Saturday, November 10, 2018

Why is America Divided? Are contemporary political debates really more divisive?

My newest post at Intellectual Takeout:
In one sense political divisiveness has always been with us. The United States was birthed in political animosity ... 
... So why do we think the divisiveness of modern politics is so historically unique? How can some people say that the debates of our own time are worse than those which not infrequently consummated in two men firing pistols at each other? 
Is there some sense in which contemporary political debates are divisive in a way the older ones were not? How exactly does the attack on Fox News host Tucker Carlson's home differ from a duel?
Read the rest here.

Friday, November 09, 2018

#Logic and Meaningfulness: Do Truth Tables Imply a Limited View of Meaning?

I received an email the other day from someone who had come across my article "Logic and Reality Why Traditional  Logic Does Not Use Truth Tables" (an article that appears on this blog as "Why Traditional Logic Doesn't Employ Truth Tables"). He said that he understood me as suggesting that modern logic "isn't meaningful," and, if this was true, he didn't quite see how it could have value in scientific application or computer science as I seemed to suggest that it did. I thought I would share my answer to him, since posts on logic tend to be among my most read posts on this blog.

I think (and I have not thought this all the way through, so it is still a little experimental), broadly speaking, that the logical thinking that produces the truth tables (specifically Wittgenstein's early positivism) is a kind of thinking that inherently disallows meaning per se--or at least meaning as we think of it. 

When Wittgenstein, who invented the truth tables, says at the beginning of the Tractatus, "The world is everything that is the case," he seems to be positing a sort of sterile, Humean world in which there are things and relationships between things about which we make assertions that have "truth value." The truth tables, it seems to me, by virtue of the way they work, embody this view of reality. It would seem that meaning in such a world is problematized--or at least meaning as it manifests itself in such a world (rather than simply being read onto the world by the human mind) has little of the character we ascribe to it in normal mortal speech and thought.

In regard to modern symbolic logic's application to scientific application and computer science, I think the issue is how the tools of these disciplines limit their meaningfulness. Modern symbolic logic limits itself to the exclusively formal, and because of this limitation, it cannot encompass all we mean in our everyday speech (something Wittgenstein, if I understand him correctly, later realizes). Modern symbolic logic limits itself to the extensional or quantitative aspects of words and statements and does not take account of its comprehensional or qualitative character. 

Another way to say this is that the extensional use of language restricts us to seeing things only from the outside, while the comprehensional use of language allows us to see into the nature of things--and which kind of thing you are. Science, employing methodological naturalism, can only see things from the outside. Likewise computers, which are limited by their mechanical nature--the only difference between the two being that the scientist, being a human being with a soul, can step out of his scientific role and see into things (through philosophy, poetry, etc.), while computers, being mechanical, cannot. 

You have to have a very limited view of language to think that any language that can treated adequately in truth tables. Traditional logic does not limit itself in this way. It is comprehensional in a way that modern logic is not. Traditional logicians recognize that there are aspects of reality implicated in logic that are not purely formal, which is why it incorporates certain aspects of philosophical metaphysics in its study (mostly incidentally in formal logic, but fairly extensively in the branch of logic called material logic). 

So it isn't the kind of logic natural and computer science uses that would limit the meaning of what it expresses--it is rather the methodological limitation it imposes on itself that limits the meaning it can have, and the kind of logic it uses is used precisely because it suits their purposes.

In regard to conditional statements specifically, I'm not saying that the view of modern logic in which a conditional statement of the form "If P, then Q" is true when the antecedent is false is meaningless. I'm saying that viewing it that way is a denial of what we actually mean when we use such a statement. In other words, it may mean something, but it doesn't mean what we mean it to say in normal speech (or any other kind outside of the formalities of modern logic).

I don't think this is a matter of context; I think it is a matter of metaphysical assumptions. If you are a philosophical nominalist, then you will accept the truth conditionality of conditional statements and reject the everyday meaning of them. Whereas if you are a critical realist, you will accept the everyday meaning of conditional statements and reject the truth table view.

I think it's that simple. But I'm always open to another view that makes more sense.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Dems who opposed #JeffSession's appointment now oppose his ouster

This is priceless:

Democrats today are protesting Trump's firing of Jeff Sessions. House Justice Chairman-to-be Jeff Nadler (D-NY) tweeted, "Americans must have answers immediately as to the reasoning behind @realDonaldTrump removing Jeff Sessions from @TheJusticeDept."


Does anyone remember the Democrats position on Jeff Sessions when he was appointed? Anyone remember when all nine Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary committee voted against his nomination? Anyone remember all but one Democrat voting against him on the floor vote? Anyone remember then-Sen. Al Franken challenging his civil rights record?

Here is Elizabeth Warren on Jeff Sessions, circa June 12, 2017:
"He needs to be fired. He needs to be taken out of that job," Warren told “The Axe Files,” a joint podcast between CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics that is hosted by Democratic strategist David Axelrod.
Here was Warren's tweet today, November 7, 2018 AD:
.@realDonaldTrump’s firing of Jeff Sessions brings us one step closer to a constitutional crisis. Congress must act to ensure that Special Counsel Mueller can do his job without interference.
It has been said that Democratic positions are determined purely by Trump's positions: If he is for something, they are against it; if he is against something, they are for it. Today provides further evidence of this thesis.

Friday, October 05, 2018

What Anti-Black Lynch Mobs and the People Chanting "#BelievetheWoman" Have in Common

From Rod Dreher at the American Conservative:
In my rural Southern town, back in the 1940s, a black man and a white woman were discovered in sexual congress. The woman accused him of rape. The sheriff and two deputies hunted the black man down through the woods, captured him, dragged him back to the jailhouse, and lynched him. Days later, the white accuser broke down under the weight of her conscience. She confessed that the black man had been her lover. She had accused him of rape to save her own reputation in that white supremacist culture.
They "believed the woman." I guess that made it all okay.

The Bonfire of the Legalities: Niall Ferguson on the #KavanaughHearings

Oxford historian Niall Ferguson on the feminist Sharia law that White male-hating feminists seem to want to impose:
Having watched Ford testify, I have little doubt that she believes the truth of what she said. But as an historian who has spent many long hours interviewing people about past events, including in some cases highly personal matters, I do not regard that as good enough to destroy the reputation of a distinguished judge.

Human memory is, generally speaking, bad at history. Were I writing Kavanaugh's biography, I could not possibly depict him, on the basis of uncorroborated testimony provided long after the fact, as a man who attempted rape in his youth and lied about it later. His memory is also unlikely to be perfect. But his story — that, as a young man, he glugged beer and had the usual Catholic hang-ups about sex — is more plausible.

"Maybe so," comes the response, "but the Republicans used devious delaying tactics to keep Merrick Garland off the Supreme Court." The difference is that Garland's reputation was not destroyed in the process.

The #MeToo movement is revolutionary feminism. Like all revolutionary movements, it favors summary justice. Since April 2017, more than 200 men have been publicly accused of some form of sexual offense, ranging from rape to inappropriate language. A few of these men seem likely to have committed crimes and are being prosecuted accordingly — notably the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. But #MeToo seems to have created a single catch-all crime, in which rape, assault, clumsy passes, and banter are elided into one.

With a few exceptions, reputations have been destroyed and careers ended without due process. "I believe her" are the fateful words that, if uttered by enough people, perform the roles of judge and jury.

Monday, October 01, 2018

The "It's Not a Court Proceeding" Argument: The Left's Mob Mentality

I can't count how many times I have heard it during the Kavanaugh discussion: Someone points out the importance of due process and the presumption of innocence and the response is, "This is not a court proceeding. This is a job interview."

Uh huh.

Let's talk about the first issue, the presumption of innocence and due process. Why do these things characterize a court proceeding? Because they help assure that justice will be done. The consequences of a court decision are, in many cases, life-changing, and so we utilize rules that bring the greatest assurance of justice.

Of course a congressional hearing is not a court hearing, but does that mean its proceedings should not be just? Shouldn't the process of selecting a judge (who presides over court hearings, the whole point of which is justice) be just?

What exactly is the liberals' argument against justice?

You can have courtroom justice or mob justice. You can have the kind of justice you see in our justice system or you can have the kind of justice you see on The View.

In my opinion, anyone who doesn't believe that confirmation processes for judges should be just doesn't belong on a legislative committee that approves judges.

And a job interview? Yes, we all remember being asked by our prospective employers to submit our high school yearbooks for scrutiny.

Monday, September 24, 2018

It's time for the Republicans to show what they're made of

As I write this, another accuser has come forth accusing Kavanaugh of sexual impropriety. This one from college. Like the Ford charge, there are manifold problems, among them the lack of corroboration. They are charges that would have no force in a court of law and the Ramirez charge shouldn't even have been published by the normal standards of journalism (or at least the ones that used to be normal until ideology completely consumed ethical considerations among America's left-wing media).

In fact, there was a reason several other major mainstream news sources passed on the Ramirez charges (at least according to several reports): There was simply no corroboration of the charge and she wasn't even certain of what had happened until she had six days with people who had a political interest for her to remember it just right before she had any "clarity."

If these charges prove enough for Republicans to back down, then no one is safe. No conservative nominee will ever be confirmed.

Let's be clear on a couple of things.

First, we would not be where we are if Republican leaders in the Senate had done what they were supposed to do, which was to stick with proper protocol and go ahead with the originally scheduled vote. In diddling around they have lent credence to charges that of themselves have little credibility.

This is what happens when you don't have the courage of your convictions and instead start putting political calculation above what you know to be right. If they had gone ahead with the originally scheduled vote, the Ford charges would rightly be receding in the rear-view mirror of ignobility, and Ramirez would still be sorting out whether anything really happened.

Second, Tucker Carlson is right. I normally refrain from quoting Fox News hosts, since journalistic standards there can sometimes be as low as those at CNN. But it's a fact: If congressional Republicans can't confirm Kavanaugh, then there is no reason to vote for them.

In fact, Republican voters should pledge not to vote for any candidate who doesn't support Kavanaugh. Some of these people don't come with backbones and they need to be provided with them by the voters. Kavanaugh does not deserve having his life destroyed because Republicans couldn't stand up for him

Yes, Republicans are in a dilemma, but they are the ones who put themselves in it in the first place. Now their choice is between placating the left or responding to their conservative constituency. Choosing the former means they're irrelevant. Choosing the latter will cost them, but they will only have themselves to blame. 

Letting the left win now will only mean that they will win again and again and again.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Critical Thinking Skills Crisis: A response to criticisms of "The Critical Thinking Skills Hoax," Part II

This is the second of two posts addressing some specific points made recently in a critique of my recent post "The Critical Thinking Skills Hoax," on the Sept. 20 broadcast of "Critical Thinking for Everyone," a show hosted by two critical thinking skills scholars, Patty Payette and Brian Barnes. The first post can be found here.

The first five minutes of the show seemed to be intended to address the question, "Who is this guy?" A description of me, apparently gained through a quick Google search, provided fodder for several minutes of speculation and criticism.

One of the key areas of concern seemed to be my qualifications for writing a logic textbook. I have written several texts for high school students (although they are used at the college level as well in several places) that are fairly widely used in classical liberal arts schools across the country and are now being translated into Russian and Dutch. But Dr. Barnes judges them deficient--despite the fact that he has never laid eyes on them.

"I would say," said Dr. Barnes, "that a B.A. [in philosophy and economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara] would not qualify him to write these books."

I'm not sure where one goes to determine the qualifications for writing high school logic texts. And I realize that in Dr. Barnes' world of higher education certification counts for, well, almost everything. Surely there is something to be said for gaining a Ph.D in a subject, particularly if you want to teach it on the post-secondary level (which I don't, which is why I never bothered to get one).

One of the reasons I find Barnes' criticism problematic is because I took the same logic courses as the graduate students in the program. In fact, I was one of the only undergraduates in the upper level advanced logic programs (taught by Francis Dauer, a student of Willard Van Orman Quine at Harvard, whose text we used) and I believe I took all the logic courses that an M.A. or a Ph.D would have taken. If I took the same logic courses as the graduate students in the program, then how exactly would a graduate degree have better equipped me in that particular subject? Would I be more qualified if I got a Ph.D and took additional non-logic courses?

Furthermore, is a Ph.D either a necessary or sufficient condition for being able to write a competent logic text?

Let's think about two scenarios. First, someone with a Ph.D writes a deficient text (it has been done); second, someone without a Ph.D writes a competent text. Under what circumstances would you ever prefer the former over the latter?

I am assuming Barnes would admit that both scenarios are possible. But to admit the possibility of the first scenario is to admit that a Ph.D is not a sufficient condition to do such work. And to admit the possibility of the second is to admit that it is not a necessary condition for doing it. So I am unclear as to how he comes to his judgement.

If my text is a good text, then I am ipso facto qualified to write it. In other words, my writing a good logic text is a sufficient condition for judging me qualified to write one. So the only way to make the judgment he made is to know whether my text is a good text. But he doesn't know this, since he has never seen it.

Therefore his judgment is completely unfounded.

Dr. Barnes might want to read William James famous essay, "The Ph.D Octopus," in which the great psychologist and philosopher discussed the absurdity of the academic obsession with what he disdainfully calls "the three magical letters"--a problem far worse now than when he wrote the essay in 1903.

The number of Ph.Ds per square inch in our society today is reaching alarming proportions. If we had detectors for such things, they long ago would have sounded their alarms. You can't leave your front door before tripping over unemployed Ph.Ds looking for a handout.

This is undoubtedly the result, not only of Ph.D's being too easy to get, but a proliferation of subjects in which you can get them. If we are intellectually honest, we will admit that a Ph.D is not necessarily a guarantee that the person who has it is a well-educated person. I meet them all the time: people who have letters next to their names who neither know much nor have acquired the skills to productively acquire knowledge. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that there are otherwise reputable institutions of learning out there that are little better than degree mills.

There are people with Ph.Ds in a particular subject who are qualified to write books on that subject and people with that degree who aren't. And there are people who have Ph.Ds in certain subjects who write books entirely outside their field. In fact James, who is considered by many to be the greatest American philosopher of the 20th century had an an advanced degree in medicine but he didn't even have a bachelors degree in philosophy.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Critical Thinking Skills Crisis: A response to criticisms of "The Critical Thinking Skills Hoax," Part I

An essay I wrote several years ago and which Memoria Press recently republished was the subject of a radio discussion program at yesterday. The essay was "The Critical Thinking Skills Hoax," and the radio program is "Critical Thinking For Everyone" (click "all shows" and scroll to the bottom, show #39), hosted by Patty Payette and Brian Barnes, two critical thinking scholars at the University of Louisville.

The link to the show that discusses my article does not appear to be up yet, but you might check in later if you are interested.

Although the title of my article was intentionally hyperbolic, in the thesis of my article there was no hyperbole at all. It was that the vast majority of educators who talk about "critical thinking skills" are incapable of defining the term, and that it serves, practically speaking, as a promotional slogan and an excuse for the failure to do things essential in education, such as teaching academic content to students.

In the article I said, "Not one in a hundred even knows what he means by this term," a common figurative expression like "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse," or "her eyes were as wide as saucers," or "he was as skinny as a toothpick." But apparently critical thinking professionals are more literally-minded that most. Near the beginning of the program, Barnes challenged this statement by pointing to a study that purportedly found that fully "nineteen out of a hundred" educators could define critical thinking skills.

Of course this assumes that those performing studies to determine the percentage of educators who could define critical thinking skills could themselves define critical thinking skills. And I contend that not one in a hundred researchers who do such studies could define critical thinking skills.

I said "vast majority," but, in fact, in my own private, unofficial survey of educators, I have yet to encounter anyone who can give me a coherent definition. And I have talked to far more than a hundred educators on this topic.

In fact, I was waiting to hear a definition of it on the show, but I never heard one. At one point a list of examples of critical thinking skills practices was given. I guess that constitutes a rudimentary connotative definition, and that is certainly informative, but it doesn't constitute the kind of clear, essential, delimited definition (what one would be called a denotative definition) that one would need to have in order to properly design and implement programs that would be useful in schools, which I gather is one of the themes of this show.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll discuss that in a later post.

I will be posting several responses to comments made on the show, none of which, I hope, will not be so impudent as to cause the "Critical Thinking for Everyone" people to retract the gracious offer they have made to me to come on their show to respond, which, according to Patty Payette, the show's host, should be sometime in October or early November. I'll post the date here when we have one.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

My appearance on last week's "Kentucky Tonight" on Sports Wagering

Renee Shaw and guests discuss sports betting. Scheduled guests: Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky; State Rep. John Sims, D-Flemingsburg; Stan Cave, Lexington Attorney; and State Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, Licensing, Occupations, & Administration Regulations Committee Chair.
(Click on image to see the show)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The #CatholicChurch #priest abuse scandal is not primarily about #pedophilia or clericalism, says Phoenix priest

"The secular world which promotes homosexuality as a positive good had no choice but to spin the sex abuse scandal as predominantly a problem of pedophilia, the abuse of children to avert the attention from the truth staring them in the face..."

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Scientific Hubris: Why #Science Can't Answer All the Big Questions

Big Think has printed another of a class of essays, written by scientists, common these days, announcing in triumphant tones all the things that science can do outside its particular and limited domain. It was a reprint from an earlier post at Aeon. Almost without exception, these essays, which implicitly aspire to philosophical eloquence, fly too close to the sun. The only difference being that, while Icarus was able to gain a little altitude before the wax started melting, these writers never gain much altitude at all before flaming out.

These articles have a number of characteristic features. First, they are usually written by scientists almost completely unfamiliar with the philosophical issues they seem to feel qualified to address; second, they betray a marked ignorance of their own unquestioned metaphysical assumptions, assumptions outside the realm of science altogether, and which, moreover, are often question-begging; and third, their chief rhetorical mode of procedure is not reasoning, but a kind of naive optimistism that often descends into cheer-leading.

"Science," says author Peter Atkins, in his article "Why it’s only science that can answer all the big questions":

has proved itself to be a reliable way to approach all kinds of questions about the physical world. As a scientist, I am led to wonder whether its ability to provide understanding is unlimited. Can it in fact answer all the great questions, the ‘big questions of being’, that occur to us?

Well, first of all, why should we think it is unlimited? There are obvious limitations to science. Like all disciplines, it is limited by the unique tools at its disposal: in the case of science, it is the tools of mathematics and empirical observation. The tools of science are quantitative; they are therefore limited in the possible answers they might give to quantitative answers. 

When a scientist is faced with a non-scientific, qualitative question, he should realize that he is out of his water and would be better off treading lightly.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. History has produced a number of scientists who were also formidable philosophical minds. Alfred North Whitehead was one. Henri Poincare was another. A number of physicists (I'm thinking of Werner Heisenberg, Richard Feynman, and, more recently, Paul Davies) have been able to cross over and still make sense. Even popular science writers like Martin Gardner and Stephen Jay Gould were able to sound articulate even when they took off their scientific hats.

Unfortunately, Atkins is not among this august assembly.

First, he makes a distinction between two kinds of "big questions." The first, he says, 

include questions of purpose and worries about the annihilation of the self, such as Why are we here? and What are the attributes of the soul? They are not real questions, because they are not based on evidence. Thus, as there is no evidence for the Universe having a purpose, there is no point in trying to establish its purpose or to explore the consequences of that purported purpose. As there is no evidence for the existence of a soul (except in a metaphorical sense), there is no point in spending time wondering what the properties of that soul might be should the concept ever be substantiated. Most questions of this class are a waste of time; and because they are not open to rational discourse, at worst they are resolved only by resort to the sword, the bomb or the flame.

"They are not real questions, because they are not based on evidence." Hmmm. How do we know this? What evidence is there for the statement "The only real questions are questions based on evidence"? It is a metaphysical assumption that is simply unverifiable in itself and suffers from not being able to comply with its own criterion, since there is no evidence for it.

Then he takes a little, hidden leap: These kinds of questions "are not open to rational discourse." In other words, metaphysical questions are not rational because there is no evidence for them. But there are all kinds of mathematical questions that depend on no evidence at all. Geometry is full of them: They're called axioms and postulates. There is no evidence for them at all. We simply assume them.

The field of logic itself has all kinds of assumptions for which there is no evidence that even Atkins would be loathe to reject, among which is the Law of Non-Contradiction.

And then there is science itself. As the 18th century philosopher David Hume pointed out, the major premise in induction is that the future will always be like the past. There is no evidence for it. None. In fact, it is impossible for there to be evidence for it. Scientists postulate that there is such a thing as cause and effect. But these are metaphysical conceptions which, again, as Hume pointed out, are completely beyond the reach of evidence. Empirically speaking, there is only correlation. To posit cause and effect is to go entirely beyond the actual evidence.

And even supposedly empirical science goes beyond the evidence. Where, for example, is the empirical evidence for dark matter?

The second kind of "big question" is the kind of questions that 

include investigations into the origin of the Universe, and specifically how it is that there is something rather than nothing, the details of the structure of the Universe (particularly the relative strengths of the fundamental forces and the existence of the fundamental particles), and the nature of consciousness. These are all real big questions and, in my view, are open to scientific elucidation.

Well, okay. This is a mixed bag. The question of the "nature of consciousness" is something very different than the "relative strengths of the fundamental forces and the existence of the fundamental particles." How is the nature of consciousness even conceptually empirical? He gives no account.

And here is where Atkins employs a typical scientistic trope to make something sound scientific when it is not: "How is it that there is something rather than nothing?" is a disguised form of "Why is there something rather than nothing?" This is the trick that Laurence Krauss pulls in his book A Universe from Nothing (somewhat unfortunately subtitled Why There is Something Rather than Nothing), as I pointed out in my review of that book.

To get the general idea, compare Atkins reasoning here:

The first class of questions, the inventions, commonly but not invariably begin with Why. The second class properly begin with How but, to avoid a lot of clumsy language, are often packaged as Why questions for convenience of discourse. Thus, Why is there something rather than nothing? (which is coloured by hints of purpose) is actually a disguised form of How is it that something emerged from nothing? Such Why questions can always be deconstructed into concatenations of How questions, and are in principle worthy of consideration with an expectation of being answered.

With Krauss' here:

At the same time, in science we have to particularly cautious about "why" questions. When we ask, "Why?" we usually mean "How?"

... So I am going to assume that what this question really means to ask is, "How is there something rather than nothing?" "How" questions are really the only ones we can provide definitive answer to by studying nature, but because this sentence sounds much stranger to the ear, I hope you will forgive me if I something fall into the trap of appearing to discuss the more standard formulation when I am really trying to respond to the more specific "how" questions.

This is the practice Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek has likened to throwing a dart against a blank wall and then, only afterward, drawing a target around it. You take the why question, change it into a how question, and, presto, it becomes amenable to scientific resolution.

It's hard to believe that this move is not just intellectually dishonest. "Why" questions "are often packaged as Why questions for convenience of discourse"?!!! No, actually they're not. They're two entirely different kinds of questions, and Martin Heidegger, who famously asked the "Why" question about something and nothing, would have had a good laugh (which is a rare thing for a serious German philosopher) if he had heard this kind of nonsense.

Then, as if he had not already displayed enough hubris, Atkins says:

I see no reason why the scientific method cannot be used to answer, or at least illuminate, Socrates’ question ‘How should we live?’ by appealing to those currently semi-sciences (the social sciences) including anthropology, ethology, psychology and economics.

Wait a minute. I could have sworn that Atkins said that questions like this "are not real questions, because they are not based on evidence." And now questions of how we should live are open to scientific inquiry?

As Chesterton once said,

To mix science up with philosophy is only to produce a philosophy that has lost all its ideal value and a science that has lost all its practical value. I want my private physician to tell me whether this or that food will kill me. It is for my private philosopher to tell me whether I ought to be killed.

Finally, possibly because he is clearly having problems operating an argument, Atkins just settles for an altar call and asks everyone to come forward:

The lubricant of the scientific method is optimism, optimism that given patience and effort, often collaborative effort, comprehension will come. It has in the past, and there is no reason to suppose that such optimism is misplaced now. Of course, foothills have given way to mountains, and rapid progress cannot be expected in the final push. 

Amen, Halleluiah. 

In the rest of the paragraph whence those sentence came I counted four maybe's and one perhaps. Would if the enthusiasm were supported by actual, shall we say, evidence.