Archive for April, 2013

April 26, 2013

The Art of Being Right

The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win an Argument’ (1831) is an acidulous (biting) treatise written by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in sarcastic deadpan. He examines a total of thirty-eight methods of showing up one’s opponent in a debate. Schopenhauer introduces his essay with the idea that philosophers have concentrated in ample measure on the rules of logic, but have not (especially since the time of Immanuel Kant) engaged with the darker art of the dialectic, of controversy.

Whereas the purpose of logic is classically said to be a method of arriving at the truth, dialectic, says Schopenhauer, ‘…on the other hand, would treat of the intercourse between two rational beings who, because they are rational, ought to think in common, but who, as soon as they cease to agree like two clocks keeping exactly the same time, create a disputation, or intellectual contest.’

read more »

Tags:
April 26, 2013

Argument from Ignorance

An argument from ignorance, also known as ‘argumentum ad ignorantiam’ or ‘appeal to ignorance’ (where ‘ignorance’ stands for: ‘lack of evidence to the contrary’), is an inference that a proposition is false based on the absence of evidence.

For example, a man sitting in a warehouse with a tin roof can assume that it is not raining if he doesn’t hear rain drops without looking outside for any evidence of rain. Here ignorance about a particular form of evidence for rain (the noise) is used to assume a lack of rain; but the conclusion may fail if it is raining so softly that no noise is heard by the man, or if his hearing is impaired, etc.

read more »

April 25, 2013

Evidence of Absence

Evidence of absence is evidence of any kind that suggests something is missing or that it does not exist. For example, suppose a baker never fails to put newly finished pies on her windowsill; therefore, if there is no pie on the windowsill, no newly finished pies exist. 

Per the traditional aphorism, ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,’ positive evidence of this kind is distinct from a lack of evidence or ignorance of that which should have been found already, had it existed. In this regard American philosopher Irving Copi writes: ‘In some circumstances it can be safely assumed that if a certain event had occurred, evidence of it could be discovered by qualified investigators. In such circumstances it is perfectly reasonable to take the absence of proof of its occurrence as positive proof of its non-occurrence.

read more »

Tags:
April 25, 2013

Truth Wizard

The Wizards Project was a research project at the University of California, San Francisco led by psychologists Paul Ekman and Maureen O’Sullivan that studied the ability of people to detect lies. O’Sullivan spent more than 20 years studying the science of lying and deceit.

The project was originally named the ‘Diogenes Project,’ after the Diogenes, the Greek philosopher who would look into people’s faces using a lamp, claiming to be looking for an honest man. The project defined a ‘Truth Wizard’ as a person identified who can identify deception with accuracy of at least 80%, whereas the average person rates around 50%. No Truth Wizard was 100% accurate.

read more »

April 24, 2013

Wronger than wrong

American science writer Michael Shermer has described as ‘wronger than wrong‘ the mistake addressed in what he calls ‘Asimov’s axiom,’ after the noted author Isaac Asimov, who discussed the issue in his book of essays, ‘The Relativity of Wrong.’

A statement that equates two errors is wronger than wrong when one of the errors is clearly more wrong than the other. As Asimov put it: ‘When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.’

read more »

April 24, 2013

The Relativity of Wrong

The Relativity of Wrong is a 1988 essay collection by Isaac Asimov, which takes its title from the most ambitious essay it contains. Like most of the essays Asimov wrote for ‘F&SF Magazine,’ each one in ‘The Relativity of Wrong’ begins with an autobiographical anecdote which serves to set the tone.

Several of the essays form a sequence explaining the discovery and uses of isotopes; the introductory passages in these essays recount Asimov’s not particularly pleasant personal relationship with physical chemist Harold C. Urey, whom he met at Columbia University.

read more »

Tags: ,
April 24, 2013

Not even wrong

The phrase not even wrong is generally attributed to theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colorful objections to incorrect or sloppy thinking. Rudolf Peierls writes that ‘a friend showed Pauli the paper of a young physicist which he suspected was not of great value but on which he wanted Pauli’s views. Pauli remarked sadly, ‘It is not even wrong.” Peierls remarks that quite a few apocryphal stories of this kind have been circulated and mentions that he listed only the ones personally vouched by him. He also quotes another example when Pauli replied to Lev Landau: ‘What you said was so confused that one could not tell whether it was nonsense or not.’

It has come to be used to describe any argument that purports to be scientific but fails at some fundamental level, usually in that it cannot be falsified (i.e., tested with the possibility of being rejected) by experiment or cannot be used to make predictions about the natural world. ‘Not even wrong’ has also been used by Peter Woit to mean proposed scientific theories that are well-meaning and based on current scientific knowledge, but can neither be used for prediction nor falsified. He has applied the phrase to aspects of string theory in physics on the grounds that, although mathematically elegant, it does not currently provide predictions or tests.

April 24, 2013

Bullshit

Bullshit (also bullcrap) is a common English expletive which may be shortened to the euphemism bull or the initialism BS. In British English, ‘bollocks’ is a comparable expletive, although bullshit is commonly used in British English. It is a slang profanity term meaning either (literally) bovine excrement or, more commonly, ‘nonsense,’ especially in a rebuking response to communication or actions viewed as deceiving, misleading, disingenuous, or false. As with many expletives, the term can be used as an interjection or as many other parts of speech, and can carry a wide variety of meanings.

It can be used either as a noun or as a verb. While the word is generally used in a deprecating sense, it may imply a measure of respect for language skills, or frivolity, among various other benign usages. In philosophy, Harry Frankfurt, among others, analyzed the concept of bullshit as related to but distinct from lying. Outside of the philosophical and discursive studies, the everyday phrase bullshit conveys a measure of dissatisfaction with something or someone, but does not generally describe any role of truth in the matter.

read more »

Tags:
April 24, 2013

Big Lie

The Big Lie is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book ‘Mein Kampf,’ about the use of a lie so ‘colossal’ that no one would believe that someone ‘could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.’

Hitler asserted the technique was used by Jews to unfairly blame Germany’s loss in World War I on German Army officer Erich Ludendorff.

read more »

April 24, 2013

Being and Nothingness

Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology’ is a 1943 book by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Its main purpose is to assert the individual’s existence as prior to the individual’s essence. Sartre’s overriding concern was to demonstrate that free will exists.

While a prisoner of war in 1940 and 1941, Sartre read Martin Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time,’ an ontological investigation through the lens and method of Husserlian phenomenology (Husserl was Heidegger’s teacher). Reading ‘Being and Time’ initiated Sartre’s own inquiry leading to the publication in 1943 of ‘Being and Nothingnes’s whose subtitle is ‘A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology.’

read more »

Tags:
April 24, 2013

Bad Faith

Bad faith is a philosophical concept used by existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir to describe the phenomenon where a human being under pressure from societal forces adopts false values and disowns his/her innate freedom to act authentically. It is closely related to the concepts of self-deception and ressentiment (an assignment of blame for one’s frustration).

A critical claim in existentialist thought is that individuals are always free to make choices and guide their lives towards their own chosen goal or ‘project.’ The claim holds that individuals cannot escape this freedom, even in overwhelming circumstances. For instance, even an empire’s colonized victims possess choices: to submit to rule, to negotiate, to act in complicity, to commit suicide, to resist nonviolently, or to counter-attack.

read more »

April 22, 2013

Cognitive Closure

In philosophy of science and philosophy of mind, cognitive closure is the proposition that human minds are constitutionally incapable of solving certain perennial philosophical problems.

Neurobiologist Owen Flanagan calls this position ‘anti-constructive naturalism’ or the ‘new mysterianism’ and the primary advocate of the hypothesis, Colin McGinn, calls it ‘transcendental naturalism’ because it acknowledges the possibility that solutions might fall within the grasp of an intelligent non-human of some kind. According to McGinn, such philosophical questions include the mind-body problem, identity of the self, foundations of meaning, free will, and knowledge, both a priori and empirical.

read more »