The Onion: We Will Never Be United As A Nation As Long As There Are Other People Besides Myself

Posted by Anti Citizen One on July 24th, 2010

This is a great parody of all those moralists who assume the right to improve mankind:

This is a difficult time in our nation’s history. There is a rift—a deep, enduring wound—among the people of this once-great land, and while I’m not sure it will be healed in my lifetime, I do not think all hope is lost. I believe change is possible, but the road will be long and difficult. The truth is, this nation can never be united as long as it is home to people other than myself. The Onion

I am deep into reading Waldon. It’s good so far.


Selective Intellectual Blindness

Posted by Anti Citizen One on July 16th, 2010

I recently had an infuriating conversation which revealed staggering selective intellectual blindness. I am reminded of the quote:

In certain pious people I have found a hatred of reason, […] But to stand in the midst of this rerum concordia discors [the concord of things through discord] and all the marvellous uncertainty and ambiguity of existence, and not to question, not to tremble with desire and delight in questioning, not even to hate the questioner–perhaps even to make merry over him to the extent of weariness–that is what I regard as contemptible[…] The Gay Science, Aph 2.

I am glad to get that off my chest.


The Münchhausen Trilemma

Posted by Anti Citizen One on July 15th, 2010

An interesting problem that arises from logic is the Münchhausen Trilemma. This applies in most situations when we are arguing to support a particular proposition (justificationism). A problem arises when we ask where do the axioms of a logical argument come from? This is expressed in the three “horns” of the Münchhausen Trilemma:

  • The circular argument, in which theory and proof support each other. A because B. B because A. e.g. “The Bible is true because the Bible says so.” Since anything can be justified by a circular argument, it is considered absurd to use this as a valid logical argument. It is also can involve tautology.
  • The regressive argument, in which each proof requires a further proof. A because of B, B because C, C because D, to infinity. If every proposition is supported by other propositions, there is no “foundational axiom”. Since there is no foundational axiom, we cannot even try to assess if our basic assumptions are true. Therefore we cannot know if our conclusion is true or false. This is classically seen in some versions of the cosmological argument.
  • The axiomatic argument, which rests on accepted precepts. This is problematic for the philosopher, as how can we know our axioms are true? Hume, among others, have pointed out the impossibility of a priori knowledge of a posteriori experience. We also can use the argument from obviousness, but this can be countered by claiming “nothing is obvious”, Descartes evil dæmon, Plato’s cave, etc. Also, if there is a disagreement on the truth value of an axiom, there is no way to verify it – this allows possibly any axiom to be claimed as “obvious” and we are back to absurdity. Mathematics rests on axiomatic assumptions but this is acceptable for an abstract field of knowledge. But outside a-priori knowledge, certainty of axioms seems impossible.

    “I shall begin with observing, that there is an evident absurdity in pretending to demonstrate a matter of fact, or to prove it by any arguments a priori. Nothing is demonstrable, unless the contrary implies a contradiction. Nothing, that is distinctly conceivable, implies a contradiction. […] I propose this argument as entirely decisive, and am willing to rest the whole controversy upon it.” Cleanthes in David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Given the objections and doubts of all possible logical justification, we are forced to conclude that no certainty in a-posteriori knowledge is possible! This leads us to fallibilism, the belief that all knowledge could, in principle, be mistaken. I do not go as far as claiming knowledge is impossible (for one thing, that statement might be considered “knowledge”).

Another way of analysing justification of logical argument is Fries’s trilemma. This ignores circular arguments (since they are worthless) and splits Münchhausen’s “axiomatic argument” into two futher divisions.

  • Dogmatism – we can just assume the truth value of axioms. This is usually unacceptable to philosophers. It also opens the door to possibly false statements.
  • Infinite regress – again, a problem.
  • Psychologism – defined by Popper as “the doctrine that statements can be justified not only by other statements but also by perceptional experience.” Remember that this too abandons certainty in knowledge, due to the variability in interpretation of perceptions. This highlights the need for philosophy to be aware of psychology.

Given the apparently inescapably of fallibilism, anyone who claims to be certain of something is “a question mark concerning his wisdom”. We need modesty in what we know. But I don’t think most people would be comfortable with the idea that everything they know could be false…

Anti Citizen One

PS Simpsons Quote: Moe: “It’s po-mo! [blank stares from all] Post-modern! [more staring] Yeah, all right — weird for the sake of weird.”

PPS Looks like the UK government was in on the US’s torture and rendition antics the whole time.

The Social Contract

Posted by Anti Citizen One on July 13th, 2010

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Rousseau

I am on a roll with political philosophy books: I recently finished The Open Society, The Communist Manifesto, The Republic and The Social Contract. I have started on the collected works of Thoreau. Rousseau’s The Social Contract reminds me of Thomas Paine’s writing style. Arguments are put forward using rather large metaphysical assumptions and emotional appeals – although I sometimes agree with their conclusions. For example, the quote above sounds really cool but I am not sure it has any concise meaning. This is in contrast to Popper’s dry and logical approach to a similar goal. Rousseau is more abstract than other political philosophers, at times I was just reading “blah blah blah” as the meaning – I am metaphysically skeptical.

The way I (badly) understand Rousseau’s foundational argument, people collectively choose to participate in a state. So far, so existential. Rousseau calls the generalisation of their state’s interest as “the general will”, which is what people would want, if they had the interests of “all” at heart. This approach has some difficulties. We cannot objectively say what the general will is unless everyone is in agreement. Rousseau claims the general will is distinct and unified, as it is the will as if people had no private interests. Unfortunately, we cannot reconcile the possibility if people really have distinct interests, even distinct at the “state level”. Rousseau evades this difficulty by claiming there are sometimes two states in one geographical area. This makes his system unworkable and pretty tautological. This is similar to his definition of “laws”: they are the expression of the general will (and if they are not in agreement, they are merely “decrees”). Since we cannot easily say what is the general will in most realistic cases, we cannot know if a rule is a “law” or a “decree”. All this idealism tends to result in a ruling body, who “knows” what the general will is and can rule over the unenlightened masses. This is Poppers fear as expressed in The Open Society.

Rousseau’s criteria for a successful state are rather worrying. As I remember, he says history will be the judge (which can justify any arbitrary action), that stability and unanimity is good (we can bring in thought crime laws now) and population growth is a good sign. Obviously he was not aware of the dangers of unrestrained population growth! Basically he has some bizarre ideas.

He did have a few interesting points on how governments should be formed, with the executive (“the prince”) and the legislator being separated. This can reduce the arbitrary use of power by the executive. This idea was the basis of the US government system (among others? Greek? Roman?). I find this concept attractive.

He ends with an analysis of the instability that would arise in a completely Christian state. Since Christians tend to tolerate mistreatment (turn the other cheek), they are unable to stop a minority usurping power. He also notes that Christians have been persecuted, along with all non-state religions, for undermining the common code of right and wrong within a state. Having two masters, the state and religion can undermine the “general will”. He contrasts Christianity (and offshoots) with pagan religions where the entire state was forced to worship a common set of gods that represented the ideals of the state. This all seems rather illiberal but, of course, that does not make Rousseau factually wrong.

Anti Citizen One

Your Freedom Consultation

Posted by Anti Citizen One on July 9th, 2010

The UK government is hold a consultation which is seeking ideas for laws to abolish. They are also using an internet collaborative “cloud” approach – anyone can suggest an idea, and comment on or rate other ideas. Both are encouraging trends in engaging the public. Hopefully we will see the abolition of bad laws and more good ideas from the public. I don’t know if the government will follow through with action but I can hope.

Some popular topics include:

The underbelly of this consultation is any reactionary or ill informed opinion can be aired (but it’s a necessary side of free speech). Some examples can be found by searching for:

Bad Idea

It is quite addictive until you realise there are so many duplicated ideas, not all morons can be deflated.

Anti Citizen One

The Open Society and Its Enemies, Part 2

Posted by Anti Citizen One on July 8th, 2010

I finished part 2. I already commented on part 1. While the previous volume discussed Plato, the second dealt with Hegel and Marx. Popper is generally not in agreement with the political philosophies of any of these writers but he does note any small areas of agreement when he can. He claims of their systems all justify totalitarianism in various guises. He is scathing of Hegel which is significant since Hegel is held in high regard by many philosophers. Popper observes Hegel sold out his integrity to the reigning Frederick William III and attempted to create philosophical systems that justified Prussian nationalism. Since Hegel does not avoid contradictions, being part of the Hegelian dialectic, he can justify pretty much anything. Popper condemns this as anti-critical rationalism and he agrees with Schopenhauer’s accusation that Hegel was a charlatan.

I started reading Popper’s analysis of Marx but I realised I needed to get up to speed on Marx. I therefore read the communist manifesto (“Workers of the world, unite!”). I want to say a few words on my initial reaction before talking about Popper’s analysis. What struck me about the manifesto was it basically argued that unrestrained capitalism has serious flaws, it was unstable and the only alternative was a classless society – meaning the working class was the only class. It strangely provided very little detail on how to administer a communist system or what it would be like. It only had what engineering designers call “requirements”. Requirements are not a design (but are a good starting point). Marx called for a society where people were not exploited. That is all well and good (apart from being ressentiment morality) but how this is achieved, or if it is even possible, is not addressed.

Popper basically agrees with my initial reaction but takes his analysis far further. He praises Marx’s analysis of history based on institutions. Although Marx overemphasised the role of institutions, it was a fruitful endeavour. Popper then turns around and takes apart Marx’s analysis that communism must follow from unrestrained capitalism. The most telling point is that capitalism has been replaced by government interventionism and the conditions of the working class has improved since the mid 1800’s (when Marx was writing). This contradicts Marx’s prophesy that working conditions must worsen over time.

Popper rounds up the two volumes by talking about how histronic idealism and anti-critical rationalism tends to lead to totalitarianism, while critical rationalism tends to lead to “the open society”. This is probably because some propaganda is needed to commit really nasty actions, while most humans tend to think that killing is bad. He observes that critical rationalism in its dogmatic sense is self refuting because we must question the basis for critical rationalism itself. He instead uses a more modest view of critical rationalism but admitting all knowledge is provisional. But he does not go as far as admitting he is using an anti-critical rationalism basis for his system, which I think would have been more accurate. And even if we adopt critical rationalism, which is quite effective at planning social changes, it still does not give us an idea of what type of society we want to achieve. We must again go back to moral choices and possibly anti-critical rationalism (perhaps Popper does not intend to apply these labels to moral choices). But he manages to satisfy my existential tastes by saying (or implying) any legitimacy of the state is based on the choice of a group of individuals, meaning individual choice is the basis for values. This is like an echo of Rousseau’s Social Contract (which I am currently reading) but it does not suppose a population wide “general will”.

Anti Citizen One