Tuesday, December 21, 2010

And just because it's Christmas, and the last post was about Dragnet..

Yes, I've posted this before, but it's CLASSIC!

Stan Freberg's Dragnet send up

For you young 'ens, you probably won't get a lot of it until you've watched a few episodes of Dragnet, or listened to some of the radio episodes.

Baby Jesus stolen from nativity scene. Joe Friday is on the case

Let's hope REAL Life imitates fiction. Otherwise we have some pathetic vandals on the loose.

A baby Jesus has been stolen for the second time in two weeks from a nativity display outside a west suburban business and its owner believes "disrespecting thieves" are to blame.

Henry Schmidt, owner and manager of Moldtronics, noticed Saturday that the baby Jesus was missing from his manger. It's the second time within two weeks the figurine has been stolen, he said.

"It looks like for whatever reason there are people out there that do not have proper respect for Jesus," Schmidt said. "There are disrespecting thieves out there."

Kant on Natural Purposes, part the fourth

Wherein I question what is the more painful process, this exercise in commentary or dental procedures without the benefit of Novocain..

Section 70.

Must continue series..must..plow ahead…must not give up..

When last we left Para-Kant he was wrapping up some preliminaries, getting us clear on the notion of a natural purpose, (or natural object with purpose), arguing that we invariably find ourselves investigating these things using two modes of thought that are in some prima facie sense, conflicted. Roughly, when we examine an organism, we can examine it in two ways; way #1 is the way of the ‘mechanist’, physicist or biochemist. We can microscopically examine the chemical and physical events within that body, and can, by doing this, learn a great deal about that level of functioning, how it all unfolds in accord with natural laws.

However, at the same time, we can examine an organism macroscopically, as a whole that is at the same time, interacting with its environs, and also a finely tuned micro-universe itself, parts working in concert with each other to maintain each other, as well as the organism as a whole.

When we do this, we examine the organism as being something designed with the purpose in mind of surviving in its environment, and reproducing. This allows our explanations of its organs and their arrangements to ‘hang together’ in that it gives a sort of narrative thread which literally makes sense of their existence and their forms.

It may be that there is a merely “mechanistic” explanation of all this, but Kant argues that it is beyond our ken. To say that ‘natural selection’ did it is to give a mere promissory note, and nothing approaching an adequate explanation. Indeed, that explanation is no better than a simplistic “God made it that way”. Kant argues that focusing on the immediate teleology of organisms is indispensible for science, at least as a valuable heuristic, which enables discoveries that we would not be able to make if we stuck to the microscopic investigations (or as he puts it the ‘merely mechanistic’). In making that case, however, Kant also argues that using that teleologically oriented methodology, we are in some way forced to concede that we have to allow it to leak over into our investigations of the environment around organisms, and ultimately to our investigations of the universe as a whole. So, we end up on what looks to be a slippery slope toward one of the two ‘simplistic’ explanations (really non-explanations) that he wants to avoid.

Now, we see that Kant is giving voice to what is these days described as a tension between ‘methodological naturalism’ and viewpoints opposed; that is; views that claim we need not in an a-priori fashion limit the field of potential explanations for natural objects to merely natural forces working without any intelligent guidance (or anything analogous). He also gives voice to the worries over slippery slopes that we often hear opponents of ID present. Repeatedly, he advocates strongly for methodological naturalism, i.e., concerted and extended efforts to construct explanations in terms of ‘mere mechanism’.

How is Kant going to self-consistently resolve all this in light of the fact that he more than once says that a ‘methodological teleologism’ is somehow unavoidable for us as we do science in the biological world. Can he avoid a contradiction? As the tootsie pop owl says; “Lets find out.”

OK, grit teeth and dive into the muck and mire of Section 70 (because the translation I’m using mercifully skips 68 and 69. Are we missing something big by skipping these two hefty sections? I’ll let you know when I find my unabridged version of the COJ. But, for now, ignorance is bliss baby.

Ok, now, bring it on, Para-Kant:

When Reason searches for explanations of the natural world it makes use of general principles or laws of enquiry or experience, such as the concept, law, or principle of sufficient reason as applied to objects of experience, i.e., it makes use of the general concept of cause and effect.

It also makes use of specific natural laws, like the universal law of gravitation, which it cannot derive from logic alone. It has to have some empirical data to chew on. Once you have such data, you can, via careful science, derive consequences of the various natural laws and discover things in the world that work in accord with them.

If you look at the actual opening section of Section 70 you’ll see it is much lengthier and much more opaque than this paraphrase. I’ve included some examples to make clear how I’m taking the section. Have I interpreted Kant correctly here? Like I said, he’s a Rorschach inkblot sometimes. Heck if I know. Continuing:

Now, in active investigation of nature, ‘Judgment’ must make use of guiding threads, that is, very general methodological principles, presuppositions, or points of view from within which it is much more likely to discover natural laws or new objects in the universe.

There are two such principles, as I have been at pains to demonstrate in earlier sections. One seems to involve less of a presupposition than the other vis explanatory entities. What is more, the second principle, the one that involves greater presupposition, is not only forced upon us by particular experiences we have, but because of its nature, gives the functioning of the natural laws we discover by both principles a place in nature as somehow being made use of. For purposes of explaining a certain subset of natural objects this principles seems to requires such ‘placement’ or positing of such ‘uses’. This seems to place that latter principle in conflict with the former, which can be read as presupposing no such entities. There is seemingly no way the two can ‘exist together’ as governing principles of science. The two principles (also ‘maxims’) are:

1. (Methodological Naturalism): All products of material nature and their forms must be judged to be possible by the operations of merely mechanical, non-guided operations of natural laws. That is; one must explain their existence by the operations of these unguided forces.

2. (Note here, the fact that this is the logical contrary of #1) Some products of material nature are such that they cannot be judged possible by the operations of merely mechanical, non-guided operations of natural laws. In other words; to ‘judge’ (explain) them, one must make use of the notion of a final cause, something causing the material things to come into existence or take on a form for some purpose or other.

Now, as stated, these are regulative principles of investigation.

[Ed. These 'regulative principles can either be read as prescriptive or normative statements stating how we SHOULD conduct scientific investigation, or they can be read as psychological or perhaps “transcendental” descriptive statements concerning how we CANNOT BUT HELP behave in this realm. It is not altogether clear what Kant’s primary take is on clearing up this ambiguity of meaning. His use of “must” can be read in both ways. But here, at any rate, he seems to be leaning more on the prescriptive read. He sometimes seems to conflate the two readings of other such principles however, in the remainder of his corpus, in particular the Critique of Pure Reason. But, thankfully, we're going to pass right on by saying anything more about that until we have to, a bit later.]

OK, Back to the K-Man:

There are ontological or metaphysical big-brothers of each, statements that make statements not only about how we human beings must investigate things, but how things are in themselves:

1* All production of material things is possible through the blind and unguided workings of natural laws.

2* Some material things cannot be produced through the blind and unguided workings of natural laws.

Now, this latter pair of statements is plainly contradictory. So, as a matter of simple logic, one of the pair must be false.

Kant now writes something about which I can safely say I haven’t the foggiest idea what he’s driving at, so I’ll just give the verbatim translation as I have it here:

We shall then, it is true, have an antinomy, but not of Judgment; there will be a conflict in the legislation of Reason. Reason however can prove neither the one nor the other of these fundamental propositions, because we can have a-priori no determinate principle of the possibility of things according to the mere empirical laws of nature.

This is simply too obscure to spend too much time on. It’s true that the two ontological statements are not methodological principles per-se. But what this has to do with capital R “Reason” as a legislative, I don’t know. This verbiage is, one suspects, an artifact of Kant’s terminology from the other Critiques, but, if he means to be saying that we are in no position to conclusively prove that 1* is possible, in the ontological sense, yep, I guess that’s right. But that’s a general point a skeptic might make, and far less opaquely than does Kant. At any rate, he continues:

So, what say you that we forget 1* and 2*. Carefully consider the methodological maxims or principles, 1 and 2. You can see as a simple matter of logic, that they are not contradictory. For if I say that I must look for explanations of material objects (and the forms they take) only using #1, that is, in terms of unguided natural forces, I am decidedly NOT saying anything about how they actually came to have the forms they have, nor am I saying anything about how they actually came into existence. All I am saying is that, when I reflect upon them, investigate them I WILL ONLY USE THAT PRINCIPLE as my guide. I am giving voice to the value judgment that it is only through this avenue that ‘proper knowledge’ of nature can be had. BUT, this does not prevent us from sometimes using the second principle if circumstances force the option upon us, in order to reflect upon or investigate individual natural objects (and their forms) or indeed larger swathes of the natural world. Reflecting upon these things, investigating them in reference to final causes is indeed quite a different thing than investigating them in reference to the operations of merely mechanical or natural forces, but there is no contradiction when one begins to use #2. There is no abrogation of #1. On the contrary, we should follow #1 as far as is possible, by our best judgment. Only then should we make use of #2. When we do this, we are not thereby saying that the forms these objects take could not have possibly come into existence by merely natural processes. Instead we are just saying that as far as we can tell, human reason has bumped up against a limitation of its own. It simply has discovered that it hasn’t the foggiest idea how the operations of merely natural forces could have produced the forms in question, and, what is more; it does not see a way forward to remedying this blindness.

But, never fear none of this should be taken as any sort of claim to discovery of a truly intelligent cause of the features in question! It’s really left undecided whether in the ultimate ‘grounds’ of nature or reality, merely physical/chemical causes and purposive causes may indeed be combined in some way that accounts for the observable features of nature. We merely say, when we bump up against conundrums that force us to make combined use of both principles, that we have found that human judgment or investigation has been compelled by its limitations to think differently, conduct investigations from a principle or maxim that cedes the possibility of a final cause or teleology.

Thank God!

We are now at the end of this section. Next section, (number 72), Kant will follow up this lead. He will argue that we can tease out the methodological principle given as #1 and #2 in two ways each (call them 1(a) and 1(b), and 2(a) and 2(b)). He unhelpfully describes these two families of principles as follows:
1(a) and( b) are nominated “Idealism with regard to natural purposiveness” (Oh good God) and 2(a) and 2(b) are labeled “Realism with regard to natural purposiveness” (Holy Toledo! What clarity). Typical Kant making use of obscure terminology when he can least afford to.

Try these alternates: 1 (a/b) = The ‘natural purposes came about by natural forces only’ or ‘mechanics only’ family.

2 (a/b) = The ‘some natural purposes came about by guidance from intelligence’ family or ‘not mechanics only’ family.

OK, that’s probably not much better than Kant.


The ‘Blind forces family’,


The ‘Guidance family’?

That’s just going to have to work until next time.

At any rate; these families of principles guide investigation, and they have ontological correlates that indeed have relations of contradiction with each other. The methodological principles are not contradictory.

Next section, we will look at the horribly opaque labels Kant gives to 1 (a/b), 2(a/b), and how he differentiates them. We will also be looking at their ontological correlates, 1(a*/b*), 2 (a*/b*). Weeee! The fun and joy of Kantian architectonics!

We’ll also be following up on that ambiguity earlier noted between the merely methodological reading of the two principles and the psychological , presuppositional or transcendental reading of the same, with an eye toward what sort of implications the different readings may have vis the caution Kant declaims with regard to ontological inference from those grounds. And yes, I’ll give an explanation of this notion I done snuck in, the one Kant labeles (unhelpfully again) “transcendental.” What the heck does that mean, and what bearing does it have on this ambiguity in Kant's use of the word "must" in these passages? Stay tuned.

Christmas message: Winston Churchill, 1941

Recorded 17 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. On the event of the annual lighting of the Christmas Tree, he addressed the world from Washington . Listen HERE.

I spend this anniversary and festival far from my country, far from my family, yet I cannot truthfully say that I feel far from home. Whether it be the ties of blood on my mother's side, or the friendships I have developed here over many years of active life, or the commanding sentiment of comradeship in the common cause of great peoples who speak the same language, who kneel at the same altars and, to a very large extent, pursue the same ideals, I cannot feel myself a stranger here in the centre and at the summit of the United States. I feel a sense of unity and fraternal association which, added to the kindliness of your welcome, convinces me that I have a right to sit at your fireside and share your Christmas joys.

This is a strange Christmas Eve. Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other. Ill would it be for us this Christmastide if we were not sure that no greed for the land or wealth of any other people, no vulgar ambition, no morbid lust for material gain at the expense of others, had led us to the field. Here, in the midst of war, raging and roaring over all the lands and seas, creeping nearer to our hearts and homes, here, amid all the tumult, we have tonight the peace of the spirit in each cottage home and in every generous heart. Therefore we may cast aside for this night at least the cares and dangers which beset us, and make for the children an evening of happiness in a world of storm. Here, then, for one night only, each home throughout the English-speaking world should be a brightly-lighted island of happiness and peace.

Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.

And so, in God's mercy, a happy Christmas to you all.

Ronald Reagan narrates a life of George S. Patton

Circa 1974