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Pragmatic Philosophy, Verification, and Research Quality

1. The Revolution of Modern Philosophy

1.1 Most of the history of philosophy has been strongly associated with theology and metaphysics; allinvolve making universal claims about the nature of reality with the traditional classification in Aristotle consisting of ontology (the study of being and existence), theology (the study of the Gods, the existence of the divine, creation, etc), and logic. But much of metaphysics came under criticism with modernity; David Hume argued that much was merely "sophistry and illusion". Many metaphysical questions - considered important for hundreds of years - were considered unprovable, especially following Kant's limits to knowledge.

1.2 In the late 19th century there were the first rumblings of a major revolution in philosophy; American pragmatism (pragma - deed, act from prasso, "to achieve). Consider Peirce's axiom "Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object." (Popular Science Monthly, v12, 1878). It is a philosophy that make propositions which work, with derivations from empiricism and utilitarianism; it links practice and theory. Initial advocates includes William James, (The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902, Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, 1907), John Dewey (Democracy and Education, 1916, Knowing and the Known, 1949), George Herbert Mead (Mind, Self, and Society, 1934). William James encapsulated the pragmatists opposition to metaphysical speculations with the remark: "If no practical difference whatever can be traced, then the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle."

Why Heresies Fail

As we know the word "heretic" derives from the Greek hairesis (hah'-ee-res-is), meaning choice. But not just any choice although we may refer, often in humour, to a person who does not conform to any established attitude or principles or even styles and tastes as a "heretic". That is not the sort of heresy that makes up today's discussion and nor does it constitute a 'heresy' in the historically understood meaning of the term. A real heresy, religious or political, is a position that challenges an existing totalising system, not just on matters of doctrine, but also its authority.

Is Islamic Jihad Comparable to Buddhist Mindfulness?

"Mindfulness" (Pali: sati) is the attentive awareness of reality, especially in the present moment and as "right mindfulness" (Pali: samma-sati) is part of the Noble Eightfold Path, the principle teachings for achieving the end of suffering. As a practise, this awareness is expressed as a calm study of feelings, objects of thought and perception, and the act of thinking (a type of meta-cognition). It is argued that "[a] key innovative teaching of the Buddha was that meditative stabilisation must be combined with liberating discernment." [1]

The Damage and Repair of Misattributions

Albert Einstein
Misattributions are unfortunately commonplace. However their prevalence should be not be an excuse to let them go unchallenged. In a public sense, a misattribution can harm the reputation of a speaker as defamation (typically libel in the written form, slander in the spoken). In a political sense, misattributions are used to improve or denigrate organisations, policy proposals, etc. on the basis of an appeal to authority; in this case, the damage isn't limited to an individual, but rather to the capacity of the society as a whole to make rational decisions. Academics typically have very little tolerance for misattributions, seeing it as a type of falsification of data, and all that follows. Perhaps one of the best collections is the highly recommended They Never Said It : A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions, was compiled by Paul F. Boller Jr. (Emeritus Professor of History Texas Christian University, Oklahoma), and John George Jr. (Professor of Political Science and Sociology Central State University) and was published by Oxford University in 1989.

With the advent of social media the capacity to distribute such falsehoods is, of course, amplified. The combination of a general sense of information overload plus an enhanced capacity in distribution provides opportunities for an enticing quote (subject to confirmation bias), added to a pleasing image, along with superficial "voting" methods (such as Facebook's "like" button or Google's "+1") and capacity to "share". As a recent example, a friend added a picture of Albert Einstein with the quote: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left." Now being slightly familiar with the works Einstein, it just didn't sound like him. Call that a hunch; a subsequent google search reveals over three million references to the quote. But how accurate is it?

The Contribution of Unitarian-Universalists to Isocracy

Initially I felt some unease when approached to present today's address on 'isocracy'. I do not particularly care for presentations here which are solely dedicated to political issues that do not refer to our liberal religious tradition, least of all by members of the church. If I want strictly social and political discussion there are these organisations called "political parties" where one's contributions are far more useful and effective.

Notes From: Towards a Transformation of Philosophy

Karl-Otto Apel (trans. Glyn Adey, David Frisby), Towards a Transformation of Philosophy, Routledge and Kegal Paul, 1980 [FP 1972, 1973]


Apel's collection of essays is to reconstruct philosophy in such a manner that combines the insights of ordinary language philosophy, thus dispensing of metaphysics, but extending it to incorporate pragmatics, resulting what he calls...

"the programme of transcendental pragmatics" pix

Chapter 1: Wiggenstein and the problem of hermeneutic understanding p1-45

The Importance of A Secular Political System

Presentation to the Melbourne Atheist Society, November 14, 2012

It is appropriate, given a recent interest in the affairs of the United States of America to refer to some writings of early political leaders of that country, and compare them with words from some of their contemporary leaders. For the latter are very well known. They have been raised to prominence in the world media in the most recent weeks. For it is in the political system that the distinction between the secular and theocratic have the greatest practical importance. The state, and all its subsystems, are what makes up so much of our lives in a direct and visceral manner, and highly influences our environment and habits. Many atheists obvious enjoy picking on what they consider to be the comically irrational among metaphysical theists of all shades - "Fundies Say The Darnest Things" certainly makes for entertaining reading. Sometimes however there is anger; Richard Dawkins, for example, argued that we should take astrology seriously as "a wicked fraud". To be sure, there are an unfortunate few who take it seriously, but through perception, expectation, and motivation these can even have a positive placebo effect - the same can be said about various forms of ritual and prayer, psychoanalysis, and so forth. Likewise we can also find a great deal of value in the inquiry of metaphysics where it is intellectually challenging; the debate between the atheist, the gnostic, the pantheist, the panentheist, the deist, various forms of personal theism, the antitheist, the questions of immanence and effability, and so forth. Sometimes however people become very angry at these discussions - at which point a dose of apatheism, a practical lack of pathology on theological issues question, is suggested. When Denis Diderot was accused of being an atheist, he responded with indifference: "It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley; but not at all so to believe or not in God."

Utopian Tragedies : Cautionary Tales for the Philosophy of Politics

Presentation to the Melbourne Unitarian Philosophy Forum, Sunday 4th November, 2012

1.0 Politics and Philosophy
1.1 A definition of the relationship is the contribution of political theory (the management of the polis, the community of people) to philosophy (ontology, epistemology, logic) and the application of philosophy to political theory. Political theory is the point of intersection between politics and philosophy.
1.2 As a pragmatic complex political theory must account for individual behaviour towards the social world (i.e., moral reasoning), the systematic considerations of institutional effectiveness and efficiency, and where these positive claims meet normative claims in law. As an applied knowledge, political philosophy will review questions of liberty, property rights, and legitimacy.

Is Anybody Out There? Little Green Men and the Fermi Paradox

The Christian holiday of Christmas is a story which has several supernatural miracles which nearly here should find improbable, if not impossible. But many years ago, when I barely an adolescent, I had a discussion with a much older adult of a fundamentalist Christian religious persuasion. They were most distraught with a newspaper report at the time which stated that most high-school students thought that the alleged miraculous conception of Jesus, the appearance of angels and the ascension to the heavens could be explained by alien visitation.

Leonard Felder: The Ten Challenges (The First Challenge)

The attempted reconstruction of the absolute dictates commonly associated as the Ten Commandments to procedurally based orientations as the Ten Challenges begins with "a request from God whether we believe in and want to be partners with the Infinite One". Immediately Felder establishes a dichotomy between the "skeptical" Freud, drawing from a rather bombastic quote from "The Future of An Illusion" and the "curious" Jung and James. It is a rather unfair start as Freud updated his thoughts on the matter a few years later in "Civilization and Its Discontents", especially with an exploration of the 'oceanic feeling'. Although he considered it resulting from an infantile pre-ego experiences, he accepted its existence and potentially its value (he claimed that he had no experience of it himself).


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