Outline

 

1/23/09

Tom Louvier and I meet every Friday afternoon to discuss some ideas about how to better instruct our respective Philosophy 106 classes.  This course is designed as an introduction to problem solving.  It is intended to teach students how to successfully solve problems using practical reasoning.
The University Handbook has this to say about Phil 106 [SKILLS] [IAI Course No. H4 906] Study and practice of critical thinking and correct problem-solving methods. Organizing information, analyzing meaning, developing correct arguments, detecting fallacies, using effective methods of investigation. Graduation credit may be earned for either PHIL 106 or MATH 106, but not for both.” This course is taught by the Philosophy department.   Traditionally this subject matter was called Logic. 
The 106 course that Tom and I are designing will use the scientific method as its pattern for effective thinking. Within these parameters we will investigate both formal and informal aspects of sound thinking.  We are both of the opinion that the texts we are using have some deficiencies.  This is not an uncommon complaint heard among other faculty members. However, we don’t feel that an editor could merely merge the various existing texts and produce that exemplary volume that would solve all pedagological problems. I don’t want to get bogged down with the various criticisms that emerge in our meetings but rather put some straight forward ideas about exactly what we want to teach in order to accomplish this very clear definition of our course that the university has put forward. 

It wasn’t too long ago that this course was up for grabs. There were proposals that every department teach their own version of a critical thinking course.  Critical thinking for nurses, critical thinking for sociologists, and critical thinking for what ever department you can imagine was an alternative that was investigated.  There was also being considered the proposal allowing total control of the 106 course by the Math department.  This proposal received some favorable attention.  Since the early 19th century the study of logic has taken a new turn with the development of Boolean algebra.  This new emphasis on mathematical statements coupled with our current fascination with digital electronics makes mathematical logic, the symbolic logic of Principia Mathematica (Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell 1910-1913 this was a defense of what is currently discussed as Logicism.  (Logicism is a philosophical vantage point that argues that mathematics can be reduced to Logic.) This is an easily adopted subject matter for the Math department.  The Math department does an excellent job teaching the 106 course. One of the main advantages of the Math 106 curriculum is the ability to give a pretest and a post test of some sort.  This pretest/post test strategy has recently gained popularity among academics as a device for showing the success of the instructor in imparting information as well as the amount of “knowledge” achieved by the student from his or her course work.

That is about enough of this history.  Both the Philosophy department and the Math department teach their respective Phil106 courses.  Philosophy teaches a very similar course in Deductive Logic.  This course has its own course description and we feel that it would be in the best interest for the student not to have to duplicate these efforts in Phil106.  The deductive logic course is an advanced level philosophy course.

Here is a strategy that might work.  I’ve seen it work on other web pages and have some hope that it will work here.  All of you who will be reading this outline/summary of our meetings will have the opportunity to add comments and keep us on track.  Mail any comments to radar@charter.net.  These comments will provide discussion points for our next scheduled meeting. These notes will be posted on my Critical Thinking website. There has been some discussion between Tom and me concerning the possibility and necessity of providing at least a portion of this course in a digital format. The effectiveness of these online discussions could very well determine the extent that online course work is incorporated into our class.  We hope you enjoy these scheduled conversations.  Keep those cards and letters coming in.

 

Evaluation of Evidence from Authority

One of the main questions we entertained today is,”How much do you know directly?”  We want to side step the philosophical question as to the availability of non-intuitive immediate knowledge.  This question is much simpler. Very few of us spend much time actively engaged in independent research (rarely do we go to the “archeological digs” to scratch out our information).  How do we evaluate the quality of the sources from which we gather our information?  This is the topic of “Evaluation of evidence from authority”.  Nearly all of our information is “second hand” information.  Our information most generally comes from individuals we call authorities.  On a very basic level every one evaluates evidence that is presented to them.  “I’m not buying that”, is an evaluative message that the evidence is not good enough. Sometimes this claim seems to be more intuitive than anything else.  Our language about this betrays our concerns for rationality.  “That just doesn’t sound right.”  Very often is ample enough evidence to dismiss a hypothesis.  However, we want our evaluation of evidence from authorities to go beyond a “gut feeling’”.  This question as to the evaluation of the authorities that are providing us with our facts is multifaceted.  (Now pay attention here to make sure that I present more than one approach to this issue.)  These are areas of discussion that will grow the longer we work on them. (I’m going to leave some space in between the topics so you can print this page and add comments that you can submit in class.)

  1. What constitutes an authority?  What criteria can be established in order to be able to judge if an individual actually is an authority?  What developments are relevant to call a person’s authority into question?

 

            A. What constitutes an  authority?  Is the authority an authority in the area on which he or she commenting? This is generally the reason behind the submission of a resume or curriculum vitae.
            Is the authority’s claim within his or her area of expertise?  If you want to begin giving examples of authorities that are generally accepted as authorities but you end up asking yourself, “Why does this person’s opinion carry any more weight than yours/my own?” Please feel free to make as many submissions as you want.  I get tired of picking on Hollywood but many of these   individuals lend themselves as such easy targets that it’s almost (I said almost) disgraceful to             point out their lack of qualification.  “Shooting fish in the rain barrel” somehow seems an appropriate metaphor.  I firmly stand behind our first amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.  However, for the sake of decorum every thought that enters our brain needn’t come out of our mouth.  People often assign authoritativeness to comments and positions merely on the basis of popularity.  This needn’t be a conscious decision.  Very often we are swept up in the    moment.  There are many good texts that devote excellent discussions on the informal fallacies associated with appeals to popularity. Much of the discussion surrounding ad hominem   arguments focus on the emotional content generated by such observation.  Very often our decisions as to whom we trust as an authority is generated by our adrenalin glands and not our brains.

 

            B. Objectivity?  Is the authority objective?  This is one of the fundamental, for lack of a better word, consequences of the “scientific method”. (Help me out here with the wording if you can) The deliberate application of the scientific method to any problem that is being addressed will produce an objective solution.  Please refer to the discussion posted concerning the scientific method – especially the discussion surrounding phase two “Gathering “lots of” relevant accurate      information – some of which is unpalatable and the third phase of problem solving – “Form    many relevant hypotheses some of which are rivals(the process of brainstorming – refer to the   book – a highly recommended reading - Lateral Thinking –Creativity Step by Step by Edward de Bono)  The authority must take into account hypotheses that are not compatible with each other.         In the case of rival hypotheses, both can’t be true.  What we are attempting to eliminate in our scientific discussion is the investigator’s bias.  We can legitimately ask of the investigator what he or she has to gain or lose in this investigation. Will a particular outcome benefit or harm the investigator?  It’s not always the case that the investigator will have that purely non-detached approach towards the subject mater on which he or she is commenting.  However, this vested   interest must be noted in any attempt to report on the findings by the investigator.  The authority must be willing to take into account information that would disprove his or her hypothesis.  If there is no evidence that could possibly disprove a hypothesis then the issue of plausibility is raised.  By definition, plausibility is the likelihood of a hypothesis surviving critical scrutiny.  If    by the very nature of the hypothesis nothing would count against it, investigation is futile. Within this discussion Tom and I also considered the assistance of independent, third party    involvement to insure objectivity.  This is the purpose of an audit.  The auditor has nothing to gain and nothing to lose in his investigation.  (Consider the “Global Warming” debate as a model       for assessing the effects of lack of objectivity and the rejection of rival hypotheses.  When it’s shown that the earth has gotten warmer – this proves that manmade global warming is in play. When it is shown that the earth has gotten cooler then this too is an effect of global warming             http://www.newsmax.com/insidecover/global_warming_ice_age/2008/04/24/90591.html
            http://www.canadafreepress.com/2007/driessen020707.htm
            http://www.biblelife.org/globalwarming.htm

            C. Consensus? What do other authorities in the same field say?  Get a second opinion.  This is      different from the audit example suggested above.  The audit example was to insure objectivity.  We want to get someone involved that has nothing to gain or lose.  The discussion surrounding         consensus focuses on the reality and independence of human perspective.  We certainly want all perspectives represented fairly.  This becomes an important tool for judging the worth of a       scientific discovery.  I haven’t quite worked out all the details but this is going to involve discussion regarding what constitutes a “profession”.  There are issues regarding membership in a profession, however it is the education level, degrees, certification and publications that admit   a person into a profession and hence qualify an individual as an expert.  That community of investigators is more than an adequate gauge for the reliability of the information disseminated.         The problem that emerges is when the community of experts can’t agree.  What is our course of action?  (There is a growing cadre of scientists that now reject the hypothesis that humans are responsible for global warming and in some cases that the earth is even getting warmer because of CO2 emissions)
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scientists_opposing_global_warming_consensus
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Scientists_opposing_the_mainstream_scientific_assessment_of             global_warming/Archive_11
            http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=64734

Now the problem exists as to what our actions should be regarding rival hypotheses when the “holocaust” or “Armageddon” is upon us and the scientific community is so divided.  This is where Tom and I left off.  We discussed three testing guidelines.  I will list these in hopes of getting some feed back – There certainly are some unresolved issues here.

1. Urgency – Sometimes the situation is so dire that the entire scientific process is put on hold.  No time to develop rival hypotheses.  This short circuits the process.  Gut level judgments that would be disparaged in other situations in which the time frame is expanded – just make good sense.  However, how do you make those good decisions when some of the experts are predicting the end the world if you don’t immediately get in line  or the scientist that warn of the severe consequences  if we do.  Failure to act on at least one of the consequences produces serious consequences.

The warnings about global warming have been extremely clear for a long time. We are facing a global climate crisis. It is deepening. We are entering a period of consequences.
AL GORE, speech at National Sierra Club Convention, Sept. 9, 2005 ( 45th Vice President of the United States – Nobel Peace Prize winner –Author - American environmental activist)   

People tend to focus on the here and now. The problem is that, once global warming is something that most people can feel in the course of their daily lives, it will be too late to prevent much larger, potentially catastrophic changes.Elizabeth Kolbert The New Yorker, Apr. 25, 2005(Elizabeth Kolbert has been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 1999)

 

Global warming is indeed a scam, perpetrated by scientists with vested interests, but in need of crash courses in geology, logic and the philosophy of science.
MARTIN KEELEY, BBC News, Dec. 6, 2004 (Dr Martin Keeley Geologist, and a Visiting Professor at University College London)

With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it.
JAMES M. INHOFE, (U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla) speech in U.S. Senate, July 28, 2003

2. Economy – very often the question as to how much the various hypotheses will cost is a determining factor as to which hypothesis is chosen.  In the case, of global warming, the decision not to sign the Kyoto Treaty shows a concern for the monetary aspect of the proposal.
"President Bush strongly opposes any treaty or policy that would cause the loss of a single American job, let alone the nearly 5 million jobs Kyoto would have cost," said James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/1106-07.htm
Since coming into effect February 16, 2005, the Kyoto Protocol has cost the world about awhile the potential temperature saving by the year 2050 so far achieved by Kyoto is aa
(to get activity on the clock we had to go to billionths part of one degree, which obviously cannot be measured as a global mean) and yes, that really does represent about $100K per billionth of one degree allegedly "saved." Guess that means for the bargain price of just $100 trillion we could theoretically lower global mean temperature by about 1 °C. http://www.junkscience.com/MSU_Temps/Kyoto_Count_Up.htm  (check this sight out the “cost box”  is constantly increasing the number when I copied it was US$ 592,602,522,885)
 “The Kyoto agreement--if fully complied with--would likely reduce the gross domestic product of the United States by 2.3 percent per year. However, according to a climate model of the National Center for Atmospheric Research recently featured in Science, the Kyoto emission-control commitments would reduce mean planetary warming by a mere 0.19 degree Celsius over the next 50 years. If the costs of preventing additional warming were to remain constant, the Kyoto Protocol would cost a remarkable 12 percent of GDP per degree of warming prevented annually over a 50-year period.” http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-307es.html this quote is from an article by Patrick J. Michaels professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute
Are economic concerns legitimate factors that should affect the implementation of a particular hypothesis?  We all know about the dangers of buying something merely because it’s cheap.  There are also times when money is “no object”. Try to convince the parent that the elimination of a school program is the right thing to do because the district can no longer afford the program.
3. Likelihood – I caught a little flack on this one – We need to develop some criteria of adequacy that just goes beyond a feeling of satisfaction.  Have we investigated all alternatives?  This is a case where we don’t reject those rival hypotheses merely because they make us uncomfortable.  How consistent is the hypothesis with what we already know?  The investigator must state all the alternatives and their evidence.  Tom suggested a criterion of adequacy that made some good sense.

Criteria of Adequacy

(Tom and I are adapting these criteria from How To Think About Weird Things by (Ouch I forgot his name but I'll get that filled in immediately)

1. Testability – this involves the ability to control and observe – if there is no way that a hypothesis could fail then the hypothesis is worthless – I’d like to explore more about this idea of plausibility.
      From Merriam Webster online – Plausible

plau·si·ble  Pronunciation: \ˈplȯ-zə-bəl\ Function: adjective Etymology: Latin plausibilis worthy of applause, from plausus, past participle of plaudere Date: 1565
                1: superficially fair, reasonable, or valuable but often specious <a plausible pretext>
                2: superficially pleasing or persuasive <a swindler… , then a quack, then a smooth, plausible gentleman — R. W.     Emerson>
                 3 : appearing worthy of belief <the argument was both powerful and plausible>  — plau·si·ble·ness noun —            plau·si·bly \-blē\ adverb
               
                American Heritage lists “Seemingly or apparently valid, likely or acceptable; credible” as the FIRST, i.e.,     central/often most commonly used definition SO the one you “prefer” is correct.

I prefer this wording “likely or acceptable”.  Word Reference.com says “apparent validity”.  This concept works well with the manner in which we speak about a plausible argument or hypothesis.  Very often our assessment does not go beyond this “apparent validity”.  Hopefully “It just feels right” is stated after all alternatives and their evidence has been considered.

 

2. Scope – We haven’t finished this discussion – I am certain this will be a point that needs further clarification.  A hypothesis must be broad enough to cover the important problems that are being addressed. “The Devil is in the details” is an appropriate colloquialism for this criterion.  

3. Simplicity – When the topic of simplicity in explanation is introduced as a criterion for acceptance many are quick to cite some truncated version of William of Ockham – Ockham’s razor http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ockham/  we need to be careful not to get too excited with his insistence on simplicity.  The argument has always stood that the Copernican (Heliocentric) universe won out over the Ptolemaic (Geocentric) Universe because the calculations regarding planet locations were simpler in a Copernican universe model than in the Ptolemaic model.  I can’t find any real reason to dispute that but it would appear that laziness has won out over the doctrine of simplicity.  It was just easier to calculate the location of the heavenly bodies in respect to their relative motions. (I have heard a convincing argument that the Copernican model was religious with some neo-platonic roots.   Kepler’s rejection of Tycho Brahe’s geo-centric universe that he was hired to defend was supposedly based on Kepler’s ardent neo-Platonism.  The circular orbits of the planets were actually the language of God (mathematics).   This has little to do with a doctrine of simplicity. In fact, when we compare what Ockham finally concludes by use of Ockham’s razor we may be reluctant to use the “Razor” at all.

  “For nothing ought to be posited without a reason given, unless it is self-evident (literally, known through itself) or known by experience or proved by the authority of Sacred Scripture.”  William of Ockham (I’ll give you the citation as I found it - Sent. I, dist. 30, q. 1 cited at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ockham/#4.1 )

This is tough to take into the lab.  We need to look at this case for simplicity closer.  There is nothing simple about the “Doomsday” prophecy and the Large Hadron Collider.  The Large Hadron Collider might destroy the world if the scientists in Switzerland ever get it back on line. You think that’s a good idea? Explain that to me. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,483477,00.html 

4. Fruitfullness -

5. Conservativism – What we mean by this is, “How consistent is the final decision with what we already know?”  Does the hypothesis we are asked to believe or accept create contradictions in the manner that we already understand the world to be?  What do we have to give up in order to believe? Michael Moore asks the American public in his movie Fahrenheit 911 to believe that George Bush was complicit in the tragedy of September 11, 2001.  How far does a person have to go for a convincing argument that George Bush masterminded the bombing of twin towers through Bin Laden.? Or that G.W.Bush actually was responsible for a controlled detonation that supposedly brought the towers down.  There are these arguments available but what do you have to give up in order to accept them?

The final topic of the afternoon was to read Black Athena for this week.  There was a  Black Athena debate sponsored on the internet a little over a decade ago (1996).  The debate was sponsored by Harper Collins.  The book by Martin Bernal – Black Athena was criticized by Mary Lefkowitz who authored a response Not Out of Africa. I am still digging through the debate which was only briefly visited by the two principals.  I’ll give a report as it becomes relevant to the development of this discussion.

http://www.theafrican.com/Magazine/Athena/intro.htm