Monthly Archives: July 2013

Current WIP, feedback appreciated: A Genealogical Defense of Normative Nihilism

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Williams – Genealogy QP 2 version 1.4 7-25-2013

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Filed under Moral Philosophy, Philosophy, Psychology

Quote for the Day – C.S. Peirce’s Refutation of Positivism

All science depends upon the record of the past, and a record other than that in the memory is plainly something which cannot be verified by direct observation.

…Verification is the watchword of Positivism. But it is easy to see that a proposition is no more verifiable by direct observation for being such as we can suppose (by a recognized falsification) to be observed unless it is also such as really can be observed. This maxim, therefore, must refer to really possible observations, not such as are supposably possible, for the proof they give leads to that or nothing.

…It is not a question capable of being decided by direct observation, what is and what is not direct observation. The logical rule, therefore, which is the whole basis of Positivism appears to me to be entirely false.

~C.S. Peirce, Notes on Positivism, in Charles S. Peirce: Selected Writings (Values in a Universe of Chance)

Peirce’s refutation is notable in several ways. First, his claim is only that Positivism “appears” false, a modesty born from his doctrine of fallibilism. Second, his refutation is a precursor of the famous Duhem-Quine thesis, which states that a scientific theory is not refuted on the basis of a single negative experiment because it’s always possible that some mistake was made in the measurement process and, in addition, the theory can be “rescued” by adding auxiliary hypotheses post-hoc. Similarly, Peirce’s point seems to be that Positivism fails to live up to its own standards because if we suppose the gold standard for knowledge is “direct observation”, how can we be sure that our observation was really and not seemingly direct? To verify that our observation was direct, we need a direct observation that our observation was direct. Thus, Positivism will either lead to an infinite regress or bottom out at a direct observation that we haven’t directly observed is a direct observation.

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Filed under Books, Philosophy, Philosophy of science

A Reassuring Note on the Lack of Actual Content Around Here Lately

You might be wondering why this blog has recently downgraded to a series of quotes from random books I’m reading, but I want to assure you: it is not for lack of writing! Rather, as is typical during the summer, I am throwing almost of my writing energies into my Qualifying Paper, with a smidgen left over for emails, tweets, and fluffy blog posts (like this one!). To give you a flavor of the project monopolizing my scholarly willpower, the current but highly tentative title for the paper is “A Genealogical Defense of Normative Nihilism”. And if you can’t tell by the dreary and pompous title, yes, it is highly ambitious paper, perhaps too ambitious, a perennial problem for my philosophical projects. I can’t help it though. I loathe the idea of writing a paper that only moves a nanometer forward in conceptual space. I want to leap, not crawl. 

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Quote For the Day – Dan Gilbert on the Perils of Trying to Define “Happiness”

There are thousands of books on happiness, and most of them start by asking what happiness really is. As readers quickly learn, this is approximately equivalent to beginning a pilgrimage by marching directly into the first available tar pit, because happiness really is nothing more or less than a word that we word makers can use to indicate anything we please.

~Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, p. 31

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Academics on social media: Twitter or Blogging? Is there even a difference?

It is a personal belief of mine (i.e. I have no evidence) that success in today’s academic market can be influenced by self-promotion and not just department or advisor-promotion. Having a well-known advisor, or coming from a prestigious PhD program, will help you get through the first stages of a search committee, but I think having an “online presence” that is readily apparent from a quick google search will go a long way towards making you “stand out” from people with otherwise similar CVs and qualifications. Obviously, this belief of mine is massively self-serving because I actively try to promote my “online presence”! Which brings me to the topic of this post: using twitter or blogging platforms for academic self-promotion.

Whereas I used to blog more than I tweet, I am now finding myself using twitter more and more as a kind of “micro-blogging” platform. This might just be  summer laziness and absorption in more important research projects (like my next Qualifying Paper for Wash U), but it’s also an opportunity to hone the art of succinct expression. Trying to make a real (or interesting) philosophical point in a single tweet is an interesting exercise because, if you want to do so, you have no choice but to compress your thoughts. Along with such “micro-blogging”, twitter offers the potential for rapid-fire link-sharing and instant communication between thousands of people. Blogging is “slower”, but also suitable for deeper, more insightful writing.

However, I am quickly becoming convinced that the distinction between “blogging” and “micro-blogging” is growing fuzzier everyday. People might not think of tweeting as “really” blogging i.e. logging your thoughts on the web, but that’s exactly what it is, only 142 characters at a time, published in “real-time”.

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Quote for the Day – Baumeister on Embodiment

Chips and circuit boards are useless without a source of energy. So is the brain. It took psychologists a while to realize this, and the realization came not from computer models but from biology. The transformation of psychology based on ideas from biology was one of the major developments of the late twentieth century. Some researchers found that genes had important effects on personality and intelligence. Others began to show that sexual and romantic behavior conformed to predictions from evolutionary theory and resembled aspects of behavior in many animal species. Neuroscientists began to map out brain processes. Others found out how hormones altered behavior. Psychologists were reminded over and over that the human mind exists in a biological body.

~Roy Baumeister & John Tierney, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strengthp. 42-43

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Quote for the Day: Huw Price on the “Ghost of metaphysics” haunting contemporary philosophy

“In my view, this metaphysical rebirthing myth is in large part bogus, in the sense that niether of Quine’s achievements actually supports what is now widely taken to rest on it. On the one hand, the ontology that Quine revived in “On What There Is’ is itself a pale zombie, compared to the beefy creature that positivists since Hume had being trying to put down. And on the other, Quine’s stake missed the heart of Carnap’s metaphysics-destroying doctrine completely, merely lopping off some inessential appendages, and leaving the argument, if anything, stronger than before.”

~ Huw Price, Metaphysics After Carnap: the Ghost Who Walks?

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