My Fundamentals

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This is a page about the fundamentals of my thinking. It is inspired by John Nerst's 30 Fundamentals, which describes the problem of implicit assumptions in our discussions. Where my ideas correspond, I will give them a Nerst number.

(The enumeration section needs to be placed here, starting with Nerst's writing and, and modified and extended by comments I sent to him, appended here for convenience now.)

I really like the idea of this post, and a few weeks ago I independently started writing my own list (much more specialized):

foundations of positive political philosophy:

  • freedom is a universal abstract, of no use in philosophy or real life
    • leads to much sillyness, such as freedom to be unfree
    • we cannot be free, because freedoms conflict
  • instead we want particular useful freedoms
    • these preferences are the basis of political competition to create legal rights
  • we call these preferences for useful freedoms moral rights, and there is no unamimity in them (liberals call these conflicting conceptions of the good)
  • holdings are privately, coercively enforced freedoms
    • all holdings eliminate some freedoms of others, which is why they need enforcement
  • legal rights (including property) replaces private enforcement of holdings by social (usually state) enforcement
    • coercion creates holdings and rights
    • efficient because reduces deadweight protection costs
    • permits the weak to have holdings, more distributed effective use of talents
    • still eliminate some freedoms of others
    • we never agree with holdings or legal rights of others because they eliminate some of our possible freedoms: at best we find them less burdensome than alternatives
    • accumulation of wealth is only possible because of coercive holdings or legal rights
  • individuals are a legal fiction: human organisms exist as parts of a society
    • a preference for recognition of individuals besides the dominant individuals
    • interdependence in development, security, commerce, etc.
    • holdings and rights are societal concepts

I wrote this list with a view to erisology (great term!) of arguing with libertarians. Of course I have a great many other fundamentals, but I haven’t tried enumerating them yet.

As for the elements in your article, of course I have my quibbles and a few more serious issues. I’ll omit mentioning the ones I more or less agree with, except for what I consider really important ideas.

  1. 2 introduces the idea of validity, which I consider the basic measure of knowledge
  1. 3 "Natural-language claims instead have varying degrees of validity.” I consider this perhaps the most fundamental statement we can make. It is the major premise of science, IMHO. I do not like calling anything truth: I don’t think there is ever a reason to. Not even in mathematics: there, “truth” also implies conditional upon acceptance of premises. For example, 1+1=1 is a true statement for sets. 1 set + 1 set = 1 set (assuming + means union.) It is difficult to call anything a fact, because all language is theory laden. What we really need to do is discuss using statements with agreed upon known degrees of validity and known exceptions. When validity approaches 100%, we call it truth. (As opposed to "When validity approaches infinity, we call it truth.")
  1. 4 Validity IS quantifiable in physics. That’s why science uses significant digits, and searches for limits of applicability of theories. For example, knowing that quantum mechanics and special relativity conflict. Exceptions to validity are easily enumerated for more complex ideas, such as market failures in free-market theory. What you call maps, I call models — and all models have limits. None can be called facts. Measurements cannot even be called facts: just approximations of facts with known significance. I call them observations instead.
  1. 4 There is no "objective truth”: the best we have is intersubjectivity. The term “objective reality” (which you don’t use) also implies the possibility of objective observation, which is silly because all observation is subjective or imprecise. Objectivity is impossible, though we might be closer to objective (more precise, or eliminating bad assumptions) in some situations than others.
  1. 6 "The supposed facts that make up narratives can themselves be seen as sub-narratives, all in a fractal structure.” I use a raft metaphor myself, because the models and observations are “woven” together to build a world view that is only loosely moored to reality. When I think fractal, I think hierarchy only. Perhaps that’s my misunderstanding or a different view, but I don’t think it reflects the actual interconnectedness of our world views.
  1. 8+9 Yes! That’s key.
  1. 11 Yes, with the important disclaimer that natural variation between humans does not support certain ideas such as racism or eugenics.
  1. 14 I take an lazy, agnostic view: even if we did not have free will, it would be complex enough that we could not model it properly, and thus to our perception we would have effective free will.
  1. 16 I view this statement as making a basic philosophical mistake. There is no universal standard for unfairness, there are only individual opinions. A believes that situation B is unfair. When it comes to social choice about unfairness, you end up with all the paradoxes of elections, and can never get unanimity.
  1. 17+18 Too much just-so stories. First, I think you are putting the cart before the horse. Intra-species competition comes first. In Malthusian populations, the problems arise from intra-species competition no matter what the technology. Dunbarian-level communities are merely a social adaptation (with possible group selection) as are the larger communities with specialized occupations such as defense, agriculture and government. Except in extremely marginal habitat, people can encounter myriads of others who will compete with them, if only in other hunter-gatherer bands.
  1. 21 Yes.
  1. 23 Consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics are philosophical stories used to rhetorically persuade for one’s advantage. They are not true in any sense. People have desires that conflict, and it is cheaper to persuade others not to fight you with a story than to appease them by giving up your desire.
  1. 29 I think of ideologies as Procrustean beds. They distort observations of the world to fit their model in addition to reshaping the world to fit their model.
  1. 30 "Charity and civility in disagreement is an essential virtue…” In your opinion, as somebody who likes to leave the game when the battles commence. In a battle against propaganda, unilateral disarmament is foolish. Reciprocal charity and civility, perhaps, but only when it doesn’t disadvantage you.

A very pleasant read! We don’t disagree nearly as much as this makes it sound.

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