Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kant on natural purposes part the VIIth

Wherein our persistent hero backtracks a bit, and goes over the ground in the last section, 72, presenting yet again the two “idealist” and two “realist” theses, this time with more argumentation as to their relative merits as methodological principles guiding inquiry and/or big hairy metaphysical claims. This section is longer and more painful than 72, so it will require heavier medication, and small doses (of the text that is). Over to you ParaKant reporting live from Konigsberg:

The camera searches for Kant. He’s a short guy, so the camera eventually pans down in its search and finds him. He begins in his best 'Dan Rather School of Broadcasting' voice. He is wearing a trench coat, collar up. He learned well from the master:

What do all these systems of inquiry (those based on the four principles we have been discussing) desire? They desire to make claims about the ultimate veracity of our teleological judgments about nature, (that would be: our tendency toward, (or perhaps the unavoidable necessity of), explaining the structure of NOOPs from the point of view of the reverse engineer, that is; in light of NOOPs having been designed with the purpose of survival or some such thing). In short, they give all possible answers to the bigger question of the methodological principles’ veracity when taken or read as big hairy ontological claims about the ultimate origins of NOOPs.

Now, some of them (two) deny the big hairy ontological claims, and explain them as being merely apparent or “ideal”; others (two again) do not deny the ontological implications or claims implicit in our teleological judgments, and they purport to make sense of how it is possible for nature to be something that is in accord with the notion of final causes or designs.

(1) The first of the two systems which defend “Idealism” (the first member of the ‘it ain’t really out there’ or BF family) does make use of the notion of causality and the laws of motion. It does claim that these have a role to play in the production of NOOPs, but it denies to the ‘productive faculty’ of nature any intentional states, that is, that it (that productive force) designs, and determines through that design, in light of some purpose. In short, it denies that the ultimate cause of NOOPs is some purpose or purposes for which they were created.
This is basically Epicurus’ position. He says there is no distinction between the “Technic of Nature” and the blind operations of mechanical forces. In fact, they are identical.

So, given that the operations of blind mechanical forces are the only things he allows as truly existing, he must not only explain the features of the developed end products of these forces’ operations (NOOPs that is) on the grounds of blind chance. .

OK. Relatively understandable. But, now Kant gives us this gem of obscurity which I have freely interpreted as best as I can fathom:

…but he (Epicurus) must also explain, on the same grounds of blind chance, how it is that the laws of motion themselves came to be as they are. Blind chance must also be used as the explanation for mechanism, as we observe it in the universe. Thus, nothing is really explained at all, not even the illusion in our teleological judgments, consequently, the idealism is not in any way established.

Now, what in the Wide Wide World of Sports is going on here? I think something like this:

Suppose for the sake of argument that this version of the multiverse theory is true. That is, suppose there is an eternally existing pan-cosmic lava lamp, which generates island bubble universes, just as a bona-fide lava lamp generates wax bubbles. Now, the way to think of the pan-cosmic lava lamp is to think of it as an analog of a random number generator. Each bubble, each universe is closed off from all the others, and different from the others. That is, each has a unique set of natural laws according to which everything contained therein behave. No two universes instantiate or embody the same set of physical laws. Whatever it is that generates all these bubbles need not concern us here to see Kant’s point. Just imagine that something like this does exist.

Now, you have a universal everything explainer. You seriously doubt this?

Try it on.

Why does universe 213439294857395459348110584956930037593753 x 10 ^2384857487593929475 have a gravitational force that can be described with the mathematical formula:



(G) = 6,67 * 10-11 (m³/kg s²) รณ (N m² / kg²)

Why it's simple: Because the pan-cosmic lava lamp random universe generator spit out that result. And guess what? We live in that universe! It’s bound to happen at least once, if the whole darn pan-cosmic thing has been running eternally. That’s why you see what you see Mr. Galileo, Mr. Newton.

You can ask and answer that question in precisely the same way for any and every possible universe, any and every selection of natural laws and constants.

The pan-cosmic lava lamp theory explains everything. Thus, it explains nothing. Why? Because you have no basis upon which to assess its status as a satisfactory explanation.

Sure, the observable data is consistent with it; all data would be consistent with it. What is more, if you are really a devotee of the pan-cosmic lava lamp theory, you have the added benefit of not having to worry about empirical data that might refute it.

Suppose someone points to the fact that the universe appears to be finite in age (Hubble red-shift and all that). He might argue, on that basis that given the finitude of the age of the universe, it is highly unlikely that random unguided processes brought about NOOPs.

Our devotee has only to point out that Hubble's observations are consistent with his picture of the, the lava lamp as eternal, for, you see, that stuff we see that indicates a beginning of our universe is only evidence, or traces of the life history, if you will, of one solitary bubble (ours that is) in the massive lava lamp. The whole system is eternal. So, it’s really not remarkable that we have NOOPs in here. It was inevitable really.

See? Karl Popper might say this is the king of all unfalsifiable hypotheses.

I think this is what Kant is getting at when he criticizes ancient atomism as an explanatory hypothesis. It is family related to the pan-cosmic lava lamp theory. Its logic is the same. Impeccably unfalsifiable.

At any rate, we have here a fleshed out argument against the Epicureans, where in the earlier section (72) we had no such argument. What we have here also is typical Kant in that he introduces a series of arguments or claims, and then covers the ground again later, providing for lacunae in the earlier sections, all without clear roadmaps or markers letting us know that is what he is up to. This is one reason Kant can be so damn frustrating, yet fascinating. You feel like you can’t put the book down, because he may yet come back to a topic that had been cursorily treated and give it a more thorough going over. You always feel that this is just round the bend of the next page. Maybe. Maybe.

So you just keep reading, through the dense prose. Perhaps not the clearest way to argue or write, but classic Kant. Anyway, I’ve had enough for now. Next time, we will continue in this section, number 73, and see Kant’s quite detailed critique of Spinoza’s “lifeless God” hypothesis. We’ll see it has a fair affinity to the pan-cosmic lava lamp hypothesis.

Attention Ethics Bowlers! The 15 pins are being set up today!

I know. There is no 15 pin variant on the good old game of bowling, but I felt a compulsion to make a bad pun. So sue me eh? Ethics Bowling. What is that? It isn't fair play at the alley. Nope. What is it?

Sometime today the fun begins for the USNA Ethics Team, which I am fortunate enough to coach.

The team qualified for the National Finals of the APPE Ethics Bowl competition, which is to be held in sunny Cincinnati March 3 of this year. That qualification was accomplished by finishing in the top four of the Southeast Regional of the APPE competition in sunny (truly sunny) FLA this past November.

Ethics Bowl is similar to a debate competition, but does not place a premium on talking a mile a minute like an auctioneer on massive doses of espresso. Instead, it judges teams based upon the quality of their analysis of the ethical ramifications of 15 cases culled from current events including cases relevant to foreign policy, personal ethics, technology and ethics, engineering ethics, business ethics, medical ethics, you name it, and there is an Ethics Bowl case that covers it.

Today is the day that APPE is set to deliver the set of 15 cases that will be used for the finals. The 32 teams that have been invited will have the months of January, and February to mull these cases, hash them out, and rehearse their presentations.

The competition is March 3. Every team that has been invited is top notch, and the competition is intense. Their are three preliminary rounds in the morning, which reduce the field to a "great eight." That great eight takes part in another three rounds, culminating in the championship round later in the evening. The day is grueling but participants love it.

So, wish our mighty Ethics Team luck as we begin preparations for the big show!

More on the USNA team, and the competition can be found HERE and the cases will be posted HERE.