Some Recent Papers On Method, Science, and Ethics

Souleymane Bachir Diagne
La Traduction Comme Methode
According to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in the pluralistic world in which we now live, there cannot be an overarching and vertical universal (universel de surplomb) anymore: we have now to find paths, methods, towards what he called, by contrast, a “lateral universality” (universalité latérale). When we consider the human tongues in their de facto plurality, none of them being by essence the language of the universal, that of philosophy and logos, we can see that one meaning of what is called “lateral universal” is translation. It could be said then, somehow, that, “translation is the language of languages” as the Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o wrote. The significance of translation as a method or path towards the “lateral universal” is the notion to be explored in this contribution.


Dagfinn Føllesdal
The Role of Arguments in Philosophy
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have been studied, commented upon and praised for more than 2000 years. What made their work so excellent? And what has made the philosophy produced by so many great philosophers after them insightful, inspiring and well worth studying? Their arguments. Arguments give insights, they help us see how “all weaves into one whole” to speak with Goethe, they “give unity to what was previously dispersed.” It is this “weaving together of what was dispersed” which is the core of arguments. This leads to a very inclusive notion of philosophy, where some of the finest works of art are philosophical. However, this openness to a wide variety of approaches to philosophy does not make all philosophy good philosophy. There are numerous kinds of weaknesses. Three examples are given, that illustrate the following three rules for good scholarship: (1) give proper credit, (2) familiarize yourself with fields outside philosophy that are pertinent to the problems you work on, (3) pay attention to work that has been done by others, especially when this work points to difficulties that you have not considered. These are trivial weaknesses, which should be spotted by editors and referees. Once they have been eliminated, we can concentrate on the arguments. It is the quality of arguments that distinguishes good philosophy from bad, and arguments come in many forms. We philosophers have a special responsibility for developing in ourselves and in others an ability to construct good arguments and to distinguish good arguments from bad ones. This is what Plato and Aristotle did, and it is a special challenge in our time when opinions more and more are shaped by mass media and not by arguments. We must teach good argumentation, and we must practice what we teach in our own philosophical work.
Maria Carla Galavotti
From the Philosophy of Science to the Philosophy of the Sciences
The philosophy of science took shape as an autonomous discipline in the first decades of the Twentieth Century in connection with the movement known as logical positivism or logical empiricism. According to logical empiricists philosophy of science ought to perform a “rational reconstruction” aimed at exhibiting the logical structure of scientific theories and inferential processes involved in the acquisition of scientific knowledge. While focusing on the syntactical and semantical aspects of scientific language, logical empiricists left out of the realm of the philosophy of science the sociological and psychological aspects of theory formation, as well as all methodological aspects belonging to experimentation. Starting from the early Sixties this conception gradually changed, and philosophy of science underwent a radical transformation, leading to a significant broadening of its scope. New issues and problems were addressed, belonging to fields neglected by the traditional approach. This paper sketches the main features of the discipline as it is understood today as opposed to its traditional outlook, and suggests that the term “philosophy of the sciences” is better suited than “philosophy of science” to describe its present state.
Keiichi Noe
Philosophy and Science after the East Japan Disaster
The severe accident at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant caused by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 was a typical disaster in the age of “trans-science,” which means the situation that science and politics are closely connected and inseparable. The stage of trans-science requires a philosophy of trans-science instead of a philosophy of science such as logical positivism. I would like to characterize norms for techno-scientists in the risk society as RISK, which includes Regulatory deliberation, Intergenerational ethics, Social accountability and Knowledge-product liability.
Dorothea Frede
Aristotle on the Importance of Rules, Laws, and Institutions in Ethics
In recent years rule-scepticism has been dominant among experts concerning Aristotle’s ethics. The present paper addresses three points that speak for this sceptical attitude: (i) Aristotle’s caveat against precision in ethics; (ii) the emphasis on the particular conditions of actions and on experience; (iii) the fact that moral education relies on habituation rather than teaching. At a closer look it emerges that all these considerations presuppose universal rules, laws, and institutions rather than exclude them, for they concern the adjustment of universal principles to particular cases. Knowledge of these principles may not be necessary in routine cases, but the emphasis on a master-science that provides the laws necessary for every well-functioning community and the appropriate education of the citizens shows that these principles are the indispensable foundation of both ethics and politics. It is Aristotle’s aim to provide the groundwork of such a master science that is the common concern of his ethics and politics.
Kostas Kalimtzis
Aristotle on Scholê and Nous as a Way of Life
My paper is an inquiry into the political significance of Aristotle’s concept of scholê, a word usually translated as ‘leisure.’ The words ‘school’ and ‘scholar’ are derived from scholê, which indicates a richness of meanings that go far beyond anything suggested by the word “leisure.” Perhaps taking up the subject as a political issue seems untimely during this troubled period of economic crisis. And yet, if seen from the perspective in which it was first raised, that is as a response to the question put forth by Socrates—‘what type of life is worth living?’—then inquiry into its nature may help us entertain the possibility that our economic and social ills have arisen from wrong answers that we have given to the Socratic question. Before examining Aristotle’s thoughts on leisure, I will first briefly turn to Plato’s concept of scholê so as to economically bring to the fore the difficulties involved when leisure is projected unto an entire republic as an overarching aim of public life.


The Hypocrisy Fallacy

You have probably heard it violated many times but never thought about it. It sounds so convincing that an attempt to refute the charge of “hypocrite” is just a waste of time. However, this charge gets used so much that now there it has been accepted to misuse it.  Allow me to explain.

Jeb Bush is against the use of marijuana. Jeb also admitted to having smoked marijuana. For this example it doesn’t matter if he inhaled or not, how many pounds he smoked, lets just assume he was a marijuana fanatic.

First, calling someone a “hypocrite” is a pretty safe bet. As fallible human beings we engage in hypocrisy more regularly than we think. In our day to day lives we regularly live inconsistently with our personal ideals. On this alone the charge of hypocrisy isn’t as scathing as many want to believe.

In a different example what if a person does something that they are opposed to later in their lives? Does that make them a hypocrite? An example, Jeb Bush says he’s against marijuana. Jeb then admits to using marijuana as a youth. Does this make him a hypocrite?  Rand Paul says yes. Paul explains, “I think that’s the real hypocrisy, is that people on our side, which include a lot of people, who made mistakes growing up, admit their mistakes but now still want to put people in jail for that,”

I’m afraid I don’t follow. It sounds like Paul is saying hypocrisy is a person changing their mind. According to Paul people who see their pot smoking during adolescence as a mistake are not allowed to take a stand against it or they become hypocritical. Does this mean that I am to hold to my system of ethics that I held as a teenager or become a hypocrite? I did many rotten things as a teen that I don’t want me kids to do. Does that make me a hypocrite?

The answer is no. We can’t throw that term around any time we want and hope that it sticks. Hypocrisy can only take place when a persons actions are inconsistent with their present beliefs. In Jeb’s case he subscribed to one set of beliefs and found them to be detrimental so he adopted a new set of beliefs.  Now if Jeb came out against marijuana then later went out and smoked the duchi that would be hypocrisy.

Now here is a case where we can call Jeb a hypocrite. If Jeb held to the belief that marijuana was bad but opted not to respond consistently with that message that would be grounds for us to call him a hypocrite.   In this case he would believe one thing but his behavior would show us something else. That is a classic case of hypocrisy.

In closing, we all have our bouts with hypocrisy. However, in order to call someone out their current belief must be inconsistent with their current behavior. It isn’t enough to call out their hypocrisy when their belief negates their behavior in the past when their beliefs were different.

But maybe not. Tell me what you think.

Pope Francis’ Fact-Free Flamboyance

George Will offers several legitimate critiques with regards to Pope Francis ideas on economy and environmental issues here. To be sure we ought to be concerned over these issues but that shouldn’t be the same as being naive about them, hence the notion of “fact-free flamboyance”.

Francis’s fact-free flamboyance reduces him to a shepherd whose selectively reverent flock, genuflecting only at green altars, is tiny relative to the publicity it receives from media otherwise disdainful of his church. Secular people with anti-Catholic agendas drain his prestige, a dwindling asset, into promotion of policies inimical to the most vulnerable people and unrelated to what once was the papacy’s very different salvific mission.

A very good observation. This is the outcome when the church places its emphasis in the Kingdom of Man (KOM). The KOM is a kingdom of power as it attempts to promote its arbitrary causes what ever they might be (these tend vary with each social group) which is a “very different salvific mission” than what our Lord has taught.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world. Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”John 18.36, 37

Where as the Kingdom of God (KOG) places its emphasis on Christ the mediator of that kingdom and central to all things in the life of the church. With the KOG at the helm of the Church all matters of special interest are secondary matters couched in the presupposition of KOG.

This makes for the organization and proper priority of church categories.

Are You Absolutely Certain About Your Certainty?

Are you absolutely certain about your certainty?  If certainty was your criteria for knowing a genuine belief, would you ever be able to know or believe anything? There are many things in our day to day experience that we think we certainly know. Then upon closer investigation we found that we were wrong. Perhaps we didn’t have enough information about the thing in question, perhaps our perceptual understanding failed us, there are many factors that could cause is to be wrong about something that we were quite certain about.  Epistemic questions about certainty can get pretty dicey but they are deffinately important. As it turns out what ever someone believes to be the case epistemologically will ultimately determine that “facts” of their experience. Take Rene Descartes for example. He writes in the Meditations:    

“…in as much as reason already persuades me that I ought no less carefully to withhold my assent from matters which are not entirely certain and indubitable than from those which appear to me manifestly to be false, if I am able to find in each one some reason to doubt, this will suffice to justify my rejecting the whole.”  –Descartes, Meditations

In his work On Method, as well as the Meditations, Descartes appeals to a principle of epistemic certainty as  a prerequisite for genuine knowledge.  In other words Descartes’ project necessitates evidence that is indefeasible much like the types of evidences we find in mathematical proofs.  His major premise can be understood as: in order to know P one must be absolutely certain of P (we will refer to this as the “certainty principle” [CP]).  Thus, if there exists, even the smallest possibility that your knowledge of P is not absolutely certain then you are not in any epistemological state to know P

One example of this that has been give is The Lottery Argument.  No matter how strong your evidence is that your ticket won’t win (or in this case the odds of winning are against you) you’re never absolutely certain that your ticket won’t win.

This is the same principle being advanced in the skeptical thesis (ST). That is, if you cannot claim to know something absolutely then you cannot claim to know it at all.  When we take honest inventory of the beliefs we posses the number of those beliefs that we can be infallible about are very few and far between.  But does this warrant skepticism?  Some skeptical arguments leave us with no claim to knowing anything about the external world unless we have absolute certainty.  On this set of beliefs one could never truly know if she is walking outside in the sun or a brain in a vat.  Perhaps the question over the validity of the certainty principle as the only claim to knowledge is the wrong question to be asking.

A more desirable epistemic state would be one in which belief in P can be accepted as knowledge in spite of the absences of certainty providing that P is true.  This is called the fallibilist principle of knowing (FPK).  The key difference between fallibilism is the notion of certainty.  Epistemic fallibilism does not require your evidence for P to be indefeasible or infallible but it still treats knowledge as being factive.  For example you might look into the sky and notice a full moon.  You suddenly realize that every time you noticed a full moon in the past it was followed by a high tide.  You take your finding to the library and notice the phenomenon has been taking place centuries.  You further read about the moon’s gravitational pull on the earth causing high tides.  Based on this evidence you believe that a full moon always precedes a high tide.  However, there is a chance you might be wrong; moreover, your evidence is defeasible.  That being the case the fallibilist would say you are still in a desirable epistemic state to know that a full moon precedes a high tide.

Greece Defaults on IMF

Flag_of_Greece.svgThis story in the WSJ is fairly ironic because not only is Greece the first of the “developed countries” to default on IMF loan but Greece represents one of the first developed countries of the western world. How is it that a country with such a rich intellectual back ground find itself in such economic dire straights?

Interestingly there is a lesson here for America since we follow similar tax and spend practices. What made things more challenging for Greece was their low GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Having experienced quick economic growth from 2000 – 2007 (average 4% year over year) a blind eye was turned against large budget deficits caused by increased spending in areas such as government jobs, pensions, military and social benefits. Such increase in deficit spending was believed to prime the economic pump.

As the deficit spending continued to increase the country’s GDP was unable to keep pace. In fact it wasn’t even in the race. Without GDP the increase debt to GDP ratio sealed their economic failure. This lead to Greece borrowing money that it could never pay back and thus a downward spiral ensued. There are other factors such as a debt crisis, tax evasion indicating a general distrust of government, and etc. The answers for Greece aren’t easy and it will be interesting to see the outcome. But, as a general principle if the GDP drives the economy then the country ought to focus its efforts on growing it as opposed to continue to fund some of the more frivolous entitlement programs.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.