Friday, December 30, 2011

Moral Barometer

Every year around this time I ask what folks think are the most important moral issues of the day. It is interesting to see what gets added, what drops off, and remains on the list of concerns.

So, given the world as it is and looking forward into the coming year, what are the most pressing ethical concerns?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What Does "Peace on Earth" Mean?

I drive past a lot of places this time of year that have banners or signs that say "Peace on Earth/Good will to men." A lot of them are not places I would generally think of as being pro-peace as I conceive of peace. So, it makes me wonder what they mean by "peace." Is it just the absence of war? Is it a completely different kind of peace, something like "everyone now converts to my religion/worldview"? Is it something else or does it mean nothing at all? Is it just something said without thought at all? What do they mean by "peace"?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Is Governance a Subfield of Ethics?

Machiavelli's The Prince was a watershed work. Before it, discussions of governance were considered to be governed by the rules of ethics, that the way one should govern was completely determined by how one should act. Machiavelli made it a pragmatic matter. Here is how to do it successfully without moral consideration. Surely, it is wrong to think that governance is independent of ethics; one can govern immorally and be blameworthy for it, but is ethics sufficient to determine how to govern? Is governance rightly a subfield of ethics?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Autonomy, Individual Rights, and Chewing Tobacco

The new collective bargaining agreement between professional baseball players and the league has taken a small step towards limiting the presence of chewing tobacco in baseball. Players can still chew and spit during games, but they cannot carry it in their uniforms. No more tins or pouches in the back pocket. A ban on its use during games was considered, but rejected.

Chewing tobacco has been part of baseball culture for over a century. It is something you see when you watch baseball. Of course, many of those watching baseball are children and those playing are their idols whom they then use as role models. As a result, a number of these children will start chewing because they see their heroes doing so. This will mean some of them will develop addictions leading to lip and mouth cancers that they otherwise wouldn't have and thereby a number of premature deaths that need not have occurred. This is simply a fact of the world.

The question is whether this fact means that players should have their right to use tobacco during the games stripped from them. A liberatarian outcry has emerged since the CBA was released, arguing that this is an infringement on the players rights. Baseball players do not lose autonomy because of their chosen line of work and if they want to carry and chew, they should be the ones to make the choice. They are adults as are the parents of the kids and this second set of adults should do the parenting, not Major League Baseball.

On the other hand, the league sure does like the tickets sales to families and all of the money from selling overpriced jerseys of the favorite players they get a cut of. When having players be heroes makes them cash, they're plenty happy, but does this also come with a moral responsibility to make sure that their idols present an image that is healthy? Given that ball players are role models, does this mean that they should be expected to surrender certain rights (not to ever chew, but only during the three hours of game time) for the good of the children they will be influencing?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day: Will MMA Make Boxing and Professional Wrestling Obsolete?

Reality television has taken the place of soap operas. We now get to see absurd plots and dysfunctional relationships in which real people suffer actual emotional damage. Are we seeing the same for our cultural blood lust as we are for its psychological counterpart? Will ultimate fighting and mixed martial arts competitions take the place of boxing and professional wrestling as the outlets for our desire to see humans cause physical pain to other humans?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Worst Gifts

My Fellow Comedists,

The first time LilBro and I had sufficiently significant others to have over for the holiday celebration, our folks played candid camera by getting the ugliest, most tacky things they could find as first presents for each of us just to see the reactions from those who would never expect it from their boyfriend's parents. As they held up the black and dayglow lacy mini-dresses and LilBro and I rolled and got the evil eye -- LilBro got smacked and was told sternly "It's very nice" which, of course, made all the funnier. Yes, I was raised in an orthodox Comedist household.

But not all bad gifts are intentional. What's the worst gift you ever received?

Live, laugh, and love,

Irreverend Steve

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Festivus

My Fellow Comedists,

Yes, it is that time of year again.  Happy Festivus!  Please use the comments for the airing of the grievances.  Here is this year's feats of strength:

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Did Newt Gingrich's Wife Commit Adultery Too?

I was listening to a discussion about Newt Gingrich's conversion to Catholicism this morning and it glossed over the fact that he was with his current wife before he was no longer with his previous wife. It is clear that he committed adultery, but did she? In taking his nuptial vows, he entered into a contract that he broke. Clearly, this is wrong. But the mistress who would later become his next wife, took no such vow. He entered into the contract with his previous wife, she has no relationship whatsoever with her. Does the fact that the man to which she feels a physical attraction is already married cast any moral obligation upon her when she never acted in a fashion that would give her additional moral obligations? If someone steals your spouse, you would be furious at both of them. You have clear moral grounds to be enraged at the cheating spouse. If the person who seduced your spouse away knew s/he was already married, do you then have moral grounds for your umbrage?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

They Might Be Kantians: Legitimate Argument for Guilt by Association?

This morning the short people and I were listening to "Flood" on the way into school. Still a great album. The ethical question in the song "Your Racist Friend" has always interested me. The song recounts the conundrum of someone at a friend's party and the host has a friend who is a racist and making ignorant racist comments. The narrator says of his host "I know politics bore you" and there is no sense that host himself harbors racist sentiments, but he "stands by his racist friend." The narrator says that he feels like a hypocrite remaining present at the party and so leaves on principle.

In refusing to condemn the friend's racism, do we have a legitimate case of guilt by association with respect to the host? Does the context matter? The host is apolitical and just trying to have a good time at his party, is he morally obliged to do more than sweep something he cares little about under the rug since it's not his fight? By not doing so, is the host entrenching and thereby indirectly supporting racism and thereby does he have a duty to do something about his friend?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why Is Ron Paul Ignored by the Media?

So, in the latest poll from Public Policy Polling, Ron Paul leads the Republican field in Iowa. This, after a string of other candidates, popularly deemed the anti-Romneys, rose and fell. But the way all of those candidates were treated is very different from he way Ron Paul has been, that is, the other candidates weren't completely ignored. Sure, some of Paul's views are well out of the mainstream, but then so are many of the views of Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, or Newt Gingrich. Ron Paul seems to occupy a different space in which he could never be seen as the anti-Romney. Is it because he is more libertarian and not mainline conservative? Is it a function of the GOP leadership dictating to the reporters whom they would have covered? Do the reporters just not like him personally? Is there another reason? Why is Ron Paul treated like he just doesn't exist?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Interview Advice

Philosophy jobs searches at colleges across the country work on the same schedule. The annual eastern meeting of the American Philosophical Association has traditionally been the place where all first interviews take place. Skype has meant that some departments don't use the APA meetings, but even with them tis the season to interview.

So, for the candidates who will be interviewing -- and for job candidates, in general -- any advice?

My one piece of advice involves a question you are almost surely going to be asked, the dream class. If you could teach anything in the world, what would you want to teach? We who have been lucky enough to get jobs know that the function of graduate school is to induce mental illness. You will be convinced that your dissertation topic which is a small corner of a corner of a corner of a sub-issue of a technical concern is the most important and interesting question in the world and the continued survival of the human race depends upon its being successfully resolved. As you leave your grad student years behind, you will eventually be able to hold actual conversations with human beings who are not your dissertation director and have the other person actually care about what you are saying. The dream class question is really a test to see how far along that path you have already traveled. DO not answer the question by saying that you would love to teach an advanced seminar in the field of your dissertation or on the major figure in your dissertation. The question can be faithfully translated as "It is impressive that you have written a dissertation, but are you more than a one-trick pony?" By answering the dream class question in a way that brings up your dissertation topic, you are saying "Why yes, I am. I have a very narrow intellect and am not excited to branch out into all of the wonderfully fascinating directions your students will want to explore. I am a boring automaton who will repeat the name of a single philosopher over and over again for the next 30 years whenever you ask me how my weekend went or what I think about the weather. Can I have this job now?"

Other advice for job seekers, philosophical, academic, or real-worldly?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Grading Hell

This is one of the two times of year profs call "grading hell." With large stacks of papers and short amounts of time, everyone is stressed, everyone is exhausted, and grades are due. Family is pushing for more time because things need to be done in preparation of the holidays and you've got more work to do than hours to do it in. And then we get approached and have exactly this conversation repeatedly: What's the worst excuse/plea you've ever gotten/heard of?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sins of Old Age: Is Ethics Age-Dependent?

On the way in this morning, the classical station played Rossini's "Sins of Old Age," a title that begs for consideration. There is surely a time before adulthood when one is not fully able to be a complete moral agent because of lack of knowledge, lack of maturity, and lack of experience. But generally, once one has reached a point of autonomy, we consider ethical duties to be ethical duties.

But are they? Are there acts that we do and should condemn in younger or middle-aged people that simply are not problematic once one reaches a certain age? Are there acts that we should expect from younger adults that elder folk should not engage in?
Professionally, for example, we expect senior people to be more involved in governance issues. There is a sense in which we have professional trajectories that seem to come with normative elements that change over time. Think of the Jimmy Buffett song "A Pirate Turns 40." There is something sad about a middle aged man acting like a 21 year old. At the same time, we sometimes see college students who are prematurely middle-aged, who are not taking full advantage of a time in life when they have the freedom to explore avenues and have life-shaping experiences that will not be open to them later on and it seems harmful to them, wrong in some sort of way.

Is ethics age-dependent in any interesting way? Are there sins that are particular to old age or indeed sins of youth?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Is It History Because It Is Old?

A group is trying to get a particular strip mall in northern Virginia designated as a historic location to be placed under the protection of preservation laws. The argument is that history is not just about locations where important events happened or unique locations or notable architecture, but it is about keeping bits of everyday life as it was lived by people at that place at an other time. Post-war America saw a proliferation of shopping centers which became a staple of mid-20th century life. They may be aesthetically as utilitarian and unpleasing to the eye as anything ever built, but they are a part of the American story and we should seek to preserve it for posterity. The argument against is, "Really? A strip mall?"

No doubt part of the move is about zoning and development in the neighborhood, but the deeper question is an interesting one. Is the fact that something has been a regular part of the culture and is being phased out for whatever reason (good or bad) sufficient to consider typical examples as worth preserving? Does something have to be of particular interest to warrant historical status?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What's the Difference: Value, Price, Cost

Since we're on a roll of economically related posts, what is the difference between value, price, and cost?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is the Euro Necessary for a Peaceful Europe?

One of the arguments you hear for the German willingness to extend itself to bail out Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland is that the Eurozone is not just a monetary union for the sake of financial advantage. The integration of Europe serves a much more important function, peace. By having Europeans see themselves as Europeans, something that arises from tighter and integrated relations, it makes the likelihood of war in Europe less likely. By considering their way of life to be enmeshed with each other, they see other European nations as variations on us instead of as an alien them that could be dehumanized, a major step towards war.

After the European wars of the 19th and especially 20th century, there is good reason to do whatever one can to make entire continents more likely to live together peaceably. But is there really a rational fear there? Is Europe now a different place? Is the threat of a war between major European powers something that is still in the realm of possibility? Is Europe more mature? Has globalization and the complete reinvention of the world economy made European continental war a concern of the past, or could old antagonisms arise again?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Alternating Pairs

On the way into school this morning, the shorter of the short people proposed that we try to think of words that alternate pairs of consonants and vowels, for example, "sweeps." Of course, we then tried to find long ones. "Outlooks" is eight letters and "cleanliest" has ten. Can you beat ten?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Funniest Places on the Web

My Fellow Comedists,

It comes to my attention that these new-fangled intertubes can be used for the funny. What are the most humorous places on the web we should be reading? The Onion, The Borowitz Report, and Funny or Die certainly have highest profiles. Are there lesser known sites that we should be laughing at? Jesus' General has long been a favorite of mine. Others?

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Friday, December 09, 2011

Everything Below This Post Is Kaput

My oldest friend Gwydion asks,

"Do you ever get tired of blogging? If so, how do you reinvigorate yourself?"
I've had this Playground up and running now for almost six years with six posts a week. I am closing in my 2,000th post. I do not want to begin to calculate how much time I've spent on this project with no means of monetizing anything at all connected to it. It is a labor of love. I enjoy the fact that I can be a part of smart and playful conversations with friends from all parts of my life and with some familiar strangers who are a blast to hang out with.

That said, of course, there are times when you get tired. What do I do at those times? I ask for topics from you guys with an auto mechanics to quantum mechanics post... Seriously, though, what keeps me posting are two things. First is a sense of obligation. I've created this community and feel a sense of duty to keep it going, to keep it vibrant. It is an odd thing that a voluntary action on my part has created expectations in people I care about which then gives me a sense of obligation to continue acting. As such, I make sure to do something even when tired.

But, and this is the second part, I've also let go of a sense of ownership, that it is my job alone to keep this place hopping. I used to think of blog posts as little journal articles or op/ed pieces where I needed to construct arguments and defend a position as the basis for the conversation here. But I realized that it would be easier on me and coincidentally more fun for everyone else if I treated the blog more as a classroom where I ask a provocative question and let you folks bat it around instead of weighing in decisively and stepping on the conversation. There are interesting questions, both contextual and perennial, that are easily framed to generate conflicting intuitions. It is often fun to see the ways in which these open questions will take folks who generally disagree on things (say you and Kerry), and bring you together against others with whom you often agree. By moving to a question instead of answer based format, it has made my end less onerous. I keep a running list of those "ooh, that would make a good blog post" questions (right now, I've got 15 on the list ready to go during the several weeks).

It also helps to have some tried and true templates -- what's the difference, why do you know that, bullshit or not -- in my back pocket that I can pull out from time to time and have everyone know the game and how to play. It's funny how many e-mails I get from people who are Playground regulars that include off-topic mentions of this -- "I have a good question, should I hold it for the next time you do auto mechanics to quantum mechanics..."

So, there are strategies that help, but most of all I just keep going because this is a virtual community I care about and would feel bad letting it slip. Maybe it calls for therapy, but the blog is cheaper...

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Neutrinos and Snow

JB asks,

"What would be some of the real impacts (i.e. to the average human being) if neutrinos are really faster than light?"
Likely, very little. The standard misinterpretation of Bohr's principle of correspondence (which works well) is that each new theory has to have the theory it replaces as an approximation, that is, the new theory has to have results that reduce to the successful parts of the old theory it overthrows. If it turns out that neutrinos really do violate the theory of relativity, the theory of relativity will need to be replaced with something new that mathematically reduces back to the theory of relativity in all of the cases where it worked (that is, everywhere other than these bizarre never seen anywhere else effects). The theory of relativity similarly reduces to Newton's theory in virtually every single case we encounter on a day to day basis. So, practically, the effects would be nothing.

What about technologies? Unlikely. Neutrinos are strange little particles with no charge and virtually no mass. Neutrons in an atoms nucleus are a proton and an electron stuck together. but when you do that, certain properties don't quite work out, so physicists realized there had to be another component, and that's the (anti)neutrino. Just detecting their existence was worth a Nobel Prize. As such, it is unlikely that we'd be able to find ways to exploit this superluminal speed for computing or some other purpose.

That being said, it would likely mean a complete conceptual revolution in physics making LOTS of work for philosophers of physics. So, if you are married to such a person, you'd have to listen to discussions of the debates about this and how the people who disagree with this philosopher do not really understand the theory or what I said about it non-stop. So, for some people it could be a source of constant annoyance.

Kerry asks,
"Does it make scientific sense to say at this time of year, as many of us do, 'Man, if this was snow instead of rain we'd really be in for it!'? That is, is the difference between rainfall and snowfall merely a matter of temperature, or is the constellation of causes that produces rain actually quite different from the one that gives us snow, such that the buckets of rain coming down today wouldn't and couldn't be snow unless other factors besides temperature changed?"
The usual conversion factor is 10:1 for inches of rain to inches of snow. Does this calculation mean anything? When someone says, "this would have been four feet of snow had it been cold enough," what they are really saying is ""this would have been four feet of snow had it been cold enough...ALL ELSE BEING EQUAL." The problem as you point out, and the philosopher Nancy Cartwright has written extensively on this point, is that all else is never equal. The weather is the system we use as the prototypical chaotic system in which small changes to variables make large changes in effect. So, of course changing the temperature of the air would change how moist the air is, wind speeds, and any number of other factors that would have effects on how much snow is dropped.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Oil and Gas

Jigamo asks,

"Where does the advice to change oil every 3,000 miles or 3 months come from? It doesn't make sense to me why people would still being changing oil so frequently when there are options out there that are rated for 25,000 miles (or 1 year)."
The number 3,000 is one that has been associated with oil changes for decades and decades, back when you could change your own oil and not have to worry about resetting some computer so it stops giving you a digital message.

Engines are made of metal which must move in a beautifully orchestrated fashion to work efficiently. Metal rubbing against metal causes friction which results in heat. Heat expands metal causing the pieces to not fit quite right and therefore not work quite right. Lubrication in engines -- like so many other parts of life -- is essential to the system remaining functional. Over time, the oil becomes contaminated with impurities it picks up and it breaks down chemically, making it less effective at eliminating friction, so it and its corresponding filter need to be changed. 3,000 miles was the generally accepted number for engines and oil as they were manufactured before modern innovation. Now, we have better lubricants that resist heat better. We have engines that are made tighter and are self-monitoring for some of the issues you were looking to avoid. As such, 3,000 miles is unnecessary.

Why is it still automotive gospel? First, once a belief is widespread, it is accepted and difficult to change even when change is rational. Second, the more often you change the oil, the more oil is sold. I know it is hard to believe that oil companies and car dealerships would be less than honest and open, but...

FBC asks,
"What is an objective assessment of the risk/reward of the fracking process as in North East PA?"
This is a hard fracking question. When we need information that is more technical than we ourselves can determine, we have to rely on authorities. a legitimate argument from authority has to satisfy three criteria: (1) the authority must have actual material existence in this universe (no "I read somewhere that..."), (2) the authority must be a person whom we have good reason to believe knows the answer (the person is an actual authority in the field), and (3) the person must not have a personal interest in getting me to believe one way or the other. The worries in the fracking case is with both (2) and (3).

Consider them in opposite order. There is A LOT of money at stake here and powerful corporate interests that want access to the shale. They know that environmental concerns are real and playing off of the tobacco and industrial chemical industries' experiences, they know how to buy scientists and infiltrate the literature to plant information they can use in court and in public relations efforts to sell the project. They've bought, for example, the geology department at Penn State which is now an arm of their marketing departments. An objective assessment would have to be one that is not paid for by the industry. It would have to be transparent in its assumptions and methodology and have its findings replicated by other independent sources. The problem is that those producing the studies want to keep that information hidden. Case in point,
A New York Post editorial advocated for New Yorkers to "frack, baby, frack!" citing a "new study out of Penn State" claiming ample economic rewards of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. However, the editorial failed to note that the study was sponsored by a lobbying group representing gas companies.
Then we have the problems with (2). Who are the experts here? It is what we call an interdisciplinary problem. There is no one set of experts to turn to and working across intellectual boundaries in a way that allows a unified account is difficult.

But it is even trickier in this case because we are dealing with a process whose real effects are as of yet unknown. There have been an unusual number of earthquakes in regions of Arkansas and Virginia where fracking has been taking place. Are they related? Maybe. We don't know. The unintended unforeseen consequences of something like this cannot be predicted -- that's the unforeseen part -- so a cost/benefit analysis could be way off should there be huge unforeseen costs.

The answer then, is "heck if I know." Issues like this require rational decisions based on our best models of the costs and benefits and these models are always and necessarily based on incomplete information. But in this case, we seem to have some glaringly big question marks and we have to hope the frack that the worst case scenario doesn't come to be.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Income Inequality and Occupy Caesar's Palace

JB asks,

"Can the Occupy movement ever gain traction with the larger (apathetic) portion of the 99% when stories keep coming out with headlines like 'Occupy protesters leave behind 30 tons of garbage in Los Angeles park?'"
I'm not sure what would satisfy the conditions for "gaining traction." We know that the media will be hostile to any movement that questions the status quo, especially if it is one in which it is not particular demands within the structure but the structure itself that is being questioned. We know also that this is part of a larger dynamic in which protesters are labeled "dirty hippies who don't want to get a job" and this ad hominem attack can be used to keep from asking the questions that need to be asked about both the moral fairness and economic sense of our current system.

That being said, the Occupy movement HAS changed the discourse. It is having an effect. It will not change the system. It will not be able to undermine the power that corporate interests have in Washington. But, it can shine some light on it and make it a live issue instead of allowing the country to be bankrupted in back-alley deals that serve only to shift all wealth upwards. It can slow the process and that may create a context in which larger changes become possible. What Occupy has done is to introduce frames into the current way of speaking and thinking about things that are healthier. I think that Occupy has the traction, if the goal is to allow us to start talking about issues we previously couldn't under the Republican frame. And if you doubt that, look at how nervous it is making Frank Luntz.

Philo asks,
"We've all seen the charts for wealth and income inequality, and it seems to be apparent that this has to be fixed by some redistribution mechanism. What is the right thing to do?"
Income is the amount you bring in and wealth is the amount you have. For those of us in the 99%, we spend most of what we make, putting it into the economy where it gets circulated again and again in what John Maynard Keynes called the multiplier effect. In this way, it is the poor, working, and middle class who are the real job creators. The wealthy make their money from investments, not wages -- that is they get more money just for being rich and then use most it to invest in ways that does not have a direct effect on the real economy, the wealth gets horded and does not raise all boats. The solution, therefore, begins by giving preferential treatment to money that was earned by actually working for it. The rate on capital gains -- free money for having money -- should be significantly higher than that for earned income which is taxed according to a fair and progressive set of rates.

Then, we need to increase the wealth, not just the income of the 99%. This has begun. One effect of the elimination of traditional pensions and the stock market bubble of the 90s is that a larger portion of the population now considers wealth management seriously. Stock and bond ownership is now significantly broader than it has been. Savings is not something we do well in this country and it can be encouraged in a number of ways from early financial education to increasing the limit on tax-deferred or tax-free contributions to IRAs or college savings accounts.

YKW asks,
"The Five-year results for the S&P 500 Index (going from December 6, 2006 thru yesterday) registers a drop of 152 points, or a cumulative loss of about 11 percent. While I know that keeping say, $100,000 in small bills under my mattress would have produced a better return during this period than buying a fund that replicated S&P, would I have also done better by playing casino craps with $20,000 of that money (consistently betting the pass line, double odds, and 2 numbers) over the same five year period?"
In five years, there's approximately 2,000 days. given your $20,000 bankroll, that means you'd play about $10 per day. The odds on a double odds pass bet favor the house by only .61% which means that on a $10 bet, the expectation value is $9.94, that is, you expect on average to lose about six cents a bet. Over the 2,000 days, then, you'd likely be down only $120 and have had a darn good time yelling and screaming with the other nuts at the craps table for the year which means that you would likely be better off. Not that I'm suggesting this as a long-term financial strategy...

Monday, December 05, 2011

Analytic/Continental Divide, Ps and Qs, and Scientific Disproof

C. Ewing asks,

"Is the difference between analytical philosophy and continental philosophy one of history/tradition or methodology? both? neither?"
Both. The divide that defined 20th century philosophy derives from a split in how to proceed after Kant. Very roughly, Kant argued that doing metaphysics leads to contradictions, so you have to choose between logic and metaphysics -- analytics chose logic and Continentals chose metaphysics. The continental tradition traces its roots to Hegel who abandoned the traditional two-valued logic for his dialectic. This meant two things: (1) the traditional logic no longer applied, and (2) we need to look at the objects of philosophy through historical lenses. As Continental thought reacted against Hegel and developed into the 20th century, those notions remained as the signature. The term "deconstructed" which entered our lexicon from the postmodernist school in the Continental tradition means to unpack the effects of social and political power structure in explaining why people believe something. Reality and knowledge become functions of the social.

Analytic philosophy emerges from the advances in math and science (especially the theory of relativity) in the late 19th/early 20th centuries when the scientific worldview was turned completely upside down. In an effort to understand how science provides us with reasonable beliefs that seem (1) at first glance completely unreasonable, and (2) capable of such completely radical conceptual revision, they moved to replace the mushy, slippery ordinary language with something more rigorous, an absolutely clean logical language in which philosophical problems could be stripped down to empirical questions and shipped off to scientists to answer or exposed as pseudo-questions which don't really have an answer and can therefore be forgotten. The goal here is to analyze (not deconstruct) statements to make it completely clear what they mean and what would have to be the case for them to be true.

In this way, they followed distinct historical developments that brought with them different tools and methods. That being said, what one sees now across the divide, is the two starting to trend back towards common insights -- the ways in which the objective is interwoven with the social. I don't thi this will mean a resolution of the philosophical community anytime soon, but relations will likely become less frosty.

While we're on the topic of logic, jigamo asks
"Why do logical proofs often use the letters P and Q? Does this have any relation to 'minding your Ps and Qs?'"
Nope. Independent. The saying is British and p's and q's may or may not have been the letters p and q. The earliest usages are from the writings of playwright Thomas Dekker:
The date of the coinage of 'mind your Ps and Qs' is uncertain. There is a citation from Thomas Dekker's play, The Untrussing of the Humorous Poet, 1602, which appears to be the earliest use of the expression:

Afinius:'s your cloak; I think it rains too.
Horace: Hide my shoulders in't.
Afinius: 'Troth, so thou'dst need; for now thou art in thy Pee and Kue: thou hast such a villanous broad back...

'Pee and Kue' in that citation seem to be referring to a form of clothing, but that is somewhat ambiguous. It is also not clear that the 'Pee and Kue' in Dekker's work are the same as those in 'mind one's Ps and Qs'. Dekker later used the term in West-ward Hoe, a joint work with John Webster, 1607:

At her p. and q. neither Marchantes Daughter, Aldermans Wife, young countrey Gentlewoman, nor Courtiers Mistris, can match her.

In that piece it is less apparent that 'p. and q.' refer to a form of clothing.
In logic, we just need letters to represent properties or qualities, so we often select P and Q. Strangely, we often use F and G for relations which means logic teachers find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to discuss the property of p-ness and the f'ing relation and whether it is symmetric and transitive.

Avrohom Kaufman asks,
"We learned in your class (back when you were just the new guy on the block in the late 90's) that science can't prove anything only disprove. This begs the question (though just as a side note) if science can't prove anything to begin with than how can it disprove; what barometer is it using if proof (i.e., truth) is not counted amongst it's starting points?"
The asymmetry between proof and disproof here comes from what is trying to be shown -- that some sentence is a universal law of nature, that is, something that describes the behavior of some complete class of phenomena. If the claim says that it holds for every single instance of X, and there could be an infinite number of X's, then we could never prove it. But if you show me one case where there is an X that doesn't work the way my supposedly universal theory about X's claims, then my universal claim is falsified, proven false.

More tomorrow.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Auto Mechanics to Quantum Mechanics: Any Questions?

We'll put this weekend's post up a day early to get things rolling. I have a schtick I do at the beginning of every class where I take a few minutes and let the students ask me any question from auto mechanics to quantum mechanics. When I started the Playground years ago, some former students asked if I'd bring it here. So, as an occasional series of posts, I throw it open. If there was ever a question you just wanted to ask, here's your chance. We'll discuss as many as I can get to next week.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Bullshit or Not: Woody Allen Edition

Here's a bit that used to be a regular at the Playground, but which I haven't dusted off in a while. The title comes from a sketch in the old film "Amazon Women on the Moon" which included a spoof of the old Leonard Nemoy series "In Search of..." The satire had the tag line "Bullshit or decide" and I thought it would be a good idea to use it as a theme for a series of posts. I provide a quotation and you weigh in...bullshit or not.

Since today is Woody Allen's birthday, let's go with one of his more cynical quotations. From "Shadows and Fog":

"There's only one kind of love that lasts. That's unrequited love. It stays with you forever."
So, bullshit or not? You decide. Feel free to leave in the comments anything from a single word to a dissertation.