Thursday, September 6, 2012

Expunging Plato: Necessity and Naming.

In the philosophical world, the most commonly accepted theory of naming seems to be Kripke's rigid designators (as first laid out in Naming and Necessity). I think Kripke is wrong. Further I think Kripke's views, in his own hands, and others, have lead to numerous fallacies. Reproduced below is an adaptation of an email I sent my Phil of Language classmates+prof introducing my objections to rigid designation. 

Suppose that “Aristotle is the teacher of Alexander” is necessarily true so long as “the teacher of Alexander” is an element of the descriptive definition of 'Aristotle'; and suppose, following convention, we may formalize “necessarily 'Aristotle is the teacher of Alexander'” as: □(∀x)((∀y)(Fy ≡ x=y) ⊃ Fx) where F() predicates "is the teacher of Alexander". That is: "necessarily: for all things x, if x is the unique teacher of Alexander, then x is the teacher of Alexander"; note the bracketing carefully. As it happens, Aristotle is in fact the unique teacher of Alexander. Informally: necessarily, whichever thing is the teacher of Alexander, is the teacher of Alexander.
Similarly we may symbolize “Aristotle is necessarily the teacher of Alexander” as: (∀x)((∀y)(Fy ≡ x=y) ⊃ □Fx). That is: "for all things x, if x is the unique teacher of Alexander, then it is necessary that x is the teacher of Alexander"
Where I break with (seeming) philosophical consensus (and my last semester's Phil of Language class), is that I think that not only is the former formalization a true proposition, but so is the latter. Consider what □Fx means. By definition a proposition is necessary iff it is true in every model of the language. The first sentence in question encodes a logical tautology: “Fx ⊃ Fx”, “A is A”. So there is no consistent model under which it evaluates as false, and thus we accept that it is a necessary truth.
The second sentence I concede intuitively appears to not be a necessary truth. It seems like Aristotle, the x which is infact Alexander's teacher, could have been not-the-teacher-of-Alexander. But I hold that this intuition is mistaken, and that the mistake results from a subtle equivocation, in the plain English form: an equivocation on the name “Aristotle”, in the formal version: an equivocation on the variable x!
We agree that the first sentence is necessary exactly because the descriptive cash-out of “Aristotle” includes “is the teacher of Alexander”. But when we feel that it is not the case that Aristotle is necessarily the teacher of Alexander, the “Aristotle” we are using no longer includes “is the teacher of Alexander” in it's cash-out. Instead we hope to point to the guy who we're usually talking about when we say “Aristotle”, and we hope that this reference can be held across possible worlds. This is fine, we can simply define “Aristotle” by all of it's usual descriptive terms, less “is the teacher of Alexander”. Then, as intuition suggests, it is not true that “Aristotle is necessarily the teacher of Alexander”. But that is only because we are using a different definition of “Aristotle”, strictly speaking: we are using—in an argument—the same token for two different words, the very definition of equivocation.
Formally: let F() be a predicate meaning “() is the teacher of Alexander”. Then (∀x)(~□Fx); for this to hold, we need only to accept that two distinct entities each could possibly have been the one teacher of Alexander. And so it appears that ~[(∀x)((∀y)(Fy ≡ x=y) ⊃ □Fx)], since (∀x)(~□Fx). What does it mean for a universally quantified implication to be false? Simply that there is some case where the antecedent is true while the consequent is false. Suppose ~[(∀x)((∀y)(Fy ≡ x=y) ⊃ □Fx)], then (by negation of a universal, equivalent reformulation of the implication, de Morgan, and a double negation elimination): (∃x)((∀y)(Fy ≡ x=y) ∧ (~□Fx)). Then by the logic of necessity there is some model on which ~Fx, since ~□Fx. But x is not a free variable, x is bound by a quantified conjunction as being such that Fx, and there is no consistent model, of any modal logic, on which Fx∧~Fx, thus □Fx for this particular way of binding x! This is a contradiction, hence it is not the case that ~[(∀x)((∀y)(Fy ≡ x=y) ⊃ □Fx)], and it is the case that (∀x)((∀y)(Fy ≡ x=y) ⊃ □Fx), Q.E.D.
I have similar arguments to give to the effects that: “Hesperus is Phosphorus” is not necessary, if it is not a priori;
 “I am here now” is necessary, if it is analytic; and “All cats are animals” is necessary and a priori, if it is analytic!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Absolutism, Relativism, and an overlooked third. Or: Shorter posts!

"Stabbing people is wrong." Broadly, there are three ways of accounting what this means:
  1. The traditional Platonic account: 'that stabbing is wrong is a bald fact of the universe, deriving from some existent platonic goodness.'
  2. The modern relativist account: 'the belief that stabbing is wrong is an idiosyncratic cultural artifact. It's 'wrong' in western culture, but that is all we can say.'
  3. The utilitarian/enlightenment account: 'stabbing is wrong because what it means for something to be wrong is for it to be harmful to the welfare of some conscious being, and stabbing hurts the stabbed.'
The Platonic account seems to be the account most amenable to human intuition; and in various guises (e.g. the will of a deity) it is the historically dominant account. But it unacceptably excuses itself from argument. It flatly states that some-thing or another is right or wrong while, more than merely failing to justify the claim, declaring that there is no reason for this state of affairs. Things simply, inexplicably, unarguably, are right or wrong.

This doesn't cause much trouble when someone claims that murder is capital-double-u Wrong. But when someone claims homosexuality is wrong we'd like to know what reasons they have for that claim, so that we can argue with them and try to convince them otherwise. Platonism is not compatible with argument, or moral progress. If something is right or wrong as a bald, inexplicable fact, no amount of arguing is going to change that, and it remains right or wrong (resp.) regardless of its effects on the world. (Ironically [in the colloquial and not linguistic/literary sense], there is strong sense in which Platonism is the most capricious of all the here outlined views, but now is not the time for that)

Relativism is a curious backlash to Platonism, it's what you get when you throw out Platonism and then give up on the problem. The relativist holds that what is right and what is wrong is merely a matter of opinion (whether cultural, consensus, or individual). This too discards the possibility of reasoned moral argument. The problems for, and refutations of, relativism should be obvious even if not familiar and I promised to keep this short.

The enlightenment account differs from the preceding two in that it is possible to give, and ask for, reasons why something is right or wrong. If someone claims homosexuality is wrong, I can ask them who it hurts. Similarly we can agree that serving someone a glass of cyanide laced water to drink is wrong, because it's a poison and will kill them. Yet we can conceive that there could be some alien world for whose inhabitants cyanide-water is a most refreshing beverage. It would not be wrong to offer such an alien a glass of cyanide-water. More controversially we can imagine cases of consented euthanasia in which it would be moral to give someone cyanide-water, poisoning them. 

Yet in all cases it seems wrong to poison an unconsenting individual. I posit that this is a universal, objective moral truth. It is superficially similar to Platonic morals, but distinguished by having reasons for being so. It is true, and true in all cases, because in all cases unconsented poisoning is harmful. That unconsented poisoning is wrong, is true in all cases, but it is not an unsupported (and unsupportable) feature of the universe. Rather it is a fact about properties of material things inside the universe: the properties which are common to  conscious beings.

Thus we distinguish the bald Platonist absolute fact of the world: "unconsented poisoning is wrong", from the equally universal, supported, fact about the world: "unconsented poisoning is wrong, because this is what it does, and this is what we mean by wrong".

I centred this post around morals, but my purpose is to begin to explain the under-recognized, subtle, general distinction between Platonic universals, or Absolutes, and material universals, or just plain: universals. This distinction applies to biology, ontology, epistemology, philosophy of math, and aesthetics, among other disciplines.

There is no elan vitale but there are properties which are shared by all things alive.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

All call for calls.

To my slowly growing handful/trio of readers: I need more effective motivation. So this is a call for comments, requests, and questions.

If something I've written is too clogged with jargon, point it out and ask me to clarify it.
If you disagree, argue.
If there is a subject you'd like to read my opinion on, request it as a favour to me.

Regularity and Ontology

Tim Put
February 27th, 2012
Bayesianism's Metaphysical Baggage

1. The Itinerary:
Bayesianism is a system for thinking rationally about new information. It gives a
method for updating beliefs in light of new evidence, but does not provide prior probabilities. If we wish to use Bayesianism to reason about actual or hypothetically actual events we require a prior probability distribution. It is not clear that all prior probability distributions are rational; and arbitrary prior probability assignments, which lack any reason to choose one over another, are unsatisfying. I will argue that the probability distributions which can be endorsed by a finite agent commit the practising Bayesian to an uncommon metaphysical claim on the cardinality of the set of possible worlds.
According to the subjective interpretation of probability used in Bayesianism, the probability of an event occurring is a measure of the degree of belief that the event will happen which it is rational to hold. This 'probability-of' as 'confidence-in' is conventionally termed credence. Notably, on this account probabilities are not in general the properties of events, but are rather relationships between an agent attitudes and a hypothetical event.

The Bayesian approach gives a rational method for updating credences in light of new evidence. However it does not provide initial credences. Bayesianism only provides a method to rationally update an already existent set of credences, a prior probability distribution; it cannot generate subjective probabilities from scratch. If an agent wishes to use Bayesianism to evaluate claims in light of evidence—to reason, then the agent must begin with some prior probability distribution acquired without the help of Bayes.
The Bayesian program is motivated by the desire to be rational, to reason optimally or at least well. One rule we might rationally want our probability assignments to cohere with is regularity, roughly: only the impossible should be given a credence of zero, and only the necessary a credence of one. Failing to conform to regularity opens an agent up to a Dutch book, whereby the agent's otherwise rational decision making leads to a certain loss.

In practice agents are not concerned with having rational credence-value-assignments for any and all arbitrary propositions, but are concerned with finding rational credence assignments for specific explicitly stated propositions, while ensuring these assignments are consistent with the rules derived in the arbitrary case. An agent can only be concerned about questions that can be asked. For example if a question cannot be expressed with anything less than an infinite symbol string, then the question in its entirety cannot be understood by a (finite) agent, and thus the answer to the question is utterly uninformative for that agent.
The logic of probability, including in particular Bayesian subjective probability, is captured in the mathematical concept of a probability space. Not all probability spaces permit credence assignments that cohere with regularity. I will suggest a restriction on which probability spaces we should consider, which will allow us to retain regularity.

Further I will argue from the theoretical limits of an agent's concern that the exercise of Bayesianism is not compatible with any but the aforementioned restricted set of probability spaces. Endorsing only these acceptable probability spaces amounts to a metaphysical commitment on the cardinality of possible worlds.

2. The Trip:
A probability space is an ordered triple usually written as: (Ω, F, P). The set Ω is a “sample space”, a non-empty set of possible states, for my purposes we can call Ω the set of possible worlds. The σ-algebra F is a subset of the powerset of Ω (which is to say: the elements of F are subsets of Ω) the elements of which correspond to propositional claims, e.g. the proposition that “it will rain tomorrow” is equivalent to the claim that the actual world belongs to the subset of worlds in the set of all possible worlds in which it rains tomorrow, that is the actual world belongs to some certain element of F. This interpretation is in line with, and typically credited to Lewis:

“I identify propositions with certain properties - namely, with those that are instantiated only by entire possible worlds. Then if properties generally are the sets of their instances, a proposition is a set of possible worlds. A proposition is said to hold at a world, or to be true at a world. The proposition is the same thing as the property of being a world where that proposition holds; and that is the same thing as the set of worlds where that propositions holds. A proposition holds at just those worlds that are members of it.” (1986, 53-54)
P is a relation taking elements of F into unique elements (no element of F is assigned more than one probability) of some probability assignment range. Typically P is assumed to be a function from F to the real interval [0,1]. I will not assume that the range of P is [0,1] in the reals, nor that it is defined on all of F. However I will assume, in line with the Kolmogorov axiomatization that the range of P is bound above and below by 0 and 1 respectively, and that P(Ø)=0, while P(Ω)=1. P embodies the credence assignments of a Bayesian agent, and is different for each agent on the subjective account of probability. We now have the terminology requisite for a concise account1.

In probability space terminology Bayesianism gives rules about how an an agent ought to modify their probability assignment function—P—in light of new evidence. In particular new evidence rules out all the otherwise possible worlds in which the agent does not acquire the evidence in question. This ruling-out in turn ought to change the credence assignments given to the elements of F. Bayesianism prescribes how to update these credence assignments in a rational way. Crucially Bayesianism does not provide a probability assignment function. Bayesian inference must be fed a seed function, an initial P of a priori probability assignments. “If not supplemented by the initial probability distribution [that is: P] over this family [that is: F], the framework is useless; if so supplemented it is sufficient.” (de Finetti 1969, 13)

Many attempts to provide a priori probability distributions have been made. Perhaps the most intuitive is the Laplacian Principle of Indifference2 which states that: given a set of mutually exclusive possible outcomes, if we have no positive reason to expect any one outcome over another, we should assign each possible outcome the same credence. This is unproblematic in the finite case; if there are n possible outcomes, we simply assign credences of 1/n to each outcome. But if there are infinitely many possible outcomes there is not in general a non-arbitrary uniform probability distribution. Since if there are infinitely many alternative outcomes and we assign some positive credence identically to each alternative, then the probability of one of the outcomes in question obtaining, P(Ω), is infinite and not bound by 1. The properties of any distribution on an infinite set of disjoint sets in F which avoids infinite probabilities will depend on the particular parametrization of the sample space.

To be regular is to assign a probability of zero to the empty-outcome and only to the empty-outcome, motivated since no possible world corresponds to any impossible event, and to assign a probability of one only to the set of all possible worlds, motivated since whatever happens will be something that was possible (even if it is only apparent in retrospect). Besides this appealing motivation, one can devise Dutch book arguments in favour of regularity. Suppose I am about to select a random rational number between zero and one, say by throwing at a rational number line one of those astounding darts standard in the thought-experimentalist's kit. Further I enumerate the rationals in [0,1] calling them x1, x2, . . . xn . . . . I offer you a series of bets: if the dart lands exactly on xn, you owe me $2, otherwise I owe you $1/2n. Since, against regularity you have assigned P(x)=0 for any point x belonging to [0,1] in Q, your expected value for the nth bet is $1/2n∙(1-0)-$2∙0 = $1/2n > 0, thus rationally you take the bet, and similarly each subsequent bet. But one such xk will be hit, thus you will lose the kth bet and will owe me $2, while you will win every other bet and so I will owe you $(1+1/2+1/4+...+1/2k-1/2k+...)=$(2-1/2k). But then on accepting the dutch book you are guaranteed to lose $1/2k for some k. So regularity seems necessary for rationality.

Nevertheless regularity seems difficult to achieve. In the above Dutch book argument the gambler has no reason to believe any one rational number is more likely than any other, further the xn enumeration was arbitrarily preformed without the gambler's oversight, thus any permutation of the labels xn is informationally equivalent for the gambler. Thus by symmetry any reordering should be given the same probability distribution, and thus the probability distribution must be uniform. But as we have already informally observed, the gambler is then forced to assign to each rational point of [0,1] a probability of zero, exactly the assignment that opened the gambler up to Dutch booking.
From Hájek:
“In order for there to be . . . regularity, there has to be a certain harmony between the cardinalities of P’s domain—namely F—and P’s range. If F is too large relative to P’s range, then a failure of regularity is guaranteed, and this is so without any further constraints on P. . . . Indeed, any probability function defined on an uncountable algebra assigns probability 0 to uncountably many propositions, and so in that sense it is very irregular. (See Hájek 2003 for proof.)” (Hájek (preprint),19)
If we wish to save regularity, and thus rationality, we must be careful in choosing F, and P, and by extension Ω, since our choice of Ω will inevitably effect what options are available for F (since F is defined as collection of subsets of Ω), and what options are suitable for the range of P. And I will argue that in practice and interpretation, our choice of Ω puts limitation on our choice of the range of P once we recognize that the agents using P must belong to some world in Ω.
Again from Hájek: “Pruss (MS) generalizes this observation. Assuming the axiom of
choice[3], he shows that if the cardinality of Ω is greater than that of the range of P, and this range is totally ordered, then regularity fails: either some subset of Ω gets probability 0, or some subset gets no probability whatsoever. The upshot is that non-totally ordered probabilities are required to save regularity—a departure from orthodoxy so radical that I wonder whether they deserve to be called 'probabilities' at all.” (Hájek (preprint), 20)
So our options if we wish to save regularity are to: restrict the cardinality of F to no larger than the cardinality of the chosen range of P; or to expand the cardinality of P to match a chosen F; or as Hájek suggests as a final alternative: give up on totally ordered probabilities.

A probability space that is not totally ordered contains propositions with well defined probabilities which are not all comparable. In a non-totally ordered space we may know the probability of events x and y, yet not know which one is more probable. Since in such a space the very question of which is more probable may not have an answer, even though they have well defined probabilities. An agent offered a choice between two bets: one offering $1 if x obtains, the other $1 if y obtains, would have no means to compare the two bets, even with perfect reasoning ability and complete probabilistic knowledge. Despite the two bets having the same payoff, but with different odds, there is no fact of the matter as to which is a better bet. But this seems against all intuition about what probability is supposed to be about. Given that the Bayesian program is to find rules for rational thought (in particular 'credence updating'), I posit that we can dismiss non-totally ordered 'probabilities' as simply not the object we wish to study.

This leaves judicious selection of F and P as our only recourse. Given some F we may choose to define P so it has a range with a large enough cardinality to allow regularity. But, as Bayesian agents we want to assign some definite probability—some element of the range of P—to each element of F presented to us. We want to be able to evaluate the function P at arguments fϵF. Therefore, if we wish to ever use Bayesianism, as is the motivation for its development, P must be a computable function4. Thus the range of P must be a set of computable numbers. But the computable numbers are countably infinite, hence the range of P must be at most countably infinite. Then merely from the fact that we, along with all other plausible agents of concern, are finite, a predetermined limit on the maximum cardinality of P arises. We thus find the range of P has a fixed maximum, and so we are driven to the third and final possibility for saving regularity.

Having determined an upper bound on the cardinality of the range of P that can be rationally postulated, the only hope to save regularity is to restrict the cardinality of F. F is defined to be a subset of the power set of Ω, so the cardinality of Ω puts a limit on how large F can be. Thus if we wish to find a rational restriction on the size of F, it will be worthwhile to see what restrictions may be placed on Ω.

In the probability space triple Ω is supposed to be the space of possible worlds, but what sense of possible worlds? For the Bayesian subjectivist agent, Ω is no more than the space of worlds whose possibility the agent is willing or able to entertain. For some Ω is rather large. Indeed for Pruss “we have a reductio ad absurdum of the assumption that the collection of all possible worlds forms a set” (2001, 171-2). Pruss holds that Ω is too large to be a Cantorian set, and must in fact be a class. Such a result leaves F ill-defined as there is no such thing as the powerset of a class, and I find it difficult to see how a finite agent can distinctly entertain the possibilities of an entire proper class of states. Lewis is less extreme on the issue than Pruss5, but nevertheless endorses a cardinality for Ω of at least 2c:
“But it is easy to argue that there are more than continuum many possibilities we ought to distinguish. It is at least possible to have continuum many spacetime points; each point may be occupied by matter or may be vacant; since anything may coexist with anything, any distribution of occupancy and vacancy is possible; and there are more than continuum many such distributions.” (Lewis 1986, p143)

Both Pruss and Lewis are making metaphysical modal claims about possibility. I suggest that for the Bayesian these are the wrong kinds of claims. General metaphysical claims of potentially or 'actually' manifest higher cardinalities are inert with respect to the decision making of finite agents, and are thus irrelevant to the pursuit of rationality whatever other interest they may hold.

I suggest that in a Bayesian account Ω should be viewed as the set of all worlds—all states of being, that can be countenanced by an agent, and which further therefore are necessarily compatible with those things the agent assumes as axiomatic. The elements of Ω—possible worlds—are those abstractions of worlds it is possible for an agent to rationally believe correspond to the actual world. In particular they are definable; if an agent can hold a belief about a possible-world, than the agent must be able to reference it, either by naming it, or by giving it a unique description6. But, whatever definitional or naming convention is chosen, only countably many objects may be referenced by an agent; since the names or definitions may be enumerated, say by counting them off in 'dictionary order'. Further if “a proposition is a set of possible worlds” (Lewis 1986, 53), then as there are only countably many propositions, only countably many sets of possible worlds may be referenced by an agent. Thus only a countable subset of F can ever be accessible to an agent for consideration.

Therefore if P is to be evaluated by the agent (which ought to be possible since the motivation for the formalization has P embodying the agent's credence assignments, that is to say P is formed by collecting the agents credences, it is an effect, not a cause) then it cannot be defined on more than a countable subset of F.
Thus we find there are independent reasons for limiting the sizes of Ω and F, while the range of P may be as large as countably infinite. We can therefore escape Pruss's result on the relationship between regularity and the cardinalities of F and the range of P. 

3. The Return Home:
Pruss shows that the desire for rationality conflicts with the endorsement of some probability space triples (Ω, F, P), depending on the cardinalities of the three entries. But I argue that in any case a real Bayesian agent cannot be concerned with more than: a countable subset of Ω, a countable subset of F, and a countable restriction of a computable P. Thus guided by a particular problem of rationality—regularity—I argue that given a plausible set of possible worlds Ω, and set of subsets for consideration F, a Bayesian agent may freely, and rationally, restrict their attention to the countable portions of the probability space about which questions can be asked, and answers can be compared. Anything beyond those restrictions is utterly inert with respect to decision making, belief formation, credence assignment, and behaviour; and is thus outside the scope of the Bayesian program and in fact outside the scope of any normative account of probability. It remains to be proven that the motivating problem—regularity—is in fact possible on this account, but we have escaped at least one daunting attempted proof of it's impossibility, and I have argued a substantive claim about the kinds of possibilities a finite Bayesianism agent can consider, and the assignments of possibility they can endorse.
Works Cited
de Finetti, Bruno. Initial Probabilities: A Prerequisite for Any Valid Induction. Synthese, Vol. 20,
No. 1 (Jun., 1969), pp. 2-16. Hájek, Alan. Staying Regular? Pre-print.
What Conditional Probability Could Not Be, Synthese, Vol.
137, No. 3, December 2003, pp. 273-323.
Jaynes, E.T. Probability Theory: The Logic of Science. New York: Cambridge University Press,
Lewis, David. On the Plurality of Worlds. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1986.
Li, Ming and Paul Vitanyi. An Introduction to Kolmorogov Complexity and its Applications.
New York: Springer-Verlag, 1997.
Pruss, Alexander. Regularity and Cardinality. (MS)
The Cardinality Objection to David Lewis's Modal Realism Philosophical Studies. An
International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 104, No. 2 (May,
2001), pp. 169-178
1The preceding account is an original explanation aided by reference to Li and Vitanyi's excellent text on the subject.
2See Jaynes p201-215 for a from first principles motivation and derivation of the finite case form of Laplace's principle.
3As of this writing, Pruss now claims, on his personal website, to have found a proof of his result without relying on the axiom of choice.
4Here I assume the Church-Turing thesis.
5I will not directly address Lewis and Pruss's arguments here as they are outside the scope of this paper, but I mention them as a relevant acknowledgements of how widely philosophical opinions on this question differ, and to suggest a slightly different approach to the question
6Here I implicitly take the Laplacian Principle of Identity. If two or more possible worlds share every possible description, than with respect to the describing agent, the worlds are equivalent and cannot be coherently distinguished.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A school paper:

I wrote what follows last fall as my final paper for 'Epistemology'. 

Some Restrictions on “Knowledge”1
Epistemology is concerned with the nature of knowledge: what we know, and how we
know it. In practice, philosophical epistemology2 is not concerned with cataloguing particular instances of knowledge, but rather with giving a clear definition of “knowledge” and then using it to decide if some arbitrary statement or belief should qualify as knowledge. I wish to put two explicit restrictions on the sorts of definitions we can give to the word “knowledge” (but not to put restrictions on what-may-be-known), and to examine the consequences of these restrictions with respect to some major historical schools of epistemology.

To be acceptable, any definition of “knowledge” must satisfy some basic restrictions; at
minimum, its extension must have at least some overlap with the extension of the incomplete intuitive conception of knowledge (a rigorous epistemology that says nothing about propositional beliefs and everything about good growing conditions for carrots would not be satisfying). This restriction I will call the 'extension requirement'.

Not all the necessary restrictions on “knowledge” are as obvious as the extension
requirement. I contend the extension requirement is already implicitly agreed to by all those willing to try epistemology (all those willing to admit that people really are talking about something when they use the common word “knowledge”) and as such it should not be controversial to anyone wanting to read this paper. Thus I assume the extension requirement.

The extension requirement contradicts the skeptic and asserts the existence of knowledge. I will analyze a typical skeptical argument in light of this requirement to see how the argument fails, as I argue it must. Using this analysis I will derive a second restriction on “knowledge”: that of necessary multivalued-ness.

The derivation of necessary multivalued-ness undermines mainstream epistemology
since, historically, the three main branches of epistemology (foundationalism, coherentism and infinitism) have grown from the incompatible implicit assumption of binary-valued knowledge. When taken together with skepticism the three main branches of epistemology have been thought to be exhaustive, and therefore a claim to undermine all four would seem to leave us empty-handed. But the multivalued-ness requirement, by specific virtue of not being binary, opens a fifth category of epistemology, which bears a passing resemblance to foundationalism and infinitism, but differs from both in that it only requires finite, not infinite, regression, while not claiming the existence of special foundational beliefs. Thus beginning with a relatively benign assumed restriction, I derive a second restriction which undermines the motivation for four broad classes of traditional epistemology while introducing a whole new class of epistemologies.

The skeptic argues for the null epistemology that there can be no knowledge.
Contrariwise it is commonly, though not universally, accepted that there are things that can be (or even that are) known. Further, it is nearly universally desired that a defence of knowledge, a non-empty epistemology, can be given. On face value these claims are irreconcilable. I contend that until a satisfactory direct reply to the skeptic is formulated, we should accept the validity of the skeptical argument as a working hypothesis. If we cannot refute it, we have no intellectually honest grounds for dismissing it. I have already claimed that the extension of “knowledge” must overlap the extension of our intuitive grasp of knowledge, in particular it must have non-empty extension in the 'real-world'. A platonic conception of “knowledge” that does not allow us to claim that anything is known or even can be known may be self-consistent, but, like a dissertation on the medicinal properties of dragon's blood, it is fruitless and uninteresting. If we wish to avoid contradiction while accepting these two propositions: that there is knowledge, and that the skeptical argument rules out 'knowledge', the kind of knowledge we claim to have has to be a weaker conception of “knowledge” than that used by the skeptics in their argument. We need to dissect the shared form of the various skeptical arguments, see what proposed properties of “knowledge” they rely on, and accept only those formulations of “knowledge” which are not
susceptible to the skeptical arguments.

Prime among the skeptical arguments is the problem of the criterion, or how it is that we can get knowledge without question begging:
1. A proposition P is claimed as knowledge.
2. The skeptic demands justification for the belief that P, since all knowledge requires  justification.
3. A justifying proposition j(P) is given.
4. The skeptic demands justification for the belief that j(P)
5. ... (continuing similarly for jn(P))
Thus it is claimed that unless some special instance of self-justifying knowledge can be given
(foundationalism), or a defence of circular justification be raised (coherentism), or an infinite regress is allowed (infinitism), knowledge is impossible. It is not clear that a foundation can be given; any defence of circular justification is itself as a (conjunction of) proposition(s)
susceptible to problem of the criterion type arguments; and infinitism plainly fails to give an
account of knowledge that satisfies the extension requirement, since human minds are finite in power and scope. Much ink has been spent, largely fruitlessly, defending (and attacking) these three -isms in hopes of salvaging a “knowledge” with non-empty extension, a knowledge safe from the skeptic. But less has been said about the form of the argument. It is usually taken to be obviously valid. And if it is valid then all epistemology is limited to four avenues of enquiry: either we concede to the skeptic and accept the trivial epistemology of no knowledge whatsoever, or we argue for one of the three -isms of foundations, coherence, and infinite regress. Fortunately for epistimologists a structurally identical argument has already been dealt with by borrowing from another discipline: biology.

The (refuted) argument goes by the name the Prime Mammal fallacy (Dennett, 127),
though as originally given it was unnamed (Sanford, 512).
1. Claim: There exists a mammal M.
2. Claim: All mammals are born of mammals.
3. Thus there exists a mammalian parent of M: p(M).
4. ... (continuing similarly for pn(M))
I hope the analogy to the skeptic's argument is clear to the reader: mammals correspond to items of knowledge, parents to justifications, and grandparents to justifications of justifications, etcetera. We might well re-rename the argument “the mammal skeptic” or “the problem of the first ancestor”.

Thus either there was a Prime Mammal (analogously foundationalism), or3 an infinite
ancestry of mammals. But there does not seem to be any non-arbitrary choice of Prime Mammal, and the number of mammals that have ever lived is clearly finite (though large). Therefore mammals are impossible. Clearly this conclusion is false, there are mammals. It follows there must be some flaw in the argument.

Implicit in the second claim is the premise that mammal-hood is binary and fully
heritable. All things are either full (essential) mammals born of full (essential) mammals, or they are essentially non-mammal. Therein lies the problem. It is a kind of sorites argument that asks us to partition animals into mammals and non-mammals, like partitioning collections of sand into heaps and non-heaps. The only apparent escape from this argument4, and the one seemingly given by historical reality, is to accept “mammal” as a vague or multivalued predicate. Doing so allows us to reformulate the second claim as: “All things of a particular degree of mammal-hood are born of other things with a similar (ε-close5) degree of mammal-hood”. Substituting this reformed claim into the Prime Mammal argument we find that analogical foundationalism and coherentism still fail, since with regard to foundations it is now not clear that “Prime Mammal” has any meaning at all (Prime mammal-of-what-degree?), and the grandparent paradox of analogical coherentism is untouched. On the other hand infinitism taken through the analogy is entirely transformed into a finite claim. No longer does accepting the argument while rejecting foundations and coherence lead to infinite mammals but only to at minimum, the possibly large but finite number: ceiling(ε^-1) mammals. Unlike the conclusion of “infinite mammals”, the claim of “a large number of mammals” does not lead to a contradiction. Therefore the Prime Mammal argument with the implicit premise of binarity removed, no longer asserts the impossibility of mammals.

Having solved the argument in the analogous Prime Mammal form, I will now attempt to carry back the solution to the argument of interest. Just the same as we did with the Prime Mammal we must modify the heredital claim: that knowledge must be justified by (is begotten of) other knowledge. The modification too is similar. We must accept “knowledge” as a multivalued object and reformulate the heredital claim as: “All propositions that are to some degree knowledge must be justified by further propositions that are to a similar (ε-close) degree knowledge”. With this modified premise the skeptical argument can be answered. A finite regress of sets of propositions each being to a degree knowledge at most ε less than the degree of knowledge of the statement being justified suffices to give ultimate justification for some proposition. Thus the skeptical argument with its implicit premise of binarity removed, no longer asserts the impossibility of knowledge.

Thus the weakened skeptical argument allows a fourth approach to grounding knowledge aside from the three traditional -isms, and, counting the skeptical, a fifth class of epistemologies. The approach of a finite branching regression of bits of knowledge of decreasing rank, bottoming out on propositions which need not be knowledge at all.

But this approach requires us to accept that a proposition can be more certain, can be to a greater degree 
knowledge, than any of the propositions that compel us to accept it. At first sight this seems unacceptable and in outright contradiction to our common conception of knowledge. But this appearance stems from a naive analysis: I claim our intuition is correct in that a statement justified by a single further proposition cannot be more certain than its justification (if only because I cannot see past my own intuition and cannot see a way for that sort of justificatory relationship to hold), but it does not follow that a multiply justified statement cannot be more certain than each of its justifications are individually.

For example, let us presume to characterize degrees of knowledge as probabilities with all the standard rules associated. Suppose I am contemplating an object Q, and suppose I claim to know with probabilities ½ that Q is blue (p(B)=½), and Q is red (p(R)=½). From Q is red (resp. blue) I can infer (justify) that ¬(Q is green) with a probabilistic degree of knowledge p(¬G) = 1-½ = ½; from either colour claim alone I can do no better than p(¬G) = ½. But from both claims together--since R and B are mutually exclusive--I find that:

p(¬G) = 1-p(G) = 1-[1-((p(R)+p(B))] = 1-[1-(½+½)] = 1

which is strictly greater than the strength of my knowledge that either R or B alone. Not only does this show that there exist models of multivalued knowledge on which an ascending level of justification can be mathematically defended, but I feel it regains the assent of intuition which gives me confidence that I'm still writing about agreeable definitions of “knowledge” overlapping the intuitive, and that I have not wandered off into carrot horticulture.

Assuming only that we agree to search for a non-empty, non-trivial epistemology: we find that to answer the skeptic's sorites we must have multi-valued knowledge. Having thus derived multivalued-ness of “knowledge”, a fifth response to the skeptic opens up. It is a finitistic response, without the hopeful question begging of foundationalism and without embracing circularity. Working through a gradual building up of knowledge from things which are not knowledge, just as evolution builds up mammals from things which are not mammals.

1: Through the course of the work I have attempted to properly respect the use-mention distinction and to make very clear when I am writing about the common vernacular “knowledge” (here mentioned in quotes, when used it appears without quotes) and the epistemological word whose definition I am writing on, which will typically be rendered with quotes since I am discussing the word and concept itself and not its referent.
2: That is to say the study of knowledge as a term and concept, as opposed to practical epistemology, the use of philosophical epistemology to form belief.
3: The Prime Mammal analog of coherentism would be the suggestion that some mammal is it's own (time-travelling?) great-great-...-grandparent. I reject this position out of hand since I do not need to carry the refutations of the individual analogous Prime Mammal -isms back through the analogy to the skeptical argument.
4: ... without calling into question classical logic and classical metalogic. I for one want to hold on to the Law of Bivalence.
5: Where “ε-close” is defined as: belonging to the ball of radius ε centered at the point in question, in some arbitrary given “degree-of-knowledge” metric space.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fundamental Modes of Reasoning.

I would argue that all argument, reason and logic is fundamentally reducible to proof by contradiction and proof by exhaustion. As a toy heuristic argument for the former's fundamentality I will here prove, via contradiction, that everything that can be proved can be proved via contradiction.

1. Suppose some proposition S has a proof P, but is such that it cannot
be proven by contradiction.
2. Suppose ~S
3. Reiterate ~S
4. P
5. Therefore S
6. Contradiction
7. Thus ~~S
8. S
9. But then S is proven by lines 2-8 through contradiction, which contradicts line 1
10. Therefore there does not exist such a proposition S.

Therefore if anything can be proven it can be proven by contradiction.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Horrors of the Future

Friendly AI* probably won't be a problem if, as I suspect, it turns out to be substantially easier to enhance humans than it is to create intelligence from scratch.

*The problem of ensuring that the interests of any self-improving-come-super-intelligent AIs remain aligned to human interests. For fictional examples of failed FAI see any techno-dystopic movie e.g. Terminator, the Matrix, I Robot, etcetera.