Archive | July, 2011

Cover Story

The Civil Wars cover one of my favourite Leonard Cohen songs (indeed one of my favourite songs of all time):

Lissie covers Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”:

Juliana Richer Daily (is that her real name or her financial ambition?) does likewise:

Lissie seems torn between wanting to make the song her own and wanting to imitate Gaga. Juliana is more successful at escaping Gaga’s orbit. Both good, though.

4/19/12 Addendum:

You can now see the Lissie video here.

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Alas, Babylon

J. Michael Straczynski just sent out the following rather disappointing email. (Well, I guess I can’t strictly say I’m disappointed, since I hadn’t known there was anything to get appointed about.)

Babylon 5 explodes a little

Last year, the studio offered a full season of a new and rebooted B5 as part of a new distribution venue they were creating (us and several other shows from the same studio were part of the same deal). We’d have a full season, a big budget, and total creative control. The negotiations (not between us but between the participants of the venue) dragged on for over a year, we were told repeatedly this is going to happen, but finally, the participants couldn’t make the math work. So we and the other three shows that they were hoping to put out there got set aside.

At this point, I’ve told the studio that if this isn’t going to move ahead, there’s something else they need to consider and there’s a very informal negotiation going on now in that regard. We’ll see where it goes from there.

But again, B5 was never created to be a Deep Space Franchise, we wanted to do our 5 years and get out clean. That was my intent going into this, and if that’s where this ends up, I’m happy to stick with that.

Any guesses what he means in paragraph 2?

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Kevin Carson Speaks!

Kevin Carson leading the Revolution from an undisclosed location

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Thompson will not speak to you tonight. His time is up. I have taken it over. You were to hear a report on the world crisis. That is what you are going to hear.

For twelve years, you have been asking: Who is Kevin Carson? This is Kevin Carson speaking.

I’ve been too busy Misesing to have a chance to listen to it yet. But here it is.

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The Cloister of Cognition

I’ve been talking epistemology with a student here at Mises U. this week, and at one point I wrote up a couple of pages for him. So I thought I’d share them with the rest of you:

I take your view to be as follows: that genuine knowledge includes a) awareness of our own subjective mental states, and b) the grasp of a priori conceptual truths like mathematics and praxeology, but not c) sensory perception and the judgments based thereon – and that the reason for this is that it’s possible for (c) to be mistaken while it’s not possible for (a) and (b) to be so, and that while it may be appropriate to believe things that could possibly be wrong, we shouldn’t claim to know them. And part of your reason for this latter claim is that treating beliefs that might be wrong as cases of knowledge is equivalent to deciding what knowledge is by randomly throwing darts at a dartboard.

So here are some of my objections (some of these I talked about yesterday, others not):


1. This is not how the word is used in ordinary language. In ordinary language, we regularly apply the word to fallible beliefs; and since use determines meaning, what we ordinarily mean by knowledge seems to be something that does not fit your criteria. So in effect you’re proposing to change the meaning of the word “knowledge, ” or you’re introducing some special philosophical sense of knowledge different from the ordinary one (call it Knowledge-with-a-capital-K). And then the question is why we should care about Knowledge-with-a-capital-K, as opposed to (what I’m tempted to call) real knowledge.

2. I suspect the attractiveness of Knowledge-with-a-capital-K depends in part on a couple of fallacies. One turns on the ambiguity of “if I know something, then I can’t be wrong about it. ” That’s true if it’s read as “NEC:(If I know that p, then I am not wrong about whether p)”; but there’s a tendency to shift illicitly from this claim to the stronger claim “If I know that p, then NEC:(I am not wrong about whether p).” But the latter claim doesn’t follow. (This is called a confusion of necessitas consequentiæ and necessitas consequentis.) The other fallacy is that of sliding from “If it’s infallible, then it’s certain” to “if it’s certain, then it’s infallible.” (That’s called affirming the consequent.)

3. The difference between a priori and empirical knowledge is not that the first is infallible and the second not. A priori knowledge is fallible too. After all, we can make mistakes in math, for example. I might be wrong in thinking that 32794 + 85649 = 118443; maybe I forgot to carry a 2 or something. The difference lies not in whether it’s fallible or not, but rather in what kinds of evidence are relevant to showing it to be wrong. Objections to empirical claims appeal to empirical evidence; objection to conceptual claims appeal to conceptual evidence.

A related mistake is that of confusing the necessity of the fact stated by a claim with the necessity of our being right about the claim. If it’s really true that 32794 + 85649 = 118443, then it is necessarily true that 32794 + 85649 = 118443; but likewise if it’s really true that F=G(m1m2/r2), then it’s also necessarily true that F=G(m1m2/r2), even though the former is a conceptual claim and the latter is empirical. But we could be wrong about either one.

4. The principle that we can only know things that can’t possibly be doubted doesn’t seem to pass its own test; that is, it seems possible to doubt (indeed I do doubt) that we can only know things that can’t possibly be doubted – so by its own standards that claim doesn’t count as knowledge.

You tear men down like G. E. Moore

5. The distinction between what we can know and what it’s appropriate for us to believe for practical purposes seems difficult to maintain. First, if I can’t know that there’s a table in front of me, then I can’t know that I have good practical reason to acts as though there’s a table in front of me either. Second, if a belief isn’t justified, then by definition we shouldn’t believe it; so there doesn’t seem to be room for a class of beliefs that are unjustified but that should be accepted for practical purposes. Third, it’s difficult to accept a belief and yet claim not to know it; “p, but I don’t know whether p” seems Moore-paradoxical.

6. I think your position makes sense-perception impossible. After all, if I look at a table and have a hallucination of a swan, my experience of the swan doesn’t count as my perceiving the table. Yet similarly, if I look at a table while simultaneously having a hallucination of a table, that doesn’t count as my perceiving the table either. But what if my sensory experience of a table is caused by the table; in that case is it now a genuine perception rather than a hallucination? On my view, sure; but I think your view requires you to say otherwise. For if you really think that a belief that’s only probably true is no better off, knowledge-wise, than throwing darts randomly at a dartboard, then I think you also have to say that as long as our experience of a table could be caused by something other than an actual table, then its status is equivalent to that of a hallucination even when, as chance has it, it’s caused by an actual table. And that means that we never make genuine cognitive contact with the world through perceptual experience at all; we’re always merely hallucinating, though some of our hallucinations are accidentally accurate. And as a result, all our knowledge of the world is hypothetical; we can know that if there are 2 + 2 bottles on the table, then there are four bottles on the table, but we cannot know whether there are actually any bottles on the table or indeed anywhere else.

the view from my head

I think what this view advocates then, is a kind of pathological alienation from the world. It means that you’ve never actually seen or touched a physical object; you’ve only theorised about them. Likewise you’ve never actually seen or touched another person; again, you’ve only theorised about them. The attitude your view seeks to inculcate has characteristics of mental illness.

More to the point, I think it’s incoherent. Here’s why. The ability to apply a concept (not exceptionlessly, but at least with reasonable reliability) is part of having the concept; we don’t count as having a concept unless we know how to apply it. After all, the process of acquiring a concept just is the process of learning to recognise and identify instances of it in our environment. But it’s an upshot of your view that we have no such ability to recognise and identify anything in our environment. But that would mean that we’d be unable not just to know but even to conceive of physical objects, or of minds other than our own; we’d be driven to solipsism.

For example, since we can identify agency only in our own case (I would claim we couldn’t even do that – since agency is a general concept its possession requires ability to apply it to more than one case – but never mind that for now), we can never apply the concept of interpersonal exchange, since that requires more than one agent. But that in turn would mean that we can’t even have the concept of interpersonal exchange thus, rendering praxeology impossible. (That’s what I meant in saying that we couldn’t even have praxeology unless our fallible empirical beliefs counted as knowledge.) Since in fact we do have the concept of interpersonal exchange, that shows that our ability to identify such exchanges is genuine even though it’s fallible. (Thus the skeptic’s inference from “you could be wrong in any particular case” to “you could be wrong in all cases simultaneously” doesn’t go through.)

A related point: you seem to accept uncritically the Humean empirical conception of perceptual experience. (Ditto for Hoppe when he says we can only perceive correlations and not causings.) The point of a Kantian approach is not to turn the realm of perception over to Hume but then retreat to a higher conceptual realm; rather it’s to claim that the perceptual realm is already conceptually ordered.

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