April 12, 2018

Some philosophers are more equally wrong than others


I like Massimo Pigluicci a lot. He makes philosophical issues accessible to the general public, and he covers a variety of issues. We agree on a lot of issues, like ev psych, will, fairly much on volition and more.

That said, I can't let a comment on this post by Dan Kaufman go without a response. And, since Massimo has twice refused to post moderately (but no more than that) snarky comments by me about Dan's comment, I shall go in more depth, and higher or lower snark, here.

Yes, it's Massimo's blog and he has the right to moderate comments as he pleases. And, this is my blog, and I have the right to write posts as I please. And, beyond evolutionary biology's tit for tat of reciprocal altruism, done subconsciously, on a number of social interactions, I practice it conscientiously.

Anyway, here's the comment, rather the first from that post:
Philip, your reply is a dodge. You claimed that mathematics is empirical. I pointed out that this would entail that mathematical statements are probabilistic, which they clearly are not. Simple modus tollens. To which you reply “it’s random.” 
No one ever died from admitting they were wrong about something. Why not give it a try?
Emphasis on the second graf is mine, because that's what this is about.

First of all, other than a British astronomer named Coel and a Canadian confusednik named Garth, not currently commenting on posts, and DM, not a total favorite of Massimo's either. NOBODY among past or current regular commenters has more difficulty admitting they're wrong than Dan. Dan is right a lot more often than them, but, when he's wrong, he doubles down on it as much as them.

And, Massimo knows that. (Or at least, believes something close to that.) I can mention specific issues, the biggest in my mind being that Dan rejects medical science's claim — and has done so on Massimo's blog — as to what constitutes one standard drink of an alcoholic beverage.

Hence my riff on Orwell's "Animal Farm" and Dan as Napoleon. It's part of why I stopped writing for Dan's site after a couple of posts. I disagreed with the editing-for-content and direction on my second piece and knew it wasn't something he's let me win, or even get closer to 50-50.

If Massimo is going to moderate posts over this issue, then why not start by editing Dan's to remove that second paragraph? Or keep it from being posted in the first place?

And, he let Dan and Philip have a 4-5 comment back-and-forth before that. So, my one denied comment really can't be that much worse in lack of contribution than their original back-and-forth.

(For the wonderers, both of my would-be comments did a pull-quote on Dan's second graf. In the first, I then said "posted without further comment." In the second, I said something about this being similar to "electric" comment of a week or two back. (Dan's blog is The Electric Agora.)

For Philip, it's not a matter of whether he was right or wrong on the particular back-and-forth. (I think he was pretty much wrong, myself, per Dan's first graf.) It was Dan's ... well, Dan's tacit hypocrisy. "Pots and kettles" come to mind. And, nobody else challenged him on it — or, at least, Massimo allowed nobody (else) to challenge him.

I tried again, on Massimo's next blog post. Again, no soap.

And, on a third post, where Dan was clearly wrong, and has been wrong in the past — what constitutes alcohol abuse and similar.
Calling people who regularly drink more than 3.5 drinks a day alcoholics is calling them exactly what they are. They are addicts, just as smokers or drug users are.
= = =
What a load of nonsense. Someone who has a beer with lunch and two glasses of wine with dinner is an alcoholic? If so, the term is useless to make any characterization that would be of any interest to any productive purpose.
And, Massimo even knows, via old convo on Google+, my thoughts on this issue. And he hasn't explicitly disagreed with Dan's wrongness.

And, June 27, another blog post where Massimo didn't post a comment about me being critical of Dan.

Also, June 29, where Massimo truncated a comment of mine in editing to omit:
Funny how Dan keeps wanting to “drop it,” and then keeps commenting. I think St. Ludwig of Wittgenstein would have an observation about that use of language.
And, since Dan is "Mr. Wittgenstein" I'll save that for the future. Dan, on this post especially, willfully butchers straightforward language and empirical information in the name of motivated reasoning.

So, there you go, Massimo. If you won't let me hoist Dan by his own petard over there, I'll still do it here.

And make this my featured post, now that I have a pic to go with.

7 comments:

Disagreeable Me said...

Hi Steve,

Agree that Dan is perhaps being a little hypocritical here, or at least he should simply allow for the possibility that Philip genuinely sees reasons to disagree even if Dan doesn't.

People should always allow for that possibility. You don't seem to be doing so here, though. Whenever in the past you have pointed out clear examples of my being wrong, you have seemed to me to be (presumably unintentionally) misinterpreting or misconstruing what I was saying. How it looks to you is not how it looks to me. We would do well to bear this in mind, rather than calling out people for doubling down.

Also, unless you think you are the impartial arbiter of right and wrong, it would be fairer to say that you agree with Dan a lot more than you agree with me, rather than saying Dan is right a lot more than me.

Which is all just to say that people think differently, and interpret arguments differently, and see things differently. Communicating constructively about this stuff is hard. We shouldn't expect people to change their minds frequently if they're discussing ideas about which they have thought a lot -- if their viewpoint was easily defeated from their point of view (bearing in mind that they have their own way of interpreting it and their own way of thinking about it) they would have abandoned it by now. These exchanges should be viewed as opportunities to explore and learn about other points of view rather than as contests where people should be expected to concede defeat, because who has won and who has lost is very subjective.

Gadfly said...

Coming from someone who has admitted that on Massimo's site, he argues in favor of positions he doesn't actually believe in ... I'll stand by what I've written.

And, i've mentioned that issue before, too.

Disagreeable Me said...

Think you may have misunderstood that too, but isn't that a completely different issue?

I'm usually pretty clear on what I believe, and I think I can usually justify my beliefs with argument. At least, the arguments I offer constitute justification from my point of view. Your mileage may vary (c.f. my earlier comment).

I'm not sure of the case you're talking about here, where I argue for positions I don't actually believe. Is this where I'm playing devil's advocate? I think that's a worthwhile activity, especially if there are no "devils" taking part in the largely anti-devil conversation. We might all be anti-devil, but our arguments against devils should be good ones. As such, when I see a weak argument for a position I hold, my inclination is to point out those weaknesses, not cheer it on just because I like the conclusion. This is for instance why I defended the Chinese Room argument to Coel (and somewhat changed his mind), because even though I disagree with Searle's conclusion, Coel's issues with the argument were missing the point.

Or maybe you are taking Dan K's point that I argue for crazy positions that I couldn't possibly actually believe, and that I in fact live my life as if I don't believe them. But I disagree with this characterisation. I don't find the positions I claim to believe to be crazy (merely unintuitive), and I don't think anything about how I live my life shows I don't actually believe them.

Gadfly said...

I believe it was about zombies. To be honest, I think it went beyond what many people would call playing devil's advocacy, when it carried over not just from one post to another, but across several, with, IIRC, an eventual warning from Massimo.

As for agreeing with Dan a lot? Actually, I agree with him less and less, the more he and I are both on Massimo's site. Among other things, i think Wittgenstein is even more overrated, now, than Massimo did a few years ago on his list of overrated philosophers.

Disagreeable Me said...

I see.

Well, for what it's worth, I quite admire David Chalmers. I think he has a gift for clear thinking and analysis and getting to the crux of an issue. As such I will defend him if he is dismissed carelessly as Massimo does (e.g. just asserting that the concept of p-zombies is preposterous).

As you know, Chalmers is something of an (amiable) antagonist of Dennett's, and I'm very much on Dennett's side. But unlike most of Dennett's critics he seems to me to really understand Dennett's point of view and to be fair to it. Indeed he does a pretty good job of playing Devil's Advocate himself for Dennett's point of view (a quality he shares with the equally admirable Peter Hankins of consciousentitities.com).

On p-zombies specifically, I disagree with the premise that what is conceivable to (fallible) humans is any sort of guide to what is metaphysically possible, but other than that I think the argument is a good one. Now, don't get me wrong, I think this is a fatal flaw with the argument, but as far as I can see it's the only flaw with the argument, so if the argument is lazily dismissed for other reasons (e.g. that p-zombies are obviously physically impossible) then I will indeed jump to its defence.

Because of my admiration for Chalmers, you're right that it's more than devil's advocacy in that case. I think the p-zombie argument is a perfectly legitimate (and illuminating) way of framing issues around the Hard Problem. In particular, I don't think it's fair to dismiss it as silly.

Philip Thrift said...

I see I was mentioned!

On my claim about the random nature of mathematical truth (via Chaitin's The Limits of Reason), I have found that there is a previous result in the literature (which I tweeted about):

"the probability that a true sentence of length n is provable in the theory tends to zero when n tends to infinity, while the probability that a sentence of length n is true is strictly positive"
https://twitter.com/philipthrift/status/987055628467175425

Mathematics is entering a more empirical age, and Massimo is wrong just about anything he says about logic and mathematics (and computing for that matter). I wrote a post about how the demarcation effort to separate logic, mathematics, and philosophy from science is hurting philosophy:
https://twitter.com/philipthrift/status/988058075591561217

Anyway, I don't post comments on Massimo's blog anymore.



Philip Thrift said...

Also (looking back) this was my comment to Dan I hoped would help, but Massimo didn't publish it (he had referred to me as a "mathematical terrorist"):

There are the true statements of arithmetic T and the provable statements of arithmetic P. From T one selects ( ! ) a set of axioms Ax. From Ax and a set of rules of deduction D one proves

Ax →[via D] p (p ∈ P)

resulting in a "proof" (represented in whatever system one wants, e.g. natural deduction, Hilbert). There is of course nothing random or probabilistic about the proof itself. But Chatin's The Limits of Reason is not about proofs per se. it's about truths.