New Online Situations

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So, I am rearranging a bit my life on the web. I’ve put up a new “professional” homepage at http://matthewjbrown.net/. I’ve also got a new place to post classes at http://classes.matthewjbrown.net/, though only my current courses are up there at present.

I’ve also decided to move my posts about bourbon and whiskey over to The Whiskey Philosopher. I hope to find time to develop that further in the future.

For now, I’ll just let you wonder what http://commandlineonly.org/ is about.

I am absolute shite at WordPress theming so if anyone has any recommendations, please leave them in the comments.

John Dewey on Truth and Values in Science

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This post is an abbreviated form of what I have come to think of as the most interesting part of a paper I’m working on for the volume of papers from this summer’s conference at Notre Dame on “Cognitive Attitudes and Values in Science”. For some of the background here, see my 2012 HOPOS paper, “John Dewey’s Logic of Science”.

According to Dewey in Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), inquiry is the attempt to manage situations of agent-environment discordance (what he calls “indeterminate” or “problematic” situations) that interrupt the agents’ practices and activities, to restore unity, determinateness, and harmony to the situation and allow the practice and activity to continue again once impeded. The conclusion of inquiry is called “judgment.” Judgment is not just a statement of what is going on and a hypothesis of what is to be done, but it is a decision to act so as to resolve the problematicity and indeterminateness of the situation that occasioned it. In Dewey’s terms, a judgment has “direct existential consequences.”

Judgments of inquiry are thus what Dewey called “judgments of practice” (see especially the final essay in Essays in Experimental Logic, “The Logic of Judgments of Practice.” Practical judgments are about “things to do or be done, judgments of a situation demanding action”(MW 8:14). This is, by the way, Dewey’s best definition of his pragmatism: pragmatism is the hypothesis that all judgments are judgments of practice.

Dewey points out that judgments of practice have peculiar truth conditions:

Their truth or falsity is constituted by the issue. The determination of end-means… is hypothetical until the course of action indicated has been tried. The event or issue of such action is the truth or falsity of the judgment… In this case, at least, verification and truth completely coincide. (LJP, MW 8:14)

If my judgment is “I should buy this suit,” then that judgment was true if doing so worked out; if the consequences of that judgment are satisfying, they fulfill the needs that prompted buying the suit, they do not have unintended negative consequences, if I do not feel regret for my decision, then it was the right to say that I should buy it. What else could the truth of a judgment of practice involve? And indeed, there is a straightforward way in which truth of the judgment is due to correspondence—the judgment corresponded with the future consequences intended by the judgment.

From a pragmatist point of view, science is a practice, and scientific inquiry, like all inquiry, is an attempt to resolve an indeterminate situation that arises in that practice. The form of the final judgment that concludes an inquiry is what Dewey has called a “judgment of practice.” Like all practical judgments, scientific judgments are true or false according to their consequences. This is not the vulgar pragmatism that would measure the truth of a proposition according to whether the consequences of believing it are congenial. Rather, the consequences in question are tied to the consequences intended by the judgment. As all judgments involve a solution to a particular problem and a transformation of an indeterminate situation, then the truth of that judgment is determined by whether the transformation of the situation, carried out, resolves the problem and eliminates the specific indeterminacy in question.

We can thus provide the following definition of truth:

A judgment J that concludes an inquiry I is a decision to act in a certain way in order to resolve a problematic situation S that occasioned I.

J is true in S iff J resolves S, i.e., if it transforms S from an indeterminate to a determinate situation.

According to Dewey, judgment is a species of action, and indeed a species that can have serious consequences, as it tends to transform human practices and the environments in which they take place. Judgment is a decision to act in a situation in order to resolve the problem that occasioned it. It has direct existential consequences. That judgment is true (or false) in that situation insofar as it succeeds (or fails) in resolving that problem. Both judgment and truth are value-laden on this account.

Judgment is value-laden primarily due to our ordinary ethical and social responsibilities. When we decide to act, it is appropriate to hold us accountable to the appropriate norms of action. When our actions have consequences that impact our lives, we have an obligation to weight those consequences when making a decision. Judgments transform our environments and our practices. Within the limits of what can successfully resolve a problematic situation, we are obligated to make choices in accordance with our best value judgments.

Truth is likewise value-laden, for much the same reason. What counts as an adequate solution depends on what we care about. How we are sensitive to the way our practices impact on others, the environment, etc. will change whether we are able to carry on with the practice or whether it becomes indeterminate. Value judgments alter what we may regard as true.

Dewey was concerned to show that the advancement of science does not require an abandonment of social responsibility.

My hypothesis is that the standpoint and method of science do not mean the abandonment of social purpose and welfare as rightfully governing criteria in the formation of beliefs… (“The Problem of Truth” MW 6:57)

Our judgments (or our beliefs, if you prefer), are not mere attempts to mirror a static world beyond us, but are attempts to manage and change the world to render the precarious stable, the problematic straightforward, the doubtful trustworthy. Knowing and doing are intimately connected; the act of knowing modifies the thing known. We can thus only answer the question of what we know by appealing, in part, to what we care about—ethically, politically, and socially.

My NDPR Review of Wright, Explaining Science’s Success

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Some of you may have already seen my review of John Wright’s Explaining Science’s Success: Understanding How Scientific Knowledge Works that appeared yesterday at NDPR. I tried to write the kind of review that PD Magnus likes to read:

It isn’t just about the book and what the author says in it. Rather, it offers a critical view of the issue and situates the book in recent discussions. It also treats the book as a bit of philosophy worthy of criticism. This contrasts with the veneer of rhetorical objectivity which bad reviews have.

I don’t know if I really succeeded. Some will surely think my review was overly dismissive. Obviously, I thought the book was Not Very Good. While there are some ideas and arguments in the book that I found interesting, what struck me most about the arguments is that they seemed so irresponsible in the light of the contemporary scene in phil sci.

Anyhow, I’d love to hear what people think of the review, especially the points I made that went beyond Wright’s book itself.

Three Direct Roles for Values in Science: A Sketch of a Sketch

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Heather Douglas (2000, 2009) has argued that inductive risk requires that scientists make value judgments in the “internal” processes of scientific reasoning, e.g., data characterization and interpretation and judging whether the evidence supports a hypothesis, but that the role for value judgments must be limited to an indirect role. There has been some controversy about just what the direct/indirect roles distinction amounts to (Elliott, Steele), but the basic idea is easy enough to understand: something plays a direct role in a decision if it acts as a reason for deciding one way or the other; it plays an indirect role if it instead helps determines second-order questions about the uptake of reasons, e.g., about what counts as a reason or about determining the necessary weight of reasons before deciding.
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What is “The Hanged Man”?

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“The Hanged Man” was an online Synchronet BBS Home Screen alias or “handle” I adopted somewhere around 1994, when I didn’t even have access to the internet and instead was using local dialup bulletin board systems (BBS’s). I continued to use the name on into the next millennium, when I started a webpage and got an email address. I’ve continued to use it into the present mostly out of inertia. It’s also a fairly memorable handle, and I’ve had the web domain long enough not to want to give it up.

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Bowman Brothers Pioneer Spirit

According to the label: Copper Still, Triple Distillation, Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Small Batch, 90°

Price: $30.

Bottle of Bowman Brothers Pioneer SpiritIn honor of the recently deceased Truman Cox of the A. Smith Bowman distillery, I picked up a bottle of this today, the lowest level of their small batch bourbons. According to Chuck Cowdery, “The whiskey is distilled at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort. The new make is sent to Virginia where it is distilled a third time and entered into barrels. Aging and bottling is done in Virginia,” in the copper pot still mentioned on the label. No age statement, nor does it mention when it was bottled, though the number “12221” printed on the bottle suggest it may be have been bottled 2012-22-1. It does have a cute fake tax stamp on it.

Light tawny honey color. Beautiful sweet nose, fruity and floral, honey and apples. Tastes less sweet than the nose would lead you to believe, with crisp and fresh taste, maybe white grapes and honeydew melon, along with some dried apricot. If there is any problem with this one, it is a slight bitter, astringent note on the finish, which is accompanied by a nice, darker fruit flavor (raisins or dried plums or Beaujolais nouveau).

Overall, an interesting, nice change of pace from what I’m used to in the ryes and bourbons I’ve been drinking lately. I tend to like a lot of rye spice and wood influence, and there’s very little of that here. It is less often I go for the sweeter stuff, though I do occasionally like a really nice wheater (I love Old Weller Antique 107°), and I do like Angel’s Envy, which is definitely on the sweet side. This isn’t really like any of those. Not sure I’ve had a bourbon I would describe as crispy before. Let’s call it a B+.

What this really does is make me want to try the John J. or the Abraham Bowman.

Dewey on Standpoint Epistemology

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Women have as yet made little contribution to philosophy. But when women who are not mere students of other persons’ philosophy set out to write it, we cannot conceive that it will be the same in viewpoint or tenor as that composed from the standpoint of the different masculine experience of things.

– John Dewey, Philosophy and Democracy (1919)

UT Dallas Disc Golf Course

For my birthday, my lovely Sabrina bought me two sets of frisbee golf discs and arranged for us to go out on the UT Dallas disc golf course. Unfortunately, the course only has 9 holes, which makes for a pretty short game of disc golf. In order to increase your playing pleasure, I present to you: the UT Dallas Disc Golf Course Back 9: