Monthly Archives: July 2014

Rationality, Objectivity & Values in Science



          Much of the debate around the value of science in philosophy has been stimulated by the works of Thomas Kuhn; particularly his controversial book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Its controversy was based in its fundamental rejection of many ‘paradigms’ (sorry for the nerd pun) surrounding science in the early half of the twentieth century. He left both his contemporaries and predecessors aside in proposing that “reason and evidence can play only a limited role in determining the outcome of scientific revolutions”. [1]

          Because of this, Kuhn faced harsh criticisms by philosophers in the wake of his book being published. They deplored his disregard for scientific realism and for claiming that scientific revolutions are largely “a matter for mob psychology”. [2] Nonetheless, Kuhn addressed his critics responses in a lecture in 1973 titled, Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice (article on this lecture upcoming). He argued for a shared set of values between scientists who hold competing theories and from this shared value set he can support a notion of rational scientific revolutions. He, however, did not relinquish his objections to scientific realism and continued to hold the belief that science functions as a set of tools used for solving puzzles, rather than a system of literal descriptions of reality.


          The following articles in this series will look at Khuns position in more depth as well as the arguments proposed by his most ardent critics. I hope that you enjoy these series of philosophy of science articles and I look forward to engaging with you in the comment section below. If you have any article request that you would like me to look at and write an article on please feel free to contact me via The Leather Library Contact Page.

[1] – Curd, Martin, et al. “Rationality, Objectivity & Values in Science .” In Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues.              pg. 75

[2] – Curd, Martin, et al. “Rationality, Objectivity & Values in Science .” In Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues.              pg. 76

Works Cited

Curd, Martin, J.A. Cover, and Christopher Pincock. “Rationality, Objectivity & Values in Science .” In Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. Second Edition ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2013.


By: Steven Umbrello – Owner & Executive Editor

Philosophy of Science Series


          Over the last year I have been providing all of you content on the history and philosophy of science. However, as you would have noticed, I have slowed down this series. Currently, The Leather Library has produced posts regarding Science vs. Pseudoscience and thought experiments, however, I want continue the series of articles by writing them on other areas of philosophy of science. These topics will include:

Rationality, Objectivity, and Values in Science

The Duhem-Quine Thesis and Underdetermination

Induction, Prediction, and Evidence

Confirmation and Relevance: Bayesian Approaches

Models of Explanation

Laws of Nature

Intertheoretic Reduction

Empiricism and Scientific Realism

          The articles that will be written will be based off of the articles found by prominent philosophers of science in an anthology volume titled, Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues.  I hope that you enjoy the posts as much as I enjoy writing them.

By: Steven Umbrello

Exclusive Interview with Rebecca Goldstein


They say it never hurts to ask.

          I sent a few questions to Rebecca Goldstein’s website, thinking I’d get no reply. She’s a busy person, after all. But she was so kind as to respond to my questions with very thoughtful answers that I’d like to share with you as a follow up to my review.

I thank you for the lovely and thoughtful review of Plato at the GoogleplexI’m under a lot of time pressure right now, but I couldn’t avoid answering your thoughtful questions. Please forgive the inadequacy of the too-brief answers.

Your questions deserve far more.



Rebecca Newberger Goldstein


1. What is your best argument against scientific reductionism?

RG: I don’t know how you mean this question, since I don’t know whether you’re equating “scientific reductionism” with the materialist understanding of the mind. (By “materialist understanding of the mind” I mean that the mind is nothing over and above neurological processes). If you are, then I don’t have an argument against scientific reductionism. At this point in our scientific knowledge, it’s improbable that mind is anything over and above neurological processes. But if you mean by “scientific reductionism” the view that all information about the mind can be derived from neurological information (which might seem to follow from materialism but doesn’t) then I would be prepared to argue against reductionism. The best argument? Well, at least part of the best argument is to see that the materialist understanding of the mind doesn’t entail scientific reductionism. The mind is nothing else but brain processes but could we capture all that there is to a person—all the phenomenological richness and subtle overlays of deliberations, emotions, memories, moods, and so much more—from a description, no matter how complicated, of neurological processes?


2. Do you think Socrates was immoral in being politically abstinent?

RG: I don’t think that he was politically abstinent. He participated when he was called upon to do so, though he wouldn’t follow orders that he thought were immoral, as Plato tells us in the Apology. But more importantly, he considered the enterprise to which he devoted his life—trying to awaken his fellow citizens from their dogmatic slumbers (to use a famous phrase anachronistically) was itself political action. He involved himself in the life of his polis, hoping to effect change by getting people to rethink their assumptions. For him, good politics could only be the result of good philosophy. What he rejected—and this put him in opposition to his polis—was that ethics could be entirely absorbed into politics: to be a good person was to live the life of a good citizen as defined by the laws of Athens. Rather he thought that the laws themselves must undergo evaluation by the lights of philosophy. For a Greek, to think about the good life in isolation from one’s political responsibilities was idiotic. Almost literally idiotic. The word “idiot” derives from the Greek word for private, idios. To the Greeks, and this includes Socrates, to think that you can live a good life that is entirely private, with no thought of what you should contribute to your polis, was idiocy.


3. Why is it necessary for philosophy to make progress in order to be useful and deserving of study?

RG: I don’t think there’s any such necessity for philosophy to make progress in order for it to be worthwhile of study. I happen to think that some areas of philosophy have made progress and that the progress has been beneficial to society at large. I’m thinking specifically of progress in moral philosophy which has filtered out into progressive movements for individual rights. And then sometimes ideas explored in philosophy lead to scientific progress—sometimes to the creation of whole new scientific fields. Physics, psychology, linguistics, mathematical logic, computer science all were hatched from philosophy. And sometimes it’s the work of philosophers that drives some progress within scientific fields. Einstein, for example, used ideas he got from Ernst Mach to develop a key idea in relativity theory. These are just historical facts, and they point to some of the usefulness of philosophy, but not all of it. In fact, I’d say that one of the most useful lessons to be learned from philosophy, including those areas where progress of this straightforward type can’t be pointed to, is in learning about the limits of human knowledge and reason. Our continued bafflement over such questions as free will and the hard problem of consciousness and the a priori nature of mathematical knowledge is a good lesson in species-humility. And that’s useful!


          The staff at The Leather Library thank Dr. Goldstein for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions. It is a testament to her love of philosophy as well as her compulsion to spread its influence. We hope that you enjoyed this short interview and we all highly recommend that you check out Rebecca’s new book, Plato at the Googleplexnow for sale on Amazon

By: Tina Forsee – Tina is an editor at the Leather Library as well as at The Diogenes Society. She is also the owner and executive editor of a philosophy blog called Diotima’s Ladder.


Book Review: Plato at the Googleplex


9780307378194_custom-ddcd506e3b084611bfcc807db8f753d0ebf8ff75-s6-c30          When my friend told me she heard on NPR that there was a new book out in which “some female philosopher” resurrects the voice of Plato to address today’s moral issues, I took a wild guess as to the author: Rebecca Goldstein.

          Maybe the guess wasn’t so wild. I had read The Mind-Body Problem and there aren’t that many right now contemporary female philosophers I know of who are well-versed in Plato and who write fiction. (Although in hindsight I suppose Muriel Barbery would have been a good guess too.) This, I said to myself, is a must-read. For those of you who are reticent about reading philosophy or find the language a bit daunting, I highly recommend this book. Anyone on the street can pick this up and understand it. I recently recommended Plato’s Republic to a friend, but then I changed my mind and told him to read this instead. It’s way more accessible.

          The book has a hybrid fiction/non-fiction structure in which the chapters alternate between ancient Greek history and fictional dialogue between Plato and several key figures, including a Freudian psychoanalyst, a neuroscientist, and a cocky cable news host. While the history is clearly written and flows like a novel, the real excitement for me comes when Plato is interpreted through fiction, because doing so gives the author the opportunity to cut through academic hemming and hawing to make philosophy come alive. So I’m not going to talk about the history sections very much. I’m going to focus on what’s new and salient in Plato @ the Googleplex:


  • Plato’s not a Luddite, even though one would think he’d find information technology a mere shadow of authentic wisdom. Kudos to Goldstein for depicting Plato three-dimensionally as an idealist and pragmatist who doesn’t pooh pooh the information of the masses. Once he finds out that Google is the storehouse for nearly endless information, he’s found throughout each scene clutching his Chromebook, using it as a tool to learn nearly as much about neuroscience as the neuroscientist in the final dialogue.
  • When a female ‘interlocutor’ corrects Plato’s masculine pronouns, he immediately takes her side. From then on out he never fails in gender inclusivity. This jives with Plato’s “paradoxical” equal opportunity for women in the Republic.
  • Plato’s results in the Myers-Briggs Psychometric Questionnaire: INTJ—Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging Type. (I got the same results, and so did my friends. Maybe we’re on our way to becoming philosopher kings?) Click the link to take it yourself.
  • Plato is intellectually honest. When he turns out to be wrong, he admits it. For instance, he concedes that our democratic society has made moral progress since his day…even though this confession threatens to undermine the premise of his Republic. The Freudian psychoanalyst argues in favor of democracy because “Humanity should never be frozen into a vision of the best. A creative society must be willing to tolerate some degree of instability because creativity is inherently unstable” (217). As far as the argument goes, she gets the last word.
  • Goldstein’s Plato is not dogmatic, does not necessarily believe in his own theory of Forms, and is sometimes wrong. As RG puts it, “Above all, my Plato is the philosopher who teaches us that we should never rest assured that our view, no matter how well argued and reasoned, amounts to the final word on any matter. And that includes our view of Plato” (396).


          Goldstein argues against the idea that science alone can lay claim to all knowledge. While science progresses, so too does philosophy. This is the major point throughout her book.

          She also argues that, for Plato at least, the abstract (such as the ‘forms’ and mathematical entities) is to be discovered rather than created. “Abstract truths are out there waiting to be discovered, just as scientific truths are out there waiting to be discovered” (47).

          Is it immoral to be politically abstinent? Goldstein asks in the chapter Socrates Must Die. An interesting question when you consider Nazi Germany. I couldn’t quite find her conclusion to this question, or if her purpose was simply to interpret Socrates’ position, but it’s a good question and one I’ve asked myself many times. Her interpretation of Socrates is much more multi-faceted and complex than I.F. Stone’s anti-democratic version in The Trial of Socrates, which reduced Socrates’ motivations to exclusively political terms as if all he did were play party politics with the rest of us.

          The unexamined life is not worth living…a pretty strong claim if you think about it. Are all those reality-TV-watching, celebrity-following lives—these are my words now—really not worth living? This smacks of worse-than-smug elitism. Goldstein anticipates the standard protests that Plato was an elitist, not fighting the charge so much as explaining why his views make sense. The philosopher kings don’t rule according to their whims, but according to what’s good. Might does not make right. If people were truly capable of governing in this way, the elitism in the Republic would not be a bad thing, even if it meant a small group of moral experts telling everyone what to do. After all, we trust the dentist with our teeth, we trust the doctor with our health…ah…maybe…we trust the tax guy with our taxes…okay. Well. You get the idea.

          The best answer to the elitism charge comes in the chapter, Plato at the Googleplex. There she has a software engineer defend an interesting form of democratic knowledge. He proposes an Ethical Answers Search Engine, EASE, which he thinks would be superior to having moral experts. The folks at Google could devise a way to crowd-source wisdom so that everyone’s an expert and no one a ruler. But, Plato points out, who determines how EASE operates? Who programs it? Aren’t we back to the same elitist government in which the few rule the many? Brilliantly done. This chapter is my favorite for its literary finesse and depth of ideas.

          In the final dialogue, Plato gets his brain scanned and discusses with a neuroscientist whether or not science has the final word on moral agency, whether neuroscience eliminates the Self, as well as right and wrong. The neuroscientist scoffs Plato for invoking a “ghost in the machine,” and claims that there is no free will, only imagined free will. Plato can’t outright disprove the neuroscientist’s claims, there are no arguments against per se, but he and a cognitive science grad student appeal to common sense. Where in all those numbers is there a coherent account of who we are? How can we hold people responsible for their actions without free will? How can there be rationalizing with no rationalizer?

          This last chapter hits on what has been a hot topic in the blog-o-sphere lately. What do y’all think? I’m going to assume that most of you find it at least odd, if not wrong, to claim there is rationalizing with no rationalizer, but is there a way to disprove scientific reductionism or do we simply have to appeal to common sense or experience? Is it enough to say that science can’t lay claim to all knowledge because doing so is doing philosophy—which undermines the original argument?

Or how about another question for those who don’t want to weigh in on the first. Is it ethical to be apolitical? Are we morally obligated to “rock the vote”? Or just comment on whatever. That’s more democratic, right?

Tina Forsee is an editor at the Leather Library as well as at The Diogenes Society. She is also the owner and executive editor of a philosophy blog called Diotima’s Ladder

Welcome New Staff

new staff

          I would like to welcome and introduce the staff that will be working here at The Diogenes Society. I hope that they will produce content that is to all of your liking and will be as thought provoking as they are fun to write.

          1175620_407463179358298_153359821_nStefan Morrone is currently a third-year student enrolled in the Bachelor of Journalism program at Ryerson University in Toronto. He enjoys writing about a variety of subjects including sports, history, literature and gaming. He has written for publications such as PanoramItalia Magazine, the Ryerson Folio Magazine and the Ryerson Eyeopener Newspaper. After finishing his four year program he hopes to move on to write in the newspaper or online sectors of journalism.

           Stefan additionally offers his services as an editor for a sports blog known as The Waterboy Report. Stefan also enjoys a good cigar every once and a while and has been invited as an occasional contributor to the Smoking Jacket Magazine. He is also the senior editor at The Leather Library Blog.

Troubling Taxes


       Originally Published on The Leather Library

          If you live in America, chances are pretty good you hated the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) before it was cool to hate them.

         Every April 15th, it’s American tradition to moan and groan about having to pay taxes no matter how much you appreciate the things provided with taxes.

          Among other powers, the IRS can audit you (which means they can check over your records), garnish your wages, and imprison you if your trespasses are egregious enough. Nobody likes them, but just about everyone thinks of them as reasonably “fair” – or, at least, if you’re in trouble with the IRS, it’s likely your fault, not theirs.

          Or, at least, they did until May 2014.

          It all started in July 2008, with a conservative lobbying group called Citizens United. They wanted to run a series of commercials promoting a film targeting Hillary Clinton. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that they couldn’t. The group appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. I won’t bore you with all the particulars, but the outcome is important to the story: In January 2010, the Supreme Court issued an opinion reversing it in part. The Court found it was unconstitutional to ban free speech. As a result, the number of nonprofits applying for tax exempt status dramatically increased.

          March 2010 was where it all started to go wrong.

          Some IRS agents in Cincinnati, Ohio began to target groups based on key words, specifically, words that were overwhelmingly conservative in nature. In August of 2010, the IRS issued a BOLO (Be On the Look Out) for specific words, mostly revolving around Tea Party groups (which are wholly conservative). In June 2011, the BOLO increased its targets to include other conservative groups, including phrases like patriots, 9/12, and constitutional literacy. Then acting Director of Exempt Organizations, Lois Lerner, was advised of the practice.

          And did nothing.

          It wasn’t until February 2012, almost two years after the targeting began, that any news of it at all was reported to the media. And it still attracted relatively little notice. On March 22, 2012, then Commissioner of the IRS Doug Shulman testified before Congress that there was absolutely no targeting going on. One could argue that even if the Commissioner of the IRS actually didn’t know what was going on, he should have. (He ended up stepping down at the end of his term, just before the scandal began to garner more media attention and then gave a non-apology apology – if you can call it an apology). On May 10, 2013, Lerner admitted the targeting. And the next day, the IRS released an audit admitting wrong doing. On May 14, 2013, the Federal Bureau of Investigations opened a criminal probe into IRS activities. Also in this month, Shulman was informed by previous IRS Commissioner Steven Miller of what had been going on. (Steven Miller would later take Shulman’s place).

          (Interestingly enough, it was Attorney General Eric Holder who asked for the investigation. Why interesting? Well, let’s just say that Eric Holder has some character issues in his record).

          Of course, probes don’t necessarily mean there’s anything to see there. And nobody wants groups taking advantage of the rules unfairly. But as we now know, there wasn’t so much a smoking gun in the IRS as there was a five alarm fire. And another grand American tradition began: lawsuits. Very expensive lawsuits.

          The probe revealed, among other things, that Cincinnati was not the only office to be affected by the BOLO. Agents in Washington D.C. and at least two offices in California also had the BOLO lists. A number of the conservative groups had to wait for years for their applications to go through while more progressive groups had their applications approved on the spot. It is true that some groups should have been investigated. (In other words, to give credit where credit is due, the IRS was doing its job with some of the applications).

          The day after the probe was announced, for the first time in IRS history, the Commissioner Steven Miller resigned. President Obama appointed Daniel Werfel on May 16, 2013. On May 17, Miller had to testify before Congress. (Not his best week).

          But the biggest surprise was on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Lois Lerner went before Congress; she said, and I quote: “I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations. And I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.” She then pled the 5th. (The amendment against self-incrimination). Which is an interesting plea for someone who hasn’t done anything wrong or broken any laws. (She also took this moment to claim she was bad at math. Maybe not the best excuse for someone who is in a position of authority at the IRS). Former Commissioner Shulman claimed he was “absolutely sure” he hadn’t told anybody in the White House about the targeting of groups, despite his visits there (though it does not appear they occurred as often as some have asserted).

           When the proverbial shit hit the fan, Americans were, shall we say, displeased.

          Tea Party groups and others demonstrated in front of the White HouseCherry Hill, New Jersey (where the IRS main office is located), and other places. The next day, May 23, Lois Lerner who refused to resign was placed on “administrative leave“. (She finally retired in September 2013). And on June 12, 2013, the BOLOs were suspended. But by this time, Congress found itself very interested in exactly who knew what and when. The news just kept getting worse for the IRS. It didn’t help when news reached the media that the IRS was all set to pay out $70 million dollars in employee bonuses: $42,000 of it went to Lois Lerner and $100,000 to former Commissioner Miller. By July 10, Congress was threatening to slash the IRS budget.

          Finally, things quieted down for a little while until December, when Commissioner Werfel stepped down. January 2014 was when the FBI revealed there would be no criminal charges resulting from their probe. Which made lawmakers unhappy. In January 2014, John Koskinen was appointed IRS Commissioner by President Obama. Which gives us a reason for an interesting aside.

          Unless you live in the USA and have taken out a substantial loan, you have probably never heard the name Freddie Mac. Created in 1970, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC) known as “Freddie Mac” was engineered to expand the market for mortgages. In 07, Freddie Mac was found to have a significant role in creating a market where houses sold for much more than they were worth and selling houses to people who could not afford them, given their assets and credit. (The reason why they were doing this is fairly complex, and would take a whole series of posts to adequately explain, but essentially boils down to the oldest reason in the book: Money). It paid a record fine for this (still peanuts to the company) and people were fired or resigned.

          Why am I telling you this? What does any of this have to do with the IRS?

John Koskinen? Was one of the executives over Freddie Mac. He’s given large donations to Democrats (none to Republicans). I’m sure that had nothing to do with his being given a government post.

Aside over, in April 2014, Koskinen revealed that, so far, the IRS investigations had cost tax payers $14 million dollars. And in May 2014, the House of Representatives held Lois Lerner in contempt.

Then it got worse. (No, really!)

Despite repeatedly assuring Congress they were going to turn over the emails from Lois Lerner, in June 2014, the IRS revealed it had “lost” Lois Lerner’s emails in a hard drive crash. (The reason they couldn’t just go to the inbox and retrieve them? You’ll enjoy this, because it’s stupid: The e-mail client allowed only several hundred megabytes of storage). Needless to say, a lot of people raised eyebrows at this turn of events. The White House learned about the crash six weeks before Congress did. And the IRS? First knew about it in February of 2014. [Bonus: the story Lerner gave about the letter that supposedly crashed her hard drive? Likely fake]

You would think the very, very least the IRS could do is apologize, right? Well, according to Koskinen, there’s nothing to apologize for. (I think I could come up with a fairly lengthy list. Like, oh, say, not following the law and having a credibility problem). Congress grilled Koskinen over the missing emails. Koskinen denied he had misled Congress about the missing emails and claimed there was no obstruction of Congress. He now claims he never said he would provide Congress with the emails. (Despite video evidence to the contrary). Even though it turned out that seven people related to the investigation had “lost” emails. (One of them sure was at the White House a lot – all together, say it with me now: coincidence !). The IRS claimed that part of the problem was that they had canceled their contract with the data backup service Sonasoft just after the Lerner emails went missing (a claim Sonasoft is now denying). And the whole charade has even led to some people in Congress apologizing to Koskinen(Oh, how I wish I was making that up).

Congress demanded answers. They called on the National Security Administration (NSA) to release the emails. (Which, funnily enough, the NSA got in trouble for doing not so long ago). If the NSA can produce these emails when the IRS could not (or would not), there’s really only one conclusion we can come to.

The NSA ought to be in charge of collecting taxes.


(Special thanks to Forbes for their timeline). You can find funny things about the IRS mess at these links:

By: Sarah Abbett – Author


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