Tuesday Quotation-Sir Thomas More

‘The fact is, even the sternest ascetic tends to be slightly inconsistent in his condemnation of pleasure. He may sentence you to a life of hard labour, inadequate sleep, and general discomfort, but he’ll also tell you to do your best to ease the pains and privations of others. He’ll regard all such attempts to improve the human situation as laudable acts of humanity – for obviously nothing could be more humane, or more natural for a human being, than to relieve other people’s sufferings, put an end to their miseries, and restore their joie de vivre, that is, their capacity for pleasure. So, why shouldn’t it be equally natural to do the same thing for oneself?’

More, Thomas. Utopia. Penguin (trans. Paul Turner), 1965. Print.

Hmmm…

“His problem (Plato’s) with the arts was that they operated by images rather than by ideas, and thus that they might cloud the truth rather than clarifying it.”

Yes, and religious traditions, for example, also have interpretations of how one ought to reproduce the image.

“Whatever one thinks of Plato’s solution to this problem, I suggest that this is one of the problems that elicited his proposals for severe censorship of the arts he so obviously loved and had been trained in.”

Two AI Links And Some Thoughts On Political Philosophy

Sam Harris & Eliezer Yudkowsky-‘AI Racing Towards The Brink

Should the primary focus be on questions of alignment?  If spiders are to mice are to chimps are to humans, could independent human actors be creating general AI which is a similar order above our own thinking?  Yudkowsky argues that the time to think about such issues is now.

From Quanta Magazine: ‘New Theory Cracks Open the Black Box of Deep Learning

Not exactly reassuring, but the ‘bottleneck’ theory likely mirrors neuronal networks and something which occurs when we humans learn.

Even as machines known as “deep neural networks” have learned to converse, drive cars, beat video games and Go champions, dream, paint pictures and help make scientific discoveries, they have also confounded their human creators, who never expected so-called “deep-learning” algorithms to work so well. No underlying principle has guided the design of these learning systems, other than vague inspiration drawn from the architecture of the brain (and no one really understands how that operates either).

And now for something mostly different…a note on political philosophy (because you didn’t ask 🙂):  Let’s say, for a moment, that questions of fact and questions of value are orthagonal to one another. Whether or not something is true is not necessarily connected to whether or not the thing is good.

One clear problem arising from Marxist and neo/post Marxist thought is that many of the ‘is’ claims contained therein are simply not true.  Marxism, relying upon a singular variable (let’s say L) for all types of labor, is not really describing the world as it is accurately enough to work (capable of planning economies and organizing societies led by a revolutionary ‘vanguard’).  Although Marxism isn’t an explicit moral theory, it clearly animates the moral sentiments and provides value hierarchies to which Marxists still cling and neo-Marxists still seek to produce.  Some variant of Marxism is good enough for a lot of people, frankly, and a lot of people with a religion-sized hole in their lives.  Marxist confusion regarding its own epistemological value as a ‘science’ tends to reflect within its followers, too, many of whom still seem to think what they do is ‘science.’

To my mind, J.S. Mill went a good deal deeper in trying to provide ‘is’ cases for why one should act liberally, maximizing liberty for one’s self by banding together with others also speaking against custom and taboo and the current rules (Benthamites, Puritans, heretics, various outcasts etc.) in pursuit of the truth.  Utilitarian logic doesn’t entirely scale, of course, at least not without sacrificing some individuals for the whole, but both individual autonomy and political liberty in pursuit of the truth are much better preserved.

Within my own trajectory, I do suspect that some of the current neo-Kantians, neo-Platonists (neo-classicists) and Straussians are displaced and/or current religious believers, engaged in some pursuit (confirmation bias included) of what is both true and good (and perhaps, beautiful) within one philosophical whole.

At the moment, on the issue of being pro free-speech, I reasonably align with neo-Marxist (Brendan O’Neill) and post 60’s radical Camille Paglia, but I’ve got deep doubts as to where their thinking leads.

On individual and political liberty as well as economic freedom, I tend to align with many Millians, Hayekians and various flavors of libertarians.  This tends to be, philosophically, where I’m most at home.

On upholding tradition (the wisdom in traditions of which I may be ignorant), and upholding current rules and a deeper scepticism regarding human nature in favor of anything new, I tend to be in alignment with that rather neo-Kantian, neo-Hegelian, Church Of England conservative Roger Scruton.  I still have my worries regarding the modern touchstone of Kant, and the religion-sized hole filled by Hegelian metaphysics and the significant problems of the German State, but the defense of both individual and family within potentially scalable political economies is welcomed.

Patriotism, the desire for limited government, the importance of citizens united under Laws as a nation, and citizens perhaps guided by Natural Law are not entirely unamenable to me, but the case for their goods must consistently, openly, and reasonably be made.

Feel free to highlight my vast and deep ignorance, fellow human (or impostor).

I’ve got a lot of ignorance.

Related: From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy.

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom:Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?: From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.…

Moving Towards Truth And Liberty, But What To Conserve?-Some Thoughts On The Bret & Eric Weinstein Interview

Via The Rubin Report:

As I currently see events, a self-directed life and the freedom to live such a life is a blessing of the Enlightenment, indeed, but much Enlightenment thinking has also helped produce many Shrines-Of-The-Self which currently dot the landscape, and which come with many downside risks.

Reserving judgment about such Shrines (should they exist), I suspect many in the West feel a tidal pull towards Romanticized-Modernized-Postmodernized visions of Nature, and the triumph of the individual artist, revealing and having revelations, creating, striving, and making anew in a process of casting old models aside.  Towering genuises abound.  Many are European.

Generations and centuries later, however, such ideas have also saturated Western civil society enough to create many of our familiar tensions:  Some individuals are in a process of fully rejecting religion, science, mathematics and many products of reason in favor of modern mysticism, ideology and the nihilist denial of objective reality.

I think other individuals in the modern world have placed a lot of hope and meaning into political ideals and political movements gathered around what I’ve been calling the ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, racism etc…where group identity can easily crowd out the pursuit of truth and individual autonomy).  Such movements have important moral truths to offer and arguably freedoms for all (such is always the claim), but they don’t come without costs, dangers and downsides either (spin-cycles of utopia/dystopia as Eric Weinstein points out in the video above).

I consider these movements to be in serious need of critique, resistance and context, especially in dealing with hard problems of human nature like war and conflict, potential evil, and the incredible difficulty of maintaining legitimate moral decency aligned with positions of authority.  Process can often matter as much as outcome.

Last but not least, still other individuals have been taken up into radical movements staying true to the totalitarianism and misery guaranteed within doctrines of revolutionary praxis, and such individuals are still busy activating beneath the deeper bedrock of secular humanism and liberal thinking, pushing upwards.

The Weinsteins are engaged in a lot of the pushback:

That mathematics, the natural sciences and evolutionary biology offer profound truth and knowledge should go without saying, expanding human understanding of the natural world, more accurately explaining empirically observed patterns and relationships within that natural world, and actively disrupting most old models many of us have long since internalized.

This is what free and rigorous thinking, often at great personal cost, can offer to an open and free society.  May it long continue.

I don’t know if I’m with the brothers Weinstein when it comes to their radicalism regarding all current institutional arrangements, but I could be persuaded by their ‘panther-in-the-china-shop’ model of reform.  Frankly, many of our most important institutions are proving over-inflated, cumbersome, and full of rot:  Buffeted as we all are are by migration and mass communication, global labor markets, and very rapid technological rates of change.

***Perhaps if there’s a spectrum of change, I fall more on the conservative side.  At the moment, I’m skeptical of the defense of experts and expertise (despite the truths), the panther-reformers (despite our common interests), and the populist discontent so active in our politics right now (boiling over, but accurately, I think, representing many of the fissures and chasms in civil society right now).

I should add that I think much that’s being conserved is arguably not worth conserving at any given time, but I doubt any one of us, nor any group, has accesss to full knowledge of what should stay and what should go. In fact, I’m pretty certain one of the main points of good governance lies in prohibiting any one of us, nor any particular faction, no matter how reasonable, to have very much power for very long (and it’s definitely the job of good people and the good in people to keep the demagogues, zealots, career bureuacrats and grubby strivers from too much power).

Let me know what I may have gotten wrong.  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

As always, thanks for reading.  That’s a blessing in and of itself.

Related On This Site:

Thanks, reader:

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Somewhere from the old aristocratic Russia softly speaks a keen mind in beautiful, strange English: Michael Dirda At The Washington Post Reviews ‘Nabokov in America’

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

Repost-Two Links: IQ And Leo Strauss

From Chhay Lin Lim: ‘Average IQ per College Major:’

There’s a normal distribution, but the mean of this data set seems off…interesting nonetheless:

‘So what are the results that the ETS came up with? The majors that have the five highest average IQ scores are (ranked from high to low):

  • Physics & Astronomy (133)
  • Mathematical Sciences (130)
  • Philosophy (129)
    Materials Engineering (129)
  • Economics (128)
    Chemical Engineering (128)
    Other Engineering (128)
  • Mechanical Engineering (126)

The majors with the five lowest average IQ scores are (again ranked from high to low):

  • Administration (107)
  • Home Economics (106) Special (106)
  • Student Counseling (105)
  • Early Childhood (104)
  • Social Work (103)’

Via Marginal Revolution: ‘Leo Strauss’ Greatness According To Dan Klein:’

  •       A sense of virtue/justice/right that is large and challenging.
  •       An appreciation of wisdom as something different than progressive research programs/specialized academic fields and disciplines.
  •        An understanding of the sociology of judgment, in particular the role of great humans.
  •        An epic narrative, from Thucydides to today.
  •        Rediscovery, analysis, elaboration, and instruction of esotericism.
  •        Close readings and interpretations of great works.
  •        Inspiring, cultivating serious students and followers.

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’….Race and IQ: Malcolm Gladwell On The Flynn Effect

Skepticism Regarding The Moralizing Impulses Of Modern Political & Social Movements-A Few Links

Richard Feynman Cargo Cult Science lecture here.

Feynman (wikipedia) wonders what makes science science.  He manages to argue quite well why he doesn’t think psychology meets a certain standard.

At least, he says the following:

‘I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all theapparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but  they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.’

What is the bar as to when the social sciences become a science?

One place I find myself often retreating (knowledgeably, and sometimes not) is a place of skepticism when it comes to such fields gaining earthly authority and becoming conventional wisdom.

What if the latest research on a certain psychological disorder, early-educational practice, or thinking about certain mental-states and their treatment, because of this potential ambiguity, simply doesn’t hold up well over time and under greater scrutiny?

How much cost of error can be borne through political/legal channels?  Is there room for self-correction and protection of individual liberties regarding movements which are essentially moralizing and reformist in nature?

Few with money, reputation, political power and influence to bear those costs will do so readily, for that’s not how man’s nature is constituted, especially when asses are on the line.

Just observe any politician come election time.  Or your own behavior when you trip on a toy left on the stairs (you’ve probably resisted the urge to smash that toy at some point).  Rather, I’d prefer holding many idealists and social reformers/do-gooders of all stripes to account for outcomes, not intentions.

How about some healthy skepticism?

***This is to say nothing of the anti-science, ideological and radical base often driving political/social influence upon reformers and public sentiment.

Food for thought: Rarely do those upholding an ideal or principle in the public square stop to reflect upon the possibility that their burgeoning political movement might eventually devolve into a racket.  The injustice, and perceived injustice, is too great.  The urgency of now becomes overwhelming.  Thus, what is noble in true in a movement also contains that which is ignoble and untrue, for there are always the unbalanced and power-hungry seeking more influence as they are attracted to the movement.

If this movement doesn’t constrain the worst impulses, it can be relatively easy to predict where it may end-up.

On that note, a Theodore Dalrymple piece here.

Say it ain’t so:

‘Medical journals have thus gone over to political correctness—admittedly with the zeal of the late convert—comparatively recently. Such correctness, however, is now deeply entrenched. With The New England Journal of Medicine for July 16, 2016 in hand, I compared it with the first edition I came across in a pile of old editions in my slightly disordered study: that for September 13, 2007, as it happened, which is not a historical epoch ago. What started as mild has become strident and absurd.’

Another Dalrymple piece here:  Via A Reader-Theodore Dalrymple At LibertyLawSite.Org: ‘How Modern Psychology Undermines Freedom and Responsibility’

Dalrymple takes care to respond to many modern knowledge claims and ‘cult of the expert’ tendencies with literary wisdom, criticism, and skepticism.  Perhaps modern psychology, in trying to explain the world and soothe men’s souls, also pathologizes and medicalizes what are otherwise quite normal impulses and duties we human beings have in a pretty harsh world, with plenty of suffering.

See Also: Karl Popper’s metaphysical theory on much the same subject: Falsifiability

This, unlike the system highlighted in the below quote from the late Robert Conquest, steadfast chronicler of Soviet authority and leadership in practice:

But, he does point out certain dangers and makes me laugh at the same time:

“Those teach who can’t do” runs the dictum,

But for some even that’s out of reach:

They can’t even teach—so they’ve picked ’em

To teach other people to teach.

Then alas for the next generation,

For the pots fairly crackle with thorn.

Where psychology meets education

A terrible bullshit is born.’

As previously posted:

Ken Minogue framed it thusly:

‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’

Repost-Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Full post here.  (link may not last)

Perhaps Hawking is guilty of a little hubris in weighing in with such certitude on the God question?

Here’s a quote of his Hawking’s posted previously:

“His [Kant’s}argument for the thesis was that if the universe did not have a beginning, there would be an infinite period of time before any event, which he considered absurd.  The argument for the antithesis was that if the universe had a beginning, there would be an infinite period of time before it, so why should the universe begin at any one particular time?  In fact, his cases for both the thesis and the antithesis are really the same argument.  They are both based on his unspoken assumption that time continues back forever, whether or not the universe had existed forever.

-Stephen Hawking-A Brief History of Time

Not so much that time continues back forever, but that it’s impossible to conceive of a point outside of time.  Kant wished to argue that both time and space are not necessarily inherent characteristics of the universe (or any object at all…especially those objects with which we have no direct experience, like a black hole, though according to Kant we can have knowledge of objects) but rather time and space are part of our onboard apparatus, and preconditions for us have intelligible experience in the first place (unlike as is assumed in calculus, for example).  He constructed a vast metaphysics to make his point in the hopes of putting metaphysics on the same ground as the sciences (the Enlightenment was going strong around him, and he latched onto Newton’s laws especially).  It’s questionable as to whether or not he succeeded, but fascinating to think about nonetheless.

Also On This Site:  Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To JudgmentFrom YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Via The University Of British Colombia: Kant-Summary Of Essential PointsFrom Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantSunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant

From The Times Higher Education: Simon Blackburn On The The Atheist/Believer DebateFrom Bloggingheads: Adam Frank And Eliezer Yudkowsky

Repost-From YouTube-Bryan Magee: On The Ideas Of Quine

Via Wikipedia-Quine’s position denying the analytic/synthetic distinction is summarized as follows:

It is obvious that truth in general depends on both language and extralinguistic fact. … Thus one is tempted to suppose in general that the truth of a statement is somehow analyzable into a linguistic component and a factual component. Given this supposition, it next seems reasonable that in some statements the factual component should be null; and these are the analytic statements. But, for all its a priori reasonableness, a boundary between analytic and synthetic statements simply has not been drawn. That there is such a distinction to be drawn at all is an unempirical dogma of empiricists, a metaphysical article of faith.[13]

— Willard v. O. Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”, p. 64

As a pretty strong materialist, Quine rejects a priori synthetic statements as necessary, as well as mind/body duality problems, regarding the ‘why?’ questions as fundamentally unanswerable.  At least such questions are not for philosophy to posit nor answer, anyways.

There simply doesn’t exist a category of knowledge we humans possess that doesn’t have its origins in our experience.

For Quine, it seems, philosophy is more abstract and general than the sciences (asking questions about questions, clarifying), but it it can’t hope, as Kant hoped, to be placed onto the same ground as the sciences.

Yet, as a Youtube commenter points out: Aren’t there still abstract entities beyond our material existences on Quine’s view (not souls, not God, not ideal forms), but rather just numbers and number sets naturally existing, and perhaps waiting to be discovered?

A link posing a re-purposed Quinian idealism:

ABSTRACT. Quine’s web of belief is influenced by, and encompasses, the entire scope of reality. It is established with a minimalist vocabulary, and is an efficient and integral vehicle toward his metaphysical [a]nd unambiguous ontological commitment, which leads to a somewhat bleak but rigorous membership in the world. Physical objects exhaust the domain of substance, and man becomes a mere four dimensional physical object. All states of mind are psychologized, or reduced to their impact on behaviour. Effectively, idealist criticisms have not simply been taken note of, but idealism has been hijacked, and the result is a new kind of empiricism and an original view of the world.