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Reg Prescott

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Everything posted by Reg Prescott

  1. Exactly right, my good Grolsch supplier. Something I scribbled the other day... One example of the double standards that obtain here is that whenever some stranger wanders into a serious thread on biology, say, who is clearly not only ignorant of, but hostile and abusive to, the subject matter, said stranger is dealt with swiftly. And rightly so. Alas, the very same situation, as you may or may not have noticed, happens routinely in the philosophy section -- with no disciplinary action whatsoever. The consensus seems to be that philosophy is just empty semantics and mindless rhetoric. So all and sundry saunter in to join the navel-gazing -- after all, any fool could do it -- unaware that without the requisite background and training they are ill equipped to appraise the discourse. My most recent thread was dominated by one particular senior member (#$@^%* - my own personal stalker) who, if I may be frank, is not only clueless of the relevant material, but apparently lacks the wherewithal to grasp what is being explained. The result is an incessant stream of slogans, spam, and quotations tantamount to nothing more than "science is super" and "philosophers are a bunch of w*nkers", utterly devoid of analysis or autonomous thought. Add to this his insatiable contempt and penchant for besmirching the character of those members who are actually competent to participate. And at the end of the day (or hour) the suspect held in custody for "hijacking" is yours truly. C'mon now! To be clear, what I'm fulminating against here is not disagreement to any views I'm advancing -- stimulating and thoughtful opposition is most welcome -- but just the hypocrisy and the failure to administer discipline, when necessary, in an egalitarian manner.
  2. *ake i* up wi*h *he mods. I'm no* allowed *o say a par*icular word.
  3. And this is precisely why it's completely absurd to discuss underdetermination of theories by data without mentioning Babe Ruth!
  4. *hose among us -- namely, an eli*e group consis*ing only of myself -- who are prohibi*ed from using a par*icular word beginning with the *wen*ie*h le**er of the alphabe* and rhyming with Irish s*ew, face the unenviable *ask of explica*ing *he *hrea* *ha* underde*ermina*ion poses withou* u**ering *he dreaded *e*ragramma*on and offending anyone's *ar*uffe sensibili*ies. *he problem can be s*a*ed *hus: If i* is *he case *ha* more *han one *heory is compa*ible with a given body of da*a or evidence, *hen on purely epis*emic grounds, we have no reason to prefer one over *he o*her. *o illus*ra*e, i*'s unnecessary to make *he stronger claim -- *hus a claim far harder to defend -- *hat an infini*e number of *heories are compa*ible with every body of da*a or evidence. Le*'s jus* suppose for *he sake of argumen*, far more modes*ly than my es*eemed colleague, Zosimus, has been sugges*ing, *ha* for any given body of da*a, *here exis* precisely *hree -- perhaps no* ye* conceived -- empirically indis*inguishable rivals; *hat is, *hree *heories which are consis*en* wit*, or even en*ail, precisely the same observa*ional consequences. Call *hem A, B, and C. A, B, and C, *hough empirically indis*inguishable, are logically inconsis*en* wi*h one ano*her : if one is Irish s*ew, *he o*hers are Blue Danube Wal*z. For *hose of a more pragma*ic or an*irealis* persuasion, *he co-exis*ence of a *rio of Siamese rivals can be viewed as an embarrassmen* of riches. Choose any one you like! *ake your pick! *hey all make exac*ly the same predic*ions. *hey're all equally good, in the sense *hat *hey work equally well. *he problem for *he scien*ific *ealist or epis*emologis*, however, is that we have no good reason for believing any one among A, B and C is Irish s*ew. By hypo*hesis, *here are only *hree candida*es. Each candida*e, *hen, has an objec*ive 33.333% probability of being Irish s*ew. Now, when presen*ed wi*h a proposi*ion enjoying a mere 1/3 chance of being Irish s*ew, the ra*ional response is no* *o believe i*. The ra*ional response would be to believe i*s nega*ion, or a* *he very leas*, wi*hhold judgemen*. "So wha*?" I hear you groan, "Who gives a shi* about Irish s*ew anyway, excep* for hairy-fairy philosophers!!!???" Well, concerned paren*s, for one, migh* be disturbed *o learn *ha* wha* *heir children are being *augh* in school science class is no* wor*hy of belief. Indeed, *o believe wha* is being *augh* would be an irra*ional ac*.
  5. I'd just like to say that I'm a new man and that I agree with everything and anything the moderators say, even those parts which are patently ludicrous, false, and self-contradictory. Because when I don't, nasty things tend to happen to me. Why, just this morning I woke up to another shiny red warning for thread hijacking and my most recent response to moderator absurdities consigned to the trash can. Yes, folks, I'll have inscribed on my new coat of arms "Science is all about critical thought and freedom of expression. And if you disagree we'll cut your head off". Tally ho, chaps! Let's begin by cutting Zosimus's head off.
  6. Strange tells us in his second post on page 1: "Science doesn't deal in "truth"; it is not a well-defined or testable concept." In my response, also on page 1, the veracity of this bizarre claim is belied by quotes from three scientists (among untold others) who clearly do not share the opinion that science has no dealings with truth. But supposing it were the case, as Strange insists, that science and truth mind their respective businesses, some very puzzling questions would need to be addressed... We're told GR "answers" the question. Is the answer that GR provides true? Or, at the very least, is there any reason to suppose the answer is true? If not, it's hard to see any virtue of a question being given an untrue answer. Could it be that the misunderstanding is your own? The briefest of searches revealed the following (all posted by Strange himself): "String theory is capable of being tested (not by any technology we have now) and so it can be falsified, and so it is scientific." {And if it were to be falsified then presumably it would be false - Reg} "Well, there was the Lamarckian theory, which was scientific because it was falsifiable by looking at the evidence. And, in the end, it was falsified." {How else is falsified to be understood if not "shown to be false"? - Reg} "Some theories are falsified, but very few. Phlogiston is one of the few examples I can think of. Oh, and the steady state universe (that's quite a big one, I guess)" I stopped my search after the first three. Same old. Do we have any reason to believe these explanations are true? Or is explanation a good thing in and of itself irregardless of truth? Any old explanation, true or false, is a scientific virtue? Have you tried asking a farmer to help you align your laser into an optical fiber? Oh wait, that would be silly. Farmers aren't in that line of work. How expensive is straw these days?
  7. I'd never heard of Kyle Stanford before, and would be very interested to read his book "Exceeding Our Grasp: Science, History, and the Problem of Unconceived Alternatives" that I see available on Amazon. It's just a wee bit expensive. Er, you got a spare? Stanford isn't the only one to point out the worry raised by "unconceived alternatives"... (hold that thought) The scientific realist, in the face of antirealist broadsides, will often appeal to the form of inference known as "Inference to the Best Explanation" (IBE). By coincidence I wrote the following in another thread last night: IBE is familiar to us all. The scientific realist is no exception, holding that given a set of candidate hypotheses, which may all be consistent with the data, the deadlock (cf. underdetermination) can be broken by appeal to explanatory goodness. We are licensed, or so the IBE proponent asserts, to infer to the truth (or probable truth, or suchlike) of that hypothesis among the set of rival candidates that best explains the data. One problem with this approach is pointed out by antirealist Bas van Fraassen who objects: "... to take it that the best of set X will be more likely to be true than not, requires a prior belief that the truth is already more likely to be found in X than not". In other words, making the inference to the truth of "the best of a bad lot" of rival explanatory hypotheses/theories fails to take account of unconceived alternatives.
  8. Clearly not all scientists share your opinion: "All this [i.e. Kuhn's ideas] is wormwood to scientists like myself, who think the task of science is to bring us closer and closer to objective truth."-- Steven Weinberg "Thus a true theory is not a theory which gives an explanation of physical appearances in conformity with reality; it is a theory which represents in a satisfactory manner a group of experimental laws. A false theory is not an attempt at an explanation based on assumptions contrary to reality; it is a group of propositions which do not agree with the experimental laws. Agreement with experiment is the sole criterion of truth for a physical theory." - Pierre Duhem "In science, truth once discovered always remains truth"- Robert A. Millikan It seems no matter how many times I warn of the dangers of making blanket statements about science, the message doesn't sink in. Scientists hold all kinds of divergent views, and say all kinds of things, about science and its aims and goals. Duhem, above, expresses a typically antirealist position; Weinberg, as ever, the staunch realist. Diametrically opposed positions notwithstanding, neither affirms, however, that science "doesn't deal in truth".
  9. This is confused. Certainty is (presumably) a psychological state, not a property of statements or theories. Theories, lacking psychological states, do not entertain doubts, express confidence in their own truth, or enjoy certainty. We do. Certainty might be described as maximal confidence (that a person has) in a given proposition's truth. Thus your claims that "if theories were proven then they would have 100% certainty", and "the fact that they can't be proven shows that they have less than 100% certainty" make no sense. You might enjoy or express certainty of a particular proposition's truth. A tribal warrior in New Guinea, on the other hand, who had never heard of the theory or proposition, would have no degree of confidence, belief, or certainty to speak of at all. This is the right thing to say: "Our confidence", "We are pretty certain", etc. Of course, your own subjective degree of belief in these matters (sunrises, trains, and natural selection) may not be universally shared. Just to take the last one as an example, my own confidence that "evolution can be explained by natural selection" has dwindled steadily over the past few years. It has not "grown with experience"; quite the reverse. If you can pin an objective probability on this, as opposed to a subjective degree of belief, be sure to tell the world. Finally, and slightly tangentially, the kind of holistic concerns raised by Quine and others give us some reason to be skeptical that there are any propositions that can be known with certainty. All of them, "proven" or not, on Quine's account, are potentially susceptible to revision. If we construe a theory as a set of propositions, then a failure of reference of GR's central terms (spacetime, etc) entails that the theory is untrue. It would be untrue in the same way that "Pegasus can fly" and "Phlogiston has a mass of [whatever]" is untrue. The term "phlogiston", we're now told, is a non-referring term. Thus anything predicated of it cannot be true. If 23rd century scientists decide spacetime, say, does not exist (i.e. the term "spacetime" does not refer) then any statement about spacetime is untrue -- useful or not. Whether we should assign such statements a value of "false" or "neither true nor false" is a matter of debate.
  10. It wouldn't be hard to compose a list of "respectable" threads where no question is asked by the OP. Here's just one example (There is no invitation to debate as far as I can see): Was the author of this thread admonished for lecturing or soapboxing? If not, why the double standard?
  11. Congratulations on a thought provoking thread idea, Zosimus. One standard response, I find, from those less familiar with the philosophical issues involved, is to protest, "Newton's theory (or laws) still works very well. It got us to the Moon", and continue, "the theory remains true in its own domain of applicability". That Newton's theory is still of instrumental value is not disputed, at least not by me. But two problems present themselves. First: Whether a theory works or not is a very different question from whether that theory is true. This is what is always most difficult for me to communicate, no doubt due in part to the rather weighty baggage that has to be dragged in from the philosophy of language. For a statement to be true, at the very least, the terms of that statement must refer. Consider: (a) Frank Sinatra was born in New Jersey (b) Frank Sinatra was born in New Zealand (c) Hercules was born in [insert any place you like] In both (a) and (b) the name "Frank Sinatra" is a referring term. It picks out a person in the real world. Both statements, then, are at least candidates for being true. And, as the world turned out, (a) is true and (b) is false. In (c), however, assuming for argument's sake that the name "Hercules" does not refer, then (c) cannot be true, no matter what is inserted in the square brackets. Nothing true can be said of a non-referring name or term. Granting reference failure of the subject term, (c) is not even a candidate for being true. Moving to science, supposing the term "atom" as used by Rutherford, say, fails to refer, then likewise, no true statement can be made about Rutherford's atoms (with the exception "They don't exist"). The same applies to Newton's use of the term "gravity": failure to refer (if indeed it does) entails that nothing true can be predicated of it -- instrumental value notwithstanding. The second problem is captured in this passage from Nicholas Rescher: "It may seem tempting to say that later theories simply provide localized readjustments and that the old theories continue to hold good provided only that we suitably restrict their domains of purported validity. On such a view, it is tempting to say: "Einstein's theory does not replace Newton's; it does not actually disagree with Newton's at all but simply sets limits to the the region of phenomena (large-scale, slow-moving objects) where Newton's theory works perfectly well". Such temptations must be resisted. To yield to them is like saying that "All swans are white" is true all right; we just have to be cautious about its domain limitation and take care not to apply it to Australia. This sort of position comes down, in the final analysis, to the unhelpful truism that a theory works where a theory works."
  12. Reading through the OP again, and focusing on the last sentence (quoted above), it seems to me inappropriate in a case like this to be speaking of logical fallacies at all. A logical fallacy would normally (I think) be a case where, due to some error of reasoning, an unjustified conclusion is yielded. The person arguing has not provided us with a good reason to believe her conclusion. The epistemic justification for the conclusion is insufficient. But that's not the situation here as you've described it. The question is not "Why should we believe your conclusion?", which is a matter of epistemic justification, but rather "Why do/did you act as you do/did?". What's being demanded is explanatory justification for one's actions, not epistemic justification for one's conclusion. To continue, the accused might plead in her defense, "The reason for my action is X". X is her alleged justification; her explanation (or perhaps excuse) for acting as she did. But the accused, according to the OP, "has a lot of influence, if not total control, over X". Then what do we say (if we're in a particularly suspicious frame of mind)? Manipulation? Machiavellian manoeuvring? Skulduggery? Still doesn't seem to me a logical fallacy, i.e., a flaw in one's modes of inference.
  13. @ John (post directly above) All of that may or may not be true, but the topic is logical fallacies, and since we lack access to the mental states of those involved, all we can do is appraise the arguments as presented to us. Supposing the officers involved were to make explicit their thought processes, we could then examine the cogency of their reasoning. As things stand, we cannot. All you've said is hypothetical. Of course we could take a stance "If the police are reasoning in such-and-such a way then ... whatever". Not sure if that's what the OP has in mind. Edit P.S. -- What you've offered us in your (1) - (6) above is a causal account for the unusually high arrest rates. That's not what concerns us here (if I understand the OP). What we're interested in is relationships between statements, i.e. what can be inferred from what. Not what causes what. Oh, and most of all, does the form of fallacious reasoning involved, if indeed there is one, have a name?
  14. Well, if the police were to advance an argument of the form you just described, i.e. Premise 1: Blacks are arrested for being black Conclusion: Blacks are arrested for being black they would indeed be guilty of begging the question. But the OP has given us no information that such an argument has been advanced. Or as another question-begging example: Premise 1: Blacks engage in violence to a higher proportion than other races Premise 2: [...] Conclusion: Blacks are inordinately violent compared to other races we see the conclusion is simply a restatement of Premise 1. Nothing has been proven or derived or inferred: it was there to begin with. Any person making such an "inference" (i.e. no inference at all) can be charged with committing the fallacy of begging the question, regardless of whatever his or her personal opinion of blacks is. Personal bias is irrelevant. But once again, no such argument has been advanced. So a charge of begging the question can, I think, be safely ruled out. The crux of the issue lies with the (non question-begging) argument (BIV) that has actually been offered by the police: Premise: Black arrests for violent crime are disproportionately high Conclusion: Blacks are inordinately violent Now, the argument as it stands is clearly not deductively valid -- the truth of the premise does not guarantee the truth of the conclusion. Thus, anyone making such an inference, and claiming deductive validity, would be mistaken. If there's any logical fallacy to speak of, it would simply be invalid deduction. The argument could be rendered valid, though, by adding extra premises. E.g. Premise 1: Black arrests for violent crime are disproportionately high Premise 2: People who are arrested for violent crime are violent Premise 3: Arrests are made indiscriminately Conclusion: Blacks are inordinately violent Deductive validity is now secure ... I think. Assuming the truth of premise 1 (i.e. the police are not fabricating statistics), anyone who finds the conclusion unpalatable would have to challenge the second or third premise. Alternatively, rather than invoking deduction, the original argument (BIV) might be recast as an inference to the best explanation (IBE). In other words, it might be argued that of all the candidate explanations for the undisputed fact "Black arrests for violent crime are disproportionately high", the best explanation is that "Blacks are inordinately violent", thus we can infer -- depending on how IBE is construed -- to the truth, or the likely truth, or similar, of the proposition "Blacks are inordinately violent". Those unhappy with the conclusion, assuming they grant IBE as a valid form of inference, would have to contend "Blacks are inordinately violent" is NOT the best explanation for "Black arrests for violent crime are disproportionately high". Once again, though, as with inappropriate deduction, I don't think there's any standard name for this. It's simply an invalid inference.
  15. The only dubious inference in question is: Premise: Black arrests for violent crime are disproportionately high Conclusion: Blacks are inordinately violent A charge of begging the question could only be sustained if the conclusion was somehow already contained -- implicitly or explicitly -- in the premise. I don't see that it is. Compare: Premise: North Korean soldiers have proportionately more medals for courage than American soldiers Conclusion: North Korean soldiers are more courageous than American soldiers Nowhere in the premise is the conclusion to be found. It could just be, of course, that they hand out medals for courage willy-nilly in Pyongyang. In both the above cases, let us grant that the premise is true -- by hypothesis. It's also possible that both conclusions are true. But in neither case is the conclusion entailed by the premise. As things stand, it's an invalid inference. Further premises would be required to make the inference valid. In a genuine case of begging the question, the conclusion is entailed by the premise or premises, for it is already contained therein. E.g. Premise: Donald Trump is an aardvark Conclusion: Donald Trump is an aardvark
  16. Yes, but I said the arrest rates, not the arrests. We're just slightly at cross purposes. But saying the same thing. I think. You're not suggesting the police are making up the arrest rates, are you? If they're not making them up, then the figures are "kosher" in my terminology. The appropriateness of the arrests themselves may be dubious.
  17. So the arrest rates are genuine (i.e. kosher). The police are not lying about the rates themselves. It's just that the police may be arresting inappropriately. E.g. arresting blacks for violent crimes when no such crime was committed, or arresting blacks for genuine crimes of violence disproportionately compared to other races. Right?
  18. Er, forget this bit. It's a load of crap. It's a mighty dubious inference. Back to the drawing board...
  19. To elaborate on this a little more... By and large, when we speak of logical fallacies, the sense of justification that we have have in mind is epistemic. That is to say, we challenge a conclusion that has been arrived at through what we take to be improper reasoning. For example, we might challenge a particular conclusion X by saying that this conclusion is reached by way of circular reasoning, inappropriate appeal to authority, inappropriate induction, equivocation, or that the conclusion X runs afoul of the base rate fallacy, the genetic fallacy, or any one of a plethora of reasoning errors. What we are saying, then, in each of the above cases is that the claimant, in virtue of flawed argumentation, has not given us good reason to believe the conclusion: the epistemic justification is insufficient. This stands in contrast to what I've termed explanatory justification. E.g. "Why are you late for class, Johnny?" -- "I was abducted by aliens, Miss Smith". In this case, depending on whether or not Johnny was indeed abducted by aliens, his justification passes muster. In other words, assuming the alien abduction is true (unlikely!) we say that Johnny has a good reason for being late for class, as opposed to saying "There is good reason to believe THAT Johnny was late for class" (epistemic justification). Otherwise his lateness is unjustified: he does not have a good reason for being late. In the former case Johnny is telling the truth; in the latter case he is lying. In neither case is Johnny guilty of fallacious reasoning. At worst, he's guilty of telling porky pies. So with regards your own example, dstebbins, the first question is: Do the police have an explanatory justification for the fact that blacks are victimized more often than other races? The fact itself is not disputed; it stands in no need of epistemic justification. The reason/excuse given by the police is that blacks are inordinately violent. In this case what is required is an epistemic justification for the putative (i.e. disputed) fact that blacks are unusually violent: what good reasons, if any, do we have to believe this conclusion? (as opposed to "Why is it the case that blacks are unusually violent?") It's only here, then, that the possibility of a logical fallacy might arise. The epistemic justification offered by the police makes appeal to arrest rates. You seem to concede that the arrest rates adduced by the police are kosher. The arrest rates are another undisputed fact. Therefore, no logical fallacy has been committed. The conclusion ("Blacks are unusually violent") is adequately supported by the premise ("Blacks are arrested more often for violent crime than other races"). The final question, then, is "Why are blacks arrested to a disproportionately high degree?"; this undisputed fact stands in need of explanatory justification. And you, like Miss Smith, smell a rat. That arrests rates are high is not disputed. Why they are high may be due to inappropriate police action. The police, like Johnny, may not have good reason to justify (explanatorily) the inordinately high, though universally conceded, arrest rates. If they don't have a good reason, they're guilty of inappropriate arrests. If they do have a good reason, all is well, at least at the local constabulary. Police misconduct is a possibility. Whether or not this is the case, I still see no evidence of fallacious reasoning. Bad behavior hardly constitutes a logical fallacy. I suspect it's the repeated occurrence of the word "justification" -- vacillating between two different senses -- that erroneously leads us to believe a breach of proper reasoning has been committed.
  20. Preaching? You mean like this comment below? (and many others similar to it) "All science is speculation until shown otherwise. That is the greatest benefit of science and the scientific method." (page 2) No evidence was provided to support the existence of this supposed entity called "The Scientific Method". I personally consider the evidence for the existence of "The Scientific Method" to be exiguous at best, on a par with the evidence for God perhaps. Many others, including Nobel Prize-winning scientists agree with me. But said poster "insists it is correct while ignoring reasoned, supported arguments against it". As you rightly say, it is indeed "a waste of time trying to discuss anything with a preacher" since he is "unwilling to change their mind after hearing the best supported argument". Whoops! Sorry to hijack your own hijacking.
  21. The reason, or one of the reasons, why I think everyone has been struggling to pin a name on it is: no logical fallacy has been perpetrated. A second reason might be confusion (it confused me anyway) caused by the word "justification" which is ambiguous between: (i) epistemic justification : What reasons do we have to believe that X is true?, and (ii) explanatory justification : Why is X the case? (where the truth of X is presupposed) The latter is the sense that concerns us here. That is, for example, if X is the proposition "Man has been to the Moon", what concerns us is not providing good reasons to believe X (in order to convince the conspiracy theorists perhaps), but rather, how do those who sent men to the Moon justify this action (in order to convince those who consider it a waste of money perhaps).
  22. Well, if it's true that blacks are inordinately violent, then either (1) or (2) obtains. If it's not true that blacks are inordinately violent, then (3) obtains. Of course, another possibility is that I'm confused again.
  23. Ok, then if it's not true that blacks are inordinately violent, the scenario that interests us is my (3):
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