Sunday, April 28, 2013


Here's a fascinating article on Diederik Stapel, the Dutch psychologist who was discovered to have made up most of his research a couple of years ago. People just couldn't believe that a social scientist of his standing could have engaged in such extensive academic fraud, and that allowed him to get away with it for a lot longer. Some of the fraud found its way into the Ph.D. dissertations of his students, which is just a horrible thing to do, taking away their life's work from them, although he seems to have some idea of the magnitude of what he has done now.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lovejoy on behaviorism

Arthur Lovejoy was an important philosopher in the early 20th century, and he presented something like Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism, Lucas's Gödelian argument against physical determinism, and C.S. Lewis's argument from reason. Lovejoy's target was behaviorism, a view which reduces all human existence to responses to stimuli. Lovejoy presented his argument briefly in two essays, the first entitled "The Existence of Ideas" published in The Johns Hopkins University Circular 3 (1914): 42-99 (alternate pagination 178-235), which you can download here. He addresses the argument on pages 71-73 (207-209). The second was the essay "Pragmatism as Interactionism" (which you can read or download here) published for some reason in two parts in The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 17 (1920): 589-96 and 622-32 (this journal later became The Journal of Philosophy). "Interactionism" is the claim that mind and body interact -- mental events causing physical events and vice-versa. The argument comes on pages 630-32 of part 2, where Lovejoy concludes,
Pragmatism insists that, whatever philosophical propositions be true, one class of propositions must certainly be false -- all those, namely, which either assert or imply that human intelligence has no part, or no distinctive part, in the control of physical events and bodily movements, in the modification of environment, or in the actual determination, from moment to moment, of any of the content of reality. That man is a real agent -- and that the distinctive quality of his agency consists in the part played therein by the imaginative recovery and analysis of a physically non-existent past and the imaginative prevision of a physically non-existent future -- these are the first articles of any consistently pragmatic creed. Such a creed is simply a return to sanity; for these two theses are the common and constant presuppositions of the entire business of life. Never, surely, did a sillier or more self-stultifying idea enter the human mind, than the idea that thinking as such -- that is to say, remembering, planning, reasoning, forecasting -- is a vast irrelevancy, having no part in the causation of man's behavior or in the shaping of his fortunes-a mysterious redundancy in a cosmos which would follow precisely the same course without it. Nobody at a moment of reflective action, it may be suspected, ever believed this to be true; and even the composing and publishing of arguments for parallelism is a kind of reflective action.
But Lovejoy finally wrote a full-length essay on his argument in response to an essay "Is Thinking Merely the Action of Language Mechanisms?" by the behaviorist John B. Watson published in The British Journal of Psychology 11 (1920): 87-104. You can read it online here. Watson's presentation is eerily similar to more recent defenses of eliminative materialism. For example, at one point (page 94) he contrasts the "introspectionist," that is, someone who believes that we can learn something about our thoughts by thinking, with the behaviorist who believes everything we can learn about our thoughts comes from the observation of the external effects -- the responses to stimuli, the external behavior.
The introspectionist hopes for a solution of the metaphysical problem through some mystic self knowledge. The behaviourist believes in no such transcendental human power. He himself is only a complex of reacting systems and must be content to carry out his analysis with the same tools which he observes his subject using. I cannot, therefore, agree with Mr Thomson that there is a mind-body problem in behaviourism. It is a serious misunderstanding of the behaviouristic position to say, as Mr Thomson does -- "And of course a behaviourist does not deny that mental states exist. He merely prefers to ignore them." He 'ignores' them in the same sense that chemistry ignores alchemy, astronomy horoscopy, and psychology telepathy and psychic manifestations. The behaviourist does not concern himself with them because as the stream of his science broadens and deepens such older concepts are sucked under, never to reappear.
Eliminativists say much the same: they claim their position is just the result of taking science seriously, and any denial of their position is because people don't want to give up some sacred aspect of life. Just like Watson, they compare their position with astronomy and chemistry and the denial of their position with astrology and alchemy. For an example, see here.

Lovejoy responded in "The Paradox of the Thinking Behaviorist" published in The Philosophical Review 31 (1922): 135-47, which you can read online here, although you'll have to scroll down to page 135. To summarize: the behaviorist claims that unvocalized thought is incoherent: laryngeal movements are all that occur. "Perceiving a thing, in short, is identical with the motion of the muscles involved in uttering its name." All "thoughts," therefore, can be completely explained in terms of the physical motions involved in speaking, without any reference to their contents, what the thoughts are about. And this would obviously include the behaviorist's thoughts about behaviorism. In this case, the behaviorist (along with everyone else) hasn't actually said anything, he's just made sounds with no meaning. In which case, the behaviorist thesis has not actually been put forward. We can only affirm behaviorism by tacitly presupposing that behaviorism is false, since it is only if it is false that the behaviorist thesis can have any meaning.

One objection raised against Lovejoy's argument, in that same issue of Philosophical Review is "Awareness and Behaviorism: Apropos of Professor Lovejoy's Critique" by Howard Warren (pp. 601-605). He suggests that Lovejoy begs the question by presupposing that the only way to make sense of the behaviorist's claims is if behaviorism is false. But of course, the behaviorist claims that there is another way to make sense of his thoughts, a way that is consonant with behaviorism. Again, this is very similar to one of the main objections that eliminativists give to the claim that eliminativism is self-defeating. The counter-objection is, as Nagel puts it in The Last Word,
the appeal to reason is implicitly authorized by the challenge itself, so this is really a way of showing that the challenge is unintelligible. The charge of begging the question implies that there is an alternative -- namely, to examine the reasons for and against the claim being challenged while suspending judgment about it. For the case of reasoning itself, however, no such alternative is available, since any considerations against the objective validity of a type of reasoning are inevitably attempts to offer reasons against it, and these must be rationally assessed. The use of reason in the response is not a gratuitous importation by the defender: It is demanded by the character of the objections offered by the challenger.
So I think Lovejoy's argument that behaviorism is self-defeating is sound. One can only accept behaviorism is true if one ultimately presupposes that behaviorism is false. As such, behaviorism defeats itself.

(cross-posted at Quodlibeta)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Barber of Prineville

I'm a few days late to this, but Thursday April 18 was the 70th anniversary of the shooting down of Admiral Yamamoto (it was also the 71st anniversary of the Doolittle raid). My dad knew Rex Barber, the man who shot down Yamamoto, so I knew some of the controversy over it, to wit, that one of the other pilots in Operation Vengeance claimed responsibility for it. The Air Force originally gave full credit to the other guy, Thomas Lanphier, but then when the wreckage and eyewitnesses supported Barber's account of what happened, they gave them both 50% credit -- even though all the evidence completely repudiated Lanphier's story. Barber was fine with this until he found out Lanphier was writing a tell-all account where he claimed he shot down Yamamoto by himself and so that he should get full credit. Historians give full credit to Barber for it, partially because Lanphier's account was physically impossible with the P-38s of the time, since they didn't have aileron boost. The Wikipedia entry for Operation Vengeance has an interesting section on the controversy and it says that these last two points, Lanphier's tell-all account and its physical impossibility, were first related in 2006. My dad, who died in 2005, had told me all about it in the 1990s. It wasn't until 2003, two years after Barber died, that the Air Force officially gave Barber full credit. Anyway, a historian published a story about Barber in the Portland Oregonian on the anniversary of Operation Vengeance, and it's worth a read.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


5 New Sci-Fi Movies You Can Watch on Your Lunch Break. Because they're five or ten minutes long each. I've only seen two so far, and yeah, they pretty much rock.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Please pray

Two bombs went off earlier today at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Many people were hurt, so far they're announcing that two or three were killed.

Oh Lord Jesus, please let no one else die from this evil act, and let those injured recover quickly. Bless them with your presence Lord, let them and their loved ones feel your love for them.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Quote of the Day

If the medieval church had intended to discourage or suppress science, it certainly made a colossal mistake in tolerating -- to say nothing of supporting -- the university. In this new institution, Greco-Arabic science and medicine for the first time found a permanent home, one that -- with various ups and downs -- science has retained to this day. Dozens of universities introduced large numbers of students to Euclidean geometry, optics, the problems of generation and reproduction, the rudiments of astronomy, and arguments for the sphericity of the earth. Even students who did not complete their degrees gained an elementary familiarity with natural philosophy and the mathematical sciences and imbibed the naturalism of these disciplines. This was a cultural phenomenon of the first order, for it affected a literate elite of several hundred thousand students: in the middle of the fifteenth century, enrollments in universities in Germanic territories that have survived to this day (places like Vienna, Heidelberg, and Cologne) reached levels unmatched until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

But, some would argue, weren't most students monks or priests who spent most of their time studying theology, the queen of the sciences? If all scholars were theologians, doesn't that pretty much say it all? This is another collection of myths. Most students never got close to meeting the requirements for studying theology (usually a master of arts degree). They remained in the faculties of arts, where they studied only nonreligious subjects, including logic, natural philosophy, and the mathematical sciences. In fact, as a result of quarrels between faculties, students in the arts faculty were not allowed to treat theological subjects. In short, most students had no theological or biblical studies at all.

Moreover, not all universities had a faculty of theology. Very few had one in the thirteenth century, and the newer foundations initially were not allowed to have one. By the later Middle Ages, the papacy permitted more faculties of theology. During  the Great Schism, when two popes who had excommunicated each other were competing for the allegiance of the various political rulers, they granted faculties of theology to some universities, like Vienna, that had not had one before. Even so, only a small minority of students ever studied theology, which was the smallest of the three higher faculties in the northern universities. By far the most popular advanced subject was law, which promised careers in the growing bureaucracies of both the church and the secular rulers. ...

Finally, most students and masters were neither priests nor monks, which required special vows. They did have clerical status, however, at least in northern universities like Paris. This was a hard-won legal category that carried almost no formal obligations, religious or otherwise (students could marry, for example), while conferring one important privilege: the right, resented by the city folk, to be tried in a more lenient university or ecclesiastical court instead of a secular one. This status came in very handy when a student killed a townsman in a barroom brawl. (At Paris, students won this right after going on strike following just such an incident.)

Michael H. Shank
"Myth 2: That the Medieval Christian Church Suppressed the Growth of Science"
Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (ed. Ronald L. Numbers)

Saturday, April 13, 2013


One of the big stories going through the blogosphere and other internet phenomena is the trial of Kermit Gosnell. The number of links I could give is excessive, so I won't even try. He is an abortion doctor who provided very late-term abortions, long past the point where it was legal, to low-income women in Philadelphia. But "abortion" is really a misnomer: Gosnell would induce labor, deliver the babies and then kill them. Even Roe vs. Wade says that once a baby is outside the mother's body, it is a distinct human being which has the right to life, and so all efforts must be made to preserve its life at that point. This makes Gosnell one of the most successful serial killers in human history. As further proof, he kept "trophies" of all the babies he killed; they found jars filled with baby feet.

What's sad is that our society provided him a forum where he could carry out his killings without danger of being caught. Abortion is one of the most controversial issues around; you can almost hear the minds snapping shut, on both sides of the aisle, whenever it's brought up. Part of our shared morality is that the most helpless members of our community deserve protection, and we generally view the killing of children as even more horrific than the killing of adults. Pro-life people (like myself) claim that this applies to the unborn, while pro-choice people do not. But by saying that it's OK to kill those who have not yet been born and who would not be able to survive outside the womb we are blurring the distinction of when someone becomes a human being, and this blurring blunts our empathy for infants: a few years ago I was speaking with a friend about this, and he said it was patently obvious that newborns aren't really people. (My friend is not on the political left incidentally.) The whole process of pregnancy is one of gradual development, so picking any particular point as qualifying when the baby "becomes human" is arbitrary. This is one of the motives for those of us who say that one's humanity begins at conception, since this is a particular event and not a process. Of course, there are counter-arguments and counter-counter-arguments which I won't go into here.

Another issue is that the mainstream media, left and right, wasn't really covering the Gosnell story (although they're beginning to now). Some justified this by saying it was just a local story, but of course, all such stories begin as local stories. As one person put it, if an anti-abortion activist had killed Gosnell, you can bet that that would get wall-to-wall around-the-clock coverage in the media, even though it would equally be a local story. But the media, in this case, reflects our culture: newborns, especially unwanted newborns, don't really qualify as people, so it's not  a significant story. But if we see them, instead, as children, as the most helpless members of our society and the human race, then we see the acts of Kermit Gosnell as beyond horrific; as an indictment on our culture; as a desire to kill those who are inconvenient for us; as -- to put it bluntly -- evil.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

For entertainment purposes only

I'm late coming to this, but there are some hilarious edits of The Next Generation on YouTube. Here, so far, are my two favorites:

The first time I saw that last one, I couldn't breathe I was laughing so hard.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Two more books

I just received two books, one of which I've been wanting for years. That would be Physicalism, or Something Near Enough by Jaegwon Kim, one of the most important living philosophers. On that note, the last time I checked the Wikipedia article on Kim it was pathetic; just a few sentences. Now, however, it is much more extensive and goes over a lot of his philosophy -- I particularly enjoyed seeing that he says he learned from Carl Hempel "a certain style of philosophy, one that emphasizes clarity, responsible argument, and aversion to studied obscurities and feigned profundities."

The other book is Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos. I'm sure I'll have more to say on it soon.