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« Esoteric Meanings | Main | Lewisian politics »

October 29, 2006

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Alex

"As Stephen Colbert says, reality has a well known liberal bias. "

I call bullshit on this claim.

I'm just reading your blog, from top to bottom, and I'm just enhancing my sense of wonder at how apparently intelligent people have no problem with both 1) complaining about the evils done by the government (you've done some complaining in your posts), evils that seems to be pretty systematic.

and 2) advocate even more governmental intervention.

Secondly, you complain about how bias in economics tends to be on the side of capitalism . How can you even say this without ever mentioning that, with the honorable exception of the recent public choice theory, recommendations from economics were mostly given from a model in which market imprefections were analysed extensively, while governmental imprefections were completely absent.

You may have wrote something about this in earlier posts, but by Bayes' Theorem I'm assuming that you're just ignoring this sort of contradiction like most people left of the center.


Aaron Boyden

I think I have alluded to this, though I don't think I have done so at length. Weakening government does not generally reduce the use of coercive methods, it merely decentralizes them. Decentralizing them often increases their use in practice. It would be nice if coercion could simply be eliminated, but wishing it away won't do that. Thus, I favor a strong government, one in a position to prevent use of coercion by rivals. I further favor making the control over that government as democratic as possible. I'm perfectly aware that there are many problems with that system, but it seems to me that the current empirical evidence shows realistic rivals to be worse. Apparently, you disagree.

Alex

"Weakening government does not generally reduce the use of coercive methods, it merely decentralizes them. "

That's quite a huge claim there.

I can completely agree that coercion comes in degrees, but to jump from this to the claim that in a more market-oriented environment corporations (who after all can only offer you a product or a job, they can not force you to take them) coerce people in stronger ways than the government who can back their "offer" with guns is far-fetched.

Democracy helps a little with the functioning of governments, but I think it is an illusion to claim that the selection mechanisms in democracy -- an uninformed public, which has an extremely weak incentive to make correct choices (see the public choice theory I mentioned) and in addition has to vote "in bundles" on issues -- is more efficient from a utilitarian perspective than the market selection mechanism, where the corporationists "coercers" are fighting against each other, where the uninformed consumer at least bears the consequences of his actions almost entirely himself and thus has a strong incentive to make correct choices, and besides is _able_ to choose between different and diverse courses of action.

So yes, I disagree with you.

Anyway, I just want to say that despite disliking your politics I enjoy your blog. I am currently interested in epistemology because I want to explore an idea I have, namely that because the social sciences and physics have so different domains, the scientific methodology that was geared toward answering methodological issues in physics may in many cases be inadequate as a methodology for social sciences, more specifically, perhaps a more analytical approach to social sciences would be better than making (dubious and hard to justify methodologically) inferences from silly little regressions on a few variables -- social and economic life depends crucially on thousands upon thousands of variables, and in many cases such variables can not really be made to go away with vague references to the laws of large numbers or central limit theory. (The conditions needed for such laws to hold often do not hold in the social world, which is formed of thinking people, not of randomly moving particles)


Perhaps you can point me towards works that analyze the difference between the social and physical scientific domains, with a view towards establishing a methodology that is better fit for social sciences?

Bob Bernstein

Is it time for some sort of 'humanistic' rehabilitation of Carnap? Rummaging the other day in my old copy of the collection _Logical Positivism_ (edited by Ayer), I was surprised by the sensitivity and compassion expressed by Carnap in the last section, "Metaphysics As Expression Of An Attitude Toward Life," of his essay "The Elimination of Metaphysics." Here's Carnap:

"...we find that metaphysics also arises from the need to give expression to a man's attitude in life, his emotional and volitional reaction to the environment, to society, to the tasks to which he devotes himself, to the misfortunes that befall him. This attitude manifests itself, unconsciously as a rule, in everything a man does or says. It also impresses itself on his facial features, perhaps even on the character of his gait. Many people, now, feel a desire to create over and above these manifestations a special expression of their attitude, through which it might become visible in a more succinct and penetrating way." p. 79

***

You ask what Carnap would say about Heidegger, but he gives a high grade to Nietzsche, calling him -- in effect -- the only sane metaphysician he knows, sane because Nietzsche sidestepped the delusional thinking that is every metaphysician's vocational illness:

"Our conjecture that metaphysics is a substitute, albeit an inadequate one, for art, seems to be further confirmed by the fact that the metaphysician who perhaps had artistic talent to the highest degree, viz. Nietzsche, almost entirely avoided the error of that confusion. A large part of his work has predominantly empirical content. We find there, for instance, historical analyses of specific artistic phenomena, or an historical-psychological analysis of morals. In the work, however, in which he expresses most strongly that which others express through metaphysics or ethics, in Thus Spake Zarathustra, he does not choose the misleading theoretical form, but openly the form of art, of poetry." (p. 80.)

What a stunning grasp of the brilliant philologist to find in the work of a presumably dry and cranky logician, who evidently also had an ear for Mozart and Beethoven.

***

As to Carnap's relative silence on politics, I don't see that voicing socialist views would have necessarily harmed his standing. Such views were part and parcel of the intellectual stream in Europe before the war. I'm thinking of Adorno and Marcuse and the psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel. I wonder if, like Nietzsche perhaps, Carnap felt that dwelling overmuch on political themes was unseemly for a serious thinker?

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