Archive for the ‘modernism’ Category

A birthday

June 25, 2008

Willard Van Orman Quine. Main road philosopher. Empiricist post-modernist. Was born a hundred years ago.

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The difference

March 2, 2008

True, it is not REALLY a problem. Or not a big one, in any case. But it is hard not to find it somewhat inconsistent, when a major (read: MAJOR) outdoors and sporting goods retailer has “women’s clothing” and “men’s clothing” as equal but separate items on the navigation bar, but then under “camping & hiking”/sleeping bags/ lists: down, synthetic, women’s down, women’s synthetic …

Again, it’s not a huge issue. But think about how odd it would be to list: clothing: pants, women’s pants; shoes, women’s shoes. We naturally accept that men’s clothing and shoes will be different from women’s clothing and shoes, and that neither has any priority over the other. They are different, but equal. But this is clearly not the assumption that informs the category distinctions for sleeping bags. We don’t find: Men’s sleeping bags, women’s sleeping bags.

This is especially annoying since the differences between sleeping bags for men and sleeping bags for women are not that different from the differences between men and women that justify the distinction between men’s and women’s clothing: body shape, metabolism rate, height… They are differences that nobody would (or should, at any rate) deny. Men are, on average, taller than women, their metabolisms are faster etc. This is especially true for outdoor clothing and gear, since typical social clothing norms aren’t in play: both men and women tend to hike in pants/shorts and boots, not high heels and skirts.

It is of course not really surprising or hard to explain why the category distinctions are what they are. The distinction between men’s clothing and women’s clothing is socially well entrenched, not something introduced recently on the basis of biological discoveries. The differences in metabolism rate on the other hand, have only recently begun to inform the design of sleeping bags (although even sleeping bag designers must have known about the differences in body shape). More importantly, you might think, it is only recently that women have become interested in sleeping bags. But that applies only to some sporting goods.

Even so, it seems that the honest thing to do would be this: if, through costumer surveys, studies or other research you come to the conclusion that the differences between men and women are such as to make it advisable to have separate products for each gender, then you should consequently assume that so far you’ve designed not sleeping bags, but men’s sleeping bags (for example), while now you are designing men’s sleeping bags and women’s sleeping bags. Don’t suggest, through labeling, that so far you’ve been designing sleeping bags, while now you are also designing women’s sleeping bags. The latter suggests that women’s needs are special, non-mainstream needs. But calling women’s needs special is effectively to define men’s needs as normal. And since we are talking about roughly 50% of the population in each case, this assignment is just arbitrary.

A modernist revival?

January 2, 2008

It is this time of the year. Of the many changes of minds reported, this article is among the most uplifting. For it reports not a mere change of opinion about a specific hypothesis or personal attitude. No, it gives hope that the days of thoroughgoing cultural relativism are coming to an end. That postmodernist thinking is loosening its grip on the Western intellectual. But most importantly, it does so from a very non-scientistic perspective. It does so from a perspective that acknowledges and values the lessons relativism can teach us. Which makes it much more powerful as a response than many of the relativism-is-false-because-science-is-the-truth accounts presented by so many others.

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?

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.

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?