Smart non-reductionists, philosophical vs. engineering mindsets, and religion

post by Kaj_Sotala · 2012-08-04T10:48:20.832Z · score: 13 (22 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 48 comments

Concretizing the abstract is an interesting blog post in that it makes a relatively cogent argument for non-reductionism. While I don't agree with it, I found it useful in that it helped me better understand how intelligent non-reductionists think. It also helped clarify to me an old distinction, that of philosophers versus engineers.

We abstract when we consider some particular aspect of a concrete thing while bracketing off or ignoring the other aspects of the thing.  For example, when you consider a dinner bell or the side of a pyramid exclusively as instances of triangularity, you ignore their color, size, function, and metal or stone composition.  Or to borrow an example from a recent post, when aircraft engineers determine how many passengers can be carried on a certain plane, they might focus exclusively on their average weight and ignore not only the passengers’ sex, ethnicity, hair color, dinner service preferences, etc., but even the actual weight of any particular passenger. [...]
Abstractions can be very useful, and are of themselves perfectly innocent when we keep in mind that we are abstracting.  The trouble comes when we start to think of abstractions as if they were concrete realities themselves -- thereby “reifying” them -- and especially when we think of the abstractions as somehow more real than the concrete realities from which they have been abstracted. [...]
I do not mean to deny that abstractions of the sort in question may have their uses.  On the contrary, the mathematical conception of matter is extremely useful, as the astounding technologies that surround us in modern life make obvious.  But contrary to what some proponents of scientism suppose, it simply doesn’t follow for a moment that that conception gives us an exhaustive conception of the material world, for reasons I have stated many times (e.g. here). [...]
Then there is social science.  When we abstract from concrete human beings their purely economic motivations, ignoring everything else and then reifying this abstraction, the result is homo economicus, a strange creature who, unlike real people, is driven by nothing but the desire to maximize utility.  Nietzschean analyses of human motivation in terms of the will to power are less susceptible of mathematical modeling (and thus less “scientific”), but are variations on the same sort of error.  Evolutionary psychology often combines abstractions of the natural scientific and social scientific sort.  Like the neuroscientist, the evolutionary psychologist often treats parts of human beings as if they were substances independent of the whole from which they have been abstracted (”selfish genes,” “memes”), and adds to this reification the abstractions of the economist (e.g. game theory).
As the neuroscientific and sociobiological examples indicate, the Reification Fallacy is often combined with other fallacies.  In these cases, parts of a whole substance are first abstracted from it and treated as if they were substances in their own right (e.g. brain hemispheres, genes); and then a second, “Mereological Fallacy” (as Bennett and Hacker call it) is committed, in which what is intelligibly attributed only to the whole is attributed to the parts (e.g. the left hemisphere of the brain is said to “interpret,” and genes are said to be “selfish”). [...]
The irony is that while New Atheists and others beholden to scientism pride themselves on being “reality based,” that is precisely what they are not.  Actual, concrete reality is extremely complicated.  There is far more to material systems than what can be captured in the equations of physics, far more to human beings than can be captured in the categories of neuroscience or economics, and far more to religion than can be captured in the ludicrous straw men peddled by New Atheists.  All of these simplifying abstractions (except the last) have their value, but when we treat them as anything more than simplifying abstractions we have left the realm of science and entered that of ideology.  The varieties of reductionism, eliminativism, and the “hermeneutics of suspicion” are manifestations of this tendency to replace real things with abstractions.  They are all attempts to “conquer the abundance” of reality (as Paul Feyerabend might have put it), to force the world in all its concrete richness into a straightjacket.

I find this interesting in the way that smart people are likely to disagree with the correct interpretation of some of its claims - while others would say the post is worshipping the mysterious, others would say that it's just making reasonable cautions about the inherent methodological limitations of a certain approach. One might even think that it's essentially making a similar point as Eliezer's warning about floating beliefs, and therefore to agree with the Sequences. The caution of "beware of thinking that your abstractions say everything that there is to be said about something" is a reasonable one, and people do clearly make that mistake sometimes.

I expect that part of what influences how plausible one finds this argument depends on whether one has more of an "engineer's mindset" or a "philosopher's mindset". Somebody with an engineer's mindset will think that "yes, the abstractions we use might be imperfect, but what else do you propose we use? They're still the best tool for accomplishing stuff, and anything else is just philosophcial nonsense that isn't grounded in anything". Whereas the philosopher is less interested in using their knowledge to "accomplish stuff", and more interested in the ideas and their implications themselves.

As an aside, this distinction might be part of the reason why we have so many computer or hard science folks on this site. Partially it's because Eliezer used a lot of CS jargon in writing the Sequences, but probably also because the Sequences, while philosophical in nature, are also very focused on practical results and getting empirical predictions out of your beliefs.

Looking at what we could use this distinction for (and thus taking an engineer's mindset) some people here have mentioned getting an "ick" reaction from religious people, just due to those people having strong false beliefs. I think that, combined with properly understanding the emotional basis of religion, an understanding of the philosopher / engineer distinction can help avoid that reaction. Our values determine our beliefs, and there are plenty of religious people who aren't stupid, crazy, or anything like that. They might simply be philosophers instead of engineers, or they might be engineers who are more interested in the instrumental benefits of religion than the rather marginal benefits of x-rationality. (Amusingly, such a "religious engineer" might justifiably consider our obsession with "truth" as just an odd philosophical pursuit.)

48 comments

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comment by see · 2012-08-04T18:16:43.104Z · score: 21 (25 votes) · LW · GW

Concretizing the abstract is an interesting blog post in that it makes a relatively cogent argument for non-reductionism

Quite the opposite.

When high-level abstractions fail to accurately reflect the actions of high-level objects, this is not in any way a refutation of reductionism. Rather, it is exactly what we would expect if reductionism is correct. If you try to model a billiard ball as a single object, rather than a collection of quarks and electrons, of course it will display behavior that doesn't fit your model. It is accuracy of high-level models that challenges reductionism, not inaccuracy. If you could model the billiard ball (or a human being) as a single object completely and consistently without any error whatsoever, that would be evidence against reductionism, because there would have to be some sort of holistic thing-ness that is hiding the effects of the quark-and-electron level from higher levels.

comment by iDante · 2012-08-05T02:39:03.939Z · score: 15 (19 votes) · LW · GW

Feser's understanding of reductionism is backwards, which is evident by his choice of the verb "abstract" over "reduce."

We abstract when we consider some particular aspect of a concrete thing while bracketing off or ignoring the other aspects of the thing. For example, when you consider a dinner bell or the side of a pyramid exclusively as instances of triangularity, you ignore their color, size, function, and metal or stone composition.

Abstraction is precisely what Feser says: we find a simple pattern in complicated systems and approximate the system by that pattern. For example, we ignore the motions of every gas molecule in a tank, that's too many molecules to store even in a computer. Instead, we average that motion and call it heat, now we can describe other properties of the gas, such as average pressure, to some accuracy. We abstract the motion of avogadros of gas molecules into a simple statement about the system as a whole. We started with too many gas molecules to count, now we have a few numbers representing those molecules.

Abstraction fails because our tank has cracks and gas leaks out. The gas slowly loses energy to the tank walls. Some of the gas undergoes radioactive decay and changes the count of molecules in the tank. Feser argues that these problems refute reductionism.

Reductionism is the opposite. To reduce a tank of gas we need to look at every single molecule and record each and every detail about each molecule. The molecule that escapes is recorded. As molecules pound on the tank walls, each one loses some energy, and this is recorded along with the energy increase of the wall. In order to understand the decay we need to reduce even further.

The author doesn't see the difference.

There is far more to material systems than what can be captured in the equations of physics...

This is the core of his argument, and it is entirely unfounded. Every single material system ever studied, from brains to galaxies to gas in a tank, obeys the equations of physics. This is because the equations of physics are not abstraction, they are reduction.

comment by see · 2012-08-05T07:54:57.490Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is the core of his argument, and it is entirely unfounded.

It's not founded, but neither is it explicitly contradicted.

While nothing in chemistry is known to contradict the laws of physics, we have yet to conclusively show that chemistry can indeed be entirely explained by the laws of physics. It is still possible that there are laws of chemistry that cannot be derived from a complete set of laws of physics correctly and fully applied.

Occam's razor favors the idea that behaviors in chemistry we cannot currently predict directly from physics are results of our not-yet-complete understanding of physics and/or our lack of sufficient computational resources applied to the question. Postulating an additional "level" of rules that can't be derived from physics is not currently necessary to explain features of chemistry tat are not yet reduced to physics. But that's not the same as saying another level is ruled out.

comment by iDante · 2012-08-05T17:11:27.533Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Postulating an additional "level" of rules that can't be derived from physics is not currently necessary to explain features of chemistry tat are not yet reduced to physics. But that's not the same as saying another level is ruled out.

Physics is better than that. Lets say that there is another level of rules required to reduce chemistry. Then these rules are about physical systems in general, and lower-level than chemistry. We have found new laws of physics!

If they can't be derived from physics now then that doesn't mean physics won't figure them out in the future.

comment by see · 2012-08-07T16:44:22.196Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

If you define all laws of reality as physics, then sure, there's nothing physics can't explain. But that's, well . . . here, let me tell a fable to explain.

The year 152,036 AD

"Hey, we just got the third-check output from the LMC computer array."

"Yeah? What did it say?"

"The previous two sets were right. We input the known masses of the fundamental particles to five hundred thousand digits, and the known strengths of all seven fundamental forces to the same, arrange them in the form of a vertebrate animal, and run the sim, we do get an almost-perfect simulation. Minus the Lacuna. In fact, we can now say the evidence for the Lacuna has hit fifty-three sigma."

"Damn. Any good news on the eighth force candidates?"

"All of them still cause the Sun to fail to fuse, if we allow them to have any measurable effect on covalently-bonded masses smaller than 0.997312121 milligrams."

"And the collider results completely rule out any of the gauge bosons that fit any of the fifteen proposed models of an eighth force compatible with no effect under a milligram of mass. In fact, they don't show any evidence of any gauge bosons associated with an eighth force, anywhere short of ten quadrillion yottavolts."

"They've said that for the last hundred thousand years, why would you expect a change now?"

"Look, this is nuts. There is no way that physics has a special force just to explain the Lacuna, and has no affect on anything else, and no other way to detect it than the existence of the Lacuna."

"Fifty-three sigma. The universe doesn't care about your incredulity."

"Yeah, but it's stupid. How the hell did we wind up in a universe that requires a special law of physics to explain the Lacuna?"

"Because the Creators chose to add it when they were creating the Universe Simulation."

"Dammit. I still don't believe it. What kind of genius develops a perfectly good set of fundamental laws, implicit in a single equation you can fit on a T-shirt, that creates all the beauty and wonder of the universe, and then sticks on a pointless extraneous natural law to do absolutely nothing but make a handful of vertebrates, of all things, yawn?"

"You have met software engineers, haven't you?"

"I'm going to go get drunk."

comment by iDante · 2012-08-08T00:51:11.894Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand your point. If there is a separate law required for yawns then that's still a physical law that describes physical systems.

comment by shminux · 2012-08-05T06:46:15.978Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

There is far more to material systems than what can be captured in the equations of physics...

This is the core of his argument, and it is entirely unfounded. Every single material system ever studied, from brains to galaxies to gas in a tank, obeys the equations of physics.

Strawman. Captured != obeys. Humans obey equations of physics, but love is not captured by the Maxwell equations.

comment by iDante · 2012-08-05T07:13:14.566Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

We can abstract from quarks to atoms to chemicals to cells to brains to love. Maybe it's not quite that simple, but love is captured by physics.

comment by shminux · 2012-08-06T07:10:52.045Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You confused the direction. You can reduce love to chemicals to to atoms to quarks, you cannot construct love out of quarks without already knowing what love is.

comment by iDante · 2012-08-06T07:15:06.567Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, I haven't. If I zoom up to the scale of meters I will see that certain loosely-bound groups of atoms behave in a patterned way with each other wot's ultimate consequence is the manufacture of more loosely-bound groups of atoms. I may not call it love, but that doesn't really matter.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2012-08-05T07:41:57.787Z · score: 2 (24 votes) · LW · GW

love is captured by physics

That's a statement of faith, not a statement of fact. Love is a subjective experience, and subjective experience is not "captured" by any physics that we know about. We may be able to say something about how hormonal and other physiological variables are correlated with changes in affect, but are you able to give me a naturalistic, non-behavioristic account of what affect is?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-07T15:22:28.174Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

love is captured by physics

Let's taboo physics: it can mean ‘the set of laws on which the universe runs’ (henceforth physical laws), or ‘the academic discipline studying those laws’ (physical science). Is love captured by physics? It is captured by physical laws (i.e. a logically omniscient being could derive a description of love from them¹), but not by physical science (i.e. not all physicists are much better at getting laid than a typical layman).

  1. Caveats about needing both differential equations and boundary conditions (the equations of the SM and of GR as known today don't even predict an arrow of time, without the boundary condition of very low entropy in the past), which could be moot given some as-yet-unknown law (Hawking and Penrose sometimes think about such things).
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2012-08-08T01:27:54.851Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is love captured by physics? It is captured by physical laws (i.e. a logically omniscient being could derive a description of love from them)

This is still the same "statement of faith" that I criticized at greater length, later in the thread. Love is an experience, and you will not even find a description (to say nothing of an explanation) of an experience, in any sort of physics that we know about, nor in any other discourse that can be reduced to that sort of physics. Our mathematical physics describes what the shadows on the wall of Plato's cave are doing, but it says nothing about what anything is. The nature of experience is a problem of the latter kind, which is one reason why explanations of it in terms of matter, number, and computation are hollow. Then there is the more specific problem that the atomized ontology of physics is an ill-suited place in which to find complex unities like conscious states, which is why I say there will need to be new formal developments in physics, and new physical discoveries in neurobiology, before even a revised physicalism has any chance of explaining us.

comment by The_Duck · 2012-08-08T18:00:54.556Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Love is an experience, and you will not even find a description (to say nothing of an explanation) of an experience, in any sort of physics that we know about, nor in any other discourse that can be reduced to that sort of physics.

If you simulate the standard model of particle physics with appropriate initial conditions, your simulation will include four-limbed beings who will be happy to describe the experience of love to you at great length. (It's true that no one will be able to verify this claim any time soon, but there's every reason to believe it, because the laws underlying the physics of everyday life are completely understood). Doesn't this mean that physics contains a description of the experience of love?

comment by JQuinton · 2012-08-09T04:39:09.613Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you singling out "love" for any specific reason or are you using it as a general example of all human emotions (e.g. fear, trust, jealousy, feeling of knowing, hate, happiness, etc.)?

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2012-08-09T05:30:56.868Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Using it as a general example.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2012-08-05T23:49:00.109Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I said

are you able to give me a naturalistic, non-behavioristic account of what affect is?

and I guess the answer is no, since none of the 5+ downvoters has bothered to do so.

ETA: Let me emphasize that I'm talking about this word, I'm not misspelling "effect".

comment by wedrifid · 2012-08-06T09:56:04.653Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

and I guess the answer is no, since none of the 5+ downvoters has bothered to do so.

I would downvote just about any comment that used the below claim as if it meant something:

That's a statement of faith, not a statement of fact.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2012-08-06T10:09:43.513Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

It means that something is being asserted as true, when it is not known to be true.

ETA Well, it does mean a little more than that. It means that the basis of the assertion is coming from faith in a comprehensive belief system, rather than from any scrutiny of relevant facts; in this case the belief system is "everything reduces to physics", with no indication that "physics" meant anything other than "physics as it is presently formulated and conceived".

If I were to use the sequences as my guide, then on this site, the default approach for explaining all forms of experience should be "that's how it feels to be physical system X". So the facts about reality are 1) a lot of strictly physical facts, and 2) "what-it's-like-to-be-an-X" facts. In the first class of facts, I include complex physical facts that can be obtained from the elementary physical facts, like facts about temperature, which are really facts about average energies of large ensembles of particles. Occasionally it's said that the "feeling" facts are of this type - complex but strictly physical facts - but then that was the point of my question: I was daring the reader to make such a claim and to be specific about how it works. I was careful to stipulate that the explanation should be non-behavioristic; thus iDante's later comment, about replicative behaviors, doesn't qualify, and indeed iDante takes care to add that the property described may not actually be the same thing as love, even if it has something to do with the functional consequences and adaptive role of love. Descriptions in terms of function, adaptive value, or physical composition do not say anything about "experience" or "how it feels", and I think people generally recognize this.

So occasionally it's said that there are no feeling facts; for example, that seems to be the point of Stephen Diamond's recent post. That post was strongly downvoted, so I guess people don't like that option either. But they also aren't willing to be psychophysical property dualists, and say that there are physical facts, and there are psychological facts, and that the latter are distinct from the former but nonetheless correlated with them.

So we are left with the schizophrenic situation in which people assert their faith in materialism, but also admit the obvious fact that experiences do exist. I've made my pitch for a new nondualistic ontology, but that wasn't very well-received either, and I concede that it's not easy to understand. Eventually I'll produce a proper exposition. Meanwhile, I can at least point out the problem, because it's not going away.

comment by shminux · 2012-08-06T07:18:11.681Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The current setup discourages explanations of downvoting, as it makes the downvoter vulnerable to losing karma. It's not going to change, so just live with it.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-08-06T09:01:17.384Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The current setup discourages explanations of downvoting, as it makes the downvoter vulnerable to losing karma.

I don't think so. It's the very implication that downvoting requires explanation that's discouraged, since its presence would increase the cost of downvoting. If there is a social norm of explaining your downvotes, or of explaining them when asked to, then downvoting carries an obligation to also write an explaining comment (perhaps on request), which some downvoters won't be willing to spend effort on (or get involved in), and wouldn't downvote as a result. But they want to be able to signal disapproval cheaply, hence the comments that appeal to (and so strengthen if approved) the hypothetical social norm of requiring an explanation would also be downvoted.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-08-06T09:56:51.202Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The current setup discourages explanations of downvoting, as it makes the downvoter vulnerable to losing karma.

Or gaining it.

comment by Manfred · 2012-08-04T13:59:55.848Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I find this interesting in the way that smart people are likely to disagree with the correct interpretation of some of its claims - while others would say the post is worshipping the mysterious, others would say that it's just making reasonable cautions about the inherent methodological limitations of a certain approach.

And still others, apparently, would say that this post is making an empirically testable claim about how the world works.

comment by Sly · 2012-08-04T22:56:52.850Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Can someone explain to me why this argument is considered interesting or good? I genuinely do not see the merit in it.

comment by Furcas · 2012-08-05T20:57:42.013Z · score: 6 (14 votes) · LW · GW

There's no merit, but for some rationalists it feels good to praise religious nuts every once in a while, just to show you're not one of those uncouth anti-theists.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2012-08-06T09:37:42.862Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I will admit that there was definitely an element of what you describe in my motivations, though probably no more than about one third. (Another one third came from genuinely finding the argument interesting, and another one third from a deep-seated general annoyance towards the kind of tribalism in which everyone who thinks differently is dismissed as being stupid, evil, or otherwise unworthy.)

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2012-08-06T07:42:47.221Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It takes a very valid concern ("don't use your models beyond their domain of applicability") which smart people are likely to agree with, and generalizes it to make an argument against reductionism. In order to realize what's wrong with the argument, you need to be aware of concepts such as privileging the hypothesis, which many people aren't. At the same time, it also appeals to people's desire to not be extremists and take the middle ground. The combination of those two factors makes it very compelling for a certain kind of mindset.

comment by Sly · 2012-08-07T18:59:59.054Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see how ("don't use your models beyond their domain of applicability") is a relevant critique. Eliezer pretty much already addressed that in the sequences quite handily. Additionally it seems that you are praising the rhetoric, not the argument itself.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2012-08-08T05:02:41.218Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I said that the argument is interesting because it helps better understand how non-reductionists think, not because it'd convince somebody who'd read the Sequences. And yes, part of what made it interesting was seeing it use the kind of rhetoric that I felt would be persuasive to many, which helped further explain why they'd believe in it.

comment by Sly · 2012-08-08T07:37:19.213Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That makes sense.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-08-04T15:16:00.103Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I really like Feser's blog. Though I am often infuriated by his sarcastic jabs at New Atheists, his rabid social conservatism, and the way he takes the truth of Aristotelic-Thomist philosophy for granted in so many of his posts, he is undoubtedly one of the smartest theists out there.

His post on how he gradually stopped being an atheist is fascinating, as a counterpoint to the deconversion stories we are more familiar with, and in that he makes it seem like a purely rational process (no mystical experiences, etc).

comment by Manfred · 2012-08-04T17:54:32.240Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting post, thanks. I am unfortunately not very surprised he ended up back with Catholicism, though.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-08-05T06:55:05.041Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is interesting to me because of the disanalogies with my autobiography. I assigned a lower probability to theism when I was most heavily in the "philosophical mindset", and a higher probability now (that I lean much closer towards the "engineering mindset"). On the other hand, I realize that I am very atypical in this regard, since my theism owes more to Nick Bostrom than Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Thanks for this.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-04T17:20:56.843Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

.

comment by Manfred · 2012-08-04T17:46:25.355Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If he's legitimately arguing against reductionism, then by "abstractions," he means things like electrons.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-04T17:54:35.831Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

.

comment by Manfred · 2012-08-04T18:09:36.326Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I see what you did there :P

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-04T18:12:48.098Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

.

comment by Manfred · 2012-08-04T19:18:40.202Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Somebody with an engineer's mindset will think that "yes, the abstractions we use might be imperfect, but what else do you propose we use? They're still the best tool for accomplishing stuff, and anything else is just philosophcial nonsense that isn't grounded in anything". Whereas the philosopher is less interested in using their knowledge to "accomplish stuff", and more interested in the ideas and their implications themselves.

:DD

comment by scientism · 2012-08-04T16:42:02.636Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm also a non-reductionist and I agree with a lot of what he says. I think he oversteps the mark at the end of his essay when he talks about "New Atheists." Generalising doesn't appear to be a case of "concretising the abstract" at all and it's a stretch to say a straw man is an example of a simplifying abstraction. The argument would probably be more convincing without the final two paragraphs.

I think between the engineer's mindset and the philosopher's mindset that you identify there's a third option which is to acknowledge the limitations of your model but to not say anything more. So your engineer (assuming he's a reductionist) is essentially saying "these abstractions are imperfect, but we can't do better, therefore let's take them to be all that is". The philosopher is saying "these abstractions are imperfect, so there must be something else, therefore x." The third option is "these abstractions are imperfect, let's be vigilant and try to remember that."

Note that in the essay Feser explicitly gives name to this third option before dismissing it: "The Aristotelian strain in Western thought formed a counterpoint to this “concretizing” tendency within the context of ancient philosophy, and also more or less inoculated Scholasticism against the tendency. But it came roaring back with a vengeance with Galileo, Descartes, and their modern successors, and has dominated Western thought ever since. Wittgenstein tried to put an end to it, but failed; for bad metaphysics can effectively be counteracted only by good metaphysics, not by no metaphysics." The last line is dismissing the third option but it's not clear what he thinks Wittgenstein's failure was (lack of recent popularity?).

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2012-08-06T00:38:40.829Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The last line is dismissing the third option but it's not clear what he thinks Wittgenstein's failure was (lack of recent popularity?).

Feser seems to be saying that Wittgenstein could not completely demolish the "'concretizing' tendency" just by pointing out its inadequacies. He had to offer a metaphysics of his own to replace it, and this he failed to do.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-04T19:23:10.777Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The last line is dismissing the third option but it's not clear what he thinks Wittgenstein's failure was (lack of recent popularity?).

Presumably, the failure of the Tractatus in the face of the color-correspondence problem.

comment by scientism · 2012-08-04T19:27:50.008Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I took him to be speaking of late Wittgenstein.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2012-08-06T00:35:33.327Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Feser's claim seems to be that Wittgenstein failed to offer a metaphysics of his own to replace the reductionist one he demolished.

comment by torekp · 2012-08-04T18:32:27.061Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The problem with "no metaphysics" usually tends to be the impossibility of sealing off "metaphysics" from the rest of knowledge and practice.

comment by Giles · 2012-08-05T19:09:33.755Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Which direction does the "more abstract" arrow point in? If Feser's article was a LW post then it would start off exactly the same way, but then go on like this:

Or when you consider bags of chemicals exclusively as instances of person, you ignore their genes, the wiring of their brain's left hemisphere, their cellular chemistry and so on. Confusion arises when you start thinking of the person as somehow more real than the collection of cells or molecules from which they have been abstracted.

So in order to better understand how non-reductionists think, should I start thinking of the "more abstract" thing as the one which is further from our everyday experience, as opposed to the one which leaves out more details?

comment by JQuinton · 2012-08-09T00:19:54.791Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To put this into a programming analogy, Feser thinks reductionism is an "object" in OOP. In reality, the object in OOP, isn't a "reduction" of whatever we instantiate from that object. Reductionism would be reducing that object in OOP to its individual lines of code (at the least).

comment by amit · 2012-08-05T17:28:14.891Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Our values determine our beliefs

I don't think the ugly duckling theorem (ie. the observation that any pair of elements from a finite set share exactly half of the powerset elements that they belong to) goes far towards proving that "our values determine our beliefs". Some offhand reasons why I think that:

  • It should be more like "our values determine our categories".
  • There's still solomonoff induction.
  • It seems like people with different values should still be able to have a bona fide factual disagreement that's not just caused by their differing values.
  • It could be true in a theoretical sense but have little bearing on beliefs, values and disagreements in an everyday human context.

(And even if we grant something like that, I see no reason to think that a "philosopher's mindset" would make you lean towards religion (because I don't know any convincing phiosophical arguments for religious propositions, for one).)