Author Archives: The Leather Library

Rationality, Objectivity & Values in Science

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  Introduction

          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.

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          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

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          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

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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.

 

Sincerely,

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

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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 CHARACTER:

  • 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

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          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.

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