Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

Today at ScienceBlogs there are a few posts of interest to science writers:

The Daily Transcript’s post, History and analysis of scientific publishing, comments on a interesting book with an overly long title, In Oldenburg’s Long Shadow: Librarians, Research Scientists, Publishers, and the Control of Scientific Publishing.

Recent posts to Adventures in Ethics and Science discuss science writing.

That first post refers to an old paper with an inflammatory title:

  • P. B. Medawar, Is the scientific paper fraudulent? Yes; it misrepresents scientific thought, Saturday Review, 1 August 1964, pp. 42-43.

The analysis of Medawar’s paper involves some fun philosophy of science – mostly Hemple and Popper on induction and inductivism. Medawar makes a great deal of the way scientific papers represent orthodox norms about scientific thinking, but I doubt researchers think scientific papers are supposed to convey norms of scientific deliberation. Still, I can’t help but think that papers representing scientific thinking would be a lot more fun to read, if only because they would break away from the structure involving:

  1. Introduction
  2. Background
  3. Methods
  4. Results
  5. Discussion

My suspicion is that scientists use this as a crutch, like high school (and university) students who cling to the dreaded 5 paragraph essay because it gives direction without requiring too much thought.


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Here’s an article, just uploaded to SSRN, that I can’t resist promoting because it’s about moral intuitions and the law.

From the introduction:

In this research, we use traditional psychological methodologies to ask when laypeople consider breach to be immoral , which moral principles and moral heuristics they employ to make that judgment, and to what extent their moral reasoning (be it rational or faulty) affects their legal and financial decision-making.

Why should we read it? From the conclusion:

Empirical results like those we have presented here have bearing on practical legal matters, including bargaining during contract drafting as well as negotiations over the breach of a contract. These results may also bear on moral theories of breach of contract, as we identify some discontinuities and tensions between intuition and reason.

Great stuff.

  • Wilkinson-Ryan, Tess and Baron, Jonathan, “Moral Judgment and Moral Heuristics in Breach of Contract” (2006). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=930144

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Anna Maria Tremonti interviews the famous atheist today on The Current. A significant portion of the interview deals with Dawkins’ view that religion gets a ‘free ride’ in the sense that atheists are unwilling to be openly critical of religion. That sets the stage for a broad discussion of the theme: how should scientists respond to religion?

The segment also includes a panel discussion with Lawrence Krauss (astrophysicist) and Michael Ruse (historian and philosopher of science). They advance a form of ‘humble’ atheism, and make the interesting point that Dawkins in conversation is not as strident nor as full of vitriol as he is in the God Delusion.

All told, a more satisfying treatment than Michael Enright’s interview, although it would have been nice to have heard Dawkins respond to Ruse and Krauss. For that, refer to a Scientific American item referenced by the program. Kudos to Krauss for self-archiving it:

Unlike some other radio programs offered by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, The Current is made available online after it airs. Due to the wonders of time zones, this program is already archived now – although at the time of this post it has yet to be broadcast in British Columbia.

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I’ll confess my training in analytic philosophy means I don’t ‘get’ the continental tradition. Too much of it seems like bad metaphysics. It’s also a reason I don’t ‘get’ most eastern philosophy.

Which is, I suppose, a good enough reason to wonder if there is a cultural difference in the moral psychologies found in these very different approaches to philosophy.

Justin Tiwald, guest-posting at The Splintered Mind, is thinking about the same sort of thing – except he gets eastern philosophy. He suggests there are two ways we come to have moral emotions, and that Confucian moral education is about training yourself to have the right sort of gut feeling.

In fact, the purpose of moral education as they understood it was to make us more reliant on emotional appearances (seemings) than on emotional beliefs. The beliefs just “second” the emotional appearances.

He comes to this insight from an analysis by which there are two classes of emotion:

  1. emotions that come from our beliefs about things
  2. emotions that must come from perceptions of things because they conflict with our beliefs

From that, Tiewald reasons moral emotions might have the same bifurcation:

  1. moral emotions that come from moral beliefs
  2. moral emotions that must come from moral appearances because they conflict with our beliefs

He than says,

Moral beliefs tend to be more susceptible to rationalization and self-deception than moral appearances.

At this point, I’ll register a problem I have with this sort of schema. What is a moral appearance, and how is it different from a moral emotion?

It seems that by moral appearance he means a sort of ‘gut reaction’ (e.g. disgust), but this is usually understood to be a moral emotion itself.

Am I missing something because of my analytic bias?

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Philosopher’s Guild

What? There’s a Philosophers’ Guild? And it has rules about not using something called data? Watch out, experimental philosophers, if you want to keep your knee-caps.

I wonder what other rules it might have…

  • “The first rule of Philosophers’ Guild is – you do not talk about Philosophers’ Guild.”

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Quick question: Is colour in your head or on the computer screen?

If you aren’t a philosopher, your first response might be, ‘Does it really matter?’ In this case, it does. A class action lawsuit depends on it.

In the suit the question becomes: is Apple misrepresenting their MacBook and MacBook Pro if they advertise displays capable of millions of colours, when they are really just selling displays that allow the perception of millions of colours?

The plaintiffs in this class action lawsuit, Fred Greaves and Dave Gatley, complain in their filing:

The reality is that notwithstanding Apple’s misrepresentations and suggestions that its MacBook and MacBook Pro display “millions of colors,” the displays are only capable of displaying the illusion of millions of colors through the use of a software technique referred to as “dithering,” which causes nearby pixels on the display to use slightly varying shades of colors that trick the human eye into perceiving the desired color even though it is not truly that color.

There is a rich literature on the philosophy of colour. Somehow, I doubt any of it will be used in court.

The blogosphere’s Cult of Mac is ripe with commentary. Hat-tip to Ars Technica via Apple 2.0 via Slashdot. See also Engadget and Apple Insider.

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The New Yorker hosts a talk by Jonathan Haidt and uploads the video. Hat tip goes to the brilliantly titled Missing Shades of Grue.

Worth watching just for the forest of hands that are raised when Haidt asks the audience who among them are liberals. I think there were more microphones at the podium than there were conservatives attending.

Drawing on his 5 foundation theory (mentioned here), Haidt argues liberals need to take into account the 3 extra moral ‘foundations’ which inform conservatives ideology. A third of the way through, Haidt discusses how his theory explains the politics of gay marriage. He also makes an interesting point about moral geography. Haidt observes a narrow liberal ideology creates a common denominator and promotes tolerance among people who congregate in urban areas, immigration attractors and transportation hubs.

Afterwards, there is a good conversation with Henry Finder. In it, Haidt talks about:

  1. the importance of emotion – awe, ‘moral elevation’ and ‘the blink test‘ – in the public perception of leadership in American elections
  2. post-hoc moral reasoning and moral dumbfounding
  3. why framing issues with language choices will convince nobody
  4. moral decay in the culture war between Islam and the West
  5. why liberalism can be bad for you and human dignity, and why liberals should work with the ‘good parts’ of conservative ideology

The best quote, referring to an electoral map showing liberals populate the areas around waterways:

I believe this shows that humidity makes people liberal.

Update: See now the post and comments at Dr. Joan Bushwell’s Chimpanzee Refuge.

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