Sunday, December 09, 2007

Robert Pickton.

Let me say one thing about the Robert Pickton verdict. It doesn't matter what charge Pickton was convicted of. What matters is that he was convicted and is going to jail for a very long time. (In all likelihood, he will die there, depending on what sentence the judge hands down.) The goal that was achieved was the right goal, and the means taken were effective. In this, then, the prosecutors did exactly what they were supposed to do: they got a charge to stick.

So, if you want to bitch because he was convicted of second- rather than first-degree murder, then you're an idiot. If you want to bitch because the victim impact statements were edited by prosecutors' requests, then you're an idiot.

Remember that they could never get Al Capone for anything -- except tax evasion.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Canadian DMCA.

There's a minor shitstorm brewing over the so-called Canadian DMCA that Industry Minister Jim Prentice is going to be bringing before Parliament some time next week. The progosphere has decided that a letter/email/phone campaign to MPs might change something.

I doubt it.

It's no big secret the MPs are pretty much all on the take, to a greater or lesser extent. It costs money to get elected these days and no one seems to have mastered the trick of cashing the cheques and flipping off the donors when they subsequently ask for favours. (Hint: it's the middle finger, guys.) It's also no big secret that the multinational media conglomerates have a hell of a lot more money and power than ordinary folks, and thus can exert tremendously undue influence over these sorts of legislative processes.

So, the only way anything will change is by doing one of the following:

(1) Finding a monster strong enough to fight the monster that exists. That is, since government is being manipulated by the unethical mass of many corporations, we should find similar powerful entities that can fight for what we're interested in. In Canada, with regard to DMCA: True North Edition, the best option seems to be the artists' unions. They're no particular fans (from what I've seen) of this sort of legislation.

(2) Kill the monster. This would require opening up the electoral process to all citizens by massively restricting the amount of money allowed and required to successfully run for office. And then citizens should actually run for office against the corrupt assholes currently running the show. I submit this is a radical change (no shit, right?), but it will ultimately become necessary.

But note that there is no (3): start a big letter/phone/email campaign nor (4): march around with signs waving placards. Progressives need to understand how little we can trust the current instantiation of the institution of government to do anything right; and exactly how far the institution must change in order to achieve progressive goals. Acting as if only minor change is required is political and moral suicide.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

This is awesome.

Click here and look at the 30th name down.

Then guess which name is winning.

(H/T August.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Paper revision.

A revision of my paper "Explanatory Relevance and Moral Realism: Why Gilbert Harman Can't Be a Moral Relativist" can be found here (.pdf). I've cleaned up the language a bit and managed to cut down the argument to a lean 7,000-ish words. I quite like it now. Not sure where I can actually use something this long, but we'll see....

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Papers. I got papers. I got lots and lots of papers.

I haven't given up on philosophizing; I've just been working on things that don't convert well to blogging. Here's the results: Papers Page.

In summary, I've completed the penultimate draft of my dissertation proposal (.pdf). It's currently being looked at by the departmental committee.

I've also written a paper from my MA thesis, which can be read here (.pdf). (Note the thesis itself has been removed as it was based on a slightly older draft than the one I ended up actually submitting. Oops.) It's still quite rough, but it's getting into shape.

Finally, I've revised my paper on causal theories of reasons-explanations of action (.pdf). I'm almost completely happy with this one.

So, yeah. That's what I've been doing, philosophy-wise. Whee!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Links roundup.

What the fuck...? The RIAA strikes again. See this and weep for the future.

From the "no shit" file: apparently, US health insurers pay their employees to cut people off and deny claims. Next installment: water is on the wettish side.

Digby has a piece on the bizarre recent claim by a US intelligence official that "Privacy ... should mean that government and businesses properly safeguards people's private communications and financial information." While I'm down with the idea that norms of privacy can and must change -- we have to, for example, get used to the idea that unknown persons on the internet can use satellite imagery to look at what we're doing in public -- the idea that privacy means large institutions, not all of them accountable to the public, are in charge of our personal information is patently absurd. That's got nothing to do with privacy. It's like banking, but for information instead of money. And I barely trust my bank to get my bill payments through on time. Now I'm supposed to trust something similar with every detail of my private communications? Fuck that shit.

Anyone else seen those freaky WSIB "avoid work accidents" PSAs? I saw the one with the woman burning herself the other night and thought it went just a leedle over the top. (Although it didn't really freak me out, as I could see a big hole in the injury sustained. Namely, if you're talking and get boiling water all over yourself, it'll sear your throat, rendering your voice noticeably hoarse. Her screams seemed normal to me.) Anyhoo, they're on YouTube, if you're into that kinda thing:,, There's also two equally OTT PSAs on domestic abuse:, (h/t Scott Keith.)

Finally (h/t RVD), here's Henry Ford's hemp car:

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The marking is done!

Praise the lawd!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Von Mises.

At the request of Ron in the comments over hyar, I've looked over some material from Ludwig von Mises. My responses are below; basically, I look at the claims I see von Mises making, then offer my critique. This originally came up in the context of a discussion about whether state redistribution of income is a good thing, or even possible.

Science and Value

I see von Mises making a couple of weird, and rather disconnected, claims here. Some do make sense, but, on the whole, this is really showing its age. (Original publication date is 1933.)

He claims that you can do economics and other sciences without making "value judgements". Heterdox epistemology and philosophy of science has pretty much destroyed this view. Saying that neutrality between different perspectives on, say, moral values is itself an expression of a value -- an epistemic one, as well as, possibly, a metaethical one. You're saying it's better or right to be neutral. Value goes all the way down in judging and reasoning, and there's really no escaping it. After all, how can you reason at all without any idea of what counts as a good reason? (To be fair, moral value may have been von Mises' actual target. If it was, then he owes an argument as to why moral value is singled out.)

He also claims that social organization requires private ownership. This is sort of an odd thing to say. I don't disagree nearly as harshly as above, but I think he's suffering from limited perspective here. Maybe it's most charitable to interpret him as saying there must be some private ownership. After all, there are systems where some things are held in common (say, a grazing area for livestock) and they seem to work just fine.

He assumes a position of individualism. That is, the view that the primary unit of concern in economics and "the science of human action" is the individual person. This is fair enough; he's certainly not alone. What's not good, though, is the lack of argument for the view. There is a competing picture in the philosophical tradition that sees social groups as coming first, and individuals emerging only in context. You can see this in Plato quite plainly, but it's also at work in Aristotle to some extent, and was revived more recently in the communitarian critiques of liberalism. The point is, you have to take seriously the opposition and not assume it's obvious that the primary unit of concern is the individual. I, for one, am not sure it is. After all, it's hard to really define oneself without reference to others; most of what makes me me requires a particular social context.

He makes some frankly outdated claims about the reach and scope of science, claiming that its conceptualizations are not universal and unified, and that it can't tell us about things like the mind. I'm sympathetic to the latter, to some extent, but that's a strong minority view. Again, von Mises owes us an argument. Philosophers of science (some, anyway) would object that science can give us a unified picture of the world, through a coherent set of laws. Philosophers of mind (again, some) would object that science tells us the basis of the mind and, again, by a set of reductive laws, we can connect the two together. The whole idea of laws doesn't really seem to be on his radar.

He then talks at length about "intoxicated vision" and the inability of science to provide something "mystical". It's really just noise, as far as I can tell. The best sense I can make of it is that his personal aesthetic sense is such that he finds scientific discoveries austere. Well, that's his problem. Some, like me, find the structure of laws and concepts inherently beautiful. That von Mises apparently didn't is a personal thing of his.

I do agree with a distinction he draws between science and what he calls "metaphysics", though. It seems correct that the two have different methods and different contents. What's sort of weird, though, is the way he wants to split them apart and say that they're not closely intertwined. They of course are. How could they not be? If you do science assuming that you're investigating an objective world, your conclusions and even methods will very likely differ from those of someone who thinks he's just investigating a world in his mind. The first guy will probably do some experiments and tests, and the second guy would sit in his armchair and try to discover the fundamental shape of the universe. (This is, of course, little more than a crude gloss on the empiricism/rationalism business.)

The Impossibility of Economic Calculation Under Socialism (.pdf)

Here, von Mises makes a fairly familiar argument against the planned economy. He points out the difficulties inherent in planning even a simple project centrally, largely based on the inability to reduce decision-making to a mathematical/mechanical process. That's sort of a weird reason to reject planned economies (how about because they don't, in fact, realize their own goals very well?), but it seems fair enough.

What's really bizarre, though, is that he never takes the next step in the argument and consider a market-based socialism. That is, a system that takes seriously the (empirically-confirmed) claim that markets are an amazingly effective tool for social organization, and yet regulates this system in such a way that people tend to make economic decisions that benefit the collective, i.e., society as a whole. That's quite realizable, because it avoids the error he's critiquing. That is, this market socialism seperates the means from the end. The end is something like a more egalitarian, fairer, etc. society, and the means is a carefully-regulated market. So, the disagreement between the market socialist and a liberal or libertarian is a disagreement on (1) the end and (2) the nature of the regulations. (It's worth noting, though, that only an extreme libertarian would object to any regulations. Even Ayn Rand would put at least something in place, e.g., Murder, Inc. is not allowed to sell its assassination services.) So, there's really no argument here against limited redistribution of wealth, say. Spot corrections and manipulations of a market's operation are quite different from the large-scale, detailed planning that von Mises is targetting.

On the whole, von Mises seems to view the central question as strictly dichotomous: either you're in favour of totally free markets, or you're in favour of planned economies. The fact that there's a lot of ground in between those positions doesn't seem to occur to him, and that robs the argument of a lot of its force.

The Starting Point of Praxeological Thinking

This piece is a fairly unreflective way of stating the idea that humans act consciously. Von Mises calls this "a priori" and "self-evident"; but, as is clear from the number of hard determinists running around, it's not a priori or self-evident for everyone. For what it's worth, these are not the same thing; an analytic truth ("a bachelor is an unmarried man") can be a priori and yet not self-evident. Of course, this may be a non-philosophical use of the term.

Given the compatibilist and libertarian (free-will style, not political-style) defenses floating around in the literature, even people who believe humans act consciously don't think it's self-evident. (And they may not think it's a priori; an a posteriori proof of, say, compatibilism seems at least possible to me.)

While von Mises is, of course, entitled to assume for the sake of his project that humans can act for conscious ends, he really needed to take seriously objections from opposing views. Part of the problem is, I suspect, the age of the text (published in 1962). Davidson hadn't published "Actions, Reasons and Causes" (1963), and thus the sea-change in approaches to action was still some distance away.

Some Preliminary Observations
Concerning Praxeology Instead of an Introduction

For this, there is no excuse. Von Mises is trying to argue for a very hard sort of objectivism about the external world. External objects are real and impinge upon our senses. He's writing post-Kant, though, so he should know that the way external objects impinge upon our senses may be hidden from us so completely that we can only ever known the objects as they seem, not as they really are. (And, if he doesn't, why's he trying to do epistemology and metaphysics?)

And there's also problems with the idea that whatever theoretical objects we later concoct (his example is germs, we could also use subatomic particles) are necessarily real things, because they explain what we were always able to do. That assumes, without argument, that the explanations will continue to hold in all cases. They may not. After all, classical mechanics works just fine -- until it doesn't. So, the world as classical mechanics describes it, strictly speaking, is not real. It's just "real enough" for everyday purposes. For all we know (and this is always a live possibility), relativity (the replacement for classical mechanics, at some extremes) may also collapse in some case that, as yet, we have not experienced. It's pretty much a truism in phil of science that (per Quine) theory is underdetermined by data; that is, you can always concoct a different theory that equally well explains the data in front of you. It also follows from this that, while future data may decide a current dispute between theories, there will always be another theory that equally well accounts for even this future data.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Still totally not dead.

Just been sick since Sunday and trying to catch up on work. Our regular programming will continue next week as previously scheduled.

(On a sick side-note, I just had this vision of one day something appearing on this blog by my next of kin: "This time, actually dead." Hey, I laughed.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Open access series: Improved access.

(On an unrelated note, philosophy blogging is on hold until I figure out what on earth I think about motivation. My next dissertation-related argument to conjure up is on just that topic and I don't have my own thinking entirely straight yet. Hopefully this week, but it might be next.)

Introduction to this series for those who have lost their place in the various delays is here.

So far (here), it's turned out that the status quo in access to research is not acceptable. All arguments against extending access are dismal failures. However, arguments in favour of total open access (TOA), without restrictions, also tend to fail (here). The general problem with pro-TOA arguments was what I called the "totality presumption", the claim that, once we accept that the status quo is no good, we must instantly move to TOA, without stopping in a more limited, but still more open, model of access. As I said last time, there are two ways for TOA to triumph over IA:
I can see two possibilities. First, arguments in favour of IA over TOA and the status quo fail. Thus, TOA is a fallback from the failure of IA. This is unstable, though, as it depends on the (lack of) creativity of defenders of IA. Second, IA is not stable in its own right; it will, inevitably, tend either to TOA or the status quo. But this is just the black and white fallacy. So, for TOA to be preferable to IA -- that is, for TP to be true -- it must be that there are no good arguments for IA.
So, what arguments do I have for IA? Just two:
  1. The elitist argument
  2. The epistemic morality argument
I'll deal with these in order.

The elitist argument is straightforward. It claims, quite frankly, that some people are better able than others to make use of research (elitist premise 1, or EP1). It also claims, again quite frankly, that some people are hopelessly incapable of making use of research -- indeed, they will actually harm themselves, in some way (elitist premise 2, or EP2). It then claims that, since it is often difficult to tell whether any given person falls into the former or the latter category, we should only limit access to research when we are clear this person falls into the latter category (default premise, DP). Finally, it claims that, in some cases, it is clear that some people fall into the latter category (factual premise, FP). Thus, it follows that we should improve access, but not have total open access.

Looking at the premises in turn, it's important to note that EP1 and EP2 are really flipsides of the same coin. One says that more value is produced by research in some people's hands, and the other says that disvalue is produced by research in some other people's hands. (And this, of course, may vary depending on the kind of research. The same person can, for example, produce wonderful value with economic research and tremendous disvalue with medical research.) The driving idea behind this is that actions done for reasons are efficaciously value-seeking. (See here for some early comments on this matter, and here (.pdf) for the latest considered version of the thesis.) By this I just mean that, when we act for reasons, we are taking courses of action that are the most effective ways to achieve the value that is in our reasons (which are goals). So, when somebody accesses research -- which, as a deliberative and intentional action, should probably always be an action for reasons -- they are taking a course of action that is the most effective way to achieve the value in their goals, but only insofar as they are practically rational. The understanding of acting for reasons as effiacious value-seeking is an ideal, after all; it's a governing standard, not an empirical generalization. Very often, the ideal will not be achieved, and people will fail to act rationally. In the simplest case, they simply take ineffective means to their goals, while in more complicated cases, they may have goals that lack in objective value, or even be unable to perceive their reasons for acting correctly due to some cognitive deficit.

Whatever the sources of practical irrationality, we have to acknowledge when designing policies that the possibility of practical irrationality is real and, often, very strong. So, our policies should aim to control the potential damage wrought by cases of practical irrationality. After all, setting policies is itself an action done for reasons, and hence should effectively seek the value of the goals of making policy.

The question then, naturally enough, is what is the goal of setting a policy? Cards on the table: I'm broadly a socialist and thus think that every policy should, in the end, be of overall benefit to society. So, the goal in setting a policy on research access should be serving the overall benefit of society. But, if the policy (as in the case of TOA) allows for individual people to, through practical irrationality, fail to efficaciously seek value in their accessing of research, then the policy has failed to achieve its goal. Thus it, too, is practically irrational. Since we don't want an irrational policy (I presume!), the policy should block this possibility.

(It should be noted that no one can claim that the status quo satisfies the basic requirement of efficaciously seeking value, for the mechanisms by which the status quo controls access to research are hopelessly inefficient, and simply fail to restrict access only to those who will produce disvalue with their access.)

Now, the policy should also, strictly, require those who would produce benefit to society to access research. What form the requirement should take will be determined by empirical considerations -- after all, the requirement shouldn't be an inefficient method of achieving its goal. This is where DP comes in. DP states that, as a default, everyone has access; it is only those who are demonstrably unable to produce anything but disvalue from access to research who should be prevented from having access to it. I have a few reasons for this. For one, although socialist I be, I am well aware of the dangers of an extremely powerful and interventionist government, or any other institution. So, the onus should be on the administrators of research access to prove, to some high standard of proof, that an individual should not be allowed access to particular research. The process for this should, of course, be fully transparent, subject to review, and so on. (No secret tribunals!) For two, it's often extremely difficult to determine whether value or disvalue will result from allowing someone access to research findings. So, it's only at the margins that there's ever going to be certainty (or reasonable certainty) regarding whether granting access to a given person will produce benefit to society. And, when the certainty is that they will then, of course, access should be granted. When the certainty is that they will produce disvalue then, of course, access should be refused. Thus, DP is an asymmetric principle: in order to prevent institutional overreach, and in order to ensure that value is produced, we default in favour of access.

Finally comes FP. FP is crucial for the argument; if FP is false, then IA collapses into TOA. If there are no clear cases where granting individuals access to research will probably result in disvalue, then it follows, by DP, that access should just be granted to everyone. And this is TOA. But I think FP is obviously true. It just seems so clear that there will be some people, somewhere, who should be restricted in their access to some research. The most obvious example I can concoct is regarding weapons research. Obviously, if everyone had access to research data regarding, say, new chemical weapons, this could tremendously harm society (and, indeed, individual people). To not accept this example is, I think, a little naive. Whether or not this sort of case is typical is not the point; all FP requires -- and thus all the elitist argument requires -- is that there be such cases.

The second argument I have is what I've called the "epistemic morality argument". It's sort of an odd name, perhaps, but the argument it names is quite simple. It claims that knowledge is sometimes a bad thing, or at least not always a good thing (the epistemic value premise, or EVP). It then claims that bad knowledge should be restricted (the restriction premise, or RP). It also claims that bad knowledge should only be restricted when it is clearly bad (the clarity premise, or CP). Thus, some research should be restricted.

This is very similar to the elitist argument -- they're driven by the same basic intuition, namely that there could be real harms to opening up research access to everyone -- but focuses entirely on the effects of knowledge. There is no consideration of whether people will or will not make good use of knowledge.

RP is a consequentialist-styled claim. I'm not, technically, a consequentialist about morality, but I do think consequences often matter. In this case, since I don't see any non-consequentialist considerations that would trump the consequences, it seems to me that consequences must be all that matters here. So, RP is an instance of the general idea that we should limit the bad and promote the good.

EVP is a frank denial of a claim that has lasted at least since John Stuart Mill, namely that it's always better to have or to know the truth than not. EVP is also an instance of the claim, going back at least to Plato, that we should sometimes restrict the truth because it's not always good. I don't have much to add in terms of defending the claim, as this dispute has always struck me as being at something of a stand-off. Mill and his followers assert truth is always good, while Plato and his assert that it is not always good. Mill's defense of the view, for what it's worth, comes as part of a discussion of the ideal sort of person. According to Mill, the best person is an individual generally unrestricted in his conduct, save when he may bring harm to others through his actions. This person is creative, energetic, and engaged in the public life of his society. So, according to Mill, truth is always good because (basically) it produces these sorts of creative, energetic, engaged people -- what he called the "active personality".

Now, I'm all for the active personality, but there's some slippery reasoning here. Mill wants to say that allowing the truth to be freely disseminated serves the interests of all people by allowing them to become active people. And truth is always good because it produces these active people. But what, really, is the evidence that truth does this? And, to the point, where is the consideration of the fact that societies are not, in fact, generally made up of active people? Truth may be good in the hands of the active, but when you don't have active people, why should we allow truth to roam free? (If the answer is that it will make them into active people, the first question recurs: and what is the evidence that truth produces active people?)

On the other hand, Plato's claim comes in the midst of a discussion of how to best promote overall social good. And, according to Plato, we do this by only giving people the truths they need in order to function in their social role. (He also says that we should sometimes lie to people in order to help them function, which I'm not so keen on.) This seems a generally good rule of thumb to me. You don't tell a student in an introductory class in philosophy to read Kant's entire corpus and understand it. It's unfair, probably impossible and perhaps even cruel. Instead, you give the student some introductory-level readings, to help them develop the skills necessary to finally tackle something like Kant's corpus. In other words, you take people as they are, not as they will be, and allow them to access the knowledge they can deal with.

And this is where CP comes in. According to CP, much as with DP in the elitist argument, we start with the assumption that the knowledge is not bad, and only restrict it when it is clear that the knowledge is bad. The reasoning behind CP is much the same as behind DP. Since we often can't be sure that knowledge is bad, we should err on the side of restricting institutional control (i.e., dictatorial power). When we are sure, if the knowledge is reasonably considered to be good, we should allow it; and, if the knowledge is reasonably considered to be bad, then and only then we should restrict it.

So, these are the two arguments I have in favour of IA. If successful, they defeat the totality presumption, and thus undercut the arguments in favour of TOA. Since the status quo has no viable defense, it follows that IA is the preferable policy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


What Greg said. Seriously, what's the fucking point any more?

On a lighter note, philosophy and policy blogging will continue starting this weekend (the former) and continuing into next week (the latter). Whee.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


What John said.

Also, I recently heard a new argument for FPTP, namely that it ensures local representatives, not regional or provincial ones (who would exist under MMP). I've been trying to parse the argument, and I really can't. It seems to hark back to an earlier era of politics, where parties weren't as influential as they are now, and MPs/MPPs/MLAs/whatever had the option of defying the whip and voting their consciences. But that isn't our political world. Maybe it should be, but unless those who value local representation get serious about restricting the influence of parties generally, then their ability to wield their influence has to be curtailed . There's no good reason to allow one party to dictate the fortunes of millions of people because they managed to get 35-40% of the population that actually voted to cast ballots in their direction. (Really, the number is probably lower, as that 35-40% number would include votes in ridings they didn't even win -- i.e., wasted ballots.) Even if, like me, you think contemporary democracy is a bit of a sham, it's simply stupid to give these unaccountable, wealthy monoliths unrestricted power. If you do believe in democracy, then you have a whole host of other reasons to vote for MMP -- a more representative parliament, genuine respect for the value of a ballot, even an opportunity to (maybe, some time down the road) change the system again, to something even better.

No matter who you vote for on the other ballot, you should vote in favour of MMP in tomorrow's referendum.

Of course, the referendum's going to go down in flames, for a number of contributing reasons. But it's worth a shot. If there's enough support for change, we may get to take a second crack at it in a couple of decades. If there isn't, then we'll all go to our graves ruled by a relic of a previous political time. (Cheerful, eh?)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Ontario election follow-up.

Well, there's some movement on my previous complaints about candidates in my riding. David Zimmer (incumbent Lib) still has no policies whatsover. David Shiner (PC) has come out of the closet as one of the brilliant minds that voted down actually using Toronto's new revenue-generating powers to, oh, say, improve transit, fix roads, and keep the damn city running. So, "no" to both of them.

Kristin Monster (Family Coalition) is living up to her name (see here). Anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage? Classy.

Heath Thomas (see here) is living in a typically delusional libertarian fantasy world. I note with interest that, while he's all for reducing the size of government, he has no apparent interest in the massive redistribution of wealth that would be necessitated by a thoroughgoing libertarianism. (Think of it as a giant reset button, fixing all the illegitimate wealth transfers that had gone before.) It's honestly difficult (although, not impossible) to find libertarians who are willing to bite that bullet, so I'm not surprised.

Rini Ghosh (NDP) has no information whatsoever about what she'd do if elected. If you think I'm wrong, go find it here.

And I still have no idea who Charles Sutherland (Independent) is. Charles? Are you out there, anywhere? Helllooooo....? Do you know you're running for office?

However. Torbjorn Zetterlund (Green) has impressed me. He's got a decent summary of policy positions here, done in a faked question-and-answer format. I don't seriously disagree with anything he's for. I think what he stands for is quite workable. I also think it could benefit the riding as well as the province more generally.

Here's the Cliff's Notes:
  • Increased minimum wage
  • Guaranteed basic housing and nutrition
  • Universal denticare
  • Increased ability for municipalities to generate needed revenue
  • Provincial spending on transit
  • Increased support and incentives for health clinics and preventative health measures
  • Picking up school funding at the provincial level
  • No spending on environmental issues, per se, but targetted tax incentives to encourage consumers and businesses to change their behaviours
  • Tax incentives to encourage development of jobs in new industries
  • Reducing energy demand through conservation technologies
  • Reducing income and business taxes, while increasing consumption taxes
I'm not totally sold on the last two. See here regarding energy policy. The whole income vs. consumption taxes thing seems, to me, to have the potential to punish the poor disproportionately. It depends on what consumables are taxed -- a high tax on food, for example, would kick the poor in the teeth (as they spend proportionally more of their income on food than the rich), but a high tax on, say, luxury cars would be fine. But the rest works for me.

So, it looks like I'm voting Green, in addition to voting for MMP. Still, how long did it take the Green Party to actually put up some freakin' information! Jesus. They almost lost a vote.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Open access series: Total open access.

Last week (over hyar), I presented and critiqued three arguments in favour of what I (over hyar) called "the status quo". All three were negative arguments, and I suggested that this was a weaker strategy than arguing positively for the benefits of the status quo. The first argument I called the "cost argument", and it asserts that alternatives to the status quo will be more costly than maintaining the status quo. The problem with this argument is that it's not clear why we should accept that it's bad to pay the price/lose the benefits that we would in changing from the status quo. The second argument I called the "academic argument", and it asserts that alternatives to the status quo are unable to play an important academic function. I argued that neither of two important functions -- peer review and the "elitist function" -- are necessarily best served by the status quo, nor are necessarily incompatible with an alternative to the status quo. Finally, the third argument I called the "relevance argument", and it asserts that, as there's no need to change the status quo, it should not be changed. I argued that this is both question-begging -- in that the argument just asserts that there's no need to change the status quo -- and contains a highly questionable premise -- as there is no demonstration of the needed connection between need and obligation.

This week, I'm considering arguments in favour of TOA -- total open access. Here's what total open access is, as I've defined it:
TOA would have no or exceedingly minimal charges for access and extremely high ease of access. In order to read most published research, one would go to a freely-accessible database that would contain all relevant research publications. This database would be easy to use and complete; and would also allow one to directly access the materials found, in either electronic or dead-tree form. All researchers would be required to have their publications available through this database.

To have the relevant contrast in hand, here's how I defined "improved access" or IA:
IA would have modest charges for access and high ease of access. That is, the actual process of searching for published research would be highly similar to that of TOA, with one exception, namely that no one would be required to have their publications available through this database. To incentivize the process, researchers would be rewarded for participating, but not punished for failing to. After all, at the end of the day, the published work is their own and, if copyright means anything, it means that one can decide how to release what one has created. (Or even not to do so at all.) There would be more significant access fees than under TOA, but far less than under the status quo; and this would follow simply from the fact that, instead of subscribing to multiple databases and publishers in order to access all relevant research, individuals and institutions would only have to subscribe to one.

Arguments in favour of TOA seem to fall into one of two broad categories, each of which subdivides into two further categories. Here they are, schematically:
  1. Intrinsic Justifications
    1. Entitlement
    2. Empowerment
  2. Instrumental Justifications
    1. Benefits
    2. Costs
Illuminating, I know. Here's what this all means.

(A) is the category of arguments that try to show there's something that is valuable in itself gained from TOA. That is, regardless of anything else, gaining this whatever-it-is is a sufficient gain to justify changing to TOA. (A)(i) identifies this whatever-it-is as something like respect for what we deserve or what we are entitled to. That is, according to (A)(i), TOA respects that we are entitled to research or knowledge or free access to knowledge or some such. (A)(ii), by contrast, identifies the whatever-it-is as some sort of empowerment. That is, according to (A)(ii), TOA empowers citizens by giving them a new and important sort of ability. If you like, (A)(i) can be read as defending TOA on the grounds that it respects a certain kind of negative right (not to be interfered with regarding my entitlements), while (A)(ii) can be read as defending TOA on the grounds that it grants a certain kind of positive right (to be a better sort of person, more knowledgeable, better at important judgements, etc.).

(B) is the category of arguments that try to show there's something valuable gained from TOA, but not from TOA itself. Instead, TOA gives us something that is valuable for other ends we may have. (B)(i) identifies this something as a broad class of benefits, usually economic, but also things like increased access for readers, which, for researchers, could lead to increased numbers of citations and thus increasingly fruitful debate, and, for professionals, could lead to increasingly better ability to perform their professional obligations (think of physicians having greater access to cutting-edge medical research). (B)(ii), by contrast, identifies this something the lack of a broad class of costs, again usually economic, including things like subscription payments and secure servers to block unauthorized access to proprietory data, and so on. So, (B)(i) defends TOA on the grounds that it allows us to gain, and (B)(ii) defends TOA on the grounds that it prevents us from being harmed.

These are not strict categorizations, of course. This is just a way for me to organize a response to the defense of TOA. So, addressing these in turn.

(A)(i), as presented thus far, has a pretty significant lacuna. It has to be shown that we are entitled to what we get under TOA. This is clearest if I look at a particular example of the argument.
  1. Taxpayers are entitled to access to university research.
  2. Therefore, taxpayers should have access to university research.
Obviously, this argument has a giant hole in it: it doesn't explain why taxpayers have this entitlement. It's a pure non sequitur. So, something like the following has to be given instead:
  1. Taxpayers partially fund university research.
  2. Taxpayers are entitled to access to what they partially fund.
  3. Therefore, taxpayers should have total open access to university research.
The problem with this version, though, is that there's still another lacuna, in the move from (1) to (2). How do we get from partial funding to total entitlement? Surely taxpayers are just entitled to the part that they fund. Of course, one could argue that taxpayers' contributions are not, in principle, separable from the contributions of other sources. And this is probably true, but it still doesn't solve the problem. For, while we could go from the claim that taxpayers' contributions are not separable to the claim that taxpayers are fully entitled to the research, we could just as easily go from the former to the claim that taxpayers are not at all entitled to the research. There's no given reason for moving from partial contribution to full entitlement over partial contribution to no entitlement.

There's another problem with this sample of (A)(i)-style argument, namely why contribution converts into entitlement at all. It certainly doesn't in many other venues, particularly when the contributions can be construed as gifts. If, however, the contributions are construed as investments, then there is something to be said for one being entitled, but usually the invested-in party has some choice as to whether to accept the investment or not, and thus the resultant entitlement claim or not. It's certainly not clear that researchers always have that option.

But, it could be objected that these are quibbles, and quibbles with a particular version of the (A)(i) argument. This is probably true. So, let's look at the argument generally:
  1. A's have φ'd research.
  2. A's are entitled to access to what they have φ'd.
  3. Therefore, A's should have total open access to research.
This will cover both the particular argument given above, and any other argument that could fall into (A)(i)'s scope. In the spirit of fairness, I'll allow that (1) and (2) are true, for some value of A and of φ. Even if we grant that, though, we have a clear problem: (3) doesn't follow. (3) substitutes "total open access" for "access" -- what strictly follows would be this:
  1. Therefore, A's should have access to research.
In order to repair this logical gap, (2) must be amended as follows:
  1. A's are entitled to total open access to what they have φ'd.
But that amendment of (2) begs the question against IA. It assumes that φ-ing grants A's title to total open access instead of some level of access. If TOA were somehow the "default" position, then this would be a legitimate presumption; but, without argument, it cannot be assumed that TOA is this default. (For convenience, I'll call this the "totality presumption", or TP.)

So, (A)(i)-style arguments only work if they presume pro-IA arguments are failures. This may turn out to be a legitimate presumption, but it has yet to be shown. Moving on, then, to (A)(ii)-style arguments (the discussion of which should not be as lengthy, as I can piggy-back on the above discussion).

(A)(ii)-style arguments are going to broadly be similar to (A)(i)-style arguments. They will look something like this:
  1. If A's had access to research, then A's would be (able to) φ.
  2. A's should be (able to) φ.
  3. Therefore, A's should have access to research.
This argument presents three problems, just with the logic. First, it has the same access vs. total open access issue. If (1) and (3) are amended to include "total open access", then this is question-begging against IA -- once again, good ol' TP. Second, though, the argument as given is fallacious: it affirms the consequent.

According to standard sentential logics, there are two legitimate patterns of inference that start with a conditional (an if-then statement), and two fallacious patterns. The two legitimate ones are, first, modus ponens:
  1. If A, then B.
  2. A.
  3. Therefore, B.
And, second, modus tollens:
  1. If A, then B.
  2. Not-B.
  3. Therefore, not-A.
The fallacious ones are, first, denying the antecedent:
  1. If A, then B.
  2. Not-A.
  3. Therefore, not-B.
And, second, affirming the consequent:
  1. If A, then B.
  2. B.
  3. Therefore, A.
Obviously, the (A)(ii)-style argument given fits the latter of these four patterns; therefore, it is fallacious.

How could it be reconstructed to avoid the fallacy? As given, I've built the (A)(ii) argument scheme to treat access to research as a sufficient condition for the valuable ability, φ. I could build it, instead, with access to research as a necessary condition:
  1. If A's were (able to) φ, then A's would have access to research.
  2. A's should be (able to) φ.
  3. Therefore, A's should have access to research.
Or, to treat access to research as both necessary and sufficient:
  1. A's had access to research if and only if A's would be (able to) φ.
  2. A's should be (able to) φ.
  3. Therefore, A's should have access to research.
Either amendment would solve the logical problem, but at a cost. In the necessary-and-sufficient version, we have a second point at which a question is begged, only this time against the status quo. (1) in this version just assumes what the status quo tries to deny, that increased access and some important ability, φ-ing, go hand-in-hand. This may be true, but it needs to be shown, not assumed. (I make no judgement on whether it could be shown; that really depends on the particular φ.) In the just-necessary version, we beg exactly the same question.

So, in its most modest form, the (A)(ii)-style argument affirms the consequent; in its more ambitious forms, it begs the question against the status quo. And there is yet a third logical problem with the argument, which is the move from a descriptive conditional or biconditional (in all versions of (1)) to a normative conclusion (all versions of (3)), via a normative cognate of one side of the conditional or biconditional (in all versions of (2)). That is, this sort of argument avoids the problem, because it is completely descriptive (using the necessity version just for illustration):
  1. If A's were (able to) φ, then A's would have access to research.
  2. A's are (able to) φ.
  3. Therefore, A's will have access to research.
Or this, because it is completely normative:
  1. If A's should be (able to) φ, then A's should have access to research.
  2. A's should be (able to) φ.
  3. Therefore, A's should have access to research.
The descriptive version is, of course, useless, as it's the normative conclusion defenders of TOA want (A)(ii)-style arguments to endorse. The only difficulty I have with the normative form is the inherent problem in establishing (1), whether in necessity, sufficiency, or necessary-and-sufficient versions. It's very hard to connect oughts together, with one as condition for the other, except in fairly trivial cases (e.g., If I should be a square, then I should be a rectangle).

We can't build a version of the (A)(ii) argument scheme that employs a conditional with a normative consequent and descriptive antecedent. That is, we could rebuild the (A)(i) argument scheme using a conditional:
  1. A's have φ'd research.
  2. If A's have φ'd something, then A's are entitled to access to that thing.
  3. Therefore, A's should have total open access to research.
(Keeping in mind this employs TP.) The conditional here has a descriptive antecedent -- A's have φ'd something -- and normative consequent -- A's are entitled to access to that thing (i.e., A's should have access to that thing). That works because the argument is moving from a descriptive condition to a normative conclusion. (A)(ii)-style arguments don't run that way, though. They go from some condition that should -- but need not -- hold (i.e., some state that would be better than the status quo) to a normative conclusion. So, the arugment is normative all the way down.

Therefore, there is no really satisfactory form of (A)(ii)-style argument. All forms involve TP, and, additionally, the sufficiency form is fallacious, while the necessity and necessary-and-sufficient forms are question-begging against the status quo. Overall, then, (A)(i)-style arguments are superior to (A)(ii).

Moving on to (B)(i)-style arguments. These will look something like this:
  1. If A's had access to research, then A's would gain ψ in order to φ.
  2. A's should be (able to) φ.
  3. Therefore, A's should have access to research.
The same problems present themselves: this affirms the consequent, it derives a normative conclusion illegitimately, and it employs TP. If we try to avoid affirming the consequent, we will, as with (A)(ii), end up with a form that begs the question against the status quo. If we try to avoid deriving a normative conclusion illegitimately, we end up with a premise that is of unclear truth, at best. And, as always, we're still using TP. Since (A)(i) arguments only use TP, they are still superior.

Similar remarks apply to (B)(ii)-style arguments. (Really, do I need to spell it out any more?) At the end of the day, (A)(i)-style arguments look the best possible. They do not commit obvious fallacies, beg more than one question, nor try to proceed from what would be good to what should happen. Instead, they draw a clear connection between what some class of people, A, has done (φ) and access to research. That is, they are (as is typical with entitlement arguments generally) backward-looking and not (broadly) teleological.

The problem, though, as said is TP: the totality presumption. Why does entitlement get us to TOA rather than IA? I can see two possibilities. First, arguments in favour of IA over TOA and the status quo fail. Thus, TOA is a fallback from the failure of IA. This is unstable, though, as it depends on the (lack of) creativity of defenders of IA. Second, IA is not stable in its own right; it will, inevitably, tend either to TOA or the status quo. But this is just the black and white fallacy. So, for TOA to be preferable to IA -- that is, for TP to be true -- it must be that there are no good arguments for IA.

Are there? That will be my question for next week.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Open access series: The status quo.

Today, I'm finally continuing my open-access series. Here is the introductory post, for those who want to refresh their memories as to what the hell I'm talking about. In today's post, I'm going to be talking about arguments for and against the status quo. Or, at least, that was my original intention. As it turns out, though, it's incredibly hard to find positive arguments in favour of the status quo.

Let me explain what I mean. There's basically two ways to make an argument for some claim or proposition, p. First, I can advance a positive argument. That is, I can tell you some reasons to think that p is true. Second, I can advance a negative argument. That is, I can tell you some reasons to think that not-p is false. In introductory formal logic textbooks, the distinction is really irrelevant, as the "reasons" in question are usually premises in deductively valid or invalid arguments. That is, the reasons either guarantee the truth of the conclusion, or don't. From this, it follows that the two ways are equivalent.

In more complex arguments, though, the second way of arguing usually turns out to be the weaker one. This is because it only indirectly gives reasons to think that p is true, i.e., if not-p is false, then you should think p is true. The first way directly gives you reasons to think that p is true. And because the second way is indirect, there's two possible sources of weakness in the reasoning, as compared to only one for the first way. The first way will produce a weak argument if the reasons give little or no support to the truth of p. The second way shares this weakness, in the indirect form: if the reasons give little or no support to the falsity of not-p. The second way also, though, has a weakness in the connection between p and not-p. Again, in strict formal logics, not-p is the contradictory of p; and, outside of these systems, when the second way goes right, this is true as well. But it need not be. What fills the place of not-p can amount to "what I (the person making the argument) believe to be the alternatives to p". And, obviously, these are not always co-extensive.

So, whenever possible, it's better to give a positive argument for your view as well as (or instead of) a negative argument against opposing views. Unless you're dealing with a strict formal system, you can never be sure that you've got all the possible alternatives covered by not-p, which opens up the unique flaw of the negative argument.

What's this got to do with open access? Well, simply that the arguments I've managed to find in favour of the status quo are -- surprise! -- negative. That is, they tell you why it's bad to move away from the status quo, not why the status quo is any good. Now, given that the status quo is the status quo, this is not an incomprehensible move. After all, institutional inertia being what it is, as long as change is not clearly beneficial, the status quo will prevail. But institutional inertia is a really weak reason to maintain some practice; it only works if every possible reason for change is a failure. And it's extremely unlikely that this is the case.

Still, let me look at some of the major negative arguments I've managed to pull together and see how well they do (or don't) work. They fall into three broad classes. The first is the increased or initial costs of changing the current model. Most arguments I can find fall into this category. A few, however, fall into a different category, that of the threat to something fundamental to the academy. And a few fall into a third category, that of the irrelevance of changing the system. That is, it simply isn't an important or necessary change. For the sake of having easy labels, I'll refer to both categories as the "cost" argument, the "academic" argument, and the "relevance" argument, respectively.

The cost argument goes like this.
  1. If the status quo is altered, it will consume certain kinds of resources and/or deprive certain groups or persons of gain.
  2. This is bad.
  3. Therefore, the status quo should not be altered.
To make the argument work, we first have to fill in details of the resources lost or the gain deprived. So, we could say that publishers will be deprived of profits. Or we could say that an open access system would require money (and other resources) to be instituted and maintained. Or we could say that professionals (e.g., health care practitioners) would feel obligated to understand even more research than they currently do, which would consume more of their time and energy. Or we could adopt a sort of combo platter approach and take a little of each of these, and others.

As far as that goes, I have no problem with the argument. It states something that I'm willing to grant as true or, at least, not obviously false. So, (1)'s okay. And, given (1) and (2), (3) really does follow. The problem is the evaluative premise (2). We're supposed to be shown be the argument that something important is being lost by moving from the status quo to either TOA or IA. But the argument just assumes this. If there were a positive argument for the status quo, then (2) might work. There might actually be something important to the status quo. But, there is no such argument; hence, there is no support for (2).

Therefore, the cost argument fails.

Moving on to the academic argument. Publishers and other supporters of the status quo sometimes argue they have an important gatekeeping role to play in the research community. And a move away from the status quo would eliminate that. Putting it in a schematic form:
  1. The status quo serves an important function.
  2. Changing the status quo would eliminate this.
  3. Therefore, the status quo should not be altered.
Like the cost argument, the logic here is fine. Unlike the cost argument, I think both premises are false.

(2) is false because the important function does not (or at least does not obviously -- it needs argument) require the status quo in order to be served. Peer review is a usual candidate for the "important function", as is a more generic, keeping the hoi polloi away, sort of function (call this the "elitist" function). Peer review has no necessary connection to the status quo, though. You don't need to have a system of limited access, subscriber-only journals in order to encourage academics to review each other's work. (Really, what you need is paid review, but let's put that aside for now....) There's no evident connection between the barriers against accessing material and the process of peer review.

There is a connection between barriers and the elitist function. And I'm not opposed to the elitist function. I'm too much of an elitist myself to take seriously the idea that everyone, no matter their education, ability, or interests, should be allowed to access any information they like. Information can be incredibly dangerous in the wrong hands. (How do we tell which are the wrong hands? Topic for another time, perhaps.) The problem is the barriers are a very ham-fisted way of fulfilling the elitist function. If you really want to stop people who don't have certain qualifications from accessing particular material, doing so on the basis of ability to pay or access to a library is indirect at best, irrelevant at worst. Even a "need to know" basis works better, for at least then access to information is indexed to a relevant quality (i.e., need for the information).

(1) is also false, because the status quo actually fails to effectively serve either peer review or the elitist function. As said above, the elitist function could be better served by directly addressing the question of who should have access to information, not by cost or level of library service as a (poor) proxy. And, as also said (although parenthetically), peer review is not obviously best served by the status quo. Paying peer reviewers might be a better way to encourage peer review. But certainly access barriers to research don't seem to do anything to make peer review easier or more common. Indeed, it's hard to see how these could be connected.

So, the academic argument is no good, either.

Finally, then, we come to the relevance argument. This argument goes something like this:
  1. There is no need to change from the status quo.
  2. Therefore, the status quo should not be altered.
Now, this is, of course, enthymic: we have to add the claim that we shouldn't do things we don't need to. This makes the argument:
  1. There is no need to change from the status quo.
  2. If there is no need to change, then there should not be change.
  3. Therefore, the status quo should not be altered.
I'm noticing that these arguments are actually getting worse; this is actually quite pathetic. The most obvious problem with this argument is that it begs the question in (1). One way of phrasing the dispute between supporters and opponents of the status quo is that the latter assert, while the former deny, that there is a need to change the status quo. Since this is the very bone of contention, it is fundamentally fallacious to claim there is no such need in the premise of an argument in support of the status quo.

To make matters worse, (2) is not necessarily true. There is no necessary connection between need and obligation. Let me start by considering whether obligation is exhausted by need. (In an unrelated, but relevant, note, this unreflective invocation of need is what tends to drive me crazy about environmental and anti-poverty groups.) Most of what I do in my day is not done out of need. Most of what I have I don't need. But I like what I do (usually), and what I have, and they add some kind of value to my life. The idea that obligation gives out when need ends is thus incredibly radical. It implies that I'm never obligated to do more than I need to (as said in (2)), and I'm never entitled to what I don't need (as environmental and anti-poverty groups sometimes say). And I take this as a reductio of the position. My obligations go beyond what I need to do: they extend, at least partly, into what it is good that I do. Similarly, what I am entitled to goes beyond need, at least partly into what's good for me (or, perhaps, what I take to be good for me?).

To proceed in the other direction, need does not entail obligation. I'm not obligated to do for you everything that you need, nor are you so obligated towards me. Some people have these sorts of obligations to each other, because of close relationship, explicit agreement, or other such mechanisms. But not everyone does. So, the fact that there is some need doesn't necessarily create a specific obligation.

For (2) to be true, it's the first that's really problematic. (2) asserts the contrapositive of the claim that obligation entails need: it asserts that a lack of need entails a lack of obligation. (Given a sentence, "if A, then B", its contrapositive is "if not-B, then not-A".) To shore this up would require showing that any time there is an obligation, there must be need. As I've argued, though, many genuine obligations I have are in no way related to need. They're instead related to things like explicit agreement or personal relationship; and, more generally, to value.

(Edit Sept. 30 4:08pm EST:: undergroundman suggests in the comments that while the inverse of (2) may be true -- necessity implies obligation -- it doesn't follow from that that (2) is true -- lack of necessity implies lack of obligation. So, rather than failing to prove the contrapositive (obligation entails need), it may be an erroneous use of inversion (which can generate falsity from truth) instead of contraposition, which is a valid rule of inference.)

Thus, in conclusion, there are no good arguments in favour of the status quo. None of the cost argument, the academic argument, nor the relevance argument really works. So, the only thing speaking in favour of the status quo -- the only thing that can -- would be the failure of a case supporting all the other alternatives, including the two I will consider over the next few weeks, TOA and IA. So, I need to consider the case in favour of each; and, next week, I will start with TOA.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Slight delay.

Had some issues with the university bureaucracy this morning which have forced a postponement of open access blogging until tomorrow morning.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

ProgBlogs Code of Conduct.

For some reason, I can't login to the ProgBlogs mainpage and comment here. I've already made my thoughts about "codes of civility" known here, and I stand by them. But, some specific remarks.

The first and third provisions deal with legal issues and are not within the moderators' scope. If someone's violating the law, let the law handle it. I'm disturbed by the moderators' willingness to assume policing authority for themselves.

The second provision is extremely broad and quite vague. What constitutes a threat? What constitutes sexism? And what on earth does "ethically offensive" mean? Commentator "Berlynn" suggests that the code would eliminate at least half the men off the blogroll -- I think she's underestimating how many people (and not just men) could be considered to violate this code. (She also comments that this may not be a bad thing... the less said about that, the better, I suppose.) So, I honestly think the moderators would be better to just not define what's acceptable or unacceptable. In other words, it's the moderators' decision, and theirs alone. That's what this boils down to, at the end of the day, and at least saying so would be honest.

The "punishments" are relatively minor, though. I note that the list given -- private warnings, removal of a post from the main website, and discontinuation of membership for 3 months -- is given as a non-exclusive list. That is, these are just examples. Again, there's a whiff of dishonesty here. If the moderators want to assume the power all the way up to throw people off the ProgBlogs blogroll permanently, I wish they'd just say so, rather than being so circumspect and vague. Furthermore, is the list supposed to be scaled? Warning for a first offense, etc.? It doesn't say so.

I like the privacy provision, in principle, but I'm troubled by the details. What counts as violating privacy? What counts as doing it against their wishes? What's a "legitimate reasons" to violate privacy against someone's wishes? Why is there no scaled list of punishments for this?

Overall, if the ProgBlogs mods feel "something must be done" (although why is obscure to me), then it would be better, I think, to create two areas of ProgBlogs: the "civil" area, and the "free-for-all". By default, people going to the ProgBlogs mainpage would see just the former (bloggers who agree to be bound by this, or some other, code of conduct), but could opt to choose the latter. That way those of us who aren't interested in parental controls on our blogs don't have to obey them, and those who think they matter can accept them.

So, my $0.03. 3 because my thoughts are more important than yours. :P

Edit: Sept 24, 6:33pm EST: Robert's comments in the PB thread (which I still can't comment on -- WTF? Logging in doesn't seem to be working for me at all...) seem right to me. I'm reproducing them here:
Progressive reserves the right to take action against any member for conduct that may lead to legal ramifications against the organization and/or its officers or is deemed harmful by the moderators to the integrity of the organization.

Then handle each problem on a case by case basis.

Second. Create a written policy on how such cases will be handled. For example, here's a quick version of such a policy.

1) After a complaint is received, the moderators will determine if action is warranted. (This gives the mods the chance to weed out the politically motivated and frivolous complaints)

2) If action is deemed necessary, the member will be notified of the complaint (by the moderators and not through the fucking grapevine) and given the opportunity to remedy the situation on their own.

3) If the situation is not dealt with by the member, the member will be temporarily suspended pending a formal hearing that allows the member the opportunity to defend themselves against the charges directly to the mods. (None of that fucking bullshit where the defendant finds out halfway through the process that their super secret trial in the comments of the ProgBlogs is already underway like I did.)

4) The moderators render a verdict and action is taken.

Agents and reasoning.

Continued from here.

Central to my account of reasons-explanations of action are the values and rules of practical reasoning. Reasons (goals) are connected to actions (means) because the latter are appropriate to the former. This is cashed out in terms of those actions for those reasons either conforming to a rule of practical reasoning or realizing/exemplifying/etc. some value of practical reasoning. Furthermore, though, reasons must be objectively valuable in order to be genuinely reasons, and in order for an agent to begin trying to reason a way to achieve the goals. So, it follows that I need an account of practical reasoning and of agency such that actions follow from goals as reasons, and such that agents can engage in this sort of reasoning as well as be able to recognize and take action towards certain goals. Let me start with agency.

I should note that empirical results from cogsci and the like will probably require altering this account. A priori reasoing is a fine place to start, but it needs to be sensitive to the a posteriori. So, this is just an initial sketch. That said, I have thought for a while that the intuitionists of the early 20th century (from HA Prichard and GE Moore in the early part of the century, all the way up to WD Ross in the middle part) were on to something with the claim that moral value is perceived. We can, after all, just see that some things are right or wrong. But I don't think the intuitionists took this quite far enough. There really is no hard line between mind and world: the world is the way it seems to us, and the way things seem to us is constantly affected by the way they are. So, in part, our perceptions are shaped by things, but things are also shaped by our perceptions. I don't have a choice whether I feel the floor under my feet, but that what I feel is a floor comes from me. Similar points can be made for other sensory modalities. Given that, while it is true that some things -- shape or size -- seem imposed on us from outside, perceived because of the way things are, others -- colour and value -- must be perceived in things around us because of the way we are. Of course, these are not complete categorizations; and any line we draw between these categories is tentative, porous, and subject to revision.

But, from the above it follows that perception of value is not mysterious or unanalyzable. It is, instead, fundamental to the way we make the world (and the world makes us): perception of value is as fundamental as any other peception. The world to us is value-laden; and, since this is the only world we can ever know, the world itself is value-laden. How we do this is, of course, a fully empirical question.

It must follow that agents are constituted as value-perceivers. But, what is the value they perceive? If explicit reasoning has any relevance to what we do -- and surely it does -- it must be the case that the values we perceive are the values we use in reasoning. That is, what I am calling goals -- perceived values -- must be able to serve as premises in practical reasoning. Practical reasoning must have values in its premises because of the standard is-ought problem. Practical reasoning's conclusions are oughts -- what I should do, in order to achieve certain goals. If its premises are not normative in any way, then this sort of conclusion will never follow. But this means that practical reasoning never has relevance for our actions: it is not the source of the oughts that bind us. Since this is absurd, by reductio at least one of practical reasoning's premises must have normative content.

Now, reasoning itself is a normative activity. There are rules we must follow to proceed from premises to conclusions correctly. So, there must be rules to practical reasoning, and we agents must be such that we can follow these rules. As said, we must be constituted to perceive value; it would be parsimonious, then, if the values we perceive were one and the same as the rules we follow. For then rather than two processes, there is only one: perception is rule-recognition. (I'm eliding a little here, I know, but I think the basic point sound.)

There are two possible objections to this move. First, recognizing and following rules are different processes, and it is rule-following I should be concerned with. Second, values and rules are different in other normative areas, such as morality and aesthetics, and thus should be different in the basic practical realm.

I am not convinced by the latter. It strikes me as a fairly dogmatic assertion of a claim, and not an actual argument. For there to be an argument, there would have to first be some important difference bewteen following rules and realizing value. But is there? Take some rule: you should never lie to people. This can correlate, though, to a negative value: lying is bad. Or take another rule: you should be charitable. The value is obvious: charity is good. Generally speking, I think we can capture any rule, one should (or should not) φ, with a value, φ-ing is good (or bad). While I realize this is simplistic, it is at least suggestive that the distinction between rule and value is not a hard one.

The former objection is an instance of a more general problem for me. While I have said both that value is perceived and thus used in practical reasoning, and that pratical reasoning yields conclusions about what one shoudl do, there is yet a gap in both. One can fail to reason practically, and one can fail to follow through on the conclusion of a piece of practical reasoning. I suspect that causation will bridge these gaps. That is, I reason practically if I am caused to, somehow: probably something to do with the connections between the perceptual and higher-level cognitive systems. So a full -- not simply reasons -- explanation of action has a causal element. Similarly, I act on the conclusion of a piece of practical reasoning if (essentially) I cause myself to -- or, in older language, I will myself to. (Not language I use because I don't agree with the implied faculty of will, any more than the implied faculty of reson that does reasoning. Reasoning and willing, in my view, are activities of complex physical systems like us; there is no one independent and unique centre that is responsible for any particular activity.) Since this goes into action more generally, not just actions as they are done for reasons, it is beyond my scope here. But it is clearly an interesting and improtant question in its own right, and I do not mean to deny that.

Back to the main point. We know something about what agents must be like -- as perceivers and reasoners -- but how do they reason? What rules do they follow and what values do they realize? This is a difficult and general problem. Some rules are obvious: the rules of logic. Some values are also obvious: the aforementioned propriety, as well as basic pratical values (e.g., what is achievable). Beyond that, the answers are probably quite complex and difficult and, again, beyond the scope of my project. However, as long as there are rules and values of practical reasoning, then my project is basically well-founded. I may be wrong on particulars -- any given φ may not be done for the ψ I cite, bcause I don't have a full theory of practical reasoning -- but the general shape -- the dependence on practical reasoning -- seems supported.

Next week, I'm going to finish up this series and talk about the distinction between the practical and the moral; motivation; and some ontology and epistemology, just for fun.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Venting about the Ontario election.

I'm going to put off continuing the open access series until next week, in favour of this about the upcoming Ontario general election. The punchline is that, while I see reasons for voting in the referendum, I see no reason whatsoever to vote in the election. (FWIW, I didn't vote in the Toronto municipal elections, either, for approximately the same reasons as given below.)

As far as the referendum goes, I'm convinced that those who oppose the MMP proposal are either (1) deluded or (2) anti-democractic. The deluded are those who think that, if MMP fails, there will be another opportunity to revise the electoral system in favour of their preferred alternative to FPTP. Won't happen. The government clearly doesn't even want MMP to succeed (given the arbitrarily high threshold that's been set on the referendum's success). If it fails, is there really any reasonable chance that the process will be repeated for some other possibility? It's hard to see how there could be.

The anti-democratic are those who dishonestly oppose MMP on other grounds. The case is fairly clear in favour of MMP's democratic credentials. However you think people should vote -- Millian consequentialism, Lockean self-interest, Rousseauian general will, etc. -- it's not in dispute that the resulting parliament should reflect the votes of the people. And FPTP ensures that this does not happen. No one has won a genuine majority of the popular vote in Ontario since, I believe, sometime in the '50's. And yet we've had successive majority governments for as long as I remember -- and not marginal majorities, either. Remember the Rae and Harris governments?

I should point out that, in principle, I think democracy is a stupid system. It only makes sense if we have people of a certain quality (with particular powers, i.e., positive liberties), and I'm not a big fan of the demos we have these days. But, if we are going to have a democracy, then let's actually have one, instead of this only nominally democratic system of elections.

So, I see clear reasons to vote in favour of MMP. It's a more democratic alternative; this is supposed to be a democracy; so, let's actually have a democracy. However, I see only reasons against voting in the election, none for.

I know of two particularly prominent defenses of voting. Either it is a form of tacit or implied consent to the authority of the state (social contract tradition) or it is a way of being recognized as a person with autonomy and dignity (more broadly deontological, but consistent with utilitarianism; Mill's defense rests on such a notion). There are other defenses -- Plato, in Laws, defends a form of pluralistic democracy as a way of selecting the best rulers; Popper, in The Open Society, defends democracy negatively, as a way of warding off tyranny -- but these are the two I find most compelling. But, see here.

The first is simply bad, and its problems are well-known. First, tacit consent is barely genuine consent. It's just odd to say that some other action, besides overt agreement, can "count" as agreement. Second, even if this does make sense, voting doesn't signal consent to the government, because of a simple dilemma. Either voting signals consent only to be governed by whoever you voted for, or voting signals consent to be governed by anyone, regardless of your vote. If the former, a reductio ad absurdum appears: no one who votes for the losing side would ever be under the authority of the state (and, indeed, that would suggest a sure-fire way to get out of being obligated to the state: vote for some no-hope party). If the latter, a reductio also results, for then the preference you signal by casting your ballot could in principle be ignored without in any way violating the consent you have given. That is, your choice could be ignored without violating your choice.

So, the best hope is the second defense. But to be consistent with your dignity and autonomy, voting must allow for the possibility of not voting. After all, not voting is an act I can engage in autonomously, just as voting is. This follows from the fact that compelling me to vote would violate my autonomy. Thus, allowing me to not vote is required in order to respect my autonomy.

There's a number of complaints people tend to lodge against those who don't vote. The first is that doing so requires that you not care, but this is simply stupid. I do care; it's because I care that I'm not voting. The candidates in my riding are simply pathetic. David Zimmer (incumbent Lib) is running on his record but, off-hand, I can't recall a single thing he's done to actually help Willowdale. Should I vote for him because he's a good party man? But we vote for representatives, not parties (at least, under FPTP we do); he is supposed to be representing the interests of his riding in the Ontario parliament. So, what he's done for the party is irrelevant. Moreover, what the party will do for Ontario is irrelevant. What matters is what he will do -- and has done -- for me, and I've seen nothing, on his website or his election materials, to suggest that he'll do anything. So, he's out.

David Shiner (PC) seems to be running on a platform of magic and puppies and sunlight meadows of wonder and delight. At least, that's the best sense I can make of his boss' promises to improve funding to various things while simultaneously reducing taxes across the board. Do we really need to piss off public sector workers again? It wasn't a barrel of laughs the last time around. Again, note that he has no policies of his own.

Similarly, Rini Ghosh (NDP) has no policies of his own. I can't even see that he's got his own website. Pathetic. Exactly the same applies to Torbjorn Zetterlund (Green), although I sincerely doubt I would ever vote Green. Their libertarian economic fantasies strike me as obviously dangerous and founded on wishful thinking. And the less said about the fringe nuts running in this riding -- Heath Thomas (Libertarian), Kristin Monster (Family Coalition -- although, awesome name), and Charles Sutherland (Independent) -- the better. Although, don't take my shots at them as fringey the wrong way: I've voted federally for Canadian Action in the past.

So, I do care. And I won't vote for any of these people because of it.

Furthermore, not voting doesn't mean relinquishing my right to complain about politicians. I keep hearing this as a justification for voting and it simply doesn't wash. First, I can complain about anything I damn well please. Second, if I don't vote because no one is worth voting for -- and not because I just don't give a shit -- then, far from giving up the right to complain, not voting actually expresses a complaint.

There is some justification for strategic voting, in some cases. I've done that before. However, because the candidates haven't bothered to express what they actually stand for, there's no strategy possible. I can't pick out who's bad and who's good, so I can't vote for the lesser of the evils.

Finally, some may suggest that I refuse my ballot. I would; in fact, I think there should be a "none of the above" space on all ballots, with a little write-in space for you to explain why. But last time I tried that -- federal election after Chrétien quit -- and was told it was no longer an option. I have done it before (federal election but one before that).

So, I won't be voting in the election. As said, I see absolutely no reason for, and many reasons against.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The nature of reasons, as implied by the teleological model.

Edit (9/15/07, 11am): Forgot the hash mark for some of the Greek characters. Fixed now.

For those interested, the current draft of my diss. proposal is here (.pdf). Over the next few weeks, I want to tease out the last remaining threads of argument that I haven't quite developed, namely those that draw out implications from my model for reasons-explanations of action. Today I'll be talking about reasons.

As discussed previously here, here, and here, and, of course, in more depth in the proposal, a successful reasons-explanation of action has to accomplish three things:
  1. It must account for the connection between reasons and action in the agent;
  2. It must give reasons that the agent genuinely finds objectively worthy; and
  3. It must fit the action within the pattern implied by (1) and (2).
The teleological model (hereafter "T-model") I want to defend deals with (1) by invoking the connection between means and ends. A means, φ-ing, is connected to an end, ψ, if φ-ing is appropriate to ψ, which means that either φ-ing for ψ conforms with some relevant rule of practical reasoning or φ-ing for ψ is valuable, for some relevant value of practical reasoning. I also want to add in the (somewhat) radical claim that there's no relevant difference between rules of practical reasoning and values of practical reasoning. That is, to draw a parallel to ethics, there is no analogue to distinction between the right and the good at the basic level of practical reasoning.

An analysis of (2) thus comes for free as the means (action) is connected to the ends (reasons) by the former being an way of achieving the value of the latter. Thus, reasons are, always, valuable. For them to be objectively valuable, though, it has to be true that the ends are not purposes (which are subjective, in my view) but goals: that is, things in the world, such as states of affairs, which one aims one's action towards as a means.

Finally, the pattern is what I've characterized as a pseudopattern -- that is, a class of patterns -- called efficacious attainment of value (EAV). As long as the means is appropriate to the end, and the end is objectively valuable, then the pattern of the action (means) and reasons (end) counts as EAV.

The implications I want to be able to draw out of this model relate to a number of longstanding problems in various areas of philosophy. The first is the idea that reasons for action can't be psychological and must instead be real (i.e., goals, not purposes). The reason for this turns on the requirement of objective value. Approximately, some ψ is subjectively valuable if it seems objectively valuable to me; some ψ is objectively valuable if it actually is valuable. (These can, of course, coincide; I can correctly take the world to be as it seems to be.) Since a successful reasons-explanation of action has to show us that the reasons were objectively valuable, it has to be impossible that the reasons fail to exhibit objective value. (This sounds a little trite, I know. But I'm going somewhere with it.) But, psychological states can fail to exhibit objective value. This leaves us with two possibilities: either (a) the psychological states that fail to exhibit objective value are not really reasons, or (b) no psychological states are reasons. If (a), then the psychological states that are reasons are either (i) those that correctly track objective value or (ii) those that actually instantiate objective value. (ii) is a non-starter, I think, for it presumes a distinction within our psychological states that needlessly clutters the ontology, i.e., there would have to be a whole set of psychological states that actually instantive objective value, and a whole other set, just as complete, that did not. If (i), however, then there doesn't seem to be any need for the psychological states. That is, they seem to be playing a practical role analogous to the epistemological role played by good ol' sense-data, of wonderfully convenient intermediaries between the entirely separate spheres of mind and world. Since there's no good grounds to maintain this harsh separation, it follows that there's no need for these intermediaries. So, we may as well abandon (a) and go, instead, to (b).

I also want to claim that reasons are complex, not simple, and plural, i.e., that when I φ, I do so for a constellation of reasons (complex, not simple) and that any given reason can favour multiple actions, and any action can be favoured by multiple reasons (plural). I think this follows pretty straightforwardly. A given means can be appropriate to multiple ends; hence, one action can be favoured by many different reasons. Similarly, it's entirely possible that a given end can be attained efficaciously by multiple means; hence, one reason can favour multiple actions. Finally, there's no grounds to suspect that when I φ, I must do so for exactly one goal. Consider that any goal I achieve could, in principle, be part of a long series of goals (call this a "project"); thus, to achieve the first goal is to, at least in part, achieve the super-goal of the project.

Next week, I'll discuss arguments regarding the implications for agency and reasoning. (Which will be really fun, as I know almost nothing about the relevant literature. Woo-hoo!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Open access series: Introduction.

(Short one today, as it's the first week of classes and (1) WebCT for my course is not yet working and (2) Trent's email server is no longer accepting my password. Sigh....)

As the title suggests, my newest "policy" series begins today. Including this shortish post, I envision four parts. In this installment, I'll lay out the topic, the various positions I will be considering, and my critical approach.

The topic is, as I suggested some weeks ago, open access to published research. Keeping in mind that I actually do have .pdfs of my dissertation proposal draft, MA thesis, and various grad papers available at my own website, I still find troubling the idea that anyone would be compelled to publish their research in a form that could be accessible to anyone. While it certainly may be a good thing that people do so, those sorts of consequentialist justifications have always left me a little cold.

But I get ahead of myself. There are two related issues that are important when it comes to open access, which I'll call cost and ease. That is, if you're in favour of "open access" to published research, you could be in favour of one of two distinct claims, i.e., that there be no charge for accessing published research, or that it be easy to access published research (e.g., through a central repository of some kind). If you're against open access, you could be against either or both of these claims, and you could be against them to varying degrees. I think there are three distinct and interesting positions that fall out of this division, which should be considered in turn.

The first is the status quo, with fairly high charges for access and fairly low ease of access. That is, currently, in order to read most published research, one is required to either subscribe directly or piggy-back on some sort of institutional access (e.g., university library); and then one has to laboriously search through a number of different databases to find the material that one is looking for. To make matters worse, these databases can be... shall we say, sporadic? ... in their coverage of whatever discipline is their subject; and there is also no guarantee that even a large institution, such as a university library, has access to the items listed in the database. So, even assuming you have paid for access to these databases, and can find something that looks useful for your interests, you may not have found everything you were looking for, and what you have found may have to be ordered from elsewhere. Which implies more charges, in most cases.

The second is what I'll call "total open access" or TOA. TOA would have no or exceedingly minimal charges for access and extremely high ease of access. In order to read most published research, one would go to a freely-accessible database that would contain all relevant research publications. This database would be easy to use and complete; and would also allow one to directly access the materials found, in either electronic or dead-tree form. All researchers would be required to have their publications available through this database. (Or else what? Good question.)

The third is what I'll call "improved access" or IA. IA would have modest charges for access and high ease of access. That is, the actual process of searching for published research would be highly similar to that of TOA, with one exception, namely that no one would be required to have their publications available through this database. To incentivize the process, researchers would be rewarded for participating, but not punished for failing to. After all, at the end of the day, the published work is their own and, if copyright means anything, it means that one can decide how to release what one has created. (Or even not to do so at all.) There would be more significant access fees than under TOA, but far less than under the status quo; and this would follow simply from the fact that, instead of subscribing to multiple databases and publishers in order to access all relevant research, individuals and institutions would only have to subscribe to one.

In the next three weeks, I'll be considering each of the status quo, TOA and IA in turn, by first critiquing the positive arguments for them, and then considering the negative arguments against them.