Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-12-17

Now that ethics is a doctrine of virtue (doctrina officiorum virtutis) follows from the definition of virtue given above compared with the obligation, the peculiarity of which has just been shown. There is in fact no other determination of the elective will, except that to an end, which in the very notion of it implies that I cannot even physically be forced to it by the elective will of others. Another may indeed force me to do something which is not my end (but only means to the end of another), but he cannot force me to make it my own end, and yet I can have no end except of my own making. The latter supposition would be a contradiction- an act of freedom which yet at the same time would not be free. But there is no contradiction in setting before one's self an end which is also a duty: for in this case I constrain myself, and this is quite consistent with freedom.

Exposition of the Conception of Ethics, The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics, by Immanuel Kant

Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott

Retrieved from Project Gutenberg

As so often happens when a person declares that one of two conditions must exist, reality intrudes with situations that fit into neither category. Here, Kant seems to be saying that there are two reasons that we undertake an action, either to accomplish our own end, or by threat of coercion from another to accomplish their end. but he makes no allowance for a person to be able to install an end from the their own mind into the mind of another.

An obvious counterexample to the general statement is child-rearing. One of the primary goals of parenting is to instill the appropriate ends into your children, to teach them to esteem being virtuous. Perhaps Kant will discuss this in a later section of this book. I can certainly see a possible exception being offered, that children are too unformed to have free will, and the contradiction does not exist in the absence of free will.

Nonetheless, This answer does not satisfy, because we can see the same phenomenon in adults. In kidnapping victims we refer to it as Stockholm syndrome. People change their ends to reflect those of their captors, abusers, religious leaders, etc. Any detailed discussion of free will needs to account for such occurrences.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

To C or not to C

Probably the hardest decision to make as a teacher is when to pass a student that is just on cusp of passing, but is not quite there. I just had such a student this semester, and ultimately decided not to pass them, but it was not an easy decision.

The stakes could be very high, either way. Perhaps I'm overestimating my influence, but I can see not passing them as affecting their future ability to get financial aid, discouraging them from trying again, or sending out a flag to some sponsoring agency to change their sponsorship. I almost never get to know the repercussions of these decisions.

On the other hand, I'm not completely comfortable even with some of the Cs I did hand out in this class. I'm not sure how prepared these students are for the next class. Did I just hand off trouble to the next instructor? Again, I'll probably never know the answer to this, either.

In the end, I think the homework points were a big part of this decision. We use an on-line homework system. Out of 40 possible points, the student only earned 11. Most of the sections were not even opened. I don't know if this is proper logic or not, but I'd have been much more likely to award the C for a similar score if 30 points had been earned.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-12-10

The notion of duty is in itself already the notion of a constraint of the free elective will by the law; whether this constraint be an external one or be self-constraint. The moral imperative, by its categorical (the unconditional ought) announces this constraint, which therefore does not apply to all rational beings (for there may also be holy beings), but applies to men as rational physical beings who are unholy enough to be seduced by pleasure to the transgression of the moral law, although they themselves recognize its authority; and when they do obey it, to obey it unwillingly (with resistance of their inclination); and it is in this that the constraint properly consists.* Now, as man is a free (moral) being, the notion of duty can contain only self-constraint (by the idea of the law itself), when we look to the internal determination of the will (the spring), for thus only is it possible to combine that constraint (even if it were external) with the freedom of the elective will. The notion of duty then must be an ethical one.

*Man, however, as at the same time a moral being, when he considers himself objectively, which he is qualified to do by his pure practical reason, (i.e. according to humanity in his own person), finds himself holy enough to transgress the law only unwillingly; for there is no man so depraved who in this transgression would not feel a resistance and an abhorrence of himself, so that he must put a force on himself. It is impossible to explain the phenomenon that at this parting of the ways (where the beautiful fable places Hercules between virtue and sensuality) man shows more propensity to obey inclination than the law. For, we can only explain what happens by tracing it to a cause according to physical laws; but then we should not be able to conceive the elective will as free. Now this mutually opposed self-constraint and the inevitability of it makes us recognize the incomprehensible property of freedom.

Exposition of the Conception of Ethics, The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics, by Immanuel Kant

Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott

Retrieved from Project Gutenberg

When you are trying to create a universally applied doctrine, there seems to be no defect that is both more fatal to the task and more overlooked in the pursuit than a lack of understanding regarding the parts of the world that you don't inhabit, and the people in the world. People go on long discourses about the nature of other people, in the process describing what they see in their own nature.

Here, Kant denies the existence of men "so depraved who in this transgression would not feel a resistance and an abhorrence of himself". Such men certainly do exist; they feel no abhorrence for shirking any duties that other men impose at themselves, they laugh at those of us that take on such duties. Further, even for those that do feel the call of these duties, so many people are masters at lying to themselves. They tell themself that they are serving a noble cause, and commit atrocities in its name. People are not naturally rational, they are naturally rationalizers.

Free will seems to be cast here as ability to decide between following a duty, or to put that duty aside. However, much of what is considered sin by an observer is likely the result of changing what the transgressor considers to be sinful.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-12-03

If there exists on any subject a philosophy (that is, a system of rational knowledge based on concepts), then there must also be for this philosophy a system of pure rational concepts, independent of any condition of intuition, in other words, a metaphysic. It may be asked whether metaphysical elements are required also for every practical philosophy, which is the doctrine of duties, and therefore also for Ethics, in order to be able to present it as a true science (systematically), not merely as an aggregate of separate doctrines (fragmentarily). As regards pure jurisprudence, no one will question this requirement; for it concerns only what is formal in the elective will, which has to be limited in its external relations according to laws of freedom; without regarding any end which is the matter of this will. Here, therefore, deontology is a mere scientific doctrine (doctrina scientiae).

Preface, The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics, by Immanuel Kant

Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott

Retrieved from Project Gutenberg

This is the first paragraph of the Preface of Kant's book. I would disagree that any system of pure rational concepts can be had independent of intuition, but that may be a bad translation to the word "intuition". Any formal system of purely rational concepts requires a set of beginning points, and to avoid circularity these points can not be chosen via this rational system. The only way to make such choices, in the hopes that they apply to the world, it via our intuition or via experimentation.

Also, the notion that there is scientific doctrine seems faulty. The whole point of science is to dispense with doctrine and find answers empirically. We may teach the results of previous explorations in a fashion similar to doctrine, but it is always done with a mindfulness that our knowledge is tentative and primitive; that reality continually wriggles out of our grasp.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-11-26

In the mental world, the evidence for the universality of causal laws is less complete than in the physical world. Psychology cannot boast of any triumph comparable to gravitational astronomy. Nevertheless, the evidence is not very greatly less than in the physical world. The crude and approximate causal laws from which science starts are just as easy to discover in the mental sphere as in the physical. In the world of sense, there are to begin with the correlations of sight and touch and so on, and the facts which lead us to connect various kinds of sensations with eyes, ears, nose, tongue, etc. Then there are such facts as that our body moves in answer to our volitions. Exceptions exist, but are capable of being explained as easily as the exceptions to the rule that unsupported bodies in air fall. There is, in fact, just such a degree of evidence for causal laws in psychology as will warrant the psychologist in assuming them as a matter of course, though not such a degree as will suffice to remove all doubt from the mind of a sceptical inquirer. It should be observed that causal laws in which the given term is mental and the inferred term physical, or vice versa, are at least as easy to discover as causal laws in which both terms are mental.

Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World, Lecture 8

Retrieved from Project Gutenberg

In a lecture on cause and its application to free will, Russell takes time to note that causal laws apply to the interactions between different mental phenomena, or between mental and physical phenomena. I find free will to be a very difficult concept, in that among the people who believe it exists, they are almost universally certain it does not exist in computers, and yet are unable to give any sort that qualitative difference that withstands careful scrutiny. I'm working on a post looks at a typical example of this position.

This will be the last Quote of the Week to feature Russell, at least for a while. I've downloaded some Kant and some Nietzsche, so I expect they will be featured over the next few months.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-11-19

The world is not what it is. We should put out that silly "but it's human nature!" argument to pasture. At one point, a large percentage of the U.S. population was enslaved. Not long ago, women couldn't even vote. Even more recently, over 90% of the population thought inter-racial marriage was immoral. The world changes every day, and silencing criticism by claiming that things are the only way they can be is small minded and utterly incorrect. Women feel harassed when subjected to cat calls each time they leave their house. I would feel precisely the same. And since they are the ones getting harassed, you don't get a say in how they should feel. The behavior is unacceptable and society should stand against it.

Siro, JazzFanz post

We constantly see claims of nature used to justify inequality. This race has specific traits, that gender tends to act a certain way, the other sexuality shows deviance, etc. However, one of the real truths is that primate nature is plastic, adaptable, and responds to its cultural surroundings. Since humans are primates, this includes us.

One great, real-world example are the Forest Tribe Baboons, who had a dramatic shift in culture when the largest, most aggressive apes were killed off rapidly due to unusual circumstances. All over the world, baboons were known for their use of violence within a tribe to establish order, but within a couple of generations, this tribe turned to more pacifistic and cooperative models of organization. Culture can be changed. I don't advocate killing off our perpetrators of egregious racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc., but I do advocate fighting them.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-11-12

Between philosophy and pure mathematics there is a certain affinity, in the fact that both are general and a priori. Neither of them asserts propositions which, like those of history and geography, depend upon the actual concrete facts being just what they are. We may illustrate this characteristic by means of Leibniz's conception of many possible worlds, of which only one is actual. In all the many possible worlds, philosophy and mathematics will be the same; the differences will only be in respect of those particular facts which are chronicled by the descriptive sciences. Any quality, therefore, by which our actual world is distinguished from other abstractly possible worlds, must be ignored by mathematics and philosophy alike. Mathematics and philosophy differ, however, in in their manner of treating the general properties in which all possible worlds agree; for while mathematics starting from comparatively simple propositions, seeks to build up more and more complex results by deductive synthesis, philosophy, starting from data which are common to all knowledge, seeks to purify them into the the simplest statements of abstract form that can be obtained from them by logical analysis.

Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World, Lecture 7

Retrieved from Project Gutenberg

I have areas of agreement and areas of disagreement with this post. I would put both mathematics and philosophy, as well as fields of study like constitutional law, largely in a class of knowledge referred to as formal knowledge. For me, this is knowledge derived from systems we set up, such as logic, uses propositions we assert to be true. In this sense, it is true mathematics, philosophy, or the law would be the same in any alternate world, as long as you hold the assumptions that they make to be unchangeable.

On the other hand, Russell wrote these lectures in 1914. long before the Kurt Gödel's incompleteness theorems and Paul Cohen had proved the independence of the Continuum Hypothesis in set theory. We can certainly talk about one possible world where the Continuum Hypothesis is true, and another where it is not true. In that case, we can't say mathematics will be identical in these two possible worlds. The would hold true for any branch of philosophy (or any other formal system). We will always come across unprovable statements, which may be true or false, and discuss possible worlds for each case. The assumptions of mathematics are not unchangeable, but instead, up to the decision of the mathematician.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-11-05

US deaths from ebola = 1
Annual US deaths from the flu = >3000, as high as 49,000 over the past 40 years

US ebola infections = 3 (maybe 4, only 2 transmitted in the states)
Annual US flu infections = between 5% and 20% of the population get the flu, approx 200,000 are hospitalized from it annually

% of US populations panicking over ebola = >90%
% of the US population that thinks flu shots are worthless = ?%, but apparently anyone who follows Bill Maher. Link.

% of US population that are morons....well you can do the math.

LogGrad98, JazzFanz post

I don't have anything more to add to this one.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-10-29

I'm extremely opposed to a country that can run people out of town through denying them goods/services just because the owners of the business are bigoted jagoffs. On most things I'm pretty libertarian, but in this instance the Feds and state have a legitimate interest in protecting the rights of their citizens by intervening.

Nate505, JazzFanz post


I make no promises that Nate505 endorses every, or any, word of my commentary.

Does a state owe its citizens the right to be able to conduct business? Do other citizens have the right to de facto prevent citizens from conducting their business, or even inconvenience them in the conducting their business? Some people think that owners should be allowed to act upon their bigotry when serving the public, but I disagree. Being part of a community demands a certain level of respect for every other member of that community. You don't have to approve of them, or like them, but there is a reason that we refer to the minimum effort of acknowledging them and engaging with them as members of the public as being civil. It's a foundation of our civilization. It's what we owe every member of our community.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-10-22

I do not see any reason to to suppose that the points and instants which mathematicians introduce in dealing with space and time are actual physically existing entities, but I do see reasons to suppose that the continuity of of actual space and time may be more or less analogous to the mathematical continuity. The theory of mathematical continuity is an abstract logical theory, not dependent for its validity upon any properties of actual space and time.

Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World, Lecture 5

Retrieved from Project Gutenberg

Can you tell what I have been reading lately?

Russell regularly regales against philosophers who put their metaphysics as being, and here he sets his own standard for himself; the best he does is work with something somewhat analogous. I've been talking about philosophy as constructing models for reality since the very first of this blog. We never can know if we have a perfect model of reality, only if we have one that's working for our needs.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-10-15

There is not any superfine brand of knowledge, obtainable by the philosopher, which can give us a standpoint from which to from which to criticize the whole of daily life. The most that can be done is to examine and purify our common knowledge by an internal scrutiny, assuming the canons by which it has been obtained, and applying them with more care and precision. Philosophy cannot boast of having achieved such a degree of certainty that it can have authority to condemn the facts of experience and the laws of science.

Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World, Lecture 3

Retrieved from Project Gutenberg

Russell was a logical realist, in that he believed the principals of logic were basic facts; I am closer to being a fictionalist, in that I believe they are constructed by humans, for humans, and have been used to create a useful model that is simple enough to be understood and flexible enough to handle many things. So, I would agree with this quote from Russsell even more strongly than, perhaps, he would.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Quote of the week, 2014-10-08

But if human conceit was staggered for a moment by its kinship with the ape, it soon found a way to reassert itself, and that way is the "philosophy" of evolution. A process which led from the amoeba to man appeared to the philosophers to be obviously a progress--though whether the amoeba would agree with this opinion is not known.

Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World, Lecture 1

Retrieved from Project Gutenberg

Of course, we know that evolution does not teach there is a process from amoeba to men, but rather, that amoebas and men have a common ancestry of a population of single-celled animals that we might call (for the purposes of this discussion) early eukaryotes. I don't know if Russell was aware of this inaccuracy or not; he makes this sentence in the process of describing philosophical positions, not biology, and so moves on quickly to philosophies that supposedly use evolution as a basis (of which he is not fond).

Still, I agree that the early eukaryotes may not consider either lines of their descendants to have progressed.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Quote of the week, 2014-10-01

Everyone knows that to read an author simply in order to refute him is not the way to understand him; and to read the book of Nature with a conviction that it is all an illusion is just as unlikely to lead to understanding.

Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World, Lecture 2

Retrieved from Project Gutenberg

I am far overdue to respond to some posts by TheOFloinn. I will try to keep this in mind in my responses.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Suggested Kickstarter: Augie and the Green Knight

There's another interesting children's book on Kickstarter, Augie and the Green Knight: A Children's Adventure Book.



This one is already funded. An magical adventure about a skeptical, science-minded girl in a world of fantasy. What's not to love?

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Suggested Kickstarter: The Freethinker's Book of Fables

There's 17 days left in this Kickstarter.

The Freethinker's Book of Fables

I'll be contributing.

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Knowledge, but little mastery

I've been doing a lot of reading of others, but haven't had much to say in a blog post lately. One of the things I've realized is that every blogger engages in a lot of repetition, making the same points over and over in response to new circumstances. So far, I haven't been motivated to do that. So, that's why I have not said much lately. However, I'm thinking about starting up again. I do have a point of view that I don't see expressed often, i.e., that formal knowledge (the understanding of the creation of argumentation forms and their use) is a distinct type of knowledge from either empirical knowledge (gained from experimentation and exploration in the natural world) or first principles (basic values and understandings that we hold without evidence).

While I'm still mulling that over, today's comic from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal hit another dimension of some things I've read.

One of the notions I've read is that science changed from understanding the natural, in an appreciation of Aristotle's four causes and an attempt to encourage them, to an attempt at mastery. In particular, that science has abandoned the notion of form (the proper shape of something, that the something always seeks to emulate) and purpose (the reason for something to exist, with a thing's goodness being tied up in how well exhibits/accomplishes this reason). Supposedly, this freed up science to be about mastery of the world and shaping it into want men wished it to be, as opposed to what it was supposed to be.

The problems with this view are numerous, and I have discussed some of them before. However, one I don't recall mentioning is that it diminishes the sense of wonder, awe, and helplessness we feel at our inability to master nature. We had to give up respecting made-up natures to appreciate actual nature. It was a good trade.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gaming review, 11/23

Four games this week, which wasn't bad for the day after the holiday.

We started off with 7 Wonders, no expansions.  I don't usually go the military route, but I was dealt Rhodes, so I played to my strength.  It was a five-player game, but two of the players had a total of one game of prior experience.  The five-player games seems to have a lot of resources compared to the one for four and three players.  I came in first.

Next up was Cloud 9, light filler while the other group was finishing up their game.  Again with five players, I guessed poorly, and came in fourth.

Third was the only new (to me) game of the evening,
Beowolf:  The Legend
.  You start off with a hand that has some of five types of resources, and use those resources in two different types of bidding.  There is blind bidding, where everyone bids once by laying cards face-down, and round-robin bidding, where you have to beat the previous bidder to stay in the round.  Every player gets to choose a prize after each type of bidding (sometimes the last couple of choices are actually penalties). There are also opportunities to improve your hand or score in between bidding rounds.  The group travels the board with Beowolf together, the only random aspect is the drawing of cards.  I had a nice time with it.

I ended the evening with Alien Frontiers.  We had to play a shortened game because the venue was closing, with three players.  The winner had seven points, the other two had six.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Gaming review, 10/26

Only two games this time.

I started with a 4-player game of Seasons. The person teaching it had only played 2-player games before, and said 4-player was much more chaotic. Some of the cards had the opposite impact of what I expected (making things easier instead of harder for the opponents, for example). We ran out of power cards, and had to decide on-the-spot to reshuffle the deck (a gap in the rules). There is, apparently, a more difficult level with trickier power cards. I came in second. I would try it again, but I don't think I'll be calling for it.

The second game was Dominion, a game that uses a different set of ten types of cards from a huge selection (I think there are well over 100+ card types) to go with standard sets of money and victory point cards. It plays differently every time. This time, I completely misread the card Fool's Gold. In a three-player game, I came in second (and third was right behind me), but with less than half the points of the victor. I think this was my fifth game. I just might be getting the hang of it.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gaming Reveiw, 9/29

I'm part of a monthly gaming group, and I've decided to use this blog to keep track of what I have played there.  I'll also be returning to other topics soon.  The games we played last night are below the fold.

We strted with an 8-player game of Tsuro of the Seas, which I had not played before.  I had only played the original Tsuro once, but I prefer it.  The addition of daikaiju (sea monsters) and the larger board seemed to prolong the game while reducing the strategy.  I came in fifth.

Next was Cartegena, which uses a pirate theme behind a modular board and a game based on jumping symbols.  The strategy was deeper than I thought it would be from the description, even though we were playing with hidden cards.  There are some very difficult decisions because if you jump to a lead, your opponents can use your piece to jump even further.  I took an early lead against four other players and managed to keep it.

Third was Cloud 9, a nice, light filler.  I guessed badly  on a couple of turns, and took fifth place out of five.

We finished with Zooleretto, which had an interesting combination of luck in drawing tiles and skill in trying to get the tiles you want and avoid the ones you do not want.  I mis-guessed what a couple of my opponents would do, and came in second out of four, but not a close second.

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Review of DieCon 12

Last weekend was DieCon.  It's a game convention in Collinsville, IL.  I haven't been to a convention in 25 years, so I was nervous, but really excited as well.  I had a great time, and saw many of the regulars I see from the St. Louis Board Games group at Meetup.com (I'm in the meet-up on the last Friday of the month, Metro East).  I had a great time, and plan to go back next year.  The facilities were spacious and comfortable, and everyone was pleasant.  Below the fold I will discuss all the game I played and my reaction to them.

My first session was Friday, 7pm, for Morris Cubed.  This was a three-dimensional version of Nine Men's Morris.  It was the work a a nice gentleman named Alan, who has apparently sold one set to far.  The third dimension made the game interesting, but I think it created a sort of leader effect, although perhaps no more than in the regular game.  In each game, the winner was able to create a very stable structure in two of the three dimensions, one that was difficult to attack.  We split two games.

Friday at 9 was Dominion, the only game at the convention that I had played before last weekend. This was my third time playing, and I started to understand some of the ideas behind reducing your deck. I played two five-player games, coming in second and fifth.

Saturday at 9am was Quicksilver, a game about racing airships across a terrain.  It was a basically-finished, unprinted game (the link is to the Kickstarter).  There were some important choices, but not really difficult choices, and there was a small amount of player interaction, but it was basically a racing game.  The person running the game arrived late, and I left shortly before the game ended to get to the next game on time, but was on track to finis 3rd or 4th, I think.

The following game, Puerto Rico, is one of the classic in the modern game era. I started with a corn farm under the standard rules (and so a slight advantage, it seems), and I was pleased with my game, except I made a big mistake on the final turn, and wound up not scoring points that turn. I was 5th in a 5-player game, I think, but could have been third.

After a break, at 2 pm I was scheduled to play Ninja, but the person who was scheduled to run the game never showed up.  For a short while, I played Abalone with someone who had just showed his niece how to play. It was a lot of fun, and winning certainly enhanced the experience. Then, someone else came by who happened to know Ninja, so we started that game. It's a game with one side having hidden movement while the other side is trying to catch them, and I did not really enjoy it much.

Next up at 4pm was a play test of the very raw Minimum Wage Gorilla, by Split Second Games, who also are doing Quicksilver. Minimum Wage Gorilla is a blind bidding game with a cute theme. I think the game was slightly too long, long enough that I made it a point to increase my bidding force by "hiring" more gorillas in three of the first six rounds (since only one person can hire at a time, this was a commitment of resources). It gave me a large advantage for later rounds, and I won fairly easily.

I ended the evening with the only four-hour game I selected, Le Havre. I was in a five-player game. There were an increasing number of choices as the game went on. I think I made some short-term decisions that were inferior to some 4-5 turn plans. Since with 5 players it is a 28-turn game per player, planning ahead 4-5 turns can pay off well. I came in third, though, and I had a good time doing it.

Sunday morning, 9am, I went off to Hawaii, at least in the imagination. There were only three of us. I think I was lucky on the initial turn, in that there was an option available that mean I would have as many movement points as I needed for the rest of the game. I fell behind early, but made up for it in the final scoring and eked out a one-point win.

Next on the itinerary was London, and again there were only three of us. I think I got lucky in the early going, and was able to choose a couple of high-cash options the first time I collected for my layout. Even so, I found myself doing some intense calculations trying to get my cards to come out with the proper count. I managed to pull out a win here, as well.

My final game was another gem by Alan, called Brigade.  We each started with 18 brigades, which we cold group into divisions and corps (but not armies). Grouping carried power advantages, but disadvantages in mobility. I played with a pleasant young man, Alan watching on, and again split two games. I really enjoyed this game.

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