Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I am a metaphysical Non-Reductionist, an epistemological Absolutist, and a moral Objectivist

After posting this, I realized a little editorial commentary might be useful. My comments are in italics

Your Score: N-A-O

You scored 77% Non-Reductionism, 77% Epistemological Absolutism, and 55% Moral Objectivism!

You are an N-A-O: a metaphysical Non-Reductionist, an epistemological Absolutist, and a moral Objectivist. If you are simply dying inside to figure out what all this mumbo-jumbo means, then simply continue reading.

Metaphysics: Non-Reductionism (Idealism or Realism) In metaphysics, my test measures your tendency towards Reductionism or Non-Reductionism. As a Non-Reductionist, you recognize that reality is not necessarily simple or unified, and you thus tend to produce a robust ontology instead of carelessly shaving away hypothetical entities that reflect our philosophical experiences. [I think the test designer has a pretty clear preference here] My test recognizes two types of Non-Reductionists: Idealists and Realists.

1. Idealists believe that reality is fundamentally unknowable. All we can ever know is the world of sense experience, thought, and other phenomena which are only distorted reflections of an ultimate (or noumenal) reality. Kant, one of the most significant philosophers in history, theorized that human beings perceive reality in such a way that they impose their own mental frameworks and categories upon reality, fully distorting it. Reality for Kant is unconceptualized and not subject to any of the categories our minds apply to it. Idealists are non-reductionists because they recognize that the distinction between phenomenal reality and ultimate reality cannot be so easily discarded or unified into a single reality. They are separate and distinct, and there is no reason to suppose the one mirrors the other. Major philosophical idealists include Kant and Fichte.

If your views are different from the above, then you may be a Realist. 2. Realists deny the validity of sloppy metaphysical reductions, because they feel that there is no reason to suspect that reality reflects principles of parsimony or simplicity. Realism is the most common-sensical of the metaphysical views. It doesn't see reality as a unity or as reducible to matter or mind, nor does it see reality as divided into a phenomenal world of experience and an unknowable noumenal world of things-in-themselves. Realist metaphysics emphasizes that reality is for the most part composed of the things we observe and think. On the question of the existence of universals, for instance, a realist will assert that while universals do not physically exist, the relations they describe in particulars are as real as the particular things themselves, giving universals a type of reality. Thus, no reduction is made. On the mind-body problem, realists tend to believe that minds and bodies both exist, and the philosophical problems involved in reducing mind to matter or matter to mind are too great to warrant such a reduction. Finally, realists deny that reality is ultimately a Unity or Absolute, though they recognize that reality can be viewed as a Unity when we consider the real relations between the parts as constituting this unity--but it doesn't mean that the world isn't also made up of particular things. Aristotle and Popper are famous realists.

[This is a tough one. The Idealist position has a strong post-modern feel; the Realist position seems closer to the pragmatic approach which I think represents my position. I'm not entirely sure, from these descriptions, how these two positions are opposed to each other]


Epistemology: Absolutism (Rationalism or Pragmatism) My test measures one's tendency towards Absolutism or Skepticism in regards to epistemology. As an Absolutist, you believe that objective knowledge is possible given the right approach, and you deny the claims of skeptical philosophers who insist that we can never have knowledge of ultimate reality. The two types of Absolutists recognized by my test are Rationalists and Pragmatists.
[Maybe it's a measure of my philosophical unsophistication that I think both positions have merit, but I don't see a contradiction between believing that some objective knowledge is possible but that ultimate reality is likely beyond our comprehension]

1. Rationalists believe that the use of reason ultimately provides the best route to truth. A rationalist usually defines truth as a correspondence between propositions and reality, taking the common-sense route. Also, rationalists tend to believe that knowledge of reality is made possible through certain foundational beliefs. This stance is known as foundationalism. A foundationalist believes that, because we cannot justify the truth of every statement in an infinite regress, we ultimately reach a foundation of knowledge. This foundation is composed of a priori truths, like mathematics and logic, as well as undoubtable truths like one's belief in his or her own existence. The belief that experiences and memories are veridical is also part of the foundation. Thus, for a rationalist knowledge of reality is made possible through our foundational beliefs, which we do not need to justify because we find them to be undoubtable and self-evident. In regards to science, a rationalist will tend to emphasize the foundational assumptions of scientific inquiry as prior to and more important than scientific inquiry itself. If science does lead to truth, it is only because it is based upon the assumption of certain rational principles such as "Every event is caused" and "The future will resemble the past". Philosophy has a wide representation of philosophical rationalists--Descartes, Spinoza, Liebniz, and many others.
["Self-evident" works best for ethical propositions, and mathematical ones]

If that didn't sound like your own views, then you are most likely the other type of Absolutist: the Pragmatist. 2. Epistemological Pragmatists are fundamentally identified by their definition of truth. Truth is, on this view, merely a measure of a proposition's success in inquiry. This view is a strictly scientific notion of truth. A proposition can be called true if it leads to successful predictions or coheres best with the observed facts about the world. Thus, for the pragmatist, knowledge of reality is possible through scientific reasoning. A pragmatist emphasizes man's fallibility, and hence takes baby-steps towards knowledge through scientific methodology. Any truth claim for a pragmatist is open to revision and subject to change--if empirical observations lead us to call even logical rules into question (like quantum physics has done for the law of the excluded middle), then we can and should abandon even these supposed a priori and "absolutely certain" logical rules if they do not accord with our testing and refuting of our various propositions. As a consequence of this, a pragmatist doesn't feel that scientific knowledge is based upon unfounded assumptions that are taken to be true without any sort of justification--rather, they believe that the successes of scientific inquiry have proved that its assumptions are well-founded. For instance, the assumption of science that the future will be like the past is adequately shown by the amazing success of scientific theories in predicting future events--how else could this be possible unless the assumption were true? Pragmatism borrows elements from realism and yet attempts to account for the critiques made by skeptics and relativists. It is essentially a type of philosophical opportunism--it borrows the best stances from a large number of philosophical systems and attempts to discard the problems of these systems by combining them with others. Famous pragmatists of this type are Peirce and Dewey.
["Philosophical opportunism": Yup, that's me!]


Ethics: Objectivism (Deontology or Logical Positivism) In Ethics, my test measures your tendency towards moral Objectivism or moral Relativism. As a moral Objectivist, you are opposed to Subjectivist moral theories and believe that morality applies to people universally and actually describes objects and situations out in the world as opposed to just subjects themselves. The two types of moral Objectivists my test recognizes are Kantian Deontologists and Utilitarians.
[I didn't come out strongly Objectivist, which makes sense. This is definitely an area where I'm on the fence. Which is, probably, very ironic.]

1. Kantian Deontologists believe that the one intrinsic good is a good will. As rational beings capable of making decisions, the moral worth of our decisions is ultimately derived from the intentions behind our actions, not their consequences. A moral being does the right thing not out of recognition of any consequences, but out of a sense of moral duty. For Kant, a good will is the ultimate good because to deny the will is to deny the one thing that makes us rational, moral beings. If an act will accord with or further our status as free, rational beings, and it is possible to will the universalization of such a moral principle without infringing upon our good wills, then an act is good. Kant's categorical imperative provides an objective standard to judge moral worth--it is not hypothetical in the sense of other imperatives, which hide a latent if-clause. For instance, "Eating razors is good" is good ONLY if you tack on an if-clause that says something like: "If you wish to destroy your gums." Thus, the categorical imperative is good, not just IF something is the case, but in ALL cases. It requires people to treat others as ends, and not means to ends, for to treat everyone as a means to an ends would be to deny them their ability to function as rational, free beings--which is what makes morality possible in the first place. The major proponent of this view in the history of philosophy is, quite obviously, Kant.
[I've always liked the formulation "treat others as ends, and not means to ends" but the overweening nature of Kant's arguments doesn't help me much.]

If that didn't sound like your position, then you are probably the other variety of moral Objectivist--the Utilitarian. 2. Utilitarians define "happiness" or "pleasure" as the sole intrinsic good, and the principle "The greatest pleasure for the greatest number" best reflects a Utilitarian view of ethics. Utilitarianism is a consequentialist moral theory, meaning the consequences of an action--not the intentions behind it--determine the act's moral worth. Even if you intended to do great evil with a certain act, if the act produces a net gain of pleasure and happiness for the greatest number, then it was indeed a good act because your intentions weren't realized. What matters in this scenario, obviously, is the consequences of the act. Utilitarianism, of course, can also be reduced to Hedonism. If you do not feel that the greatest happiness of the greatest number matters, but only pay heed to the greatest happiness of individuals, then you are more adequately classified as a Hedonist. But both Utilitarians and Hedonists define "pleasure" as an intrinsic good and determine the moral worth of an act through its consequences. The only difference is whether we measure the collective pleasure of a group or only an individual's pleasure. Prominent Utilitarians include Bentham and Mill.

[Mill -- that's my guy. But John Stuart, not his dad, and there's a healthy dose of rights, not just opportunities, there.]

As you can see, when your philosophical position is narrowed down there are so many potential categories that an OKCupid test cannot account for them all. But, taken as very broad categories or philosophical styles, you are best characterized as an N-A-O. Your exact philosophical opposite would be an R-S-R.

Link: The Sublime Philosophical Crap Test written by saint_gasoline on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test [via]

Funny Quiz, Predictable Result

How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are a Reality-Based Intellectualist, also known as the liberal elite. You are a proud member of what’s known as the reality-based community, where science, reason, and non-Jesus-based thought reign supreme.

The quiz itself is pretty goofy: one book to build a civilization, naked pyramids, historical revisionism. But I can't argue with the result, can I?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

This just in....

In 2006, this was a really useful blog. In a calculation based on number of posts, number of inbound links from other blogs and especially inbound links from high-ranking blogs, Ahistoricality was ranked 24th in usefulness to answer the question "If I can read 100 blogs, which should I read to be most up to date?" I actually made the cut for high efficiency, too. It's a good thing I was ranked high, because I don't read any of the other blogs in the top 100, unless someone I do read links to them.

What does it mean? Well, if I ever go looking for a paid blogging gig, it might be worth something, I suppose. Anyone looking to hire a history-minded news junkie with a digital photography habit?

P.S.: All you folks coming here from the various reprints of the list of influential blogs might be a little disappointed to learn that I'm on hiatus, more or less. Sorry, but I highly recommend working through my blogroll if you want to learn something!

Ref: Cost-effective Outbreak Detection in Networks
Jure Leskovec, Andreas Krause, Carlos Guestrin, Christos Faloutsos, Jeanne VanBriesen, Natalie Glance.
ACM SIGKDD International Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (ACM KDD), 2007.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Censored Stories: Have you Heard?

As in the past, I give you the Project Censored and WorldNetDaily lists for most underreported stories of the past year or two. Like last year, I'm going to bold the ones I've heard of.

WorldNetDaily, "10 most underreported stories of 2006," January 3, 2007

1. Plans under way for North American Union:
2. Wave of murders and other crimes by illegal aliens
3. Female teachers sexually preying on their students
4. Mideast terror leaders favor Democrats
5. Manipulated war photos by major news outlets
6. New revelation showing that contrary to his claims, Sandy Berger deliberately hid classified documents
7. Iran leader's apocalyptic end-times vision
8. Two border agents face heavy prison time for injuring a drug smuggler they thought was armed
9. Mega-pastor Rick Warren praising Syria
10. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg snoozing for 15 minutes during oral arguments

ProjectCensored, "Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008,"

# 1 No Habeas Corpus for “Any Person”
# 2 Bush Moves Toward Martial Law
# 3 AFRICOM: US Military Control of Africa’s Resources
# 4 Frenzy of Increasingly Destructive Trade Agreements
# 5 Human Traffic Builds US Embassy in Iraq
# 6 Operation FALCON Raids
# 7 Behind Blackwater Inc.
# 8 KIA: The US Neoliberal Invasion of India
# 9 Privatization of America’s Infrastructure
# 10 Vulture Funds Threaten Poor Nations’ Debt Relief
# 11 The Scam of “Reconstruction” in Afghanistan
# 12 Another Massacre in Haiti by UN Troops
# 13 Immigrant Roundups to Gain Cheap Labor for US Corporate Giants
# 14 Impunity for US War Criminals
# 15 Toxic Exposure Can Be Transmitted to Future Generations on a “Second Genetic Code”
# 16 No Hard Evidence Connecting Bin Laden to 9/11
# 17 Drinking Water Contaminated by Military and Corporations
# 18 Mexico’s Stolen Election
# 19 People’s Movement Challenges Neoliberal Agenda
# 20 Terror Act Against Animal Activists
# 21 US Seeks WTO Immunity for Illegal Farm Payments
# 22 North Invades Mexico
# 23 Feinstein’s Conflict of Interest in Iraq
# 24 Media Misquotes Threat From Iran’s President
# 25 Who Will Profit from Native Energy?

I've heard of seven of the ten WND stories, a strong majority, and about half -- twelve of the twenty-five -- PC stories (six of the top ten, though, which is comparable to the WND list). Most of the WND stories I heard about through mainstream sources, and heard debunked through sources like Orcinus. Most of the PC stories I read through Tom's Dispatch (via HNN) or progressive blogs like Progressive Historians and Sideshow, though a lot of the top ten were reported by mainstream outlets (just not hammered into the ground).

We now return you to your regularly scheduled hiatus.