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Anti-thesis

Experimental Texts

The following are texts by Anti-Thesis members, with the most recent first:
 

Outline of Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality
by Michael Walzer 

(November 2011)

Walzer proposes a theory of distributive justice, a theory which describes how goods produced in society should be distributed. He argues that each type of social good has its own set of rules for just distribution. The experience of injustice, or domination, occurs when people violate these rules, and it often occurs when those who have much of one good attempt to use their powers to dictate the distribution of another, contrary to its rules. His overall "open-ended principle" is: no social good X should be distributed to men and women who possess some other good Y merely because they possess Y and without regard to the meaning of X.

He then describes three distributive principles, rationales for distributing goods, which have frequently been invoked in previous theories and which might satisfy his open-ended principle.

(1) Free exchange: transactions which produce voluntary distributions. Their results should, but sometimes don’t, match the rules or social meanings of the exchanged goods.

(2) Desert: a matching of goods to people who have a characteristic for which the good is especially fitting. This becomes problematic: it often seems that the distributor needs to know everything about everybody to make the distribution.

(3) Need: basic provision of goods to those who must have them to survive. This principle covers only a small subset of the goods that society distributes. Not all goods are purely for survival.

Walzer didn’t commit himself to a particular picture of how the rules are and should be formed. (He didn’t even employ the concepts of rights or human nature.) His method is to elucidate the rules that exist for a good, and points where people’s intuitions conflict about those rules or where people’s behavior flouts those rules.

He is attempting to capture the set of emotional intuitions in the desire for equality. But his theory allows some goods to be distributed in different amounts to citizens, as long as the rules for those goods and the intentions/meanings behind those rules allow uneven distribution. (Talent, for example, remains unequally distributed partly because we believe its appearance is partly given by random biology, and that its rewards are greatest when cultivated in people who have it.) He says he is defending "complex equality", as opposed to simple equality.

The bulk of his book is a set of analyses of specific social goods, including (from the Table of Contents):

(a) Membership in the society. Here Walzer describes setting of territorial boundaries, why citizens have different roles than non-citizens, and how citizens should treat outsiders (such as immigrants) and would-be members.

(b) Security and welfare. How society should provide for basic living, especially in the face of disaster. How society should allocate shares in commonly held goods. How society should provide for the indigent.

(c) Money and commodities. What money, a medium for the conversion of goods into other goods, should not be used for, and what it should be used for. The social effects of the marketplace (and debates over which goods should be created for groups, and which should be created for individuals).

(d) Office. How offices should be allocated: qualification, meritocracy, affirmative action, limits to the powers of bureaucracy.

(e) Hard Work. How work should be allocated or minimized for dirty, dangerous, or grueling professions.

(f) Free Time. How leisure time should be allocated, and the virtues and defects of private paid vacations and public holidays.

(g) Education. How basic schooling (and training in the practice of equality) should be provided. Specialized schools, the practice of "tracking", school vouchers, busing for integration.

(h) Kinship and Love. Including social provisions for helping people to meet.

(i) Divine Grace, usually treated as independent of power and wealth.

(j) Recognition. The functions of awards. The role of punishment. Self-respect.

(k) Political Power. This is the good which should determine the allocation of other goods. How it should be restricted; how knowledge affects it; how the effects of property on it should be limited; how democracy is the best choice for the pursuit of complex equality.

In the conclusion, Walzer describes how a caste society, a capitalist society, and a totalitarian society would interpret and perhaps administer his concept of distributive justice, but argues that in the main, these societies will disregard and not respect the wishes and shared social meanings chosen by their individual members.

                    *                     *                     *

Popper’s Demarcation Problem - Some Notes by a Contributor
(April 2, 2008)

At the time of his writing (1955), Popper was concerned to refute the idea 
that science could be distinguished from metaphysics in the manner advocated
by Carnap and other members of the Vienna Circle. Popper says that actual
confirmation of an hypothesis is not possible. His falsification criterion says that
the hypothesis must be capable of being subjected to test, which then can
come out favorably or unfavorably with repsect to the hypothesis. Hence
Popper inherited this problem from the Vienna Circle, with which he disagreed
since the early 1930s. He says the positivist attempt to prove metaphysical
statements meaningless also includes scientific statements as meaningless.
Popper rejects the "meaning" approach and counters it with his falsifiability
criterion.

Popper says formal languages do not solve the demarcation problem. He
shows at one point that you can formalize the ontological argument for the
existence of God and hence produce an unprovable set of statements within a
formal language. He says that Godel’s two incompleteness theorems of 1931
show the impossibility of a formalist approach to the demarcation problem.
Contrast Popper (1955) with: a)Feyerabend (1975) – "anything goes" in
Against Method; b) Lakatos (1970) Methodology of Scientific Research
Programmes – they are fruitful or unfruitful and decisions are made with
respect to future assessments of fruitful avenues of invesitigation. Remember
Popper’s opposition to Wittgenstein: 1. All of philosophy is not necessarily
focussed on questions of language. Popper backed this up by writing The
Open Society and Its Enemies. 2. Verification is not possible, in any sense.
3.Induction is ruled out. (We conjecture, then test.) Popper is focussed on
"discovery" and Carnap on "validation". Popper ends by saying that statements
not able to be subjected to test cannot be dealt with by science, which is not to
say that such non-scientific statements are meaningless. Popper clearly states
that both scientific and non-scientific statements can be meaningful.

Contrast all of the above, Popper, Wittgenstein, Feyerabend, Lakatos, with
two working scientists, Bridgman and Feynman. Bridgman, a low temperature
physicist at Harvard during the first half of the 20th Century, proposed a
stance called "operationalism", which said that meaningful scientific statements
were to be assessed by their reference to the operations required to carry out
the experiments which decided scientific questions. As noted in the 1967
edition of the Encyclopedia of Philosophy in an article by G. Schlesinger,
"Consequently, in his later writings Bridgman freely permitted ‘paper and
pencil operations’, by which he meant mathematical and logical maneuverings
with the aid of which no more is required of a concept than that it should be
‘indirectly making connnecton with instrumental operations.’" Many later said
that this watered down the concept of operationalism so much as to make it a
commonplace.

Feynman said simply that (Lectures in Physics): "Science is knowledge subject
to validation by experiment. Many things in life are not science. For example,
love is not science." Feynman clearly felt that little was to be gained by the
working scientist in attending to any philosophical definitions or disputes.

Popper’s 1955 formulation makes reference to the fact that science involves
true universals, and that it always has reference to "general laws". Even in his
formulation of a formalism describing "degree of confirmation" (Conjectures
and Refutations, p. 388), he states: "Nor do I think that it is an important task
to give an adequate definition of degree of confirmation."

Much of the demarcation problem vanishes if we recognize that experience is
always wider than experiment, which is always in turn wider than the data
produced by experiment. In many cases in modern physics, the instruments
themselves embody many of the principles of theories that are invesitgated by
those self-same instruments (a kind of technical internal recursion problem that
has been little investigated except implicitly by Peter Galison in Image and
Logic). Natural language forms a superset that is above all formalisms,
including mathematical formalisms. (You will never find a mathematical article,
even including Godel, that is written without the aid of natural language.) All
formal languages, including logic and mathematics, are subsets of natural
language. In any actual natural language, most if not all words or morphs are
polysemic. Attempts to precisely bound many natural language terms are often
not fruitful.

Science as we have known it since about 1600 is a continuous interaction of
theory, observation, experiment, and instruments. Because much of
observation and many instruments come from outside the boundaries of
science (Galileo worked for the Venice arsenal for a time), scientific activity
(working science) has an operational aspect that the philosophers of science
tend to neglect, and which the sociologists of science exaggerate beyond all
reasonable bounds. The attempts to use formal criteria to demarcate science
from metaphysics seem to have failed, often because any metaphysics tends to
respond to the science of its time (this has been true since Aristotle).

Likewise we have the limits on science which derive from what I call the scale
problem. Norbert Wiener (1948, 1961, Cybernetics) has pointed out that the
greatest advances in science have come in the realms of the very large and the
very small, at scales most removed from human scale. This because it is hard
to get long runs of statistics under reasonably constant conditions at human
scale. Wiener used an example from economics, pointing out that the statistics
of steel before and after the Bessemer process were simply not comparable.
So there indeed may well be a demarcation that exists between science and
metaphysics, and it may be practically resolved from consideration of the scale
problem. It seems that we have a "resolution" problem in the terms used by the
astronomers. Those items which are too close to our own scale are not
necessarily well handled by science. So, rather than worrying about
demarcation like Popper and the Vienna Circle, we might simply note that the
limits of our measurements will tell us when we can reasonably expect to
handle a problem by scientific means or had better look elsewhere. Of course,
instruments improve, and measurements improve, and the concepts attendant
upon them also improve. We can now operate at scales both much larger and
much smaller than heretofore. In the middle, where we operate at scales of
inches, pounds, and yards, it gets a lot tougher (not necessarily impossible, but
the example of economics provides little grounds for optimism in this area) to
do science. Since there is a lot of universe out there that is not us, this should
be no cause for alarm about the future of science. 

                    *                     *                     *

Martin Heidegger:
a very limited overview of his philosophical work


1.  Theoretical cognition is of secondary importance (example: the use of a
hammer rather than the observation of it).

2.  Emphasis not on the world of sciences, but on the everyday world
(Husserl, phenomenology).

3.  The representative theme of his history of perception (example: it is not 
the rubbing parts of iron you hear, but the motorcycle itself).

4.  Dasein: death as a criterion of authenticity.

5.  Relied heavily on the Pre-Socratics.

6.  Emphasis on the importance of thinking (Heidegger opposed the 
reduction of logic to psychological processes).

7.  Time as seen by historians differs from the quantitative time of physics.

8.  Explanation of his Naziism: a total distaste for the industrialized mass
society in the USSR and the USA, rather than anti-Semitism.

9. "Dasein" does not first exist as an isolated subject which subsequently
acquires knowledge of, and relations to, others.  It is with others from 
the start.  (Dasein-in-the world).

10. "But where there is danger, the remedy... grows too!" - Holderlin