Such a long and worthy post surely deserves at least one comment.
Whether it deserves any substantive comments, however, I'm ill-equipped to say.
I just noticed this. Has this been here the whole time? Weird.
As you might imagine, it took a while to type. Beck's post appeared on top of it (ahem) because she started after I did. Maybe I'll move it to the top.
So to be clear, Labs believes the ontological argument works. Whatever, heretic.
mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau!
Hypothesis: this follows the Althouse trajectory in the "how dare she have breasts in front of Bill Clinton" fiasco: toss off some comment that's not really thought through, then try to defend the comment via increasingly complex and unconvincing bluster rather than say, hey, I just tossed that off without thinking so seriously about it.
Nice post. Althouse is one of those people who is just smart enough to make what sounds like an argument, but not smart enough to know that she's being an idiot.
That was a good reply, but I think outright mockery would work better: "Yeah, maybe he could blink out a code. Or maybe he could catch a glimpse of a paper clip which he could, with his McGyver like skills, use to make a satellite phone which he could use to call in an air strike. Hey, its conceivable, right?"
9 - As I said in a previous thread, this is why he's not allowed to how the Bears are doing. Rex Grossman being replaced as starting QB is his signal to begin Operation Farslayer.
The people who are saying it is impossible that there could be any other reason are the ones hanging on to a fiction. I've met my burden here.
I love this. Thank you, Professor Junior Varsity Remedial Debate Team Coach. We are all aware that if you're arguing from the premise that something is "impossible", logic dictates that you lose the argument no matter what kind of ridiculous crap your opponent comes up with as a counterexample. We all know that a true/false question containing the word "never" or "always" is always going to be false.
Some seemingly accomplished scholars devote their blogs to explaining their beliefs and other important stuff. And some devote their blogs to pointless nitpickery and ever-inflating condescension.
But Althouse was leaning so hard on "hey, all I have to do is show that it's possible" BS, which would have been a fair point had Eli's comment been different. (And if my grandmother had balls, she'd be my grandfather, as they say.) That required some detour through actual vs possible reasons, and in this case the fact that might or might not have the status of a reason was itself modal fact , so that complicated things. Now it's late and I've had too much tea.
Rob, you might be amused to know that I got a rejection letter recently that seemed to make the same confusion regarding what's actual vs. what's possible. It was less fun than this post, I'll tell you that.
Thank you, Professor Junior Varsity Remedial Debate Team Coach.
OK, I'm pretty much pwned by Cryptic Ned. That's exactly it.
Hey, someone just inserted spam into the text of the last post on my blog! How did they do that? Beyond changing my password, which I've already done, what can I do to stop this shit?
I've never heard of that happening, Rob. If someone had your password, it could have been a lot worse.
ok, it looks like what happened is that a spam image was substituted for an image in my post. This is something that could have happened if the site I was importing the photo from changed.
what's he going to type out with his eyelids? "THIS SUX"?
but not smart enough to know that she's being an idiot
As many times as it has been explained to her, you think she'd have figured it out by now.
a spam image was substituted for an image in my post
Oh yeah, if you hotlink images, this is a major possibility. You got off easy, though. When I notice people doing it from my site, I often swap a goatse or a tubgirl image for them.
Honestly, do you think she gets pulled aside by colleagues or friends? "You know, Ann, some of us got to thinking..."
FL, I don't think it's that considering possible worlds per se is irrelevant, it's that the nearest class K of worlds where we do not blindfold Padilla and he communicates via blinking in code (O-P-E-R-A-T-I-O-N GETMETHEFUCKOUTTAHERE I-S A G-O.) is so dissimilar from ours that it's not worth considering as a plausible possibility. We're out there in Humphrey is a light switch territory.
But you're right that if Eli says 'there is no reason', saying 'there could be' only works if 'there could be' is something in a nearby possible world.
So I don't think the problem supervenes on what is actual, exactly, but that if you're defending yourself against charges of torture by saying it's conceptually possible that you're not wrong, well, it's also conceptually possible that ponies are flying out of your ass in Humphrey is a light-switch world.
Has anyone ever come up with a procedure for measuring "overall similarity"?
Cala, you lost me a bit, though I'm afraid this is going to hurt. The "relevant alternatives" point is right, I think, but do you disagree with this?
The actual fact: it is possible that Padilla communicate with his eyelids. Actual world: this fact does not have the status of a reason here, because etc etc etc. Nearby-ish possible world: this fact does have the status of a reason because Padilla has high-level information and his endodontic journey is carried live on al-Jazeera.
Basically, if you ask that question in seminar and imply that maybe it's a tad circular, the epistemology professor tells you not to worry about it.
Wouldn't that be impossible, Ben, give the variety of metrics, and their context-sensitive relevance?
Do you think one would be wrong to think it?
23: I disagree that that's a nearby possible world. (Reasons why: even if we stipulate that Padilla is a high-level person, he's been out of contact for three years and isn't likely to communicate squat.)
In other words, I'm mostly just being a little bitch, and I think your post r0xx0rs. I'm just quibbling with the line that 'a modal response can't be an answer to a question about the actual', but I think I may be reading the first line of your final paragraph wrong, come to think of it.
Brian Weatherson thinks there's such a thing as objective similarity, which seems loopy to me.
Now it's late and I've had too much tea.
You are so punk rock, labs.
I also am a fan of actual ridicule. This post makes it seem like she made some sort of subtle philosophical error; when in fact she just said some thing stupid.
Cala, right, I see the point. I agree the relevant possible world is pretty far off, given what we know of Padilla.
Ben, Brian is a lot smarter than I am, so, uh, yeah, I guess maybe. Is it objective similarity modulo some thingy, or similarity full-stop? Wow, that latter one is weird.
Baa, that offer to fight me remains open.
Brian Weatherson thinks there's such a thing as objective similarity
Yeah, what gives with that? Is it that you can't define a choice function the selects out comparable subsets of Wsub1 and Wsub2 for comparison?
But it's a stupid error you only make if you took one philosophy class and think you are smrt.
30: I'd be interested to see how he could manage that without screw up the analysis of counterfactuals.
No thanks. But I am willing to procure Bruce Lee from the nearest possible world in which he is still alive, and have him fight Yglesias.
Isn't a thing objectively similar to itself? If not, why?
Holy shit, baa, that would be an awesome fight. Can possible fighters throw actual punches?
My strategy in that case would be to try to take advantage of my superior mass via a crude tackle, then hope I could just pin the guy before he starts doing Wing Chun or whatever.
I'm more interested in where Althouse would draw the line. If the US had extrajudically executed Padilla in that Navy brig, would she have illustrated a possible world where that act saved humanity, and implied that anyone who condemned it was just being a dishonest ideologue?
You wouldn't charge him with two broken bottles? I hear that works.
No seriously, we don't need this much philosophy. All we have to do is point out that the possibility Althouse mentions is exceedingly unlikely and we've won the argument. You could, I suppose, go on to say that exceedingly unlikely possibilities are not reasons for action, but most people know that.
Whether we are considering the actual fact that Padilla might blink out a code or the possible fact that he has blinked out a code in a nearby possible world is irrelevant. In fact, I'm not really sure what is being argued about here.
Baa, you have disgraced us with your treachery! I love the ghetto kung-fu subplot in that movie.
RHC: if the challenge were to supply a possible reason, the blinking thing is sufficient, because probabilities don't matter. The challenge was to supply an actual reason, and the fact that blinking is possible is not an actual reason, it's a merely possible reason.
All we learn from this is that Althouse has decided that the One Percent Doctrine leaves us far too open to clever plans, and is proposing a Greater Than Negative Infinity Percent Doctrine.
Althouse is a Turbo.
44 was pwned at LGM.
46: I disagree. The whole heart of 44 was the phrase "Greater Than Negative Infinity Percent Doctrine", which was my own creation, and which I hope to see spread around the blogosphere like wildfever.
Faith and begob.
spread around the blogosphere like wildfever
Yeah, I guess that's probably going to happen. I retract 46.
Can possible fighters throw actual punches?
The samurai-figure in China Mieville's The Scar has an awesome Possible Sword that cuts along all probable trajectories.
43: "actual" s/b "plausible"
Thanks FL and the crew. This is why I hang here.
Well, this and the cock jokes, to be honest but the sentiment is right.
Isn't a thing objectively similar to itself? If not, why?
He had some formula for similarity w/r/t measurable properties (or something, I didn't actually read the paper, just the handout, though I did pay attention during the talk, but it was a while ago) like mass or ... well, mass is good enough, where if a and b are the masses of two objects, then they are "more similar" the closer log (a/b) is to zero.
One odd thing about this (about which I asked) was that the logarithm was just introduced as a way of normalizing things, that is, log(a/b) and log(b/a) are equidistant from zero, whereas (a/b) and (b/a) are not equidistant from one. But of course that can be solved in a variety of ways (say, just stipulate that the larger number goes on top), and introducing the logarithm has side-effects on relative similarity: if a, b, c are 1, 10, and 100, then a is twice as similar to b as it is to c under the logarithmic computation, but eleven times as similar to b as to c under the ratio computation. I think his response was something like that he didn't intend for the formula to be used that way (but I may be utterly misremembering that). (Also it seems to me that a is more similar to b than b is to c—this is where the stuff about objectivity came in.)
43: Yeah, I guess I got that.
we're pretty sure there aren't really evil demons
Speak for yourself. It goes a long way toward explaining Karl Rove. And Fran Drescher.
I'm surprised that Althouse didn't take her argument that one step further and fret about the possibility that the dentist was a terrorist sympathiser who might install a radio in Padilla's molar that would allow him to communicate directly with Osama. After all, the horse might learn to speak.
we're pretty sure there aren't really evil demons
Nick Bostrom takes the possibility that we are some sort of brain in a vat quite seriously.
There is an internal/external reasons issue here, though, isn't there? On the one hand, of course this is a remarkably stupid thing to say, & the possibility of Padilla's blink-code couldn't count as a reason for any reasonable person. But on the other hand, while it seems unlikely that this possibility serves as the actual motivation for Padilla's handlers, I'm not sure I'd rule it out entirely. Given the manifest craziness of the people in charge, god knows what their reasons are. And Althouse could be read as saying no more than that (though she doesn't defend herself that way, to be sure).
"clark diversey" is an interesting and evocative pseud. Are the locality and orientation inferences valid?
So your suggestion is like this: Althouse could have said, hey, I'm a Humean, and the handlers had a desire to ensure no communication from Padilla, and believed that it's possible that he use his blinking as a signalling device, so the goggling is a means to that end, therefore they have a reason?
Good point; I had neglected the Humean sort of rejoinder. (On the other hand those sorts of reasons are pretty cheap.)
I got a rejection letter recently that seemed to make the same confusion regarding what's actual vs. what's possible.
This wants posting.
Also, I can see we have two events for the Unfogalympics: I race ogged in the pool, then Labs and baa have an Ultimate Fighting clash. Anyone else want to volunteer?
They're also not the sort of the reasons that make the government look wise. ("We believe seriously that someone who has been held in isolation for more than three years, whom in the strongest possible case was no more than an ignorant puppet, and most likely didn't have anything to do with terror at all, would use a signalling device via blinking to set off a terrorist attack. We also believe in the existence of Neverland, and plan a space mission there.")
Now that I come to think of it, they may have wanted him not to communicate because if he does say something, and the public hears a typical Brooklyn accent, it's going to be very hard to paint him as 'other.'
Oh, Slol, it so doesn't. The slightly more explicit version is that being an X-ist involved believing that X-ism is the correct view which is distinct from believing that X-ism is coherent. You would think this is obvious, but not so much, apparently.
I can email you the longer version if you would like, but trust me, it's not that interesting.
"The challenge was to supply an actual reason, and the fact that blinking is possible is not an actual reason, it's a merely possible reason."
Not sure about this.
The actual rocks falling from the cliff surely constitute a reason to wear a climbing helmet. So far so good.
But suppose someone asks why you're wearing the climbing helmet, and when you say "for falling rocks", they say "but there are no rocks actually falling! There are some rocks up there, and they *could* fall, but those are only possibly-falling rocks, not actually-falling rocks. So you have no actual reason to wear your helmet. You have a *possible* reason to wear it, i.e. in any world in which the rocks *are* falling, you have reason to wear it *there*. But not *here*."
I wouldn't find that convincing.
Not sure why. Is it a confusion of epistemic/metaphysical possibility? Is it back to Clark & Diversey's point about reason's being judged from inside of a belief-set? Is it Cala's point that the falling-rock worlds are much closer than the blinking-Padilla worlds? Dunno--you lot are clever about this sort of thing, not me.
Look--Althouse's comment was stupid, and her follow-up was worse. So I'm not trying to defend her.
But I'm not sure it's right to say that only what is actual gives you actual reasons. We guard against possibilities. Risks give us reasons, too.
Padilla would've blinked 'bring me a bucket.'
The central problem with this whole line of argument is that it accepts as true a thing we know not to be true: that Padilla is a leader of someone, rather than a schmoe at best. As you'd expect, anyone representing a terror suspect is going to have occasion to talk about Lynne Stewart and the enforcement of the rules on communication. And a suspect who's a schmoe (at best) is going to have a good laugh at the idea of having orders to convey to followers.
On Ms. A., though, life seems to me to be way way too short to spend more than a very short period with her. Why does anyone with a life bother?
59 -- I'm in for the dwarf put.
Kid, we surely do guard against possibilities, and sometimes what's possible does give a reason to take precautions, as you say. But what AA needed, yet failed to supply, was an actual reason in this case. The actual reason, as I said, could be constituted by a fact about possibility [nervous about this locution] but in this case, not so much. We don't disagree.
Kid, the confusion is over how to construe the word 'actual.' I think FL is using it to mean 'the relevant counterfactual ('Had they left the blindfold off, Padilla would have blinked a message of DOOM!' 'There could have been rocks that hit you in the head.') is true', and what makes it true is that in the nearest possible world or classes of worlds, it is true that those things happened. (I'm talking like a modal realist. Deal.)
This is what FL is calling an 'actual reason', to be distinguished from those counterfactuals made true by only all of the logically possible worlds which are too dissimilar (like the ones where Padilla is a legitimate person of interest, or where Althouse is a serious intellectual) from our actual world to be relevant.
Basically, the standard isn't 'any possible reason' ('Padilla could have secret pony weapons that shoot out of his eyeballs!') but 'a plausible reason', and the burden of non-insanity is higher for the latter.
I'm not wedded to disagreeing with FL, but I think that's the cost of agreeing with Cala.
"True at a close possible world" is not a recognized way of construing "actual" in anybody's idiolect; if it isn't true at the actual world, it isn't actual. Diplomatic of Cala to suggest otherwise, but I don't buy it.
That means that "only relevant counterfactuals give us reasons" is a lot, lot weaker (and much, much more plausible) than "only what is actual gives us actual reasons; the possible can give us no more than possible reasons".
If you agree that at least *some* reasons can be constituted by facts about *some* possibilities, then that's backing off the original claim (wisely, in my view).
Which possibilities? Well, of course the live ones; whether "live" there means epistemically possible (and so actual for all we know), or very close worlds, or both.
Clearly there are possibilities remote enough that they give us no reasons, and clearly Althouse's fantasies go into that category. But the general principle invoked in the original post seems wrong to me. The split between what does and doesn't give reasons is not the split between the actual and the possible; it's more like the split between the relevantly possible and the not even remotely possible. (Which of course will not be a split, sc. a clean partition, at all).
As Kant said in the Spanish translation, "A hundred real reals do not contain a penny more than a hundred possible reales." that prety much covers it, right?
The split between what does and doesn't give reasons is not the split between the actual and the possible; it's more like the split between the relevantly possible and the not even remotely possible.
This gets it exactly right. I just assumed FL was using 'actual' loosely, like we tell our students not to do.
Could you claim that a world in which a particular bad outcome was relevantly possible, there was an actual reason for guarding against the risk, whereas in a world in which that bad outcome was only insanely remotely possible, there was only a possible reason for guarding against the risk? Focusing on the actuality of the reason, rather than of the outcome, if you see what I mean? (But I get tangled up very quickly in the philosophy discussions.)
You could, but given that 'actual' and 'possible' are doing other philosophical work, I think I'd rather contrast 'plausible' or 'intuitively compelling' with 'merely possible', rather than use 'actual' for the former. It's like using 'valid' in everyday conversation vs. 'valid' in a logic class, or 'intent' in a courtroom vs. 'intent' on a blog.
(In other words, I'm being a nitpicky lil' bitch, but FL started it.)
I'd just like to commend the term "possibluum" to all the philosophers in the crown who write about possible worlds. I hear that Lewis didn't like it, which, to me, makes it all the more commendable.
I see that the employer of one of the four google hits for "possibluum" got it from the same source as did I.
Let's all pretend that 73 makes sense.
Hell, who cares? The fact she wasn't revolted by this should invalidate any bollocks she comes up with. Voight-Kampff, baby.
I arrive late to defend my honor.
Here's my thought. Here in the actual world, it is true that it is possible that Padilla communicate by blinking. But that fact does not constitute a reason in the actual world because of what *else* is true in the actual world, namely, he's a low-level doofus if that, he's been in solitary for three years, and so on.
Now there's a possible world where the same fact (that it is possible that Padilla communicate via blinking) *does* constitute a reason, because in that world he knows a lot, is being observed, etc. But the fact in the actual world is not a reason.
A possible confusion: I say the relevant fact is "could blink in code" which is different from "could blink and thereby communicate a MESSAGE OF DOOM."
And on rereading, I don't think I was ever committed to what KB charges, namely, the idea that facts about possibility cannot constitute reasons:
In this case, the fact that it is possible to send messages through blinking does not (partly?) constitute a reason [should have made explicit: in the actual world] though in other possible worlds it would constitute a reason.
This is interesting, so if you think I'm missing something please say.
Ah, on rereading Cala's comment I think I understand the issue better. The modal fact (Padilla might blink in code) would constitute a reason only if other claims were true, e.g., he had some dangerous knowledge. Clearly, those other claims are not true; hence the modal fact does not constitute a reason (here in the actual world). But there are possible worlds where the same modal claim is true *and* those other claims are true, and there the modal fact is a reason.
I don't know a lot about modality so I may be botching this. (I'm afraid someone will say "accessibility relation" and I'll just start crying.) But I want to hold out, as long as I can, but not to the point of being an idiot, that I wasn't misusing "actual."
You're having a total meltdown, aren't you?
No, I'm enjoying myself. I never get to think about this stuff any more.
I've only skimmed, but am I right that everyone agrees about every point of substance in this thread, and is just arguing about vocabulary?
I think labs is right, mostly because he never said what kb said he did, that possible facts never create actual reasons. OTOH, I am a crappy metaphysician.
It will help me, at least to explicitly distinguish three modal statuses.
1. The modal status of "Padilla blinks a doomsday code"
2. The modal status of the ancillary facts, like "Padilla has interesting information to communicate."
3. The modal status of the reason for acting.
We agree on all these statuses. They are all possible but not actual. Labs' point was that for (3) to become actual, it is not sufficient that (1) be possible. Status (2) must also be actual.
Thus he never said that a possibility like (1) is irrelevant for a reason like (3). He said that the relevance of the possibility in (1) requires the actuality of the states of affairs in (2).
That actually clarified things for me.
Comity among the nonmetaphysician philosophers!
Eli's comment claims there is no reason, not there could be no reason. Althouse botches the modality when she responds by claiming that a possible reason is sufficient demonstration that there is an actual reason.
FL, what threw me for a little loop was this first sentence, and I think what I was doing was misinterpreting you. You're right on the Althouse: showing that something is broadly logically possible doesn't show that it's a reason for action.
I don't think we're disagreeing. But the first sentence bothers me, but probably because I'm conflating the status of whether there is a reason with how we determine whether there is a reason (by considering modal facts.) It seemed to me that 'actual' was governing the latter (which are only mere possibilities) when you just meant that the *reason* was true at the actual world, not that the result (Padilla blinks a code of DOOOOOOM) would have to be true in order to have an actual reason.
I was reading 'actual reason' wrong.
75 rocks. Electric sheep!