Friday, February 4, 2011

What I did this morning

The argument made by Sam Harris in his section on the Ten Commandments is a straightforward one: the central precepts of the Bible deal very little with what he considers moral. The goal of the commandments, by Harris’s account, is to pass down the absolutely necessary tenets that all people should follow. Due to the dissonance between what he finds moral and what the Commandments instruct, Sam Harris denies the notion that the morality in the Bible is complete and true, thereby casting doubt on its credence as a wholly moral document, and its author (God) a wholly moral figure.
Before inspecting Harris’s scrutiny of the Ten Commandments, it is necessary to establish where he’s coming from in terms of morality so that we may see if his objections are truly in line with his own reasoning. He describes a rule passed down by a Jain patriarch which “surpassed the morality of the Bible” (Harris, 2006). “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.” From these instructions we may glean that Harris’s morality refers to preventing and avoiding acts of cruelty, aimed at “the maintenance of civilization”. This is a suitably accepted notion of morality.
The section on the Ten Commandments opens with an aside about the false tying in of the Constitution as a religious text, and though it does little to draw attention to the points above, is a concise outcry against political figures who insist the Founding Fathers of America were devout Christians who established America on Christian ideals. As this is a charitable reading, we shall draw from this only that Sam Harris has a penchant for tangents.
By applying his definition of morality, he dispatches the first four commandments as amoral. Referring back to his definition, this seems fair enough (assuming God is not a “creature or living being”, in which case these may be considered “insult” which the Jains instruct against). His objection to Commandments 5-9 seems to be that the instruction they give offers no direct enforcement (as suggested by his comment that transgressions were not often subdued because of them). Moreover, it seems that based on the behaviors of the animals closest to us genetically, these laws are so fully engrained in human behavior that they hardly warrant dictation (the Jains are not posed with this criticism). “It is a scientific fact that moral emotions… precede any exposure to scripture”. With this indictment, Harris places the nature of morality beyond the simple laws put forth in the Ten Commandments once again casting doubt on the notion that the Commandments are divinely moral.
The final note (not already touched on) suggests that we cannot “relax the penalties He has imposed for breaking them.” Essentially, the punishment laid down does not fit the crimes God describes. As theft seems a lesser cruelty than the death one faces as punishment, this is in keeping with Harris’s notion of morality and a good point to be made.
The main concern with Harris seems to be the definition of morality. It is quite possible that the avoidance of cruelty is the key to living a moral life. However, this does not suggest that anything described by Harris can be considered evidence to this end. Morality could very well be “building a closer relationship with God”. However, this assertion shifts burden of proof to the theist to prove that God exists – a herculean task at the least. Even so, this debate may be a quixotic one. If the central precepts of the Bible fail to establish a morality to the standards of Harris, perhaps morality is not something which comes from the central precepts, but a gestaltist interpretation of the entire Bible. This would be a bold claim to make considering the other contents of the Bible. Though the objections raised by Harris appear to fall flat (due to the lack of evidence presented over the course of four pages), the refutations of him fall flatter.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


To everyone espousing pre-Socratic/Einsteinian views of metaphysics: if time wasn't an illusion, what would the universe look like?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In Which I (start) Get to the Point

So, up to this point this has not been a "study blog". It has been a "reflection blog" and that is intolerable. So. Let us study. The subject: Ancient philosophy. The purpose: Not failing the midterm. Which is tomorrow. Included are study guide questions and my responses.

Elenchus is the method of coming to good belief. If our thinking is 'good' then it can stand in the face of intense scrutiny. We call this scrutiny "Elenchus" and it's the sieve that we run our ideas through. The only thing that can make it through to the other side is good ideas.

Divine Command Theory (both as it is found in the Euthyphro, and as it remains a problem for contemporary philosophical and theological ethics.
Is goodness good because god wills it so, or is it good because there's some virtue of goodness. The first makes goodness arbitrary and based on the flip of gods coin, the second makes god subject to the rules of morality which eliminates gods omnipotence (since he's not powerful enough to disregard the rules of morality while still being omnipotent).

Epistemic Humility (what it is, its advantages, where it is exhibited in Plato’s writings, what it entailed for Socrates’s rank among humans, etc.)
'I know that I know nothing'. It makes you responsible for criticizing your beliefs to see if you really should hold it. It shows up in all the dialogues to some degree when he says "oh, well I'm not sure about all that. what do I think? I'm not sure. But what do you think again" (see: phaedo, euthyphro, apology)

Views of Death (cf. Apology, Crito, Phaedo)
It's not bad. It's either eternal sleep or a place where you go to hang out with dead people. (Crito). Also, death isn't worse than living a life not worth living.

The most important thing for Socrates (Not just life, but the good life. Why does he say this?)
The unexamined life is not The point of existence is to posit and reason. Robbing life of that makes it terrible.

How do we know if we’re living the good life? (Unexamined life?)
We have our tools. Elenchus. Epistemic humility. We use these to make sure we're holding ourselves accountable.
Why did Socrates refuse to let Crito break him out of jail?
Expulsion from Athens is a rejection of the social contract one enters into with their government. Also, saying that he's just and running away from the ruling of his people is hypocritical.

Social Contract ideas. Justice, etc. Was this a good argument on Soc’s part?
Do we really give the government the right to imprison us just because?

Unity of the Virtues
There must be some overarching "virtue-ness" of the virtues (one of the many). He reduces this to knowledge

“To know the good is to do the good”
We never act against what we know to be good. When we know (or believe) an act is good we try to pursue it.

Weakness of will (akrasia). What is Soc’s view of it? Explain in detail. What do you think?
It doesn't exist. You can't be overcome by the goodness of an act to disregard its inherent (and greater) evil. You merely mismeasure the goodness as being larger than the badness. My position? I don't know. If akrasia does exist and we can do what we don't think is best we get a universe that looks the same as a universe without akrasia.

How does Soc’s position on akrasia relate to his way of viewing the virtues
Unification. Cowardice isn't a separate virtue, it's just a lack of knowledge on how to value bravery.

Is virtue teachable (confer both Protagoras and Meno)
MENO: you need to know what it is first. Also, we don't learn we recall.
PROTAGORAS: Well I wind up saying that it can't be taught because knowledge is a virtue and virtues are inherent (probably), while you say that it can be taught because knowledge can be recalled throught what we established in the meno.

Why can it be said that both Socrates and Protagoras end up sort of contradicting their original positions by the end of the Protagoras?
See above. Protagoras originally says that at the very least we think it can because prisons are based on the notion of reforming (teaching) people virtue. By the end though he says the opposite for reasons spark notes doesn't say. Socrates begins by being doubtful but when he reduces all virtue to knowledge which of course is teachable.

Forms per se vs. Socrates’s search for definitions

How can we look at things which look so drastically different and identify them as the same type of thing? There must be some manner of "thing-ness" which each of them participates in. These are the forms.

Self-predication of the Forms
How can the form participate in thing-ness without being a part of that thing to start with? The form of things must be instances of the things themselves, while also getting their thing-ness from themselves.

3rd-man argument
What's the uniting factor between the form of thing and thing? well some other form. But what about that and another form? ad infinitum. We now have an infinite regress of forms.

Mirror and Pizza chunk metaphors for participation in the forms
Mirror: things which have thing-ness reflect a certain aspect of the form of thing.
Pizza Chunk: things which have thing-ness actually borrow from the form of thing to have that thing aspect.

Psychological Hedonism
psycho- hoosa- what now? The idea that we always go with the option that grants the most pleasure?

Priority of definition
Before we can say what we can do with a concept we must first know what it is.

One over many principle
What's the one aspect of many instances of things that allow us to identify it as a thing regardless.

Paralyzed by elenchus and everything else that socrates goes batshit over.

Paradox of Inquiry (Meno’s Paradox)
If we don't know what it is, how will we know when we find it? When we do know what it is, why did we bother asking?

How Socrates gets out of both sides of it (2-part answer)

1. We all used to be part of a great spirit, the world of the forms.
2. This slave has just learned math without me teaching him. Learning comes from recollecting the form world. That's how we'll remember it.

I will do the best to polish the rest of this thing off tomorrow before the exam.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Right of a Liver

FINALLY. A post about biomedical ethics. I bet you all couldn't wait. Okay, so after some conversation today I figured it was right for me to discuss this whole problem with organ procurement, but first: obligatory background information!
So there are three possible approaches to how we should attain organs.
1.) Opt-In Program - Everyone is presumed to be opposed to donating their organs unless they go out of their way to say otherwise. The benefit is you never desecrate an unwilling body, but at the same time you wind up taking a lot of perfectly healthy organs of people too lazy/busy/'unwilling to deal with the concept of their own mortality enough to check a box on the back of their license' and burying them in the dirt while a sick person who could have used it suffers and possibly dies.

2.) Opt-Out Program - Everyone is presumed willing to donate their organs unless specifically noted otherwise. The benefit is that we can save the lives of more needy people, but the drawback is we wind up gutting poor grandma who just wanted to be buried in one piece next to her second husband, but never got a chance to drive down to the DMV and change it.

(Another important consideration is the fact that MOST people are willing to donate organs. So in cases where we're not sure what a person wished, they're statistically more likely to go for donating.)

3.) Organ Conscription - Regardless of what you prefer, we take your organs after you die if we need them. Benefits: OMG, SO MANY ORGANS YOU GUYS. Detriments: "Wait, did we really just completely disregard everything this guy wanted done with him when he died?"

Now, the third option at first glance seems absolutely reprehensible. How could we just completely cast aside a persons autonomy. In short, because they're not alive, they're dead.

Ultimately, we have two possible reasons for thinking its bad to take a persons organs against their wishes; either it's bad because the taking of a persons organs constitutes an invasion of their person, or it's bad because it's an act carried out against their wishes.

Now if it's the first case, then yes consent definitely should be considered. If it's the second however, we've muddied the waters a little bit. If the second case can be said to be true, then it seems that acting against the persons wishes is just as bad when we take without consent as when we leave without consent. All of a sudden, both errors in organ procurement (mistakenly leaving them in within an Opt-In framework v. mistakenly taking them within an Opt-Out framework) are equal. Since statistics favors organ donation, our null hypothesis should be that which commits fewer errors (Opt-Out).

Is it the case though? Consider: A man is rushed to the hospital. He's been heavily bleeding for far too long to not be worrisome to the staff. It's quite a mess, and if he doesn't get any more blood soon he's at risk of coming down with a rather severe case of 'deadness'. He's unconscious so he can't really respond to any questioning so the doctors decide to give him an immediate blood transfusion. He wakes up healthy hours later, completely bereft over his treatment: "I'm a Jehovah's Witness doctor! You made me break my covenant with God!"

Now, do we feel bad for the Jehovah's Witness because his body has been invaded? No. We understand that what was done had been the most assured way to see to it that safety was established. Rather, we feel bad that even though he's still alive, his wishes to avoid a blood transfusion were failed to be satisfied.

It's late at night and that may be a flawed example, but rest assured, at some basic level you do reach the point where the problem isn't that a body was invaded, but that the wishes of a person were acted against. Because of this, the errors accrued under an Opt-Out program are no worse than the errors of the Opt-In program (except that, again, there would be fewer in the Opt-Out program).

To take it one step further, people in favor of organ conscription usually contend not that the two errors are equal, but that leaving organs in the body which could go to a person in need is a heinous act, regardless of what the person who had previously used the body would have preferred. This is because not only are the two acts in and of themselves equal, but when you take into consideration the second order evils (a person freaking dies) it's indefensible to put a persons autonomy regarding what they want to do with their remnants ahead of the need of the sick and dying.

This is why I side with Organ Conscriptionists. Not only is it messed up that we put so much vitality into what is, essentially, an inanimate object, but a lot of the arguments from autonomy focus on the fact that those who object to organ donation will often times do so for religious belief. Poppycock I say! I entirely reject the notion that religious viewpoints are inherently sanctified because of ones 'freedom to religion'. If an argument leads to a deplorable belief (as I see the autonomy argument doing so), then whether or not the mindset adopted in reaching it is religious or secular is hardly relevant. However, that ties in quite a bit with the philosophy of religion, which is far too lofty to try to tackle at nearly two thirty in the morning.

Before I leave you, I just want you to see that ethics can be more than just discourse on what is hypothetically right and wrong. It can be and lead to action. In this case, it has made me not only check off the box on the back of my license (prior I never had a pen on me that could leave a mark on the teflon coated NY drivers license and was too lazy to get one) but to get started on a will which shall detail what exactly is to be done with my organs and limits my coma to 6 weeks before the mandatory removal of life support. I believe that my next post will be that will. Hopefully you all can help me flesh it out a bit

Until then, Good night.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What's black and white and set in front of a cheesy background? This Blog!

In my readings for my thesis I came across a joke which is doubly funny when applied to the philosophy of artificial intelligence. I plan on explaining why this is the case afterwards, so be prepared to not find it funny in about five minutes. So hear it goes:

A man is about to get married and decides to go in and buy himself a tuxedo. Not having a whole lot of money, he goes to the cheapest tailor he can find. So after paying for everything he puts on his terribly fitting suit. He tries to complain to the tailor but the tailor just tells him the suit is fine, it's the mans terrible posture that's ruining things. The tailor instructs the man to bend over a little and stop bending his knee so much when he walks and to hold his arm a little bit more like so, and sends the man on his way. Walking down the street like this, a passerby says to a friend "Isn't that the most unfortunate case of physical deformity you've ever seen?" The friend replies "Yeah, but the suit fits nice".

Now this is funny. For reasons I hope are clear because I'd hate to ruin the simple level at which this joke works (though I'm still willing to sacrifice the deeper level at the drop of a hat). The deeper funniness has to do with a few different concepts of Artificial Intelligence: substrate dependence being the one I'm going to go into (out of want to not overwhelm anyone).

So basically, to get why an AI nerd, such as myself would find this funny I need to tell you about a longstanding debate between the two sects of AI theory.

In the red corner is Good Ol' Fashion AI or Strong AI. These guys are the ones who think that we should make human machines who fulfill their function in the same way humans do. In the blue corner you have New Fangled AI or weak AI. These guys think that AI should be focused on creating any functioning intelligent systems, regardless of whether or not they resemble, at the command level, organic intelligent systems, so long as the outcome is positive.

For example, in the article where I read the joke the first time, the author(s) were discussing a super computer that played chess. Organic systems (people) use a cognitive ability called chunking to pick up patterns in chess arrangements. The super computer did not use this technique. Instead it prioritized "smart" moves and looked 14 to 15 moves ahead and used a complex algorithm to choose the best path. Doing this got that super computer to an expert chess grandmaster level who trailed by two hundred or so points behind the number one ranked chess player in the world. This is a weak AI system because it doesn't seek to perform the task as a person would. The strong AI system did not have the computing abilities and tendency to simplify that the weak AI system did and achieved a score of about 700 (half that of the weak AI system) though it performed complex pattern recognition.

Now for the joke (yeah, there was a joke before, remember?). So, in light of the above paragraph we can see the joke in metaphor. For a proponent of weak AI, you have a lousy tailor who represents strong AI proponents who are forcing their penniless grooms of AI systems into poorly constructed constraints that do little to fit how the AI system best operates. And though you can compliment how well this system can act within a set of weird senseless rules, you're still looking at a perversion of what could very easily be a system that functions better in a different format. When the chess computers tried on the wares of strong AI, what they got was a sub-optimal system that 'fit the suit' just fine, but got its proverbial ass handed to it by the weak AI system. And laughter was had by all.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Logic & the Meatless Life

Okay, so this is a busy study blogger right here. A busy study blogger who does not have the time to study and then blog about that studying. That changes now. I should be polishing off some statistics homework, or working on a constitution for the spiritual inquiry organization I'm putting together, or researching more about bicycle libraries so the one I'm trying to found becomes more feasible, or looking up grad schools, or studying for the GRE or doing reading for any of my classes, but that isn't what I'd like to be doing. I'd very much like to do this. So let's, shall we?

As I've said before, one of the classes I'm taking is a course on logic. Right now we've only done "syllogistic translations/arguments" which basically refers to the building blocks of logic. The most basic format of logical statement that can be shown to be valid or invalid. So lets see if we can translate one of my most fundamental and identifying beliefs into a syllogistic argument and try to tear it down. Please, this is a study blog and I come here to study/learn so if I make a mistake somewhere along the way, don't be afraid to point it out.

Before I get started here, let's learn about this belief of mine. It's a bit of a doozy and weirds people out a lot of the time. I'm a vegan. For reasons you will see below, I abstain from the purchase/consumption of products made from animals. Okay. Still here? Well some of you are, that's good to see. Anyway, on with the show.

So, I base my big life belief on the following argument.
P1: Acts of cruelty, and the systems which perpetuate and profit from them, should not be supported by people who respect the value of life across species.
P2: I am a person who respects the value of life across species.
P3: All animal based industry perpetuate and profits from cruelties.
Conclusion: I should not support the meat/dairy/egg industry.

Now. First, let's translate this, but before we do this we need to know what we're translating it into. They are called WFF's. That is an acronym for something. No, I don't remember what. No I'm not going to look it up. Just trust me on this. I mean seriously, you stuck around after I said I was vegan. If this is the straw that breaks the camels back, I apologize. Either or, they are made up of 8 phrases detailed below. Capital letters signify a specific group while lower case letters signify individuals or individual cases.
All A is B; No A is B; Some A is B; Some A is not B; x is A; x is not A; x is y; x is not y.
If it's not translated into one of those phrases it's not a good logical statement. So are all my phrases logical?
P1-The use of the word "should" here can be confusing but remember, when I wrote that statement up there I was trying to write "naturally". Keep in mind that logically sound conclusions are true by necessity of the premises being true, and "should" isn't a statement about truth, it's a statement about idealism. Now idealism is an attempt to see what ALWAYS happens, so despite what I said up there we can read it as "None of those who respect life .... are supportive of cruel industries". We can translate that into the syllogism of: No R is S (No Respecter of life is a Supporter of cruel industries, if you want to follow at home in english.
P2-This one is much more straightforward - i is R (i is a Respecter of life).
P3-Also straightforward - All A is S (all Animal industry is Supportive of cruel industry.
C-The translation here makes it seem like I screwed up the translation somewhere, but I assure you I did not. Even though I'm concluding that I'm not the meat industry, you have to consider that we're trying to discuss patronage (and personal patronage at that) and it doesn't have an easy translation. That being said however, how I see that last line is the following WFF - i is not A (i is not supporter of the Animal industry.

Now how do we tell if that whole argument is valid? A nifty little device called the "Star Test". We first "distribute" any letter after no or not and any letter that immediately follows all. We then put a star next to letters in the premises that are distributed and letters in the conclusion that are not. In order to be valid, each capital letter must be starred only once and there must be one and one star only in the second half of one of our statements. Lets look at my translation.

P1 - No R is S
P2 - i is R
P3 - All A is S
C - i is not S

And after distribution... (Distributions are italicized.

P1 - No R is S
P2 - i is R
P3 - All A is S
C - i is not S

Which means when we star...

P1 - No R* is S*
P2 - i is R
P3 - All A* is S
C - i* is not S

Every letter was starred once, and there's only one right hand star. My argument is valid! Is it true though? That's another post for another time.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Catch Up

So there was a lot of talk about this being a "study blog" but then out of no where I realized that on top of studying I have to do stuff. That being the case, here is my brief run down of what class has entailed for the past two weeks.

Yo. So this is statistics. WITH LINES!!!!!!

Cool beans.

You better start planning your research project because it'll have to tie into your senior thesis!

.... dude ....

So this is how logic works!

Wow, this looks a lot like math.

Yep. This is where math got the idea *mumbled* sort of...

So this field pertaining to how we approach life in general? Guess what you guys. Sometimes, it TOTALLY pertains to religion and higher thought.

This seems familiar.

Hope you enjoy group work because there's a group project worth 25% of your grade. Here they are now!

Yo. Hope you like suicide.

I think I may learn to embrace it.

Here's some stories about Socrates! What's a common theme in them?

Socrates is kind of an obnoxious dick?

Well, yes. But WHY?

He asked a whole lot of questions and forced people to recognize that their beliefs were based on irrationality.

Exactly. And that's what I want all of you to be able to both do and value. I want you to always be questioning what people really know and what makes them think they know it.

But in relation to this really vital and interesting problem for all those who prescribe to most forms of monotheism, I feel like at some point you just can't question god.


OK then I suppose... If anyone wants to see me after class I'll be in my office weeping over the acceptance standards of this school.

Epistemology is the important study of various jerks who threw ducks in the jet engines of mankind's belief and walked away from the explosion giggling.

I simultaneously am fascinated and infuriated.

Yeah, that's pretty normal for science majors.

So this field pertaining to how we approach life in general? Guess what you guys. Sometimes, it TOTALLY pertains to religion and higher thought.

This seems familiar.

I don't care what your opinions on group work are because this class is completely reliant on how well you stand up on your own!

On second thought, maybe it's not that familiar after all...