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Two paradoxes of "falsification":

(1) When you reject an idea, theory, or proposition because it can't be falsified, you've in effect said that it's false because it can't be falsified.

(2) The statement, "Theories cannot be verified, but they can be falsified," doesn't survive the challenge, "Can you verify that the theory has been falsified?"

I'm making a bunch of what I consider good assumptions but ones that most people who use the word "falsification" don't make, the most crucial being that, no matter a theory's merits and problems, it's not under challenge until there's a competitor and that it's not wrong (or false or untrue or superseded or worthless or vacuous or whatever) until it's been replaced. Also that, when used as a reason for rejecting a theory, there's no important difference between "wrong" and the terms that I followed it with in parentheses, including "false."*

Fwiw, I've never actually read more than two paragraphs in a row by Karl Popper, the person whom the term "falsification" is most often associated with. So you shouldn't assume this post applies to Popper, though maybe it accidentally does.

[EDIT: What I wrote was a little ambiguous (see my second comment below), so I'll re-word a bit (adding the phrase "shown to be") to say: "...the most crucial being that, no matter a theory's merits and problems, it's not under challenge until there's a competitor and that it's not shown to be wrong (or false or untrue or superseded or worthless or vacuous or whatever) until it's been replaced."]


Mar. 4th, 2012 12:14 pm
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How widely used is the term "co-ed" as a noun meaning "a female student"?

I'd have thought that in the U.S., at least, the term was archaic. Almost all schools in America now have male and female students.* I've never heard the term in conversation. However, in Korea, there is a mediocre K-pop group called "Co-Ed School," one of the few idol groups to have both males and females.

I first considered asking this question a week ago, when I'd hunted down an Erik Erikson quotation I'd remembered inexactly from having read it in 1970. It had stayed in my memory for a fundamentally different reason, the phrase "compared to what?," which relates to the psychosocial explorations of mine that I entitle "Relativism: So What?," and I'll give it its own entry one of these days. But I also remembered that it contained the term "co-ed," the word surprising me when I read it, and that's the word I used in the Web search that successfully tracked down the quote. I'd originally seen the passage in the Erikson collection Identity: Youth And Crisis, and in my memory I assumed the essay was from the late 1940s, the term "co-ed" dating it in my mind. Surprisingly, I see that the essay was based on a lecture that he gave in 1960. Although some prestige schools like Yale remained male-only until the late 1960s, I've assumed the term "co-ed" had been long moot by 1960, coeducation being so overwhelmingly common. Again, I don't recall ever hearing the word in conversation, and I grew up about a half mile from a college campus.

So last Wednesday, when Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a "slut" for advocating that her college include birth control in its health package, he started off, "What does it say about the college co-ed ... who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex?"

YouTube searches )
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For a person to form a predicative judgment is for him to come to believe a sentence to be true. For a Kantian transcendental ego to come to believe a sentence to be true is for it to relate representations (Vorstellungen) to one another: two radically distinct sorts of representations, concepts on the one hand and intuitions on the other. Kant provided a framework for understanding the confusing seventeenth-century intellectual scene when he said that "Leibniz intellectualized appearances, just as Locke... sensualized all concepts of the understanding." He thereby created the standard version of "the history of modern philosophy" according to which pre-Kantian philosophy was a struggle between "rationalism," which wanted to reduce sensations to concepts, and "empiricism," which wanted the inverse reduction. Had Kant instead said that the rationalists wanted to find a way of replacing propositions about secondary qualities with propositions which somehow did the same job but were known with certainty, and that the empiricists opposed this project, the next two centuries of philosophical thought might have been very different. For if the "problem of knowledge" had been stated in terms of the relations between propositions and the degree of certainty attaching to them, rather than the terms of putative components of propositions, we might not have inherited our present notion of "the history of philosophy." According to standard neo-Kantian historiography, from the time of the Phaedo and Metaphysics Z through Abelard and Anselm, Locke and Leibniz, and right down to Quine and Strawson reflection which was distinctively philosophical has concerned the relation between universals and particulars. Without this unifying theme, we might not have been able to see a continuous problematic, discovered by the Greeks and worried at continuously down to our own day, and thus might never have had the notion of "philosophy" as something with a twenty-five-hundred-year history. Greek thought and seventeenth-century thought might have seemed as distinct both from each other and from our present concerns as, say, Hindu theology and Mayan numerology.
--Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, 1979, pp 148-149.

I'm rereading chapters 3 and 4 of Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature with the intention of trying to master them. My difficulty isn't the complexity of the ideas, since he's trying to be clear and not overcomplex, but that he assumes familiarity with various writers not all of whom I've read much of, and he'll use terms of art that I'm not all that familiar with; he also can be fast with his reasons (coming a sentence or two short, so you have to fill them in yourself) and vague and glib in presenting his own ideas, though the ideas are rarely glib themselves. So he often doesn't do right by his own complexities, doesn't come up with the detail and precision that he needs, doesn't have the fierce search for the best word that a Wittgenstein has, will futz along with tired old vocabulary that doesn't do the job. That said, he's got a broad historical and cultural view that Wittgenstein doesn't even try for. He gets Wittgenstein's challenge to philosophy - the import of Wittgenstein's complaint that language goes on holiday in philosophy is that philosophy isn't addressing the questions its vocabulary cons itself into thinking it's addressing - but Rorty goes on to ask why intelligent people thought (and maybe still think) the issues mattered, asks what assumptions they were making, what they thought was at stake. For better or worse I've not only bought into Rorty's narrative of modern philosophy - which at least to undereducated me clarifies and puts into perspective a whole lot of material - but I've also copped the questions he asks: what's at stake, what do people think is at stake, what do I think is at stake, what assumptions are they making, what assumptions am I making, what else might be at issue if we stepped aside from this issue, and so forth.

Why don't we just say that the rationalists wanted to derive secondary qualities of stuff from stuff that was known with certainty, and the empiricists opposed this project? )
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Ha! In my head I'd been composing a post in response to meserach's claiming, "any position toward the philosophy of science which fails to give a good accounting of how science achieves 'better' practical results than other ways of thinking about the universe is ultimately bankrupt," where I say that the hard sciences so far have a very limited scope that leaves out vast hunks of the the universe. Turns out, according to Dave, that sitcom The Big Bang Theory beat me to the punch (click link to find out how).

So anyway, my reply to [livejournal.com profile] meserach is that t.A.T.u. and the Veronicas are in the universe, and as of yet physics, chemistry, biology, paleontology etc. have had nothing interesting to say about them or anything like them.* So it would seem that the hard sciences' ways of thinking about that part of the universe (the t.A.T.u.-Veronica's part) have no practical results whatsoever, in fact don't exist. It could be legitimate for [livejournal.com profile] meserach to claim that, e.g., physics does a better job of talking about electrons than music critics do of talking about t.A.T.u. and the Veronicas, but I don't know what to do with that information: I don't know if there would be any benefit if we could talk about t.A.T.u. and the Veronicas with the precision etc. that physicists talk about electrons, and even if there would be a benefit, I have no clue how to achieve that precision, or even what it would be.

This isn't a criticism of the sciences at all, but it accentuates the question I've been bringing up in my last couple of posts: just what is philosophy of science (or philosophy overall) for? What's it supposed to achieve?

*Well, I'm sure that the physical acoustics people could have something to say, but it probably couldn't be extended to most of the questions or ideas I'd have about t.A.T.u. or the Veronicas. And biological research into the brain may well have something to say about the appeal of music, at some point, but again I don't see where that would have an impact on anything I'd have to say about them, though of course I won't know until it happens.
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B. Michael's response to yesterday's question includes this statement:

Professional philosophy is pretty balkanized. It's like any other professional academics: There are fifteen people on the planet who can talk intelligently about any given thing. Everyone else argues about the validity of that thing and questions whether that thing is a thing. None of it has anything to do with day-to-day life.

In the meantime, yesterday's thread continues to roll, or unroll, as the case may be.
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I asked this of B. Michael over on Tumblr, so I thought I ought to ask it of you all as well:

What do philosophers talk about these days, post-Wittgenstein and post-Kuhn? I've not kept up. (Not that I ever kept up.) Kuhn's notion of "paradigms" gets rid of the need for super-deep universal foundations for the scientific enterprise, and Wittgenstein's "family resemblances" does the same for pretty much everything. So what's left for philosophy? Not that I think philosophy departments should disband, but if I were in one I'd transform it into the Department Of Roving Troubleshooters Who Have More Fun Than Sociologists Seem To Have, or something.

EDIT: Er, perhaps I should elaborate slightly, though that could end up in a tangle, since my elaborations will need elaborations. But, e.g., if you're saying as I do that people's musical tastes tend to cluster by their social class, you then (if you're me) have to explore what you mean by social class (and keep exploring). Now, one could ask a philosopher instead, "Dear philosopher, What do I mean, or what should I mean, by 'social class'?" But it seems to me that what the philosopher says is of no more import than what anyone else says, that if s/he has something to say it isn't because s/he's a philosopher but because s/he's just another person trying to figure out in certain instances what we mean or should mean by "social class" in those and related instances. And as with "social class," so with "meaning" and "language" and so forth.
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Int: In Philosophy And The Mirror of Nature, you attacked Putnam's early philosophy. What do you think of his more recent work?

Rorty: I think our views are practically indistinguishable, but he doesn't. He thinks I'm a relativist and he isn't. And I think: if I'm a relativist, then he's one too.

Int: Why do you think Putnam sees you as a relativist?

Rorty: Beats me. I wrote an article about it, but that was as far as I got.

. . .

Int: Do you disagree with any of Davidson's views?

Rorty: I can't think of anything we really disagree about that doesn't seem to me a verbal issue, but Davidson may have a different view of the matter. Well, one thing is that he keeps saying truth is an absolutely central concept, and I can't see what makes it central or basic. I take Davidson to be saying that truth, belief, meaning, intention, rationality, cognitivity - all these notions are parts of a seamless web, and that seems to me a useful point to make, that you can't have any of these notions without all the others. It's just that he then wants to say, "And truth is in the middle." I can't see why you have to have a middle.

Int: Putnam has also criticized you for deemphasizing truth.

Rorty: Putnam keeps saying that you have to have what he calls "substantive truth." I take Davidson to be saying: there's not much pointing in saying truth is substantive. I don't think Davidson has any better idea than I do what Putnam means by that. Nonetheless, he somehow attaches a weight to the notion that I can't seem to attach to it.

--Interview with Richard Rorty in January 1995 by Joshua Knobe

It rains when you're here and it rains when you're gone )
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Over on Blue Lines Revisited, Tom throws a couple brief criticisms at most music convos about subjectivity, objectivity, and relativism, and I add some pessimistic comments of my own, including this one:

My complaint about the subjectivity/objectivity/relativism conversations, beyond most people's not knowing how to do them, is that what motivates the conversations gets sidestepped in the actual conversations themselves. The conversations arise from an uneasiness with the conventions for discussing and judging music, those conventions forcing us to make judgments but putting those judgments up for question and debate. And what the subjectivity/objectivity/relativism conversation generally avoids or botches is the question of authority: What authorizes what we say about music, and [a question that's more subterranean] who authorizes it? The subjectivity/objectivity/relativism terminology is awful because it gives us two dumb choices neither of which matches actual social practice: "subjectivity" tells us that we can say whatever we want, "objectivity" tells us that it's the facts that authorize what we say. Neither choice is correct, neither corresponds to what we actually do, which is to constantly make judgments about the music, judgments that, as I said, are up for question and debate. And the subjectivity/objectivity/relativism convo is generally a dishonest way to influence the debate by trying to persuade someone not to question judgments - either 'cause the judgments are "subjective" so our only choice is to agree to disagree or because they're "objective" hence based on facts about which we're not allowed to disagree, supposedly - so almost everything that actually goes into the judgments (including but hardly limited to where the music is being listened to, why, and who with) is avoided in the subjectivity/objectivity/relativism discussion... except when I'm part of the discussion, in which case you'll find me recommending that we eliminate the words "subjective" and "objective" from the language altogether and insisting that no one gets to use the word "relativism" without explaining what the hell he or she means by it.
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Offnotesnotes asks "can music be objectively good?" and Tom repeats the question and Daddino and I comment. Sane people tend to flee such discussion, but I don't, and this was my two cents:

Well, a problem is that the word "objective" has an air of precision about it but it's actually vague and problematic as all shit, and Marc never told us or figured out what he was asking. A connotation of "objective" is that everyone who has access to the same facts or data or sense impressions and isn't mentally deficient and is willing to do the work must come to the same conclusion, and we can't imagine that they wouldn't. Generally, the word that "objective" attaches to is "true" rather than "good," the distinction supposedly being that we can - or, once we know more about tides and winds and such, we will be able to - determine objectively whether a dike in or near New Orleans can withstand Category Four or Category Five hurricanes. Whereas whether New Orleans is worth the trouble of protecting and preserving, and what about New Orleans you want to protect and preserve, and whether dikes are the way you want to do it (rather than, say, moving the city periodically) are generally considered value judgments, which are supposedly the sort of thing that we can imagine disagreeing about, no matter how much data we collect.

Objective and subjective must die )
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[livejournal.com profile] byebyepride and [livejournal.com profile] tarigwaemir and Anonymous have comments on my Heidegger thread that still merit responses from me, but I'm going to put off responding for the time being. In my Heidegger post I was asking a question of Nietzsche and Heidegger that I've been asking of myself as well, and I've decided that the question will be clearer if I simply ask it of myself, and leave Nietzsche and Heidegger out of it for the time being.

The question is, "What is the importance of the idea of transcendence?" By "transcendence" here I don't simply mean "rising above circumstances" (e.g., "he transcended his militaristic upbringing to become one of the great humanitarians of the age") but rather the demand that - to mix metaphors - one's grounds, causes, or reasons must be absolutely transcendent. That is, one's grounds, causes, or reasons must be so independent of what they ground, cause, or justify that if the latter were to cease existing, the grounds, causes, and reasons would nonetheless remain unchanged. So, by this standard, if my theories are to be grounded in fact, the facts must in no way be dependent on the theories. Get rid of the theories and all that accompany them - including their premises, assumptions, vocabulary - and the facts remain identical to what they were before. (If the standards for transcendence aren't stated so explicitly, nonetheless the feeling is that all the strength or solidity or authority or capacity to shape comes from the grounds-causes-reasons, and none from what is being grounded or caused or justified.)

What I mean by importance )
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Am currently reading Martin Heidegger's "The Word Of Nietzsche" (it's in The Question Concerning Technology And Other Essays, no preview available through Google Books, unfortunately), at the recommendation of Philosophy David 1.* I'm only a few pages into the essay, but I have a question that I think is quite discussable whether one has read the essay or not. Heidegger, elucidating Nietzsche, writes "Metaphysics is history's open space wherein it becomes a destining that the suprasensory world, the Ideas, God, the moral law, the authority of reason, progress, the happiness of the greatest number, culture, civilization, suffer the loss of their constructive force and become void." My question would be: how important is one's belief or disbelief in "metaphysics" and "the suprasensory world" etc.? What if one had no opinion one way or another? Or one had strong opinions, but those opinions were irrelevant to most of what one actually did in one's life? What force in the world do such beliefs actually have? My impression so far is that Nietzsche, and most likely Heidegger as well, simply assume the importance of such beliefs/disbeliefs. Whereas I don't think we get to do that, to assume their importance rather than gauge their importance. (But then, being only a few pages in, I may be misinterpreting Nietzsche's and Heidegger's assumptions.)

For instance, if one doesn't believe in God, why would one assume that the idea of God necessarily has any constructive force to lose? What Heidegger means by "constructive force" is something like "determining the world from above and without." The idea of God could have social force, in the same way that belief in hell could have social force, but I don't see how it ever could possibly have "constructive force" as Heidegger seems to be using the term.

*It turns out that all philosophers at American colleges and universities are named David. This is to distinguish our philosophy departments from Australian philosophy departments.
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In my pragmatism writeup last month I deliberately buried the following paragraph for reasons that the paragraph itself makes plain.

I haven't yet mentioned philosophy, since I think that philosophy is a dead end, and pragmatism is better off liberated from philosophy. Of course the word "pragmatism" is associated with certain philosophers (Peirce, James, Dewey, Rorty, maybe Wittgenstein, some aspects of Quine). In any event, my pragmatism when applied to philosophy isn't a way of doing philosophy but just a critique of philosophy, one that attacks philosophy's sense of its own relevance. One form of attack is the sentence, paraphrased from my book, "As a philosopher I can say 'Nothing exists in isolation' and a minute later say 'I grew up in an isolated village' without contradicting myself, since the standards for isolation are different in the two sentences." And as with isolation, so it is with "autonomy," "independence," "essence," "necessity," "reality," and so forth. Which is to say that philosophy concerns itself with extremes that are rarely in effect but fools itself into thinking that in discussing these extremes it's dealing with the village - i.e., the world - as well. Note that this critique doesn't merely knock down philosophy: it also knocks down deconstructive and pragmatic attacks upon philosophy.

And I refer back to my Rorty post from last year (which I quite like and recommend you read in its entirety), a particularly relevant portion of it being:

What's going on when villagers make philosophy-like noises with their mouths? )
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Major General [livejournal.com profile] dubdobdee gave me the following five subjects/things he associates with me, instructing me to elaborate:

pragmatism! r. meltzer! red dark sweet! call-and-response! the rolling stones!

Never have been asked about pragmatism before, so I will give it its own long post, and do the other four some other day.

pragmatism )
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International Herald Tribune, July 17, 2008:

"Do not be confounded by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth," he said.

He also declared faith's central position in the moral universe, attacking the idea that there are no absolute truths.

"Relativism, by indiscriminately giving value to practically everything, has made 'experience' all-important," he said. "Yet experiences, detached from any consideration of what is good or true, can lead not to genuine freedom but to moral or intellectual confusion, to a lowering of standards, to a loss of self-respect."

The thing is, the "ism" that Benedict is decrying, "indiscriminately giving value to practically everything," doesn't exist. No one does that, and no one holds the position. Even people who say they hold it don't hold it.

This is a position that no one can hold who thinks about it for 20 seconds )
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How does it stand in light of the biblical message/worldview?

"Because it serves to direct young viewers and listeners, 'I Kissed a Girl' is more than a song kids will listen to. It actually serves as a map to life, guiding impressionable kids into accepting and practicing the values, attitudes, and behaviors that are depicted and promoted in the song. This includes a postmodern ethical relativism, and homosexuality."

"We suggest that after securing parental permission, youth workers view the video and deconstruct its message with their middle school and high school students. The exercise will not only offer opportunities to bring the light of God's Word to bear on the song's faulty messages, but will serve to teach kids how to think Biblically and Christianly about their media choices."
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Here are six ideas that I associate with "relativism." I agree with (1) through (4), disagree with (5) and (6), but I think that (5) and (6) are where all the action is. If no one associated (5) and (6) with (1) through (4), there'd be no hullabaloo. (A better way of putting this might be that people link (5) and (6) to (1) through (4) so that they can have their hullabaloo.) I'm just sketching the ideas, might give each its own post later or elaborate here in the comments.

(1) Independent is a relative term, like soft and loud or cold and hot, rather than being either/or, like an on-off switch )

(2) For any phenomenon to be meaningful there has to be a difference between its happening and its not happening )

(3) Separated from its support it is not even a lever; it may be anything, or nothing )

(4) If people make radically different assumptions they'll use crucial words differently and they'll come up with different facts, hence they can't simply look at the facts to see who is right )

(5) If you are ensconced within one culture you can't understand another one )

(6) Nothing is better than anything else )

My hypothesis is that, even among thoughtful people, "relativism" is a stand-in issue (and I'm including within "relativism" the attempts to find social implications for pragmatism or deconstruction). But I'm not wedded to that hypothesis, and I'd expect that [livejournal.com profile] ludickid, [livejournal.com profile] dubdobdee, [livejournal.com profile] byebyepride, [livejournal.com profile] piratemoggy, and [livejournal.com profile] martinskidmore would want to dispute it.
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I read an anecdote years ago - think it was from Erik Erikson, probably set in the 1940s. A young man walks into the student rec center, sits down in an armchair, rubs his chin thoughtfully, and says, "Life is strange." A pretty young coed snaps back at him, "Compared to what?"

If "relativism" were the name for a useful attitude rather than a quagmire of inarticulate concerns and projections, that would be the attitude, a way of jogging the intelligence: e.g., when I'm saying something that doesn't seem to be getting across to people, then maybe I need to be precise about what it is that my statement is trying to counter (and by doing so I'll see how to make my idea better); and if other people's words and actions seem inexplicably stupid or strange, maybe I need to ask myself what it is the people are trying to counter or forestall, rather than assuming that they're countering or forestalling what I would be countering and forestalling if I were using their words. I'll point out that this just makes self-conscious what we try to do normally. When we say or do something, we think there's a difference between saying and doing it and not saying or doing it. And when we observe other people we project behind their words and deeds a landscape of reasons and possibilities that sets their behavior off by contrast.

Relativism is the normal state of affairs )
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My guess is that someone who derides "relativism" would consider me a relativist if he knew my philosophical views. But my intuition here is to call the conversation - relativism, pro or con - a stand-in issue. That is, my relativistic views have no bearing one way or another on whether or not in a specific instance I feel that I need to learn more about someone's context, or whether I think an accepted truth needs to be reexamined or a truth that's under attack needs defending.

In my book I say, "As a relativist I can say, 'Nothing exists in isolation,' and two minutes later say, 'I grew up in an isolated village,' without contradicting myself, since the standards for isolation are different in the two sentences." My point was that the philosophical position addresses nothing of concern to the village, i.e., addresses no human concern.

But actual villagers - actual humans - do say "nothing exists in isolation" and other relativistic equivalents, even if I think the isolation the sentence addresses has nothing to do with the isolation that concerns them. They think otherwise.

What are you trying to justify, and whom are you trying to justify it TO? )
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I keep telling myself I'm going to write a series of lj posts called "Relativism: So What?" but I keep putting off beginning this. I think a major reason for my block is that, though I can lay out the "intellectual" issues surrounding "relativism," my true goal is to get at "what are people's underlying reasons for thinking there's an issue here?" or to put it better, "people wouldn't bring up the issue of 'relativism' if they didn't think they were taking care of something by doing so, so how do I get them to think and talk about what it is that they think they need to take care of?" A subsidiary question might be, "Frank Kogan thinks he's taking care of something when he tries to get people to think and talk about what they think they're trying to take care of when they raise the issue of 'relativism,' so what is it that Frank Kogan thinks he's trying to take care of when he does this?"

Anyhow, four questions:
(1) What do you mean by "relativism," when you use the word (assuming you use the word)?
(2) Does the issue of relativism matter to you? If so, why does it matter?
(3) What do you think other people mean when they use the word "relativism"?
(4) What do you think they think is at stake?

Don't let your answers by overconstrained by the questions. I want to hear your ideas before giving mine.

By the way, someone on my flist (though I'm not on his) used the term the other day, clearly believed that "relativism" was a potent force in the world.


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