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satori
2007-Jan-27, 04:38 PM
sienence in our times is highly dynamic and lively branching OUT in ever new directions and fields obeying often more an intrinsic logic of structure building or the metalogic of the professionals who do it or the simple logic of the market ..... than the naive logic of a hypothetical human who invented it in the first place to give him answers to their ORIGINAL questions about their place in the world or the basic nature of nature....
My idea is, that we will never free ourselves truely from the shackles of arbitrary religions, if sience does not find the courage to give up its cherished methodological constrains and does not set out to branche back IN and build a common "standard world view". Observe well : the power of the religions stems from their brevity their well focused scope (what is really of concern to a human) and to unify its adherends under one common code ( i know what your basic thinking is, you know what is mine...)
now sience is often terribly analytic . wouldn't it be nice for a change to assemble something . for starters : could one agree in this forum about the place of us humans in "our" universe.? (do we at least matter to it)? or must we abstain from such questions because they are sientificaly undecidable ? And what would be the main pillows of the worldview of an enlightened beeing today ?

tdvance
2007-Jan-27, 06:27 PM
Science definitely doesn't limit itself to academia--given the number of amateur astronomers who have made discoveries of supernovae, comets, etc. In fact, Uranus was discovered by Herschel, who was an amateur astronomer at the time.

On the other hand, science does limit itself in another way--we (humanity) learn from past mistakes. We use the methods that have proven to work, and we reject those which have been shown to mislead. It is far from arbitrary!

satori
2007-Jan-27, 08:41 PM
hallo tdvance,
thank you for your repley but i think you are somewhat missing my point. I did not describe the sientific method as arbitrary. The contrary is true. Sience is so obsessed with the rigor of its method, that it often tents to hide that there is much more going on. Much more unspoken silent suppositions are in the game, than is ever admitted to by its players. In even the meanest reasonings that you do as a person or a sientist are you recurring to a treasuretrove of routines in your brain, that you have been presented with by evolution. Sience aspires to a state of purety, that it can't achive and never will. It wants itself to be true but is not upright enough to own up to its INHERENT limitations.
Now, what i originally wanted to go about, was not to bashing sience, but rather to encurredge it to state things that it otherwise would abstain from.
As a biologist , for example, you might be involved in yet another research project expanding on the well esteblished Darwinian theory. You will here have the opportunity to proof yourself and produce another millonth finding how "mother nature" does her trick of creating stuff. What will be missing in your paper is the simplistic truth, that selection only selects and all the most improbable mutations and even most intelligent iterferences couldn't facilitate an impossibility. Evolution will never do the trick to create a flying elephant.... Now i know you are a mathematician. And knowing this , i know that you
are well familiar with Existenzbeweisen (proofs of existance?).
So if you have BIG BANG plus lots of time , you get the proof that somthing as a human is possible in this universe But in mathematical terms is the existence of a human allready given together with the first suppositions. So the truely relevant piece of information would be outside the paper! In other words the occupation with sience keeps one levelminded or nourished (if you are a professional). But all the tinkering that is really important for forming your worldview goes allong very different lines and is just inspired by "surface sience".The sientific method is surely more apt for achiving rigor, than it is for achiving speed! If you are true to yourself you must admit , that only speculation lets you fly. With truely rigorous sience you crawl on your belly. In math, when you look down to your feed, and ask for the truthfullness and solidity of the ground that you are standing on, you are lost!!!!(remind gödel hier). In the end, all dependes on the GRACE of GOD. ...... and i have no idea who that MIGHT be....

Tim Thompson
2007-Jan-27, 08:44 PM
... if sience does not find the courage to give up its cherished methodological constrains and does not set out to branche back IN and build a common "standard world view".
Science, like everything else, is what it is. In this case, the cherished methodology you speak of is what science is. Give it up, and you don't have science any more, you have something else. I do not accept the premise that it is time for science to commit suicide.


now sience is often terribly analytic.
Often, but not always. As tadvance already mentions, there are plenty of amateur astronomers around, who make significant contributions to professional science. The members of the AAVSO (http://www.aavso.org/) are mostly amateurs, but they make real contributions to the real science of variable stars. And amateur astronomers still hunt for & discover new comets & supernovae (though the robotic searches are taking over that field now, I think - technology marches on). There are a number of other amateur science pursuits, in geology & biology (see, for instance, the Society for Amateur Scientists (http://www.sas.org/)).

It depends on what you want to do. Plenty of amateurs are quite capable of handling the analytic end of science. But the real point, I think, is that all of the easy stuff has already been done. Back in the "old days", through the renaissance, people could make major discoveries through clever experiments they could build at home, and a minimum of "sophisticated" mathematics. But those days are gone. All of those discoveries have been made, all those experiments have been done. They are in the past. The common world of common experience has had its foundations laid. Now the cutting edge of science, where new discoveries are made, is for the most part removed from the common world, and reside in the world of the uncommonly small (quantum mechanics) or the uncommonly large (general relativity & cosmology), where that kind of simple approach does not work. That kind of science is analytical beause there is no choice.


... or must we abstain from such questions because they are sientificaly undecidable? And what would be the main pillows of the worldview of an enlightened beeing today?
I don't think we ever need to abstain from any question. It's just that some questions are scientific and some are not. The scientific ones should have scientific answers, the non scientific ones need some other kind of answer. What is the place of us humans in "our" universe? I don't even know what the question is supposed to mean. Is it religious? philosophical? Scientific? Cartographic? Serious? Jocular? Science can only answer scientific questions.

satori
2007-Jan-27, 09:44 PM
thnk you tim thomson for a very wellcome reply
let me please refere to your last coment about your uncomprehension regarding my qestion for "our" place in this universe.
In another thread i quoted a statement of one of the men who discovered the accelerating expansion of spacetime (i did not mark it as a quote thou) where he said this here would be "every body's" universe. This earned me a (mild) reprimand of publius who forbade such speaking for the reason that not we were the possesors of the universe but to the utter contrary were we the possesed and more over were we in such a meek position versus the universe that it could decide at a wim to finish with us alltogether (for we little matter would not matter to BIG MATTER (i am expanding here freely on his theme)).....
Now bublius is a rigourus mind . I can attest to this from reading his letters. And yet has his sientific occupation firmed a fast conception in his mind that would according to you fall wide off the realm of the sientific. And more than that feels he the urge to reprimant me from a position of knowledge......
Now i find that very natural. I would find it strange if you could uncouple your sientific persona from your private one. So i think that sience should openly form and state "belives". Under the survace that happens anyway! Or do you think "sientificly orientated" people, as for example those drawn here to this forum, would constitute (regarding their belief system) an even part of the general population? Sience as everything what you do or think is distorting your mind anyway. Why must one be so shy about that?!

Ken G
2007-Jan-27, 10:55 PM
One must be shy about it because science is science, and philosophy is philosophy. Many scientists may choose to allow science to inspire their philosophy, but they must also be clear with themselves that at that point, they have stopped doing science and started doing philosophy.

Jeff Root
2007-Jan-28, 02:11 PM
I didn't read through all of satori's three posts, even though they
aren't really so terribly long or difficult to read, but, hey-- I don't
hafta read something to reply to a reply. (Though I did guess from
the thread title that it was going to be about academic science
versus commercial science. Evidently not.)

I'm replying to Ken. As far as I'm concerned, science is a branch
of philosophy. Logic is another branch of philosophy. Mathematics
is a branch of logic. I cannot separate science from philosophy
because I think that science is an application of philosophy.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

satori
2007-Jan-28, 05:12 PM
jeff root,
it is to bad that you didn't carefully study my well thought out observations, but anyway...
i am going to reply to your reply to ken's reply.
it is certain that science has its roots in philosophy, for it was done in newtonian times under the latin name of "philosophia naturalis".
Today i am not so shure whether it would be right to place science under the roof of philosophy. Much as you wouldn't exactly see today's USA as the oversea possessions of the queen...
But you are right in so far as science Should still be seen as a servant to philosophy. Science reighning supreeme is as gastly a scenario to me as religion doing that.
Take for example the famous "fluctuating quantum vacuum" of cosmology. Acording to its proponents this would have to be the fundamental entety of "existence". Isn't it the hight of foolishness to declare such an ill understood and even ill defined thing the cardinal and mowst selfunderstood object of reallity. Or take evolution. In the realm of pure science had i to forbid myself to notice anything like an advancement in the progression of species. Now i would call such a racor quite taliban....
I think my point would be that you should try to make "objecive" science as good as you can and then to begin to think like a human beeing.

Ken G
2007-Jan-28, 05:24 PM
As far as I'm concerned, science is a branch
of philosophy.

You are welcome to your opinion, but be ready to accept that this is not the way science is generally defined in the world around you, so you will have difficulty communicating. To see the difficulty, visit your neighborhood "philosophy of science" department at your local university, and check out all the "science research" they are doing. Not. Scientific discoveries are made by applying the scientific method. Whether or not there is such a thing as a "philosophic method", you may be assured that it is nothing like the scientific method.

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-28, 06:01 PM
Whether or not there is such a thing as a "philosophic method", you may be assured that it is nothing like the scientific method.As someone who has done a bit of philosophy under controlled conditions, I disagree. :)
The reasoning tools in philosophy's toolbox are largely identical to those in science's toolbox. The difference (of course) is that philosophy gains no feedback by experimenting on the Universe, which is science's area of application and interest. It does, however, obtain feedback by experimenting on the contents of people's heads, which is philosophy's area of application and interest.

Grant Hutchison

Jeff Root
2007-Jan-28, 07:19 PM
Ken,

I consider philosophy to be the attempt to understand the world.
Surely science is a process for attempting to understand the world.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

Bogie
2007-Jan-28, 11:11 PM
sentence in our times is highly dynamic and lively branching OUT in ever new directions and fields obeying often more an intrinsic logic of structure building or the metalogic of the professionals who do it or the simple logic of the market ..... than the naive logic of a hypothetical human who invented it in the first place to give him answers to their ORIGINAL questions about their place in the world or the basic nature of nature....
My idea is, that we will never free ourselves truly from the shackles of arbitrary religions, if science does not find the courage to give up its cherished methodological constrains and does not set out to branch back IN and build a common "standard world view". Observe well : the power of the religions stems from their brevity their well focused scope (what is really of concern to a human) and to unify its adherends under one common code ( i know what your basic thinking is, you know what is mine...)
now science is often terribly analytic . wouldn't it be nice for a change to assemble something . for starters : could one agree in this forum about the place of us humans in "our" universe.? (do we at least matter to it)? or must we abstain from such questions because they are scientifically undecidable ? And what would be the main pillows of the worldview of an enlightened being today ?Your observation is good, and your point, if I understand correctly is that science had a grass roots beginning and has developed to a point where you imply that today's scientist is out of touch with those grass roots. By being out of touch you feel that the common man whose mind and morals is outside science for the most part, is therefore not being fully served by science. You think that science could actually be promoted as a part of peoples lives, contributing to their world view, and if science were to try to do more of that, the world could be a better place because science brings people to or toward a consensus while religious and political differences tend toward conflict. Am I right?

You go on to wish that science could take a position about the importance of humanity in the big picture. This view is more valid than the degree to which some who have responded have accepted. Maybe one reason for that is that humanity may be isolated to Earth, and Earth is very insignificant in terms of the universe. But if your view is that the universe probably contains a feature that naturally leads to life, and that life is generative and evolvative (coined words) no matter where it forms, then the importance of intelligent life takes on a greater role because it would be present throughout the universe even if Earth bit the big one.

This "more complete science" would not be the science that is a body of knowledge that is advanced by the scientific method though. It would be "science with a social obligation" and who is to decide what that obligation is or how it can be applied to society in any broad application without running afoul of the very thing it is trying to remedy, that being the things that already separate us?

Ken G
2007-Jan-29, 01:44 AM
Ken,

I consider philosophy to be the attempt to understand the world.
Surely science is a process for attempting to understand the world.


Again, you are simply substituting your own definitions for everyone else's. A more useful (and common) definition is based on the methods used, not the vaguely stated goals.

Jeff Root
2007-Jan-29, 09:57 AM
I consider philosophy to be the attempt to understand the world.
Surely science is a process for attempting to understand the world.
Again, you are simply substituting your own definitions for everyone else's.
A more useful (and common) definition is based on the methods used, not
the vaguely stated goals.
I only gave a definition for philosophy. I didn't try to define science.

Do you disagree that philosophy is the attempt to understand the
world? If so, why?

Do you disagree that science is a process for attempting to
understand the world? If so, why?

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

satori
2007-Jan-29, 11:17 AM
Your observation is good, and your point, if I understand correctly is that science had a grass roots beginning and has developed to a point where you imply that today's scientist is out of touch with those grass roots. By being out of touch you feel that the common man whose mind and morals is outside science for the most part, is therefore not being fully served by science. You think that science could actually be promoted as a part of peoples lives, contributing to their world view, and if science were to try to do more of that, the world could be a better place because science brings people to or toward a consensus while religious and political differences tend toward conflict. Am I right?

You go on to wish that science could take a position about the importance of humanity in the big picture. This view is more valid than the degree to which some who have responded have accepted. Maybe one reason for that is that humanity may be isolated to Earth, and Earth is very insignificant in terms of the universe. But if your view is that the universe probably contains a feature that naturally leads to life, and that life is generative and evolvative (coined words) no matter where it forms, then the importance of intelligent life takes on a greater role because it would be present throughout the universe even if Earth bit the big one.

This "more complete science" would not be the science that is a body of knowledge that is advanced by the scientific method though. It would be "science with a social obligation" and who is to decide what that obligation is or how it can be applied to society in any broad application without running afoul of the very thing it is trying to remedy, that being the things that already separate us?

You give me the good feeling of having been listent to and having been understood. The clarety of your words exeedes mine !

Delvo
2007-Jan-29, 02:27 PM
Do you disagree that philosophy is the attempt to understand the world? If so, why?

Do you disagree that science is a process for attempting to
understand the world? If so, why?What difference would it make? Two different things that are intended to serve the same purpose are still two different things. A car is not an airplane. A gun is not a spear. A typewriter is not a pen, and neither of those is a pencil. Jewelry is not hairstyling, and neither of those is makeup. A compact disk is not a tape cassette. A metal roof is not a shingle roof. A telephone is not a radio, not even a cellphone....

Ken G
2007-Jan-29, 03:37 PM
I only gave a definition for philosophy.And I'm saying that was a wildly over-inclusive definition to be a good way to define that discipline. I could easily argue that what you actually gave was the definition for "thought".


Do you disagree that philosophy is the attempt to understand the
world? If so, why?I say philosophy includes that, but should actually be defined via it's methods, not its purpose. It would be like defining "running" as "an effort to get from one point to another" and that's all.


Do you disagree that science is a process for attempting to
understand the world? If so, why?

Same answer.

Ken G
2007-Jan-29, 03:48 PM
You think that science could actually be promoted as a part of peoples lives, contributing to their world view, and if science were to try to do more of that, the world could be a better place because science brings people to or toward a consensus while religious and political differences tend toward conflict. I forget if you posted in the "Science vs. Religion" thread on General Science, but you might find that discussion interesting. My point there was that the "consensus" you refer to, which hinges on the objectivity of science, comes at a price when making the world "a better place"-- it comes at the price of subjectivity. The latter may indeed lead to conflict at times when people lose track of the purpose of their own methodology, and conflict is bad, but the gain may be far more important: existence could well be a subjective experience.


You go on to wish that science could take a position about the importance of humanity in the big picture. This view is more valid than the degree to which some who have responded have accepted. This seems a good summary of what satori is saying, and it brings out the contradiction in the entire argument. This makes the argument, "the objective thinking of science is superior to subjective modes, and I subjectively believe the world would be a better place if more people thought that way". So here's the challenge: remake that argument using nothing but the scientific method. Can't be done, because we don't have the controls. It's all anecdotal, and what kind of science does that make? One has to go outside science to make arguments of how things "should be", and it's fine to go outside science, but not when you are arguing that people should all use scientific thinking.

This "more complete science" would not be the science that is a body of knowledge that is advanced by the scientific method though.I see you have indeed reached the same conclusion.

Bogie
2007-Jan-29, 03:53 PM
You give me the good feeling of having been listent to and having been understood. The clarety of your words exeedes mine !Thanks, that makes my efforts worthwhile.

I hope your wishes come true and that somehow the scientific method can be brought to bare on the things that separate us outside of science. But as I mentioned, the very things that separate people will prevent science form uniting them, unless ... a really significant advancement is made or event occurs that turns the Earth and science upside down. Maybe a pole shift would do it :).

hhEb09'1
2007-Jan-29, 04:36 PM
As someone who has done a bit of philosophy under controlled conditions, I disagree. :)
The reasoning tools in philosophy's toolbox are largely identical to those in science's toolbox. The difference (of course) is that philosophy gains no feedback by experimenting on the Universe, which is science's area of application and interest. It does, however, obtain feedback by experimenting on the contents of people's heads, which is philosophy's area of application and interest.Now you're just using reverse psychology

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-29, 04:47 PM
Now you're just using reverse psychologyIt's not clear to me what you mean.

Grant Hutchison

Ken G
2007-Jan-29, 06:05 PM
The reasoning tools in philosophy's toolbox are largely identical to those in science's toolbox. To continue the "running is the way to get from point A to point B" analogy to all this, if someone said "walking is another way to get around with very different advantages and disadvantages to running, and so is driving a car", then your answer is like saying "but walking, running, and driving a car all involve pressing down with your feet." Yes, there are shared tools, that doesn't mean it is not their differences that primarily define them. I have Ph.D. in physics, not philosophy, and there is a reason for that. Still, I think I see the differences between them in pretty clear relief.


The difference (of course) is that philosophy gains no feedback by experimenting on the Universe, which is science's area of application and interest.
I agree this is a very important and fundamental difference, but I would say the differences go even deeper. Science is first and foremost the art of making sense of quantitative measurements, which are objective, and other types of qualitative observations that are also objective. If you read a philosophy book, I wager you will find objectivity leaving the room somewhere between page 1 and page 2. This is why there are so many fundamentally different "camps" in philosophy-- imagine what science would be like if there was the "Newtonian" camp that refused to accept the arguments of the "Einsteinian" camp! Yes there are debates in science about what is on the frontiers, but they will eventually be resolved because science is objective. I'll fall out of my chair if philosophy ever reaches a stage where they can say "oh yes, for awhile people thought Kant had a point there, but it is now widely recognized that actually Kierkegaard was right all along". The key difference is that the scientific method is human reason constrained in such a way as to keep everything objective. I've argued elsewhere that this is both its greatest strength and its most important limitation, and is why it is essential to define science as something different from philosophy or religion.

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-29, 06:10 PM
If you read a philosophy book, I wager you will find objectivity leaving the room somewhere between page 1 and page 2.This is rather a cartoon view of philosophy, I'm afraid. The reasoning tools used are quite sharp, and consistency checks are quite strong.
You have not truly sweated until you have attempted to defend an internally inconsistent ethical viewpoint to a roomful of gleeful philosophers.

Grant Hutchison

Kwalish Kid
2007-Jan-29, 06:28 PM
I'll fall out of my chair if philosophy ever reaches a stage where they can say "oh yes, for awhile people thought Kant had a point there, but it is now widely recognized that actually Kierkegaard was right all along".
You have quite a few falls ahead of you if you begin to read philosophy seriously.

I should say that physicists who have turned their attention to writing philosophy are generally bad examples of how philosophy should proceed. They tend to drop many of their standards of rigor.

The key difference is that the scientific method is human reason constrained in such a way as to keep everything objective. I've argued elsewhere that this is both its greatest strength and its most important limitation, and is why it is essential to define science as something different from philosophy or religion.
I would agree that it is a goal of science to reach a certain objectivity.Yet because this is a goal, it is at the same time necessarily an imposition of values upon human practice.

Pursuing the goal of objectivity has undoubtedly hurt the advance of science in some cases. Many ideas in biology that were thought to be too feminine and thus were shelved, regardless of how correct they were. Even when theory choice decisions are made on reasonable grounds, if certain theories never make it to the decision stage, then there is an opportunity for value judgments to play a key role in determining scientific outcomes.

The scientific method, however it is practiced, is never a guarantee of objective results.

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-29, 06:58 PM
The key difference is that the scientific method is human reason constrained in such a way as to keep everything objective.One last effort on philosophy's behalf, before I bow out. :)
From your impetuous wager
If you read a philosophy book, I wager you will find objectivity leaving the room somewhere between page 1 and page 2.I think I can guess that you haven't read many philosophy books, and that you perhaps assume I haven't.
So I pluck a well-thumbed one off my shelf: The Value Of Life, by the particularly gleeful ethical philosopher John Harris (who was involved in giving me the hard time alluded to earlier). What Harris does, in his first few pages, is to ask why (and indeed if) we should value the lives of others, and he frames a hypothesis as to why we do value others' lives, and what sort of lives we consider to be valuable. He then, in 250 pages, explores the consequences of his hypothesis, in rigorous detail. He makes predictions about how we might behave, if his hypothesis is to have any value, and he seeks evidence, both from introspection and from the medical literature to confirm or deny his hypothesis' usefulness. He takes time to look at hypotheses others have offered (and to demolish them with glee and fervour), and he also points out shortcomings in his own formulation.

Now, that (to me) is a process very familiar from my science education. It is sullied only by the fact that it deals with the contents of people's heads, which do not follow the exactly reproducible rules of physics. The dataset is fuzzy, which accounts for the different "camps" (different interpretations of the dataset) which you identify. As you say, they're not going to go away.
But the objective rigour with which that fuzzy dataset is explored would, honestly, make your blood run cold. A half-way competent philosopher would splatter the average scientist up the wall with objective intellectual rigour.

Trust me. I have been so splattered. :)

Grant Hutchison

Amber Robot
2007-Jan-29, 07:17 PM
I have Ph.D. in physics, not philosophy

Yeah, but what does the "Ph" in your Ph.D. stand for? :p

Jeff Root
2007-Jan-29, 07:37 PM
Grant,

In the 1970's I read a book titled 'A Philosopher Looks at Science'
by John G. Kemeny. As I recall it was pretty good, although I had
major objections to an argument in chapter 11, "Determinism".
Kemeny said the argument had been studied by Karl Popper
"exhaustively". I found that hard to believe, considering the
errors I found, and wrote to Kemeny about it. Unfortunately I
was too late, and Kemeny was already dead.

Any chance that you have seen the book? Would you be
interested in looking at the argument in a new thread?

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-29, 08:58 PM
Any chance that you have seen the book? Would you be
interested in looking at the argument in a new thread?I haven't read Kemeny, Jeff: sorry. Ethics is more my area of interest, rather than epistemology.
He was a logical empiricist, wasn't he? Full of subjective opinions on how science is done, no doubt. ;)

Grant Hutchison

Jeff Root
2007-Jan-29, 09:17 PM
I only gave a definition for philosophy.
And I'm saying that was a wildly over-inclusive definition to be
a good way to define that discipline. I could easily argue that
what you actually gave was the definition for "thought".
I didn't intend my impromptu characterization of philosophy
("philosophy is the attempt to understand the world") to be
taken as a definition, but I think it is pretty good.

In contrast, it doesn't work at all work as a definition of
"thought". A very large part-- perhaps the majority-- of my
conscious thought is devoted to fantasizing. That is, imagining
things that do not exist. Such as, for example, what I will
say in this sentence. That is clearly thought and clearly not
an attempt to understand any part of the world, but an attempt
to imagine a part of the world that I want to create.




Do you disagree that philosophy is the attempt to understand the
world? If so, why?
I say philosophy includes that, but should actually be defined
via it's methods, not its purpose. It would be like defining
"running" as "an effort to get from one point to another" and
that's all.
I think the only value of that analogy is that it illustrates
the difference between purpose and method. The analogy does
not in any way support your assertion that philosophy should
be defined by its methods rather than its purpose.

The specific analogy you give is just an incorrect definition
of "running". You have given no evidence that my definition
of "philosophy" is in any way incorrect, flawed, or less
robust than it could be.

There may be advantages to defining philosophy by its methods
rather than its purpose, but I do not see any such advantages,
and I suspect that whatever advantages may exist are greatly
outweighed by disadvantages. I assert that philosophy should
be defined by its purpose, not its methods.

Biology is the study of living organisms. Would you prefer to
define biology by its methods?

Medicine is the art and science of promoting proper functioning
and ameliorating illness and injury of the human body. Would
you prefer to define medicine by its methods?

Surveying is the art and science of locating landmarks and
defining boundaries in relation to landmarks. Would you prefer
to define surveying by its methods?

Geometry is the study of shapes and relationships between
locations and directions in space. Would you prefer to define
geometry by its methods?

Geology is the study of rocks, minerals, and the landforms they
comprise. Would you prefer to define geology by its methods?




Do you disagree that science is a process for attempting to
understand the world? If so, why?
Same answer.
You didn't answer my first two questions in a way that can be
applied to the second two. You only asserted that philosophy
should be defined by its methods rather than by its purpose.
You gave no reason why.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

Ken G
2007-Jan-29, 09:37 PM
This is rather a cartoon view of philosophy, I'm afraid. The reasoning tools used are quite sharp, and consistency checks are quite strong.I will admit to the cartoon element, but I do not think philosophy is like mathematics. In mathematics, you can expect to get through an entire book without ever saying "wait, I don't agree with that at all", whereas in philosophy, it's hard to get through a page. I know, I've read pages of philosophy, and I rarely get through one without that experience! Thus either it is not objective, or 90% of it is demonstrably wrong, and I would rather believe the former.


You have not truly sweated until you have attempted to defend an internally inconsistent ethical viewpoint to a roomful of gleeful philosophers.

I may get that experience soon-- I'm giving a talk, largely inspired by this forum, that asks the questions to some scientists and philosophers: "do we construct our physics so that it can allow us to conceptualize reality, or do we conceptualize reality so that our approach to physics works on it?" Your thoughts are appreciated-- I'm starting a thread on this in General Science to help me anticipate the issues I should stress.

Ken G
2007-Jan-29, 09:41 PM
Pursuing the goal of objectivity has undoubtedly hurt the advance of science in some cases. Many ideas in biology that were thought to be too feminine and thus were shelved, regardless of how correct they were.Anyone who would argue on the grounds of "objectivity" to drop an idea "because it's too feminine" had really better take a closer look at what objectivity is. To classify a model as "feminine" is to have already lost objectivity, and to be in no position to judge its presence or absence!

The scientific method, however it is practiced, is never a guarantee of objective results.
I can't agree, unless you are simply saying that science is an imperfect human endeavor, like all human endeavors. That sort of goes without saying, but I would argue that the very defining quality of science, above all others, is the requirement of objectivity. To the degree that this is accomplished, that is also the degree to which the science is true to the ideal.

Ken G
2007-Jan-29, 09:56 PM
What Harris does, in his first few pages, is to ask why (and indeed if) we should value the lives of others, and he frames a hypothesis as to why we do value others' lives, and what sort of lives we consider to be valuable. Well, it is hard to argue with a hypothesis, that's true, but I'm pretty contrary. I'll bet I can find something in the first two pages I disagree with, and can make a good argument for an alternative view on the point! But even if I can't, of course the main question is begged-- what if you don't accept the hypothesis, and so see all its ramifications as pointless? You don't have that problem in science, that's the difference between objectivity and subjectivity in a nutshell-- if you can test it in an objective way, it's not just a hypothesis.

He then, in 250 pages, explores the consequences of his hypothesis, in rigorous detail. He makes predictions about how we might behave, if his hypothesis is to have any value, and he seeks evidence, both from introspection and from the medical literature to confirm or deny his hypothesis' usefulness. I would say that to the extent he is including objectively testable evidence, that's the extent to which he is mixing science with philosophy. You can walk part of the way, and drive the rest, it doesn't make walking driving.


He takes time to look at hypotheses others have offered (and to demolish them with glee and fervour), and he also points out shortcomings in his own formulation.All too easy, given the lack of objective data.


Now, that (to me) is a process very familiar from my science education. It is sullied only by the fact that it deals with the contents of people's heads, which do not follow the exactly reproducible rules of physics. That's like saying my carpet is the same as the one in the store, except mine has been "sullied" by ten years of dirty dog paws running all up and down it. But note the more important point that it isn't the laws that are reproducible, it is the objective observations. Objective observations are the life's breath of science, not philosophy. But you're right-- I speak from knowledge about science, and from impressions about philosophy.

But the objective rigour with which that fuzzy dataset is explored would, honestly, make your blood run cold. A half-way competent philosopher would splatter the average scientist up the wall with objective intellectual rigour.That is an interesting point-- there is probably a kind of "conservation of objectivity" principle here. Someone with objective data at their disposal does not require a whole lot of objective reasoning, who cares, you just need a model that works. So you don't worry if saying an electron has "negative" charge is objective, or culturally biased, it's just not the point. Philosophy, on the other hand, has such a dearth of objective data that it has to concentrate all its energies on trying to have objective reasoning applied to questionable initial assumptions. I'll take my objectivity served on a plate of science, thank you.



Trust me. I have been so splattered.
I have had a tiny bit of experience there, for example when I overheard a philosopher ask "but have you ever actually seen an electron?" Had I been talking to him, I would have been tempted to say "actually, electrons are really all you ever see", but I do see his point there, and in fact it has affected some of my thinking about science and reality. I'd like to hear more about your experiences there, and your thoughts, so drop by on the "Physics Made for Reality or Reality Made for Physics" thread.

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-29, 11:25 PM
In mathematics, you can expect to get through an entire book without ever saying "wait, I don't agree with that at all", whereas in philosophy, it's hard to get through a page. I know, I've read pages of philosophy, and I rarely get through one without that experience! Thus either it is not objective, or 90% of it is demonstrably wrong, and I would rather believe the former.A difficulty, I'd suggest, might be in defending your disagreement with due rigour, and also perhaps in defending whatever alternative view you care to venture.


Philosophy, on the other hand, has such a dearth of objective data that it has to concentrate all its energies on trying to have objective reasoning applied to questionable initial assumptions. I'll take my objectivity served on a plate of science, thank you.Which is a choice I wouldn't deny you.
However, it does leave us with the vexed question of what we do with questions like "the value of life", for which no final, objectively verifiable "correct" answer can be reached. The Big Questions are still out there, and each of us (by which I mean everyone on the planet) will need a little luck if we are to get through a longish life without having to think about "the value of life" in some horribly immediate way at some time or other.

So I'm wondering if perhaps we differ because we see different bits of philosophy at work: I can imagine that "philosophers of science" might be seen by working scientists as a waste of good lab space: you're doing the rigorous stuff - what are they doing? Whereas my exposure is through medical ethics - and when things get messy there, a toolkit of moral philosophical concepts can give you a solid core of objectivity that lets you cover the options quickly and thoroughly, making sure you don't do something half-baked and hellish that'll keep you awake at night.

Grant Hutchison

hhEb09'1
2007-Jan-29, 11:41 PM
You have not truly sweated until you have attempted to defend an internally inconsistent ethical viewpoint to a roomful of gleeful philosophers.All ethical viewpoints are internally inconsistent, that's why the philosophers are so gleeful.
Pursuing the goal of objectivity has undoubtedly hurt the advance of science in some cases. Many ideas in biology that were thought to be too feminine and thus were shelved, regardless of how correct they were. Are you saying that the pursuit of objectivity resulted in feminine ideas being rejected? Seems contradictory.

So I pluck a well-thumbed one off my shelf: The Value Of Life, by the particularly gleeful ethical philosopher John Harris (who was involved in giving me the hard time alluded to earlier).You may be suffereing from Stockholm syndrome :)
A half-way competent philosopher would splatter the average scientist up the wall with objective intellectual rigour.All the halfway competent philosophers that I've met (a small set only because of my limited interaction, not because it is a small set) have had a high regard for science. If we happened to be talking about science, they were babies in thrall, very enjoyable. No splattering. :)

Kwalish Kid
2007-Jan-29, 11:53 PM
That is an interesting point-- there is probably a kind of "conservation of objectivity" principle here. Someone with objective data at their disposal does not require a whole lot of objective reasoning, who cares, you just need a model that works.
Data is nothing without a whole lot of reasoning. Data does not simply drop into a scientists lap with a bang and a sign saying, "I support X theory." Much of science is piecing together the proper reasoning to apply to the data available.

We do not simply track Mars in the night sky, see retrograde motion, and say, "Well, Mars must move backwards." Still less do we look at that behaviour and say, "Mars must be on an almost circular orbit on the other side from the Sun as our orbit."

To steal a line from Wittgenstein, it looks like the Sun goes around the Earth because the Earth spins, but what would it look like if the Sun did go around the Earth?

So you don't worry if saying an electron has "negative" charge is objective, or culturally biased, it's just not the point.
It's easy to say that in the case of an electron. Physics tends to have things easy here. However, this doesn't mean physicists shouldn't be vigilant.

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-30, 12:02 AM
All the halfway competent philosophers that I've met (a small set only because of my limited interaction, not because it is a small set) have had a high regard for science. If we happened to be talking about science, they were babies in thrall, very enjoyable. No splattering. :)Science is fun, if you're a logical thinker, so one can see the appeal.
The splattering is reserved for woolly thinking.
(I meant to mention to Ken that his Feynman quote, about science being a way to avoid fooling yourself, can also apply very well to philosophical discourse. Take an apparently harmless notion you're quite attached to, carefully follow its logical and moral ramifications ... We don't do that often enough. We especially don't do it often enough before we pass laws.)

Grant Hutchison

Ken G
2007-Jan-30, 03:16 AM
The Big Questions are still out there, and each of us (by which I mean everyone on the planet) will need a little luck if we are to get through a longish life without having to think about "the value of life" in some horribly immediate way at some time or other.Well put, and indeed I would tend to favor the gems of wisdom of a single thoughtful individual in exactly that predicament over the logical rigor of philosophers thinking in hypothetical terms.


So I'm wondering if perhaps we differ because we see different bits of philosophy at work: I can imagine that "philosophers of science" might be seen by working scientists as a waste of good lab space: you're doing the rigorous stuff - what are they doing?Keeping it all in perspective, perhaps. Not a minor achievement, I really didn't mean to "diss" philosophy too much. I think of philosophers and linguists as having to be the smartest of all investigators to make much headway, and most don't!
Whereas my exposure is through medical ethics - and when things get messy there, a toolkit of moral philosophical concepts can give you a solid core of objectivity that lets you cover the options quickly and thoroughly, making sure you don't do something half-baked and hellish that'll keep you awake at night.
That sounds pretty important, I hadn't considered that aspect of it. Perhaps it comes under the heading of taking the time to think things through when you actually do have the luxury of time and clearheadedness, neither of which are afforded to that panicked individual I referred to above!

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-30, 08:42 AM
Well put, and indeed I would tend to favor the gems of wisdom of a single thoughtful individual in exactly that predicament over the logical rigor of philosophers thinking in hypothetical terms.Moral philosophers, of course, have the same practical exposure to such personal predicaments as the rest of us: so an equal right to opine from experience and a greater knowledge base from which to form their opinion.

Grant Hutchison

Ken G
2007-Jan-30, 03:16 PM
Moral philosophers, of course, have the same practical exposure to such personal predicaments as the rest of us: so an equal right to opine from experience and a greater knowledge base from which to form their opinion.


What I meant was, I'll wager they write a different philosophy while in a crashing airplane. Perspective is so important for subjective mental processes! Of course my claim is untested-- would be interesting, would it not?

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-30, 03:58 PM
What I meant was, I'll wager they write a different philosophy while in a crashing airplane. Perspective is so important for subjective mental processes! Of course my claim is untested-- would be interesting, would it not?I suspect that what's actually happening in this scenario is that people under stress may take actions they subsequently find to be morally indefensible within their own rational world-view: it's a common contributor to "survivor guilt".
However in a more leisurely but ethically fraught environment, where every possible choice has the potential to cause hurt or death, having a grounding in the concepts of moral philosophy (or talking to someone with a grounding in moral philosophy) does help one negotiate the frightening maze.
Or it does for me, at least, and I've seen it apparently working for others.

It occurs to me that "objectivity" and "subjectivity" are perhaps flipping back and forth between the sort of epistemological philosophy you're entertaining on your other thread, and the moral philosophy I've introduced here. Your original criticism of philosophy seems to me to be that there is no way of testing it objectively in the real world: philosophers simply pick up an idea and explore its implications in (we hope!) a logically consistent way.
But in moral philosophy it seems that you are contrasting the subjectivity of the real world (what one decides as the aeroplane crashes), with the objectivity of leisured moral reflection.
So in moral philosophy I find its objectivity (freedom from emotional decision-making) helpful, whereas your concern is philosophy's lack of objectivity (in the sense of testable outcomes). Might that be a fair summary of our differences?

Grant Hutchison

Ken G
2007-Jan-30, 05:27 PM
I suspect that what's actually happening in this scenario is that people under stress may take actions they subsequently find to be morally indefensible within their own rational world-view: it's a common contributor to "survivor guilt".Yes, or in wartime you find similar problems (though shalt not kill is a moral ethic followed by many, so wartime requires an "unless..."). So what this means is, the philosophy has to anticipate every possible situation, to really provide a useful guide "in the heat of the moment". I think this is one of the big problems with philosophy: "why did you..." is often answered by "you had to be there to understand". Still, I take your point that we would like to take actions that seem right both at the time, and later on when we live with the consequences. A tall order indeed.


However in a more leisurely but ethically fraught environment, where every possible choice has the potential to cause hurt or death, having a grounding in the concepts of moral philosophy (or talking to someone with a grounding in moral philosophy) does help one negotiate the frightening maze. I don't doubt it. It's almost like, you need to make yourself "good at moral philosophy", so you can "do it on the fly", rather than so you can "refer to" the correct behavior in some kind of absolute way. Perhaps that's a key difference between general rules like "act in ways that afford you the same rights as everyone else", rather than "though shalt not kill". If somebody is trying to kill you, maybe it's all right this once! (But here's a classic example of what I mean by subjective elements of philosophy. As I recall, Kant's categorical imperative is that you should act according to rules that you could will to be a universal rule for everyone to follow. But could I not will as a universal principle that if everyone is in a war, they should all just drop their guns and walk away? So that's a valid ethics, fine, but it's of no help in war, as Darwinism would rapidly cull out that view. It's the kind of ethics I'd love everyone to have, but if most don't, I'd rather be in that latter group than the former!)

It occurs to me that "objectivity" and "subjectivity" are perhaps flipping back and forth between the sort of epistemological philosophy you're entertaining on your other thread, and the moral philosophy I've introduced here.That is so-- your focus on medical ethics is really a rather different animal than what I was talking about in terms of what is knowledge about existence. It seems to me, interestingly, that moral philosophy is a bizarre mix of what is subjective and what is objective. One is trying to use objective reason to infer a course that you can live with later, in effect, but it is subjective what you can live with later, and is even affected by your moral philosophy. It's like what passes for objective reason applied to your own subjective realm, so we have a kind of false dichotomy between objectivity and subjectivity. That same false dichotomy crosses into the realm of existence as well-- objectivity is then not a comparison between what two different people perceive, but rather what you perceive now compared to what you will perceive later. It is the science of a single scientist, if you will. Very curious distinction, the concepts were hard enough to separate before!


Your original criticism of philosophy seems to me to be that there is no way of testing it objectively in the real world: philosophers simply pick up an idea and explore its implications in (we hope!) a logically consistent way.I never really meant that as a criticism of philosophy, only as a defining characteristic that separates it from science.

But in moral philosophy it seems that you are contrasting the subjectivity of the real world (what one decides as the aeroplane crashes), with the objectivity of leisured moral reflection.Right, there's a kind of a disconnect there (the "you had to be there" phenomenon), which makes me view "survivor guilt" as quite unfair to the survivor. (Like, say, the guilt that a victim can feel for having been vulnerable.)

So in moral philosophy I find its objectivity (freedom from emotional decision-making) helpful, whereas your concern is philosophy's lack of objectivity (in the sense of testable outcomes).
I would say that we have a very complex soup of objective and subjective components, and each have their importance and their own pitfalls. I don't dispute the value you see in philosophy, indeed my main argument (especially on that other thread) is that value is very difficult to judge objectively, it should generally be left to the individual to gauge. Science, philosophy, and religion, all provide inputs into how we might gauge value, and each has its appropriate "realm". The individual must decide, as objectively as possible, and with solid education in each, the relative values to their own subjective existence, and none of these pursuits should impose on the other in arrogant or totalitarian ways.

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-30, 06:08 PM
But here's a classic example of what I mean by subjective elements of philosophy. As I recall, Kant's categorical imperative is that you should act according to rules that you could will to be a universal rule for everyone to follow. But could I not will as a universal principle that if everyone is in a war, they should all just drop their guns and walk away? So that's a valid ethics, fine, but it's of no help in war, as Darwinism would rapidly cull out that view.But what you describe is not a moral act, just a random action. What moral sense can there be in picking up the gun and travelling to the battlefield, only to drop the gun once there? A coherent moral standpoint, which does work as a Kantian imperative, is to refuse to participate in the battle in a combatant role. Many people have died putting that one into action, and many of them departed without first passing on their genes, but the idea shows no sign of going away. Memes have their own routes of transmission.

Grant Hutchison

DyerWolf
2007-Jan-30, 06:56 PM
What I meant was, I'll wager they write a different philosophy while in a crashing airplane. Perspective is so important for subjective mental processes! Of course my claim is untested-- would be interesting, would it not?
I suspect that what's actually happening in this scenario is that people under stress may take actions they subsequently find to be morally indefensible within their own rational world-view: it's a common contributor to "survivor guilt".
However in a more leisurely but ethically fraught environment, where every possible choice has the potential to cause hurt or death, having a grounding in the concepts of moral philosophy (or talking to someone with a grounding in moral philosophy) does help one negotiate the frightening maze.

Grant Hutchison - (text bolded by DW)

I do not agree that people under stress make choices that are "morally indefensible within their own rational world-view." That doesn't bear up with my combat experience - which could be substituted for Ken G's "plane crash" scenario.

There are two problems here:

1. Some people make morally indefensible choices, and then blame stress as the culprit.
2. Some people, with no experience with survival situations, unfairly label rational actions as morally indefensible based upon a prejudicial political or religious ideology

Situations like Abu Ghraib or Mei Lai cannot and should not be explained away by “stress.” The perpetrators made criminal decisions, but they were still decisions.

I've seen 19 year-olds make rational, moral choices of who to kill and who to let live while under extreme pressure. I’ve also seen them take enormous risks to rescue civilians or to refrain from further endangering those civilians. These were decisions, moral decisions, made by the young men faced with tough choices.

The opinion of a war-protester who says, “This war is wrong; because you fought in it, you’re as guilty of crimes as the Nazis,” doesn’t make the veteran’s combat actions “morally indefensible.” The religious person's belief that all killing is wrong, doesn’t make it so.

Which brings me back to this discussion: there is truth to the old saying ‘there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole.' If you could playback one of my personal experiences, you’d hear an 18-hour monologue of prayer and profanity interspersed with commands, commentary, laughter, hope, frustration and rage. Despite all of the influences, the stress and fear, I never lost my ability to decide.

What does this suggest?

I proffer that if you were a moral person going into the stressful situation, your decisions will be moral, and of the same character, if not type, that you would make in a non-stressful environment.

If you were previously selfish or willing to accept weakness in yourself or others, you will make weak and selfish decisions in time of stress.


To go back to something I thought while reading the OP:

I find it interesting that folks on this site seem so frustrated by the intersection of science and religion. I think people mistakenly feel the two are incompatible, when in truth they are parallel endeavors. An understanding of science does not require an understanding of any religion, any more than understanding any religion requires understanding science. Principles applicable to one may be useful in understanding the other, but that doesn’t mean either requires or negates the other.

The object of derision should rightly be adherence to dogma and fundamentalism – whether scientific or religious. But trying to use science to disprove a religious tenet, or the converse, is an effort in futility. Saying the two are mutually incompatible is dishonest.

Ken G
2007-Jan-30, 06:59 PM
But what you describe is not a moral act, just a random action. What moral sense can there be in picking up the gun and travelling to the battlefield, only to drop the gun once there? Good point, one would need to fix the example. But it's not hard to do. Let's say the governments of both countries threaten anyone who won't pick up a gun and go to the battlefield with death, but the leaders (as usual) don't go themselves. (One might classify this as a search for morality within a subset of the population, so Kant's imperative is only in a position to be applied to that subset that are all in the "same boat". Morality subject to external constraints, if you will.) So when the poor grunts in the trenches arrive for hand-to-hand combat, it could indeed be a moral principle to obey your leaders as long as they hold a gun to your head, but when you get out of their range, drop your gun, embrace your enemy, work out the obvious solution the leaders refused to accept, and then march back with the peace agreement in hand. That's what I call a good morality, but how do you get the other guy to agree? Honor among thieves? It sounds like you are saying that if the moral principle is upheld enough times, eventually there might be a shift to this new "Nash equilibrium" where everyone is using Kant's approach, and the world is a better place (by far). But there are still two problems: morality needs to be of value to the individual in the real world, where not everyone does think that way, and it needs to have a stability criterion that allows it to survive some weather. Those are the kinds of "real world" tests that don't always show up in rigorous logical analysis.

Ken G
2007-Jan-30, 07:18 PM
There are two problems here:

1. Some people make morally indefensible choices, and then blame stress as the culprit.
2. Some people, with no experience with survival situations, unfairly label rational actions as morally indefensible based upon a prejudicial political or religious ideologyI think what Grant is saying is not "blaming stress", but rather that we all have a moral compass of some kind, but we don't always know it until it is put to the test. Stress has a way of doing that, and we might not like the result of the test when it happens, so we're better off spending time and energy developing and refining that moral compass in advance, so that when it does get put to the test, it will perform in a way we can accept. You are further saying that some types of moral compass are actually not well suited for stress situations and lead to all kinds of unfair judgements, and I think Grant would respond that this only implies all the more that you need a well thought out moral compass. I think we can all agree the examples you gave of faulty moral compasses applied by people who were not even there are indeed just that-- faulty. But a good philosopher might have been able to figure that out in advance, before putting the person into that situation.

I've seen 19 year-olds make rational, moral choices of who to kill and who to let live while under extreme pressure. I’ve also seen them take enormous risks to rescue civilians or to refrain from further endangering those civilians. These were decisions, moral decisions, made by the young men faced with tough choices.And this sounds like extremely enlightening personal experience that you draw from, whereas my own thinking is of a far more hypothetical nature! I think Grant would say (and I agree) that this is evidence that those men did have a well worked out moral compass in place, and that this is an important thing for anyone entering a situation like that.

Which brings me back to this discussion: there is truth to the old saying ‘there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole.' If you could playback one of my personal experiences, you’d hear an 18-hour monologue of prayer and profanity interspersed with commands, commentary, laughter, hope, frustration and rage. Despite all of the influences, the stress and fear, I never lost my ability to decide.There is no teacher like experience, I agree that this may be an important flaw in logical rigor. It's the big advantage of science over philosophy-- just let experience (or experiment) decide the tougher questions. But there's still a conundrum when one is unable to be objective from moment to moment about one's own experience, a problem that some people find themselves in whether they rely on thought or experiment.

I find it interesting that folks on this site seem so frustrated by the intersection of science and religion. I think people mistakenly feel the two are incompatible, when in truth they are parallel endeavors.You would probably find interesting the "Science and Religion" thread on General Science, which addressed just this issue.

The object of derision should rightly be adherence to dogma and fundamentalism – whether scientific or religious. But trying to use science to disprove a religious tenet, or the converse, is an effort in futility.
Where were you when I was facing some of my toughest critics on that thread? That's well put.

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-30, 07:28 PM
It sounds like you are saying that if the moral principle is upheld enough times ...No, I'm just saying that you're picking a single phrase out of a rather complicated body of moral philosophy, which is intended to be applied as a whole. You know how there are perniciously misinterpreted familiar phrases in physics like "for every action an equal and opposite reaction" or "the speed of light is a constant"? Taking Kant's Categorical Imperative out on the road on the basis of just its stand-alone content is like that. You're misapplying the Categorical Imperative in a serious way, here, because it, in its various formulations, is proposed as a means for judging moral principles, not complicated cunning plans of the sort you propose. That's why I rolled you back to a general moral principle last time.
(And suggesting that morality must be of benefit to the individual in the real world is rather throwing morality out the window.)

Grant Hutchison

DyerWolf
2007-Jan-30, 08:11 PM
...we all have a moral compass of some kind, but we don't always know it until it is put to the test. Stress has a way of doing that, and we might not like the result of the test when it happens, so we're better off spending time and energy developing and refining that moral compass in advance, so that when it does get put to the test, it will perform in a way we can accept.

I agree with this wholeheartedly - its one of the reasons we spent so much time "wargaming" our ROEs (Rules of Engagement) and discussing the laws of war before we crossed the LOD. Personal morality is like a muscle - stronger when you've exercised it. But is there a universal morality? A test against which all actions may be measured? Difficult territory.

I think philosophy, like science and religion, provides a valid and beneficial method of examining the world we percieve. Each has its proven successes in given situations, but each presently fails to provide a "universal answer." (Douglass Adams suggested the problem is we haven't asked the right question.)


But there are still two problems: morality needs to be of value to the individual in the real world, where not everyone does think that way, and it needs to have a stability criterion that allows it to survive some weather. Those are the kinds of "real world" tests that don't always show up in rigorous logical analysis.

I agree that a valid moral code should be applicable to this life. I also agree with Grant's implication that morality should not be constrained to "this life" situations alone.

Moral living is likely a process, rather than a set of quantifiable rules. Might as well try to constrain the wind: You can harness the power of the wind for many purposes, but succeed in constraining it, and it ceases to be relevant.

Ken G
2007-Jan-30, 09:36 PM
You're misapplying the Categorical Imperative in a serious way, here, because it, in its various formulations, is proposed as a means for judging moral principles, not complicated cunning plans of the sort you propose. That's why I rolled you back to a general moral principle last time.OK, you're just talking at a deeper level of understanding about what moral principles are. I can accept that, you seem to know a lot more about them. They are lofty and intellectually sound over-arching principles that may or may not actually be able to tell you what to do in a given messy situation, but you can do your best to apply them. Still, if that last bit is the hardest part, how much help is the philosopher? It still seems very subjective in practice.


(And suggesting that morality must be of benefit to the individual in the real world is rather throwing morality out the window.)

Now I think we are focused squarely on my issue with philosophy. Does it actually have value in the "real world"? Before you were talking about situations where it clearly did-- how to make decisions you can live with when "the smoke clears". But now it seems you are talking about higher principles that are not necessarily of value to individuals, and cannot necessarily be tested because one doesn't have the controls, but they are nice to think about in a perfect world. I'd put that latter bit in with art, music, religion, and recreational mathematics: of aesthetic and subjective value, food for the soul if you will (I won't try to define soul, nor do I minimize its importance), but not of practical and objective use the way one would approach a science. So we have come full circle to why philosophy is not a science.

Maybe there's a deeper idea in all this, that has to do with the different responses of objectivity and subjectivity to the presence of constraints. Objective endeavors, like science, fare quite well in the presence of externally imposed objective constraints. We do that all the time-- a block on an inclined plane, a gas inside a piston. But philosophy tends to require imagining a constraint-free environment, that "perfect world" I mentioned, to make headway. What if you have ten different situations, with ten different externally imposed constraints, and you have to decide how to act morally in all those situations? Can we really apply the rigorous logic of philosophy, which was ironed out prior to the application of the constraints, and just project it onto the constraints? Or is the inherently subjective character of the assumptions made going to be a big logical limitation in the presence of objective constraints? Example, the classic "I was just following orders". Doesn't it matter the nature of the constraints before one can judge whether or not that is an acceptable defense? If not, then it is again a clear separation from science, which is all about incorporating constraints and changing the results. Is there a "moral philosophy of dealing with constraints"? Shouldn't there be?

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-30, 10:07 PM
Now I think we are focused squarely on my issue with philosophy. Does it actually have value in the "real world"? Before you were talking about situations where it clearly did-- how to make decisions you can live with when "the smoke clears". But now it seems you are talking about higher principles that are not necessarily of value to individuals, and cannot necessarily be tested because one doesn't have the controls, but they are nice to think about in a perfect world.Well, we employ these lofty principles all the time when we make moral decisions. And I can't think of a better example than:
I've seen 19 year-olds make rational, moral choices of who to kill and who to let live while under extreme pressure. I’ve also seen them take enormous risks to rescue civilians or to refrain from further endangering those civilians. These were decisions, moral decisions, made by the young men faced with tough choices.(My bold.) These people are running huge, terrifying risks of death or profound disability, to their significant Darwinian disadvantage.
And of the people I've encountered who have made a (medical) decision under stress and subsequently found it difficult to live with, I think the majority reproach themselves for having acted selfishly: "I couldn't bear to lose my child, but I put her through so much suffering instead of letting her go." (For obvious reasons I'm not going to share a real one with you; that's one's a soap-opera plot, but it does fair duty as a placeholder.)

So we seem to feel, quite deeply, some moral imperatives that include selflessness. If philosophers don't address that, whose job is it going to be?

Grant Hutchison

Ken G
2007-Jan-30, 10:17 PM
But is there a universal morality? A test against which all actions may be measured? Difficult territory.I'll agree there. Indeed, I think there's an interesting parallel with another thread going on in General Science, the thread about physics and reality. Is there really a universal reality, a test against which all our physics is measured? Or it is like your "winds of morality"-- a process that participates in our study of it, as malleable as the physics we use to understand it. I don't mean to hijack this philsophy thread, but just to bring this question into perspective, imagine playing "20 questions" where you just answer the questions yes or no without actually choosing a solution to the puzzle, but rather just keeping track of all the things that are still consistent with the answers given. How would the players ever be able to tell the difference between that "participatory" version of the game, and the "rigid" version where you choose the solution first and give earnest answers to the best of your ability? And if we can't tell the difference as players, then can either be said to be a truer version of what reality is?

(Douglass Adams suggested the problem is we haven't asked the right question.)Indeed, he strikes me as one of the best "intuitive" philosophers I've seen, and I would suggest that what he might actually have been saying is that the question and answer format is comically inadequate for addressing such profound issues (and that might also be his answer to my "20 questions" analogy).

Ken G
2007-Jan-30, 10:24 PM
These people are running huge, terrifying risks of death or profound disability, to their significant Darwinian disadvantage.I didn't mean to limit what I meant by "individual advantage" or "value" to the concept of survival or Darwinism. I firmly allow the individual to decide for themself what is valuable to themself, not to their genes! I might find value in sacrificing my life to save someone I love, or take some other risk to do something heroic, and I might prefer those consequences to living with not having done so. Your example is the same: using moral philosophy to identify situations where a 'selfish' act is still not even in our own best interest (like the old saying, a coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero, but one). It's still under the heading of personal advantage, as defined by the individual. If one person prefers to be the coward, and die a thousand deaths, and another the hero, and die once, what philosopher can refute them with any amount of rigor? They might say, "I've proven in a perfect world, we'd all be heroes", but so what?

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-30, 10:44 PM
There are two problems here:

1. Some people make morally indefensible choices, and then blame stress as the culprit.
2. Some people, with no experience with survival situations, unfairly label rational actions as morally indefensible based upon a prejudicial political or religious ideologyI certainly agree that these are problems, and I certainly agree that soldiers can deal with ghastly moral problems under catastrophically stressful situations.

But I'd submit that it does occur that people go understandably astray under stress, and then beat themselves up over it afterwards; I have experience of this in a medical context. I think, as you say, that soldiers do at least have the advantage of Rules of Engagement and drills to prepare for the likely moral dilemmas in combat. That should maybe be contrasted with you and me in everyday life, who at the drop of a hat could find ourselves embroiled in a moral dilemma we've never even thought about in our lives before.

I'd also add that people who look back on moral decisions and believe they acted selfishly may do so because they made a decision all on their own in a state of utter turmoil, and when they think back on it, it looks selfish. Systematically sorting through the ethical issues at the time lets us remember having thought something other than "My god, I wish this problem would go away."

Grant Hutchison

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-30, 10:56 PM
If one person prefers to be the coward, and die a thousand deaths, and another the hero, and die once, what philosopher can refute them with any amount of rigor? They might say, "I've proven in a perfect world, we'd all be heroes", but so what?Again, this seems like a bit of a cartoon philosopher. But I'm glad we've moved away from the Darwinian cull of pacifists!

Grant Hutchison

DyerWolf
2007-Jan-30, 11:11 PM
Maybe there's a deeper idea in all this, that has to do with the different responses of objectivity and subjectivity to the presence of constraints. Objective endeavors, like science, fare quite well in the presence of externally imposed objective constraints. We do that all the time-- a block on an inclined plane, a gas inside a piston. But philosophy tends to require imagining a constraint-free environment, that "perfect world" I mentioned, to make headway. (text bolded by DW)
This is an illustration of why (I believe) you need one or both of the parallel disciplines of philosophy or religion to use as a constraint for pure science (the reverse is true as well). Unconstrained science is meaningless without reference to one of the other disciplines.

Example: scientist A wants to know at what temperature a human begins to suffer hypothermia, and at what combination of temperature and duration of exposure the subject expires. He gathers several test subjects and places them in ever colder baths, noting the time between immersion and expiration - and records his observations during the interim. Is there a problem here? The science is sound, his methods repeatable by others. Yet without reference to philosophy or religion, is there anything that informs us the act itself is wrong? (The experiment actually happened, by the way).


What if you have ten different situations, with ten different externally imposed constraints, and you have to decide how to act morally in all those situations?
I suggest that you experience this every day - or at least every week. And that you successfully navigate the social shoals when you "apply the rigorous logic of (your) philosophy, which (you) ironed out prior to the application of the constraints."

Example, the classic "I was just following orders". Doesn't it matter the nature of the constraints before one can judge whether or not that is an acceptable defense?
The difference is the "letter of the law/spirit of the law" distinction. "Following Orders" has been a failed defense since Nurembourg. In such cases, I don't think a purely scientific approach would give a satifactory result - its one of the reasons we rely on juries.


(like the old saying, a coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero, but one) Military history shows that cowards actually get most of their friends killed. Most deaths of soldiers occur during the rout after the battle, rather than during the battle itself. The Weltgeist or Zeitgeist of virtually every society places the hero in a more honored position than the coward. Philosophy and religion go a long way toward describing the why and how this groupthought arises and the value placed thereon.

But can science alone explain this phenomena?

grant hutchison
2007-Jan-30, 11:26 PM
(The experiment actually happened, by the way). Indeed. Carried out by the Usual Suspects for such horrors. The data still exist, by the way (or to my knowledge they still did a couple of years ago): if you want to see the results of these experiments, you must apply to a committee indicating exactly what use you will make of them, precisely in what way those data will be published, demonstrating how you believe access to the data will save human lives and showing how there is no other, moral way of deriving the information you need.

The preservation, use, or destruction of Nazi human experimental data is a moral conundrum in itself.

Grant Hutchison

Ken G
2007-Jan-31, 01:52 AM
Again, this seems like a bit of a cartoon philosopher. But I'm glad we've moved away from the Darwinian cull of pacifists!
Indeed. I'm sure there are those who argue that all morality stems from natural selection, both genetic and societal, but I would not be in their number. I think natural selection set the table and put us at our current subjective posts, but what we do from here is up to us. That's why I think it's important that each individual chooses their own values-- between us all, we might actually find something that transcends our humble beginnings. And I don't mean to keep arguing that philosophy has no value, all I really wish to establish is why it isn't science.

Ken G
2007-Jan-31, 01:59 AM
Is there a problem here? The science is sound, his methods repeatable by others. Yet without reference to philosophy or religion, is there anything that informs us the act itself is wrong? (The experiment actually happened, by the way).
You and I seem to be on similar wavelengths-- I had a recent debate with some scientist friends that misguided science is capable of equal evils as misguided religion and misguided philosophy. I noted that the Nazis were basically all three wrapped into one-- they used science to justify themselves when necessary, and philosophy (particularly Nietsche), and they even hid behind religion when they went up against the "soulless" communists. Whatever worked, the ultimate rationalization of morality.

But can science alone explain this phenomena?
I doubt it.

DyerWolf
2007-Jan-31, 02:22 AM
of the people I've encountered who have made a (medical) decision under stress and subsequently found it difficult to live with, I think the majority reproach themselves for having acted selfishly: "I couldn't bear to lose my child, but I put her through so much suffering instead of letting her go."

I've been thinking of this one for a while - the medical decison affecting a loved one is fraught with difficulties. In many ways, the soldier has it easier - because he is under a time constraint. If he lives to regret his decision, at least he recognizes that regret is a luxury. (We also generally ascribe to the belief that its better to make a decision, despite the danger of making a wrong decision, than hesitate and make no decision at all.)

The family member faced with the medical decision has countless opportunities to agonize over the choices and second guess (and have second guessed) the decision made.

As Ken wrote,

...we're better off spending time and energy developing and refining that moral compass in advance, so that when it does get put to the test, it will perform in a way we can accept. I think this technique probably makes even the medical ethics decision you describe easier - hence the suggestions that people write living wills and talk to their families about life support, etc. before they get ill / injured.

Earlier, the discussion centered on Kant's efforts to describe a philosophy, that if I remember correctly, ended up awfully close to "the Golden Rule."

I've often wondered if a philosopher were to come up with a true "universal ethic," would it take several tomes to describe, or might it be something as simple as,



strive

Ken G
2007-Jan-31, 10:32 PM
That's my general feeling also-- the KISS approach to philosophy! And indeed, that is an interesting culmination you suggest: sort of the opposite of nihilism. As I understand it (and I probably don't), nihilism is a null philosophy, that says all philosophy is subjective and you are never doing anything more than looking in a mirror, so don't seek any universal rules. I'm not sure what nihilism does say to do, it seems to be big on what is pointless. I prefer your opposite perspective-- it may not matter so much what you do, but if you are earnest in your intentions, then it is really the effort that counts more than anything.