Thursday, April 24, 2014

The God quantifier

Hypothesis: There is no fundamental quantifier that includes within its domain both God and something other than God. (Obviously, this is inspired by Jon Jacobs' work on apophaticism.)

The hypothesis is compatible with saying in ordinary English that both God and human beings exist, and that nothing (not even God) is a unicorn. But if we speak Ontologese, a language where all our quantifiers are fundamental, we will need to modify these locutions. Perhaps we will have a fundamental divine existential quantifier D and a fundamental creaturely quantifier ∃, and if in Ontologese we want to give the truth conditions for the ordinary English "Nothing is a unicorn", we may say something like:

  • ~Dx(Unicorn(x)) & ~∃x(Unicorn(x)).
And if we want to give truth conditions for "Something is alive", we may say something like:
  • Dx(Alive(x)) or ∃x(Alive(x)).
(Assuming that Alive(x) is a predicate of Ontologese.)

Of course, it could be that Ontologese doesn't just have a single quantifier for creatures. It might, for instance, have "metaphysically Aristotelian quantification": a quantifier ∃ over (created) substances and a subscripted quantifier ∃x over the accidents of the substance x. In that case, "Nothing is a unicorn" will have truth conditions:

  • ~Dx(Unicorn(x)) & ~∃x(Unicorn(x)) & ~∃xxy(Unicorn(y)).
(It might seem excessive to say that no accident is a unicorn, but better be safe than sorry.) Likewise, "Something is alive" has the truth conditions:
  • Dx(Alive(x)) or ∃x(Alive(x)) or ∃xxy(Alive(x)).

Now, it may seem wacky to think of a quantifier D that quantifies only over God. But it shouldn't seem so wacky if we recall that Montague-inspired linguistic classifies names as quantifiers (they correspond to functors that lower the arity of a predicate, after all).

Now this leads to an interesting question. Speaking in the ontology room, where we insist that our language cut at the joints, should we say "God exists"? That's a choice. We could adapt the English "exists" when used in the ontology room to go with the fundamental quantifier D or the fundamental quantifier ∃.

We might want to, this being the ontology room after all, make the decision that we will adapt words to the most fundamental meanings we can. But in some sense surely the divine quantifier D is more fundamental than the creaturely quantifier ∃, so in the ontology room we could say: "Only God exists." It is said that Jesus said to St Catherine of Siena: "I am he who is, and you are she who is not." Maybe St Catherine's mystical theology room wasn't that different from the ontology room.

Or we might want to keep as many of the ordinary existence claims unchanged, and so say "Photons exists". Then we might want to say something like "God does not exist but divinely-exists."

But since the ontology room isn't the ordinary context, this is really a matter of decision. My own preference would be to say "Only God exists" in the maximally fundamental ontology room, but to spend a lot of time in less fundamental ontology rooms, ones in which one can say "God exists" and "Photons exist" but not "Holes exist" or "Tables exist."

Brainlink on sale

I got an email earlier this week from Surplus Shed about the Brainlink being on sale for $20, in the aftermath of its discontinuation. It looks like a really cool device. It can hook up via Bluetooth to a computer or an Android phone on one end, and to many things on the other end: it has two PWM motor controllers, some DAC I/O, some analogue I/O (low resolution but the firmware is user-upgreadeable), a proximity sensor, accelerometers, and IR transmitter. The last of these is supposed to make it capable of controlling Roombas, TVs, DVD players and toy robots (I plan to try it with some of our IR helicopters, though the range of the IR on the Brainlink is supposed to be short, and maybe with our Pleo if we can make its battery pack work), and you can control it with Java code (there is an SDK). It's all beautifully open and well-documented. Very sad it's discontinued, but the original price was way more than a Raspberry Pi, so it's not surprising it didn't fly. For $20 it's a steal. The official website for the product is here. My eldest daughter and I are really looking forward to it! (Of course we may end up disappointed.) Techie readers may want to check it out.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Merely justifying reasons

A lot of philosophers think that there are "merely justifying reasons", reasons that do not require action but can justify it. The defining feature of a merely justifying reason is that if one has a merely justifying reason to A, one can rationally refrain from Aing without needing any reason to do so. On the other hand, if one has a requiring reason to even a pro tanto one, to rationally refrain from Aing one needs a contrary reason.

I will argue against this based mainly on five plausible theses:

  1. One only acts rationally when one acts for reasons.
  2. When one has to do what one does not have rationally compelling reason to do, one is in bondage.
  3. One does not come to act in bondage simply because by not having reasons to act otherwise.
  4. Rationally compelling reasons are not merely justifying reasons.
  5. The status of a reason R as merely justifying does not depend on what other options are rationally available.

For my view of action, (1) is rock bottom. Claims (2) and (3) concern a concept of "bondage" that I don't have a very good characterization of. It is the opposite of the kind of freedom that Augustine and Leibniz talk about (Leibniz defines freedom as doing the best thing for the best reasons). Brainwashing produces bondage. There is bondage whenever a reason's action-causing force significantly exceeds its rational force. On the other hand, being compelled by one's virtue to do the right thing is not a case of bondage, even though a libertarian might worry that it's not a case of freedom (or only derivatively a case of freedom). Bondage is not necessarily opposed to responsibility. For our own freely chosen vicious activities can cause us to be in bondage. A compatibilist may think lack of bondage is necessary and sufficient for freedom. The libertarian is apt to think that it's necessary but not sufficient. Claim (4) seems very plausible. Now, maybe (5) can be disputed. One might think that whether a reason to A is merely justifying will depend on what reasons one has for other options. But that seems mistaken: the reason to A may become more or less opposed by the presence or absence of other options, but that shouldn't affect the status of the reason.

Now, imagine that I am the sort of being that can only act rationally (probably the notion I have in mind is something like minimal rationality). This surely does not make me be in bondage. Suppose that I rationally and freely choose to A for a reason R over some option B for which I have some other reason S. And consider a similar world W where I do not in fact have any reason to choose otherwise than to A. In that world, S doesn't support my choosing B. For instance, maybe in this world I choose to watch a movie for fun (and "for fun" seems to be a paradigm case of a merely justifying reason, if there are merely justifying reasons) over going to bed early to rest up more. But in W, going to bed early is known by me not to be restful. By (3), I don't come to be in bondage just by losing reasons, so in W my choice to A is still a choice not made in bondage. But in W, I have only one choice available supported by reasons, namely to A, and hence only one rational choice by (1). So if I can only act rationally, I have only one possibility available: to A. Since I am not in bondage, by (2) it follows that my reason R to A is rationally compelling. But a rationally compelling reason is not merely justifying, by (4). So, my reason R to A is not merely justifying in W. Hence, it is not merely justifying in the actual world. Thus, one does not rationally choose to A on the basis of a merely justifying reason.

Monday, April 21, 2014

From relationalism about times to infinitesimal lengths of time

Assume that simultaneity is a reflexive and symmetric relation between events. I will, however, not think of it as transitive. This lets me say that an event that goes from 2 pm to 3 pm is simultaneous with one that goes from 2:30 pm to 3:30 pm. (This is important if there is to be any hope of the thesis that all causation is simultaneous being true.)

Can one construct times out of the simultaneity relation between events? Well, a natural attempt is to say that any maximal set T of pairwise simultaneous events is a time (we can use the Axiom of Choice to show that every event is contained in such a maximal set), and an event E happens at a time T if and only if E is a member of T.

This account, however, has a curious consequence. Consider some event En that starts right after noon, and ends right at noon plus 1/n hours. Thus, En takes place on the time interval (12,12+1/n] (non-inclusive at 12, inclusive at 12+1/n). Let T be any maximal set of pairwise simultaneous events that contains the En. (By the Axiom of Choice, T exists.) By the above account of times, T is a time, and all the events En occur at T. But when is T? It's not noon: none of the events En occur at noon. But for any positive real number u, most of the events En occur before 12+u, so T is not 12+u.

In other words, T is a time between 12 and 12+u for every positive real u>0. It is, thus, a time that is infinitesimally after noon. Thus, curiously, the natural construction of times out of the simultaneity relation very naturally leads to times that are infinitesimally close together, as long as there are events like En.

This is quite interesting, because it suggests that a hyperreal timeline may not be such an outlandish hypothesis (Rosinger has also suggested this hypothesis in a number of preprints, e.g., this one). It is a hypothesis that one is led to quite naturally from a relationalist picture, a hypothesis that given such a picture and such an account of times might very well be true.

Of course, the above depended on one particular way to construct times out of simultaneity. And it depended on a simultaneity, a somewhat fishy relation. But still, it's suggestive.

I think there is a way of seeing the above remarks as a reductio of the relationalist program. That's how I saw the observation when I started writing this post. And maybe that's right, but it's not clear to me that that's right.

Spiritual experiences

The naturalist has to say that spiritual experiences are illusory. It is bad enough that the naturalist has to say this about such a large class of human experiences. But these experiences are central among the experiences that give life its savor, they are among the deepest and most significant of human experiences. Indeed, all of the deepest and most significant of human experiences include an aspect of the spiritual: the person I have encountered is seen clothed in a a significance that organic chemistry could never have, the vista stretching out before one in the night sky bespeaks a mystery beyond the merely puzzle, and so on. The naturalist has to say of the deepest and most significant of human experiences that they are illusions. And that is surely a problem.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Reference magnetism and anti-reductionism

According to reference magnetism, the meanings of our terms are constituted by requiring the optimization of desiderata that include the naturalness of referents (or, more generally, by making the joints in language correspond to joints in the world, as much as possible) and something like charity (making as many real-world uses as possible be correct).

Suppose we measure naturalness by the complexity of expression in fundamental terms—terms that correspond to perfectly natural things. (In particular, we can't talk of what cannot be expressed in fundamental terms, since reference magnetism would presumably not permit reference to what is infinitely unnatural.) Consider the reductionist thesis that the vocabulary of microphysics is the only fundamental vocabulary about the natural world. If this thesis is true, then our ordinary terms like "conscious" or "intention" or "wrong" are going to be cashed out in terms of extremely complex sentences, often of a functional sort. But I suspect that once these expressions are sufficiently complex, then there will be many non-equivalent variants of them that will fit our actual uses about as well and are about as complex. Consequently, we should expect that the meaning of terms terms like "conscious", "intention" and "wrong" to be highly underdetermined.

If we have reason to resist this underdetermination, we need to embrace an anti-reductionism on which the terms of microphysics are not the only fundamental ones, or else have another measure of naturalness.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Another argument for universal love

A part of the phenomenology of healthy full-blown love is that one sees that the beloved is such that one would have been remiss not to have recognized her lovability by loving her. The phenomology of healthy full-blown love is not misleading. But it is possible to have a healthy full-blown love for any person. So one should love everyone. For consider some person, say Sam. If one did have the healthy full-blown love for Sam, one would have correctly seen that one would be remiss in not loving Sam. But whether one would be remiss in not loving Sam doesn't depend on whether one in fact loves Sam. So, it is true that one would be remiss in not loving Sam.

In my previous post, I started the argument by noting that if you have full-blown love, you should continue loving, and yet I concluded that the conditional can be dropped—you should love (and continue loving) everyone. But why is it that the conditional had a special plausibility? I think it's because of the above phenomology of love. It's not that only the people you love are such that you should love them. But it's that by loving them that you best come to see that you should love them. Healthy love isn't blind: it sees our neighbor as she really is.

An argument for universal love

If you have full-blown love (not just be slightly fond of, but really love) someone, you should continue to love her. It is a serious moral defect to be open to discontinuing one's full-blown love. This can be discerned from the phenomenology of full-blown love.

But a failure to continue loving someone shouldn't get one out of the obligation to love her. It would be "too convenient" if simply by doing the wrong of ceasing to love one were to get out of the obligation to love our beloved.[note 1] So our principle that if you have a full-blown love then you should continue to love can be strengthened:

  1. If you had a full-blown love for someone, you should love her.

But why is (1) true? I propose that the best explanation for (1) is:

  1. You should love everyone you can love.

The best alternate explanation of (1) is that love is relevantly like a promise: by acquiring full-blown love for someone one commits to an obligation to love. But this view is not plausible. Think of the way that children come to deeply love their siblings. This love can grow on them early, before they have the kind of moral responsibility that would make them fit subjects for undertaking lifelong commitments.

Now, we could stick with (2) as the conclusion. But everyone is in principle lovable. But perhaps not lovable by me? But an inability to love someone who is in principle lovable is a moral defect in me, though perhaps not one that I am culpable for. And moral defects shouldn't get one out of moral obligations. So:

  1. You should love everyone.

And that completes the argument. Definitely not a knockdown argument, but still something that should give some credence to the conclusion.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Popper functions, uniform distributions and infinite sequences of heads

Paper forthcoming in the Journal of Philosophical Logic, now posted. I argue that Popper functions don't solve the problems of uniform probabilities in infinite spaces. Yet another in a series of highly technical papers.

Regular probability comparisons imply the Banach-Tarski Paradox

Paper posted here (forthcoming in Synthese). Among goodies in the paper is a proof that the order extension principle (even in a weak form) implies the Banach-Tarski paradox, and a new argument against commensurability in decision theory. This is a very technical paper, so reader beware.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A curious thing about infinite sequences of coin tosses

Suppose that at locations ...,−3,−2,−1,0,1,2,3,... (in time or one spatial dimension) a relevantly similar independent fair coin is tossed. Let Ln be the event that we have heads at all locations kn. Let Rn be the event that we have heads at all locations kn. Let AB mean that event B is at least as likely as A, and suppose all our events Ln and Rn are comparable (i.e., AB or BA whenever A and B are among the events Ln and Rn). Write A<B when AB but not BA. Assume ≤ is transitive and reflexive. Then, intuitively, we also have:

  1. Ln+1<Ln
  2. Rn<Rn+1.
After all, Ln+1 and Rn require one more heads result than Ln and Rn+1, respectively.

Now here is a surprising consequence of the above assumptions. Say that n is a switch-over point provided that LnRn but Ln+1<Rn+1. When there is a switch-over point, it's unique (since for mn, we will have LmLnRnRm, and for m>n, we will have LmLn+1<Rn+1Rm). Then:

  1. Under the above assumptions, either (a) there is a switch-over point, or (b) Ln<Rm for all n and m, or (c) Rn<Lm for all n and m.
But each of these options is really rather absurd. Option (a) says that the probability distribution of our sequence of relevantly similar independent fair coins has a distinguished switch-over point. Option (b) implies that infinite sequences of heads stretching leftward (if we're talking about a spatial arrangement; backward, if temporal) are always less likely than infinite sequences of heads stretching rightward (forward, if temporal). And option (c) is just as absurd as (b). And of course in each of the three cases we have a violation of very plausible symmetry conditions on the story: in case (a), we have a violation of symmetry under shifts, and cases (b) and (c) we have a violation of symmetry under flips.

So something is wrong with the assumptions. Classical probability theory says that what's wrong are (1) and (2): in fact, all of the Ln and Rn events are equally likely, i.e., have probability 0. This seems a very plausible diagnosis to me.

Why does (3) hold? Well, suppose that (b) and (c) do not hold. Thus, Ln<Rm for some n and m. If mn, then we LmLn<Rm, and if m<n, then we have Ln<Rm<Rn. In either case, there is an b such that Lb<Rb. By the same reasoning, by the falsity of (c), there is an a such that La>Ra. As n moves from a to b, then, Ln decreases while Rn increases, and we start with Ln bigger than Rn at n=a and end with Ln smaller than Rn at n=b. This guarantees the existence of a switch-over point.

This result is basically a generalization of an observation about Popper functions for such infinite sequences in a forthcoming paper of mine.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Theism and scientific non-realism

One of the major arguments for scientific realism is that the best explanation for why our best scientific theories are predictively successful is that they are literally true or at least literally approximately true. After all, wouldn't it be incredible if things behaved observationally as if the theories were true, but the theories weren't true?

While this is a pretty good argument, it's worth noting that theists have an alternate explanation: In order that intelligent beings be able to make successful predictions of a sort that lets them exhibit appropriate stewardship over the world, God makes the world exhibit patterns of the sort that human science is capable of finding, patterns that can be subsumed under theories that are sufficiently simple for us to find. And one sort of pattern is of the as-if sort: things behave as if there were photons, which lets us organize the behavior of macroscopic things into patterns by supposing (in a way that need not carry ontological commitment) photons.

That said, there is a value to science over and beyond its helping us exercise stewardship over the world—understanding of the world is valuable for its own sake—so even given theism, a scientifically realist theistic explanation seems better than a scientifically non-realist one.

But even if realism is in general the right policy, maybe theism could provide a tenable Plan B if there turn out to be cases where scientific realism is not tenable. For instance, one might think (incorrectly, I suspect) that there is no metaphysically tenable and scientifically plausible version of quantum mechanics. Then, one might retreat to a theistic explanation of why the world behaves as if the metaphysically untenable theory were true. Or one might think (because of Zeno's paradoxes, say) that it is impossible for spacetime to be adequately modeled by a manifold of the sort that mathematics studies (one locally homeomorphic to a power of the real number line). But why do things behave as if spacetime were such a manifold? Maybe God made them behave so because this lets us organize the world in convenient ways.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

If casual sex is permissible, so is polygamy

If casual sex is permissible, so is premarital sex. Now, on a view on which premarital sex is permissible, marriage is a complex normative institution that removes the right to have sex with others and confers on the spouses various duties—such as of loving, cherishing, honoring and caring for—to the other, as well as makes for at least a ceteris paribus commitment that the couple will strive to have a sexual relationship. (If premarital sex is impermissible, then marriage has one more normative component: it confers a permission for sex.)

But there need not be anything morally wrong with x's promising y that she will not have sex with anyone other than y and z. Promises of loving, cherishing, honoring and caring for another are a great thing when taken really seriously, and are simply a higher and deeper form of the commitment that we all have anyway to our friends, and there seems nothing wrong with making such promises to multiple people, as long as there are implicit or explicit rules on how apparent conflicts of love and care are to be resolved (a problem that is already anyway present in the case of a monogamous marriage, since it can come up with respect to duties to spouse and to children, since these can be in tension). The only component possibly problematic in the normative complex is the ceteris paribus commitment to a sexual relationship with multiple people. But it is hard to see what is wrong with that if casual sex is permissible. If it would be permissible for Jane to have sex with Sid and Roman on alternate days, why would it not be permissible for her to make a ceteris paribus promise to do so? This is particularly unproblematic if one thinks of marriage as permissibly dissoluble, as most people who think casual sex is permissible do.

So it seems that if casual sex is permissible, then the normative complex of commitments that constitutes marriage can be permissibly modified to a plural form. One may ask whether the modified version would still count as a marriage. If not, then polygamy is misnamed: it's not a plural marriage (poly-gamy) but a plural marriage-like relationship. But either way, we get the conclusion: If casual sex is permissible, so is polygamy.

An interesting question is whether we can prove the stronger claim that if premarital sex is permissible, so is polygamy. Probably not, since someone could think that premarital sex is permissible only in the context of a relationship with an exclusive commitment to one person. But if one thinks that something weaker than an exclusive commitment is sufficient for permissibility, maybe love, or maybe mutual respect (Martha Nussbaum), then one may still get the conclusion that polygamy is permissible.

Of course, the right conclusion to draw is that casual sex is impermissible.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Self-inflicted sufferings, Maimonedes and anomaly

Suppose I know that if I go kayaking on a sunny day for two delightful hours, I will have mild muscle pains the next day. I judge that the price is well worth paying. I go kayaking and I then suffer the mild muscle pains the next day.

My suffering is not deserved. After all, suffering is something you come to deserve by wrongdoing, and I haven't done anything wrong. But it's also awkward to call it "undeserved". I guess it's non-deserved suffering.

It would be very implausible to run an argument from evil based on a case like this. And it's not hard to come up with a theodicy for it. God is under no obligation to make it possible for me to go kayaking on a sunny day and a fortiori he is under no obligation to make it possible for me to do so while avoiding subsequent pain. It is not difficult to think that the good of uniformity of nature justifies God's non-interference.

How far can a theodicy of this sort be made to go? Well, it extends to other cases where the suffering is a predictable lawlike consequence of one's optional activities. This will include cases where the optional activities are good, neutral or bad. Maimonedes, no doubt speaking from medical experience, talks of the last case at length:

The third class of evils comprises those which every one causes to himself by his own action. This is the largest class, and is far more numerous than the second class. It is especially of these evils that all men complain,only few men are found that do not sin against themselves by this kind of evil. Those that are afflicted with it are therefore justly blamed .... This class of evils originates in man's vices, such as excessive desire for eating, drinking, and love; indulgence in these things in undue measure, or in improper manner, or partaking of bad food. (Guide for the Perplexed, XII)

Maimonedes divides evils into three classes:

  1. evils caused by embodiment,
  2. evils inflicted by us on one another, and
  3. self-inflicted evils.
In the third class he only lists self-inflicted evils that are inflicted by bad activity, but we can extend the class as above. He insists that evils in the first and second classes are "very few and rare" and says that "no notice should be taken of exceptional cases".

The last remark is quite interesting. It goes against the grain of us analytic philosophers—exceptions are our bread and butter, it seems. But Maimonedes' insight, which mirrors Aristotle's remarks about precision in ethics, is deep and important. It suggests that the evils for which there is a plausible "problem of evil", namely the evils of the first and second classes, are an anomaly, and should be handled as such (for a development of this idea, see this paper by Dougherty and Pruss, in Oxford Studies).

Monday, April 7, 2014

Death and the Fall

It is an evil that we die. The badness of death is constituted by the cessation of the good of life. But not every cessation of a good is an evil. If I have a good conversation for several hours with a friend and then we go our separate ways, the cessation of the conversation isn't an evil. Only the cessation of a due good is an evil.

But how is it due to us not to die? Is it not a part of our very nature as human beings that we die?

Here's an argument:

  1. If the empirical manifestation of our nature matches our real nature, what we are supposed to be, then death as such is not an evil, just a cessation of a good.
  2. Death as such is an evil.
  3. So, the empirical manifestation of our nature does not match our real nature, what we are supposed to be.
Claim (3) is already on its own a kind of doctrine of the Fall. And it calls out for explanation. The story of the Fall of Humankind provides such an explanation. The naturalist, on the other hand, cannot provide an explanation for (3). I think the naturalist should perhaps deny (2), but that is quite an implausible move.