Suppose that a person is diligently paranoid. In other words, imagine a person who, by conventional standards, worries excessively about risks that involve low probabilities but high stakes. Imagine this person’s applying the precautionary principle in ways most people find problematically risk-averse. And imagine her actively planning for exigencies or emergencies in ways that consume emotional and material resources, thereby undercutting her capacity for ordinary enjoyment. Where most people would simply overlook these remote but apparently scary risks, the diligent paranoid expects them, planning and drilling for them, rehearsing what she would do when (not if) they come to pass. Indeed, diligent paranoids seem to feel a certain gratification when disaster occurs, since it confirms their irrational belief that life is a series of disasters. They appear to lead a problematically joyless existence, focused on mere survival rather than on a richer conception of human flourishing–the classic case of the person who lives her life by fear rather than some more wholesome motivation.Continue reading
Tag Archives: epistemology
In Which I Predict That a Certain Event Will Happen
To anyone interested in the following session of the Auburn U. Philosophical Society, Friday 6 November at 3:00pm Central (= 4:00 Eastern = 2:00 Pacific), you’re welcome to join us by Zoom. Sessions usually run from between 90 mins. to 2 hrs., with the first half devoted to presentation and the second half to Q&A&A (questions & answers & argument).
Speaker: Dr. Dilip Ninan (Tufts U.)
Title: “Assertion, Evidence, and the Future”
Abstract: “In this talk, I use a puzzle about assertion and the passage of time to explore the pragmatics, semantics, and epistemology of future discourse. The puzzle arises because there appear to be cases in which: one is in a position to assert, at an initial time T1, that a certain event E will happen; one loses no evidence between T1 and later time T2; but one is nevertheless not in a position, at T2, to assert that E happened. I examine a number of possible explanations of this phenomenon: that assertions about the past give rise to an implicature about one’s evidence that are not carried by assertions about the future; that assertions about the future are not “categorical” in the way assertions about the past are; that one can lose knowledge of a fact F when then the passage of time transforms F from a fact about one’s future into a fact about one’s past. I argue that the third of these approaches is the most promising, and attempt to develop a specific version of it in some detail.”
Attendees are being asked to register beforehand. In other words, the link below is NOT the link to the meeting. Instead, if you follow the link below, you’ll be asked for your email address. Once you submit it, the meeting link will be emailed to you. You’ll need to make sure you register before the talk.
MLK: “Believe Women,” Rape, and the Worst-Case Scenario
Yesterday, I wrote a post arguing that the supposedly woke slogan “Believe Women” has some odd implications for the recent Sanders-Warren controversy. It implies that we should believe Elizabeth Warren’s accusation that Sanders is a sexist, or at least presume his guilt until he can conclusively prove his innocence. Because I take this consequence to be a reductio, I take “Believe Women” to be an absurdity. Put charitably, the original, unqualified version of the slogan has to be modified. Put uncharitably, it has to be rejected. To split the difference, it requires a bit of both. Continue reading
“Believe Women Except When…”
So whatever happened to the “Believe Women” mantra, brought to us care of #MeToo? Yesterday’s unqualified axiom seems to have been washed away by today’s intra-progressive controversy. The reasoning here seems to be: Elizabeth Warren accused Bernie Sanders of sexism. But Bernie is more progressive than Liz. So the accusation can’t possibly be true, because if it were true, its truth would ruin the most progressive mainstream candidate’s shot at the presidency. Hence the accusation must be false, and Elizabeth Warren is a bit of a bitch for making it. From which it follows that the “Believe Women” axiom must also be false, though we’re not to say so out loud.
Gee, that was easy. Who knew that moralized axioms could so lightly be adopted, and so lightly be cast aside? Continue reading
How “We” Achieve Ignorance
Here’s a Facebook thread, featuring arch-Objectivist Robert Mayhew (Philosophy, Seton Hall University, and Board of Directors, Anthem Foundation), discussing a newly-published review in Reason Papers, by Ray Raad, of Harry Binswanger’s book, How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation. In the last of his comments, Mayhew refers to Robert Campbell’s review (sarcastically dubbed a “review”) of Binswanger’s book in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.
There it is on display–the vintage ARI-inspired intellectual slovenliness, the reflexive resort to sarcasm, the unargued dogmatism, and the all-consuming desire to poison the well for The Tribe. Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation: res ipsa loquitur.
What an asshole.
Law Enforcement, Philosophy, and the Ethics of Belief
From an article on the recent “swatting” case in Wichita, Kansas:
The law allows the police to use deadly force when an officer reasonably believes, given the information at the time he pulls the trigger, that his life or someone else’s life is in imminent danger. The Wichita officers had been told, wrongly, that they were encountering an armed hostage-taker who had already killed one person and was threatening to burn the house down.
“Nine-one-one is based on the premise of believing the caller: When you call for help, you’re going to get help,” Chief Livingston said. The prank call, he added, “only heightened the awareness of the officers and, we think, led to this deadly encounter.”
The antinomies of legalistic reason: The first paragraph tells us that the 911 caller made an accusation of criminal activity. But according to one prominent line of legal reasoning, an anonymous telephone-based accusation at best establishes reasonable suspicion of the commission of a crime–and usually requires a “totality of circumstances” test that conjoins the claims made in the call with facts observed or gathered independently of the call (see Lippmann, Criminal Procedure, pp. 107-109, 139-40, 2nd ed.). Continue reading
From a letter in today’s New York Times:
To the Editor:
Not to be overlooked in this stunning victory is the role of the investigative reporting done by The Washington Post. Despite constant excoriation by President Trump and the extremist Steve Bannon, the free and fair press exposed an alleged child molester. This played no small part in Roy Moore’s defeat.
The need to vigilantly support truth and accuracy in the media gets stronger every day.
ADAM STOLER, BRONX
Can you really expose an alleged child molester–as opposed to giving exposure to allegations of child molestation? To “expose” something is to reveal what had previously been hidden. But if someone’s status is alleged, what is said about him remains hidden. It makes no sense to say that you’ve exposed the hiddenness of what is hidden. But nonsense has now become par for the course on the subject of allegations.
I’m glad that Roy Moore was defeated. I’m not glad that we seem to have lost even a vestigial sense of the fact that an allegation is an assertion in need of proof, that people are innocent until proven guilty, and that proof is easier in the asserting than in the doing. But apparently we have, and solecisms like “exposed alleged child molester” are the result. The issue here isn’t Roy Moore per se, but the widespread loss of the skepticism required when allegations of wrongdoing are made, whether criminal or otherwise. (Incidentally, I for one wouldn’t celebrate at the thought that the only reason Moore was defeated was that he was alleged to be a child molester. Doesn’t that imply, pathetically, that had no such allegations been made, he would have won?) Continue reading
What Mary Never Did Know; or, How Kant Was Right
A well-known argument, due to Frank Jackson, goes as follows. (You can read the short version here.) The brilliant genius Mary has complete knowledge of physical reality. All the sciences, physics, chemistry, neuroscience, etc., have been completed—there is nothing more to add—so that the fundamental physical constituents and causes of all phenomena are known, together with everything that supervenes on them, and Mary has mastered all of this. But although Mary thus knows everything about the physical world there is to know, she does not know everything there is to know. For, a peculiarity about Mary is that she has lived her entire life in a black and white room and has never been permitted to view anything except in black and white. Thus, on the day when she finally leaves her room and sees, say, a red object, she will learn something she didn’t know before. She will say, “Ha! So that is what seeing red is like.” If this is correct, then, apparently, red, or the experience of seeing red, is not part of physical reality.
The “Mary” argument is just one of several ways to bring out what is really an old, classic problem with any sort of reductionistic physicalism. It is this. Continue reading
Hursthouse on the Repentant Racist: Error, Evil, and Moral Luck
Some of you may have seen this material before, but I don’t think I’ve ever posted it at PoT, so I’m exhuming it in the interest of getting some comments on it, as I’d like to work on the paper a bit this summer, and am hoping to trundle it about at conferences this fall. (Apologies if I’m breaking blind with that claim, but this is the age of the Internet.) I’m particularly interested in getting comments and/or bibliographical suggestions on some of the empirical issues implicitly raised by the paper.
David Potts recently cited Martin Seligman’s claims in Authentic Happiness to the effect that childhood experiences count for little as regards adult experience. I haven’t fully digested Seligman’s claims (and references), but I don’t think that he had childhood upbringing in mind when he wrote Authentic Happiness. At any rate, I’m interested in empirical answers to questions like the following:
- What are the longitudinal effects of a racist upbringing? How powerful are they? How amenable to control or reversal? And in what form? Naturally, the longitudinal effects of racist upbringing are a function of the effects of upbringing, so I’m interested in the more general phenomenon, as well.
- What is the role of trauma in the production of racial identity in racists? Does trauma explain the production of racial identity? If so, what is the mechanism?
- What does racism (or “racism”) look like in small children? I’ve put “racism” in scare quotes because arguably children with racist upbringings may lack the cognitive sophistication to do anything but act as though they believed in the truth of racism. But behavioral racism without cognitive understanding does not strike me as genuine racism. A child who imitates racists is not herself a racist (at least not necessarily).
Hummus Summit in Paterson (2)
Just got back from the Hummus Summit with Curtis Sliwa this afternoon in Paterson. I’m pressed for time, as usual, so no time to write it up. For now, I’ll just post a few pictures (and silly captions), and write up a post later in the week.
Hey, what a town:
Oh wait, is there a double entendre here?
Curtis Sliwa and Noam Laden in Al Basha Restaurant.
A chance meeting on Main Street outside of the restaurant:
More later. And now, back to my day job as…what am I again, an assistant professor of something somewhere?
Postscript, December 7, 2015: Here’s coverage of the event in today’s Bergen Record. For obvious reasons, only bits and pieces of a wide-ranging two hour interview made it into the article.
Postscript, December 11, 2015: Now that I have a minute, I thought I’d comment on the significance of this event, over and above the opportunity to meet a celebrity and eat lunch at his expense (not that that’s trivial).
At one level, it was an opportunity for a show of solidarity: Curtis Sliwa and I make for unlikely collaborators, but the fact is that we agree on the celebration rumors. Contrary to the blanket rejections that we heard from Paterson city officials when we were investigating the celebration rumors, we both found credible evidence of a celebration-like disturbance in Paterson on 9/11. Contrary to Donald Trump’s defenders and Islamophobes across the land, neither of us found more than that, and neither of us have found the further stories that have been bruited about as plausible. (I’ll have more to say about those “further stories” in a separate post.)
I don’t know if Sliwa would agree, but I would add that the evidence we did collect was not itself definitive, either about the occurrence of an event, or about its celebratory nature. I regard it as likely that some such event took place, but I wouldn’t insist that it did, much less spread rumors (a la Fred Siegel) that small-scale celebrations were definitely occurring throughout the area. (I’ll have more to say about Siegel’s comments on MSNBC in a separate post. For now, I’ll simply note that in a week’s time, he hasn’t acknowledged an email I sent him care of the Manhattan Institute, asking for clarification of his references to me on Joe Scarborough’s show.)
At another level, the event was an opportunity to set the record straight. Trump used Sliwa’s name to spread his, Trump’s, lies. Fred Siegel has used my name to spread his, Siegel’s, confabulations. Sliwa said that there was a small disturbance in Paterson on 9/11; Trump used that to claim vindication for his own bullshit. I said that it was likely that there was a small disturbance in front of the public library in Paterson, and said in print that it was likely that a dozen or less were involved; Siegel has used that to claim that there were “demonstrations” (“a couple of dozen people at most”). I don’t know any better way of calling out bullshitters except to keep calling them out for their bullshit. In that respect, the Hummus Summit could well have been named The Anti-Bullshit Summit, except that that name probably wouldn’t have gone well with lunch.
At a third level, the event was a demonstration of the malign power of rumor. Noam Laden, the other invitee to the Summit, described how he had bought the Paterson celebration rumor hook, line, and sinker for fourteen years, inferring that Paterson would be unsafe for Jews (he’s Jewish) given what the rumor implied about the sensibilities of those who live there. Though he lives in Jersey City (an irony of its own), he hadn’t set foot in Paterson since before 9/11 for fear of having to deal with a neighborhood full of terrorist sympathizers. The result was that he stopped eating at one of his favorite restaurants and shunned Paterson until he was convinced by Sliwa to attend the Summit there. I give Laden credit for admitting all that, and for reversing his earlier views.
Incidentally, Laden told us that his brother’s name is Ben, and that in the wake of 9/11, his brother had endured a fair bit of serious, non-joke-intending harrassment for having the name “Ben Laden.” I know I overuse the line, but this story forces me to repeat it: is there any final answer to the question, “How stupid can you get?”
Though we didn’t happen to discuss the point at the Summit, I suspect that Noam Laden’s worries about Paterson were exacerbated by the Paterson Protocols controversy of 2002, in which I also happened to play a cameo role. The story was originally broken by Daniel Pipes, receiving widespread coverage at the time not just in the mainstream press, but in Marc Levin’s 2005-2006 documentary film “Protocols of Zion.” I think the 9/11 celebration rumors are best understood in the light of this later controversy; it’s the later controversy that retrospectively gives the rumors the apparent plausibility that they seem to have. (I have yet to collect all of my Paterson writings and all of my writing on Muslim anti-Semitism in one place, but I probably should.)
A final point: Laden’s story draws attention to a quiet but pervasive phenomenon in north Jersey, namely, the quasi-segregationist attitudes that north Jersey suburbanites have vis-a-vis its cities. In other words, I don’t think Laden’s pre-Summit attitudes are atypical, and don’t think that they’re limited to fears of Arabs or Muslims.*
Sad but true: North Jersey suburbanites treat north Jersey’s cities in the way that non-Arab Israelis treat the West Bank or Gaza. As far as they’re concerned, Jersey’s cities are scary, crime-ridden “no-go zones” where civilized people fear to tread. Mention “Newark,” “Paterson,” or “Jersey City” to the average north Jersey suburbanite, and with remarkable frequency you’ll get the response, “Oh, I don’t go there.” Unsurprisingly, the suburbs are a semi-gated, exclusively zoned echo chamber of genteel racial and class-based stereotypes. (In fairness, I should probably say that a person might legitimately want to avoid driving to Jersey City given the misery involved in getting there: driving into Jersey City during rush hour is not altogether different from driving into Jerusalem from Ramallah via Qalandia Checkpoint.)
These attitudes seem to be an artifact of the 1980s and 90s, when crime rates soared, and city streets were indeed unsafe to walk. But that was decades ago. It doesn’t seem to matter that crime rates have recently fallen to record lows. The fact remains that our cities are still alien territory. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that rumors flourish about them. That’s what rumors are for: they speak the otherwise unspeakable about the irredeemably alien, and north Jersey’s urbanites are apparently as alien to its suburbanites as literal aliens might be to earthlings. The lesson here seems to be that for all of the cosmopolitan pretensions of the New York metro area, we don’t seem to get out much.
One wonders how a country is supposed to hold itself together when its citizens are so alienated by and from the people who live a couple of neighborhoods away that they instinctively shun them on the basis of the wildest rumors about them. A house divided….?
*As a Jersey City resident, Laden is not a suburbanite, so the point I’m making here is not about him. My point is that his story draws attention to the phenomenon I’m describing, not that he himself exemplifies it.