Archive for November, 2012

November 30, 2012

Humor – the founding fathers were traitors

by Neil Rickert

I’m posting this in humor.  However, I am sure that the person who makes this claim is quite serious.

Referring to Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Franklin, and almost certainly intending to refer to Paine, she writes:

And that is how I’ve come to think of it. They were traitors.

This is surely one of the more absurd claims to be found on the blogosphere.

You can find it here:

If you have a minute or two for amusement, you might want to go read that blog post.


November 30, 2012

RTH4 – Correspondence with reality

by Neil Rickert

In my previous post in this series, I explained why I thought there were problems with truth as correspondence to the facts.  In this post, I will discuss the idea of truth as correspondence with reality.

There’s an intuitive sense in which “correspondence with reality” seems to be about what we think we mean when we talk about the truth of a statement.  The biggest difficult, though, is that we would need a good account of what “correspondence” means before we could ever get started with using truth.

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November 28, 2012

Go off the cliff

by Neil Rickert

Going of the fiscal cliff is not the best idea.  But, if the Republicans keep digging in their heels, it might be the best available idea.

Going off the cliff will establish a new baseline, from which negotiations should be easier.

November 27, 2012

RTH3 – Correspondence with facts

by Neil Rickert

In my third post on our debate on Putnam’s “Reason, Truth and History” I will discuss the idea of truth as correspondence with the facts.  There are two versions of the correspondence theory that I see mentioned from time to time.  Those are:

  • truth is correspondence with the facts;
  • truth is correspondence with reality.

Of those, by far the most common is the first.  I’ll discuss the second version in a future post.

The idea of truth as correspondence with the facts leaves me shaking my head.  It makes no sense to me.  One of the participants in our online debate expressed the problem by saying it is glib and vacuous, a comment that he attributed to Strawson.  You can find that yahoo groups message here.  And that “glib and vacuous” pretty much sums up my view.

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November 25, 2012

How does science work?

by Neil Rickert

For the moment, I am presenting this as a question.  It is a question for which I believe I have the answer.  But I will postpone discussing that until future posts.

I am currently watching (for the second time), a TED talk by David Deutsch:

In that video, Deutsch is puzzling about what changed at the time of the scientific revolution.  He correctly points out that people have been making observations and coming up with explanations for thousands of years.  We often describe their explanations as myths.  Something must have changed in what we are doing, that made science possible.

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November 23, 2012

RTH2 – Cats and cherries

by Neil Rickert

This is the second of my posts related to an online discussion of Putnam’s book “Reason, Truth and History”.  Hence the “RTH2” in the title of this post.  For the first such post, check here.

Starting at page 32 of his book, Putnam presents an argument that has come to be known as the “Cats and Cherries” argument, or sometimes as the model theoretic argument.  The model theory background from mathematical logic is the Löwenheim–Skolem theorem.  The theorem itself says that, under suitable assumptions, a theory might have infinitely many interpretations.  If we take natural language to be a theory (as the term “theory” is used in mathematical logic), then this raises the possibility that there might be different ways that natural language words could refer to real world entities.

Putnam considers the possibility of a radical reinterpretation of the English language, such that whenever we say “the cat is on the mat” we really mean “the cherry is on the tree.”

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November 22, 2012

The rationality of voting

by Neil Rickert

There are a couple of posts at the Becker-Posner blog about voting, and about the reasons that people vote:

Becker expresses the question with

This raises the very old question of why people vote in large elections when their chances of being a pivotal voter are virtually zero, and when voting takes time and is often inconvenient. The electorate is surely conscious of the cost to them of voting since, for example, turnout is usually much smaller when the weather is very bad. The common answer nowadays about this so-called paradox of voting is not that voters are irrational, but rather that they vote for reasons other than to influence outcomes. They may vote to indicate their moral support for particular candidates, or because they believe they express a precious right when they vote, or for other non-instrumental reasons.

In turn, Posner expresses his curiosity with:

The paradox of voting in national elections is that, since a single vote is almost certain to have no effect on the outcome (in a Presidential election, it will merely add one digit to an eight-figure number), there seems to be no benefit from voting. The cost is small enough (if it’s high for a person, he is unlikely to vote), but it’s positive, so that if the benefit of voting is zero the voter is being irrational. Yet, as Becker points out, more than 100 million people bothered to vote in the recent Presidential election.

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November 20, 2012

Book review – “Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics

by Neil Rickert

I recently received a copy of “Broken Words” (by Jonathan Dudley).  I have learned a lot from reading this book.  It is a book about the disputes that underlie the cultural wars that have been poisoning American political discourse over the last 30 years or so.

The main topics discussed are the disputes over abortion, over sexuality (particularly gay, lesbian and similar issues), the disputes over global warming and the disputes over biological evolution.  However, this is not a book about political intrigue in Washington.  It is more about the shifting sands of the theology of conservative evangelical Christianity.  That theology could change so much is remarkable, given the claims of evangelical Christianity that their theology is derived from the timeless word of God.

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November 20, 2012

My advice to the Republicans

by Neil Rickert

The Republicans have not asked for my advice.  And I am quite sure that they will ignore any advice that I give.  Still, they do seem to be in a quandary, so I will offer my advice anyway.

I suppose I should be suggesting a 12-step program, but I will content myself with two steps:

  1. Adopt a pro-choice position on abortion.  This should actually be a no-brainer.  It fits with the traditional Republican view of favoring a small government.
  2. Welcome the log cabin Republicans into the party, and pay attention to what they say.  Decisions on gay marriage should, in the main, be left to the culture and not controlled by politics.  Again, this fits with the traditional Republican view of small government.

This will, of course, be a painful step.  The Republicans will lose those conservative evangelical Christians from their party base.  But that is actually the point of my suggestions.

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November 17, 2012

Reason, truth, history

by Neil Rickert

As mentioned in an earlier post, I have been engaged in a discussion of the correspondence theory of truth.  The discussion took place on the Quick Philosophy yahoo group, where we started looking at Putnam’s book “Reason, Truth and History.”  The full discussion began on Aug. 20, 2012.

Here, I will give some links into the discussion.  I may say more on my own views of the topic in future posts.

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