A Standard Method of Philosophical Inquiry

The invention of the idea of a theory—a systematic set of logically related propositions that attempt to explain the phenomena of some domain—was perhaps the greatest single achievement of Greek civilization.

– John Searle

Ryan Holiday recently published a piece about Why You Should Study Philosophy. It’s a good read, and Holiday makes a number of insightful points about the value of inviting big ideas into one’s life. Philosophers through the ages have had a lot to say about the widest possible range of topics, spanning from the broadest generalities to the oddest particularities. They’ve mused on how to live a good life and the sorts of endeavors that are worth pursuing; they’ve argued about how to discern right from wrong and what it means to be a moral person; and they’ve postulated innumerable theories about the nature of reality and the origins of human consciousness. And these don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the painstakingly researched esoteric minutia the philosophers of today dedicate their lives to litigating, one peer-reviewed journal submission at a time. Truly, there exists no lack of rigorously interrogated philosophical scholarship regarding just about any specific domain of inquiry today.

Studying philosophy has long been more than a pastime of mine, to the extent that I’ve devoted years of my life and tens of thousands of dollars to doing so in the form of pursuing a Philosophy degree. And one realization I’ve come to as a student of the discipline is that studying philosophy is quite different from doing philosophy. Just as reading a chemistry textbook is quite different from spending time in a laboratory, studying the latest anthology of contemporary problems in philosophy of mind is quite different from spending time methodically formulating one’s own beliefs into a rational and coherent framework by following a predetermined recipe for rational thinking.

But in spite of the preponderance of philosophical literature available today, these are troubling times for knowledge creation and the recognition of true facts, with practices of thoughtless information consumption and pseudointellectualism running wild. Even trusted news sources walk the line on a regular basis between sensationalism and blatant disinformation. The Washington Post, for instance, recently ran the following headline: ‘Horns’ are growing on young people’s skulls. Phone use is to blame, research suggests. Despite the Lovecraftian mental images this headline may invoke, the “horns” referenced in the article turn out to be what are more accurately (but less sensationally) known as bone spurs: a phenomenon commonly linked to poor posture. Further, a day after its publication, WaPo prepended the following update to the article:

Update 6/25: After publication of this story, concerns were raised about an undisclosed business venture of one of the researchers, who works as a chiropractor. This story has been updated to reflect questions about a possible conflict of interest involving his business. The journal that published the main study in question said it was investigating the concerns. The researchers say they are making minor changes to their paper, but stand by their work.

This is only the most recent case of flagrant sensationalism and click-bait reporting to come across my newsfeed, but more extreme and potentially harmful stories have abounded for years. During the run-up to the 2016 Presidential election in the US, we saw false reports of the Pope endorsing Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton spread like wildfire across social media. We also saw verified reports of Macedonian troll farms employing disinformation artists working full time to corrupt the flow of factual information from reputable sources to the screens and eyeballs of would-be voters.

I posted last year about the telos of fake news, and danah boyd, Founder and President of Data & Society has taken note as well. According to DataSociety.net, the organization is a nonprofit “research institute that advances public understanding of the social implications of data-centric technologies and automation.” In April 2019, boyd gave a talk at the Digital Public Library of America conference in which she enumerated the vulnerabilities of social media and the news media. She discussed concerns over “data voids” and both sides-ism, and she presented a clear case regarding the dangers of epistemological fragmentation that emerge when knowledge (or its absence) is weaponized. All this is to say that the trouble is twofold: while trust in the information economy has gradually eroded on the one hand, our ability as individuals to sift through and make sense of the onslaught of dis/information has simultaneously become an increasingly difficult and rarely-exercised skill.

In light of this rather bleak state of affairs, I propose the adoption of the following model: a Standard Method of Philosophical Inquiry. It is my belief that if we arm ourselves with a more robust framework for discussing, debating, deciphering, and deconstructing today’s never ending waterfall of digitally distributed information, we might have a better shot at coming to a higher number of valid conclusions about the world. Indeed, this is the very purpose of philosophy in its most pragmatic sense: to make our ideas clear, not to muddy the waters.

Standard Method of Philosophical Inquiry

  1. Define the domain
  2. Explore the domain
  3. Initialize the argument
  4. Engage via proper inquiry and argumentation with style

1. Define the domain: What are we talking about?

This is your first opportunity to state what it is you’ll be talking, writing, or arguing about. More generally and in short, simply (but precisely) state the topic. In addition, be sure to inform your reader or audience of what will not be part of the discussion. This is called restricting the scope. Another important step in defining the domain is “bracketing,” which is a term used in philosophy to set aside special cases. These special cases are technically part of the domain of inquiry, but due to a number of factors specific to each case, they don’t fit neatly within the path of discourse that will be followed as the inquiry progresses.

As an example, we may want to set the stage for a philosophical inquiry concerning the nature of consciousness. We may state, while defining the domain, that we will be concerned with differing states of consciousness such as sleeping and waking states, but that this particular inquiry will not be concerned with what are known as “out-of-body experiences.” Thus, the domain of our philosophical inquiry is defined as one concerning the nature of consciousness as restricted to sleeping and waking states, but bracketing (or setting aside) out-of-body experiences for consideration at another time.

The goal of defining the domain and restricting its scope is simply to narrow down the range of possible inquiries from an infinite set of topics or questions to a single clearly defined area of interest. The goal of bracketing is to make further progress by clarifying which possible points of contention within that area of interest are up for grabs, versus which ones we will reserve our judgment for at another time. There are a number of good reasons to bracket special cases within any given domain, including that they fall outside one’s expertise or individual knowledge, or because they’re problems that are too easily solved and consensus is already assumed, or even because they are simply too boring to discuss at this time.

In the example given here, out-of-body experiences are bracketed because although understanding their intricacies might be useful for understanding the nature of consciousness as a whole, these experiences are brought about by a number of various factors (e.g. meditation, intoxication, near-death experiences, etc.) which are necessary to be discussed in detail individually and in their own context. Out-of-body experiences are certainly within the domain as defined, but to include them in the broader discussion would only serve to slow down or hijack the inquiry as a whole.

2. Exploring the domain: What have others said?

Exploring the domain can be half the fun of the entire philosophical inquiry. In the previous step of the inquiry we defined the domain to say what it is we’ll be talking about. In this step, what we present our readers or audience with are the ideas and arguments of others working within this domain. A thorough explanation includes defining technical terms often encountered within the domain, as well as explanations of common themes or theories espoused by those working within the domain.

Taking again the example domain of the nature of consciousness, here we might explore the mind-body problem, or we might explain what philosophers of mind refer to as the hard problem of consciousness. It might also be useful in this exploration to define terms such as intentionality or qualia. These are terms and ideas that our argument might intersect with or rely upon at various points within the broader inquiry, but unless we establish a foundational understanding of them first, our argument will be less coherent to our reader or audience, and the philosophical inquiry as a whole will be less fruitful.

Exploring the domain is also an opportunity to discuss specific works by other thinkers within the domain as a way of providing necessary context for the remainder of inquiry. In cases where we plan to argue in opposition to a particular theory or thinker, this is the appropriate place to introduce the argument we intend to oppose. For example, we might provide a description of Daniel Dennett’s view of Physicalism or his definition of “wetware,” or we may choose to present an overview of his characterization of the mind-body problem by paraphrasing his use of the well-known brain-in-a-vat thought experiment.

In any case, thoroughly exploring the domain also serves to establish one’s own credibility on the topic, and to illustrate one’s standing as a reputable (or at the very least informed) individual, whose opinions, beliefs, research, and conclusions ought to be taken seriously.

3. Initialize the argument: Where will I dive in?

Initialization is a term I’ve taken from computer programming. In the sequential process of running a program, initialization is the assignment of all variables to their original state. It is an essential step to running the program because it determines the resulting features or outcomes that follow as the program runs. If you imagine the domain as an Olympic-sized swimming pool, initializing an argument takes place the moment you step onto the diving board. It is the moment of truth before diving in, where everything is laid bare prior to fully progressing one’s own argument or viewpoint.

To initialize an argument, begin by acknowledging any presumptions you’ve made in order to support the argument you intend to progress. Some presumptions are easily conceded and generally agreed to be true, while others might merit entire philosophical inquiries of their own in order to establish their validity. The key here is to remember that presumptions underly an argument, but they aren’t necessarily part of the argument itself. For example, you might present a white paper from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as part of your argument that wide-scale anthropogenic climate change is occurring due to the increased presence of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. Your presumption here is that the IPCC is a reliable source of climate data, and I would agree. This is a clear example of one type of presumption we make hundreds of times a day, often without a second thought: the presumption of a source’s reliability.

Next, you’ll want to explicitly state any attitudinal stances or biases you bring with you as an agent with a subjective point of view. Let’s deconstruct the term attitudinal stance, which is common in philosophy. Simply put, it is a sort of theoretical attitude, belief set, or state of mind about a specific topic that informs one’s opinion about a topic and in turn affects one’s interpretation or judgement of that topic. For example, you might have an attitudinal stance about Biblical reasoning, namely that it isn’t a valid basis upon which to form rational conclusions. Or, you might have an attitudinal stance about art, namely that it is a uniquely human endeavor that occurs at the intersection of creativity and spontaneity.

Acknowledging the former stance as part of initialization would have a drastic effect on the trajectory of an argument addressing the origins of our species. Likewise, stating an adherence to the latter stance would affect the trajectory of an argument addressing the moral status of non-humans, which by virtue of one’s stated attitude automatically precludes animals from being capable of producing art.

Finally, it’s always good form to acknowledge one’s own blindspots and potential conflicts of interest before progressing an argument. For example, if you intend to discuss the nature of consciousness, you would do well to distinguish yourself as a philosopher rather than a neuroscientist or psychologist. Each field boasts a number of strengths not shared by its counterparts, as well as a number of shortfalls. Additionally, when discussing the current opioid epidemic in America, it would be relevant to know if your viewpoint is informed by your experience as a member of the governing board of a pharmaceutical company versus your experience as a parent of a child whose life was lost as a result of addiction.

4. Engage via proper inquiry and argumentation with style: What do I have to contribute?

The fourth and final step of the Standard Method is where much of what everyday people associate with philosophy takes place. It is here that you finally present your own argument and engage directly with the ideas of others previously explored in the inquiry. In order to meaningfully engage with the domain of inquiry, we must take time to challenge any shaky propositions presented by other thinkers, clarify the meanings of words or concepts that have previously been accepted with little examination, and identify any logical fallacies that have been overlooked prior to our own inquiry into the domain. This is what is meant by proper inquiry.

There are many ways to formulate a skillfully crafted argument, but the minimum standard against which all philosophical arguments are judged is validity. An argument is valid if and only if it is impossible for the conclusion to be false while its premises are all true. In other words, if the premises of your argument are all simultaneously true, the conclusion must necessarily follow. In the context of philosophy, testing for validity sets the bar much higher than a simple “that makes sense.” This is what is meant by proper argumentation.

However, proper inquiry combined with proper argumentation is still not enough. As a final cherry on top, we must inquire and argue with style. We accomplish this through strict adherence to discourse ethics of high standards. This means that we elevate the discourse through deference for others working within the domain, and by honoring intellectual diversity as long as it’s authentically and respectfully expressed. We ask follow-up questions in good faith, and we offer a charitable reading of opposing viewpoints. We utilize humor tactically, deploy irony where appropriate, and we acknowledge our own human foibles as a way of constructing a bullet-proof ethos that even Ayn Rand would envy.

What is Animals Taking Over?

Crossposted from AnimalsTakingOver.com

When I began writing Animals Taking Over in 2013, my primary goal was simply to improve my own skills as a writer. After years of watching programs like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report and reading The Onion, it became clear to me that the mainstream media and The News is utter nonsense.

As is the case with so many monolithic industries, the News is a mass-produced, monetized commodity, often disseminated with the obvious goal of manipulating the audience rather than informing or educating. I see no real value in the production of such banal drivel other than to sedate the audience, to instill fear of The Other, or to make an appeal to the audience’s confirmation bias.

The Conan O’Brien Show, for example, has a long history of lampooning the News via its Local News Roundup segment. Pause for a moment here to view “Is it time for Dogs to have a Social Network of their Own?”

The writing underlying the News is weak, lazy, and predictable. In its embarrassing present state, the News more closely resembles MadLibs than true journalism. After analyzing only a handful of stories and deconstructing “the formula,” it becomes clear that anyone with half a brain and a touch of moxie can write in the style of News.

I began my project by reblogging amusing posts of animals that made their way to my tumblr dashboard, and at first I saw little need for commentary. But soon I found the exercise to be even more rewarding as I intentionally sought to incorporate humor as a vehicle to spark conversation about truth, fake news, and the relationship between humans and animals.

I conceived of a world where Humans and Non-Human Animals (NHAs) existed in a perpetual state of war that for political reasons was referred to only as “the continuing conflict.” This was a world counterfactual to our own, where humans dominated animals in every conceivable way, from the use of force to the dissemination of propaganda that served to reify the Conflict and homosapien hegemony.

I was Vegan when I started ATO, and the consumption of animal products has made its way back into my life since then. However, I still very much care about animals and find the ways humans exploit them to be abhorrent and morally repugnant. It’s an ongoing atrocity in which I fully admit to now finding myself complicit.

Considerable strides in Animal Welfare have been made over the years, but one need only consider the intrepid photography of Jo-Anne McArthur’s We Animals series to rediscover the horrific realities of modern NHA genocide and industrial scale exploitation, or the disturbing truths behind the work of investigative journalist Will Potter’s Green is the New Red to confirm that indeed there is a true interspecies war at play.

My view about the Animals has evolved over time from one closely aligned with thinkers such as Benthem, Francione, and Torres, to one more along the lines of Kymlicka and Donaldson. Even now as a non-vegan I find the idea of a utopic Zoopolis to be the most realistic and achievable, for it is a view that seeks to fully recognize Humans and Non-Human Animals for what they are–nothing more and nothing less. A truly modern Zoopolis is one that acknowledges the duties and responsibilities that Humans have for Non-Human Animals.

Enter the absurd. From the post-WWII French philosophers, writers, and artists (see Beckett, Camus, Sartre) we learned to deploy the absurd as a theater for examining and clarifying our own views about the world and ourselves. It is a space that forces us to define the necessary and sufficient conditions underwhich our values are founded.

When I speak of Animal Rights, it should be obvious that I am not implying Canines should be afforded the right to drive cars and operate heavy machinery, or that Felines should become fashion moguls, or that Goats secretly control the world’s monetary system. This is absurd.

Instead, I utilize the Absurd to implicitly argue that these species are just as entitled to live in peace and safety as our own and that the well-being of our planet depends on interspecies coexistence, rather than continuing conflict. In the long-term, homosapiens will face a reckoning for the unjust treatment perpetuated upon our planet and our fellow Earthlings.

Whether it be the loss of vital ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef through our over-consumption and environmental neglect, the annihilation of the Great Cats of Africa for sport, or the mass extinction of autonomous Bird Tribes as their migratory paths are disrupted, there is only one known species on this planet who will shoulder the blame: the human animal.

If we fail to expand our understanding of inclusion within the moral community, and continue our path of species-interest and planetary dominance, we will see our own destruction, as well as the elimination of the full majesty that is Nature.

It is my belief that our species, exalted for millennia as the rational animal, is unique in that we are the sole species that can be expected to fulfil duties not only to those we recognize as our own, but also to those who are clearly different from us. This applies to lines of race, religion, gender, sexuality, and yes, even species. I’m no Christian, but I do not jest when I assert that truly the Animals are the least of these among us Earthlings, and we will be judged for what we have done unto them (Matthew 25:40). For they are here with us, not for us.

The emerging science of Cognitive Ethology has taught us through observation and reproducible experimentation that Non-Human Animals are like us in every. way. that. matters. Yes, capability varies from species to species, but as a whole, the Animals form family units, they feel complex emotions such as fear and joy, they create art, they mourn the loss of loved ones, they go insane when isolated from their tribes, they recognize one another, they internalize trauma, they express devotion to beings beyond the borders of their own species.

As the Animal liberationist and intellectual Steven Best so eloquently expounded in his 2012 talk at the Sapienza University of Rome:

“They are sentient beings like we are. Because we are Animals too. And because everything we have, every moral capacity, every capacity to think, we got from the Animals through an evolutionary continuum. And of course we are different from animals: No, they can’t build space ships. No, they don’t do Algebra. No, they don’t write Romantic poetry like Shelley. Goddamnit can you swim like a whale? Can you fly like an eagle? Can you hear like a bat? Are you as beautiful as a cat? Do you smell as good as a cat? To single out Reason as the criteria for the moral universe and for who gets rights and who doesn’t, and who belongs in the community and who doesn’t…It’s absolutely absurd and arbitrary!”

I never expected anyone to take notice of Animals Taking Over, nor could I have predicted the prominent role that Fake News™ would play in our very real political moment of Donald Trump’s presidency. But this is where we find ourselves: Unable to believe that which is seen, unable to hope for truth in what we think is real, and ill-equipped to forge a path forward toward epistemic authenticity.

Where we go from here, I cannot guess. What I do know is that there are boots on the ground doing real work to end the continuing conflict between Humans and Non-Human Animals. The Nonhuman Rights Project is an example of a Real ™ group of Human activists, scholars, lawyers, and freedom fighters working to secure real protections for real NHAs.

The Nonhuman Rights Project is the only civil rights organization in the United States working through litigation, public policy advocacy, and education to secure legally recognized fundamental rights for nonhuman animals.

I urge you to look into the Nonhuman Rights Project and consider donating to support their important work to end our war with the Animals, and to create a lasting, more inclusive and expansive circle of belonging within the moral community (Francione, Warren).

Till we meet again, adieu.

Joshua E. Judd

05 March 2018

In Search of Meaning: Viktor Frankl and Logotherapy

Mans Search for Meaning
Man’s Search for Meaning

Last week I read Viktor Frankl’s 1946 autobiographical and philosophical work, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” At only 165 pages, it’s a relatively short book full of profoundly deep insights. Frankl’s objective is to answer the question “How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?” He achieves this first by recounting his experiences as a prisoner in four different camps during WWII, then by providing an overview of the psychotherapeutic approach he developed during that time, called logotherapy.

Part I, “Experiences in a Concentration Camp,” is expectantly rich with examples of the unimaginable cruelty humans are capable of inflicting upon one another. What I didn’t expect were the numerous beautiful accounts of the great dignity and courage humans are capable of living with, even under conditions of extreme duress and ever-present threats to their mortality. The book is masterfully balanced in exploring both the terror of the camp, and the stalwart strength of the prisoners. In one particularly poignant scene in which Frankl longs to be reunited with his wife, he exclaims, “Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death.”

It’s this balance of exploration that gives way to one of the great insights found in the book. Numerous examples are provided throughout, reminding us that so often when examining the fallout of WWII, we focus primarily on the evils humans brought upon one another (and there were many). But in our haste to shed light on the darkness of the Holocaust, we sometimes fail to recognize the sea of flickering lights on the horizon, each a shining example of human survival, resistance, and resilience. In Frankl’s words, “After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”

Part II, “Logotherapy in a Nutshell,” is Frankl’s condensed treatise and explanation of his unique approach to treating psychological neurosis. As he explains, “Logotherapy regards its assignment as that of assisting the patient to find meaning in his life.” Drawing from his own lived experiences over the course of WWII to develop his thesis, Frankl’s approach in practice is as much applied Philosophy as it is psychotherapy, for “it does not restrict its activity to instinctual facts within the individual’s unconscious but also cares for existential realities, such as the potential meaning of his existence to be fulfilled as well as his will to meaning.”

Logotherapy turns the cliche notion of asking “What is the meaning of life?” on its head. It is our task, Frankl claims, to instead find meaning in answering for ourselves the questions that life asks of us. And where does one find meaning? According to Frankl’s thesis, there are three possibilities: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), or in courage during difficult times.

Viktor Frankl, 1949.
Viktor Frankl, 1949.

Frankl’s belief was that neurosis isn’t necessarily pathological, but in many cases is caused by “existential frustration,” which is a kind of distress stemming from an inability to actualize one’s will to meaning. In other words, when one’s effort to find meaning in work, love, or suffering is stymied, existential angst develops, often presenting in the form of neurosis.

One example Frankl gives to illuminate his point is that of “Sunday neurosis:” a type of “depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.” It is this existential vacuum (a state of excessive cognitive boredom) where the existential frustration takes hold of an individual and side-tracks their will to meaning. Discontent emerges, and any effort at achieving meaningful existence is usurped by lesser forces: the will to power, the will to money, or the will to pleasure. But all is not lost, for Frankl reminds us that “one of the main features of human existence is the capacity to rise above such conditions, to grow beyond them.”

For one trapped in this severe state of internal self-desolation, there is but one remedy: what Frankl refers to as the “self-transcendence of human existence.” A process which is much more easily described than done, self-transcendence differs from self-actualization in that it is a side-effect of right action, rather than an attainable end in itself. In other words, self-transcendence, like happiness and success, is something that must ensue, rather than be pursued.

Self-transcendence can ensue as the result of a number of different actions. From changing one’s perspective in order to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to changing one’s self internally when it’s no longer an option to change a situation itself, and even to show one’s courage in suffering through the outward expression of angst in the form of tears, self-transcendence is Frankl’s solution to life’s inherent meaninglessness. It is the key to his “tragic optimism,” which proclaims through the words of Nietzsche that even in the worst conditions, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Click List

Lying Psychologizers

FTA 10 Easy Ways to Recognize Liars:

People lie all the time, but depending on how skilled they are, it can be difficult to determine when someone is lying to you. Do you know how to recognize the signs that someone is lying to you? Some of the signs are obvious while others are more subliminal, but there are ways to catch someone…

This article is a great example of how shallow interpretations of individual behavior have been used to solidify Psychology as a legitimate science in order to debase the integrity of rationally minded beings. It in no way takes into account the very real ways people differentiate between true and false claims on a philosophical level within their minds. It attempts to privilege certain natural, involuntary biological responses to potentially high-pressure social situations over other more socially rewarded behaviors. The article endorses this method as a means by which to ascertain truth without examining the legitimacy of any actual claims. This methodology is akin to the practice of “auditing” seen in the church of Scientology.

A far better way of differentiating liars from truth tellers is to employ the Socratic method. That is, ask questions in an objective manner such that one can accurately conclude whether the claims made by a peer carry any logical weight.

It is appealing to believe one can divine the truth simply by following a Buzzfeed-worthy list of fallacious advice, but the truth is often much more complicated. But then again, I failed to use a contraction in the previous sentence, so I’m most likely lying and should not be trusted.

See also:

Armed with a smattering, not of knowledge, but of undigested slogans, they rush, unsolicited, to diagnose the problems of their friends and acquaintances. Pretentiousness and presumptuousness are the psychologizer’s invariable characteristics: he not merely invades the privacy of his victims’ minds, he claims to understand their minds better than they do, to know more than they do about their own motives. With reckless irresponsibility, which an old-fashioned mystic oracle would hesitate to match, he ascribes to his victims any motivation that suits his purpose, ignoring their denials. Since he is dealing with the great “unknowable”—which used to be life after death or extrasensory perception, but is now man’s subconscious—all rules of evidence, logic and proof are suspended, and anything goes (which is what attracts him to his racket).

Subject of a Straw Man

When engaged in a dialogue, it’s important to avoid the use of logical fallacies. It can be easy to rely on a logical fallacy as a shortcut for arriving at a seemingly well-reasoned conclusion, especially if your opponent doesn’t realize what you’re trying to pull.

However, proper Philosophy—the practice of argumentation with style—does not permit such sophistry. Flagrant and intentional use of logical fallacies is a key indication of a disregard for normative discourse ethics, which are paramount to the success of any dialogue worth your participation.

Always remember that an argument is valid if and only if (iff) it is impossible for the premises to be true while the conclusion is false.

One common logical fallacy is the straw man. According to Wikipedia, the Fountainhead of Knowledge:

straw man, also known in the UK as an Aunt Sally, is a common type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the “straw man”), and to refute it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

In other words, a straw man can be used to “win” arguments by arguing against something other than the actual position an opponent is progressing. You may be interested to read more about the structure of a straw man argument here.

Do yourself and those you hold in high rhetorical regard a favor: avoid the straw man. Work hard to craft robust and original arguments of your own that are true to both the positions of you and of your opponents. That way, when you win an argument it will be through sound logic and impeccable style, not through slight of hand or smoke and mirrors.

Discourse Communities

it’s your choice, what you believe.
it’s my choice, what i believe.
and
we don’t have a right to each other’s choices or beliefs.

decolonization iii, nayyirah waheed (via nayyirahwaheed)

fuckyeahlogical:

Except if we’re part of an epistemic community. In an epistemic community we might not share most of our beliefs, or even acknowledge the same methods, but we have a common goal, such as truth (it doesn’t have to be true, a substitute goal —such as rational assertability— will do) and we want to pursue it together. Since we both share this goal, I want to hear your critical opinion, especially when you think I might be going astray (since I don’t want to believe false things, or to acquire beliefs using unreliable methods). In order for this community to work we have to act upon certain duties. If I say a statement, and somebody doubts it, I (ordinarily) have a duty to answer her questions.

However, I’m not saying any two (or more) persons have to be part of an epistemic community. Two persons that are part of the same country or even the same village need not be part of the same epistemic community (liars, opresors, etc, do not share my epistemic goals, or even if they do, they do not want to pursue them with me, they only want to exploit me).

However, for the rest of cases, even if we don’t have a right to each other beliefs, whenever we are part of a community of inquirers we do have a duty.

(via fuckyeahlogical)

The idea of epistemic communities is interesting, but I think discourse communities are more useful. They’re similar concepts, but rather than sharing epistemic methodologies they share a set of discourse ethics.

This means that although we may come to different conclusions about any number of things, we share a common way of expressing our beliefs and in engaging others through that expression. We have shared values about what’s on the table for criticism, and what’s not, as well as how to best go about expressing that criticism. We agree to a shared communicative method, that when practiced, honors intellectual diversity as long as it’s authentically and respectfully expressed.

In other words, members of a discourse community attempt to progress sound logos via the expression of shared ethos. It is literally the practice of argumentation with style.

Members of an epistemic community share a methodology for discovering truth or creating knowledge. Members of a discourse community share a methodology for engaging in a dialogue that includes valuing the use of disparate epistemic methods.

Emergent Virtual Constructs

The term virtual construct is used here to denote a non-physical, digital, artificial form; the interaction with which is made possible through a human/machine interface. The term software is often used to refer to virtual constructs, but in many cases proves to be of limited use. Indeed, software can be classified as virtually constructed, but the term loses much of its significance when referring to emergent virtual constructs, whose properties are difficult to pinpoint, as they extend far beyond the boundaries of the software used to create, modify, and interact with them.

There are two types of virtual constructs: discrete and emergent.

  • Discrete Virtual Constructs (DVCs)

The majority of software applications shipped today can be classified as discrete virtual constructs. Generally “feature complete” with all necessary resources contained within the application itself, examples of discrete virtual constructs include word processors, image editors, calculation engines, and even some single- and multi-player video games. Software developers may periodically issue updates to DVCs that add features or improve stability, but DVCs overall lack the ever-evolving natures of their emergent cousins.

Discrete Virtual Constructs live locally on the hard disks upon which they are installed, and carry out a user’s commands by taking advantage of the local machine’s computational resources. They may include a limited feature set requiring network access, but these are not the DVC’s defining characteristics. Most DVCs would be able to carry out their intended functions without ever connecting to the internet.

  • The Nature of Emergent Virtual Constructs (EVCs)

Virtual constructs are metaphysically unique forms in that in some sense they are otherworldly. Unlike spirits, gods, and other supernatural phenomena, virtual constructs surely exist as part of the material world, but we don’t interact with them or through them as such. Not only do virtual constructs physically appear to exist nowhere in particular, but they also have the ability to exist in more than one place at a time. They can be accessed on every desktop computer and smartphone simultaneously, yet the absence of their presence on any one of these devices in no way affects the existence of the construct as a whole. The existential nature of virtual constructs is as complex and contradictory as that of the now defunct conception of an omnipresent god-like being.

Where does a construct like Twitter or a virtual world like Minecraft exist? It can be said with certainty that they do exist, but where are they? They span vast distances, occupying disk space on servers across the world; servers that can be geographically located and physically accessed, but in no way can one point to a set of atoms and say “That is Twitter,” or “Here is Minecraft.”

Indeed, one could theoretically collect the entire complement of servers upon which every instance of World of Warcraft is stored, but even then it would be absurd to refer to an array of rack-mounted servers and claim “That is World of Warcraft.”

This is because a reductionist approach to the explanation and identification of emergent systems is absurd. For this is the very idea of emergence: that properties metaphysically necessary to the system as a whole are not, and cannot, be found in the system’s constituent parts.  Emergent virtual constructs cannot be understood by studying the interactions of particles at the atomic level of a hard disk. Nor do these constructs begin to take shape or show characteristics uniquely identifiable as virtually constructed until level upon level of complexity is added to the system.

Recall now the concept of the me in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (257). In his search to understand the ancient Sumerian civilization, the novel’s hero, Hiro Protagonist, searches long-forgotten recesses of the Central Intelligence Corporation’s archives. In a conversation with the Librarian, a virtual research assistant which is itself an example of an EVC, we gain valuable insight into how emergent properties within virtual constructs can mimic those within a civilization:

HIRO: “Execution? Like executing a computer program?”

LIBRARIAN: “Yes. Apparently, they are like algorithms for carrying out certain activities essential to the society. Some of them have to do with the workings of priesthood and kingship. Some explain how to carry out religious ceremonies. Some relate to the arts of war and diplomacy. Many of them are about the arts and crafts: music, carpentry, smithing, tanning, building, farming, even such simple tasks as lighting fires.”

HIRO: “The operating system of society.”

LIBRARIAN: “I’m sorry?”

HIRO: “When you first turn on a computer, it is an inert collection of circuits that can’t really do anything. To start up the machine, you have to infuse those circuits with a collection of rules that tell it how to function. How to be a computer. It sounds as if these me served as the operating system of the society, organizing an inert collection of people into a functioning system.”

Here, the Librarian has identified the me as an emergent property of civilization, and Hiro likens it to the role an operating system plays in the overall functioning of a computer. Emergence is manifest in the society through the me, and in computers through the OS.

The me–the operating system of society–is metaphysically essential to the civilization, but it cannot be identified within any constituent part of the civilization. Without the me the civilization would cease to be. Buildings, roads, people, etc. would remain, but without the governing, life-giving force of the me, the civilization would crumble, and what would be left would be something quite different. Further, the me cannot be created nor destroyed simply by adding or removing those constituent parts. Made manifest only when the entire system works together in harmony, this emergent property, the me, is the lifeblood of the civilization. Found everywhere is evidence of its existence, yet nowhere can the property itself be isolated and identified.

Just as Hiro Protagonist interacts with and utilizes emergent virtual constructs as tools to combat the rapidly spreading virus Snow Crash, we too now live in a world of EVCs that empower us to accomplish epic feats once found only within the pages of fiction.

  • The Classes of Emergent Virtual Constructs

As opposed to the static nature of DVCs, EVCs exist in a dynamic state of agile development and constant growth. Emergent virtual constructs are defined as virtual constructs containing the property of emergence, which is manifest today in four classes of EVC.

Examples of Emergent Virtual Constructs include:

  • global social networks that empower personified thought leaders to propagate individualized epistemologies
  • expansive virtual worlds capable of single- and massively multi-player gameplay enabling the creation of virtual economies and diverse learning and/or social environments
  • software employing extensive use of cloud-based computational resources and artificial intelligence
  • vastly distributed, democratized, and collaborative knowledge projects

The rapidly increasing significance of emergent virtual constructs on our daily lives and their impact on the future progress of civilization is the defining force of the New Era of Tech.

Until next time, I hope to hear from you. Goodbye.

Joshua