Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Want to Discover Moral Truth? Part 2 "How to Be a Moral Realist" by R. Boyd


In part 1 we looked at how Boyd draws an analogy between scientific realism and moral realism.  The first parallel is that there is a progressively recursive relationship between theory and experience.  The second is that there is a progressively recursive relationship between theory and method.  Check out part 1 if you'd like further elaboration...I've got work to do!

The Problem of Natural Properties

One of the bugaboos moral realism has is to account for the claim that moral judgments refer to real properties out there in the world.  This is somewhat incompatible with some versions of empirical science that say if a term doesn't refer to something that is understandable in the language of physics then it's not real in the sense that moral realist want it to be.  For example, if I say something is 'baaaaaaad', the moral realist wants to say I'm referring to some property that actually exists beyond mental concepts.  

Non-Reductionist Naturalism

So how does the moral realist deal with this problem?  First, they're going to reject the idea that things (in a general sense), such as states, properties, need be reducible to language of physical substances in order to be considered real.   They're also going to reject the idea that things can be only considered "real" if they're directly observable.  We don't directly observe sub-atomic particles and their properties but we still say they're real, so why not extend that leniency to moral properties.  

Connected with that they're going to reject what is called the "constructivist Humean" idea of causation.  Hume's idea was that we don't directly observe causation but our mind "constructs" a causal story to explain a relationship between two things.  The inference is that causal forces aren't real, they are constructed by our minds, only the physical objects that interact are real.  The moral realist refudiates this constructivism and say it's perfectly fine to speak of non-physical relations as being real (hello friend zone!).

Natural Definitions

Here Boyd leans on Locke's distinction between nominal and real essences.   Consider gold and pyrite. A few thousand years ago before they knew anything of their respective chemical properties the two were considered indistinguishable, they were both called 'gold'.  

Gold and pyrite have different micro-structures but the naming convention is determined by the observed properties (nominal) which are not necessarily (and often not at all) the same as the micro properties (real).  It is the particular micro structure of gold and pyrite that produce in us the impression of the colour gold and the mistaken perception that they are one and the same substance.  If we had a super-duper micro scope and looked at the atoms that make up gold and pyrite, they wouldn't be gold coloured--it's their structure that produces in us the perception of the colour gold.  

So, the goal of science should be to uncover the real essences of substances, not the nominal essences.   As we come to know the real essences of substances we will not confuse natural kinds, like we did with gold and pyrite...since it was the discovery of their real essences (micro-structure) that allowed us to correctly identify the kind of thing they are. 

Boyd fancies extending Locke's idea of a distinction between nominal and real essences regarding (physical) substances to properties, relations, and magnitudes.   We can see where he's going with this.  He's going to leverage this difference to account for moral disagreements.  

The strategy will be to say that moral disagreements arise because of something analogous to what's happening with the gold and pyrite example.  People are making judgments based on nominal essences of 'good' rather than the real essences.  A science of morals will commit itself to discovering the real essences of moral properties.

Now, this all sounds fine and dandy but I anticipate some problems.  First of all, Locke's distinction between nominal and real essences applies to substances--physical things.  On Locke's model, properties are ideas caused in our minds by the powers of a substance's micro-structure.  The properties themselves are non-maleable and are not subject to revision--they are basic.  It is through the properties that we identify nominal and real essence of substances.  

For instance, the colour gold helps us identify gold (nominally) or the micro-structure of gold--i.e., the property of "number of protons and electrons"--helps to identify gold's real essence.  So, all properties are somehow tied to something physical; they inhere in something physical.  But I don't see how it is a property can have a micro-structure, and supposing it did, how a property's micro-structure would be different from how we perceive it.  

How could 'yellow' have a micro-structure?  I'm not even sure this is intelligible.  The only thing that would make sense is to say that the perception 'yellow' is a function of the light wavelengths that strike our visual apparatus.  But that wavelength is a function of an objects surface properties.  Again, the properties is tied to something physical, exactly what the realist hopes to avoid.  In this analysis we end up talking about a physical object's microstructure, we haven't talked about the real essence of 'yellow'. It seems yellow is yellow is yellow regardless of whether we are referring to nominal or real essence.

Homeostatic Property-Cluster Definitions (WTF?)

Whoa! Hold on a second.  I know what you're thinking.  It's probably not politically correct for me to use the term 'homeostatic'.  I understand your concern but I contend that since some of my friends are homeostatic, it's ok.  Sometimes I'll even say it to their face and we have a good chuckle.

Lets forget about the big words for a second and go back to a major problem that moral realism has: if moral values are real and exist in the natural world, how do realists account divergent moral judgments?  In order to preempt this criticism Boyd's going to suggest that some natural kinds are defined by property clusters.  But not just any kind of property cluster--homeostatic property clusters!  

What the crap does this mean?  Consider what we might mean when we refer to something as 'cozy'.  Are we referring to just one property, like when I say 'large'?  No, I'm referring to a cluster of properties, such as warmth, softness, comfort, etc...  

Now, is there only one rigid combination of these properties by which we might call something 'cozy'?   Nope.  One cozy house might have a different set of these properties than another cozy house.  Also something completely different like a blanket can also be 'cozy'.  None of these considerations mean that there's no such thing as a cozy house or blanket.  

He goes on to argue that this type of reference is used in natural science.  Consider the term 'healthy'.  This is a relatively scientific notion that involves a cluster of properties that needn't be in the same quantities for every case that falls under the kind 'healthy'.  

Other examples used in the (harder) science of biology are the notions of species, class, phylum, etc...Biology relies on the "imperfectly shared and homeostatically related morphological, physiological, and behavioural features which characterize its members.  Just because we can't nail down those biological terms to something specific and immutable, doesn't prevent people in lab coats from using them.

What Boyd is getting at with this idea of homeostatic property clusters is that there's flexibility in how we define certain traits, or kinds.  Obviously, he's going to apply this idea to moral kinds, like 'good' and 'baaaaaaaaaad'.   For something to be good it can have varying degrees of a cluster of properties, it needn't be rigidly defined by definite amounts of each member of a set of properties.  

I think there is something to this idea but it's hard to see why his approach isn't evidence for a constructivist picture of how we define 'good' rather than a realist approach.  For example, he gives a list of possible elements that, in varying combinations and amounts, could constitute what we reference by 'good'.  They are things that satisfy different human needs, such as physical and medical needs, social and psychological needs like the need for love and friendship, the need to engage in cooperative effort, the need to exercise control over one's life, the need for intellectual and artistic appreciation and expression, the need for physical recreation, etc...  

So, why do I say this sounds constructivist?  Well, he begins by looking at facts about humans, then reasons from there to what properties might encompass moral goodness.  If moral values exist in the natural world, then I'm not sure why we need to reason from human needs to figure them out.  

Why shouldn't we be able to detect them, independent of prior knowledge about what's good for humans? If 'good' is an objective value, it shouldn't matter how it relates to humans, that just might be a happy coincidence.  And besides, what if actual natural absolute moral values in fact better accord with the needs of spider monkeys?   

Furthermore, I think Boyd has to walk a fine line with his homeostatic cluster model because if he allows too much flexibility the kind he's defining gets too vague and becomes useless.

Homeostatic Consequentialism

Ok, so a few paragraphs back I laid out some of the human needs whose satisfaction relate to our notion of moral 'good'.  The next point is that there are many possible different social arrangements that could satisfy these needs.  That is, there is a wide variety of psychological and social mechanisms such as political democracy, mutual respect, rules of courtesy, etc...that can contribute to the homeostasis of the different human goods.  I can get jiggy with that.

From there, Boyd says that we can define moral goodness in terms of the cluster of goods that satisfy human needs combined with the homeostatic mechanisms which unify them.  So, action, policies, character traits, etc...are good to the extent that they bring about the goods and reinforce the mechanisms that bring them about.  I can get jiggy with that too, although I'm concerned that this is starting to sound like the liberal brainwashing by professors that Santorum warned me about. 

This next part is a little harder to get jiggy with because it sounds a little too much like wishful thinking.   The hypothesis is that "in actual practice, a concern for moral goodness can be a guide to action for the morally concerned" because the fact the that the different moral goods are "mutually reinforcing".  Aaand that they are mutually reinforcing will help mitigate conflict between them.

Ok, anyone who follows US--or any country for that matter--politics will note that "in actual practice" there is plenty of conflict when it comes to choosing between moral goods.  Although I absolutely loath Rick Santorum, if I presented to him the list of human goods (satisfaction of medical, psychological, social needs, etc...) I doubt he'd deny any of the members of the list.  He'll probably also agree to the list of mechanisms: attitude of mutual respect, political democracy, egalitarian social relations, customs, etc...Whether he actually practices them is another matter, but I don't think he'd deny any of them as having value.

So, the problem for the realists is that we have a fairly clear counter example to the idea that the concern for moral goodness, in actual practice, would mitigate conflicts between members of these lists.   I see very little mitigation going on where the extreme right is concerned.  Of course, the moral realist could simply refudiate this example by arguing that Santorum isn't committed to this particular set of goods and mechanisms, but a different set.  And they may be correct.  But then we're back to the problem of explaining divergent conceptions of a good that is supposedly objective. 

There is another reply suggested by Boyd, and that relates back to the reciprocal relationship between advances in theory and method.  As our theory of moral goodness approaches truth, our psychological and social mechanism for balancing demands for the cluster of goods will allow us to make better decisions.  This, I think is entirely plausible.

We can explain away the Santorum counter-example as evidence that in our journey to discovering the moral truth, we are still at a point where our choice-making mechanisms are still imperfect.  We aren't close enough to the truth to accurately know how to reconcile tensions between satisfying different human needs in such a way that there can be a net gain.  I guess I can dig that.  

One more issue that moral realism is going to have comes back to is the problem of proving morality is real and a natural property rather than a construction we impose after the fact.  To try to solve this Boyd will rely on the similarity of how we acquire moral knowledge and how we acquire scientific knowledge.  In both cases knowledge will arise out of empirical investigation.  

This is a clever line to account for barbaric moral codes throughout history.  Ostensibly if moral facts exist in nature how is it that we had slavery for so long?  The answer is that certain empirical facts only become accessible to us under the correct conditions.  In the case of slavery, its injustice didn't become apparent until limited democracies developed.  In wasn't until we had the structure of democracy that we could see the psychological and social human good in equal social and political relations.  Once those facts about the good were observed it was a matter of time before they were logically extended to include everyone.  

This seems plausible enough, but I don't see why we can't explain the same phenomena using a constructivist story.  Were we discovering moral properties of actions and policies or were we constructing them?  How do we know that once we discovered the empirical facts of the conditions under which humans thrive, we didn't ex post facto ascribe to them the notion of 'goodness'?  (using Latin makes me feel smrt) Are we human or are we dancer?


Monday, February 27, 2012

Want to Discover Moral Truth? Part 1 "How to Be a Moral Realist" by R. Boyd

Before I start I want to give a shout out to a blog which I fancy is one of the cleverest blogs I've seen in a while.  For those of you who didn't see (or click on) the link I posted on my fb page, I highly recommend you check it out.  Oh, I should warn you, unless you have some familiarity with philosophy you won't get a lot of the jokes, but even if you only took a couple of courses you should get most of them. 

Notes and Thoughts on "How to Be a Moral Realist" by Richard Boyd 


I've noted before that facebook is a double-edged sword when it comes to getting to know long past acquaintances (in the general sense).  Inevitably, some of the people we went to high school with or met in some prior stage in our lives will end up having views wildly divergent from our own.  Sometimes this is good because it forces us to be exposed to ideas and points of view we might not encounter in our current circle of friends.  And sometimes, it can be annoying or flat out enraging.  But I digress...

So, why bring this up in a post on meta-ethics?  Because, out there in the meta-ethical world there are philosophers (and a lot of regular people) that fancy that there are absolute moral truths and we can come to know them.   This position is called "moral realism".  But if moral realism is correct, how can I account for the fact that my friends on facebook sometimes post things contrary to what I know is the Truth.  How is it that sooooo many people get it wrong?  And why don't they just ask me what's right? I'd be happy to tell them.

Anyhow, Richard Boyd fancys that moral realism is correct.  Lets look at some of his arguments for why, then, since (unlike the rest of you) I haven't erred in perceiving these objective truths, I will explain what moral views you should have (if I have time). 

Intro to Moral Realism

Moral realims makes three assertions: 

(1).  We can have lots of fun...and by fun I mean "moral statements are the sorts of statements which are (or which express propositions which are) true or false (or approximately true, largely false)".  For example if I say "you ought to help old ladies across the street," we can say of this statement that it is either true of false.  We can contrast this with, for example, some other views that say moral statements aren't true or false but merely express someone's emotional attitude.  

(2).  "The truth or falsity (approximate truth...) of moral statements is largely independent of our moral opinions, theories, etc.."  In other words, moral truth bears no relation to our subjective opinion; much in the way our thoughts about the physical world have relation to how the physical world actually is. 

(3).  "Ordinary canons of moral reasoning--together with ordinary canons of scientific and everyday factual reasoning--constitute, under many circumstances at least, a reliable method for obtaining and improving (approximate) moral knowledge."  I fancy this means that common moral notions in conjunction with our methods of reasoning in both ethics and science are sufficient for figuring out and improving moral knowledge.  

A consequence of the view that there really is such a thing as objective morality is that moral terms like 'good', 'fair', 'just', 'obligatory' will correspond to real properties or relations.  Furthermore, we can reason our way toward figuring out what kinds of events, policies, and social arrangements these properties and relations correspond to.   Importantly, the claim is not that we presently have reasoned our way to the perfect moral theory but that, just as the methodes of science are self-correcting and progressive, so to are the methods of moral reasoning.

The general objection to suggesting that there are similarities between scientific knowledge and moral knowledge is that scientific theories are value-neutral, objective, and empirically testable.  In order to counter this claim Boyd's argument will hinge on trying to shew that moral beliefs and the methods used to obtain them are similar to our scientific beliefs and methods of reasoning.  

The Realist View of Science

So, obviously it's a pretty contentious claim to say there are objective moral facts and we can come to know them through moral and scientific reasoning.  Lets check aus how the moral realist backs this up...

Without making a huge digression into debates within philosophy of science Boyd first wants to assume scientific realism, the idea that reality is prior to thought--i.e., our perceptions conform to reality rather than the other way around.  The opposing position would be that our perception of reality is constructed out of our social structures, theories, and psychology--in other words, we (science included) don't/can't perceive the physical world objectively.  

The main argument for supporting the realist position is that it gives a better account than anti-realism of how scientific knowledge (theories) and method have progressively improved. If anti-realism is correct how do we explain the fact that scientific theories have had progressively better predictive power, that we been able to apply our theories to build iphones, that the scientific method has progressively been refined, and that the method has been reliable?  Moving on...

The 2 Important Features of Science for Boyd

Here comes the sneaky part because so long as we accept that science aims at objective reality and that the scientific method allows us to progressively approach objective reality, Boyd argues that there are two important parallels between how science is done and how moral thinking is done.  

First of all science is cumulative and approaches the truth through "successive approximations".  In other words, science builds on itself and is constantly revising itself based on the latest theoretical modifications.  So, working within a theoretical framework, new information is discovered that brings about a modification of the theory.  

Now, within the modified theory, the same thing happens....over and over again, each time (hopefully) getting closer and closer to truth.  The new theoretical framework lets us better interpret phenomena which in turn leads to improvement in our theory.  If the original theory had been wrong this type of progress would eventually stop.  The revisions occur within a theoretical framework which is modified to fit new information.  What's important is that the new information isn't "theory-free"; it's always embedded in a theory.  

There's a constant back and forth between theory and new information that is observed from within a theory.  As theories are modified to better fit "reality" we say that the general direction of science is progressive and it obtains closer and closer approximations of truth. 

The second, which is related to the first, concerns the relationship between advances in scientific theory and advances in scientific method.  There is a "dialectical relationship between current theory and the methodology for its improvement".  What mean this does?  Basically, that as our theories improve with their approximations of truth, so do our scientific methods. 

But the fun doesn't stop there.  Improved scientific methods of experimentation allow for better science and hence an improvement in theory...and improved theory leads to better methods of experimentation...which in turn lead to better information and better theories...I think you get the point...

"'Cumulativity' and Theory-Method Dialectic as Applied to Ethics 

Now think of how this might apply to moral thinking.  When we make moral judgements we are operating within an moral framework which influences how we perceive events.  Occasionally, we can have an experience that suggests that we should modify our theory so we modify our moral theory (unless, of course, you are a fundamentalist of some sort).  This is a cumulative process.   

The problem that Boyd is going to have is to shew that this is necessarily progressive when applied to morality.  I don't think it would take too long for a many thinking people to point to moral frameworks that could be considered morally regressive (by the thinking persons standards, anyway...).  But how do we explain the fact that the people in those "regressive" frameworks don't think they're regressive at all.  They think our framework is regressive.  What can we reference to make any kind of evaluation without presupposing our conclusion?

Regarding the second point, that theory and method are in a reciprocal relationship, is also very plausible.  The difficulty, again, will be to shew that the direction has been/is progressive. 

The big problem I see for Boyd is, given the wide array of moral systems in the world, who do we point to as the analogue to science and who are the analogue to pseudoscience?  Some moral systems say the way to Truth is by looking at this book, others say you can just feel if something's right, other's will reference minimizing harm, others will reference maximizing liberty, and others maximizing equality.  Some will reference all of them.  Within science we have some fairly objective criteria to make this general distinction but how do we make this judgment in ethics without presupposing our own methods and results as being the correct ones?

Anyhow, the main thing Boyd wants to say is that the fact that moral judgments are embedded in pre-supposed moral theories and methods is not point against moral realism.  Science operates the same way. 

How Should We Justify our Love Moral Beliefs?

Again, to shew the plausibility of real moral facts and how we might justify them, Boyd makes an analogy with the scientific method.  Although scientists haven't figured out how magnets work they know a lot of cool stuffs.  But how do they justify their beliefs?

The old assumption was that our knowledge was built upon fixed truths and fixed methods of truth acquisition.  This model is called foundationalism.  Think Descartes.  He strips away all beliefs that can be doubted and is left with only "wax is cool" "I think therefore I am".  Then because he perceives this solitary truth as something "clear and distinct" he claims, as a method, that anything that he perceives clearly and distinctly must be true.  So, from his one foundational belief and his method of acquiring new beliefs, he rebuilds his entire epistemology.  With variations in what constitutes the foundational beliefs and methods, for several centuries this was the general model for justifying beliefs.

Boyd refudiates this model and opts for a "naturalized  coherentist epistemology".   Very briefly here's what this means:  The coherentist part means that we don't reason from permanent foundational beliefs but our system of beliefs is fluid.  We are constantly adjusting them with experience and deliberation.  Sure, some beliefs are more strongly held than others, but given sufficiently strong evidence, they are all open to revision--either directly or indirectly.   As we adjust certain beliefs to better conform to our experiences, other beliefs that are connected might also be revised.  

Another important notion that comes out of the coherentist picture is that there is a reciprocal relationship between our set of beliefs and how we interpret experience.  An experience that causes a revision in our set beliefs will in turn cause us to perceive subsequent experiences differently, which will cause further revisions.  There is a constant back and forth between how we interpret experience and our particular set of beliefs.  

The naturalized part refers to our methods of justifying beliefs.  In the foundationalist model we have a set of static methods with which we can produce true beliefs.  Naturalized epistemology says that we should also investigate our methods of belief production and use that information to refine them.  For example, visual psychology studies how we go from visual stimulus to belief about what we saw.  Understanding how this mechanism works and the circumstances under which it fails helps us further refine our methods of belief acquisition which in turn helps refine our beliefs.  

The idea is that the more we can refine the ways in which we acquire beliefs, the more our beliefs will approximate "truth".  And the more our beliefs approximate truth, the better we will be able to refine our methods of belief acquisition....over and over until people ultimately come to know the absolute truth that the flying spagetti monster is the one True god.    

Naturalized Coherentist Epistemology Applied to Moral Thinking

The analogy to moral thinking should be apparent (or is it? ...whoa!).  Consider the coherentist part:  we have a web of moral beliefs and as we progress through our lives some of those beliefs will start to change to conform with experience. And of course, some of the moral beliefs will be more amenable to change than others.   The important point being that changes in one belief will impact other interconnected beliefs to varying degrees.  There is continuous dialectic between our moral beliefs and how we perceive the world.  

The interesting part comes when we apply this epistemology to methods of inference.  To naturalize our methods of moral inferences, the idea is that we should learn how it is we make moral decisions and that learning about conditions under which this process is fallible or accurate will help us produce more accurate moral judgements.  These more accurate moral judgments will further allow us to detect conditions under which our methods of moral thinking fail/are successful.   Once again, the idea is that there is a positive feedback loop in the direction of truth.  

This is going to be a similar problem as we saw in the previous section.  With science we have a quasi objective standard by which we can judge the direction of progress.  If a method of inference consistently produces theories that accurately describe observed phenomena, and substantial predictions can be made with those theories, we can say the method of inference is a good one. 

By what standard can we measure the successfulnicity of a method of moral inference?  One person can say, "look, my method is reliable because it shows that abortion is morally permissible".  The other says, "look, my method is reliable because it shows abortion isn't morally permissible".  In science, we can compair two outcomes: my method predicts 'x' vs my method predicts 'y'.   To resolve this we can (often) appeal to what happened, if not immediately, then at some point in the future.   

I'm kind of oversimplifying and running roughshod over a few issues but my point is just that often (but not always) scientific disputes can be eventually resolved by appeals something quasi objective--how well actual results fit with the predicted results and how fruitful our new theory turns out to be.  In moral thinking, this is only possible when we presuppose we are measuring something objective, but supposing there is, it's not clear how we arbitrate between conflicting views. 

This weakness withstanding I think we can pick out a few good things from Boyd's treatment of ethical thinking as analogous to scientific thinking.  For instances, there in merit in understanding how we make moral judgments; that is, what's going on neurologically, sociologically, and psychologically, and any-other-ly.  

A simple common sense example is that we make poor ethical judgments when we are in a heightened emotional state like anger or love (yeah, I went there).  Psychology also tells us we can be "primed" to influence judgments in a predetermined direction.  So, I think there is something to his idea of approaching moral thinking with a naturalized epistemology but I'm not sure it follows that naturalizing methods of moral thought will help us determine whether there are objective moral truths or discover what they might be.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Moral Music: Guest Blogger A. Clapham

“Moral Music”
- A. Clapham

There’s a story from Greece that Athena, goddess of wisdom, took up an aulos (for a picture, look here: ), and began to play. The instrument, however, gave the goddess a flushed expression, as it took a lot of force to play it effectively. Not wanting to tarnish her looks, she tossed the aulos aside, and a satyr named Marsyas stumbled upon it. He became a master at the instrument and soon challenged Apollo to a music contest. Apollo, also a deity associated with wisdom, was the patron god of the arts, and he was known for his skill at the lyre, a stringed instrument resembling a modern-day harp. It is a mistake to challenge the gods – a wild act of hubris. Even Achilles, a demi-god himself, was almost killed by a lowly river-god during the Trojan War. But Apollo accepted the challenge with two stipulations: the Muses, the goddesses of artistic inspiration, would judge the contest, and the winner could do whatever he wanted to with the loser. Marsyas foolishly accepted, and he lost. As a punishment for challenging him, Apollo tied Marsyas to a tree and peeled off all his flesh.

This may seem like a strange story to have in mind when thinking about the philosophy of music, but Plato certainly had it in his mind when he wrote his political work, Republic. This text was written in a highly original way: as a dialogue between people, who try to figure out what “justice” is and what the ideal city would be like. In Book III there is a curious section where Socrates, the main character, tells his friends that certain instruments and certain songs should be banned from the perfect city. Among those things rejected from the city is the satyr’s trademark instrument: the aulos.
There are many theories about why Plato bans certain types of music from the city, and the fact that he wrote so little about music does not help turn speculation into something solid. But the interpretation I would like to offer is something that is foreign to a modern mind: music and justice have something to do with each other. Ordinarily, we do not think that the type of music we listen to has any bearing on our moral character. For example, if a group of people listen to blues music, we don’t naturally infer a certain moral superiority or inferiority; so we may wonder why Plato would think this way. I propose that we look at a key feature of justice in the Republic, the opposition to “overreaching,” which will help us understand why Plato thought of justice and music together, and why the myth of Marsyas is so relevant to his political thought.

In some ways, classicists find the notion of justice in Plato’s writings to be just as elusive and controversial as music is, but the advantage of talking about this ancient notion of justice is that we have much more to say about it because Plato wrote quite a bit on the topic. Scholars generally agree that “moderation” is a key feature of justice in the Republic, which is in opposition to an often-used word pleonektein, the effect of continually trying to outdo others by getting and having more and more. In fact, a theme throughout the book is how overreaching can cause disastrous effects, not only for the individual, but for the entire city. And this desire to outdo others is the exact cause of injustice in Book 1 (359c).

As it turns out, the exact type of music the character, Socrates, praises in Book III is music that inspires moderation in people: “Leave me, then, these two modes, which will best imitate the violent or voluntary tones of voice of those who are moderate and courageous, whether in good fortune or in bad” (399c). Now, we can see why the other instruments are banned: they do not inspire moderation or courage. Furthermore, the meaning of the myth should become clearer: certain types of music have an association with wild and brash behavior. Even Apollo, who does not play the aulos himself, hears the flute music and overreacts when he wins the competition. He is unjust to Marsyas because he acts out of anger and impulse. So much for the god of wisdom. The makers of the myth must have thought that certain kinds of music just bring out the worst in us, while other kinds have a positive impact on our actions. And this message seems to be one that Plato endorses.

Yet, in order to hold this kind of view, one must have a certain perspective on music and what it does to the listener. Here, Peter Kivy, a philosopher who specializes in music, is helpful. In his book, “An Introduction to the Philosophy of Music,” he argues that Plato believes that music actually causes the person to have the emotions that the piece represents: “Plato can be taken, and was, by many, to have claimed that, in general, melodies have the power to arouse emotions in listeners by representing the manner in which people express them in their speech and exclamations” (16). That is to say, if a person hears a piece of music that is particularly angry, then that person will become angry, and the music has the power to do this because it imitates the speech of angry people.

Some of the larger issues here, such as whether or not lyrical music actually causes us to have the emotions that music represents, cannot be answered in this short space, mainly because they are still issues that are debated among philosophers today. But, I think that the idea that music actually causes us to have the emotions it represents does not seem intuitive. We would find it strange if a friend pointed to someone on the street and said, “That girl is an angry person because she listens to punk music.” A more typical way of thinking about music for modern people is to think of it as a kind of disinterested activity, where a person is either refined or uncultivated if he or she listens to a certain type of music. So instead we might hear our friends say of someone, “That girl has good taste, she listens to classical music.”

If music, however, is a disinterested activity, where listening to a particular piece or genre only reflects on a person’s taste, then the link between music and justice seems to be broken. If we remove the moral component from music, then talking about the “music of a justice society” seems absurd, after all, we don’t think of justice as a matter of taste. If someone does something good, we don’t comment on how refined their sense of justice is, we simply say they are moral or good or just.

Perhaps there is a way to save this link between justice and music. If music does not directly cause emotions in us, it at least represents those emotions in some capacity. Maybe the ability to recognize and appreciate different emotions in music has something to do with our ability to sympathize with others. If we assume that the emotions are “in” the music, then a person with a refined musical taste would have a greater ability to sympathize with people than with others who do not have
such complex and deep musical palates. An argument could be made, from this perspective, that a just person is one who can sympathize well with others, and having a refined taste in music could help with his or her being a more just person.

But before we discard pop music in favor of Borodin and Rimsky, we should consider that if it is true that a person has a great skill in recognizing the emotions in music this does not mean that that ability automatically translates to an ability to recognize emotions in people. People express themselves differently than music expresses itself. People can express themselves through music, but this is a technical means of expression. At this point I am reminded of the Muses from the Greek myth I began with. They have the best musical palates of any living creature, and they rightly recognized Apollo as the master of music over Marsyas. Yet, they did not make a peep when he tortured the poor satyr. Thus, this story, though it is old, has a deep resonance for the ancients and for ourselves, and the relationship between music and justice is just as complex and elusive as the meaning of the myth.

The translation of Plato comes from G.M.A. Grube’s edition of the “Republic.” For more information about the Philosophy of Music, Peter Kivy’s book is highly accessible. There is also a helpful article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ( [search “music”]). For more information about Plato’s “Republic” the Cambridge Companion series puts out an edition specifically on that dialogue, and there is also a more broad collection of essays on Plato’s thought, though neither has an article on music. For more information about Greek myth, I recommend Ovid’s great poem “Metamorphoses,” which is our primary source for many of the myths that we know about today. Edith Hamilton also has a book called “Mythology,” which is helpful for anyone interested in what are considered the “canonical myths” in the Western tradition, though the majority of these will be found in Ovid.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How To Turn An Assailant Into Your Friend: Internalism vs Externalism

Notes and Thoughts on Bernard Williams' Internal and External Reasons

Key Quote:  "Does believing that a particular consideration is a reason to act in a particular way provide, or indeed constitute, a motivation to act?"


One of the central debates within meta-ethics is between the various strands of naturalism, on the one side, and those of non-naturalism on the other.  Jargon, aside naturalism refers to the idea that moral values such as good, bad, right, and wrong are natural properties of the world; that is, they really exist in one way or another.  A consequence of this view is that if these values actually exist, then they are objective and are not subject to cultural or personal points of view.

Non-naturalists, on the other hand, think that moral terms cannot be expressed or reduced to natural terms.  Otherwise stated, value statements occupy a realm that is apart from natural science.  Later non-naturalists expanded the position to include the notion that knowledge of basic moral truths can be known through some kind of internal reflection which will (hopefully) constitute reasons for action.  

Within this debate there is another sub-debate between what are called internalists and externalists.  As with naturalists and non-naturalists, there are many varieties of each but for the sake of the discussion here we'll focus a narrow set of each.  What what's all the fuss about?

Well, in a nutshell, the internalists say that the only way to account for someone's actions  is if they had some sort of internal motivation for it; that is, the reason for their action had to already, in some sense, be contained within them or derived as a means of satisfying a desire.  

The externalists argue that we can be motivated to moral action by--you guessed it--external reasons or facts in addition to internal reasons.  An external reason would be something like (but not necessarily) a rule like "one ought to always tell the truth" or even someone else trying to convince us to act in a certain way.

The way these two debates come together is that if moral values are part of the fabric of our world and really exist in some external objective sense, then it's possible for these external facts to compel us to act.  But, if moral facts are somehow knowable through internal reflection only then internalists are correct and we can only be compelled to action by internal reasons.

Anyway, in very general terms, that's what's going on.  Now, lets get into some of the nitty gritty...Incidentally, I should say that that my own opinion is that there's a role somewhere in this debate for cognitive science and empirical psychology.  But enough about me...

Internal Reasons

Ok, lets flesh out the internalists position regarding the relationship between desires and motivations/reasons for action.  Before we put in all the qualifications and technical language, internalism holds that every reason for action is arises out of an internal desire.  (Note: I'm going to use the words 'reasons' and 'motivations' interchangeably).  Now, lets add a little bit to this.  First we need to be explicit about what constitutes an internal motivation.  Well, this would include all your desires, dispositions of evaluation (i.e., world view), patterns of emotional reaction (i.e., personal psychological makeup), personal loyalties, and goals (short and long-term).  All of these things we call the subjective motivational set, or 'S' for short.  We should also note that an individual's desires and goals needn't be selfish.

So far we have this massive collection of factors that can cause us to act and that can, given perfect knowledge, be retroactively pointed to as an explanation for our actions.  Lets add a little more information about S--information we can arrive at through deliberation.  It's not uncommon for us to act and not be able to immediately point to why we acted thusly (how often do you get to use thusly?).  However, if we deliberate, (and assume we are rational) we can often explain our action in terms of something in S.

Also, sometimes deliberation works in another way.  It causes reasons for action to be added to or removed from S.  Perhaps I'm in a situation where two or more elements of S are in conflict.  Suppose, I want to both have my cake and eat it too--both desires are part of my S.

A way in which my S set will diminish is if I give up one of these desires, that is, after deliberation I decide my desire to eat the cake supersedes my desire to have it.  Or perhaps after deliberation I decide I will eat half my cake and keep the other half on my pillow for ever and ever.  The conflicting desires in S led to a new element of S-- whatever ends up being the compromise.

The main point is that S is not static and can change (and not just because of deliberation).  If you think about what sorts of things you wanted when you were a child and the kinds of things you want now, it is unlikely that they are the same.

I don't want to go into too much more detail than this but I will just add that it is consistent with internalism to say we can have elements of S that we don't know about.   We can also falsely believe that an element is part of our S when it isn't (i.e., we are often mistaken in identifying our desires).

As a note, this is the part of internalism that makes me uncomfortable philosophically because it's not falsifiable (I know, I know...there are problems with falsificationism, but lets just deal with one issue at a time).   Although, this isn't necessarily a big problem in the context we are discussing: internalism vs externalism.

Under What Conditions Might Externalism Offer a Good Account of Behaviour?

Before working up to such a situation lets see if we can describe a situation where there are clear external reasons for action, but action is better explained by internal reasons (i.e., arising from S).  A model of this type of situation would be where a person acts contrary to their well-being and the action isn't a result of false beliefs or irrationality.

Every student encounters such situations every day when it's time to sit down and study.  As students we know that we need to study but those cat videos on youtube are so damn funny!  The fact that we watch Maru jump in and out of boxes can be explained by there being nothing in our S that is a desire to study, hence no reasons can be generated to study.  However, there are an abundance of internal reasons (desire to feel pleasure, happiness, etc...) for watching Maru.  The desire to study is not part of our S.

One could reply that the student's actions aren't correctly explained by the model.  Surely, at some level the student must want to study and therefore has an internal reason to study.  But suppose the student goes into deep meditation in the mountains of Tibet for a year to search in inner reaches of his mind for this internal reason to study.  After examining his entire S, he cannot find a single desire from which he could derive a reason.

At this point we might say that he has a different kind of reason for studying, an external reason.  Suppose the student never wanted to go to skool in the first place, but was forced to do it by his draconian parents.  Both his parents are world renowned academics and expect the same future from him.  But little Johnny just wants rock 'n roll aaaaaaaaall night, and party ev-er-y day.

His parents are all, "Johnny, you have to go to school, it's our family tradition and you'll have no sekurity if you don't go to school.  If you care about the legacy of this family you will go to skool.  something something family honour."

So, now that we know a little bit more about why Johnny was in skoo in the first place it becomes clearer that there is nothing in his particular set of desires that might give him a reason to study.  But undeniably there are reasons for Johnny to study.  It becomes apparent that any reason for Johnny to study will come from without; that is, it will be an external reason.

Alright, so we have at least one plausible picture of what it might be like for someone to have an external reason for doing something.  Now, the main issue...

Can External Reasons Alone Bring about Action?

Now, here's the big important queshtun: could an external reason, on its own, compel someone to act.  Another way to say this is, if we were to retroactively explain someone's actions, could we ever (correctly) explain them exclusively in terms of external reasons?

Lets go back to Johnny and figure this out.  Lets say after listening to his parents express their desperate desire for him to go to school and to carry on his family's lofty tradition, Johnny decides to go back to skool and study.  What sort of story can we tell to explain his new course of action?

Lets begin by saying, that there are still no desires in Johnny's S that might give him a direct reason for going to skool.  That much hasn't changed.   But we still need something to explain his motive for going to school; that is, something in is S must have provided a reason for him to go to school.

The internalist will say that the reason for Johnny's return to skool is because he had desires in his S that gave him a reason/motivation.  The internalist will say something to the effect that Johnny must consider his family's traditions and legacies as desires capable of motivating action.   After reflection he realized that the best way to manifest those desires was to go to skool.  He's not going to study because he thinks school's important (although he's aware of it), he's going to study because he values his families legacy, and studying is what's going to realize this desire.

The fact that we can point to internal motivations/reasons to explain Johnny's change of heart doesn't mean that external reason statements can't motivate action.  Consider the fact that it's common knowledge that going to university on the whole significantly ameliorates your lifetime salary (well, it used to be true anyway...).

Johnny never doubted the truth of this statement, he knew this.  He parents had been telling him his whole life.  The important take away is that even if an external reason statement is true (or thought to be true by an individual), its truth alone is not sufficient to compel action.

What the externalist has to shew is that simply by virtue of believing an external reason statement to be true (e.g., going to skool is good) that this alone somehow gives rise to motivation.  The externalist has to shew that Johnny went back to skool because going to school is good.  Not because he values family legacy (that's an internal reason) or his father made a very convincing case (he already knew going to skool is a good thing and that would be going because his father persuaded him).

If we extend this model to the moral sphere, telling someone that something is 'right' (and their believing it is) isn't on its own sufficient for the person to act in accordance with it.  Moral action will require internal reasons for there to be any, well...action.

At this point, Williams discusses further intricate arguments against externalism, but I'm really sleepy so, I'm going to pass on them for now.

A Few Final Notes

First is that the externalist has difficulty explaining the all-too-common human peculiarity of acting contrary to what one might think as objectively true (i.e., external reason statements).  The only response an externalist can give is "they're acting irrationally".  But plainly this is not true.  The calculating criminal who devises all sorts of plans to avoid getting caught for his crime, is not acting irrationally.  It's rational not to want to go to jail and to avoid it--despite the ostensibly objective reason statement "stealing is baaaaaaaaaad" which the criminal probably also acknowledges as true.

Second is that when we try to convince people to do things we often encounter greater success when we give them reasons that relate to their internal desires.  Trying to convince someone that they should do something because it is objectively the right and rational thing to do is not often going to be as successful.

If you don't believe me you can do your own applied philosophy experiment the next time you get into an argument.  To bring the other person to see the glorious correctness of your view, just keep repeating, "but my way is right and rational, so I win".

If that doesn't work, go to the worst area of town at night and while you're getting robbed, explain to your assailant that what his is doing is wrong and that he is acting irrationally.  Let me know how it works!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Is Scientific Progress Cumulative or Revolutionary? Kuhn Part 2: Contemporary Science

Notes and Thoughts on Kuhn's The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions:  Part 2


Kuhn argues that scientific progress comes about when one paradigm is replaced by other.  This is in contrast to the view that scientific progress is cumulative, and new theories simply modify existing theoretical structures.

Application of The Revolutionary Model to Contemporary Science

So, the Kuhn model of scientific progress fits pretty well when we apply it to changes in early science from the 16th, 17th, 18th, and some of the 19th Centuries.  Clearly, some of those early scientific theories were completely wrong.  So much so that if they had been around, even the Insane Clown Posse would have looked, well...sane.  Back then, they didn't even know how magnets worked!  But what about now?  I mean, clearly we've got it right, now; we know how magnets work.  So, scientific progress from this point on will be cumulative...or will it?  Oh! Snap! 

Counter-Example to Kuhn (?)

Clearly, when the Copernican model of the solar system totally annihilated the Ptolemaic model, we are looking at an instance that supports Kuhn's thesis that scientific change is revolutionary.  It is not possible to simultaneously hold both theories.  One theory--in this case--Ptolemaic astronomy, was relegated to the dust bin of history (I invented that phrase) as per Kuhn's theory.   But what about contemporary physics?  

In the early 20th Century, Einsteinian physics showed that Newtonian physics was wrong.  So, if Kuhn is right, no scientists should be using Newtonian physics.  But wait!  I know I'm getting on in my years but I'm pretty sure that it was Newtonian physics I was taught in high school (shout out to Mr. Kelly) and I went to high school after the great Einsteinian revolution!  Did Mr. Kelly not get the memo?  Was he a staunch physics conservative?  Was I instead in a history of science class?  My head is spinning now!  So, many possibilities! 

What makes matters worse is that still today, working engineers and physicists use Newtonian physics.  Aaaand they even appeal to Einsteinian physics to prove that Newtonian physics works!  Appeal to Einstein's theory shows that in limited circumstances, Newtonian physics gives us the right answers.  It seems that we can derive Newton's theory from Einstein's.  What the crap is going on?

One might reply that, unlike Einstein's theory, Newton's physics only works within a certain domain-- when the relative velocities of bodies being considered are small compared to the speed of light.  

But the Newtonians can counter by saying that their theory isn't wrong, it's just that the early proponents applied it to cases for which it does not apply.  They over-extended the domain of the theory; they didn't have any evidence to support their claims that Newtonian physics applied to such high relative velocity bodies.  When you apply it to its correct domain, it is unproblematic.  So, there!  Newton rules!  Kuhn's wrong. 

Kuhn Kounter Attack (*laser sound effects)

Trivial Science

First of all, if we say that theories are immune from criticism provided we ignore all the things they can't explain, and only judge them within the confines of what we already know they explain, then almost every past theory can be protected.  This is just stark nonsense!  

Also, it makes the use of the theory very restrictive and further scientific development is almost ruled out by definition because, again, the theory can only be used in areas that are already well-known.  Research is always conducted within the framework of a theory, and if we already know the areas to which a theory can be applied or not, "progress" will be trivial.  

Can Newtonian Physics Really Be Derived from Einsteinian Physics?

K.  Shit's about to get a bit technical but don't be scurd.  We gong do dis t'getha.  

So, we have a set of statements from Einsteinian physics which are the axioms and definitions of the theory; that is the laws and terms.  Call them E1, E2, E3...Also we have the axioms of Newtonian physics: N1, N2, N2...  The suggestion from the science as evolution camp is that we can derive the N statements from the E statements.   In other words, the N statements can be shown to be a sub-set of the E statements; Newtonian physics is a part of the larger Einsteinian physics.

The E statements represent spacial position, time, mass, (and the laws and other definitions in E) and the N statements also include most of these notions.  So, it seems like we're talkin' 'bout the same things in both theories; so, maybe we can derive (or translate terms into) the Newtonian statements from the E statements and shew that Newton's laws (the N statements) are just a subsection of a greater whole (the E statements).  

But wait!  'member how I said way back in the prollem of cirkilairity that all scientific statements presuppose a background theory? (the technical term is that they are "theory-laden").  Why is this relevant?  Because if we look closely, the E terms don't correspond directly with the N terms.  E mass refers to something different than N mass--they have different properties.  N mass is always conserved but E mass is convertible to energy.  So, we can't do a direct translation of E terms to N terms because they refer to fundamentally different things.  

The only way to do it would be to import the E concepts into the corresponding N terms, but then the N terms wouldn't be N terms any more, they'd be E terms.  So, the N statements cannot be derived from the E statements, so, Newtonian physics cannot be derived as a subset of Einsteinian physics.  

The disanalogy of N-mass, N-spacial location, N-time, etc and E-mass, E-spacial location, E-time, etc, might not be as dramatic as other historical examples.  (Phlogiston to oxygen [how things burn], corpuscules to waves [how light travels].)  However, the fundamental point is that, despite the eeeeeery resemblance of the names of the terms, they do not refer to the same things.  


Finally, while it is true that an old theory can be considered a special case of the prevailing theory it must be retrofitted for the purpose with the full benefit of hindsight.  Understanding the specific parameters within which Newtonian physics works and why, requires the prior acceptance of Einsteinian physics as the correct model.   

Furthermore, while it may be possible to work within Newtonian physics, the prospects for actual scientific progress are very small because it can only be applied to areas where we know it works already--so, no new significant discoveries can be made.  In other words, Newtonian physics is good for applied sciences and engineering, but not so much for research that might lead to important advances in new understandings of our universe.

The last point (I promise) is that the prevailing scientific paradigm is the one that defines the research problems and projects.  So, by adopting a new paradigm, new research problems emerge and, perhaps, the old one's--now, explained away by the new paradigm--dissolve.  

As an example, we can point to the annihilation of the evolutionary model in biology by the intelligent design model of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  To take one example, previously, evolutionary biologists occupied their time trying to figure out how light sensitive patches on simple organisms evolved into the modern complex eye.  Now, under the new correct paradigm they realized this was a false problem and are instead focusing their research energy on trying to figure out how eyeballs evolved from meatballs.  

To learn about this new paradigm here's the link...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Is Scientific Progress Cumulative or Revolutionary? Kuhn Part 1

Notes and Thoughts on Thomas Kuhn's The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions

Favourite Quote: "...whatever its force, the status of the  circular argument is only that of persuasion.  It cannot be made logically or even probabilistically compelling for those who refuse to step into the circle."


Kuhn's view of how science works is that in order for there to be scientific development, one scientific paradigm must be "overthrown" by a new mutually exclusive paradigm.  His position is in contrast to the view that science develops incrementally and cumulatively.  In short this is about whether scientific progress is best described as evolution or revolution. 

The Nature of a Scientific Revolution

Scientific revolution? Vas ist das?  Obviously, it's a revolution in which everyone wears lab coats.  Oddly, Kuhn has a different idea of what it means.  I want to skip though this part fairly quickly soz we can get to the meat of the issue.  Basically, Kuhn wants to drahr an analogy between political and scientific revolutions.  

Quick definition of terms:  by scientific paradigm, I mean an overarching theory upon which other sub-theories depend/are embedded.  Examples of paradigm theories are Newtonian physics, phlogiston theory, kinetic molecular theory, and, since it's Darwin day today (yay!) we should, of course, include evolution.  

The first parallel is that political revolutions are brought about by a growing belief by a portion of the population that the institutions don't adequately solve the problems that those institutions are designed to solve, and that often the institutions themselves partly contribute to the problem.  In short, substitute "paradigm" for every instance of "institution" and you have Kuhn's view of how scientific revolutions come about.  

The second parallel is that political revolutions are partly about changing institutions in ways that those institutions, by definition, prohibit.  So, for a revolution to be successful, the initial institutions must fundamentally change.  This implies (as we are seeing in Egypt, for example) that there will be a transition periode where it's not clear what institutions are doing the governing.  Will the pharaohs maintain power and continue to build pyramids or will the Muslims take over and build mosques?  

Uncertainty will prevail for a while but eventually, individuals will have to choose one set of institutions over another; and one set of institutions will become de facto.  During this period of uncertainty there will be mass campaigns of persuasion--often violent.  Again, substitue "paradigm" for every instance of "institution" and you get Kuhn's view of scientific revolutions.  

One last note is that, when we are talking about competing sets of institutions there is no objective standard to which we can appeal to choose one over the other.  The same goes for scientific paradigms. Kuhn' s not talking about cases where there's overwhelming evidence in favour of one theory, but cases where both paradigms can explain most of the phenomena it aims to describe.  The contention of one group is that the way that one paradigm explains things is be preferred.

To summarize, except for the fact that scientific revolutions are often more violent and bloody than political revolutions, Kuhn's basic analogy is that there are significant parallels between the two types.  The analogy will allow us to conceptualize in a more familiar way how scientific revolutions occur.  Also, these similarities will support his thesis that scientific process requires the destruction of existing theories by new theories; as opposed to the idea that scientific progress is cumulative--i.e., the old is simply modified by the new.
 Lets move on...

Changes in Scientific Paradigms that Support the Revolution Hypothesis 

So, the general situation we are discussing will look something like this:  there are 2 competing paradigms that are both capable of explaining most empirical observations.  We can't point to any particular evidence that favours a paradigm because the evidence is only intelligible within a given paradigm; for instance when I talk about electrons, I'm necessarily invoking the atomic model of matter (i.e., paradigm).  

The Problem of Circularity 

So, check it.  Suppose we lived in a pre-quantum mechanics era.  The standard atomic model is king of the wooooooooorld.  There's no quantum touch healing and no quantum energy healing.  People are dying everywhere.  In short, it's a horrible place.  Now, along come these crazy people that say that understanding matter within the standard atomic model is wrong.  We should consider electrons not to be particles but waves.  

Notice that we can't talk about electrons without pulling in all the rest of the stuff that goes along with the standard atomic model, and we can't talk about quantum energy waves without bringing in the rest of quantum theory.  

The prollem of cirkalairity arises because there isn't a one to one correspondence of terms when discussing competing paradigms.  The consequence is that any argument for a paradigm will necessarily presuppose that paradigm.  As Kuhn says 

"...whatever its force, the status of the  circular argument is only that of persuasion.  It cannot be made logically or even probabilistically compelling for those who refuse to step into the circle."

I'll esplain this in more concrete terms in a bit, but for now, it will suffice to say that cirkalairity is going to be a prollem when a proponent of one paradigm argues with a proponent of a paradigm from another mother.  

I lied.  One more thing about cirkalairity:  A further prollem that derives from the cirkalairity is that logic and empirical evidence alone will not be sufficient to persuade the relevant community toward a particular paradigm.  The obvious question then is, how is it decided when one paradigm gets replaced by another?  Do scientists arm wrestle over it?  Do the cleanest lab coats win?  How?

What About New Discoveries?

It's possible that a new discovery could push opinion one way or another but it's going to depend on the nature of the discovery.  Consider our paradigm about what is required in an environment for life to exist.  If life were discovered on the moon--an environment our current paradigm holds as hostile to (native) life--we'd have to change our paradigm.  But if life were discovered in the unknown reaches of the universe, we'd have to know more about that environment before our paradigm changed.  

Similarly, sometimes new discoveries connect previously unconnected theories.  This is the case with the theory of energy conservation which links dynamics, chemistry, alectricity, optics, and thermal energy.

In short, new discoveries do not guarantee support for one paradigm over another.  Sometimes they are compatible with both, inconclusive, or connect the previously unconnected.   

Importantly, new discoveries reveal something new about the natural order of the world, but do nothing to influence our decision regarding the preferred theoretical framework within which to describe the discovery.  

What About Science as a Cumulative Enterprise?

Why all this crazy talk about revolutionary overthrow of paradigms?  Kuhn's obviously just read too much Marx and Hegel.  Why can't we just say science is cumulative?  You know...we have a theory about something and then we discover something that doesn't fit our theory so we adjust the theory.  This happens over and over.  There are no crazy revolutions going on.  We just take new information in the context of what we know.  When we have to, we adjust our theory so it best fits empirical observation.  

Ok, says Kuhn, I'll grant this is true in normal research.   Scientists wearing lab coats choose for their research projects problems that can be solved with the concepts and instrumental techniques already and close to those already existence.  The direction of their research will be influenced by the phenomena their existing working model predicts or areas of the model that need to be filled in.  This is obvious enough.  Scientists don't just do random research.  There's always some expectation of result which is defined by the paradigm within which they work. 

The consequence of this is that anomalies will be rare to the degree that the working theory incorrectly predicts and/or the scientist incorrectly deduces and/or incorrectly uses his test tubes and bunsen burner.   Otherwise stated, it will be the amount of different types of anomalies and their inability to be assimilated into the prevailing paradigm that give rise to (hehe, I said "give rise") the issue of competing paradigms.  For the existing paradigm, the anomaly will be just that--an anomaly; but a new paradigm might redender the anomaly law-like.  

At some point, given enough or recalcitrant enough anomalies, a new paradigm will be proposed and the people in lab coats will have to decide to choose one or the other.  If they choose the new one, by definition they must reject the other.  Since the rejection of paradigms is what marks revolution, it is Kuhn's model that best describes how scientific progress is made, not the cumulative model.

A further point for Kuhn is that since two paradigms will have, by definition, different logical consequences, they will predict different things.  If the cumulative model is correct and we hold on to our old theory after we have accepted the new one, then we will have differing predictions from within the same scientific field.  But this isn't what happens (when there is consensus), the predictions derived from the new theory will crush the heads of the beliefs of the first, and so, the old theory is necessarily displaced by the new.  This is as opposed the the old theory assimilating the new, and science proceeding in a cumulative fashion.  

So, where we at?  Basically, Kuhn's argument is that scientific progress isn't cumulative but revolutionary.  It requires the rejection of previous theories by new ones, rather than the assimilation of the new by the old.   Part 2 coming up!