Wednesday, October 28, 2015

18 Letters

Stuart K. Hayashi

Here's a riddle.  What 18 letters did the flirt say to Emily when he admitted to being an extraterrestrial capable of detecting static electricity via his optical sensory organs?

The answer:  O, MLE, U QT, I M N LEN.  I C NRG!  (Oh, Emily, you cutie, I am an alien.  I see energy!)

This was inspired by an older riddle that goes, "What seven letters did Garfield [the cat] say to the refrigerator when he looked inside it?"  The answer is: O, I C U R MT (Oh, I see you are empty).  This was in an official Garfield chidren's book approved by Jim Davis. 

UPDATE from July 26, 2016:  I think I have another one:

What 23 letters did the alien flirt say to Emily when he admitted that he was an extraterrestrial and that both he and earthling Katie were capable of detecting static electricity via their optical sensory organs?

O, MLE, U R A QT! I M N LEN.  KT N I C NRG! (Oh, Emily, you are a cutie!  I am an alien.  Katie and I see energy!)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

There Is No 'Intentions Vs. Results': Debunking the Conservative Cliche of 'Liberal Intentions Vs. Conservative Results'

Stuart K. Hayashi

I reject the conservative cliche that says, "Liberals only care about good intentions; they don't care about getting good results." This is false and it reflects the Platonic mind-matter dichotomy in conservatives. It pits the mind (“intentions”) against body/matter (“results”), as if they can be separated in the long run.

As one man on Twitter put it to Ashe Schow, “results are for Republicans, intentions are for Democrats.”

More verbose, Bob Funk writes in the Wall Street Journal,

Too many policy makers evaluate new interventions -- labor rules, wage laws, environmental regulations -- only by what they hope to accomplish. They do not consider the consequences, the unintended effects, and the trouble that their policies will cause for employers and workers, especially when the burdens are placed one on top of another [emphases added].
But recognizing the unity of mind and body means recognizing that an honest intention is about nothing more than remaining committed to achieving the explicitly desired result. The extent to which someone ignores the results of his methods in a project is the extent to which he is disingenuous about intending to make a success of that project. 

President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the War on Poverty in the 1960s, claiming that the intention was to reduce poverty. After more than 40 years of these programs, we see they have largely failed to reduce poverty. Many apologists for the welfare state acknowledge this failure, but they claim it is simply because the programs do not go far enough -- more tax money needs to be spent on such programs, and such programs should be expanded in complexity. 

And then conservatives issue their cliche, "See? Liberals are lofty idealists who care about intentions to help but are too naive to care when the results are poor. By contrast, we hard-nosed conservatives look to results, because we're so realistic!" 

 I reject this notion. Moreover, the degree to which anyone actually believe this assessment is the degree to which this person is not being realistic. Being realistic entails that one recognize that there isn't a disconnect between results and intention. 

If I say that I I intend to achieve result Y, that means that my priority is achieving a good result, result Y. Suppose I say, "My intention is to build a house that lasts -- the house lasting for decades is the desired result." I plan to go about this through Procedure C -- a haphazard procedure. I merely go through the motions of building the house. When I need a contractor, I hire the first one I come across, without examining the alternatives with respect to price or quality; nor do I look at the reviews of different contractors online. A year after the house is built, it collapses, because it is so shoddy. Then I shrug and say, "The results were poor, but it was nevertheless my sincere intention to build a house that lasts. I will try to rebuild the house. But instead of adopting new methods -- Procedure D -- to build the house, I will do everything exactly the same, Procedure C. My sincere intention is still to build a house that lasts for decades.” 

Would you judge that intention to be sincere? No, you would say that if I am, at most, half-hearted about achieving the desired result, then I am not honest about achieving the desired result being my intention. My saying that I want to build a strong house that lasts for decades is "all talk"; what I do in practice is what tells you whether my stated goal is my honest intention. 

The same logic applies to the welfare state. Advocates of the welfare state claimed in the 1960s that they wanted to achieve result Y, the eradication of poverty. They would go about it through Procedure C -- their welfare programs. More than forty years later, they have not achieved result Y. Someone honest about intending to achieve result Y would say, "Procedure C clearly isn't the means to achieve result Y. Therefore, let us try something new, Procedure D." Procedure D would simply be allowing the poor more freedom to lift themselves out poverty, not with the welfare programs that have failed. Instead, after more than four decades, apologists for the welfare state stick to Procedure C. When we judge people by their actions more than by what they say, we see that sticking to Procedure C is therefore a higher priority to these politicians and activists than is achieving result Y

But if Procedure C clearly won't achieve result Y, then there isn't an honest intention to achieve result Y -- there isn't an honest intention to reduce poverty. 

 And yet conservatives issue the cliche that advocates of the welfare state "honestly intend to reduce poverty; their problem is that they don't look to the results." For me to believe that, I would have to believe that somehow intent and result are not connected. But they are. By definition, sincerely intending to achieve result Y means one cares about results -- without concern for results, there is no honest intention. 

One might reply that advocates of the welfare state do sincerely hope that Procedure C  -- welfare programs -- alleviate poverty, but it is just that they are too blinkered and set in their ways to consider evidence that Procedure C has failed.  According to that argument, the intentions are sincere and welfare statists remain committed to Procedure C on account of errors in thinking and psychology. Should we concede that argument, though, that still would not bring coherence to the cliche "They care about intentions but not results."  Were this a matter of political leftists wanting to eliminate poverty but not having the evidence resonate with them so strongly, then their fault would not be that attaining practical results is of no interest to them.  The connection between results and honest intent would remain inextricable.

 Let's say that for ten years I go through Procedure C to attain result Y, and I fail repeatedly.  Upon consideration of the evidence, I switch to Procedure D and attain result Y at last.  In such a case, you could plausibly judge that even in the entire duration wherein I opted for Procedure C, I was indeed honest in intending to bring about result Y.  But if I remain beholden to Procedure C for forty years amid such horrid failures to induce result Y, it is sheer implausibility for others to entertain the notion that I mainly intended for result Y to come to fruition.

If you don't care to change your methods to achieve the stated desired result, then you do not honestly intend to achieve the stated desired result.

If you don’t care about results, then you don’t care about intentions.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Two Interpretations of Hume's Is-Ought Dictum, and a Reply to Each

Stuart K. Hayashi

In moral debate, participants frequently bring up David Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum. It can be summarized as follows:
Truths or facts cannot be where proper prescriptive rules of human conduct come from. That a truth or fact Is (meaning, is a truth or fact already validated) cannot tell you what you Ought or Ought Not to do. The simpler statement of this is: “You cannot get Ought-to-Do or Ought-Not-to-Do from that which Is.”
There are two possible interpretations for this:
  1. The Contextualist Interpretation: Truths or facts, by themselves and out-of-context, are not sufficient to indicate what you ought or ought not to do. Yet, that an out-of-context datum, by itself, is not sufficient to tell you what you ought or ought not to do, does not properly preclude you from taking facts into consideration of what you ought to do upon already having chosen the proper standard of value.
  2. The Nihilist Interpretation: Truths and facts do not properly tell you what you ought or ought not to do; period. It is indeed possible for you to take pertinent truths and facts into consideration for the purpose of accomplishing some goal, but there is still no objective reason why you ought or ought not to strive for that particular goal. Since truths and facts do not tell you what your goals ought or ought not to be, it follows that truths and facts have zero bearing on what you ought or ought not to do. In sum, truths and facts are ultimately irrelevant in judging, in the grand scheme of everything, whether your past actions were were objectively moral or not.
The first interpretation is partially true, and, even in conceding its partial truthfulness, it must be qualified. Insofar as the first interpretation is true, it is as much indubitably because it gives us some wiggle room whereby we can still get Ought from that which Is. By contrast, the second interpretation is wholly false and nihilistic. More than that, any time someone invokes Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum in an effort to get your to accept the second interpretation and thereby influence your thinking, it is implicitly self-refuting.

Interpretation 1 Meets Objectivist Metaethics

Again, Interpretation 1 (the Contextualist Interpretation) is correct inasmuch as it gives us room to get Ought from that which Is, provided that it is in the proper context. My standard of value is my life, meaning that my main goal -- and thus the source of every subsequent goal -- is to live life to the fullest. Note that this must be distinguished from mere physical survival. If I die at 121 years of age and was in consistent misery before then, that was physical survival but it was not living to the fullest. The to the fullest refers to quality of existing being the utmost within that duration, maximizing life not merely in terms of time span but also in terms of comfort and enjoyment.
 Truths and facts, by themselves -- outside of the context of how they affect my life -- are not enough to tell me what I ought or ought not to do. When the fact of gravity, the fact that [momentum] = [mass] x [velocity], and the fact that [final velocity] = [initial velocity] + [ (acceleration) x (time)], are isolated from any context pertaining to living my life to the fullest, such facts remain irrelevant.

Portrait of David Hume by Allan Ramsay, 1766.

Once we introduce the context of my goal to live my life to the fullest, though, such facts become pertinent. As my main goal is to live my life to the fullest, it follows that it would be contrary to this main goal for me, as a young man, to die painfully, violently, and quickly, based on some accident or misjudgment. In line with my goal, the facts about gravity and momentum and mass and human physiology do tell me that I ought not to jump out of a skyscraper’s fifth-story window; that would kill me.

Once I have chosen living life to the fullest as my primary goal, I can assess truths and facts to ascertain what my other goals ought or ought not to be, in direct contradiction to the nihilism of the second interpretation of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum. With my primary goal of life maximization in mind, I assess facts to determine what priorities I select as my secondary goals -- the secondary goals being intended to serve the first goal.
  1. Primary goal: Live life to the fullest, which requires that I not die in the next few weeks.
  2. Truth or fact: I will die if I do not eat anything within the next few weeks.
  3. Conclusion: I ought to eat within the next few weeks. As a corollary to that, my secondary goal is to find suitable food to eat.
Thus, we can form some agreement with Interpretation 1 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum though, as I shall explain in the section directly below, there is one primary Is that is sufficient to validate the subsequent Ought’s. Truths and facts, out of context, remain insufficient to guide me on what I ought or ought not to do. However, when we introduce the primary goal of maximizing life, truths and facts are precisely what we evaluate to instruct us on what we ought or ought not to do.

What the Most Important ‘IS’ Is

Yes, Interpretation 1 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is true, insofar as truths and facts -- separated from the context of maximizing your life -- are not enough to convey to you what your secondary goals ought to be or ought not to be. In one important respect, though, there is one singular fact or truth -- one singular Is -- that provides the basis for every Ought-to-Do and Ought-not-to-Do in your life. That truth and fact -- that most important Is -- is the fact that you live, the fact of your very existence. Once you accept that fact and accordingly opt to push for life to the fullest, at least in practice if not in conscious and explicit philosophizing, you end up considering the truths and the facts -- everything that Is, pertinent to you -- in ascertaining what you Ought and Ought Not to do in reaching the secondary goals that maintain and improve your life. That one Is -- your life -- is the foundation for everything you Ought and Ought Not to do. In that respect, even Interpretation 1 is misleading. One grand truth and fact -- your existence -- ultimately justifies every ethical prescriptive. You are the Is that justifies Ought.

Here is another manner in which it can be phrased. Your life is the fact which gives meaning to value; your life is the "Is" that gives meaning to Ought and Ought Not.

Hence, it is facts and truths -- the Is -- that properly give rise to Ought-to-Do and Ought-Not-to-Do. On that understanding, Ought-to-Do and Ought-Not-to-Do NECESSARILY come from Is.

Interpretation 2: The Nihilistic Interpretation

In his arguments, the late Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick implicitly accepts Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum. In direct rebuttal to Objectivism, Nozick proclaims that there is no reason why you ought to choose a full life as your primary goal. And, he adds, if there is no out-of-context Is -- no out-of-context truth or out-of-context fact -- that commands you to choose a full life as your primary goal, then it follows that is no objective reason, in the grand scheme of everything, why you Ought-to-Do or Ought-Not-to-Do anything.

Thus, what can be inferred from Nozick’s argument is that facts and truths can never provide any input in helping you consider what you ought or ought not to do. That is, Nozick’s argument is that it is not merely the case that out-of-context truths and out-of-context facts -- separated from the goal of a full life -- are unable to provide a guide for ethical prescription. Rather, Nozick goes as far as saying that in any and every context, truths and facts will never have any bearing on what you should or should not do.

This is not to say that Nozick explicitly denies there is any morality, though. Explicitly influenced by Immanuel Kant, Nozick puts forth what he proclaims to be absolute objective moral principles, and then adds that such allegedly absolute objective moral principles did not and cannot come from observation-based reasoning. (That is, though Kant and Nozick would not put it in such explicit terms, this really comes down to their allegedly absolute and objective principles being unsubstantiated and arbitrary.)

My answer to Nozick is the same one that Ronald E. Merrill gave him. I entirely concede that there is nothing I can say or cite to make you choose full living as your primary goal. But unlike Nozick, I do not see this as any sort of dilemma for Objectivism. Anyone who does not want to live fully is free to go somewhere and die. It is for those of us who choose maximal living -- at least, choose it in practice if not by conscious explication -- that secondary goals become pertinent. And to reach those secondary goals, we must consider the facts and act in accordance with them, and that is where Is becomes a guide for what we Ought and Ought Not to do.

Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum Is Truth, So You Ought Not...

Now I want to address the internal contradiction of anyone in an ethical debate, such as Nozick, invoking Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum in order to influence the thinking and debate behavior of his debate interlocutor. Anytime someone in an ethical debate cites Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum to you, there is an implicit imparting to you that there is something you Ought-to-Do or Ought-Not-to-Do in ethical debates, based on the premise that Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is itself a truthful Is.

The reasoning is as follows.

  • Explicit Statement 1: Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is that you cannot properly learn what you Ought or Ought Not to do, based on truths or facts, based on what Is.
  • Explicit Statement 2: Hume’s Is-Ought-Dictum is the truth. Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is a truthful Is.
  • Implicit Conclusion You Are Supposed to Draw From This: Based on the truthful Is that is Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum, you Ought Not to derive any Ought-Not from any truthful Is.

You see the internal contradiction there? Someone tells me that Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is a fact or, at minimum, an objective truth. Based on acceptance of this objective truth -- this objective Is -- that is Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum, I Ought to stop making these ridiculous attempts to argue that Ought-to does come from Is.

“Cannot Do It” Vs. “Ought Not to Try It”?

In response to my pointing out this internal contradiction, one nihilistic apologist for Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum (who claims to be an Objectivist!), replied along these lines:

No, no, no, no, no! You Ought to [why should I Ought-to, silly?!! --S.H.] pay heed to the distinction between my saying you are forever unable to do something versus my saying you ought not to try to do it. When I cite Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum, I am not telling you that you Ought or Ought Not to pay heed to it; I am not telling you that you Ought Not to try to get your Ought -Not rules from that which Is. I am merely saying that if you do attempt such an effort, you will always fail, because it is logically impossible.

I do not buy into that rebuttal, because it slyly obfuscates the implicit purpose behind telling anyone that any proposition is impossible to accomplish.

Suppose I know someone named Bob. Bob seriously believes that if he keeps flapping his arms hard enough, there will come day in the years ahead when flapping his arms will enable him to fly. I tell him, “Bob, it is impossible for you to fly, ever, by flapping your arms.” What is the point in my telling Bob this? The implicit message behind telling anyone that a proposition is impossible to accomplish is that that person ought not to act on that proposition.

If it is logically impossible for me to acquire Ought-Not-to from that which Is, then -- because living a full life is my implicit primary goal -- it logically follows I Ought Not to try to acquire an Ought-Not-to from that which Is, does it not? The point in telling someone that he is forever unable to accomplish a specific task is to convey that he ought not to expend any more effort at that specific task. Therefore, the rebuttal from that nihilistic apologist for Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum does not hold up; any citation of Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum in philosophic debate remains implicitly self-contradictory and hypocritical, because it conveys that, in consideration of the allegedly truthful Is that is Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum, I Ought Not to do something.