Famine and Cannibalism: Ethics in Extreme Circumstances

Should you think about your duty, or about the consequences of your actions? Or should you concentrate on becoming a good person?

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Terrapin Station
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Re: Famine and Cannibalism: Ethics in Extreme Circumstances

Post by Terrapin Station » Mon Oct 24, 2016 4:36 pm

It's probably also worth noting that some--some extremely silly/ridiculous on my view--takes on "physicalism" have it that it's basically subservient to/dependent on the scientific discipline of physics qua the scientific discipline (so that we're talking about a social and psychological phenomenon a la what folks have directed their attention to, come to believe, codified in texts, passed on to students, etc.). On that account, saying that "everything is physical" is an implicit assertion that everything extant can be "covered" by either the current content of physics-as-a-scientific-discipline, which of course is going to be limited to propositional knowledge, at least insofar as it's transmittable in general, or at least that it would ideally be "covered" by some future content of physics-as-a-scientific-discipline, once we get the discipline nearer to "completion."

On a (again, extremely silly, or rather dim-witted on my view) reading of "physicalism" in that vein, Mary's "complete knowledge of physical information about color" consists solely of informational content present in the discipline of physics. And then indeed, it makes intuitive sense to suppose that the discipline of physics isn't going to somehow wind up including what it's like to experience something from a first-person perspective.

Unfortunately, some people self-identifying as physicalists have promoted this silly "rah rah physics--I wish I'd majored in that instead; those guys are really swell" interpretation of what physicalism is.

That's not at all what I'm referring to re physicalism (obviously, given my insults towards it).




Eliminative materialists don't help the situation for us other physicalists, either, by the way. And especially recently, in venues like this, a lot of people tend to interpret all materialists/physicalists as eliminative materialists due to the popularity of Daniel Dennett (not that Dennett embraces that term, but that's what he is to a large extent (sans things he says that seem inconsistent), and it's especially how people tend to interpret him).

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Gary Childress
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Re: Famine and Cannibalism: Ethics in Extreme Circumstances

Post by Gary Childress » Mon Oct 24, 2016 5:22 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:Of course, one could say that the physicalist view being described is question-begging in that regard, too, but then all it really comes down to is whether someone is pledging allegiance to the physicalist or the dualist camp when we get to interpreting the sentence that Mary knows all of the physical information.
Thank you for a very thoughtful reply. It sounds like, in some ways, the jury may still be out then on the "mind/body problem" as it's called. :)

What are your thoughts on this from Noam Chomsky:

https://youtu.be/VoRmqbPFasE

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Re: Famine and Cannibalism: Ethics in Extreme Circumstances

Post by Terrapin Station » Mon Oct 24, 2016 5:56 pm

Gary Childress wrote: It sounds like, in some ways, the jury may still be out then on the "mind/body problem" as it's called. :)

What are your thoughts on this from Noam Chomsky:

https://youtu.be/VoRmqbPFasE

Surprised that Chomsky appears to be an idealist.


Obviously I don't agree with idealism.

Im not so surprised, unfortunately, that someone would view science as a support for idealism, since that seems to be distressingly common. That's particularly an upshot of science's stress on mathematics. I just wish that instrumentalist interpretations were more common than literalist interpretations that see the mathematics as making ontological commitments.

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Re: Famine and Cannibalism: Ethics in Extreme Circumstances

Post by Gary Childress » Mon Oct 24, 2016 6:37 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:
Gary Childress wrote: It sounds like, in some ways, the jury may still be out then on the "mind/body problem" as it's called. :)

What are your thoughts on this from Noam Chomsky:

https://youtu.be/VoRmqbPFasE

Surprised that Chomsky appears to be an idealist.


Obviously I don't agree with idealism.

Im not so surprised, unfortunately, that someone would view science as a support for idealism, since that seems to be distressingly common. That's particularly an upshot of science's stress on mathematics. I just wish that instrumentalist interpretations were more common than literalist interpretations that see the mathematics as making ontological commitments.
I'm not sure if he is an "idealist" or not. I didn't know it was true with Newton but in some ways quantum physics does seem to conflict with our common sense notions of a "physical" world and makes the world sort of "spooky" (essentially discarding the "machine" view). For example, we think of the physical world as existing whether we observe it or not. But apparently that's not the case. Until we view something it's merely a "probability". We also don't typically think it possible for physical entites separate from one another to interact unless there is some kind of "physical" connection between them but "quantum entanglement" apparently seems to contradict that view.

What do you mean by "instrumentalist" interpretation. How does an "instrumentalist" view things?

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Re: Famine and Cannibalism: Ethics in Extreme Circumstances

Post by Terrapin Station » Mon Oct 24, 2016 6:51 pm

Re instrumentalism--the theory, which often simply means the mathematics, especially in the case of something like quantum mechanics, is simply seen as a sort of erector-set like construction/model, more or less in a "game" sense, that simply allows us to make predictions, but it's not taken as telling us something about what the world is really like.

A good example of this is the historical epicycle model of planetary motion. From an instrumentalist perspective, that model is as good as any other insofar as it allows us to make predictions about planetary motion. It's not a matter of whether it's correct or not. It's just a matter of it being a construction that has practical utility. From an instrumentalist perspective, the current model, which did away with epicycles and put the sun at the "center" of the solar system, where the Earth revolves around the sun, etc. works just fine, too. That's the case whether the model turns out to be wrong or not.

That's what I meant about looking at the mathematics instrumentally rather than taking the mathematics to make ontological commitments. Ontological commitments are when you say, "The planets must REALLY move in epicycles since this epicycle model allows us to make accurate predictions."

Too many people take the mathetmatics of quantum mechanics to make ontological commitments.

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Re: Famine and Cannibalism: Ethics in Extreme Circumstances

Post by Gary Childress » Mon Oct 24, 2016 7:17 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:Re instrumentalism--the theory, which often simply means the mathematics, especially in the case of something like quantum mechanics, is simply seen as a sort of erector-set like construction/model, more or less in a "game" sense, that simply allows us to make predictions, but it's not taken as telling us something about what the world is really like.

A good example of this is the historical epicycle model of planetary motion. From an instrumentalist perspective, that model is as good as any other insofar as it allows us to make predictions about planetary motion. It's not a matter of whether it's correct or not. It's just a matter of it being a construction that has practical utility. From an instrumentalist perspective, the current model, which did away with epicycles and put the sun at the "center" of the solar system, where the Earth revolves around the sun, etc. works just fine, too. That's the case whether the model turns out to be wrong or not.

That's what I meant about looking at the mathematics instrumentally rather than taking the mathematics to make ontological commitments. Ontological commitments are when you say, "The planets must REALLY move in epicycles since this epicycle model allows us to make accurate predictions."

Too many people take the mathetmatics of quantum mechanics to make ontological commitments.
Interesting. But can we not, at this point, discard the epicycle hypothesis as most certainly false? Are we overstretching our understanding to assume that the planets (macro-level objects) move in roughly eliptical orbits (subject to whatever gravitational or other forces) It seems like instrumentalism renders physics into something more like a "practical science" where its only function is to "build a better mousetrap" (or in some cases, better bombs). However, on the positive side, I guess if you don't make hypotheses about a "real" world, then you can't be wrong. :)

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Re: Famine and Cannibalism: Ethics in Extreme Circumstances

Post by Terrapin Station » Mon Oct 24, 2016 7:29 pm

Gary Childress wrote:Interesting. But can we not, at this point, discard the epicycle hypothesis as most certainly false? Are we overstretching our understanding to assume that the planets (macro-level objects) move in roughly eliptical orbits (subject to whatever gravitational or other forces) It seems like instrumentalism renders physics into something more like a "practical science" where its only function is to "build a better mousetrap" (or in some cases, better bombs). However, on the positive side, I guess if you don't make hypotheses about a "real" world, then you can't be wrong. :)
I don't think it's a problem to take science to falsify somet things, sure. The problem arises when we take something like the mathematics that we use to make predictions in quantum mechanics to be making ontological commitments.

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