• It would be a moral disgrace for God (if he existed) to allow the many evils in the world, in the same way it would be for a parent to allow a nursery to be infested with criminals who abused the children. • There is a contradiction in asserting all three of the propositions: God is perfectly good; God is perfectly powerful; evil exists (since if God wanted to remove the evils and could, he would). • The religious believer (...) has no hope of getting away with excuses that evil is not as bad as it seems, or that it is all a result of free will, and so on. Piper avoids mentioning the best solution so far put forward to the problem of evil. It is Leibniz’s theory that God does not create a better world because there isn’t one — that is, that (contrary to appearances) if one part of the world were improved, the ramifications would result in it being worse elsewhere, and worse overall. It is a “bump in the carpet” theory: push evil down here, and it pops up over there. Leibniz put it by saying this is the “Best of All Possible Worlds”. That phrase was a public relations disaster for his theory, suggesting as it does that everything is perfectly fine as it is. He does not mean that, but only that designing worlds is a lot harder than it looks, and determining the amount of evil in the best one is no easy matter. Though humour is hardly appropriate to the subject matter, the point of Leibniz’s idea is contained in the old joke, “An optimist is someone who thinks this is the best of all possible worlds, and a pessimist thinks.. (shrink)
Replies to Kevin de Laplante’s ‘Certainty and Domain-Independence in the Sciences of Complexity’ (de Laplante, 1999), defending the thesis of J. Franklin, ‘The formal sciences discover the philosophers’ stone’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 25 (1994), 513-33, that the sciences of complexity can combine certain knowledge with direct applicability to reality.
Replies to O. Hanfling, ‘Healthy scepticism?’, Philosophy 68 (1993), 91-3, which criticized J. Franklin, ‘Healthy scepticism’, Philosophy 66 (1991), 305-324. The symmetry argument for scepticism is defended (that there is no reason to prefer the realist alternative to sceptical ones).
Readers of “lives” of the famous know well the tendency of biography, and especially autobiography, to become steadily less interesting as the subject grows older. A predictable record of challenges met, enemies shafted, honours received and great men encountered often succeeds an account of a childhood that is a highly-coloured and unique emotional drama. Often the best pages are those on the subject’s schooldays, when the personality first tangles with the public realm. As Barry Oakley says of school in a (...) piece quoted in the book’s preface: “Like the stage, it’s an image of life: life accelerated, life concentrated, life more formidable.” The project of selecting just the highlights of all the stories of Australians’ schooldays promises, then, a high payoff if it is well done. It is a high-risk enterprise, though: a pointillist canvas brilliant in each fleck may easily look like mud from a distance. There are well over a hundred authors here, with only three pages or so each to paint a vignette of school. In fact, the result is an enormous success. The editors have a sure eye, and they and their research assistant, Pamela Williams, have put in the work to find the goods. Almost every piece is gripping, and quite different from the others. The total effect is additive, and is an unexampled insight into how the Australia we know came into being. The classics are there: Henry Lawson and Patrick White, Seven Little Australians and The Getting of Wisdom, Donald Horne, Barry Humphries and Clive James. So are the many unknowns whose recollections take us into obscure corners. If there is one overall theme, it is that of sameness, difference and “fitting in”. The effect of the accumulated evidence is rather more subtle than the received ideas on “identity and difference”, multiculturalism and so on. School is where the strangeness of one’s own family, or of one’s own personality, meets the social world – itself perhaps no less weird, objectively speaking, but possessed of resources for ensuring conformity. (shrink)
Decision under conditions of uncertainty is an unavoidable fact of life. The available evidence rarely suffices to establish a claim with complete confidence, and as a result a good deal of our reasoning about the world must employ criteria of probable judgment. Such criteria specify the conditions under which rational agents are justified in accepting or acting upon propositions whose truth cannot be ascertained with certainty. Since the seventeenth century philosophers and mathematicians have been accustomed to consider belief under uncertainty (...) from the standpoint of the mathematical theory of probability. In 1654, Blaise Pascal entered into correspondence with Pierre de Fermat on two problems in the theory of probability that had been posed by the Chevalier De Méré – the first involved the just division of the stakes in a game of chance that has been interrupted, the second is the likelihood of throwing a given number in a fixed number of throws using fair dice. This correspondence resulted in fundamental results that are now regarded as the foundation of the mathematical approach to probability, and historical studies of probabilistic reasoning almost invariably begin with the Pascal-Fermat correspondence. Franklin has no interest in denying the significance of the mathematical treatment of probability – he is, after all, a professional mathematician – but the principal theme in his book is the gradual “coming to consciousness” of canons of inference governing uncertain cases. (shrink)
An Aristotelian Philosophy of Mathematics breaks the impasse between Platonist and nominalist views of mathematics. Neither a study of abstract objects nor a mere language or logic, mathematics is a science of real aspects of the world as much as biology is. For the first time, a philosophy of mathematics puts applied mathematics at the centre. Quantitative aspects of the world such as ratios of heights, and structural ones such as symmetry and continuity, are parts of the physical world and (...) are objects of mathematics. Though some mathematical structures such as infinities may be too big to be realized in fact, all of them are capable of being realized. Informed by the author's background in both philosophy and mathematics, but keeping to simple examples, the book shows how infant perception of patterns is extended by visualization and proof to the vast edifice of modern pure and applied mathematical knowledge. (shrink)
Mathematics has always been a core part of western education, from the medieval quadrivium to the large amount of arithmetic and algebra still compulsory in high schools. It is an essential part. Its commitment to exactitude and to rigid demonstration balances humanist subjects devoted to appreciation and rhetoric as well as giving the lie to postmodernist insinuations that all “truths” are subject to political negotiation. In recent decades, the character of mathematics has changed – or rather broadened: it has become (...) the enabling science behind the complexity of contemporary knowledge, from gene interpretation to bank risk. Mathematical understanding is all the more necessary for future jobs, as well as remaining, as ever, a prophylactic against the more corrosive philosophical views emanating from the humanities. (shrink)
Pascal’s Wager does not exist in a Platonic world of possible gods, abstract probabilities and arbitrary payoffs. Real decision-makers, such as Pascal’s “man of the world” of 1660, face a range of religious options they take to be serious, with fixed probabilities grounded in their evidence, and with utilities that are fixed quantities in actual minds. The many ingenious objections to the Wager dreamed up by philosophers do not apply in such a real decision matrix. In the situation Pascal addresses, (...) the Wager is a good bet. In the situation of a modern Western intellectual, the reasoning of the Wager is still powerful, though the range of options and the actions indicated are not the same as in Pascal’s day. (shrink)
In many diagrams one seems to perceive necessity – one sees not only that something is so, but that it must be so. That conflicts with a certain empiricism largely taken for granted in contemporary philosophy, which believes perception is not capable of such feats. The reason for this belief is often thought well-summarized in Hume's maxim: ‘there are no necessary connections between distinct existences’. It is also thought that even if there were such necessities, perception is too passive or (...) localized a faculty to register them. We defend the perception of necessity against such Humeanism, drawing on examples from mathematics. (shrink)
Just before the Scientific Revolution, there was a "Mathematical Revolution", heavily based on geometrical and machine diagrams. The "faculty of imagination" (now called scientific visualization) was developed to allow 3D understanding of planetary motion, human anatomy and the workings of machines. 1543 saw the publication of the heavily geometrical work of Copernicus and Vesalius, as well as the first Italian translation of Euclid.
Throughout history, almost all mathematicians, physicists and philosophers have been of the opinion that space and time are infinitely divisible. That is, it is usually believed that space and time do not consist of atoms, but that any piece of space and time of non-zero size, however small, can itself be divided into still smaller parts. This assumption is included in geometry, as in Euclid, and also in the Euclidean and non- Euclidean geometries used in modern physics. Of the few (...) who have denied that space and time are infinitely divisible, the most notable are the ancient atomists, and Berkeley and Hume. All of these assert not only that space and time might be atomic, but that they must be. Infinite divisibility is, they say, impossible on purely conceptual grounds. (shrink)
The distinction between the discrete and the continuous lies at the heart of mathematics. Discrete mathematics (arithmetic, algebra, combinatorics, graph theory, cryptography, logic) has a set of concepts, techniques, and application areas largely distinct from continuous mathematics (traditional geometry, calculus, most of functional analysis, differential equations, topology). The interaction between the two – for example in computer models of continuous systems such as fluid flow – is a central issue in the applicable mathematics of the last hundred years. This article (...) explains the distinction and why it has proved to be one of the great organizing themes of mathematics. (shrink)
The global/local contrast is ubiquitous in mathematics. This paper explains it with straightforward examples. It is possible to build a circular staircase that is rising at any point (locally) but impossible to build one that rises at all points and comes back to where it started (a global restriction). Differential equations describe the local structure of a process; their solution describes the global structure that results. The interplay between global and local structure is one of the great themes of mathematics, (...) but rarely discussed explicitly. (shrink)
Mathematicians often speak of conjectures as being confirmed by evidence that falls short of proof. For their own conjectures, evidence justifies further work in looking for a proof. Those conjectures of mathematics that have long resisted proof, such as Fermat's Last Theorem and the Riemann Hypothesis, have had to be considered in terms of the evidence for and against them. It is argued here that it is not adequate to describe the relation of evidence to hypothesis as `subjective', `heuristic' or (...) `pragmatic', but that there must be an element of what it is rational to believe on the evidence, that is, of non-deductive logic. (shrink)
Programs of drug testing welfare recipients are increasingly common in US states and have been considered elsewhere. Though often intensely debated, such programs are complicated to evaluate because their aims are ambiguous – aims like saving money may be in tension with aims like referring people to treatment. We assess such programs using a proportionality approach, which requires that for ethical acceptability a practice must be: reasonably likely to meet its aims, sufficiently important in purpose as to outweigh harms incurred, (...) and lower in costs than feasible alternatives. In the light of empirical findings, we argue that the programs fail the three requirements. Pursuing recreational drug users is not important in the light of costs incurred, while dependent users who may require referral are usually identifiable without testing and typically need a broader approach than one focussing on drugs. Drug testing of welfare recipients is therefore not ethically acceptable policy. (shrink)
Once the reality of properties is admitted, there are two fundamentally different realist theories of properties. Platonist or transcendent realism holds that properties are abstract objects in the classical sense, of being nonmental, nonspatial, and causally inefficacious. By contrast, Aristotelian or moderate realism takes properties to be literally instantiated in things. An apple’s color and shape are as real and physical as the apple itself. The most direct reason for taking an Aristotelian realist view of properties is that we perceive (...) them. We perceive an individual apple, but only as a certain shape, color, and weight, because it is those properties that confer on it the power to affect our senses. It is in virtue of being blue that a body reflects certain light and looks blue. Since “causality is the mark of being,” the properties that confer causal power are real. And that means a reality, not in a Platonic and acausal world of “abstract objects,” but in the ordinary concrete world in which we live. On an Aristotelian view, it is the business of science to determine which properties there are and to classify and understand the properties we perceive, and to find the laws connecting them. (shrink)
The abstract Latinate vocabulary of modern English, in which philosophy and science are done, is inherited from medieval scholastic Latin. Words like "nature", "art", "abstract", "probable", "contingent", are not native to English but entered it from scholastic translations around the 15th century. The vocabulary retains much though not all of its medieval meanings.
In 1947 Donald Cary Williams claimed in The Ground of Induction to have solved the Humean problem of induction, by means of an adaptation of reasoning ﬁrst advanced by Bernoulli in 1713. Later on David Stove defended and improved upon Williams’ argument in The Rational- ity of Induction (1986). We call this proposed solution of induction the ‘Williams-Stove sampling thesis’. There has been no lack of objections raised to the sampling thesis, and it has not been widely accepted. In our (...) opinion, though, none of these objections has the slightest force, and, moreover, the sampling thesis is undoubtedly true. What we will argue in this paper is that one particular objection that has been raised on numerous occasions is misguided. This concerns the randomness of the sample on which the inductive extrapolation is based. (shrink)
The formal sciences - mathematical as opposed to natural sciences, such as operations research, statistics, theoretical computer science, systems engineering - appear to have achieved mathematically provable knowledge directly about the real world. It is argued that this appearance is correct.
The late scholastics, from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries, contributed to many fields of knowledge other than philosophy. They developed a method of conceptual analysis that was very productive in those disciplines in which theory is relatively more important than empirical results. That includes mathematics, where the scholastics developed the analysis of continuous motion, which fed into the calculus, and the theory of risk and probability. The method came to the fore especially in the social sciences. In legal theory (...) they developed, for example, the ethical analyses of the conditions of validity of contracts, and natural rights theory. In political theory, they introduced constitutionalism and the thought experiment of a “state of nature”. Their contributions to economics included concepts still regarded as basic, such as demand, capital, labour, and scarcity. Faculty psychology and semiotics are other areas of significance. In such disciplines, later developments rely crucially on scholastic concepts and vocabulary. (shrink)
Dispostions, such as solubility, cannot be reduced to categorical properties, such as molecular structure, without some element of dipositionaity remaining. Democritus did not reduce all properties to the geometry of atoms - he had to retain the rigidity of the atoms, that is, their disposition not to change shape when a force is applied. So dispositions-not-to, like rigidity, cannot be eliminated. Neither can dispositions-to, like solubility.
The imperviousness of mathematical truth to anti-objectivist attacks has always heartened those who defend objectivism in other areas, such as ethics. It is argued that the parallel between mathematics and ethics is close and does support objectivist theories of ethics. The parallel depends on the foundational role of equality in both disciplines. Despite obvious differences in their subject matter, mathematics and ethics share a status as pure forms of knowledge, distinct from empirical sciences. A pure understanding of principles is possible (...) because of the simplicity of the notion of equality, despite the different origins of our understanding of equality of objects in general and of the equality of the ethical worth of persons. (shrink)
Defends the cosmological argument for the existence of God against Hume's criticisms. Hume objects that since a cause is before its effect, an eternal succession has no cause; but that would rule of by fiat the possibility of God's creating the world from eternity. Hume argues that once a cause is given for each of a collection of objects, there is not need to posit a cause of the whole collection; but that is to assume the universe to be a (...) heap of things arbitrarily grouped rather than a whole arbitrarily divided. (shrink)
The classical arguments for scepticism about the external world are defended, especially the symmetry argument: that there is no reason to prefer the realist hypothesis to, say, the deceitful demon hypothesis. This argument is defended against the various standard objections, such as that the demon hypothesis is only a bare possibility, does not lead to pragmatic success, lacks coherence or simplicity, is ad hoc or parasitic, makes impossible demands for certainty, or contravenes some basic standards for a conceptual or linguistic (...) scheme. Since the conclusion of the sceptical argument is not true, it is concluded that one can only escape the force of the argument through some large premise, such as an aptitude of the intellect for truth, if necessary divinely supported. (shrink)
According to Quine’s indispensability argument, we ought to believe in just those mathematical entities that we quantify over in our best scientific theories. Quine’s criterion of ontological commitment is part of the standard indispensability argument. However, we suggest that a new indispensability argument can be run using Armstrong’s criterion of ontological commitment rather than Quine’s. According to Armstrong’s criterion, ‘to be is to be a truthmaker (or part of one)’. We supplement this criterion with our own brand of metaphysics, 'Aristotelian (...) (...) realism', in order to identify the truthmakers of mathematics. We consider in particular as a case study the indispensability to physics of real analysis (the theory of the real numbers). We conclude that it is possible to run an indispensability argument without Quinean baggage. (shrink)
The winning entry in David Stove's Competition to Find the Worst Argument in the World was: “We can know things only as they are related to us/insofar as they fall under our conceptual schemes, etc., so, we cannot know things as they are in themselves.” That argument underpins many recent relativisms, including postmodernism, post-Kuhnian sociological philosophy of science, cultural relativism, sociobiological versions of ethical relativism, and so on. All such arguments have the same form as ‘We have eyes, therefore we (...) cannot see’, and are equally invalid. (shrink)
Stanford Encyclopedia article surveying the life and work of D.C. Williams, notably in defending realism in metaphysics in the mid-twentieth century and in justifying induction by the logic of statistical inference.
"Does torture work?" is a factual rather than ethical or legal question. But legal and ethical discussions of torture should be informed by knowledge of the answer to the factual question of the reliability of torture as an interrogation technique. The question as to whether torture works should be asked before that of its legal admissibility—if it is not useful to interrogators, there is no point considering its legality in court.
Einstein, like most philosophers, thought that there cannot be mathematical truths which are both necessary and about reality. The article argues against this, starting with prima facie examples such as "It is impossible to tile my bathroom floor with regular pentagonal tiles." Replies are given to objections based on the supposedly purely logical or hypothetical nature of mathematics.
The philosophy of mathematics has largely abandoned foundational studies, but is still fixated on theorem proving, logic and number theory, and on whether mathematical knowledge is certain. That is not what mathematics looks like to, say, a knot theorist or an industrial mathematical modeller. The "computer revolution" shows that mathematics is a much more direct study of the world, especially its structural aspects.
Modern philosophy of mathematics has been dominated by Platonism and nominalism, to the neglect of the Aristotelian realist option. Aristotelianism holds that mathematics studies certain real properties of the world – mathematics is neither about a disembodied world of “abstract objects”, as Platonism holds, nor it is merely a language of science, as nominalism holds. Aristotle’s theory that mathematics is the “science of quantity” is a good account of at least elementary mathematics: the ratio of two heights, for example, is (...) a perceivable and measurable real relation between properties of physical things, a relation that can be shared by the ratio of two weights or two time intervals. Ratios are an example of continuous quantity; discrete quantities, such as whole numbers, are also realised as relations between a heap and a unit-making universal. For example, the relation between foliage and being-a-leaf is the number of leaves on a tree, a relation that may equal the relation between a heap of shoes and being-a-shoe. Modern higher mathematics, however, deals with some real properties that are not naturally seen as quantity, so that the “science of quantity” theory of mathematics needs supplementation. Symmetry, topology and similar structural properties are studied by mathematics, but are about pattern, structure or arrangement rather than quantity. (shrink)
When a company raises its share price by sacking workers or polluting the environment, it is avoiding paying real costs. Accountancy, which quantifies certain rights, needs to combine with applied ethics to create a "computational casuistics" or "moral accountancy", which quantifies the rights and obligations of individuals and companies. Such quantification has proved successful already in environmental accounting, in health care allocation and in evaluating compensation payments. It is argued that many rights are measurable with sufficient accuracy to make them (...) credible and legally actionable. (shrink)
Pascal’s wager and Leibniz’s theory that this is the best of all possible worlds are latecomers in the Faith-and-Reason tradition. They have remained interlopers; they have never been taken as seriously as the older arguments for the existence of God and other themes related to faith and reason.
The late twentieth century saw two long-term trends in popular thinking about ethics. One was an increase in relativist opinions, with the “generation of the Sixties” spearheading a general libertarianism, an insistence on toleration of diverse moral views (for “Who is to say what is right? – it’s only your opinion.”) The other trend was an increasing insistence on rights – the gross violations of rights in the killing fields of the mid-century prompted immense efforts in defence of the “inalienable” (...) rights of the victims of dictators, of oppressed peoples, of refugees. The obvious incompatibility of those ethical stances, one anti-objectivist, the other objectivist in the extreme, proved no obstacle to their both being held passionately, often by the same people. (shrink)
Though there is no international government, there are many international regimes that enact binding regulations on particular matters. They include the Basel II regime in banking, IFRS in accountancy, the FIRST computer incident response system, the WHO’s system for containing global epidemics and many others. They form in effect a very powerful international public sector based on technical expertise. Unlike the public services of nation states, they are almost free of accountability to any democratically elected body or to any legal (...) system. Although by and large they have acted for good, the dangers of long-term unaccountability are illustrated by the travesties of justice perpetrated by the International Labour Organisation Administrative Tribunal. (shrink)
If Tahiti suggested to theorists comfortably at home in Europe thoughts of noble savages without clothes, those who paid for and went on voyages there were in pursuit of a quite opposite human ideal. Cook's voyage to observe the transit of Venus in 1769 symbolises the eighteenth century's commitment to numbers and accuracy, and its willingness to spend a lot of public money on acquiring them. The state supported the organisation of quantitative researches, employing surveyors and collecting statistics to..
A standard view of probability and statistics centers on distributions and hypothesis testing. To solve a real problem, say in the spread of disease, one chooses a “model”, a distribution or process that is believed from tradition or intuition to be appropriate to the class of problems in question. One uses data to estimate the parameters of the model, and then delivers the resulting exactly specified model to the customer for use in prediction and classification. As a gateway to these (...) mysteries, the combinatorics of dice and coins are recommended; the energetic youth who invest heavily in the calculation of relative frequencies will be inclined to protect their investment through faith in the frequentist philosophy that probabilities are all really relative frequencies. Those with a taste for foundational questions are referred to measure theory, an excursion from which few return. That picture, standardised by Fisher and Neyman in the 1930s, has proved in many ways remarkably serviceable. It is especially reasonable where it is known that the data are generated by a physical process that conforms to the model. It is not so useful where the data is a large and little understood mess, as is typical in, for example, insurance data being investigated for fraud. Nor is it suitable where one has several speculations about possible models and wishes to compare them, or.. (shrink)