but is an an agōgē, a way of life, as well, I note that it is a very strange way of life that makes explicit claims to have nothing to do with the way the philosopher actually lives his daily life, but it is nevertheless true. Still, it should be kept in mind that it is entirely possible for something to fail as a philosophy, but not as a way of life, or vice-versa. In any event, when the aims of Pyrrhonism are taken into account, it becomes readily apparent that the agōgē is nothing more than a form of anti-intellectual, morally neutral stoicism.

Sextus writes in Chapter XII: "We confess that sometimes [the Sceptic] is cold and thirsty, and that he suffers in such ways. But in these things even the ignorant are beset in two ways, from the feelings themselves, and not less also from the fact that they think these conditions are bad by nature. The Sceptic, however, escapes more easily, as he rejects the opinion that anything is in itself bad by nature. Therefore we say that the aim of the Sceptic is imperturbability in matters of opinion, and moderation of feeling in those things that are inevitable."

It is here that I cannot help but note the irony of Delavagus's claim to be a modern Pyrrhonist while at the same time confessing to be both depressed and infuriated by my "unbounded arrogance". He clearly possesses neither imperturbability nor moderation of feeling, regardless of whether one concludes my arrogance is merely an opinion or an inevitable force of nature. Skeptic, doubt thyself! As for the matter of living without opinions or beliefs, we shall save that for the next post.

Next section
Dissecting the skeptics VI

Previous sections
Dissecting the skeptics I
Dissecting the skeptics II
Dissecting the skeptics III
Dissecting the skeptics IV


The death of a coroner

Andrew Breitbart's death gets curiouser and curiouser with a suspiciously convenient death:
Medical examiners in Los Angeles are investigating the possible poisoning death of one of their own officials who may have worked on the case of Andrew Breitbart, the conservative firebrand who died March 1, the same day Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced probable cause for forgery in President Obama’s birth certificate. Michael Cormier, a respected forensic technician for the Los Angeles County Coroner died under suspicious circumstances at his North Hollywood home April 20, the same day Breitbart’s cause of death was finally made public. “There are mysterious circumstances surrounding his death,” said Elizabeth Espinosa, a news reporter for KTLA-TV. “We’re told detectives are looking into the possibility that he was poisoned by arsenic.”
Now, I actively subscribe to the conspiracy theory of history, but there is one giant question about this particular purported conspiracy that I find troubling. Was Andrew Breitbart really that important? I mean, in terms of pundits, opinion leaders, and intellectuals influencing global public opinion, I don't think I'd have had him in my top 100. It strikes me rather like trying to change the course of the NFL season by assassinating the punter for the Cleveland Browns.


WND column

An Austrian in the Lion's Den

It may be one of the greatest and most courageous speeches ever spoken. It is arguably one of the most important speeches ever given in the United States, considering the current fragility of the national economy and the central position that the financial system presently plays in American society. Earlier this month, Robert Wenzel of the Economics Policy Journal spoke to the New York branch of the Federal Reserve. In his speech, he called the central bankers to account for their complete failure to provide the economy with either of their two responsibilities set by the U.S. Congress, price stability and full employment.

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

The primacy of history

Daniel Abraham attacks the idea of historical authenticity in fantasy:
The idea that the race, gender, or sexual roles of a given work of secondary world, quasi-medieval fantasy were dictated by history doesn’t work on any level. First, history has an almost unimaginably rich set of examples to pull from. Second, there are a wide variety of secondary world faux-medieval fantasies that don’t reach for historical accuracy and which would be served poorly by the attempt. And third, even in the works where the standard is applied, it’s only applied to specific, cherry-picked facets of the fantasy culture and the real world.
This is a fascinating assertion. We need less authenticity in fantasy? Let's begin by looking at Abraham's three initial assertions. First, history does not have "an almost unimaginably rich set of examples to pull from". In fact, those of us who study history either professionally or on an armchair basis tend to be impressed by the way in which the historical patterns tend to repeat themselves. For example, the economic notions of the Mongol ruler Gaikhatu Khan, whose issuance of paper currency in 1294 promised reduced poverty, lower prices, and income equality, eerily prefigured both the General Theory of John Maynard Keynes as well as most of the Federal Reserve statements since 2008. Granted, neither Bernanke nor Geithner met with the unfortunate fate of the Khan's chief financial officer, but as they say, history rhymes rather than repeats.

Read the rest at the Black Gate.

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Dissecting the skeptics IV

As we enter the home stretch and approach the grand conclusion of To Know Our Unknowing, we've now identified seven errors and demonstrated that Delavagus's answer to the question he originally posed is incorrect. And yet, we have not seen a single example of the definitional bait-and-switch that we anticipated from the start. Could it be that Delavagus, however flawed his arguments, is nevertheless more intellectually honest than we originally suspected? Is it possible for him to salvage the conclusions towards which he has been building in such an observably flawed manner?
Where does this leave us? It seems to leave us with the conclusion that, as far as we know, we know nothing.

But that can’t be right, for if we know that we do not know whether we know anything, then we know something.

We’ve run aground on peritropē: self-refutation. I’ll continue the story in a later post…

What I’ve tried to show here is just that, even sitting in our armchairs, reflecting on our epistemic predicament, it’s possible to illuminate for ourselves the cognitive knots in which our thinking entangles itself—to know our unknowing.

We’re all idiots. The more we accept this—the more we become good at not knowing—the more learned we will be.
Building on the false foundation of his fatal seventh error, Delavagus gets off to a questionable start, but since it is essentially the same error, I won't count it as a separate one. It doesn't seem "to leave us with the conclusion that, as far as we know, we know nothing", but rather, to confirm our original opinion that Delavagus should have respected the problem of the criterion and abandoned his definition of knowledge in favor of one of the other nine available options. Still, to his credit, he rightly identifies what I, and many others, view as the intrinsic incoherence and self-refuting nature of skepticism. The fifty-cent word for this is peritropē, which is very important if you are going to demonstrate that you have been taught to regurgitate this information by a professor rather than figuring it out for yourself. Of course, he proceeds to claim that skepticism isn't really self-refuting in the next post that we're critiquing, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

His intentions notwithstanding, what Delavagus actually ended up showing us was the cognitive knots in which his own thinking is entangled, rather than a general epistemic predicament that necessarily affects everyone. To paraphrase Tonto speaking to the Lone Ranger when surrounded by hostile Indians, "who is this 'our', white boy?" And the titular phrase which sounds so very philosophical is shown to be nonsense by the very argument he has produced, as his belief in our "unknowing" is clearly neither true nor justified.

It's not until the final line of his argument that he finally presents us with the long-anticipated bait-and-switch and confirms our suspicions of his intellectual dishonesty. After severely narrowing his definition of knowledge to a specialized philosophical one, repeatedly ignoring objections that he himself admits are at least potentially valid, and relying upon a) spurious non-arguments against self-evident justifications and b) erroneous arguments against external justifications, Delavagus promptly attempts to switch back, without any warning or justification, to make his argument broad and universally applicable by claiming "we're all idiots".

But how can we all be idiots when virtually no one outside of the world of the professional philosopher accepts or utilizes his flawed philosophical definition of knowledge and the definition of idiot - "an utterly foolish or senseless person" - has absolutely nothing to do with ANY definition of knowledge? A lack of knowledge is not synonymous with a lack of sense, after all. We have no choice but to conclude that despite his native intelligence and advanced education, Delavagus is both intellectually incompetent and intellectually dishonest. Not only has he failed to make his case, he hasn't even seriously attempted to make it! In failing to correctly answer the initial question he posed and in failing to even attempt to make a case for his ultimate conclusion, the modern skeptic only manages to demonstrate his own foolishness. What purports to be a reformulation of ancient skepticism turns out to be little more than a projection of the modern skeptic's own lack of sense onto all of humanity.

It's appropriate that he concludes with an absurd, but Socratic-sounding statement on how the less we know, the more learned we become. After all, as I showed in my critique of the so-called Euthyphro Dilemma, Socrates was no slouch as an intellectual snake himself.

I will close my critique of Delavagus's first post with a selection from a quote that he himself provided.

"Blameworthy ignorance thus comes with a lack of self-knowledge of a peculiar kind. To think that you are wiser than you are is similar to enjoying the idea that you are more beautiful or richer – or a better driver, or more genuinely kind – than you are. These images of ourselves mislead us into overly confident claims to knowledge and expertise. I shall refer to this kind f phenomenon as Transferred Ignorance: blameworthy ignorance involves a transition from an inflated self-image to an inflated view of one’s ability to assess matters other than oneself. Even worse, when we, thus encouraged, put forward what we claim to know, we often formulate ideas that figure in our thoughts because we picked them up from others. While we indulge in our overly optimistic self-image, we forget that we do not even comprehend what we say."
- Katja Vogt

Setting aside the legitimacy of my critique or the validity of Delavagus's argument, I think it should be readily apparent that the thoughts I have expressed here were not picked up from anyone else, but are entirely original even if they happen to be identical to those expressed by others before, whereas Delavagus's lack of precision and error-plagued arguments tend to indicate that the thoughts he has expressed in his post were, for the most part, picked up from the professors under whom he is still studying. I therefore leave it up to those who have followed this critical analysis to determine towards whom a charge of blameworthy ignorance and an inability to comprehend what we say can be more aptly applied.

Next section
Dissecting the skeptics V

Previous sections
Dissecting the skeptics I
Dissecting the skeptics II
Dissecting the skeptics III


NFL Draft 2012

I'm quite happy with the Kalil (OT) pick, as well as the trade that helped them pick up some extra picks late in the draft. Both Smith (S) and Robinson (CB) appear to be sensible picks at positions of dire need, since the Vikes have a pair of decent cornerbacks that weren't able to stay on the field last year. Safety has been a problem for years, so here's hoping Smith works out. I do NOT understand the Jarius Wright pick, as he's another short receiver in the Percy Harvin slot receiver mode. Since they've already got Harvin, I don't see how Wright makes sense. And a FB in the fourth round? Seriously? It makes more sense for the Vikes and their running-heavy offense than for most teams that don't even use FB much, but still, it seems hard to believe there weren't any more pressing holes to fill. The second receiver picked, Childs, makes more sense given his 6'3" height.

All in all, it looks like a pretty good draft, with the potential to be an excellent one if it gives Minnesota even an average secondary to pair with a very good defensive line and if the new lineman and receivers help Ponder develop from "rookie with real promise" to "borderline elite NFL quarterback". His first-year performance was particularly impressive in light of how he spent good parts of it on the run.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dissecting the skeptics III

Rather than admitting his demonstrated errors or attempting to defend them, our intrepid champion of ancient skepticism has once again vowed to run away rather than engage his critics. Regardless, I shall continue with my critical analysis of his attempt to answer the question "what, if anything, do we know?" by examining the third section of To Know Our Unknowing with or without the benefit of his illuminating commentary. So far, we've identified five errors in his argument. Will there be more? Let's read carefully and see.
The constraints on justification outlined in (2)–called the Agrippan Trilemma–come down simply to this: merely assuming that something is true is not a rational reason to maintain that it’s true; therefore, any putative justifier must itself be justified, from which it follows that an infinite regress of justifications (where x is justified by y, which is justified by z, on and on forever) fails, as do circular justifications (where x is justified by y, which is itself justified by x).

There’s a sense in which the Agrippan Trilemma sums up the problematic of the entire history of epistemology. Foundationalist theories attempt to end the regress by appealing to some privileged class of self-justifying justifiers. Coherence theories, on the other hand, attempt to make a virtue of circularity by claiming, roughly, that we are justified in holding a set of beliefs if those beliefs evince the requisite degree of internal coherence.

Despite centuries–millenia!–of ingenious epistemological tinkering by generations of staggeringly intelligent people, it is hard to see, on the face of it, how any theory can escape the Agrippan Trilemma without giving up on rational justification altogether. The very idea of a self-justifying justifier is, if not incoherent, at least deeply suspicious. Such ‘foundations’ to our knowledge are often said to be ‘self-evident.’ But as the Devil’s Dictionary points out, ‘self-evident’ seems to mean that which is evident to oneself–and no one else. (Making the same point with far more plausibility, and much less humor: ‘self-evident’ seems to mean nothing more than what a particular cultural tradition has taught its members to accept without reasons.)

As for coherence theories, it may be the case that the greater the coherence of a set of beliefs, the more reason we have, ceteris paribus, to think those beliefs true. But the game of truth is not horseshoes or hand-grenades. Given that knowledge means justified true belief, then by claiming knowledge of x, we’re claiming that x is true, not that x is more or less likely to be true by virtue of belonging to a more or less coherent set of beliefs. There might be all sorts of interesting uses for coherence theories, but they are not theories of truth.

Finally, some epistemologists endorse ‘externalism,’ according to which (roughly) knowledge does not require that the knowing subject know that she knows. Here’s one way of putting it: as long as a belief was acquired by means of a reliable mechanism (a mechanism that is known to ‘track the truth’), then the belief is justified regardless of the ‘internal’ state of the subject. Externalists will want to argue that I (and other pesky skeptics) are demanding too much, namely, not just that we know x, but that we know that we know x.

Think about it for a minute, though. What does ‘externalism’ come down to? Just this: “It might very well be the case that many of our beliefs are justified even if we have no way of knowing that they are.” For consider: unless the externalist, or someone, is able to adopt the third-person perspective—the perspective from which it is possible to determine that Beatrice has arrived at belief x by means of a reliable, truth-tracking mechanism, and thus that she knows x (even though she does not know that she knows x)—then externalism amounts to saying, “It might be the case that we know all sorts of stuff.” Fine. I accept that, Sextus accepts that—all ancient skeptics do (at least in the externalist’s sense of having a true belief that is in fact justified in some way that escapes us). But without specifying what we know and how we know it (what justifies it), then externalism simply does not answer the question.

On the other hand, if externalists think that they (or someone) can adopt the justification-identifying third-person perspective, can identify (e.g.) reliable truth-tracking mechanisms, then their account of justification would have to be an account of the justification of those mechanisms—that is, an account of how it’s known that those mechanisms are truth-tracking. Externalism, then, if it is to contribute anything to the conversation, must collapse into internalism.

It is not enough to ‘know’ something in the externalist’s sense. Unless we’re in possession of a justification for a belief we hold, then we do not know that we know it, in which case we have no warrant for crowning it Knowledge.
There is no need to dispute Delavagus's summary of the Agrippan Trilemma, especially since in the current argument, it has no bearing on any form of putatative justification except those that purport to be rational. And even in the current argument, bringing it up would do little more than rehash the already dismissed problem of the criterion. Delavagus could, of course, simply wave his hand a third time and declare, for the sake of argument, that we shall agree that assuming something is true is a rational reason to believe it is true, but this time he elects not to do so and accepts the limitations that he previously ignored.

Nor do I see any reason to take exception to his assertions about self-evidence and coherence theories, even though I note in passing that he doesn't actually provide any reason to invalidate the former beyond citing Ambrose Bierce and his opinion that self-evidence seems to reflect cultural traditions. I tend to agree with his statements concerning the latter; they are not relevant here. However, when he attacks externalism, it is apparent that we have to look more closely at what he's saying and apply his definition of "knowledge" in order to be perfectly clear about it. When we refer to his definition of knowledge, the externalist claim concerning the skeptic's demand is not just that we possess justified true belief concerning x, but that we possess justified true belief concerning our justified true belief concerning x. Which of course, represents yet another return to the problem of the infinite regress. We need not trouble ourselves with all the tedious detail to see that externalism, as Delavagus describes it, amounts to a claim that a true belief can be justified without the subject being aware if his justification is valid or not.

And it is here that the problem arises. In his attempt to show externalism must collapse into internalism, Delavagus engages in a very shady attempt to move the goalposts, a move that is so blatantly shady that we must declare it to be his sixth error. Remember, the original question which Delavagus intended to answer was this: "What, if anything, do we know?" So, if an individual possesses knowledge, defined as justified true belief, then reason dictates he possesses it regardless of whether he happens to be aware of the validity of the justification for his true belief or not. What do we know? Those true beliefs that are justified, whether we know they are justified or not. All that matters is that the belief is true and the justification is valid. So, Delavagus is quite clearly wrong and externalism answers the very question that he asked because there is no need for the putative knower to justify his justification in order for him to legitimately possess the justified true belief. Therefore, whether we know that we know or not, we can and do know, even according to the philosophical definition of knowledge. The infinite regress is avoided.

His goalpost-moving leads Delavagus to commits his seventh error in his erroneous final statement. Whether we are in possession of the justification for the true belief or not, whether we even know the belief is true or not, we very much have a warrant for crowning our possession of justified true belief as knowledge for two reasons. First, because Delavagus did not define knowledge as "self-aware justified true belief", and second, because he did not pose the question "how can we know that we know?", but rather "what, if anything, do we know?" And the correct answer to that question, according to his chosen definition, is beliefs that are both true and justified, regardless of whether we know they are true or how they are justified.

Next section
Dissecting the skeptics IV

Previous sections
Dissecting the skeptics I
Dissecting the skeptics II


Yes, divorce is bad for children

It's even a serious problem for many adult children:
Twenty years after her in-laws’ messy and bitter divorce, Tammy, 35 — a print company manager who lives in Chesterfield, Derbyshire — and her husband Paul, 32, who works in hotel management, are still struggling with the fallout.

If anything the challenges have become worse as Paul’s parents have grown older. The continuing bad feeling between Tom and his ex-wife Mary, 78, impacts on the whole family, including their grandchildren, Alexander, eight, and Savannah, 15.

So bad is the animosity that many family events have been spoiled by it.

Like the growing numbers of other adult children in the same situation, Tammy and Paul have found that the passing of time does not heal the emotional wounds.

In fact it makes the issue of divided loyalties ever more acute, not least because of the increasing loneliness and frailty of their parents.

Much has been written about the trauma that people of any age feel when their parents decide to split. But little thought has been given to the fact that problems caused by broken marriages can actually deepen with time.

And if you throw much-loved grandchildren into the equation, then all-out war can ensue.
Speaking as a child of parents who divorced when I was an adult, I can testify that while the problems presented by parental divorce are real, there is an excellent solution to them. Move to a different continent. It makes life significantly less complicated and significantly more tranquil. Penguins or divorced parents? The choice practically makes itself.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Sitting in a glass house, hurling stones

I don't think a society in which a statistically significant percentage of the female porn revolves around necrophilia has a lot of leeway to criticize the purported "farewell law":
Alleged proposals to allow Egyptian husbands to legally have sex with their dead wives for up to six hours after their death have been branded a 'complete nonsense'. The controversial new 'farewell intercourse' law was claimed, in Arab media, to be part of a raft of measures being introduced by the Islamist-dominated parliament. They reported it would also see the minimum age of marriage lowered to 14 and the ridding of women's rights of getting education and employment.
I was always a bit skeptical about the reality of this supposed law anyhow. Six hours? Any mortician can tell you that dead bodies are perfectly useful for at least 48 postmortem. The link is perfectly SFW, but I wouldn't recommend clicking on any of the other comics. As a wise woman once said, 95 percent of all the world's weirdness comes from Japan. True science fact.

Dissecting the sceptics II

In the first post on Dissecting the sceptics, I noted that we had to be wary of a possible bait-and-switch regarding Delavagus's use of a uniquely philosophical definition of 'knowledge' rather than any of the eight definitions more commonly used today. There is nothing wrong with the definition of knowledge as "justified true belief", nor do we have any reason object to its use here, but especially in light of the author's academic background, we need to always keep that specific definition in mind because it necessarily limits the scope of the argument. The next section of To Know Our Unknowing is as follows:
So far, so good. But any step we take from here is going to lead us into trouble, for the question immediately arises: What does and does not count as a genuine justification? Right away, we find ourselves in the grip of what’s called the problem of the criterion, which can be summed up this way: without an already-established criterion of truth/justification, we have no way to establish the truth/justification of a putative criterion of truth/justification. Immediately, in other words, we’ve fallen into the difficulty of needing to justify that which makes justification possible. It is no easy task—putting it mildly—to see our way around this epistemic impasse.

But even if we bracket out the problem of the criterion, our difficulties are hardly over. For the sake of argument, let’s all agree to construe justification in purely rationalistic terms. Let us, in other words, agree to seek justification solely on the basis of the autonomous exercise of our capacity to reason. (Let us, that is, become philosophers.) Straight off, then, we can dismiss any putative justification that relies on appeals to authority (appeals that cannot be independently underwritten by reason alone, that is). Appeals to authority (such as God, sacred texts, or your friendly neighborhood guru) can play a role in justification, but they cannot be its ground. We can also dismiss things like divine revelation. (Again, divine revelation can play a role in justification, but only if the truth of the revelation has been independently justified.)

In short, let’s all agree to be ‘rational.’ Now, there must exist constraints on what counts as rational; otherwise, the concept would be empty, indistinguishable from irrationality. Ancient skeptics suggested the following as non-tendentious rational constraints:

(1) If a person claims to know something, then that person opens herself up to the standing possibility of being asked how she knows, i.e., to being asked for the justification of her belief.

(2) Successful justifications cannot involve:

Brute assumption
Infinite regress
Vicious circularity

(3) If a claim to knowledge cannot be justified, then the claimant is rationally constrained to withdraw it (at least qua knowledge-claim).
Delavagus continues reasonably here by bringing up the obvious question of what counts as justification in order to justify the true belief. This is important, of course, because sans any justification, even a true belief is insufficient to qualify as knowledge by his definition of it. The epistemic impasse is quickly reached, as the need for justification and the concomitant need for justification of the justification, quickly forces this definition of knowledge into an infinite regress. Delavagus even goes so far as admitting he has "no way to establish the truth/justification of a putative criterion of truth/justification."

But here is where he commits his fourth error. Instead of giving up the philosophical definition of knowledge as intrinsically worthless due to what he has admitted is the impossibility of providing any established justifications for true beliefs, Delavagus simply waves his hand again and attempts to leap over the bottomless pit of the epistemic abyss by asking the reader to agree to pretend the problem of the criterion does not exist. He also asks us to ignore all potential justifications that are not based on the autonomous exercise of our ability to reason. While only the former is an actual error, the decision to simply ignore all of the other forms of potential justification is something that we also have to be careful to keep in mind. After all, it would be every bit as logically valid and epistemically sound here were we to agree instead to construe justification in purely revelatory terms while dismissing any putative justifications that are not based on sacred texts or divine visitations. There is nothing wrong with this self-imposed limitation, but it must be remembered that it is artificial and the author has provided no grounds whatsoever in restricting all potential justification to the rational.

He goes on to correctly point out that it is necessary to distinguish between the rational justification and the irrational justification, then provides three constraints to help distinguish between the two. The first point is unobjectionable, if a little confusingly worded. If a person claims to possess justified true belief, that person opens himself up to the possibility of being asked about the justification of that belief, just as he opens himself up to questions concerning the truth of his belief or even if his belief is genuine. And while I wouldn't go so far as to call the second point an error because it is true that successful rational justifications can't include brute assumption, infinite regress, or vicious circularity, Delavagus is more than a bit careless when he states that successful justifications cannot include them since he's not attempting to define successful justifications, he's attempting to define rational justifications. This carelessness helps lead him into his fifth error, in (3), wherein he states that "If a claim to knowledge cannot be justified, then the claimant is rationally constrained to withdraw it".

But how is that so? There are three problems here. First, the if/then statement is relevant, given the subject matter, but unwarranted. The ancients may well have suggested it as a rational constraint, but their opinion has no bearing on whether it is legitimately applicable or not. As it stands, (3) is nothing more than an appeal to authority of the sort that Delavagus has already ruled out of bounds. Second, it is a circular statement, as how can a constraint intended to mark the limits between the rational and the irrational be itself dependent upon a rational constrainment? Third, since Delavagus has permitted himself to simply "bracket out the problem of the criterion", he has no ability to assert that anyone with a claim to knowledge that cannot be justified cannot do exactly the same in refusing to withdraw that claim. The statement isn't necessarily untrue, but it is both questionable and unjustified.

What we're seeing here is that Delavagus has continued to narrow the scope of his argument while continuing to ignore the valid objections he readily admits. What initially began in very broad terms, referring to humans being "stupid, stupid creatures" and telling us that "we're all idiots" has now severely constricted the definition of knowledge, artificially thrown out every form of putative justification that is not based on reason, is using a dubious metric to distinguish between the rational and irrational, and is attempting to establish that which we were told cannot be established. None of this is sufficient to declare Delavagus's defense of Pyrrhonism invalid yet, but it does tend to indicate that one will have to examine his eventual conclusions very carefully to see if they are, in fact, successfully and rationally justified, or if they even follow logically from his arguments.

Dissecting the skeptics III


The Greatest Speech Ever Given

The greatest economics-related speech, at any rate. I kid you not. I found myself sounding like a Spirit-infused Southern Baptist listening to a fiery old preacher thundering from the pulpit as I read it:
Thank you very much for inviting me to speak here at the New York Federal Reserve Bank.

Intellectual discourse is, of course, extraordinarily valuable in reaching truth. In this sense, I welcome the opportunity to discuss my views on the economy and monetary policy and how they may differ with those of you here at the Fed.

That said, I suspect my views are so different from those of you here today that my comments will be a complete failure in convincing you to do what I believe should be done, which is to close down the entire Federal Reserve System

My views, I suspect, differ from beginning to end. From the proper methodology to be used in the science of economics, to the manner in which the macro-economy functions, to the role of the Federal Reserve, and to the accomplishments of the Federal Reserve, I stand here confused as to how you see the world so differently than I do.

I simply do not understand most of the thinking that goes on here at the Fed and I do not understand how this thinking can go on when in my view it smacks up against reality.

Please allow me to begin with methodology, I hold the view developed by such great economic thinkers as Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Murray Rothbard that there are no constants in the science of economics similar to those in the physical sciences.

In the science of physics, we know that water freezes at 32 degrees. We can predict with immense accuracy exactly how far a rocket ship will travel filled with 500 gallons of fuel. There is preciseness because there are constants, which do not change and upon which equations can be constructed..

There are no such constants in the field of economics since the science of economics deals with human action, which can change at any time. If potato prices remain the same for 10 weeks, it does not mean they will be the same the following day. I defy anyone in this room to provide me with a constant in the field of economics that has the same unchanging constancy that exists in the fields of physics or chemistry.

And yet, in paper after paper here at the Federal Reserve, I see equations built as though constants do exist.
And the close, Sweet Mises, the close! It is unbelievable! If you can read Robert Wenzel's speech to the New York Federal Reserve without involuntarily emitting one "that's right", "amen", or "halle-fucking-lujah", you simply do not belong at this blog. I sent him the following email:

Please allow me to compliment you, no, praise you, for giving what henceforth must be known as The Greatest Speech Ever Given in the field of economics. It was as if Daniel not only entered the lions' den without fear, but voluntarily, to preach to the beasts of the merits of vegetarianism. The English language simply does not possess the words to describe how magnificent your speech was.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Not at all indoctrinated

An epically silly left-liberal response:
of thousands of rose-waving Norwegians gathered in rain-drenched Oslo Thursday to deride mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik by singing a song he hates, viewing it as Marxist indoctrination. Some 40,000 people, according to police, massed in the rain at a square near the courthouse where Breivik is on trial for his July 22 attacks that killed 77 people, to sing "Children of the Rainbow" by Norwegian folk singer Lillebjoern Nilsen.... Last Friday, Breivik had said that Nilsen was "a very good example of a Marxist" who had infiltrated the cultural scene and that his song was typical of the "brainwashing of Norwegian pupils."

Protesters ranging from elderly in wheelchairs to young school children streamed into Youngstorget Square wearing colourful raincoats and carrying Norwegian flags and roses, which have come to represent Norway's peaceful response to the horrifying attacks. The culture ministers of the Nordic countries were also at the square to participate, while other similar events were to take place across Norway.
And here one might have imagined that mocking the kumbaya-instincts of the Left was exaggerated. It's certainly a counterproductive way of trying to prove to Breivik that they're not indoctrinated. Sing, children, sing!

Just more black-on-black violence

The Narrative further melts down:
The 28-year-old insurance-fraud investigator comes from a deeply Catholic background and was taught in his early years to do right by those less fortunate. He was raised in a racially integrated household and himself has black roots through an Afro-Peruvian great-grandfather - the father of the maternal grandmother who helped raise him

A criminal justice student who aspired to become a judge, Zimmerman also concerned himself with the safety of his neighbors after a series of break-ins committed by young African-American men. Though civil rights demonstrators have argued Zimmerman should not have prejudged Martin, one black neighbor of the Zimmermans said recent history should be taken into account. "Let's talk about the elephant in the room. I'm black, OK?" the woman said, declining to be identified because she anticipated backlash due to her race. She leaned in to look a reporter directly in the eyes. "There were black boys robbing houses in this neighborhood," she said. "That's why George was suspicious of Trayvon Martin."
Now that is indeed amusing. The Great White Defendant isn't just Hispanic, but turns out to be an octoroon! Case closed. Send the camera crews home. That sound you're hearing is just the term "White Hispanic" being frantically scrubbed from the media style guides.

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Dissecting the sceptics I

I've been asked in the past to explain how go about breaking down and critically analyzing an argument and how I am able to so readily spot the flaws it contains. Since Delavagus has demonstrated that he is no more able to discuss and defend his views of Pyrrhonism than Sextus Empiricus, albeit without Sextus's excuse of having been dead for 1,802 yearsfound the time to respond to my two questions, his two posts on ancient scepticism will serve as an ideal specimen for this example. I'm not going to do it all at once, however. This will be an ongoing series over the next few weeks in order to keep the argument digestible since most of you have no reason to be familiar with the ancient source material. But I can assure you that it's really not very difficult stuff so long as you look past the fluff of the vocabulary.

The first question I always ask myself is if the argument is primarily factual, logical, or rhetorical in nature. The second question I ask myself is if the author is likely to have any idea what he's talking about or not. And the third question is if I regard the author as being trustworthy or not, or rather, if I believe him to be fundamentally intellectually honest or not. These three questions determine how carefully I read through an argument and whether I presume the author is more likely to make a simple mistake or whether any apparent mistakes are actually intentional attempts to sneak something past the insufficiently careful reader in order to make a flawed argument look convincing.

The fourth question is what is the author trying to prove? This question often can't be answered initially, but I keep it in the back of my mind for future reference. Once I identify the specific point that the author is trying to prove, I can track back from it to see if a) his logic is correct, and b) if that logic is soundly supported. It's important to keep in mind that the actual point that the author is trying to prove is not necessarily the one that he appears to be trying to prove in the title or introduction.

Now, in his post To Know Our Unknowing, Delavagus describes himself thusly: "My name’s Roger Eichorn. I’m a friend of Scott’s, an aspiring fantasy novelist, and a Ph.D. student in philosophy at the University of Chicago. My primary area of specialization is ancient skepticism, particularly the Pyrrhonism of Sextus Empiricus."

So what does this tell us? He's educated, he's inexperienced, he's at least moderately intelligent, he's a wannabee, he's a larval academic, and like most would-be novelists, he's probably got at least a bit of a superiority complex. Moreover, he chooses to frequent a place that we know to be run by a confirmed intellectual snake. We also know, given the subject matter, that there is a textual authority to which his arguments can be compared and held accountable. So, the answers to the three questions are: factual, yes, and no. It's a factual argument written by someone who probably knows what he's talking about and is potentially at least a little intellectually dishonest. And since he's an academic of sorts, we know to look for the word games, in particular the definitional bait-and-switch of which they are so very fond. At this point, I wouldn't go so far as to say that I smell a rat, only that I believe there is a high probability that a rat or two will soon present itself. So, I read the post paying particular attention to any definitional ambiguities or unwarranted leaps of logic.
In this post, I’d like to discuss one of Scott’s favorite themes—human stupidity—in relation to Pyrrhonism. Scott focuses, and for good reason, on the growing scientific (that is, empirical) evidence to the effect that humans are stupid, stupid creatures. Much of this work is cutting-edge stuff, largely because of recent technological advances that have (as Scott likes to say) broken open the ‘black box’ of the human brain. Even so, there’s a sense in which the findings Scott brings to our attention are merely the latest chapter in a long story, a story that goes all the way back to the ancients.

Sextus Empicirus himself based many of his arguments on empirical evidence. Though, of course, his ‘evidence’ was not the sort of thing that would pass muster in a modern scientific context, I believe there’s every reason to think that, were he alive today, Sextus would be at least as fascinated by the growing body of evidence concerning human cognitive shortcomings as Scott is—and moreover, there’s every reason to think that he would have made potent use of this evidence in his skeptical dialectic.

However, Sextus did not think that we require empirical evidence in order to arrive at the conclusion that we’re all idiots. That conclusion, he thought, can be arrived at purely a priori, that is, while lounging in our armchairs and merely thinking through our knowing. Let’s see how this works.

The question is this: What, if anything, do we know? Knowledge is generally taken to be justified true belief.* (This is a twentieth-century formulation, but the thought goes back at least to Plato.) On the one hand, there are beliefs—all sorts of beliefs, many of them batshit crazy. On the other hand, there is the way things actually are (truth). How do we assure ourselves that a belief reflects how things actually are? We do so, the thought goes, by justifying that belief.

* = Those with a philosophical background might at this point protest, “But what of Gettier cases?” I’m going to ignore Gettier here, partly to keep things simple, but also because I think Gettier’s problematization of the standard conception of knowledge fails, that its failure has been demonstrated numerous times, and that epistemologists should just move on already.
Now, far be it from me to argue with the assertion that humans are stupid, stupid creatures. MPAI, after all. That being said, do you spot the first error? We've barely gotten started and already we find a questionable word game being played with "evidence", as well as irrelevant musings on what would fascinate Sextus and an unjustified belief claim concerning how Sextus would have made use of modern scientific evidence. The latter, we will eventually see, is particularly ironic, but at this point it's neither here nor there. Perhaps, like the gentleman with the 190+ IQ, Sextus would instead spend his days looking at pictures of unclad women, repeatedly taking IQ tests, and writing jokes. We don't know, and more to the point, we don't care. But what this very usefully tells us is that Delavagus is not a rigorous thinker and he is liable to going off on irrelevant tangents and making groundless assertions concerning things he can't possibly know.

Of course, the second error is not only readily observable, but is the very sort of error towards which we anticipated he would be inclined. He practically highlights it for us, as he writes "Knowledge is generally taken to be justified true belief." Weasel words such as "generally", "basically", and "pretty much" are always red flags, particularly when they precede something as important as the definition of an argument's foundation or central subject. So is "justified true belief" really what knowledge is? Let's turn to the dictionary.

Origin: 1250–1300; Middle English knouleche

1. acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition: knowledge of many things.
2. familiarity or conversance, as with a particular subject or branch of learning: A knowledge of accounting was necessary for the job.
3. acquaintance or familiarity gained by sight, experience, or report: a knowledge of human nature.
4. the fact or state of knowing; the perception of fact or truth; clear and certain mental apprehension.
5. awareness, as of a fact or circumstance: He had knowledge of her good fortune.
6. something that is or may be known; information: He sought knowledge of her activities.
7. the body of truths or facts accumulated in the course of time.
8. the sum of what is known: Knowledge of the true situation is limited.
9. sexual intercourse.

As should be clear, Delavagus's definition of knowledge isn't a valid one in common usage, but instead represents a different concept altogether. His statement is provably incorrect, as knowledge is quite clearly NOT "generally taken to be justified true belief". I tend to doubt Sextus Empiricus is considered to have logically proven that Man cannot have sex, even if, as per Tucker Max, the average philosophy student at the University of Chicago has about as much experience of sexual intercourse as he does with riding unicorns. But the important thing is that Pyrrhonism, or more properly, Delavagus's argument in defense of Pyrrhonism, has no more connection to the other eight definitions of "knowledge" than it does to sex. This tenth definition would be fine, of course, (perhaps it could be termed "knowledge in the philosophical sense"), so long as Delavagus subsequently avoids attempting to switch from "justified true belief" to any of the nine definitions provided by the dictionary. He hasn't done so yet, but due to his attempt to pass off his own definition as a general one, we now know to be on guard for the likely switch to come.

As for his dismissal of Gettier, who showed that there are instances of justified true belief that are not knowledge and therefore it is not correct to attempt equating knowledge with justified true belief, Delavagus's handwaving and appeal to the authority of his own opinion only underlines his previously identified lack of intellectual precision. But since he doesn't attempt to deal with it, we have no need to do so either other than to point out that he readily admits to ignoring this known objection to a key foundation of his argument.

Subsequent sections
Dissecting the skeptics II
Dissecting the skeptics III
Dissecting the skeptics IV
Dissecting the skeptics V
Dissecting the skeptics VI
Dissecting the skeptics VII
Dissecting the skeptics VIII

Exposing the False Skeptic
The "Skeptic" Confesses


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Too many lawyers

Even law professors are beginning to think so:
This week I'm planning to write about various widespread but in my view mistaken beliefs regarding the intensifying crisis in American legal education. I'm going to start with this one: The biggest problem with American legal education is that it fails to produce practice-ready graduates.

This claim has been made by critics of the legal academic establishment for roughly a century now (every 15 years or so some sort of quasi-official report reiterates it). It was a topic of discussion at a law school symposium this weekend on the future of the legal profession, and is apparently a theme of Jim Molitenrno's forthcoming book, A Profession in Crisis, which argues that the fundamental problems with legal education today are in large part products of the fact that more than a century ago "medical schools decided that their mission would be to turn out doctors, while law schools decided that their mission would be to turn out law professors."

Now the claim that law schools remain largely indifferent to the fact that law school teaches law students almost nothing about the practice of law is itself quite true. What isn't the case is that this fact has in itself much to do with the increasingly unacceptable relationship between the cost of a law degree and the economic benefits it confers. Making graduates practice-ready is a fine idea in theory -- why else are law students going to law school anyway? -- but if such reforms do nothing about, or worse yet exacerbate, the crumbling cost-benefit structure of legal education they will do nothing about this fundamental structural problem. ... Any reform that doesn't make legal education less expensive while reducing the number of new attorneys is doing nothing about the real crisis, which is that law school costs far too much relative to the number of jobs available for attorneys.
Of course, unemployment is not the real problem with producing two lawyers for every one legal job. The primary problem is that lawyers are one of the few professions where they can easily create demand for their services at the expense of everyone else in society. It's as if doctors were out there breaking legs and releasing flu viruses in order to ensure a growing demand for their services.

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Vibrant marriage and the future

When you read this, keep in mind that most of the Muslims in the UK are of Pakistani origin:
Rachna Kumari, 16, was shopping for dresses in this city's dust-choked bazaar when it happened. The man who her family says abducted her was not a street thug. He was a police officer. Nor was he a stranger. Rachna's family knew and trusted him. He guarded the Hindu temple run by her father, an important duty in a society where Hindus are often terrorized by Muslim extremists, and he had helped Rachna cram for her ninth-grade final exams. After she disappeared from the market, he did not demand a ransom. According to her family, he had an entirely different purpose: to force her to convert to Islam and marry him.

In a country where Hindu-dominated India is widely reviled as Enemy No. 1, Pakistan's Hindu community endures extortion, disenfranchisement and other forms of discrimination. These days, however, Hindus are fixated on a surge of kidnappings of teenage girls by young Muslim men who force them to convert and wed. Pakistani human rights activists report as many as 25 cases a month.
Of course, the left-wing champions of barbarian immigration aren't likely to be concerned about the risk of adding these vibrant cultural traditions to their societies, since they are statistically less inclined to have children in the first place. This inspires an idea. Perhaps it's best to forget women's suffrage, as it's arguably even more important to not permit those who have no stake in the future any voice in shaping it. Why should the childless be permitted to sentence future generations to whom they have no connection to massive quantities of debt? This also has the added bonus of disproportionately removing the most ideologically problematic women from the electorate as well as many of the most left-leaning men.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You don't say

A global warming fanatic admits that he's been "alarmist":
James Lovelock, the maverick scientist who became a guru to the environmental movement with his “Gaia” theory of the Earth as a single organism, has admitted to being “alarmist” about climate change and says other environmental commentators, such as Al Gore, were too. Lovelock, 92, is writing a new book in which he will say climate change is still happening, but not as quickly as he once feared. He previously painted some of the direst visions of the effects of climate change. In 2006, in an article in the U.K.’s Independent newspaper, he wrote that “before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.” However, the professor admitted in a telephone interview with that he now thinks he had been “extrapolating too far."
You think? The interesting thing about this article is that there is no chance that Lovelock was alarmist about "climate change", considering that he was in on it early. He was a "global warming" alarmist, and while climate change may be happening, global warming isn't. And while the "scientific consensus" may have been settled, it's important to remember that even peer-reviewed experimental science only gets it right 11 percent of the time. Extrapolative science, otherwise known as "science fiction", doesn't do anywhere near that well.

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Mailvox: Sextus say relax

Not being a reader of this blog, Delavagus would have had no reason to know I'd read Sextus Empiricus last October, which is why I'm somewhat more familiar with Pyrrhonian scepticism than he probably assumed. Anyhow, the two questions he presented weren't difficult to answer, although I leave it to the reader to decide how effectively I answered them.
I’m particularly interested if, after reading [his two posts on ancient skepticism], you still want to charge skepticism with incoherence. If so, (a) what do you think the incoherence consists in? and (b) in what way does Sextus’s argument against peritrope fail?
First, let me point out that I've told Delavagus I am quite willing to respond in detail to those two posts on ancient skepticism if he's willing to allow me to post large chunks of them - properly credited to him, of course - here on the blog so that everyone easily can follow along. But it's not necessary to go into that level of detail to answer these two questions, although I have to point out that my charge of incoherence was not directed at Sextus Empiricus, the Pyrrhonian school of scepticism, or even skepticism in general, but rather at the professed uncertainty of R. Scott Bakker.

That being said, yes, I do still want to charge skepticism, specifically Pyrrhonian scepticism, with incoherence. In answer to (a), I think the incoherence consists of the inherent contradiction between its arguments and its aims. In Chapter XII What Is the Aim of Scepticism, Empiricus writes: "It follows naturally to treat of the aim of the Sceptical School. An aim is that for which as an end all things are done or thought, itself depending on nothing, or in other words, it is the ultimatum of things to be desired. We say, then, that he aim of the Sceptic is "tranquility of soul" in those things which pertain to the opinion and moderation in the things that life imposes."

This creates two problems. It should be readily apparent that we can observe here that the Sceptic is claiming knowledge of things that, by virtue of his own philosophical system, he cannot possibly know. If he cannot know that the soul exists, he cannot reasonably aim for its tranquility. If he cannot know what tranquility is, he cannot aim for helping his soul reach that state. If he has no quantifiable metric for the things that life imposes, he cannot know what is excess, what is insufficient, and still less what is that desired moderation. Pyrrhonian scepticism is incoherent as both a philosophy and as a way of life because it is little more than a philosophically offensive weapon that can be trained just as effectively on its own stated purposes as on anything else.

Moreover, it can be shown to empirically fail as well, at least to the extent that it actually exists today. One of the arguments presented by the Uncertainty crowd is that the unquestioning nature of belief certainty is dangerous because it permits people to act freely without remorse or guilty conscience. But what is the most extreme belief certainty if not "'tranquility of soul' in those things which pertain to the opinion"? The member of the SS-Totenkopfverbände who was morally certain of the rightness of the Final Solution and liquidated the enemies of the National Socialist regime during the day without losing any sleep over it at night is, by Sextus Empiricus's own chosen measure, a more perfect Sceptic than the philosophy student who tosses and turns throughout the night wrestling with the troubling question of his own existence. Moreover, in discussing various beliefs with the Uncertainty crowd at Three Pound Brain, (who are not necessarily proper Pyrrhonian School Sceptics by any means), it is readily observable that they possess no tranquility of soul, as they are, by their own admission, deeply bothered by the mere existence of beliefs with which they strongly disagree.

Concerning (b), Sextus's argument against peritrope fails on three counts. First, he erroneously conflates the subset (his particular philosophy) with the set (all philosophico-rational thought); because there is philosophico-rational thought that is not Pyrrhonian scepticism, all refutation of the latter cannot automatically be taken as any refutation of the former. Second, even if Sextus were correct and charging the skeptic with self-refutation did amount to charging philosophico-rational thought as such with self-refutation, that doesn't change the fact that since Pyrrhonian scepticism is a subset of philosophico-rational thought, if the charge is substantiated and all philosophico-rational thought is, in fact, self-refuting, then the charge of peritrope against Scepticism must also be correct! It's not a valid defense. Third, Sextus doesn't realize that the intended target of Pyrrhonian arguments is irrelevant with regards to its self-refuting nature; it doesn't matter what he is intending to target when it can be shown that his arguments necessarily also target his own stated aims.

And in conclusion, I note that it is not only the core aims that are susceptible to a valid charge of peritrope, but each of the Ten Tropes that are used to justify Pyrrhonian "suspension of judgment" as well.

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Democracy vs Aristocracy

The New York Times asks Tyler Cowen about the present state of the EU:
Today, very few countries in the euro zone are capable of making credible commitments or binding agreements with the others. Quite simply, democracy is having its say. The French soon may elect a left-wing candidate who, in essence, wants to exempt France from fiscal rules and place more fiscal risk on Germany. The Dutch can no longer form a governmental consensus on the budget. The Irish will be putting the fiscal compact up for a referendum, and the Greeks are holding an election in May. Even in Germany there could be problems holding together the ruling coalition.

In general, voters are unwilling to give up their say over policy, or to regard the European Union or euro zone as necessarily superior to national interests. When it comes to the specifics, it appears increasingly likely that at least one national electorate will pull the plug on the entire set of bailouts and austerity programs.

There is no way to pull off the required cross-national agreements. Resources are being drained from euro zone banks, which are contracting their lending to business. This will make the current recession worse, which in turn will necessitate further unpopular policies, including cuts in government spending. Euro zone countries will become more nationalistic in hard times, and more likely to vote against incumbent governments, no matter what the specific issue at stake. It is hard to see a stabilizing outcome, so the best bet is on a crack-up of some of Europe's major economies, including Spain and Italy.

There is an old saying in economics, namely "no monetary union without a corresponding fiscal union." It could be added "no fiscal union without a corresponding electoral union." In the longer run, we will probably end up with none of these institutions.

The euro zone probably was unworkable from the beginning, and now we are seeing why.
What we're seeing here is the last desperate gasps of democracy as the new aristocratic age struggles to be born. The outcome of the current crisis is far from certain, but at least we're now able to see relatively clearly what the most likely possibilities are. The collapse of the Dutch government and the surge of the anti-EU National Front in France show that the strategy of the European political elite, which is to offer the people a choice between pro-EU Party A and pro-EU Party B, is no longer working. Even in the UK, which is slightly insulated from the problems of the Euro thanks to its retention of the pound sterling, the popularity of UKIP is now growing rapidly due to the recognition that there isn't any meaningful euroskepticism in the Conservative Party anymore. (Note to Daniel Hannan - you're a leader, not a follower, and so it's time to switch to UKIP).

Since the European masses are turning against the EU, the next tactic of the EU elite will be to suborn leaders like the Socialist Hollande, who are elected on moderately anti-EU promises. I expect Hollande to turn around and stab his left-wing nationalist followers in the back by embracing the austerity programs designed to keep the banks out of default, thus assuring that Marine Le Pen and the National Front will have a real chance of winning the next set of French elections. But the overall pressure is growing, and so when the bait-and-switch tactics fail, the new European aristocracy will turn to the solution they've imposed in Italy and Greece, which is to altogether abandon democratic rule. Right now, these aristocratic interregnums are short-term, but no doubt another debt or currency crisis will provide the justification for extending them where they already exist and imposing them where they don't. The only way they can push for the political and fiscal union for which the monetary union was the bait is by throwing out all but the last vestiges of democratic government.

But the long-awaited nationalist tide is just beginning to rise, which is an excellent thing considering the monstrous and authoritarian nature of the globalist aristocracy. The potential problem is that in order to smash the edifice constructed by the ruling aristocracy, the nationalist pendulum will swing farther than it needs to. Thanks to the machinations of the multiculturalists, there are no shortage of scapegoats readily on hand for the angry and newly nationalistic natives; in fact, one wonders if the elite's encouragement of mass immigration might have been intended as a means of both distracting and marginalizing the nationalist forces from the start. Either way, it's already clear that it won't work; the National Front won 30 percent of the real French vote and similar results will be seen in other elections across Europe.


Monday, April 23, 2012

No patience for debate?

Fresh from being caught out, Wängsty makes what would appear to be a wildly unfounded accusation:
One of the things that has always puzzled me about this fracas is the way the Hate Camp is so bent on perceptions of my ‘emotional distress,’ the idea that they are ‘getting to me,’ or causing me real emotional anguish. And I realized, these are people who want to hurt people they deem ‘immoral.’ They want, quite simply, someone to punish – or a ‘punching bag,’ as ACM has it. Now this is more than a little troubling. But it does explain why they have no patience for nuance or debate. It’s hard to hurt people when their guilt is aired as an open question. If they’re innocent, then you being so bent on hurting them says some pretty nasty things about you.
To which I responded: Is that so? You couldn’t find any of the extensive debates on my blog? Very well, to prove you wrong, I’m pleased to challenge you to a written debate on the causal relationship between certainty, as you have defined it, and war. I suggest three rounds of no more than 2,500 words per person each, and since you have made the claim, I suggest that you go first.

Do you accept?

PS - I readily acknowledge that I still owe Dominic the next round on the existence of gods. And I have worked on it, but I'm not satisfied with it yet. Knowing him, I expect he won't object, seeing as that it will take only a fraction of the effort to take apart Bakker's claim than it does to effectively respond to Dominic's arguments.

A classic hero

You are Aeneas. You’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders but sometimes you just need to focus on the task at hand and stop moaning! Sometimes your relentless drive can make you seem cold-hearted but you are compassionate and a selfless leader.

How very odd! I thought surely I'd end up as Odysseus. Anyhow, the quiz is to celebrate the release of a new edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary. And speaking of classics, I have to express my deep gratitude to SL, whom I met yesterday for an excellent three-wine lunch on a beautiful afternoon overlooking the uncharacteristically sunny Langhe. He also gave me a set of the famous Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which is already established in my bookshelf on two shelves just under my cherished Cambridge Medieval History. It makes for fascinating reading, and I've already encountered a monastic order, hitherto unbeknownst to me, that I'm considering how to incorporate into the new novel.


This seemed apt

I thought this comment at In Mala Fide was particularly on target in light of the ongoing discussion at Wängsty's place:
Jonathan Haidt has shown that most liberals are simply people who only care about care/harm and fairness, while discounting loyalty, respect for authority, and purity/sanctity. For liberals there are no transcendent moral values, only utility and fairness. Furthermore, other scholars have found that most people tend to rely less on those latter three moral foundations when they are comfortable and safe. Which means that liberalism is the natural and spontaneous result of living in a safe and prosperous society. Haidt has also found that liberals can’t even understand loyalty, respect for authority and purity/sanctity. So they tend to think their political opponents are just being massive dicks.
The landmark performance of the National Front in France yesterday makes it very clear that conventional left-liberalism can't survive economic hard times. As unemployment continues to rise and economic pressure intensifies, people will quite naturally become far less indulgent of the various absurdities that the Left continues to push on the populations of the West. It's simply not credible to argue "immigration is good for the economy" when the youth unemployment rate is north of 50 percent and 50 percent of college graduates are either unemployed or working at jobs for which their degrees are absolutely unnecessary.

History has always been cyclical and it is not different this time. I pointed out that peak atheism corresponded pretty closely with the tech boom, and I think it is safe to conclude that we have likely passed the peak of social liberalism and multiculturalism as well. The problem, of course, is that while some left-liberals will return to sanity, many more will move to the hard left, or what the Communists call "the fascist right" and all of the violence that necessarily entails.

It's worth noting that according to Haidt, the only arguments to which liberals are likely to convincing are utility-based. You'll note that those are the sorts of arguments upon which I tend to heavily rely when engaging in discourse with them.

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WND column

The consequences of Obama's culinary habits are considered:
I’ve eaten some strange things in my day. Living in Japan, for example, we occasionally broke our fast with orange juice and octopus tentacles, which most assuredly is not the breakfast of champions. There was the squid pizza at the Pizza Hut, the burned caramelized meatloaf that was a Chinese chef’s gracious, but misguided, attempt to make a hamburger for the American, and live shrimp plucked from the pool, cut in half and served freshly twitching. I tried whale, which is dark maroon and too rich to eat more than a few bites, as well as some bitter sea creatures that are only delicacies by virtue of their rarity; I half-expected that they would glow if we turned the lights out.
Obama really has no one to blame for this but his supporters. If they hadn't tried to make hay out of Romney's foolish exercise in canine transportation, Romney's supporters likely wouldn't have gotten on Obama's case for his childhood cuisine.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The immigration transformation

So much for the sexy side of the scientific secular utopia.
As many as 100,000 women in Britain have undergone female genital mutilations with medics in the UK offering to carry out the illegal procedure on girls as young as 10, it has been reported. Investigators from The Sunday Times said they secretly filmed a doctor, dentist and alternative medicine practitioner who were allegedly willing to perform circumcisions or arrange for the operation to be carried out.... The Metropolitan Police said since 2008, it had received 166 reports of people who fear they are at risk of FGM but it has failed to bring forward a single perpetrator. It is the same for all 43 forces across England and Wales with no convictions for the offence ever taking place.
The problem isn't that immigrant women are getting cliterodectomies, involuntary or not. They would have gotten them in the native countries anyhow and they will continue to get them in Britain. The problem is the possibility that the practice will eventually begin to spread to the British population. No doubt that sounds impossible, but then, I'm sure the idea that Britain would ever become a Christian nation and stop painting their bottoms blue probably sounded crazy to the average druid. What is actually crazy is the fact that feminists refuse to work towards stopping immigration even though tens of thousands of women are having part of their genitals amputated, just as environmentalists won't protest it even though it necessarily leads to more pollution and pressure on the environment.

Instead, they both continue to embrace the multitudinous advances in cultural vibrancy, such as sex selective abortion and genital amputation.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Wängsty discredits himself

In which R. Scott Bakker conclusively demonstrates that he isn't merely hypocritical, ignorant, morally blind, and philosophically inept, he also happens to be a confirmed liar:
By way of disclosure, I have to say that I’m most interested in the way you’ve changed your answers to these questions since the last time. We actually speculated about how you might change your rhetorical tactics. You seem to have moved from a bald (and quite embarrassing, I think you realized in retrospect) assertion of exceptionalism (IQ, social regard – I think you even managed to work your wife’s fertility in there!) to one that has more cognitive qualifications (which is something I predicted – my conceptual model must have been bang on that day!).
To which I replied: "As I recall, the previous questions were different, Scott. Why on Earth would you expect me to provide the same answers to different questions? I’ll suppose I’ll have to look up your previous questions and compare them. And before I do, let me point out that this will have some seriously negative implications for your credibility and intellectual honesty if those two sets of questions are not identical."

I've been engaging with Bakker long enough now to know that he is a slippery intellectual snake, and while I'm not perfectly consistent over time, I don't customarily change my answers to the same question without either admitting or realizing I have done so. So, his claim that I had changed my rhetorical tactics immediately triggered my BS radar. I went back and looked at every single question both he and his readers asked me, and thanks to his description, I had no trouble identifying the one to which he was referring, which I answered in the post entitled The Wangst that Comes After.

Wängsty: "What makes him think he’s won the Magical Belief and Identity Lottery?"

Oh, I don't know. Out of nearly 7 billion people, I'm fortunate to be in the top 1% in the planet with regards to health, wealth, looks, brains, athleticism, and nationality. My wife is slender, beautiful, lovable, loyal, fertile, and funny. I meet good people who seem to enjoy my company everywhere I go. That all seems pretty lucky to me, considering that my entire contribution to the situation was choosing my parents well. I am grateful and I thank God every day for the ticket He has dealt me. If I'm not a birth lottery winner, then who is? The kid in the Congo who just got his hands chopped off and is getting raped for the fourth time today? To paraphrase the immortal parental wisdom of PJ O'Rourke, anyone in my position had damn well better get down on their knees and pray that life does not become fair.

First, let me say that I'm not embarrassed by my answer to that question in the slightest. I wouldn't change a word of it if I were asked it again. But I wasn't. And to prove that, let's take a look at the questions that I subsequently answered. Here is the complete list of questions Bakker asked of me in the latest go-round. Do you see anything about the Magical Belief and Identity Lottery?

1. Granting two things, that the technologies that science made possible have transformed our world in the past three centuries, and that science, as another human institution, nevertheless suffers many flaws, you’re saying your non-scientific account of science demonstrates that science is not to be trusted… what? At all? More than non-scientific accounts? No differently than non-scientific accounts? [Bakker doesn't understand that technology drives science more than science drives technology. And it was not a "non-scientific account" that demonstrated peer-reviewed, published science papers from top science labs are about 11 percent reproducible. -VD]

2. Lastly, I will ask you – this one time – to refrain from verbally abusing any one on this site but myself. Are we clear on that? [Sure, we're clear that you asked. - VD]

3. Are you ever puzzled by the way it always seems to be the other guy that’s wrong? For us outsiders, we can only assume, absent any relevant information, that you are at best ‘in the right’ a fraction of the time (just like everyone else), but that you are duped into thinking you are pretty much right all the time (just like everyone else). What makes you special? My personal instinct – one that I think many others share – is to be skeptical of an individual the degree to which they impress themselves. Why should I make any exception in your case?

So Bakker is trying to claim that a question about the uniqueness of my identity and beliefs is exactly the same as a question about the unusual success of my public track record and thereby score some cheap rhetorical points by claiming that two very different answers to two different questions were actually two different answers to the same question. He then goes on to make the risible claim that this somehow supports his conceptual model and that he had predicted my behavior. But his claims aren't simply false, they are shamelessly dishonest. While I knew from the start that Bakker was somewhat of a charlatan and prone to intellectually carelessness as well, until now, I only suspected that he would be willing to knowingly lie in support of his utopian ideology. And the sheer stupidity of lying about such an easily checked statement tends to support one of my other suspicions, which is that Wängsty is more educated than intelligent.

Nor can Bakker claim that "what makes you special" is synonymous with his Lottery question, because it was asked in the context of why I believe I am right more than others are, as one can easily see in my answers to him.

Wängsty: Are you ever puzzled by the way it always seems to be the other guy that’s wrong?

That’s hilarious. When I make my annual economic predictions at the start of the year, I always score my predictions from the previous year. Sometimes they’re very good, such as the time I was only off on the change in the median existing home price by $300 when the chief economist for NAR was off by more than $40,000. Sometimes they’re not, such as when I didn’t anticipate the BLS playing games with the employment-population ratio in order to keep the unemployment rate down. But it’s not enough to be stupid, you have to be completely ignorant to think that anyone who meddles in economics could possibly think he’s right all the time. I only wish I was. Unlike academia, there are significant financial penalties for being wrong in the markets. But in general, your question is rather like asking if Bill Belichick if he’s ever puzzled that the other team always seems to lose. He’s a good football coach. I’m a good recognizer of patterns. I’ve been writing op/ed columns for 11 years. My track record is all out in the open and it speaks for itself. I don’t always get it right – I still can’t believe Hillary Clinton didn’t win the nomination – but in that same election, I was the only commentator in a field of 100 to correctly predict that Sarah Palin would be McCain’s vice-presidential choice. And this time around, I correctly anticipated Romney would be the Republican nominee; time will tell if my outlandish prediction that Obama will not be the Democratic candidate in November is correct as well. And note that I made that prediction about 18 months ago; my track record is not a result of playing it safe and obvious.

What makes you special? My personal instinct – one that I think many others share – is to be skeptical of an individual the degree to which they impress themselves. Why should I make any exception in your case?

Because I’m really that good. Look, a lot of people ignored me back in 2002 when I urged them to stay out of the housing bubble and buy gold instead. After housing crashed and gold went from $275 to $1750, a lot of those people subsequently decided that they at least ought to pay attention. Strangely enough, no one is laughing at my prediction of massive worldwide economic contraction anymore. What makes me special? I am not sure. There are certainly others smarter than I am, and more successful than I am. But what I’m very good at is forcing myself to only look at what is there, rather than what I want to be there. In retrospect, most of my errors have been caused by failing to sufficiently adhere to that principle, and that’s how I often pinpoint my interlocutors’ weaknesses: look at what they desperately want to believe is true and you’ll probably find a logical or factual error there. But what many of my readers find amusing about your accusations of certainty is that I have quite openly changed my mind about a number of significant ideological issues. Can you honestly say the same?

It may be illuminating to keep this in mind as I proceed to pin down the snake and vivisect his Moral Uncertainty Principle, armed with little more than a superintelligence and a peculiar definition of "certainty". Those who find this whole thing amusing will no doubt be interested to know that Mr. Moral Uncertainty appears to have a fairly serious obsession that the alien rape monsters of The Prince of Nothing were not enough to sate, as it appears rape is a major theme of his science fiction work as well.


More handicapable, more better

I tend to doubt that this interesting aspect of immigration is often taken into account when the pro-immigration theoreticians claim that immigration is always a net positive for society:
A BBC investigation in Britain several years ago revealed that at least 55% of the Pakistani community in Britain was married to a first cousin. The Times of India affirmed that “this is thought to be linked to the probability that a British Pakistani family is at least 13 times more likely than the general population to have children with recessive genetic disorders.” The BBC’s research also discovered that while British Pakistanis accounted for just 3.4% of all births in Britain, they accounted for 30% of all British children with recessive disorders and a higher rate of infant mortality. It is not a surprise, therefore, that, in response to this evidence, a Labour Party MP has called for a ban on first-cousin marriage.

It is estimated that one third of all handicapped people in Copenhagen have a foreign background. Sixty four percent of school children in Denmark with Arabic parents are illiterate after 10 years in the Danish school system. The same study concludes that in reading ability, mathematics, and science, the pattern is the same: “The bilingual (largely Muslim) immigrants’ skills are exceedingly poor compared to their Danish classmates.” These problems within Islam bring many detriments to Western countries. Expenses related to mentally and physically handicapped Muslim immigrants, for instance, severely drain the budgets and resources of our societies. Look at Denmark, for example: one third of the budget for the country’s schools is spent on children with special needs. Muslim children are grossly overrepresented among these children. More than half of all children in schools for children with mental and physical handicaps in Copenhagen are foreigners — of whom Muslims are by far the largest group. One study concludes that “foreigners inbreeding costs our municipalities millions” because of the many handicapped children and adults.
The problem, of course, is that the transformative effect of immigration goes both ways. The host culture is effected by the immigrant culture, so it is as reasonable to expect that first cousin marriage will be not only legalized, but adopted by segments of the native population as well, as it is to assume it will be banned. So, while this may be good news for those of you who have highly attractive cousins, it's yet another example of how what passes for progress is actually regressive and detrimental to society. After all, if the host culture cannot be deemed superior to the immigrant culture, it has no grounds for denying immigrants, and everyone else, any cultural tradition they practice. And one need not be a social darwinist to doubt the benefit to any civilized society of importing masses of people guaranteed to be disproportionately mentally and physically handicapped.

Excuse me. Of course, I mean disproportionately mentally and physically handicapable.


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