Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Philosopher's Carnival, No. Fourteen.

The fourteenth Philosopher’s Carnival is presently being hosted at Mumblings and Grumblings. There are about eighteen posts on a variety of topics.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

BBC Poll – Who is the Greatest Philosopher?

The BBC is presently conducting a Poll to elect the greatest philosopher. While this sort of thing, I think, should not be determined democratically, the bits and pieces that the BBC has compiled seem worth a look.

Articles Of Interest - 29th of May 2005

Another set of random articles that people might like to take a look at … including one for Mr McCool!

Simon Singh on ‘What The Bleep Do We Know’.
Gary Jason on ‘Deconstructing Post-Modernity’.
Tom Clark on ‘How to be a religious atheist’.
Mirko Bagaric On ‘A case for torture’.
And, especially for Mr McCool, Natasha Walter’s ‘Why I was wrong about porn’.

Two Reviews

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews has published reviews of two books that I think some of you might be interested in. The first is a review of David Rodin’s War and Self-Defence, in which Rodin examines the legitimising analogy between personal self-defence and national self-defence. The other, which is slightly more arcane, is The Cambridge Companion To Arabic Philosophy, on one of the less studied periods of the Western philosophic tradition.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Possible Discussion Groups

Two proposals have been made for Discussion Groups to commence next semester. The suggested topics for discussion are the works of Nietzsche and Foucault, respectively.

At the moment nothing has been set in stone (i.e. when the discussions would run, or their structure and focus), but any thoughts on other possible topics or any preferences would be welcome.

A Logical Problem?

"Poor Service = Poor Rail Management" - This was the text of a sticker that I saw on a train this morning. I had probably read it before, but this morning I noticed that there is something logically discordinate about it. I could understand that 'Poor Rail Management' could equal 'Poor Service', but I am just not sure that the inference works the other way ...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Questions On Hostage Taking

There has been considerable media coverage of an Australian-born contractor who has been taken hostage in Iraq, and the attempts to secure his release. This has made evident two questions that probably have not had the ethical discussion they deserve. So, the Editor decided to post them and hopefully commence the discussion. Firstly, can the taking of hostages, in any situation, be justified ethically? Secondly, should the demands of hostage takers be meet?

The University of Newcastle Philosophy Club Annual General Meeting

The Club’s Annual General Meeting was held on the 17th of May.

At the AGM, the following members were elected to the Executive: Samuel Douglas was elected President, Martin Hill and Paula Morrow were elected Vice Presidents, Rowan Blyth was elected Treasurer, Chris Papadopoulos was elected Secretary, and Rose Wallin was elected Clubs and Societies Delegate.

The Editor congratulates those who were elected on their election. The Editor also thanks those who attended the AGM for doing so.

Articles Of Interest

A couple of articles that have come to my attention in the past few days. Do readers think that is a worthwhile service?

Pinker and Spelke, ‘The Science of Gender and Science’.
Campbell, ‘Revenge On Sartre’.
McLemee, ‘The Consecrated Heretic’ (more on Sartre …).

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Question – What Is The Meaning Of Life

Melbourne Philosopher has commenced a discussion of the question ‘What is the meaning of life?’. An ever-pertinent question, the Editor has decided to raise it here.

What is the meaning of life?

[Editorial Aside – ‘42’ is, at present, a non-sufficient answer. Any demonstration that ‘42’ is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything will need to establish that ‘seven times seven’ is in fact the question and that the correct answer to that question is not, in fact, ‘5’ – as some ‘Bizarre Sceptic’ might just claim (thank you S. Kripke)].

Reminder: Club AGM

The Annual General Meeting of The University of Newcastle Philosophy Club will be held on Tuesday the 17th of May at One pm in the McMullin Courtyard – between the McMullin Building and the McMullin Theatre.

All Members of the Club are invited to attend.

Notice - What is a good person?

Due to the natural attrition of posts from this front page, the discussion of what is a good person has fallen off the egde.

A link has been added to Nota Bene, for ease of reference, so that the discussion may continue.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Question - What constitutes an evil individual?

The discussion of what constitutes a good person has become a discussion of apathy and the apathetic individual, so a new approach seems to be required. Perhaps the question of what constitutes an evil individual might help ...

What constitutes an evil individual?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Editorial Announcement: 11th May 2005

As a result of yesterday’s Club meeting, two new Forums have been made available.

The first of these is the Open Forum. This Forum is intended as a place where individuals can pose topics for general discussion on Dialectic.

The second is the Club Discussion Topics Forum. This Forum is a place where Club members can suggest topics for discussion at Club meetings.

Links to both these Forums have been added to Nota Bene, where they will reside.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Philosopher's Carnival, No. Thirteen

The thirteenth Philosopher’s Carnival is presently being hosted at Mormon Metaphysics.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A Short Response On The End Of History

Ms Wallin asked “How the hell does the idea of the end of history work??? It's come up a few times now and it seems to be a very random idea. How can history end??!?!” – this brief note is an attempt to answer that question.

“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine” – R.E.M.

I should start by asserting that I am not a Hegelian. While I have read some Hegel, his work is not really my strong suit and my understanding of his thought is tainted by Feuerbach and Marx. The answer that I attempt here is flawed, and I welcome any constructive comments.

For the philosophers of the German Enlightenment, history equates with progress. We are not really discussing history in the sense of history books, but a broader scope along the lines of the sum total of human action. For Hegel this process is driven by the logic of dialectic – a thesis emerges, its antithesis emerges and they ‘clash’ to produce their synthesis. Hence history can be viewed as a series of theses, antitheses, and syntheses. Hegel is interested in the Master/Slave dialectic, whereby masters and slaves struggle against each other towards a state where both are free from the chains of their opposition (both master and slave are co-dependent and thus cannot be free while their opponent remains). History as progress will end when a fully rational (Enlightened) community emerges, because in this society master and slave will cease to be, and the power struggles that are the engine of history and progress will no longer take place.

Marx takes up the idea of the dialectical process of history. Marx argues – in the early writings, and the thoughts influence all that comes after – that history has been a series of periods defined by a binary opposition between the ‘propertied’ and ‘working’ classes (the feudal lord versus the serf, the capitalist bourgeoisie versus the proletarian). For Marx, capitalism is a synthesis whose antithesis – communism – will cause a conflict (the proletarian revolution) that will eventually result in the end of history (a state that Marx never quite got around to providing a description of…).

It was thinking along these lines that led Francis Fukuyama to pre-emptively declare in 1989 that history had ended. His reasoning went that the failure of the USSR meant that liberal democracy, as it exists in the West amounts to the rational state that Hegel predicted, since it has triumphed over Marxism. While we had not entered the final end state, Fukuyama thought that we were close enough to claim that ‘progress’ was over and forward movement would only be incremental, not monumental.

How does the end of history hypothesis work? Well, if history is progress, and progress is governed by a dialectical logic, there must be a point where no further progress can be made and the end of history is the moment that the final synthesis emerges. This is not to say that nothing will happen after this point – life and so forth will continue, it is just that there will be no developments.

The major problem with the idea, as I see it, is that the dialectical engine will never stop driving, and that there will always be sufficient struggle to keep history progressing.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Annual General Meeting

The Annual General Meeting of The University Of Newcastle Philosophy Club will be held on Tuesday the 17th of May, 2005 at One p.m., at a location to be announced.

All Club members are invited to attend.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Question - What is a good person?

A Visitor to Dialectic raised the question “What do philosophers consider a 'good' person is? Is it simply someone whose good deeds outweigh their bad deeds?” – it is pertinent question worthy of discussion whenever it is raised and so the Editors would like to present it for open discussion.

What is a good person?

Spiked Magazine – Einstein Survey

As part of the celebration of the centerary of Einstein’s publication of the equation E=mc2, the United Kingdom’s Spiked Magazine has conducted a survey of two hundred and fifty individuals on science. The results are available here.

Notes On Games And Life - Unabridged

i. “Will my number come up eventually? Like Love is some kind of lottery, where you can scratch and see what is underneath. It’s ‘Sorry’, just one cherry, ‘Play Again’. Get lucky.” (Bright Eyes. ‘Waste Of Paint’ on Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep You Ear to the Ground (2002))

ii. “I have known what the Greeks do not know, incertitude.” (Jorge Luis Borges. ‘The Lottery in Babylon’ in Labyrinths (London: Penguin, 2000), p. 55)

iii. Game – “Contest played according to rules & decided by skill, strength, or luck” (The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Fifth Edition, p. 502)

iv. Game (Philosophic) – “this term includes but is not limited to contests and sports. To play a game is to attempt to achieve a certain state of affairs using only those means permitted by the rules” (Robert M. Martin. The Philosopher’s Dictionary, Third Edition (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2002), p. 133)

The toss of a coin
v. “they are betting on the toss of a coin, in the following manner: GUILDENSTERN … takes a coin out of his bag, spins it, letting it fall. ROSENCRANTZ … studies it, announces it as “heads” (as it happens) and puts it into his own bag. Then they repeat the process. They have apparently been doing this for some time.

The run of “heads” is impossible, yet [Rosencrantz] betrays no surprise at all – he feels none.” (Tom Stoppard. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (London: Faber and Faber, 1974), p. 7)

vi. “The law of averages, if I have got this right, means that if six monkeys were thrown up in the air for long enough they would land on their tails about as often as they would land on their – ” (Stoppard. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, p. 8)

Game Theory and The Prisoner’s Dilemma
vii. “a game is a choice situation where more than one individual is choosing and where the choices made by the participating individuals determine how well the other individuals’ choice turns out.” (Martin. The Philosopher’s Dictionary, p. 133)

viii. Áthamas and Báttus are being interrogated in separate cells by the Inquisition. They are accused of collaborating in a crime, but the Inquisition lacks the evidence necessary to convict them. The Inquisitors offer Áthamas and Báttus, individually, the same deal: if one of them confesses their guilt, and agrees to testify against their co-accused, he will be banished. If they stay silent, while their co-accused accepts the deal, it will be their partner who is banished while they are imprisoned for ten years. If both the co-accused confess, they are told, then both will be imprisoned for five years. While if neither confesses, the Inquisitors admit, the Inquisition will be unable to secure a conviction and both Áthamas and Báttus will be freed, though their property will be seized. Áthamas and Báttus are left with the choice to either ‘cooperate’ – that is remain silent – or to defect and confess their guilt to the Inquisitor.

ix. Payoff matrix for Áthamas and Báttus

Cooperate Defect
Cooperate Property seizure, Property seizure (2,2) 10 years, Banishment (4,1)
Defect Banishment, 10 years (1,4) 5 years, 5 years (3,3)

The numbers in brackets represent each player’s ranking of the options from most preferable (1) to least preferred (4)

x. Perhaps the solution is for Áthamas to confess and accept either being banished or imprisoned for five years …

xi. “Such a scenario postulates a lack of enforced co-operation; and to avoid the undesirable outcome, the actors in the drama need to be forced into co-operation by a system of rules. So it has been argued that we can find in this dilemma a basis for the generation of the institutions of morality – or, at least, of prudent co-operation. But that conclusion is challenged by others who point out that the same choice-theoretic problems also arise with ends that immoral or prudentially harmful.” (Ted Honderich [Ed.]. The Oxford Companion To Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 719)

xii. “One way to express the paradoxical implications of prisoner’s dilemma-type situations is to say that when its conditions apply, rational agents do less well than irrational.” (Neil Levy. What Makes Us Moral? Crossing the Boundaries of Biology (Oxford: Oneworld Press, 2004), p. 63)

xiii. In each bout a player must adopt one of three strategies, choosing to play either ‘rock’, ‘scissors’, or ‘paper’. Rock blunts scissors, scissors cut paper, and paper wraps rock; in each case the dominate neutralises the subordinate.

xiv. Payoff matrix for rock-scissors-paper

Rock Scissors Paper
0,0 +1,-1 -1,+1
Scissors -1,+1 0,0 +1, -1
Paper +1,-1 -1,+1 0,0
(‘x,y’: ‘x’ equals player on the left, ‘y’ equals player above)

xv. “a player adopting the pure strategy ‘Rock’ will lost in the long run, because his opponent will catch on and play ‘Paper’. A player adopting the mixed strategy ‘1/3 Rock, 1/3 Scissors, 1/3 Paper’ will break even.” (John Maynard Smith. Did Darwin Get It Right? (Harmondsworth: Penguin), p. 206)

xvi. How often does the future course of events rest on the strategy employed to win a game of rock-scissors-paper?

xvii. “These things always happen …” (Jon Brion. ‘Strangest Times’ on i (heart) huckabees (2004))

xviii. So, heads-or-tails or rock-paper-scissors?

[This post is the unabridged text from which Martin's contribution to Opus 3, 2005 (p. 11) was drawn – Editor.]