Product Release: Yes or No Philosophy

My new philosophy education product is ready!

Yes or No Philosophy

The link explains everything, has screenshots, etc. In short, it's about how to judge ideas, in particular by using yes or no judgements. It has a criticism of Critical Rationalism and a big improvement. (The same criticism also applies to standard philosophies of knowledge.) This is an epistemology breakthrough.

I put a short argument from the product online. It gives an idea of what I'm saying. The overall product is more focused on explaining things and helping people learn, rather than arguing, but I do include quotes from Karl Popper, David Deutsch and others along with criticism.

I put a lot of work into this and I'm really happy with it. It's going to help people learn more about philosophy! Especially if you've been interested in philosophy but find it difficult to get into, then this could help get you unstuck. I put a lot of effort into making it accessible.

Mac software used in this project:

  • Screenflow
  • Keynote
  • Final Cut Pro X
  • Compressor
  • Ulysses
  • Lightpaper
  • Textmate
  • Affinity Designer
  • Numbers
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • KindleGen

Feel free to ask questions about Yes or No Philosophy in the comments below.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Pro-Authority Pledge

Alan blogged criticizing a "pro-truth pledge" which is actually a pro-authority pledge:

Defer: recognize the opinions of experts as more likely to be accurate when the facts are dispute

which experts? how much more likely? what about when, as usual, some experts disagree with each other? should we believe the more numerous or more famous experts, as the Global Warming lobby recommends?

as a philosophy expert, should everyone defer to me about everything? my field deals with how to think, reason, judge ideas, evaluate conclusions, etc. so i have expertise on whether, for example, a global warming expert is reasoning correctly about climate science, or not.

as a philosopher of science, do my claims trump the claims of all scientists? i've studied the scientific method itself and can evaluate whether they used it correctly or not.

please no. i don't trust my fellow philosophers to make wise kings ;)

saying to defer to experts changes the debate from

1) the debate about the actual issues


2) the debate about which people are experts, how much of an expert they are, and which type of expertise has priority in this case.

But it's way more productive to talk about (1), not (2)!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Discussing Necessary Truths and Induction with Spillane

You often ask me for information/arguments that I have already given you

We're partially misunderstanding each other because communication is hard and we have different ways of thinking. I'm trying to be patient, and I hope you will too.

Please address these two questions about induction. Answering with page numbers from a book would be fine if they directly address it.

I've read lots of inductivist explanations and found theyconsistently doesn't address these questions in a clear, specific way, with actual instructions one could follow to do induction if one didn't already know how. I've found that sometimes accounts of induction give vague answers, but not actionable details, and sometimes they give specifics unconnected to philosophy. Neither of those are adequate.

1) Which general laws, propositions, or explanations should one consider? How are they chosen or found? (And whatever method you answer, how does it differ from CR's brainstorming and conjecturing?)

2) When and why is one idea estimated to have a higher weight of observational evidence in favor of it than another idea? Given the situation that neither idea is contradicted by any of the evidence.

These are crucial questions to what your theory of induction says. The claimed specifics of induction vary substantially even among people who would agree with the same dictionary definition of "induction".

I've read everything you wrote to me, and a lot more in references, and I don't yet know what your answers are. I don't mind that. Discussion is hard. I think they are key questions for making progress on the issue, so I'm trying again.

As a fallibilist, you acknowledge that the 'real world' is a contingent one and there are no necessary truths. But is not 1+1=2 a necessary truth? Is not 'All tall men are men' a necessary truth since its negation is self-contradictory?

I'll focus on the math question because it's the easier case to discuss first. If we agree on it, then I'll address the A is A issue.

I take it you also think the solution to 237489 * 879234 + 8920343 is a necessary truth, as well as much more complex math. If instead you think that's actually a different case than 1+1, please let me know.

OK, so, how do you know 1+1=2? You have to figure out what 1+1 sums to. You have to calculate it. You have to perform addition.

The only means you have to calculate sums involve physical objects which obey the laws of physics.

You can count on your fingers, with an abacus, or with marbles. You can use a Mac or iPhone calculator. Or you can use your brain to do the calculation.

Your knowledge of arithmetic sums depends on the properties of the objects involved in doing the addition. You believe those objects, when used in certain ways, perform addition correctly. I agree. If the objects had different properties, then they'd have to be used in different ways to perform addition, or might be incapable of it. (For example, imagine an iPhone had the same physical properties as an iPhone-shaped rock. Then the sequences of touches the currently sum 1 and 1 on an iPhone would no longer work.)

Your brain, your fingers, computers, marbles, etc, are all physical objects. The properties of those objects are specified by the laws of physics. The objects have to be used in certain ways, and not other ways, to add 1+1 successfully. What ways work depends on the laws of physics which say that, e.g., marbles don't duplicate themselves or disappear when arranged in piles.

So I don’t think 1+1=2 is a truth independent of the laws of physics. If there's a major, surprising breakthrough in physics and it turns out we're mistaken about the properties of the physical objects used to perform addition, then 1+1=2 might have to be reconsidered because all our ways of knowing it depended on the old physics, and we have to reconsider it using the new physics. So observations which are relevant to physics are also relevant to determining that 1+1=2.

This is explained in "The Nature of Mathematics", which is chapter 10 of The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch. If you know of any refutation of Deutsch's explanation, by yourself or others, please let me know. Or if you know of a view on this topic which contradicts Deutsch's, but which his critical arguments don't apply to, then please let me know.

I believe that Einstein is closer to the truth of what you call the real world than was Aristotle. So when I'm told by this type of fallibilist that we don't know anymore today than we did 400 years ago, I demur.

Neither Popper nor I believe that "we don't know anymore today than we did 400 years ago".

Given your comments on LSD and the a-s dichotomy, after reading this I conclude that you are a fan of late Popper (LP) and I prefer early Popper (EP).


You think EP is wrong, and I think LP is right, so I don't see the point of talking about EP.

(I disagree with your interpretation of EP, but that's just a historical issue with no bearing on which philosophy of knowledge ideas are correct. So I'm willing to concede the point for the purpose of discussion.)

Gellner argued that Popper is a positivist in the logical positivist rather than the Comtean positivist sense. His discussion proceeded from the contrasting of positivists and Hegelians and so he put (early) Popper in the positivist camp - Popper was certainly no Hegelian. Of course, Popper never tired of reminding us that he destroyed the positivism of the Vienna Circle and went to great pains to declare himself opposed to neo-positivism. For example, he says that he warmly embraces various metaphysical views which hard positivists would dismiss as meaningless. Moderate positivists, however, accept metaphysical views but deny them scientific status. Does not Popper do this too, even if some of these views may one day achieve scientific status?

Yes: (Late) Popper accepts metaphysical and philosophical views, but doesn't consider them part of science.

CR (late-CR) says non-science has to be addressed with non-observational criticisms, instead of what we do in science, which is a mix of observational and non-observational criticism.

If by fallibilism you mean searching for evidence to support or falsify a theory, I'm a fallibilist. If, however, you mean embracing Popper's view of 'conjectural knowledge' and the inability, even in principle, or arriving at the truth, then I'm not. I believe, against Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend, that the history of science is cumulative.

No, fallibilism means that (A) there are no guarantees against error. People are capable of making mistakes and there's no way around that. There's no way to know for 100% sure that a proposition is true.

CR adds that (B) errors are common.

Many philosophers accept (A) as technically true on logical grounds they can't refute, but they don't like it, and they deny (B) and largely ignore fallibilism.

I bring this up because, like many definitions of knowing, yours was ambiguous about whether infallibility is a requirement of knowing. So I'm looking for a clear answer about your conception of knowing.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Justin Kalef vs. Paths Forward

Philosopher Justin Kalef joined FI list, then quickly left. I emailed him about leaving:

I see that you decided to leave without offering a criticism of any point, sharing any of your positions, or attempting discussion once. Sad. I take it you disagreed with some things I said and changed your mind about your supposed interest in open discussion. Presumably you mentally categorized your disagreements as something other than disagreement (e.g. you judged me unserious, ignorant, arrogant, or whatever). And somehow that let you think there was no need to allow the possibility of counter-arguments or clarifications-of-misunderstandings regarding your your negative judgements.

Since you won't argue your case (including by linking anything prewritten), do you know anyone who will discuss and could represent your views? If not, aren't you shutting down rational enquiry regarding your views? If you care about the truth, how can you simply silently refuse to argue your side by any means (including link or proxy)?

If you don't know how to fit discussion into a busy schedule, there are methods which I can explain to you. That's a solvable problem, not a reason one has to give up. Or if there was some other problem, you could have stated it briefly in case there was a misunderstanding or solution.

He replied 5 weeks later:

Hi, Elliot. Apologies for taking so long in getting back to you: I'm in transit this summer and had many administrative issues to deal with, also.

The main reason I decided to leave the group was that I am very busy and need to be highly selective with how I spend my free time. I occasionally participate in online discussions, but usually I do this on widely read blogs where I think a point needs to be made to stop large-scale consensus from shifting uncritically in a certain direction, or where I expect that the other participants in the conversation are likely to offer arguments, information, and ideas that will be particularly useful to me in the pursuit of my (admittedly quite narrow) range of interests.

I appreciate what you're trying to do, but a) my inbox is already too full, and it was filling up with more and more posts from your website; and b) frankly, I think the questions your group was discussing were not in general being addressed very helpfully. For instance, there was (as I recall) a discussion on artificial intelligence. There is a wealth of important material to digest on that subject. If this were a conversation in which some genuine experts on robotics, logic, computer languages, etc. were taking part, I could see some optimism for helping to resolve it: but as it stood, it seemed that the crowd was trying to tackle some a posteriori issues from the armchair. That's just one example.

I don't agree that, by my leaving the group, I am shutting down rational enquiry regarding my views. I am far from the only person in the world who could explain the problems with many of Ayn Rand's ideas; and even if I were the only one, you could pursue these conversations on your own without me. I have in no way prohibited you from having your own conversations. Surely, what I do with my own time is my business, particularly when I have the sorts of constraints on my time that I do. Do you really think that, if a thousand groups wanted me to participate and talk about my ideas, I would be doing about my ideas, I would be morally obligated to participate in all of them?

That being said, I would be willing to address one of Rand's arguments that I disagree with. If you like, please send me a number of her conclusions: your choice. If any of them are both interesting and dubious to me, I will ask you to reproduce a summary of her argument for the conclusion (with short quotes if you like). I find that Randroids tend to refer excensively to her novels. That's okay, but a novel is not an argument. If you can extract from her novels a coherent argument for an interesting view, I will address that argument (again, if the conclusion is interesting and if I find the argument dubious).

I replied:

OK, Rand conclusions:

VoS ch. 4:

there are no conflicts of interests among rational men

RotP, The “Inexplicable Personal Alchemy”:

nobody builds sanctuaries for the best of the human species

VoS ch. 8:

One must never fail to pronounce moral judgment.

CUI ch. 14:

  1. In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins.

  2. In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins.

  3. When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.


money is the root of all good

(all italics omitted)

Regarding being busy and discussion: I think, if you wish to be a serious, rational, public intellectual with an opinion on Ayn Rand, who is very busy, then you ought to have a website (or equivalent) where you've posted your position on Ayn Rand (references are fine for unoriginal points). Otherwise your view of Ayn Rand is inaccessible which prevents both learning from it and criticizing it.

You say there are other critics. Sure. But you haven't chosen specific criticisms which you will take responsibility for. Just pointing in the general direction of a bunch of arguments – many of which contradict each other – isn't a meaningful take on the matter.

If you choose to focus on other matters, that's fine. I and others can pursue the matter without you. In that case, I'd say that you should not make claims about the matter you've chosen to stay out of.

It's interesting that you bring up the scenario of 1000 forum invitations. When we first met, I asked if you knew of a single good forum meeting certain criteria. You said that you didn't know of any, so I invited you to FI. There is a shortage of invitations to worthwhile forums, not a surplus! In this context, you shouldn't give up on a forum so fast. You should instead write a public criticism and see if there's any answer or misunderstanding – especially a criticism of a way in which FI fails to meet the criteria we'd discussed (which I understood you to think were good criteria).

Regarding AI: If lack of expertise caused any mistakes, you could point them out rather than comment on the credentials of the speakers. Especially when you don't know, and didn't ask, anyone's credentials. (A lot of the discussion participants do have expertise relating to computation).

It's also generally a difficult and debatable problem to judge which credentials matter – e.g. for AI discussion, is it more important to be good at programming or good at epistemology? And which credentials shall we defer to for that meta-debate? That's another reason to focus on the issues, not credentials.

Which Rand conclusions would you have used? Share them in the comments below!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Bitstring Compressibility

a Charles H Bennett paper mentioned (search for "simple counting argument". it's on page 3) that there's a counting argument that most strings can't be compressed, or can only be compressed a little bit. Something like that (from memory). He didn't explain it.

So I thought about what it is.

Consider a bitstring of length 50. What does compressing it mean? It means you have some shorter bitstring which maps to it.

Suppose you were going to compress it to a length 40 bitstring. Could you compress each length 50 bitstring to a length 40 bitstring to save 10 bits of space? No because there are 1024 times more length 50 bitstrings than length 40 bitstrings. So each length 40 bitstring has to, on average, be mapped to 1024 length 50 bitstrings. So by removing 10 bits you're also losing 10 bits of information (you're specifying the target with 1/1024 ambiguity). Given a 40 bit string, you don't know WHICH 50 bit string it's shorthand for b/c there are 1024 it could be shorthand for, if you use a method to compress ALL the 50 bit strings uniformly (for example, by simply cutting off the last 10 bits. or you could cut off the first 10 bits or some other selection of 10 bits that don't even have to be in a row).

so at most we could compress 1/1024th of all 50-bit strings to 40-bit strings. that's a theoretical limit otherwise you have multiple 50-bit strings that you're trying to compress to the same 40-bit string.

you can take a 40-bit string, compress 2 50-bit strings to it, and then add an extra bit saying which one of the multiple mapped strings you mean. like dealing with hash table collisions with a linked list. but that's stupid in this case. it makes more sense to just compress to a 41-bit string. (maybe in some more complex approach it's useful? but it won't fundamentally change the conclusions.)

so what if we were to set up a compression algorithm which uses ALL smaller strings to compress to? we can compress to a 1 bit string, a 2 bit string, etc, all the way up to 49 bits.

well there's half as many 49 bit strings as 50 bit, and there's a quarter as many 48bit strings as 50bit, and an eighth as many 47 bit strings as 50bit, etc. so 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 ... = 1. so ALL the prior bitstrings have exactly the right number of possibilities. roughly. but not quite:

a 2-bit string has 4 possibilities. a 1-bit string has 2 possibilities. not enough. even if we count 1 more for a 0-bit string we're still 1 short.

so at least 1 (2 if we can't use a 0bit string) of the 50bit strings can't be compressed.

also, how many can be compressed a lot? well half of them are only getting compressed 1 bit. 1/4 are getting compressed 2 bits. so if we define "a lot" as more than N bits, then it's only 2^-N which get compressed a lot. like if you want 5+ bits of compression, then it's only 1 out of 32 bitstrings that can be compressed that much.

so significant compression is sparse/rare. this is important b/c the field defines random by the content (uncompressible) rather than by the source (how you generated the data). which is interesting b/c it's a "content not source" thing like Critical Rationalism cares about, and it's also not how common sense thinks of random data. common sense says if you flip a coin a bunch, whatever you get is random. but computation theory stuff says if you get 50 tails and that's it, that sequence isn't random. but MOST sequences of randomly generated coinflips will be random (mostly uncompressible) sequences because that's how most sequences are as i was just proving (e.g. at best only 1 in 32 sequences is compressible by 5+ bits).

there's another issue i think is interesting. what if you make 1024 different compression algorithms? each one could compress a different 1/1024th of all the 50bit strings to 40bit strings. however, the overhead for specifying which of the 1024 compression algorithms a particular 40-bit number was encoded with would be 10 bits b/c you need to specify a number from 1-1024 to say which compression algorithm it was. so you don't gain anything. this kinda of overhead is an important issue which gets in the way of attempts to cheat.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bitcoin Sucks

There are two reasons bitcoin is worth money. Neither is because it's so wonderfully libertarian.

1) Bitcoin facilitates crime. it's really helpful for paying for illegal goods and services, money laundering, etc

2) Bitcoin is a ponzi scheme. It's like amway where the people who get in first get money from the people who get in later.

PS both bitcoin and etherium are absolute and total shit on technical grounds. here's one example from a few days ago. i've read many, many more. issues with bitcoin include limits on transactions, transaction fees, and the ridiculous problem that when someone pays you, you both have to wait and see if the payment actually happens or not, and you can be pretty confident the payment will be permanent after like an hour (but you're still not actually 100% sure).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (28)

Destroy The Rainforest, or Capitalism!

Richard Hammond's Jungle Quest is a documentary where he visits the Amazon rainforest and takes photographs. He doesn't really know what he's doing. There's other people there to make things work out OK, he doesn't have to be responsible or competent, he just has to be charismatic and popular. So it's pretty silly.

He says he wants to inspire people to save the rainforest and that something like 20% of it has been destroyed over the last 30 years. (I forget the exact numbers.) I recommend the South Park episode about the rainforest.

What the documentary doesn't say a word about is why the rainforest is being destroyed. What's the upside of destroying the rainforest? What's the downside of preserving it?

People destroy the rainforest on purpose. And it's not because it simply never occurred to them to save it...

People destroy the rainforest because they want land to live on and farm on. They want to be less god damn poor. They want their lives to suck less. They clear areas of forest to make space for humanity and to improve their lives. "Save the rainforest" means making human lives worse.

There is, of course, a way to save the rainforest without screwing anyone over. But it's not what environmentalists have in mind. The win/win solution goes like this: dramatically reduce building regulations in the U.S. (so there can be way more homes), make the U.S. dramatically more capitalist (so there can be way more jobs), dramatically reduce welfare in the U.S. (so immigrants won't be a drain on the current American taxpayers), and then, after doing all of those, let in immigrants who want a better life and are willing to assimilate. A lot of people would rather assimilate to be Americans than work hard to clear the rainforest to make their lives slightly less miserable. Low paying American jobs pay way more (are way more economically productive) than lots of the reasons people clear the rainforest.

There's no need for there to be a shortage of productive jobs in America. That's caused by destructive government actions.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)

More Robert Spillane Discussion

This reply to Robert Spillane follows up on this previous discussion. Here's a full list of posts related to Spillane.

Thank you for your respectful reply. I think we are making progress.

It has been helpful to have you clarify which parts of Popper you accept.


I am reminded of an interesting chapter in Ernest Gellner's bookRelativism and the Social Sciences, (1985, Ch. 1: 'Positivism and Hegelianism), where he discusses early versus late Popper, supports the former against the latter, and concludes that Popper is (a sort of) positivist. It is an interesting chapter and one I would happily discuss with you.

Like Gellner, I am sympathetic to Popper's 'positivism' but cannot accept his rejection of inductive reasoning. Like you (and Szasz), I reject his 3 Worlds model.

Popper was an opponent of the standard meaning of positivism. I mean something like this dictionary definition: "a philosophical system that holds that every rationally justifiable assertion can be scientifically verified or is capable of logical or mathematical proof, and that therefore rejects metaphysics and theism."

So what sort of "positivism" are you attributing to Popper?

I've ordered the book.

Re your favourite philosophers: you might read Szasz's critical comments on Rand, Branden, Mises, Hayek, Rothbard and Nozick in Faith in Freedom: Libertarian Principles and Psychiatric Practices, (Transaction Publishers, 2004). Even though I received the Thomas Szasz Award in 2006, I told Tom that I could not commit myself to (economic) libertarianism in the way that he did and you appear to do. I accept the primacy of personal freedom but do not accept the economic freedom favoured by libertarians. Indeed, I would have thought that by now, in the age of huge corporations, neo-liberalism is on its last legs. I respect your position, however.

Yes, I'm fully in favor of capitalism.

Yeah, I discussed Faith in Freedom with Szasz, but I don't have permission to share the discussion. One thing Szasz did in the book was use some criticism of Rand from Rothbard. I could tell you criticism of Rothbard's arguments if you wanted, though I think he's best ignored. I do not consider Rothbard or Justin Raimondo to be decent human beings, let alone reliable narrators regarding Rand. I was also unimpressed by Szasz's criticisms of Rand's personal life in the book, and would prefer to focus on her ideas. And I think Szasz made a mistake by quoting Whittaker Chambers' ridiculous slanders.

FYI I only like Rand and Mises from the list of people you mention, and I agree with Szasz that they were mistaken regarding psychiatry. (Rand didn't say much on psychiatry, and some of it good, as Szasz discusses. But e.g. she got civil commitment partly wrong.)

You may be interested to know that Rand spoke very critically of libertarians, especially Hayek and Friedman (who both sympathized with socialism, as did Popper). She thought libertarians were harming the causes of liberty and capitalism with their unprincipled, bad philosophy. I agree with her.

Rand did appreciate Mises because he was substantially different than the others: he was an anti-anarchy classical liberal, a consistent opponent of socialism, and he was very good at economics.

We have criticisms of many libertarian ideas from the right.

Let me mention that I'm not an orthodox Objectivist. I do not like the current Objectivist leadership like Peikoff, Binswanger, and the Ayn Rand Institute. I am banned from the main Objectivist forum for dissenting regarding epistemology (especially induction, fallibilism and perception). I also dissented regarding psychiatry, but discussion of psychiatry was banned before much was said.

If you're interested, I wrote about what the disagreements were and the decision to ban me. I pointed out various ways my views and actions are in line with Ayn Rand's philosophy and theirs aren't. It clarifies some of my philosophy positions:

There was no reply, no counter-argument. I am aware that they will hold a grudge for life because I wrote that.

I also made a public record of what I said in my discussions with them:

Warning: my comments are book length.

I have spent my career in the space between neo-positivism (Hume, Stove) and a critical existentialism (Sartre, Szasz). You might see inconsistencies here but I have always agreed with Kolakowski who wrote in his excellent book Positivist Philosophy, (pp. 242-3):

'The majority of positivists tend to follow Wittgenstein's more radical rule: they do not simply reject the claims of metaphysics to knowledge, they refuse it any recognition whatever. The second, more moderate version is also represented, however, and according to it a metaphysics that makes no scientific claims is legitimate. Philosophers who, like Jaspers, do not look upon philosophy as a type of knowledge but only as an attempt to elucidate Existenz, or even as an appeal to others to make such an attempt, do not violate the positivist code. This attitude is nearly universal in present-day existential phenomenology. Awareness of fundamental differences between 'investigation' and 'meditation', between scientific 'accuracy' and philosophic 'precision', between 'problems' and 'questioning' or 'mystery' is expressed by all existential philosophers...'

I broadly disagree with attempts to separate some thinking or knowledge from reality.

As an aside: I asked Tom Szasz that since he has been appropriated by some existentialists, whether he accepted that label. He thought about it for an hour and said: 'Yes, I'm happy to be included among the existentialists. However, if Victor Frankl is an existentialist, I'm not!' Frankl, despite his reputation as a humanist/existentialist boasted of having authorised many and conducted a few lobotomies on people without their consent.

Your criticism of the analytic/synthetic dichotomy reminds me of Quine but expressed differently. I disagree with you (and Quine) and agree with Hume, Stove and Szasz (and many others) on this issue. I am confident that had Szasz lived for another 50 years, you would not have convinced him that all propositions are synthetic and therefore are either true or false. He and I believe that the only necessities (i.e necessary truths) in the world are those expressed as analytic propositions and these tell us nothing about the world of (empirical) facts.

I don't believe necessary truths like that exist. I think people mistake features of reality (the actual reality they live in) for necessary truths. In our world, logic works a particular way, but it didn't necessarily have to. People fail to imagine how some things could be otherwise because they are used to the laws of physics we live with.

If you have a specific criticism of my view, I'll be happy to consider it.

I think I would have persuaded Szasz in much less than 50 years, if I'm right. Or else Szasz would have persuaded me. I don't think it would have stayed unresolved.

I found Szasz extraordinarily rational and open to criticism, more so than anyone else I've ever discussed with.

I'm delighted that you do not buy into Dawkins' nonsense about 'memes' even if you use 'ideas' as if they are things. Stove on Dawkins hits the mark.

There may be a misunderstanding here. I do buy into David Deutsch's views about memes! I accept memes exist and matter. But I think memes are popularly misunderstood and don't lead to the conclusions others have said they do.

I know that Szasz disagreed with me about memes. He did not, however, provide detailed arguments regarding evolution.

'Knowledge' and 'idea' are abstract nouns and therefore, as a nominalist, I'm bound to say they don't exist, except as names.

I consider them the names of either physical objects (like chairs) or attributes of physical objects (like the color red). As a computer hard drive can contain a file, a brain can contain an idea.

I encourage my students to rely less on nouns and more on verbs (from which most nouns originated). You asked for two definitions:

To 'know' means 'to perceive or understand as fact or truth' (Macquarie Dictionary, p.978). Therefore 'conjectural knowledge' is oxymoronic.

This is ambiguous about whether the understanding may be fallible or not.

Do you need a guarantee of truth to have knowledge, or just an educated guess which is correct according to your current best-efforts at understanding?

Why can't one conjecturally (fallibly) understand something to be a fact?

Induction: 'the process of discovering explanations for a set of particular facts, by estimating the weight of observational evidence in favour of a proposition which asserts something about the entire class of facts (MD, p.904).

Induction: 'a method of reasoning by which a general law or principle is inferred from observed particular instances...The term is employed to cover all arguments in which the truth of the premise, or premises, while not entailing the truth of the conclusion, or conclusions, nevertheless purports to constitute good reasons for accepting it, or them... With the growth of natural science philosophers became increasingly aware that a deductive argument can only bring out what is already implicit in its premises, and hence inclined to insist that all new knowledge must come from some form of induction. (A Dictionary of Philosophy, Pan Books, 1979, pp.171-2).

I agree that those are typical statements of induction. How do you address questions like:

Which general laws, propositions, or explanations should one consider? How are they chosen or found? (And whatever method you answer, how does it differ from CR's brainstorming and conjecturing?)

When and why is one idea estimated to have a higher weight of observational evidence in favor of it than another idea? Given the situation that neither idea is contradicted by any of the evidence.

I think these issues are very important to our disagreement, and to CR's criticism of induction.

You say that 'inborn theories are not a priori'. But a priori means prior to sense experience and so anything 'inborn'must be a priori be definition.

A priori means "relating to or denoting reasoning or knowledge that proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience" (New Oxford American Dictionary)

Inborn theories, which come from genes, don't come from theoretical deduction, nor from observation. Their source is evolution. This definition offers a false dichotomy.

Another definition (OED):

"A phrase used to characterize reasoning or arguing from causes to effects, from abstract notions to their conditions or consequences, from propositions or assumed axioms (and not from experience); deductive; deductively."

that doesn't describe inborn theories from genes.

inborn theories are like the software which comes pre-installed on your computer, which you can replace with other software if you prefer.

inborn theories don't control your life, it's just that thinking needs a starting point. similar to how your life has a starting time and place, which does matter, but doesn't control your fate.

these inborn theories are nothing like analytical ideas or necessary truths. they're just regular ideas, e.g. we might have inborn ideas about the danger of snakes (the details of which ideas are inborn is largely unknown) which were created because of actual encounters with snakes before we were born. but that's still not created by observation or experience, because genes and evolution can neither observe nor experience.

Spillane wrote previously:

Here is Szasz's logic:

  • Illness affects the human body (by definition);
  • The 'mind' is not a bodily organ;
  • Therefore, the mind cannot be or become ill;
  • Therefore mental illness is a myth.
  • If 'mind' is really the brain or a brain process;
  • Then mental illnesses are brain illnesses.
  • Since brain illnesses are diagnosed by objective medical signs,
  • And mental illnesses are diagnosed by subjective moral criteria;
  • Mental illnesses are not literal illnesses
  • And mental illness is still a myth.

If this is not deductive reasoning, then what is?

I denied that this is deduction, and I pointed out that "myth" is introduced for the first time in a conclusion statement, so it doesn't follow the rules of deduction. Spillane now says:

If the example of Szasz's logic is not deductive - the truth of the conclusion is implicit in the premise - what sort of argument is it? If you remove #4, would you accept it as a deductive argument?

I think it deviates from deduction in dozens of ways, so removing #4 won't help. For example, the terms "objective", "subjective" and "literal" are introduced towards the end without using previous premises and syllogisms to establish anything about them. I also consider it incomplete in dozens of ways (as all complex arguments always are). You could try to write it as formal (deductive) logic, but I think you'd either omit most of the content or fail.

I don't think the truth of the conclusion is implicit in the premises. I think many philosophers have massively overestimated what they could translate to equivalent formal deductions. So I regard it simply as an "argument", just like most other arguments which don't fall into the categories non-Popperian philosophers are so concerned with.

And even if some arguments could be rewritten as strict deductions, people usually don't do that, and they can still learn and make progress anyway.

Rather than worrying about what category an argument falls into, CR is concerned with whether you have a criticism of it – that is, an argument for why it's false.

I don't think pointing out "that isn't deduction" is a criticism, because being non-deductive is compatible with being true. (The same comment applies to induction.)

I also don't think that pointing out an idea is incomplete is a criticism without further elaboration. What matters is if the idea can succeed at it's purpose, e.g. solve a problem, answer a question, explain an issue. An idea may do that despite being incomplete in some way because the incompleteness may be

My epistemological position should be clear from what I have said above - it is consistent with a moderate form of neo-positivism.

That Popper's fallibilism is ill-concealed skepticism has been argued at length, by many Popper scholars, e.g. Anthony O'Hear. It was even argued in the book review mentioned.

I don't care how many people argued something at what length. I only care if there are specific arguments which are correct.

Are you denying that you are fallible (capable of making mistakes)? Do you think you sometimes have 100% guarantees against error?

Or do you just deny the second part of Popper's fallibilism? His claim that, in the world today, mistakes are common even when people feel certain they're right.

If it's neither of those, then I don't know what your issue with fallibilism is.

I have already given you (in a long quote) examples of inductively-derived propositions that are 'reasonable'. Now they may not be reasonable to a deductivist, but that only shows that deductivists have a rigid definition of 'rational', 'reasonable' and 'logical'. Given that a very large number of observations of ravens has found that they are black without exception, I have no good reason to believe the next one will be yellow, even though it is possible. That the next raven may be yellow is a trivial truth since it is a tautology. Accordingly, I have a good reason to believe that the raven in the next room is black.

OK I'll address this topic after you answer my two questions about induction above.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

David Deutsch = Footnotes to Popper

David Deutsch tweeted, twice, that his epistemology work is footnotes to Popper. (I think he's exaggerating.)

Aug 1, 2016

@DavidDeutschOxf having a debate: are you Jesus to Popper's John the Baptist, or St Paul to Popper's Jesus? :)

[email protected] Neither. Footnotes to Popper.

Feb 9, 2016

@cccalum Follow-up for @DavidDeutschOxf: in your view, has there been ANY progress at all in understanding creativity needed for AGI?

@SheaBigs84 @cccalum Not since Popper. Unless you count my tiny footnotes to Popper in The Beginning of Infinity or

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Reply to Robert Spillane

I'm not trying to make ad hominem remarks. I put effort into avoiding them. It is nevertheless possible that an argument targets idea X, but CR was saying Y, not X. It's also possible that CR makes a statement in its own terminology which is misread by substituting some word meanings with those favored by a rival philosophy. I don't see anything against-the-person about bringing up these issues.

I reject Popper's three worlds. I think there's one world, the physical world. I think minds and ideas have physical existence in that one world, just like running computer software and computer data physically exist. More broadly, the laws of physics say that information exists and specify rules for it (the rules of computation); ideas are a type of information.

I've never selected philosophy ideas by nationality, and never found pragmatism appealing. Nor am I getting material from Quine. And I don't accept the blame for Feyerabend, who made his own bad choices. Here's a list of philosophers I consider especially important: Karl Popper, David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, William Godwin, Edmund Burke, Thomas Szasz, and some ancient Greeks.

All propositions are synthetic because the laws of logic and math depend on the laws of computation (including information processing) which depend on the laws of physics. Our understanding of physics involves observation, and the particular laws of physics we have are contingent. Epistemology and evolution depend on physics too, via logic and computation, and also because thinking and evolving are physical processes.

Of course I agree with you that the goal is to find truth, not power or bullying or popularity.

Stove on Paley didn't answer my questions, but gave me some indication of some of your concerns, so:

I do not accept any kind of genetic or biological determinism, nor Darwinian "survival of the fittest" morality. Men have free will and are not controlled by a mixture of "influences" like genes, memes, culture, etc. By "influences" I include claims like "that personality trait is under 60% genetic control" – in that way genes are claimed to partially influence, but not fully control, some human behavior.

I have read some of the studies in this field and their quality is terrible. I could tell you how to refute some of their twin studies, heritability claims, etc, but I'm guessing you already know it.

I think "influences" may play a significant role in two ways:

1) A man may like and agree with an "influence", and pursue it intentionally. E.g. his culture praises soldiers, and he finds the profession appealing and chooses to become a soldier. Here the "influence" is actually just an option or piece of information which the man judges.


2) "Influences" matter more when a man is irresponsible and passive. If you don't take responsibility for your life, someone or something else may partially fill the void. If you don't actively control your life, then there's room for external control. A man who chooses to play the role of a puppet, and lets "influences" control him, may partially succeed.

Regarding Miller: by your terminology, I'm also a critic of Popper.

When two philosophers cannot agree on basic definitions,

could you give definitions of knowledge and induction? for clarity, i'll be happy to call my different concepts by other words such as CR-knowledge.

You state that 'I disagree with and deny the whole approach of a priori knowledge and the analytic/synthetic dichotomy.' But Popper, as a rationalist, relies on a priori knowledge, i.e. primitive theories which are progressively modified by trial and error elimination.

Inborn theories aren't a priori, they were created by genetic evolution. (They provide a starting point but DO NOT determine people's fate.)

when I try to argue with you, and you disagree with my mode of arguing, which is widely accepted in philosophical circles, it is difficult to know how to respond to your questions.

i think this is important. I have views which disagree with what is, i agree with you, "widely accepted in philosophical circles". it is difficult to understand different frameworks than the standard one, but necessary if you want to e.g. evaluate CR.

For example, with respect to Szasz you write that he 'doesn't write deductions, formal logic and syllogisms'. True, he doesn't use symbolic logic but his life's work was based on the following logic (see Szasz Under Fire, pp.321-2 where he relies on the analytic-synthetic distinction):

"When I [Szasz] assert that (mis)behaviors are not diseases I assert an analytic truth, similar to asserting that bachelors are not married...InThe Myth of Mental Illness, I argued that mental illness does not exist not because no one has yet found such a disease, but because no one can find such a disease: the only kind of disease medical researchers can find is literal, bodily disease."

I acknowledge that I disagree with Szasz about analytic/synthetic. Unfortunately he died before we got to resolve the matter.

However, I think Szasz's main point is that no observations of "patients" could refute him. I agree. Facts about "patients" can't challenge logical arguments.

However, as I explained above, I don't think logic itself is analytic. I think observations which led to a new understanding of physics could theoretically (I don't expect it) play a role in challenging Szasz's logical arguments.

Here is Szasz's logic:

  • Illness affects the human body (by definition);
  • The 'mind' is not a bodily organ;
  • Therefore, the mind cannot be or become ill;
  • Therefore mental illness is a myth.
  • If 'mind' is really the brain or a brain process;
  • Then mental illnesses are brain illnesses.
  • Since brain illnesses are diagnosed by objective medical signs,
  • And mental illnesses are diagnosed by subjective moral criteria;
  • Mental illnesses are not literal illnesses
  • And mental illness is still a myth.

If this is not deductive reasoning, then what is?

That isn't even close to a deductive argument. For example, look how "myth" is used in a conclusion statement (begins with "therefore"), without being introduced previously. You couldn't translate this into symbolic logic and make it work. Deduction has very strict rules, which you haven't followed.

As to what is deductive reasoning: no one does complex, interesting philosophy arguments using only deduction. Deduction is fine but limited.

I do appreciate the argument you present. I think it's well done, valuable, and rational. It's just not pure deduction (nor a combination of deduction and induction).

I would normally just call it an "argument". CR doesn't have some special name for what type of reasoning it is. We could call it a CR-argument or CR-reasoning if you like. You ask what's left for reasoning besides induction and deduction, and I'd point to your example and say that's just the kind of thing I think is a typical argument. (Your argument is written to appear to resemble deduction more than is typical, so the style is a bit uncommon, but the actual way it works is typical.)

'The basic point here is to judge an idea by what it says..." Quite so. But how do you do that?

By arguments like the "mental illness" example you provided, and the socialism and price controls example I provided previously. By using arguments to criticize mistakes in ideas. etc.

You write: 'The claim [Stove's and mine] that "there are good reasons to believe inductively-derived propositions" doesn't address Popper's arguments that inductively-derived propositions don't exist.' This follows more than half a page of reasons why they do exist. And, contrary to your claim, I gave you an example of a good (i.e reasonable, practical, useful) reason to believe an inductively-derived proposition. What more can I say?

You write: 'This is typical. I had an objection to the first sentence following "Inductivists do have answer for you." It made an assumption I consider false. It then proceeds to build on that assumption rather than answer me.' That obnoxious sentence is 'Stove has argued, correctly in my view, that there are good reasons to believe inductively-derived propositions.' What is the assumption you consider false? I then proceed to provide Stove's arguments. Is not this what critical rationalists encourage us to do with their platitudes about fallibility, willingness to argue a point of view? Those arguments, whether valid or invalid, do provide reasons why one might reject Popper's authoritarian pronouncement that inductively-derived propositions don't exist. Of course, they exist, even if Popper does not grant them legitimacy.

We're talking about too many things at once. If you think this is particularly important, I could answer it. I do attempt to continue the discussion of induction below.

You write: 'But as usual with everyone, so far nothing RS has said gives even a hint of raising an anti-CR argument which I don't have a pre-existing answer for.' Well, then future argument is pointless because your 'fallibilism' is specious. If you have already decided in favour of CR, I doubt there are any critical arguments which you will consider. You appear to have developed your personal version of CR and immunised yourself against criticism, a vice which Popper in theory, if not in practice, warned against.

I'm open to changing my mind.

I have discussed these issues in the past and made judgements about some ideas. To change my mind, you'll have to say something new to me. I expect the same the other way around: if I don't have anything to say that you haven't heard before, then I won't change your mind.

I have a lot of previous familiarity with these issues. So far you haven't come near the edges of my pre-existing knowledge. You haven't said something about epistemology which is surprising or new for me (nor has Stove in what I read). Minor details differ, but not main points.

That's OK, I would expect it to take more discussion than we've done so far to get to get beyond people's already-known arguments.

It's right and proper that we each have initial (level 1) responses ready which cover many issues a critic could raise. And when he responds to one of them, we again have level 2 responses ready for many things he may say next. Very educated, experienced persons may have a dozen levels of responses that they already know. So to change their minds, one has to either say something surprising early on (that they didn't hear or think of previously, so they don't have a pre-existing answer) or else go through the levels and then argue with some of their ideas near the limits of their knowledge.

So far your comments regarding induction have been typical of other inductivists I've spoken with.

A reviewer of Popper's work was published in 1982 in The New York Review (Nov.18 (pp.67-68) and Dec.2 (pp.51-56). I could not express my reservations better than this:

'Popper's philosophy of science is profoundly ambiguous: it is, he says, "empirical", but it is left unclear why scientists should consult experience.

The reason for consulting experience is to criticize ideas which contradict experience (because we want ideas which match reality). That is not "left unclear", it's stated clearly by Popper.

It is called "fallibilism", in which we learn from our mistakes", but it is really an ill-concealed form of skepticism.

The skepticism accusation is an assertion, not an argument.

It claims to surrender the quest for certainty, but it is precisely the standards of this quest - that if one is not certain of a proposition, one can never be rationally justified in claiming it to be true - that underlie Popper's rejection of induction (and the numerous doctrines that stem from this rejection).

Popper did NOT reject induction for being fallible or imperfect, he rejected it for reasons like:

1) Any finite set of data is compatible with infinitely many generalizations, so by what method does induction select which generalizations to induce from those infinite possibilities?

2) How much support does X give Y, in general? And what difference does that make?

Induction fails to meet these challenges, and without answers to those issues induction can't be used at all. These aren't "it's imperfect" type issues, they are things that must be addressed to use induction at all for anything.

There have been some attempts to meet these challenges, but I don't think any succeeded, and Popper pointed out flaws in some of them. If you can answer the questions, or give page numbers where Stove does, I will comment.

If you wish to address (2), note that "in general" includes non-mathematical issues, e.g. the beauty of a piece of music or flower. (And if you think induction can't address those beauty issues, then I'm curious what you propose instead. Deduction? Some third thing which will, on examination, turn out to have a lot in common with CR?)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Build It and They Will Come!?

build it and they will come? not even for a loved, established category like a $100,000,000 action movie. think ppl will seek out movie releases? word of mouth? not nearly enough people do that. the movie has to spend millions of dollars on Facebook, Twitter, billboard and TV ads, and more marketing channels, to tell people the movie exists and remind them several times. people like movies but still can't be bothered to seek movies out very reliably. people expect advertisements to bring info to them and they passively wait for those ads instead of finding stuff themselves.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Don't Equivocate

From alt.philosophy.objectivism:

The empiricist approach to discerning reality is making sense of evidence that has been gleaned from the senses. Some philosophers – such as Kant – challenged this approach. They stated such things as that senses are imprecise, and that (in Kant) they only see the appearance of things – the “phenomenal” - but fail to see the things in themselves – the “noumenal.”

I want to make sense of the whole thing.

Now the senses are actually not imprecise. Incomplete yes, but imprecise no. We do not see the radio waves or the infrared radiation; we see the visible light. However the information that I get from seeing the visible light is not an erroneous one. If I see you, I am fairly certain that I am actually seeing you – both the phenomenal you and the noumenal you. I can from this make an educated guess that you are not Adolf Hitler.

Sorting out these issues requires being more careful. The word "imprecise" has a meaning when it comes to observations and measurements, which you ignore. A measurement of 1.337 inches is more precise than a measurement of 1.3 inches. Our senses are imprecise in the straightforward sense that they offer limited, not unlimited, precision. You can't look at something and see the exact, precise color or length of it.

You are trying to communicate about subtle differences between terms like "imprecise" and "incomplete", but you don't define them and you aren't using them correctly according to their standard English meanings.

After that you start equivocating with "not erroneous", "fairly certain" and "educated guess". These are standard equivocations used by almost everyone including Objectivists. But they're still a big problem.

When you say "not erroneous" do you mean it cannot be mistaken? That is, it's infallible? The standard equivocation is to be unclear on this meaning -- to say things like "X is not mistaken" like it's a fact. But then to admit, if pressed, that X could be mistaken.

This equivocation is much worse in this context because of a second ambiguity. It's possible to say that sensory data cannot be mistaken, it merely is, and the concept of error doesn't apply. If the sense data is misleading because of a defect in your eye, that's a different thing than a mistake. One can reasonably say mistakes are only made by intelligences, and that one's interpretation of sense data can be mistaken but the concept of being mistaken or not doesn't even apply to the data itself. (If one was taking that position, then one shouldn't say uses phrases like "not erroneous" to refer to error-doesn't-apply-here. But people do it anyway.)

"fairly certain" can mean things like

  • you don't want to be held accountable if your claim is wrong, so you hedged.
  • you don't know how certain you are, so you used a phrase that could mean pretty much any amount between 100% and 0%.
  • you want wiggle room to treat what you say as meaning "certain" sometimes and meaning "uncertain" at other times.

and if that weren't bad enough, the word "certain" alone is used as an equivocation. does it mean fallible knowledge? an "educated guess" as you put it? or does it mean you found the truth and it's proven beyond being doubted? people equivocate between those two meanings. and they pretend to mean something in the middle, which they can't actually define.

now let's consider "educated guess". does this mean simply "i have a guess and i think it's good?" or does it mean something more than that? is "educated" a claim to some kind of meaningful, objective status for the guess separate from your own positive opinion? it's unclear and the phrasing allows you to shift positions mid discussion.

and it fails to specify how educated the guess is. all guesses are educated more than zero and less than infinitely. so what's the idea here? it means it's educated an amount people in our culture think is good. which is really vague and unargued/unexplained.

there are lots of ways a guess can be educated. the important things are:

1) if any of the ways the guess is educated are relevant to the discussion, they can be stated. (none were stated here.)

2) is the claim to educated status meant to grant authority to one's position?

3) there is a myth that ideas have a continuum of epistemological status. Peikoff labels points on this continuum as "arbitrary", "possible", "probable", "certain". these are terrible terms which are chosen for maximizing equivocation. "probable" mixes things up with math. "certain" suggests infallibility. and the word "possible" has a meaning (that the laws of physics and logic don't contradict something) which is true of many claims in all the categories. the phrase "educated guess" may be a claim for higher status on this continuum. this continuum is one of the fundamental mistakes in epistemology and has led to endless equivocating. what difference does status on this continuum actually make? fundamentally everything comes down to critical refutation of ideas – or not. and the continuum sometimes refers to using critical arguments (for which no continuum is needed -- one always can and should act on ideas with no criticism of them), but sometimes the continuum hides the lack of any arguments.

so the fundamental equivocation is: do you have an argument that something is false? yes or no? but people don't want to face that. people want to ignore criticism and claim it's outweighed by some positive factor. they also want to ignore that they have no criticism of something, but reject it anyway by saying something else has more merit which outweighs it. (but if it's actually missing some important merit, why not just criticize that inadequacy?)

and meanwhile people are very interested in arguments that something is true. but that approach can't work because there's no way to prove something true, we always have improvable, fallible knowledge not some sort of final perfection. so what does trying to argue your idea is true mean, exactly, if you aren't arguing it's perfect? you're arguing it's the best we've got right now, it's good enough to act on, stuff like that. but how do you do that? to say it's the best idea we've got so far, you refute the rival ideas. and to say it's good enough to act on, you consider if there's any criticism of acting on it.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

25 Robert Spillane Replies

Robert Spillane (RS) is a philosopher who worked with Thomas Szasz for decades. He comments on Critical Rationalism (CR) in his books. I think he liked some parts of CR, but he disagrees with CR about induction and some other major issues. Attempting to clear up some disagreements, I sent him a summary of CR I wrote (not published yet).

Previously I criticized a David Stove book he recommended, responded to him about RSI (we agree), replied positively to his article on personality tests, explained a Popper passage RS didn't understand, and wrote some comments about Popper to him.

RS replied to my CR article with 25 points. Here are my replies:

I am reluctant to comment on your article since it is written in a 'popular' style - as you say it is a summary article. Nonetheless, since you ask.......

I think writing in a popular (clear and readable) style is good. I put effort into it.

Speaking of style, I also think heavy use of quoting is important to serious discussions. It helps with responding more precisely to what people said, rather than to the gist of it. And it helps with engaging with people rather than talking past them.

(I've omitted the first point because it was a miscommunication issue where RS didn't receive my Stove reply.)

2. Your summary article is replete with tautologies which, while true, are trivial. The first paragraph is, therefore, trivial. And from trivial tautologies one can only deduce tautologies.

I’m not trying to approach philosophy by deduction (or induction or abduction), which I consider a mistaken approach.

Here's the paragraph RS refers to:

Humans are fallible. That means we’re capable of being mistaken. This possibility of making a mistake applies to everything. There’s no way to get a guarantee that one of your ideas is true (has no mistakes). There’s no guaranteed way to limit where a mistake could be (saying this part of my idea could be mistaken but not that part) or the size a mistake could be.

This makes claims which I believe most people disagree with or don’t understand, so I disagree that it’s trivial. I think it’s an important position statement to differentiate CR’s views from other views. I wish it was widely considered trivial!

I say, "There’s no way to get a guarantee that one of your ideas is true”. I don’t see how that's a tautology. Maybe RS interprets it as being a priori deducible from word definitions? Something like that? That kind of perspective is not how I (or Popper) approach philosophy.

I wrote it as a statement about how reality actually is, not how reality logically must be. I consider it contingent on the laws of physics, not necessary or tautological. I didn’t discover it by deduction, but by critical argument (and even some scientific observations were relevant). And I disagree with and deny the whole approach of a priori knowledge and the analytic/synthetic dichotomy.

3. Why are informal arguments OK? What is an example of an informal argument? It can't be an invalid one since that would not be OK philosophically, unless one is an irrationalist.

An example of an informal argument:

Socialism is a system of price controls. These cause shortages (when price ceilings are too low), waste (when price floors are too high), and inefficient production (when the controlled prices don’t match what market prices would be). Price floors cruelly keep goods out of the hands of people who want to purchase the goods to improve their lives, while denying an income to sellers. Price ceilings prevent the people who most urgently need goods from outbidding others for those goods. This creates a system of first-come-first-serve (rather than allocating goods where they will provide the most benefit), a shadow market system of friendships and favors (to obtain the privilege of buying goods), and a black market. Socialism sacrifices the total amount wealth produced (which is maximized by market prices), and what do we get in return for a reduction in total wealth? People are harmed!

Szasz’s books are full of informal arguments of a broadly similar nature to this one. He doesn’t write deductions, formal logic, and syllogisms.

Informal arguments are invalid in the sense that they don’t conform to one of the templates for a valid deduction. I don't think that makes them false.

I don’t think it’s irrationalism to think there’s value and knowledge in that price controls argument against socialism, even though it’s not a set of syllogisms and doesn't reduce to a set of syllogisms.

The concept of formal logic means arguments which are correct based on their form, regardless of some of the specifics inserted. E.g. All X are Y. Z is X. Therefore Z is Y.

The socialism argument doesn’t work that way. It depends on the specific terms chosen. If you replace them with other terms, it wouldn’t make sense anymore. E.g. if you swapped each use of "floor" and "ceiling" then the argument would be wrong. Or if you replaced "socialism" with "capitalism" then it'd be wrong because capitalism doesn't include price controls.

The socialism argument is also informal in the sense that it’s fairly imprecise. It omits many details. This could be improved by further elaborations and discussion. It could also be improved with footnotes, e.g. to George Reisman’s book, Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics, which is where I got some of the arguments I used.

Offering finite precision, and not covering every detail, is also something I consider reasonable, not irrationalist. And I’d note Szasz did it in each of his books.

Informal arguments are OK because there’s nothing wrong with them (no criticism refuting their use in general – though some are mistaken). And because informal arguments are useful and effective for human progress (e.g. science is full of them) and for solving problems and creating knowledge.

4. I wasn't aware that there was A key to philosophy of knowledge (metaphor?). And how is 'fixing' mistakes effective if we are condemned to fallibility?

It's not a metaphor, it’s a dictionary definition. E.g. OED for key (noun): "A means of understanding something unknown, mysterious, or obscure; a solution or explanation.”

What does RS mean “condemned” to fallibility? If one puts effort into detecting and correcting errors, then one can deal with errors effectively and have a nice life and modern science. There’s nothing miserable about the ongoing need for critical consideration of ideas.

In information theory, there are methods of communicating with arbitrarily high (though not 100%) reliability over channels with a permanent situation of random errors. The mathematical theory allows dealing with error rates up to but not including 50%! In practice, error correction techniques do not reach the mathematical limits, but are still highly effective for enabling e.g. the modern world with hard disks and internet communications. (Source: Feynman Lectures On Computation, ch. 4.3, p. 107)

The situation is similar in epistemology. Error correction methods like critical discussion don't offer any 100% guarantees, nor any quantifiable guarantees, but are still effective.

5. Critical rationalists leave themselves open to the charge of frivolity if they maintain that the 'sources of ideas aren't very important'. How is scientific progress possible without some 'knowledge' of ideas from the past?

Learning about and building on old ideas is fine.

The basic point here is to judge an idea by what it says, rather than by who said it or how he came up with it.

You may learn about people from the past because you find it interesting or inspiring, or in order to use contextual information to better understand their ideas. For example, I read biographies of William Godwin, his family, and Edmund Burke, in order to better understand Godwin’s philosophy ideas (and because it’s interesting and useful information).

6. Why must we be tolerant with, say, totalitarians? Do you really believe that Hitler could be defeated through argumentation?

I think Hitler could easily have been stopped without violence if various people had better ideas early enough in the process (e.g. starting at the beginning of WWI). And similarly the key to our current struggles with violent Islam is philosophical education –- proudly standing up for the right values. The mistaken ideas of our leaders (and most citizens) is what lets evil flourish.

7. One of the most tendentious propositions in philosophy is 'There is a real world.' Popper's 'realism' is Platonic.

So what if it's "tendentious"? What's the point of saying that? Is that intended to argue some point?

Popper isn't a Platonist and his position is that there is a real, objective reality and we can know about it. I was merely stating his position. Sample quote (Objective Knowledge, ch. 2.3, p. 36):

And Reid, with whom I share adherence to realism and to common sense, thought that we had some very direct, immediate, and secure perception of external, objective reality.

Popper's view is that there is an external, objective reality, and we can know about it. However, all our observations are theory-laden – we have to think and interpret in order to figure out what exists.

8. How can an idea be a mistake if its source is irrelevant?

Its content can be mistaken. E.g. "2+3=6" is false regardless of who writes it.

RS may be thinking of a statement like, "It is noon now." Whether that's true depends on the context of the statement, such as what time it is and what language it's written in. Using context to understand the meaning/content of a statement, and then judging by the meaning/content, is totally different than judging an idea by its source (such as judging an idea to be true or probably true because an authority said it, or because the idea was created by attempting to follow the scientific method).

9. One of the many stupid things Popper said was 'All Life is Problem Solving'. Is having sexual intercourse problem-solving? Is listening to Mozart problem-solving?


RS calls it stupid because he don't understand it. He doesn't know what Popper means by the phrase "problem solving". Instead of finding out Popper's meaning, RS interpreted that phrase in his own terminology, found it didn't work, and stopped there. That's a serious methodological error.

Having sex helps people solve problems related to social status and social role, as well as problems related to the pursuit of happiness.

Listening to Mozart helps people solve the problem of enjoying their life.

The terminology issue is why I included multiple paragraphs explaining what CR means in my article. For example, I wrote, "[A problem] can be answering a question, pursuing a goal, or fixing something broken. Any kind of learning, doing, accomplishing or improving. Problems are opportunities for something to be better."

Despite this, RS still interpreted according to his own standard terminology. Understanding other perspectives, frameworks and terminology requires effort but is worthwhile.

The comment RS is replying to comes later and reads:

Solving problems always leads to a new situation where there’s new problems you can work on to make things even better. Life is an infinite journey. There’s no end point with nothing left to do or learn. As Popper titled a book, All Life is Problem Solving.

I brought up All Life is Problem Solving because part of its meaning is that we don't run out of problems.

10. 'All problems can be solved if you know how' is a tautology and has no contingent consequences.

It's not a tautology because there's an alternative view (which is actually far more popular than the CR view). The alternative is that there exist insoluble problems (they couldn't be solved no matter what knowledge you had). If you think that alternative view is wrong on a priori logical grounds, I disagree, I think it depends on the laws of physics.

11. 'Knowledge is power' entails 'power is knowledge' which is clearly false as an empirical generalisation.

"Knowledge is power" is a well known phrase associated with the Enlightenment. It has a non-literal meaning which RS isn't engaging with. See e.g. Wikipedia: Scientia potentia est.

I would be very surprised if RS is unfamiliar with this phrase. I don't know why he chose to split hairs about it instead of responding to what I meant.

12. 'If you have a correct solution, then your actions will work' is a tautology.

It's useful to point out because some people wouldn't think of it. If I omitted that sentence, some readers would be confused.

13. 'Observations play no formal role in creating ideas' is clearly false. Semmelweis based his idea about childbirth fever on observations and inductive inferences therefrom.

RS states the CR view is "clearly false". That's the fallacy of begging the question. Whether it's false is one of the things being debated.

Rather than assume CR is wrong, RS should learn or ask what CR's interpretation of that example is (and more broadly CR's take on scientific discovery). Popper explained this in his books, at length, including going through a variety of examples from the history of science, so there shouldn't be any mystery here about CR's position.

I don't think discussing this example is a good idea because it's full of historical details which distract from explaining issues like why induction is a myth and what can be done instead. If RS understood CR's position on those issues, then he could easily answer the Semmelweis example himself. It poses no particular challenge for CR.

Anyone who can't explain the Semmelweis example in CR terms is not adequately familiar with CR to reject CR. You have to know what CR would say about a scientific discovery like that before you decide CR is "clearly false".

14. 'Knowledge cannot exist outside human minds'. Of course it can if there are no human minds. I agree with Thomas Szasz who, in 'The Meaning of Mind' argued that while we are minded (mind the step) we do not have minds. 'Mind' should only be used as a verb, never as a noun. Popper's mind-body dualism is bad enough, but his pluralism is embarrassing.

I wrote "Knowledge can exist outside human minds." and this changes "can" to "cannot". RS, please use copy/paste for quotes to avoid misquotes.

I'm not a dualist.

It's fine to read my statement as "Knowledge can exist outside human brains" or outside people entirely. The point is knowledge can exist separate from an intelligent or knowing entity.

15. 'A dog's eyes contain knowledge'. I don't understand this since to know x is to know that x is true. Since truth is propositional, dogs don't have to deal with issues of truth. Lucky dogs!

CR disagrees with RS about what knowledge is, and claims e.g. that there is knowledge in books and in genes. Knowledge in genes has nothing to do with a dog knowing anything.

RS, what is your answer to Paley's problem? And what do you think genetic evolution creates?

16. Your use of 'knowledge' is somewhat eccentric if you claim that trees know that x.

I don't claim trees know anything, I claim that the genes in trees have knowledge of how to construct tree cells.

CR acknowledges its view of knowledge is non-standard, but nevertheless considers it correct and important.

17. 'Knowledge is created by evolution' is a tautology if we accept a liberal interpretation of 'created'. If we do not and we assume strict causation, it is false.

That knowledge can be created by evolution is contingent on the laws of physics, not tautological. RS does not state what the "liberal interpretation" he refers to is, nor what "strict causation" refers to, so I don't know how to answer further besides to request that he provide arguments on the matter (preferably arguments that would persuade me that RS understands evolution).

18. Ideas cannot literally replicate themselves.

This is an unargued assertion. Literally, they can. I think RS is simply concluding something is wrong because he doesn't understand it, which is a methodological error.

David Deutsch has explained this matter in The Fabric of Reality, ch. 8:

a replicator is any entity that causes certain environments to copy it.


I shall also use the term niche for the set of all possible environments which a given replicator would cause to make copies of it....

Not everything that can be copied is a replicator. A replicator causes its environment to copy it: that is, it contributes causally to its own copying. (My terminology differs slightly from that used by Dawkins. Anything that is copied, for whatever reason, he calls a replicator. What I call a replicator he would call an active replicator.) What it means in general to contribute causally to something is an issue to which I shall return, but what I mean here is that the presence and specific physical form of the replicator makes a difference to whether copying takes place or not. In other words, the replicator is copied if it is present, but if it were replaced by  almost any other object, even a rather similar one, that object would not be copied.


Genes embody knowledge about their niches.


It is the survival of knowledge, and not necessarily of the gene or any other physical object, that is the common factor between replicating and non-replicating genes. So, strictly speaking, it is a piece of knowledge rather than a physical object that is or is not adapted to a certain niche. If it is adapted, then it has the property that once it is embodied in that niche, it will tend to remain so.


But now we have come almost full circle. We can see that the ancient idea that living matter has special physical properties was almost true: it is not living matter but knowledge-bearing matter that is physically special. Within one universe it looks irregular; across universes it has a regular structure, like a crystal in the multiverse.

Add to this that ideas exist physically in brain matter, (in the same way data can be stored on computer disks), and they do cause their own replication.

Understanding evolution in a precise, modern way was Deutsch's largest contribution to CR.

I don't expect RS to understand this material from these brief quotes. It's complicated. I'm trying to give an indication that there's substance here that could be learned. If he wants to understand it, he'll have to read Deutsch's books (there's even more material about memes in The Beginning of Infinity) or ask a lot of questions. I do hope he'll stop saying this is false while he doesn't understand it.

19. You claim that CR 'works'. According to what criteria - logical? empirical? pragmatic? If it is pragmatism - or what Stove calls the American philosophy of self-indulgence' - then all philosophies, religions and superstitions 'work' (for their believers).

CR works logically, empirically, and practically. That is, there's no logical, empirical or practical refutation of its effectiveness. (I'm staying away from the word "pragmatic" on purpose. No thanks!)

What CR works to do, primarily, is create knowledge. The way I judge that CR works is by looking at the problems it claims to solve, how it claims to solves them, and critically considering whether its methods would work (meaning succeed at solving those problems).

CR offers a conception of what knowledge is and what methods create it (guesses and criticism – evolution). CR offers substantial detail on the matter. I know of no non-refuted criticism of the ability of CR's methods to create knowledge as CR defines knowledge.

There's a further issue of whether CR has the right goals. We can all agree we want "knowledge" in some sense, but is CR's conception of knowledge actually the thing we want? Not for everyone, e.g. infallibilists. But CR explains why conjectural knowledge is the right conception of knowledge to pursue, which I don't know any non-refuted criticism of. Further, there are no viable rival conceptions of knowledge that anyone knows how to pursue. Basically, all other conceptions of knowledge are either vague or wrong (e.g. infallibilist). This claim depends on a bunch of arguments – RS if you state your conception of knowledge then I'll comment on it.

20. You are right to say that '90% certain' is an oxymoron. But so is 'conjectural knowledge'.

Here RS interprets "knowledge" and perhaps also "conjectural" in his own terminology, rather than learning what CR means.

The most important part of CR's conception of knowledge is that fallible ideas can be knowledge. Conjectures are fallible.

"Conjectural knowledge" is also an anti-authoritarian concept. Popper is saying that mere guesses (even myths) can be knowledge (if they solve a problem and are subjected to critical scrutiny). An idea doesn't have to be created by an authority-granting method (e.g. deduction, induction, abduction, "the scientific method", etc) or come from an authority-granting source (e.g. a famous scientist) in order to be knowledge.

21. 'Actually, the possibility for further progress is a good thing' is a value judgement. But how can progress be a feature of CR? Was not Thomas Kuhn right to claim that Popper's position leads to rampant relativism (as Kuhn's does).

No, Popper isn't a relativist about anything. Popper wrote a ton about progress and took the position that progress is possible, objective and desirable. (E.g. "Equating rationality with the critical attitude, we look for theories which, however fallible, progress beyond their predecessors" from C&R.) And Popper thought we have objective knowledge, including about value judgements and morality. Some of Popper's comments on the matter in The World of Parmenides:

Every rational discussion, that is, every discussion devoted to the search for truth, is based on principles, which in actual fact are ethical principles.


All this shows that ethical principles form the basis of science. The most important of all such ethical principles is the principle that objective truth is the fundamental regulative idea of all rational discussion. Further ethical principles embody our commitment to the search for truth and the idea of approximation to truth; and the importance of intellectual integrity and of fallibility, which lead us to a self-critical attitude and to toleration. It is also very important that we can learn in the field of ethics.


Should this new ethics [that Popper proposes] turn out to be a better guide for human conduct than the traditional ethics of the intellectual professions ... then I may be allowed to claim that new things can be learnt even in the field of ethics.


in the field of ethics too, one can put forward suggestions which may be discussed and improved by critical discussion

In CR's view, the ability to learn in a field requires that there's objective knowledge in that field. Under relativism, you can't learn since there's no mistakes to correct and no objective truth to seek. So Popper thinks there is objective ethical knowledge.

22. Your claim that 'induction works by inducing' applies also to 'deduction works by deducing'.

The statement "deduction works by deducing" would be a bad argument for deduction or explanation of how deduction works.

Inductivists routinely state that induction works by generalizing or extrapolating from observation and think they've explained how to do induction (rather than recognizing the relation of their statement to "induction works by inducing").

23. Inductivists do have an answer for you. Stove has argued, correctly in my view, that there are good reasons to believe inductively-derived propositions. I paraphrase from my book 'An Eye for an I' (pp.183-4) for your readers who have no knowledge of my book.

'Hume's scepticism about induction - that it is illogical and hence irrational and unreasonable - is the basis for his scepticism about science. His two main propositions are: inference from experience is not deductive; it is therefore a purely irrational process. The first proposition is irrefutable. 'Some observed ravens are black, therefore all ravens are black' is an invalid argument: this is the 'fallibility of induction.' But the second proposition is untenable since it assumes that all rational inference is deductive. Since 'rational' means 'agreeable to reason', it is obvious that our use of reason often ignores deduction and emphasises the facts of experience and inferences therefrom.

Stove defends induction from Hume's scepticism by arguing that scepticism about induction is the result of the 'fallibility of induction' and the assumption that deduction is the only form of rational argument. The result is inductive scepticism, which is that no proposition about the observed is a reason to believe a contingent proposition about the unobserved. The fallibility of induction, on its own, does not produce inductive scepticism because from the fact that inductive arguments are invalid it does not follow that something we observe gives us no reason to believe something we have not yet observed. If all our experience of flames is that they burn, this does give us a reason for assuming that we will get burned if we put our hand into some as yet unobserved flame. This is not a logically deducible reason but it is still a good reason. But once the fallibility of induction is joined with the deductivist assumption that the only acceptable reasons are deductive ones, inductive scepticism does indeed follow.

Hume's scepticism about science is the result of his general inductive scepticism combined with his commitment to empiricism, which holds that any reason to believe a contingent proposition about the unobserved is a proposition about the observed. So the general proposition about empiricism needs to be joined with inductive scepticism to produce Hume's conclusion because some people believe that we can know the unobserved by non-empirical means, such as faith or revelation. As an empiricist Hume rules these means out as proper grounds for belief. So to assert the deductivist viewpoint is to assert a necessary truth, that is, something that is trivially true not because of any way the world is organised but because of nothing more than the meanings of the terms used in it. When sceptics claim that a flame found tomorrow might not be hot like those of the past, they have no genuine reason for this doubt, only a trivial necessary truth.'

What, then, is the bearing of 'all observed ravens have been black' on the theory 'all ravens are black'? Stove's answer is based on an idea of American philosopher Donald Cary Williams, which is to reduce inductive inference to the inference from proportions in a population. It is a mathematical fact that the great majority of large samples of a population are close to the population in composition. In the case of the ravens, the observations are probably a fair sample of the unobserved ravens. This applies equally in the case where the sample is of past observations and the population includes future ones. Thus, probable inferences are always relative to the available evidence.

The claim "there are good reasons to believe inductively-derived propositions" doesn't address Popper's arguments that inductively-derived propositions don't exist.

Any finite set of facts or observations is compatible with infinitely many different ideas. So which idea(s) does one induce?

Note that this argument is not about the "fallibility of induction". So Stove is mistaken when he says that's the source of skepticism of induction. (No doubt it's a source of some skepticism of induction, but not of CR's.) The claim that deduction is the only form of rational argument is also not CR's position. So Stove isn't answering CR. Yet RS said this was an inductivist answer to me.

This is typical. I had an objection to the first sentence following "Inductivists do have an answer for you." It made an assumption I consider false. It then proceeded to build on that assumption rather than answer me.

Where RS writes, "it is still a good reason", no statement of why it's a good reason or in what sense it's "good" or why being good in that sense matters is given. Avoiding some technical details, CR says approximately that it's a good reason because we don't have a criticism of it, rather than for an inductive reason. Why does no criticism matter? What's good about that? Better an idea you don't see anything wrong with than one you do see something wrong with.

Nothing in the paragraphs answers CR. They just demonstrate unfamiliarity with CR's standard arguments. Consider:

When sceptics claim that a flame found tomorrow might not be hot like those of the past, they have no genuine reason for this doubt, only a trivial necessary truth.

Many things in the future are different than the past. So one has to understand explanations of in what ways the future will resemble the past, and in what ways it won't. Induction offers no help with this project. Induction doesn't tell us in which ways the future will resemble the past and in which ways it won't (or in which ways the unobserved resembles the observed and in which ways it doesn't). But explanations (which can be improved with critical discussion) do tell us this.

For example, modern science has an explanation of what the sun is made of (mostly hydrogen and helium), its mass (4.385e30 lbs), why it burns (nuclear fusion), etc. These explanations let us understand in what respects the sun will be similar and different tomorrow, when it will burn out, what physical processes would change the date it burns out, what will happen when it burns out, and so on. Explanations simply aren't inferences from observations using some kind of inductive principle about the future probably resembling the past while ignoring the "in which respects?" question. And the sort of skeptic being argued with in the quote has nothing to do with CR.

I won't get into probability math here (we could do that in the future if desired), but I will mention that Popper already addressed that stuff. And the object of this exercise was to answer CR, but that would take something like going over Popper's arguments about probability (with quotes) and saying why they are mistaken or how to get around them.

24. You state that Popper invented critical rationalism around 1950. I would have thought it was around the mid-1930s.

Inventing CR was an ongoing process so this is approximate. But here are some of the book publication dates:

Objective Knowledge, 1972. Conjectures and Refutations, 1963. Realism and the Aim of Science, 1983 (circulated privately in 1956). The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 1934 (1959 in English). Since I don't consider LScD to be anything like the whole of CR, I chose a later date.

[25.] Your last paragraph is especially unfortunate because you accuse those philosophers who are not critical rationalists (which is most of them) of not understanding 'it enough to argue with it.' With respect Elliot, this is arrogant and ill-informed. Many philosophers understand it only too well and have written learned books on it. Some are broadly sympathetic but critical (David Miller, Anthony O'Hear) while others (Stove, James Franklin) are critical and dismissive. To acknowledge that CR 'isn't very popular, but it can win any debate' is nonsensical and carries the whiff of the 'true believer', which would seem to be self-contradictory for a critical rationalist.

It may be arrogant, but I don't think it's ill-informed. I've researched the matter and don't believe the names you list are counter-examples.

What's nonsensical about an idea which can win in debate, but which most people don't believe? Many scientific ideas have had that status at some time in their history. Ideas commonly start off misunderstood and unpopular, even if there's an advocate who provides arguments which most people later acknowledge were correct.

I think I'm right about CR. I'm fallible, but I know of no flaws or outstanding criticisms of any of my take on CR, so I (tentatively) accept it. I have debated the matter with all critics willing to discuss for a long time. I have sought out criticism from people, books, papers, etc. I've made an energetic effort to find out my mistakes. I haven't found that CR is mistaken. Instead, I've found the critics consistently misunderstand CR, do not provide relevant arguments which address my views, do not address key questions CR raises, and also have nothing to say about Deutsch's books.

I run a public philosophy discussion forum. I have visited every online philosophy discussion forum I could find which might offer relevant discussion and criticism. The results were pathetic. I also routinely contact people who have written relevant material or who just seem smart and potentially willing to discuss. For example, I contacted David Miller and invited him to discuss, but he declined.

Calling this arrogant (Because I think I know something important? Because I think many other people are mistaken?), doesn't refute my interpretation of these life experiences. RS, if you have a proposal for what I should do differently (or a different perspective I should use), I'll be happy to consider it. And if you know of any serious critics of CR who will discuss the matter, please tell me who they are.

None of RS's 25 points were difficult for me to answer. If RS knew of any refutation of CR by any author which I couldn't answer, I would have expected him to be able to pose a difficult challenge for me within 25 comments. But, as usual with everyone, so far nothing RS has said gives even a hint of raising an anti-CR argument which I don't have a pre-existing answer for.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (6)

Trillions of Chickens?

The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch:

The disappointment experienced by Russell's chicken has also been experienced by trillions of other chickens.

Is trillions accurate? How many chickens have we farmed? How do you even estimate this? My initial intuition is that it's too many.

People have estimated about 100 billion human beings have ever lived. So 3 trillion chickens would be 30 per person. Rich modern people eat more than 30 chickens in a lifetime, but most people have been much poorer. A lot of people have been farmers, but I don't know how many of them raised many chickens.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (11)