Monday, August 31, 2015

Lars P. Syll — Brad DeLong is wrong on realism and inference to the best explanation


Lars follows up on Brad's post on David Little.

I think that debate could be clarified logically by a discussion of criteria. There seem to be a lot of implicit assumptions about this. Best to make them explicit.

This gets back to the philosophical debate over ontological reality and epistemic knowledge of reality. The history of philosophy is a large measure an enquiry about three fundamental questions:
  1. What is there? (Ontology and Metaphysics)
  2. What can be know about what there is? (Epistemology and Theory of Knowledge)
  3. What can we express about what is? (Philosophical logic, Analytic Philosophy, and Semiotics)
Realism holds that humans have immediate knowledge of what is. Idealism holds that knowledge is mediated by the mind, process of experience, or confined to the mind, so that "reality" for humans is consciousness-based and determined by human consciousness. Some idealists hold that while knowledge is confined to experience, human believe that there is something independent of experience responsible for it, but that humans have no way of going beyond experience, which is phenomenal, that is, appearance.

The philosophical issue is about reality versus appearance.

Naïve realism aka the commonsense view of the world holds that we know what is directly as a matter of self-evidence. This is the view that is generally held. This is disputed in the history of philosophy from ancient time. Now the debate has extended to cognitive science and psychology.

Critical realism holds that we know reality directly and attempts to explain how.

Idealism hold that knowledge is of the mind rather than external reality. Positivism and empiricism are subjective idealists, holding that knowledge is model-based and sense-based. Subjective idealism as phenomenalism because widespread among those who appreciated science after the discovery of how perception functions through the senses being receptive to light and sound waves from the environment. From this point of view it seemed as if realism must wrong since all humans know about what is comes by way of experience, which is phenomenal.

Pragmatists attempt to avoid the issue by holding that knowledge is about experience. But human experience is phenomenal unless one assumes that experience is reality, in which case idealism follows from the assumption unless an explanation based on solid criteria is forthcoming about how experience is not mentally based.

Idealistic views involve a denial of intellectual intuition that bridges the knowledge gap between experience as appearance and reality existing prior to and independently of experience.

Why is this significant? It relates, for example, to the issue of certainty versus uncertainty, true knowledge versus opinion. It also relates to causality. Is so-called causality over constant conjunction of observables, as Hume asserted, or it causality the structure and functioning of real things that exist ontologically independently of observation.

Hume held that knowledge is limited to sense data and logical operations, and universals are mental abstractions. Aristotle held that in addition to sense intuition by which objects are known, human also use intellectual intuition to know the essences of objects as universals.

In between these two positions there is a lot of waffling. (Just kidding.)

Wittgenstein says to look to how language works as a symbolic system, and especially, examine the criteria. In my view, this is a prerequisite to debate. Much of the debate is misplaced, since the participants don't appreciate the issues and don't formulate them in a sound form that makes assumptions explicit. So parties end up at loggerheads over implicit assumptions.

While these questions may seem to some to be trivial, exotic, or even a waste of time, everyone makes assumptions about them that determine one's ideological framework that shapes one's worldview. This influences thought and action, and so the consequences are far-reaching, for example, in macroeconomics and political economy with respect to policy formulation.

Lars P. Syll’s Blog
Brad DeLong is wrong on realism and inference to the best explanation
Lars P. Syll | Professor, Malmo University

54 comments:

Joe said...

Am I the only one that thinks philosophy is very much like economics, ie. is largely bullshit?

Positivism, empiricism, idealism, realism, the essence of blah blah blah, no one disputes that different people can have different perceptions of the exact same events, but if you step off a cliff, you go splat, end of story. Or in the economics contexts, I earn a dollar because some else spent a dollar, we can't all be net exporters...

I remember Noam Chomsky one time postulating that the social "sciences" like to dress up their garble in big words so they can feel important like the physicists and mathematicians that use big words and complicated theories... I think he's probably right.

Tom Hickey said...

Everything is based on assumptions because human think in conceptual models. Even a single descriptive proposition is a mini-model of a possible state of affairs that is either asserted or denied as corresponding to a fact.

Either one uses these models naively or approaches them critically. Philosophy is about using the critical approach.

If one doesn't like the term "philosophy," for example, as anachronistic and outdated, "foundations" will suffice — so foundations of economics instead of philosophy of economics.

Joe said...

SPLAT!

Sounds to me like you dressed up nonsense in gobbly-gook. Walking off a cliff makes you go splat regardless of what your mini-model of possible states of affairs says...

If economists approached the economy as a massively complicated engineering problem, maybe they could tell us something useful. Various conservation laws are the core foundation of physics and engineering (The simplest of circuits can't be analyzed without conservation of energy and charge)... Meanwhile the europeans are still all trying to be net exporters...

Tom Hickey said...

Those are economic issues and are not directly issues of concern in foundations of economics. For example, economics deals with modeling, while foundations of economics deals with the logic of modeling and how it relates to what is modeled.

Why is this important" Because if one thinks that the model is doing some thing it is not, or worse, something that it is incapable of, then nonsense results. A lot of conventional economics is nonsense from the POV of certain parties to the debate in foundations of economics.

Note this is not about making modeling mistakes or choosing the wrong model for the task. It's about fundamental issues of economic methodology.

Conventional economists won't discuss methodology since they regard the issue as settled. The issue is only settled wrt the naïve POV that resists critical examination. As a result, the world is stuck with a bogus method purporting to yield true knowledge of reality.

Joe said...

OK, take the Keen vs Krugman kerfluffle of a couple years ago.. There's no two ways about it, Keen was correct and Krugman was wrong, banks do not transfer purchasing power from saver to borrow, so banks must be included in any model even attempting to be useful.

But, I read an article scoring the argument as a toss up, get this, because each were correct in their own framework.... In their own framework!!! (or should I say mini-model of possible states of affairs) As if reality gives two shits about someone's framework...

[as a side note, it was also a case of stupid liberal bullshit, the liberal authors didn't dare say nobel prize winning krugman could be wrong, he's a liberal icon]

I'm not sure what you meant by "It's about fundamental issues of economic methodology." but Keen approaches it as an engineering problem. Say what you will about the faults of enginners, but one field has produced incredible wonders that the ancients could never have even dreamed of, while the other field has been pretty much a net negative for humanity.

Bob said...

Oust the conventional economists from their roost and the world will become unstuck. I don't think this can be accomplished through the use of word soup.

The main issue is the status quo and what means are available to effect change.

Tom Hickey said...

There are issues about facts and issues about method that everyone operating in the same paradigm agrees about. Foundational questions are about conflicting paradigms, as well as issues that are more normative than descriptive. There is often confusion about this because norms are regularly embedded in propositions that look like descriptions. This why logical analysis is required for foundational issues, whereas argument within a paradigm are ordinarily matter of substance or procedures that can be decided based on factual data and adherence to rules.

For example, Paul Romer's criticism of "mathiness" is based on conflating formal consistency with epistemological truth and claiming the results are "scientific." Even if the data are correct and the math consistent, the output is not necessarily representational if the model's assumptions are too simplistic. This is an argument within economic about method.

On the other hand, the claim that something is causal in the sense that it reflects underlying structure and function of "reality" is a claim that goes beyond method and invites the question, "How do you know for sure? All that is being observed is regular conjunction of some observable data or estimates. The necessity is logical necessity that flows from formal consistency and doesn't itself say anything about the world. Aren't you just assuming that the model reflects so-called reality owing to correlation between model and measurement? How do real causes enter knowledge this way?"

Bob said...

Models should have predictive power, not just be pretty to look at. Are economic models exempt from this process?

Tom Hickey said...

"Models should have predictive power, not just be pretty to look at. Are economic models exempt from this process?"

Of course not. The model that best fits the data is considered the best explanation cet. par. But some would have it that this is all it is. Others would claim that it is a true representation of reality because it fits. This assumes that there is no better explanation that would call it into question.

Bob said...

History has shown that better explanations and revised models surface over time. Sometimes there are major revisions. Why would anyone assume otherwise?

Tom Hickey said...

A better explanation may incorporate a previous one without overturning it. Some explanations were overturned.

Is it possible to know in advance whether an explanation fits "reality" so that it can be improved but not overturned, or will all explanations eventually be replaced. If one claims that this is possible to know that an explanation fits and never will be overturned, then one has to be able to account for it and asserting that this is self-evident is usually not going to cut it as a justification for knowledge

Bob said...

It is to be expected that inconsistencies will turn up. That has been the case with physics.

There's also this recent article:
http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/new-study-studies-wrong-article-1.2340301

This is about expectations based on previous documented experience. To assume that model X is an exception, is to assume an unlikely outcome.

Joe said...

Triple SPLAT!

"If one claims that this is possible to know that an explanation fits and never will be overturned, then one has to be able to account for it and asserting that this is self-evident is usually not going to cut it as a justification for knowledge"

"On the other hand, the claim that something is causal in the sense that it reflects underlying structure and function of "reality" is a claim that goes beyond method and invites the question, "How do you know for sure? All that is being observed is regular conjunction of some observable data or estimates. The necessity is logical necessity that flows from formal consistency and doesn't itself say anything about the world."

It's hard to even parse that, but seems to be nonsense. I'm pretty sure my cell phone works well, airplanes fly, and we have a rover on mars. Are you seriously going to try to argue that engineers and physicists are merely exploiting a purely accidental coincidence between their models and reality? Or maybe, they're actually on to something... What's the chance that the entire field of electromagnetics will be overturned? My presently working cell phone and car radio says that chance is very nearly zero.

"This why logical analysis is required for foundational issues, whereas argument within a paradigm are ordinarily matter of substance or procedures that can be decided based on factual data and adherence to rules."
That's not science. Engineers and physicists don't simply follow rules. Experiment is the ultimate test, if the theory doesn't match experiment, it is wrong, end of story. Sure, I suppose it's correct to say you can't prove something 100%, you can only disprove something, but in practice that's not the case. Our cell phones work, space shuttles fly etc. I'd say we have a handle on the basics of electromagnetics and it's not just coincidence, wouldn't you? Maybe the equations will need little tweaks here and there, but domains of applicability are built into science.

Austerity was put to test and the results are in. It did not change economists' minds. Economics is ideology not science. True believers don't change their minds, engineers do. How does adding ontology/epistemology/positivism to the mix add anything at all?

Bob, that was funny, study shows studies are wrong.. the circular-ness of the title, awesome.

Bob said...

I suppose I should add that it is common for theories to be 'wrong' in the sense that they are incomplete. Advances in instrumentation allow for new measurements, and more accurate ones. I don't know if comparable advances are being made in the realm of statistics, or in areas that can inform economics.

Bob said...

So many studies, so little time ;)

Tom Hickey said...

You still don't see what the foundational issues are. Does success in experimental testing and technological application a theory prove that the theoretical terms correspond to real things, or are they just artifacts of the model? Do these things have "causal powers," or is causality reducible to correlation?

Engineers don't work in accordance with rules? Math is just consistent application of rules. Heuristics are "rules of thumb." Formulas are rules in addition to being general descriptions. Educational testing is about whether one is able to apply rules to cases. Scientific experiments are designed and tested in accordance with rules. Our cultural norms and individual habits are rules we follow subconsciously, but they are still rules even if not explicitly recognized as such.

Regularity implies rule-based rather than random. Even matters that are apparently random are often rule-based, which is why statistical inference is so important. Much if not most of science is stochastic.

Economics is ideology not science. True believers don't change their minds, engineers do. How does adding ontology/epistemology/positivism to the mix add anything at all?

It shows in this case how general propositions in a model are being used normatively and prescriptively in addition to descriptively.

The answer of conventional economists is that their models are the best explanation and the people criticizing them don't have a replacement model that is a better explanation. So put up or shut up.

Another ploy is to tweak the model ad hoc or developed alternative models. That just pushes the issue back to criteria for choosing the model to fit the case ex ante instead of ex post. In other words, it is avoiding the issue.

Without being confronted with logical analysis, they can get away with this and have been doing so.


Anonymous said...

For me, real knowledge is neither what we see in front of the eyes, nor what we see in the mind. If we want to theorise about this (compartmentalise), we should consider consciousness as an entity, separate to the physical world and to the mind. Mind is a blank slate, on which is reflected the outside world via the senses. We can also write on this slate; let the imagination run wild (instead of creatively), and sometimes, things arrive on the slate 'from out of the blue' as they say. A lot of important medical and scientific break-throughs have arrived that way. People can be hypnotised so that if a chicken or a landscape is placed in the mind, the eyes 'see' a chicken or landscape; the same in dreams where things seem to be real. Whatever we see in the world, it is because it exists in the mind - our worldview eclipses other worldviews. The work of mind is to synthesise all of this input; to discriminate between what is real (to the consciousness observing) and what is not.

Mind tries to arrive at the deepest truth about existence through rationalising, model-building, logical progression. It loves to build in this way; but what it builds exists only in the mind - whether or not it is a true reflection of what is. It will fight to maintain the integrity of its construction; even create a burnt wasteland through war, out in the physical world, in defense, or aggrandisement of itself. When you tell mind that at death it will deflate like a balloon; that the ego will be broken like a pencil - it is defiant, perhaps silent, afraid, but rarely humble. It does not like to say 'I do not know'. Mind has a ceiling through which it cannot escape. The human drama, is the province of mind. And round and round we go.

Many thousands of years ago, Patanjali wrote down: 'if you want to get beyond the mind, it has to be still, focused, concentrated, sattvic'. Of course, mind is forever in motion – we may as well try to stop breathing. So, what did he mean?

Simply this: the idealists are right and so are the realists; and so is Wittgenstien. It has to be real (to the consciousness observing). It has to be something that already exists; something that we can 'touch, hear, see, taste and smell,' something that is not opinion, and something that any human being can experience. The bit that the mind finds absolutely incomprehensible is that it is not available to the mind as something it can think into being; it is available to the mind in the same way as the Sun is available to the water – if its calm enough and the clouds have dispersed, there will be a reflection. The tool of access is not the mind: the tool of access is feeling; via the human heart. That is about as techical a statement as I can make of it. Mind will not like to hear it, but Love, the evolutionary energy of Love, is our beautiful future.

Within each human heart is Being: and whoever in this world is fortunate enough to find their way into the hall of learning where Being shines; the very first thing to be noticed is the distance between the stars and the lamposts, the heart and the lower mind. First, we need to learn how to feel, and get in touch with our thirst. Then maybe we will arrive at a place where we are privileged - to knock on our own door, and someone will turn up, and hand us a key.

Tom Hickey said...

Right, jr. Knowledge is structured in consciousness and is different in different states of consciousness, such as waking, dreaming and sleep. This implies that "reality" is different in different states of consciousness. According to perennial wisdom there are many states of consciousness. Just as the ordinary waking state of consciousness is different from that animals, fowl and fish, and even more primitive forms of life, so to there are different states of waking than the ordinary waking state. These states are reported in the literature of perennial wisdom, for example, as well as the testimony of now living people. This is currently being investigated in transpersonal psychology and other scientific fields.

Joe said...

Whether you're sleeping, dreaming or waking, if someone pushes you off a cliff, you go splat. Experiment is what matters.

"You still don't see what the foundational issues are. Does success in experimental testing and technological application a theory prove that the theoretical terms correspond to real things, or are they just artifacts of the model? Do these things have "causal powers," or is causality reducible to correlation?"

Now that has substance! Which is cause and which is effect? It's also possible that the experiment appears successful even though your explanation is incorrect. Now those are important questions. That's good science.

Foundations of economics? I prefer to start here: for you to earn a dollar, someone else must spend a dollar. There's a few other things too, like where money comes from, but clearly the Europeans haven't even got the flow thing down.

Neil Wilson said...

"Whether you're sleeping, dreaming or waking, if someone pushes you off a cliff, you go splat. Experiment is what matters."

That is correct.

However there are philosophical issues to discuss that go beyond the basic engineering black and white.

The definition of 'work' for example - which I define as 'something you enjoy doing with your day that also delivers the required level of quid pro quo into society'.

There is a load of philosophical debate in that definition that determines whether a basic income and a job guarantee is both feasible or possible in human societies. And it starts from the basic sociological evidence that unlike other apes naturally we share things - but we only do that with other humans who are seen as having contributed to the creation of the thing.

The other is migration and nation states. There is no doubt that the human species is tribal in its natural state. What does that say about the size of nations, and therefore the size of currency areas and democracies. Open door immigration is incompatible with comprehensive social security in a single nation state, for example.

Can we move beyond any of these or are we stuck dealing with our underlying biology?

Nobody has really bothered getting down and dirty with the philosophical assumptions for decades, if not centuries.

Bob said...

The answer of conventional economists is that their models are the best explanation and the people criticizing them don't have a replacement model that is a better explanation. So put up or shut up.

Obviously this is not true. There are competing models, which they ignore.

Another ploy is to tweak the model ad hoc or developed alternative models. That just pushes the issue back to criteria for choosing the model to fit the case ex ante instead of ex post. In other words, it is avoiding the issue.

They are free to Ptolemize their models, and heterodox economists should be free to have theirs added to the discourse.

Without being confronted with logical analysis, they can get away with this and have been doing so.

They get away with this because economics is not being conducted as a science. They serve as corrupt gatekeepers within academia.

As Joe stated, the results are in. Their predictions regarding austerity were wrong. As far as the general public is concerned, the experiment is over and it is time for change.

Bob said...

Neil Wilson,

Those are sociological questions that need to be answered. To put it down to "human nature" is unacceptable. The academic and scientific communities can do better.

What are we looking for?
Solutions that work?
Grand philosophical theories that claim they work?

Bob said...

jrbarch,

When I am tasked with solving problems, that is a different state of awareness. Sometimes I enjoy it. Sometimes I am aware that it detracts from other experiences. I can't have it all (at the same time).

axdouglas said...

Joe, you write: 'I'm pretty sure my cell phone works well, airplanes fly, and we have a rover on mars.'

The philosophical question is how we know these things. For instance, your phone uses integrated circuit technology. The explanation of why integrated circuit technology works involves quantum mechanics. Physicists admit that they can't even explain what the equations of quantum mechanics are actually telling us; all we really know is that if you use those equations you get unprecedented predictive power.

Well, shouldn't that be enough? No. Absolutely not. The phlogiston theory successfully predicted a wide variety of chemical phenomena. It got the predictions right, but for the wrong reason. Likewise the ether theory. Likewise the fully epicycled-up Ptolemaic theory (as referenced above). Every theory gets its predictions right until it gets them wrong. What you need to know is why it gets the predictions right, e.g., do its structural equations represent the actual causal laws of the system, or do they only represent local invariances that hold right now but might break down in future cases due to some unforeseen shift?

Clearly predictive success on its own isn't enough. What else do you need? A popular answer is 'realism', but what does that mean? A Newtonian two-body model tells us a huge amount about the motions of planets in the solar system. It's realistic in some ways, and extremely unrealistic in others (there are - to understate dramatically - more than two bodies in any body's gravitational field). Even the use of equations poses a challenge to realism: equations are subsections of purely abstract formal systems; what justifies us in using them as proxies for real patterns in the concrete world? This is what Wigner called 'the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences'. Mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers have given many interesting and conflicting answers, but anybody who thinks the puzzle has been decisively solved is being hopelessly naïve.

I know these philosophical questions can be annoying. But there's no way around them. They are hugely important for understanding the success of science and for knowing what we need to do in order to guarantee the success of infant sciences, such as economics.

axdouglas said...

A good, short, clear thing to read on why prediction isn't enough: http://philosophy.wisc.edu/hausman/papers/38.htm

axdouglas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
axdouglas said...

Tom, I hope you don't mind if I disagree with some of your definitions of philosophical terms.

'Realism' and 'Idealism' are typically taken to refer to ontological theories: the realist holds that stuff exists besides minds and their thoughts; the idealist denies this. You've treated them as epistemological theories, concerning the nature of our knowledge. This is not the way the terms are standardly taken, and it leads to confusion. Certainly DeLong and Little were arguing about an ontological claim: whether the entities referred to in social science are really out there rather than merely being thoughts in our minds.

'Positivists' and 'empiricists' aren't 'subjective idealists' as you propose; again there's a confusion between ontology and epistemology at work here. Positivists believe (roughly) that everything we know (besides analytic knowledge) we know by scientific methods; empiricists believe that all our knowledge comes from experience. You could be a positivist/empiricist and be either a realist or an idealist; it would depend on whether you took the scientific evidence to show the existence of objects outside of our thoughts or not. This, in essence, is what the DeLong-Little debate was about. The abductive (inference to the best explanation) argument is meant to take you from empiricism to realism: my experiences occur in a certain orderly pattern, and the best explanation for this is that there are real objects outside my mind causing those orderly experiences.

I think it's very good of you to engage with these sorts of fundamental issues, so I hope you take this criticism as friendly and constructive.

Bob said...

axdouglas,

Prediction is sufficient for the normal operation of a cell phone. It has internal tolerances and an environmental operating range. The field of metrology, and the process of calibration and quality control ensure that our devices operate as intended. This appears to be the scope of applied science and engineering. Why extend it?

We have increasingly reliable cell phone service and a declining economy. I don't have to be omniscient to be able to conclude what is driving these trends.

Tom Hickey said...

@axdouglas

Thanks for responding here. That's true in the abstract. On e can make lists of different views of ontology, epistemology, etc., Whee things get interesting is putting then together into a coherent account that is decidably true or false.

What I am trying to convey is that the ontological issue is bound up in the epistemological one in the sense that if one takes an ontological position, then one needs to explain how he or she knows that it is true — truth being the confluence of knowledge and reality in true knowledge about reality rather than mere opinion about it. I don't think that most of the parties tot the contemporary debate get that in the depth required. Claims are made without sufficient justification. As I said, the best minds of history has wrestled with this, and the foundational issues are still undecidable based on an account that is compelling.

The issue is whether knowledge about external reality exists (ontologically) independently of mental events. Judgment about the correct ontology involves more than assertion of truth. It requires justification, that is, an account. This account must explain satisfactorily how one knows this view to be true by appeal to criteria that are compelling.

Assertion of self-evidence is generally taken as handwaving rather than a compelling account. That's why assertion of self-evidence is regarded as naïve. It avoids the issues.

There may be positivists and empiricists that are naïve realists but to be taken seriously they have to answer Hume in claiming direct realism based on self-evidence not being merely strong belief or conviction. The issue is justification of an ontological position by an account. This account must show convincingly how ontological claims are knowable based on an account.

continued

Tom Hickey said...

continuation

As Hume observed, the stumbling block is getting from experience, for which there is a scientific account in terms of perception that suggests that experience is the sum of sense data processed into information in a nervous system. We call this information "reality." The issue then is whether something corresponds to the information gleaned from sense data that makes it independent of perception and mind-body functioning.

There doesn't seem to be any way of getting beyond the limitations of perception directly without come sort of intellectual intuition being imputed and which then must also be accounted for. Since most don't accept existing arguments for intellectual intuition, then the knowledge that putatively goes beyond sense experience must be gained indirectly. Since humans don't have control over the information, it *must* be independently generated. That occurs through light and sound being reflected from objects to the senses, according to the scientific account. This leaves it open regarding the nature of objects, which science calls "matter" and treats it as a given. Science investigates the structure and functioning of matter without explaining what matter is ontologically. For science, matter is the provider of information. Some scientists believe that mind is an epiphenomenon of matter, and others believe that it is independent of matter. Science only deals with (explains) the structure and function of mind in terms of scientifically available information without accounting for its ontological status.

Then the question is what is the ontological status of the objects, and what is the ontological status of mind. Here is where science stops. Science takes "matter" and "consciousness" as givens since they are assumed to be the means and substance of experience but are not experience directly. Experience is constructed of mental events that occur serially and objects provide the substance of information but matter (substance) is not itself an object. For most positivists and empiricists mind is an epiphenomenon of matter and matter is the unitary substantial ground that is only known by its effects on nervous systems.

In this view, neither matter or mind can be inferred to exist ontologically because, following Hume, there is no metaphysical principle of causality in that causality is simply a structure that regulates the functioning of information. So it cannot legitimately about applied beyond information without making an illogical jump. Causality is reducible to constant conjunction (correlation) of sense data that corresponds to the logical necessity of formal models. So the conclusion Hume draws is that ontological claims about that which apparently lies outside of experience ontologically is a matter of belief. Many positivists, empiricists and pragmatists would simply say it is relevant. That is ontological skepticism, too, stated negatively instead of positively as Hume did.

This means that ontological assertions can only be justified based on experience and the information characteristic of experience. This reduces the argument with critical realists to "he said, she said," since realists want to hold that there is either some sort of intellectual intuition that bridges the gap between experience gleans from sense experience and ontological reality, or else a metaphysical principle of causality that enable inference to it. This is where I believe most of the debate involving critical realism versus other views is today.

continued

Tom Hickey said...

continuation

Without an account of something like Aristotle's intellectual intuition, which has been updated by modern Thomists, ontological claims about "external reality" are without an account. And if one accepts intellectual intuition, then an account of how it works, comparable to the scientific account of sense intuition, is needed. That account has not been provided in a sufficiently compelling way to elicit agreement.

For instance, critical realist claim not only that there are real things but some also assert that things have "causal powers." Why? Based on inference from explanation to causes that the explanation fits the facts. But the facts are facts of experience. The question is how to get from sense-based experience to the "reality" that purported accounts for the experience.

On the other hand, absence of an account doesn't prove anything either. Skepticism might be the correct view. There may be foundational matter like ontology that humans are incapable of deciding on the basis of an account involving information if information is based on the human mode of knowing. There was a Scholastic principle, "Knowledge is determined by the mode of the knower."

Is there a criterion for distinguishing true belief from false belief regarding ontology. If not, then ontology is a matter of listing possible alternative views regarding what is.

This is Wittgenstein's point in the Investigations, since criteria are logical and function as norms, which is a type of rule. Then there is a question of criteria of criteria and it's turtles all the way down (infinite regress). There has to be a stopping point. Examination of the use of language will reveal where it is and what it is based upon in terms of use of language in context.

That is the framework of a worldview. There are alternative worldviews base on different norms, so there is no common ground based on agreement over fundamental criteria when there are foundational differences. These are not decidable using scientific method, which means that they are "philosophical." And it doesn't do any good to claim that it's all reducible to matter on the assumption that scientific study of the nervous system will provide a complete answer "someday."

continued

Tom Hickey said...

continued

have my own view of ontology and epistemology and have no difficulty confessing it is a matter of belief for me due to my limited mode of knowing. But part of this belief is that these matters become increasingly knowable in more developed states of consciousness. I believe this one the grounds that perennial wisdom is not only highly credible but also that if one pursues perennial teaching, landmarks are encountered as predicted.

I do have a quibble about this statement. "You could be a positivist/empiricist and be either a realist or an idealist; it would depend on whether you took the scientific evidence to show the existence of objects outside of our thoughts or not."

I don't think that accurately encapsulates the disagreement. Only crazy people and solipsists think that the world is a fabrication of their individual mind and than nothing exists outside of their own brain functioning. Some people hold that this is all we know from sure, that but that is an epistemological position rather than an ontological one. It's not possible for a solipsist to show that there is nothing beyond their own mind-nervous system. They can only argue that all that can be known is one's own world and then infer that this *must* be true. Then the question becomes what's basis for that *must*

DeLong's example is about the existence of a real world corresponding to the model of theoretical physics at the fringes. He claims that physicists in general don't think that there are entities corresponding to quarks, for instance. I would say instead that good scientists acknowledge that the question is undecidable scientifically based on information. What lies beyond information is unknowable scientifically, e.g., the substance of the given.

The critical realists are making a different claim that I think conflates claims based on information available to scientific method and appeals to ontological substance that is knowable. The deficiency in the position as I view it is the failure to distinguish the two and also the failure to provide an account of the ontological claim as being based on true knowledge. It seems to me that appeal to "causal powers," for instance, is a step backward rather than forward if such "powers" are merely asserted. Explaining them means taking on Hume, which may look easy since his system is so simple as to appear simplistic. But all Kant's tour de force still doesn't get him to things in themselves, only to logical structures that Hegel would develop into a full blown idealism by taking Occam's razor to Kant's thing in itself and elaborating logic and metaphysics as identical.

continuation

Tom Hickey said...

The abductive (inference to the best explanation) argument is meant to take you from empiricism to realism: my experiences occur in a certain orderly pattern, and the best explanation for this is that there are real objects outside my mind causing those orderly experiences.

Inference from the best explanation to reality involves either a metaphysical principle of causality to bridge the gap between experience and reality or else it is a belief and not knowledge. Inference doesn't add anything to what is contained in the premises. The premises are based on information that is grounded in experience if it meets the claim of being scientific. That information won't get one to reality beyond the information without either an illogical jump or some more tools.

I recall being at an informal lecture by a theoretical physicist that made such a jump by saying, "and so it is obvious." I interjected that it was not obvious. The expression on his face when I said it indicated that he knew he was trapped and could not explain it scientifically.

Joe said...

"The philosophical question is how we know these things." - I'm saying its irrelevant. It's just mental masturbation. If you want to spend your time wondering if your cell phone actually exists and works while the people in Greece are starving from austerity... I can't disprove we're not brains in vats, but it's irrelevant.

As far as quantum mechanics, yeah, there's interesting philosophical issues there, but those don't enter into integrated circuit design. Shut up and calculate.

"do its structural equations represent the actual causal laws of the system, or do they only represent local invariances that hold right now but might break down in future cases due to some unforeseen shift?"
Very important, scientific questions. Nothing to do with philosophy. If electromagnetic theory is found to be an epicycle, well then engineers and physicists will change their mind and books get rewritten, and they put up a domain of applicability to the current eqs (like how Netwons eqs are good enough for designing a car, but gps and particle accelerators need the full relativistically correct ones). That's my point, economics is ideology, economists don't change their mind. They serve up a bunch of self-serving bs that their corporate paymasters like to hear. When a physicist gets a result that doesn't match theory, then the theory is recognized to be incomplete or incorrect. No one's waiting for phlogiston theory to come back, yet hyperinflation is just around the corner...

Neil you bring up a lot of important questions, none of which involve philosophy. Does our biology work well with our existing social structures? These are questions where empirical evidence can be gathered. Teasing out cause and effect is extremely difficult but theoretically possible. Demanding to know how I know if my cell phone works gets you no where on those questions.

Joe said...

Eddie Izzards does a hilarious skit, about gender and case agreements of nouns and how wise it was for English to ditch all that. "Is it masculine, feminine or neutre the apple?... It's a fucking apple, stop fucking around." -- "Is it real, the cell phone? Or is it merely a ptolemaic version of a platonic ideal of a cellphone that matches my mini-model of possible states of affairs?" - It's a fucking cell phone. Stop fucking around.

We can't all be net exporters is fully expressed in the equation 1-1=0 (thee fundamental equation of monetary economics, to earn a dollar someone must spend a dollar).. If you must have that proved, Bertrand Russell provided that foundation by proving 1+1=2, took him 300 pages though... The Europeans literally can't understand 1-1=0. Be funny if it weren't so sad.

axdouglas said...

Joe,

'Very important, scientific questions. Nothing to do with philosophy.'

Philosophers of science work on exactly those questions, in philosophy departments, and in collaboration with natural scientists.

'Neil you bring up a lot of important questions, none of which involve philosophy.'

Questions about how we use concepts like that of work, about how we judge the truth and falsity of claims involving those concepts, are what philosophy is all about. Some of Neil's questions are matters for psychology, linguistics, and perhaps biology (I find sociobiology to be a needless category) as well. Philosophers regularly collaborate with psychologists, linguists, and biologists on these sorts of questions. If you really think philosophy has nothing to offer to the sorts of questions Neil is asking, try reading something like Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea.

Basically, you're playing heads-I-win-tails-you-lose. Everything that's presented to you as an example of useful philosophy you either dismiss as irrelevant masturbation or reject as not being philosophy. Effectively, you're including irrelevance as part of the definition of philosophy. So your claim that philosophy has no relevance becomes true by definition. This is extremely poor logic; it's sometimes known as the 'No True Scotsman' fallacy.

There's another use for philosophy: exposing fallacies like the one you're falling into. Formal logic and conceptual analysis are the heart of philosophy. They're about the most useful intellectual tools humanity has ever developed. People who have little patience for them fall into elementary mistakes of logic; little wonder they don't like it when others use them to expose the mistakes.

axdouglas said...

Tom - lots of interesting thoughts; I'll have to chew them over a bit. For a good rundown of the current state of play regarding debates about scientific realism I highly recommend this book by Peter Godfrey Smith - particularly Chapter 12.

Just one point: 'Inference from the best explanation to reality involves either a metaphysical principle of causality to bridge the gap between experience and reality or else it is a belief and not knowledge.' That doesn't follow. Although logicians only recognised it recently, abduction is a unique form of inference, distinct from both deduction and induction. You need neither logical inference rules nor causal laws (or empirical generalisations) linking antecedent with consequent in a valid abductive inference. You might say that in that case abduction doesn't represent a valid inference-pattern. But there is significant research to show that it's a sort of reasoning that gets used constantly within well-established scientific theories (Chapter 14 in Godfrey-Smith notes some of this evidence). So if you can ground an abductive inference from constancy of empirical data to the positing of real entities, DeLong's argument could go through. There is, however, massive debate about whether this is a valid abduction.

axdouglas said...
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Tom Hickey said...

"The philosophical question is how we know these things." - I'm saying its irrelevant. It's just mental masturbation.

Philosophy deals with issues that fall beyond the purview of science that are nevertheless interesting speculatively or else important wrt to managing affairs.

For example, public policy is based philosophical issues that are not decidable scientifically but which generate a particular foundational framework that is assumed to be a true model of reality. The foundational framework of US culture and policy is largely a derivative of 18th century British philosophy, chiefly John Locke, Adam Smith, and Jeremy Bentham. It is grounded in a particular view of human nature (individualism) and a worldview based on Newtonian science (operation of natural forces).

The assumption was and still is that individuals left making choices freely unleashes the working for natural forces to produce spontaneous natural order that is optimal and cannot be improved upon by intervention.

Since this is basically an 18th century Deistic view in can be made compatible with a particular view of Christianity based on the Protestant work ethic.

This world view became enormously successful in the 19th and 20th centuries. This success was interpreted as confirmation that this alone is the correct model of reality that therefore needs to be imposed on the world to ensure best practice universally to generate optimal outcomes.

This framework is assumed ontologically, epistemologically, and ethically, which further determines particular social, political and economic frameworks as subsets of the worldview. Other countries are based on different frameworks. Since the US assumes that the American framework is correct (exceptional) as a general description of reality, it is US policy to impose this framework on the world, by the sword if necessary. How is this very different from forced religious conversion en masse?

That's the importance of "philosophy" stated negatively. A positive statement would the ancient Greek view that the primary issue regarding human functioning individually and socially is determining the criteria for living a good life individually in a good society collectively.

The 18th century British view as interpreted in America is just one possible alternative among many. The philosophical issues invite debate about alternatives, both as variations on this view inherited from 18th century Britain and also consideration of other views. This debate is implicit in the distinction among different views in economics, for example.

Orthodoxy insists that its view is the correct one and other views are heterodox, that is, based on mere opinion rather than true knowledge. Similarly, assumptions about American exceptionalism preclude consideration of alternative.

Britain is cast in the same mold. As Margaret Thatcher famously proclaimed, "There is no alternative." That sends a stark warning to potential dissenters that dissent is futile.

So we continue living in essentially an 18th century world in which the feudal aristocracy based on land is replaced by a neo-feudal one based on capital, into which land is folded. End of discussion, or else.

Tom Hickey said...

You need neither logical inference rules nor causal laws (or empirical generalisations) linking antecedent with consequent in a valid abductive inference.

Intuition? How does abduction get from information to reality unless the claim is that information is reality? Information is processed through a nervous system to be useable as knowledge. If one holds that there is immediate knowledge not derived from sense experience processed into information, then an account is in order about how it works. Claiming intuition without stating how it operates is a cop out. it’s just making an unsubstantiated claim. If one says that information is reality, then that’s a form of idealism.

Even Aristotle as the paradigmatic "realist" admitted that we do not know matter (hyle) as such but only posit it as the principle of individuation. Intellectual intuition is of essence ( eidos ) rather than the individual material thing. Things are known only in their appearances (qualities). He held that intellectual intuition as the joint operation of active and passive intellect resulted in true knowledge of reality (ousia) that occurs through the essence being identical in mind as subject and the object of the senses. He did not think that sense impressions impress matter on the mind in any way comparable to the way the active intellect impresses essences on the passive intellect, since essences are universals that are the same for all. and different people perceive particulars differently based on sense acuity and even the same individual experiences this over a lifetime. So sense experience cannot be about reality but rather only appearance. In this view, knowledge of reality must be intellectually based, that is, about universals, if it is possible.

Continued

Tom Hickey said...

continuation
Locke's realism is based on analysis of perception of qualities with an unknowable extension is similar. The mind represents object in terms of qualities. Math provides knowledge of extension that is not direct. Secondary qualities are sense data that is variable, e.g., vary with age, but primary qualities associated with extension are constant, like dimension. Science deals with primary qualities of extension. Extension is only knowable through apprehension of qualities.

In the final analysis, even so called realists end up in idealism when they provide an account, since the account admits that the substance of matter that is the ground of individuation is not known directly but either posited or inferred. So the choice is really among some form of skepticism, assumption, or idealism in the sense that reality for us is appearance.

Hume would say that positing this is based on belief or guess, and if claimed to be inferred, on what ground does this inference lie. Inference is based on the knowable, that is, information that has been generated by a nervous system. If one holds that one doesn't know the thing it itself directly as information gained from sense intuition (which is difficult for reasons I have already stated), then one is either assuming it or posting it as a belief. Inference fails.

I know of no Western thinker that has posited that in knowledge of reality actual things existing individually as external to mind get into the mind as real things. In this sense, full on ontological realism is a possibility that is never actualized in knowledge. The arguments are over how representations, information, and so forth existing in the mind are connected with objects outside the mind. No Western thinker has bridged the gap by getting real things into the mind as they exist in themselves. Most would admit that it is not possible, and some might say that we just don't have the explanation yet but it will be forthcoming any day now, or at least "someday."

continued

Tom Hickey said...

continuation

I would say that what is happening here is similar to the transition from the Ptolemaic view and the Copernican one. The common sense view is that the sun is moving around the earth, which is true from a relative POV for those on earth. It was the best explanation at the time and it was not wrong. But the heliocentric view was a better explanation from the POV of an observer not confined to earth in that it was a lot simpler model. So it was adopted culturally even though everyone still talks about sunrise and sunset.

I would say that the dual ontological-epistemological issue about reality and knowledge of it is based on the POV of an individual similar to the way that sun seemed to move. However, there is an alternative account that makes consciousness the unitary substance and views individual mind and the objects of the world as the subjective and objective poles of consciousness. This, of course, is the Eastern view with a more ancient history than the original of Western through in Greece. In fact, gradually the West is moving in the direction of accepting this "Copernican revolution."

In this view there is not mind-body, subject-object separation as a matter of substance, in that both are manifestations of the same substance, and consciousness is knowable in itself unlike matter, which is not knowable directly, or at least no one has put forward a compelling account of how it is. There are huge advantages in the consciousness based model over either the matter based one or the dualistic mind-body one that arguably make it a better explanation theoretically. There is also a way to confirm it in one's own consciousness by realizing the state of pure consciousness that is not ordinarily available.

This model is also highly developed in Qabalah, Christian mysticism, Western occultism, and Sufism, but it has been suppressed culturally by normative Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, so it is relatively unknown in cultures where these religions were dominant.

Joe said...

"Philosophy deals with issues that fall beyond the purview of science that are nevertheless interesting speculatively or else important wrt to managing affairs." - exactly, except the managing affairs part. Let's not pretend debating how we know whether or not my cell phone actually exists has anything at all to do with how a Greek family will get their next meal. Or whether or not there's money for the social security checks. Or whether austerity and export led growth is appropriate or even possible for everyone.

Maybe we shouldn't treat economics as a science. But I think we should and is appropriate to do so. I think it's clear there's concrete things that we can say about it. It may turn out that economics is too complicated to develop many laws in the scientific sense. But I think the basics are pretty understandable (dare I say, without offering proof, obvious?).

Tom Hickey said...

In the neoliberal view of ethics and social and political philosophy based on economic liberalism, the Greek family that is destitute needs to reduce its demands (wages), find jobs, any job that's available, and live within its means assuming that if wage demands are reduced enough it will elicit investment that creates a job. Or relocate outside of Greece where they may find work by accepting lower than prevailing wages.

In the philosophy espoused by political liberals that are rights-based, as well as Catholic social teaching recently reiterated by the pope to the consternation of neoliberals, the family has a human right to vital needs.

In the philosophy espoused by Marxists the family should join with others in similar straits and revolt against their overlords.

There are other alternative based on philosophical assumptions that are not "scientific" in the sense of decidable based on scientific method.

These are normative issues that hang on philosophical assumptions. Actually, the neoliberals would claim that their view is scientific since it is purely economic and therefore value-free.

Bob said...

The economy would have to be managed differently in order to achieve those philosophical (read: moral) outcomes. On the whole they are incompatible, but there is possibility of common ground with regard to full employment.

Treat economics as a science. It is the way to progress in place of stagnation. Democracy can take care of the political aspect.

axdouglas said...

Of course we don't need to answer deep ontological questions about your mobile phone to settle matters of economic policy. But we sure as hell need philosophy. This is, I think, what Neil was getting at:

Picture this: you want to bring in a Job Guarantee programme. Opponents ask: 'But how do we know the work assigned by the state will be socially valuable, or at least not socially damaging?' You reply with something like: 'It will be a matter for democratic deliberation.' Then a libertarian pipes up: 'But what is "value"? There's no such thing as objective value. We're better off leaving people free to make their own decisions. Pay a Basic Income rather than a Job Guarantee.'

The libertarian attack is focused on the notion of objective value, and you need to say something about objective value to fend it off. You can, of course, use biological research to show that most people believe in certain values, such as quid pro quo. But the libertarian can reply that this is no reason to believe the majority to be correct. Evolution fills our heads with propensities to believe all sorts of things that aren't true.

You can't avoid the philosophical questions. It's not just about empirical economics.

axdouglas said...

Joe, Sorry, but I can't let this go:

'Bertrand Russell provided that foundation by proving 1+1=2, took him 300 pages though'.

The proof is invalid - see (Gödel 1931). This is a good illustration of your blind spot. Because Frege, Russell, and Whitehead failed to give mathematics a foundation in logic, the foundations of mathematics remain one of the great mysteries of philosophy. You'll presumably want to say, '1+1=2, stop fucking around', but some of the problems concerning the foundations of mathematics bear directly on practical questions, e.g. in high-level computing.

axdouglas said...

Here is the point: the great innovative thinkers who make a real practical difference to the world are not the people who say everything is obvious and then stick their fingers in their ears. It's the people who think long and hard about abstract and puzzling questions, suddenly see the world in a completely new way, and come up with solutions that nobody could have dreamed of before. If you set out with the intention of building a device to aid computation, you'll invent a bigger abacus. If you start off puzzling over deep questions about why some problems are decidable and others are not, you'll end up inventing the computer.

Bob said...

Picture this: you want to bring in a Job Guarantee programme. Opponents ask: 'But how do we know the work assigned by the state will be socially valuable, or at least not socially damaging?' You reply with something like: 'It will be a matter for democratic deliberation.' Then a libertarian pipes up: 'But what is "value"? There's no such thing as objective value. We're better off leaving people free to make their own decisions. Pay a Basic Income rather than a Job Guarantee.'

Either option will provide an income, so both are acceptable from the perspective of the unemployed. One way to avoid arcane debates is to ensure that the proponents and the beneficiaries are one and the same. The most vociferous opponents will naturally be those who have the most to lose.

We don't need philosophy to engage in what is largely a power struggle. The intellectual debate surrounding these issues is small by comparison, due in part to the specialized knowledge that is required.

~

The theoretical basis for computing existed before the material means were available to implement it. The first computers were necessarily mechanical and limited in speed and scope. As the materials and components were improved, new architectures were developed to take advantage of the increases in speed. These architectures were contingent upon a series of developments that no one could have predicted. As with most inventions, they are not optimal. They are legacy items, much like the QWERTY keyboard layout.

There are alternatives to digital computation, electronic operation, and number systems. Whether these are adopted will depend on practical considerations. What is considered practical will change over time.

Joe said...

'1+1=2' was just an off the cuff remark, but at least it's a real question. But it also kinda proves my point. What if it were disproved? then what happens?

What's the purpose of the color blue?

Perhaps, if we have the proper state of consciousness, we can all be net exporters.

axdouglas said...

Pro-austerity economists - the ones that influence politicians - don't claim that everybody can be a net exporter.

It's a nice sort of self-flattery to think we're going to catch them out on elementary blunders like that, but we're not. The disagreement goes much deeper.

Some people want to believe that there'll be some crucial experiment or accounting identity that'll shatter the whole edifice. It's naïve. Mainstream economists have built up a formidable, logically consistent, and unfalsifiable body of theory. The only way to overturn it is to dig it out at the roots - going right the way down to fundamental philosophy. In my opinion.

Joe said...

You're right about the elementary blunders and the pro-austerity academic crowd. They're ideologues, nothing you say will change their mind... But the general public and every single commentator on tv absolutely does not understand that we can't all earn more than we spend simultaneously. Yet, the ubiquitous phase "Living within our means" implies just that. Just listen to right wing talk radio sometime. Even Bernie Sanders speaks negatively of "the deficit".

Being a net exporter is almost universally considered a good thing and a model to be followed ("If the Greeks could be responsible like the Germans"). I've never met another person irl that understood the government's surplus to be the non-government deficit. It's almost universally assumed that government surplus's are a good thing. Ever heard of the balanced budget amendment? Do its supporters in the general public understand how the sectoral balances work? Most certainly not.

" The only way to overturn it is to dig it out at the roots - going right the way down to fundamental philosophy." so after you've written 500 pages proving 1-1=0, you'll have achieved exactly nothing in economics. Not a single economist will have even picked up the book. Mathematicians and logicians might consider you a rock star though.

Tom Hickey said...

Even Bernie Sanders speaks negatively of "the deficit".

Pols who want to be elect or reelected look to polls. The American public is deficit-phobic and even Bernie Sanders whose ear Stephanie Kelton has is railing against the deficit.

A number of people have reported explaining MMT to politicians who agree with the analysis and then add, But I can't say that."

Without educating the public nothing is like to change. So the question becomes how to educate the public or get influencers to do so.

Anonymous said...

I must confess, when I look at what is happening in the world, Lewis Carroll seems to have the best explanation.

Am also struck with the discussion above, how tentatively it follows the yoga sutras of Patanjali (from the A.A. Bailey Lucis Trust version 'The Light of the Soul'):

”Incorrect knowledge is based upon perception of form and not upon the state of being. [I:8]
Understanding of the mind-consciousness comes from one-pointed meditation upon the heart centre. [III:34]
Consciousness is one, yet produces the varied forms of the many. [IV:5]
The Lord of the mind, the perceiver, is ever aware of the constantly active mind-stuff, the effect producing cause. [IV:18]
When the spiritual intelligence which stands alone and freed from objects, reflects itself in the mind-stuff, then comes awareness of the Self. [IV:22]

Some place Patanjali over 5000 years ago.

There is a little Tibetan contemplation: - imagine next time you wheel the scroll button the whole universe disappears, including your body. There is just the consciousness, you – all that exists. What do you want? Sorry, you can't bring the universe back. Contemplate this as deeply as you can ….

This, they say, reflects the true essential state of the human consciousness. It is why Patanjali makes the I:8 statement. Who in this world, has the courage to explore the thirst that comes from the heart, from being? The longing, the call, that comes from inside. That is your reality. Doesn't mean you need give up your day job when the universe finally does decide to return.

Its not about mind. Its about being: - cats love to jump, dogs love to bark, elephants love to walk – what does the human being love? Not desire – love? Mind in the above scenario is just a distraction, until IV:22.