3-5 pp double spaced (~750-1250 words)
Due March 31, 2015, at 11:59 PM
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(1) Briefly describe the Milgram obedience experiments as presented by Gilbert Harman. (2) What is the 'fundamental attribution error'. (3) Why does Harman think his view poses a problem for defenders of virtue ethics, and what is his strongest argument for this conclusion? (4) Harman thinks virtue ethics is based on a mistaken understanding of human nature. In your opinion, drawing on anything that we have read or other resources, can we provide an answer to Harman? Why or why not?
This week we spoke a little about Aristotle’s virtue ethics. Virtue ethics is based on a belief in character traits: states of mind which prepare us to act in certain ways across a variety of situations. According to Aristotle, when we stabilize these traits, we are successful at being human.
We then discussed an article by Gilbert Harman which put the very existence of character traits in question, and which proposes a situationist reading of Stanley Milgram’s experiments (and other experiments in social psychology). The Milgram experiments seem to show that ordinary human beings will perform evil acts under the right circumstances. Harman concludes that situations, not character traits, explain our actions. For a modern Milgram experiment, have a look at the Jeu de la Mort (2010).
Today we read Stephen Jay Gould’s description of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA). As Gould sees it, science deals with facts and religion deals with questions of ethics. In Gould’s view, there is no overlap between these two magisteria. A scientist can respectably believe anything he likes about religion, and the other way round.
We discussed some criticisms of this view. It seems that religions do make factual claims. If Jesus Christ died and was resurrected, then it must be a fact that Jesus’ body was alive, then dead, then alive again. But then we had a look at Richard Rudner, who argues that scientists make ethical judgments in working out their theories. Scientists decide when something has been established in part by deciding how bad it would be to be wrong - but that’s an ethical judgement.
Today we discussed the status of special sciences.
Alexander Rosenberg argued that 'extremal' sciences, like economics, are committed to explain everything. But judging economics by its results leads us to conclude that it is really a form of mathematics. This is no surprise, thinks Rosenberg, because economists speak of beliefs that psychology does not describe. And since economics is not so deep as psychology, that must be a problem... right?
Jerry Fodor would disagree. Special sciences, he argues, pick out natural kinds. But the corresponding objects in terms of physics are a jumble of physical things that have nothing in common except being natural kinds - in a special science.
Today we considered realism and instrumentalism.
Grover Maxwell argued that theories should be believed as true, and the unobservable entities of which they speak really exist.
Bas van Fraassen argued that theories ought only to be regarded as tools. We don't ask whether a tool is true, only whether it is useful. Thus van Fraassen thinks it would be unreasonable - going beyond the evidence - to conclude that just because a theory is useful, the entities it describes really exist.
Today we considered the anarchic view of Paul Feyerabend. He presented a general and a specific attack on science. His general attack said that most people’s attitude toward science is like the attitudes of people living in authoritarian regimes: people are afraid to criticize science. His specific attack says that the reasons advocates of science give for their position, namely that science (1) has a special method, and (2) science gets results, are both unconvincing. Against (1), Feyerabend uses historical arguments, saying instead that science has so many inconsistent methods that it really only has a history. Against (2) Feyerabend says that science does get results, but so do all sorts of things - astrology, acupuncture, etc. Given his general and specific arguments, Feyerabend says that most people slavishly follow science, but Feyerabend says that we ought to value our own freedom here as we do in politics, and make room for practices that are often considered unscientific.
Today we looked at Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn surveys the history of scientific theorizing and draws a surprising conclusion: science isn’t a single, coherent project, but rather a succession of incompatible accounts of the world, or ‘paradigms’.
Scientists move between, or ‘shift’ paradigms not because one paradigm is ever refuted, but because scientists change their approach, or even their interests. Although scientists usually aim for things like accuracy, consistency, a broad scope, simplicity and fruitfulness, the way they assign weight to those things and even the way they understand them is constantly changing. In that way, we saw, science is a bit like fashion. It changes, though we would be hard pressed to say why, and when it has changed it is difficult even to remember how we could ever have found the earlier paradigm so natural. Kuhn insists that he isn’t overlooking the orderly change of theories; the historical account of how theories change is simply all there is to say.
We zoomed in on one of Kuhn’s worries by looking at an article form W. O. V. Quine. He considers the theoretical value of simplicity. Is it good for a theory to be simple? We might assume the answer would be yes, but Quine points out that it is not obvious why we privilege simple theories as we do. Quine distinguishes four ways in which we prefer simple theories, 1. Wishful thinking, 2. Perceptual bias that makes us pick out simple patterns over complex ones, 3. An experimental bias because it’s easier to create experiments to test simple hypotheses, and finally 4. A wider tolerance for failure when dealing with simple hypotheses.
Today we had a look at the raven paradox, which goes like this. If scientists learn by induction, individual observations lead them to suppose a general law, of the form “All ravens are black”. However, “All ravens are black” is logically equivalent to “All non-Black things are non-Ravens”. But if you set out to confirm this, it’s much easier. The computer you’re looking at right now is a non-Black, non-Raven! Now it seems that science can be done from the armchair.
We then looked at John Ziman’s account of science. Ziman understands science as public knowledge, which is to say, broadly-based knowledge that has been published, tested, and accepted by reasonable people. But how can we be certain that knowledge has reached this point? How long is long enough for a theory to survive? We had a look at the study on the link between smiling and happiness, a study which seems to have been falsified after 30 years.
Next we considered the falsificationism of Karl Popper. As we saw, Popper addresses himself to the problem of induction insofar as it is a problem for science. Hume pointed out that the method of induction cannot be proved using either induction or deduction. Popper argued that that is not a problem, because science proceeds deductively anyway. Scientists propose theories or exceptionless laws. Hume and others wrongly supposed that scientists generate these from experience. In truth, it does not matter how they come up with them. Instead of trying to prove that they are true, scientists then try to disprove, or falsify them. When a particular example conflicts with a general law, we can tell deductively that the law does not hold. Popper thought that only methods that proceed in this way can be real science (as opposed to pseudoscience, e.g. astrology).
Essay: Due online, 11:59 PM, February 6
3 - 5 pp (750-1250 words)
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In the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume presented a thought experiment: “Adam, though his rational faculties be supposed, at the very first, entirely perfect, could not have inferred from the fluidity, and transparency of water, that it would suffocate him, or from the light and warmth of fire, that it would consume him.” (4.1, para 6). (1) How would Isaac Newton explain Adam’s discovery that water can suffocate and fire can burn a person? Hume thought that Newton’s reliance on induction in his explanation was ill-founded. (2) What is Hume’s objection to induction as a method for science? Karl Popper proposed a scientific method that did not rely on induction. (3) How would Popper use his method to retell the thought experiment of Adam in the garden? (4) Does Popper succeed in addressing Hume’s worries about the scientific method? Why or why not?
Today we encountered the scientific method employed by Sir Isaac Newton. As Newton explained, God orders the universe with laws, and these laws, specifically the ones relating to gravity, become clear to us in the practice of science. However, the causes of those laws are not obvious. That remains true today: gravity is considered a fundamental force, which is to say, it allows of no further analysis.
Newton discovers gravity by following the scientific method, as he puts it, “In this philosophy, particular propositions are inferred from the phaenomena, and afterwards rendered general by induction”. This means he starts with observations and then inductively generalizes from them. But David Hume raises problems for such inductive generalizations. All induction depends on the claim that the future will resemble the past - otherwise there would be no point in observing how things have been in the past to predict the future. But how can we justify this claim about things remaining the same? Hume points out that we cannot justify induction deductively, since it is not a logical necessity that the future will resemble the past. But we can’t justify induction inductively, since inductive arguments require the very premise - the future will resemble the past - that we would need to prove.