Archive for December, 2007

Happy 2008!

December 31, 2007

A comforting thought: In any age and society, there have always been some people who felt that madness was taking over and the world around them was doomed to plunge into chaos.

A not so comforting thought: Sometimes they were right.

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A laid-back atheist…

December 27, 2007

A laid-back atheist understands that not everything can be expressed in propositions true or false. A laid-back atheist understands that overall attitudes toward life cannot be justified by science. A laid-back atheist has no need to be polemic about holidays. A laid-back atheist shows her atheism precisely in her unwillingness to take a stance on matters of religion. A shrug says more than a thousand words. Can we be such laid-back atheists?

Where are the philosophers?

December 19, 2007

Glancing over this article from the NYT one begins to wonder, whether philosophers are just keeping a low profile, or are simply not perceived as potential contributers to a debate that is clearly philosophical. What is a law of nature? Not: which laws of nature are there, but: what is a law of nature? Sounds pretty philosophical, doesn’t it?

And yet, the only philosophers mentioned in the article are great old dead ones, not contemporaries.  Philosophy probably came to an end some time in the 17th century. Instead just about any physicist with a philosophical view gets his two lines of fame (or rather: two more lines of fame). But seriously, this debate is old and, in philosophical circles, pretty sophisticated. Maybe philosophers should start writing more popular books?

Deflationism 101

December 17, 2007

In Kronecker we find the famous claim:

“God created the natural numbers (integers); fractions and real numbers, on the other hand, are the work of man.”

which Carnap translates as follows:

“The natural-number symbols are primitive symbols; the fractional expressions and the real-number expressions are introduced by definition.” (The Logical Syntax of Language, p. 305)

Maybe Carnap’s greatest achievement as a philosopher was his ability to remain totally unimpressed.

A moralist on cynicism and climate change

December 14, 2007

Is uncertainty really the biggest problem in our dealing (or rather: not dealing) with climate change? Klaus Michael Meyer-Abich (physicist and philosopher) doesn’t think so.

In an incredibly frank interview (in German, sorry) he suggests that what really hinders the industrialized nations from taking action is not uncertainty, but objective costs an interests. The objective costs for developed nations for reducing their CO2 now are much higher than the costs they will have to face in dealing with  the effects of climate change in their own countries. Less developed countries in the South, on the other hand, are not as responsible for CO2 emissions (he does not mean India and China, obviously), but they will be affected in worse ways, and have fewer means to deal with the results.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

journalist: “But even in the industrialized nations we have an interest in stability in the Third World, because we need resources and because hunger and war could be threatening to our own well-being as well.”

K.M. M-A: “Well, that’s what they say, but is actually true? Sure, we have an interest in world peace. But de facto we’d rather build walls than deal with the causes of strife. […]”

journalist: “But you aren’t without hope all-together. After all, you don’t think we are openly cynical.”

K.M. M-A: “You see, there is an unconscious cynicism: we aren’t doing anything, but quietly hope that things will somehow be o.k.. Then of course there is also a conscious cynicism: sure, we caused CC, but then, we also benefit from it. Let the south deal with the problems on their own. Now I don’t think that most of us are really capable of being that cold-blooded, […], but we need an open debate about these issues if we want to stop fooling ourselves. […]”

Biking philosophies

December 13, 2007

If Carnap and Quine had been the sorts of people to compete in various bike races, what gear would they have chosen?

Quine would have brought his dad’s bike to every single race, whether road or dirt, hill or track. Sure, he would have modified it every time, changed the handlebar here, the tires there. In fact, he would have even been willing to exchange the frame, in case he encountered a particularly recalcitrant route.

Carnap, on the other hand, wouldn’t even have owned a bike. He would have rented the latest specialty just fit for the particular route. He wouldn’t have minded that others made other choices – everybody gets to choose whatever suits them, as long as they don’t cheat. Of course, like Quine, he would have hoped that one day there would be a bike which worked best for all routes, but in the meantime he wouldn’t have settled for any one bike in particular. Different routes require different bikes.

The interesting question of course is this: who would have won more races?