Saturday, March 04, 2006

Education Policy Proposal

After the stage at which children outgrow being taught the meanings of 'good', 'bad', 'right', 'wrong', etc. by ostension, there should no longer be any moral component to education. Instead, upon entering school, children should be taught the means to answer the question, "What are the epistemic obligations entailed by my beliefs?" Methodologically, it isn't difficult: take an inventory of your beliefs, and then simply determine what propositions bear a logical consequence relation to the conjunction of all the propositions contained in your beliefs; then simply stand in the propositional attitude of belief to whatever new propositions you discovered. As for practicality, one of the amazing discoveries of cognitive sciences is that everyone knows the rules of first order logic, it's just that people have to be taught the proper way to apply those rules. And that's so easy even a child could do it. The only hard part is the inventory taking; there should be a period or two every school week devoted to that ("Jimmy, what did I tell you about doing homework when you're supposed to be pondering!").

That way lies the path to a just society. Or the discovery that the natural orientation of humanity is towards cruelty and malice. But either way.


At 2:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your laissez-faire attitude towards morality is at once commendable and despicable, despicable because sloppy, commendable because of while obvious, overlooked.

it's just that people have to be taught to the proper way to apply those rules. And that's so easy even a child could do it.

Is there an extra to in that first sentence? And is the second sentence not contradicted by the entire history of man?

At 3:44 PM, Blogger Finnegan said...

Well you've got me dead to rights on the typo. But no, the second sentence isn't contradicted by the entire history of man. Show anybody, even a child, how modus ponens and modus tollens work, and they'll understand it instantly. There are studies on this, you know.

By the way, call me despicable if you want (I'm just working out an epistemology of Hume's obviously right theory of moral persuasion), but sloppy? Fuck off mate.

At 3:49 PM, Blogger Finnegan said...

Wait a second, I see; the wheels have come off the Gricean cart. I was saying that applying the rules of logic was easy enough for a child to do. You thought I meant that teaching people how to apply those rules is hard. Well, for somebody who understands them, it's only as hard as it is to teach anything else. But those are the sorts of lessons that are good to get really early.

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Nostradamus said...

I like how anonymous also has a typo in his critique! Ha!

At 2:15 AM, Blogger David said...

>>After the stage at which children outgrow being taught the meanings of 'good', 'bad', 'right', 'wrong'

Just how simple do you suppose that part is?

At 12:13 PM, Anonymous Ashish George said...

Good question, David.

At 4:48 PM, Blogger Finnegan said...

David, you ignored the last part: "by ostension." It's once people make it to the stage of learning by description that trouble starts.

At 6:43 PM, Blogger David said...

Fair enough. But I still think it's a bit ambitious as a first step in moral education.

At 6:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this serious? Let's set aside questions about the feasibility of this project for a moment and focus on the statement itself. Yes, yes, of course, logic is important (even a child can understand that, ha!). But it is one tool among many, and it is not the only mode of intellection that has a claim on rigor in moral and political discourse. Moving from the claim that logic is valuable educationally to "this way is the path to justice" is hubristic: it suggests more than a desire for understanding--it suggests a maniacal need for transparency and closure, as well as an aversion to any form of discourse that does not appear to meet standards of logical rigor or competence (perhaps this is why you take such offense at being called "sloppy"). I think that this misundertands the substance and role that logic plays in both philosophy and everday language. Logic deals with the form and construction of arguments; but it does not solve all contradictions or rid us of dead ends, and it certainly is of limited value in helping us develop the critical and interpretive skills necessary to engage the sorts of issues stuck between facts and values that this blog seems preoccupied with.

It is one thing to demand of logic that it clarify; it is quite another to burden it with the fantasy of solving problems.

At 6:54 PM, Blogger Finnegan said...

Logic doesn't solve contradictions? No, logic does solve contradictions. That's all it does, and it's not responsible for the fact that people are typically unwilling to have their own contradictions solved.

"'this way is the path to justice' is hubristic": a telling attenuation; what comes next is, "Or the discovery that the natural orientation of humanity is towards cruelty and malice." My entire point is that moral education is a matter of clarifying our metatheory to see what it is we believe morality consists in; anything else, and you can find an extensive discussion about this in Hume's Treatise, is a chimera that can only be hunted at great cost.

Do you think the Bush administration would be in power if our culture had zero tolerance for discourse that did not meet a minimal standard of logical rigor and competence? Don't make me laugh.

At 10:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wrote, "logic does not solve all contradictions," a point which anyone who's read Kant (cf. the antinomies) (or David Lewis, for that matter) probably wouldn't care to interrogate very far.

I don't think it matters whether one emphasizes the first or second sentence in your second paragraph; both further the idea that textbook logic should order normative thinking. To be clear, my point is not that logic does not solve contradictions. I'm not antagonistic toward logic, and certainly not toward analytic philosophy. But I do find misplaced the habit that some philosophers exemplify of seeing all normative problems as potentially solvable (theoretically)--an optimism that can be productive, but also constricting when brought to bear on spheres of life that don't admit of the neat contradictions that appear in syllogisms. There is more than one method for thinking philosophically (critically, dialectically, e.g.), and the value of pluralistic approaches is often obscured by the muscle-flexing to which single-minded analysis lends itself. It's almost easier, and a bit juvenile, to insist on hewing to strict analytical procedures (and makes one seem more rigorous than an opponent who doesn't set out to win an argument, but to do something more complex and open-ended) than to see them as tools, ones that are necessary, but not sufficient, for expounding a position (perhaps more so in social and political thought).

I don't think your point about Bush is very interesting. I think I understand what you're suggesting (that we'd see through Bush's incompetence if we all studied logic harder and insisted on applying it to politics), but I can't actually see what you mean--what the connection is between a culture that insists on strict logical standards and making the kinds of normative judgments that would keep Bush out of power. I can imagine someone of Bush's ideological makeup being quite logical in his reasoning; and from a normative standpoint, that wouldn't be more preferable than the president we have now. I think that you expect logic to do more normative work for you than it's capable. But unless you're dealing with law and its application, normative judgments are never that simple.

At 12:26 AM, Blogger Finnegan said...

I'm sorry, but that's just fucking retarded. A contradiction is a statement expressing the logical form (p & ~p). Nothing else. Period. The argument in the antinomies is that transcendental idealism is the only way to avoid the contradiction allegedly entailed by transcendental realism. You should have flunked Kant class if you argued otherwise. As for He's subject to more than enough plausible misinterpretations as it is. Get back to me when you can name a contradiction logic allows.

Till then, sir, you pretty obviously have no fucking clue what the point about Bush is. The point is that the minimal requirement for any normative theory to be intellectually defensible is that it be free of internal contradiction and contradiction with the metatheory that produces it. The Bush doctrine, such as it is, doesn't even come close to satisfying that requirement.

Of course the truths of logic alone don't entail my normative judgments. Of course conflicting normative theories don't yield a logical contradiction. I'm not responsible for your misuses of the term "logic."

But, again, I don't like having my time wasted, so spare me a response to the points about Bush until you can overturn 2500 years of investigation into the study of logic and find something that meets the definition of a contradiction and isn't pre-emptively ruled out by the first principle of logic.

At 12:38 AM, Blogger Finnegan said...

I meant to add, I'm not responsible for anybody misusing the term "contradiction" either. This dispute, though pretty far from enlightening in and of itself, does provide an excellent case study in why instruction in logic from an early age is so vitally necessary. "Logic does not solve all contradictions" --- let's crack open an introductory logic textbook before we embarrass ourselves further. Deal?

At 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's okay, you know, you don't have to be so macho.

One problem here is that you consider me to be "misusing" a term which I'm interpreting more broadly than you are. The term "contradiction" refers to the logical form (P & ~P), but it also has other meanings in the history of philosophy: a social "contradiction," in the sense that
Hegel would use (to describe the tension between the infinitude of
mind and the finitude of particularity that constitutes "personhood," e.g.), or an economic one that Marx would employ (to describe crisis points in capitalism). The point is that these alternative meanings of "contradiction" don't function the same way that logical contradictions do: they don't admit of solutions--they invite

All I'm suggesting is that your proposal that logic become an integral part of moral education is rather one-sided. It presumes that the only appropriate posture to take toward contradiction is resolution, which I'm claiming is only part of the picture, especially in the sphere of action. The habit of seeing all contradictions as syllogistic inconsistencies not only degrades the possibility of taking these other forms of contradiction seriously, it also leads to counter-productive attempts to force solutions when applied to practice (the sort of "coercion of agreement" that David Lewis thinks is unsustainable in philosophy).

It's this attempt to solve the logical inconsistencies of the "Bush doctrine," whatever that hypostatization means, that I don't get. It's so abstract as to be nearly trivial as a critique of politics. It tells us that the "Bush doctrine," this distillation of complex social relations and ideas into a argument, doesn't deserve our allegiance because it is contradictory. But how do you demonstrate such a claim? Arguments are the kinds of things that do or do not hold up; presidencies, political projects, and doctrines are complex, dynamic, inchoate, and often uncontrollable things that have strengths and weaknesses, and to which individuals consent with varying degrees of commitment. They're never just statements. Showing that the Bush doctrine is logically unsound doesn't show much at all; only that we should give our allegiance to something else that is sound--which is a pretty limited lesson, one that doesn't help us flesh out the relationship between our moral commitments and our political ones and develop truly critical positions.


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