Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

Making Your Vote (or Non-Vote) Count

Sunday, 14 June 2020

In nearly every election of a state official, even those in which only a few hundred voters participate, the margin of victory is more than one vote. What that means is that, if any one voter had refrained from voting, or if any one abstaining voter had not abstained, the candidate who won would still have won. Some people — even some very intelligent people — conclude that the vote of an individual has no efficacy beyond that of other acts of expression. Those people are missing something.

Indeed, one's vote or refusal to vote has absolutely no effect on the election at hand. There are various things that one can do prior to the election which may help one candidate to achieve a margin of victory, or prevent another from achieving such a margin. But one's own vote isn't going to make any difference in that election.

However, as potential candidates and parties decide what to do with future elections in mind, they look at margins of victory in past elections. Potential candidates decide whether to run and, if they choose to run, how to position themselves, informed by those margins. Parties decide their platforms and whom to nominate, informed by those margins. With large margins in their favor, they feel free to alienate a greater number of potential voters; with small margins or losing margins, they consider what to do differently in order to pull voters who previously voted for another, or who didn't vote at all.

Thus, an individual vote or the decision not to vote has a small effect — but its only effect — on later elections and on behavior of those who are acting with concern for later election.

The least effective thing that a potential voter can do is to vote for a candidate whom he or she dislikes. People in America who have held their noses to vote for the Democratic or Republican nominee in order to stop the nominee of the other party did worse than to throw-away their votes; they have helped to ensure that the next pair of choices would likewise be disagreeable, and that the behavior of officials in the mean time would likewise be disagreeable. It is only if one genuinely thought that one of these candidates were worthwhile that one should have voted for him or for her, and then still only to affect the next election and interim behavior of officials.

The most effective thing that a potential voter as such can do is to vote for a candidate of whom that voter approves, even if that candidate has no chance of winning, or to submit a ballot from which no candidate receives a vote. An increasing number of people are doing the latter, either in expression that no candidate is worthy, or to challenge the legitimacy of the process in a way that makes it difficult for these people to be dismissed as apathetic by apologists for the process.

Stick That in Your Lexicon!

Saturday, 23 May 2020
bru·to·ri·al /bruːˈtɔːriəl/ adjective & noun
A. noun. An otherwise useless tutorial that one is not permitted to forgo.
B. adjective. Of or pertaining to a brutorial.

Coming Diagnoses of a Failure of Capitalism

Friday, 17 April 2020

The way in which the political left conceptualizes an economy is a variation on how technocrats more generally conceptualize it. The left imagines the economy as possessing a kernel of processes that take inputs and produce outputs based upon purely technologic considerations. What distinguishes these processes as a kernel is that they are jointly self-sustaining; setting aside natural resources, the kernel produces everything necessary to maintain itself. Depending upon technology, the kernel may do nothing more than to sustain itself. The left often imagines an economy that does nothing more as a subsistence economy; but, as a matter of logic, they might imagine an economy as technologically constrained to produce exactly what it does to continue replicating itself, yet providing a fairly high standard of living. In any case, they more often imagine the kernel as producing a surplus, which is to say production above and beyond that necessary to sustain the kernel. Allocation and composition of the surplus is imagined to be determined not just by technologic considerations, but also by social power. This is why the left often does believe and still more frequently seems to believe that economics is a zero-sum game; they believe that for some people to get more, they must either leave less of the surplus for others or, still worse, must reduce the kernel. Because performance of the kernel is imagined to be determined purely by technologic factors, while it may be acknowledged that in our world resources have been priced largely by markets and hence inputs have been determined largely by markets, it is believed that, ultimately, the markets had little real choice; that they had to settle on relative prices that simply conformed to technologic considerations. The imagined kernel is as if an inflexible machine, however complex it may be. It is only pricing of commodities within the surplus that is imagined to be flexible.

The lock-downs that have been the political response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic are variously imagined either as shutting down production outside the kernel, with economic activity labelled as essential continuing, or indeed as going further to shut-down much of the kernel itself. As the lock-downs come to an end, it will be expected by many — including many not on the political left — that the economy will pick-up at about where it was before the lock-downs. If one imagines the proper inputs to each part of the kernel (or of the economy more generally) as technologically determined, then restarting the economy is a simple matter of resuming those proper inputs. If the kernel is believed to have been kept in operation, then what remains is again to allocate the surplus roughly as it was, or (in keeping with left-wing values) with a greater share given to those who are not wealthy.

The economy will not pick-up where it left-off, because the technocratic conception in general and the left-wing conception in particular are so terribly wrong. But the political left will diagnose the failure to restore the economy quickly as a failure of capitalism — either to solve a problem of technologic programming or to produce a socially just or fair division of the surplus. And, so, they will demand that the state become further involved, to take greater command of those industries that they regard as within the kernel, to strengthen worker unions, to establish floors on wages and both floors and ceilings on salaries, and to redistribute income through transfer programmes.

Voigt and Value

Friday, 10 April 2020

In a previous entry, I asserted that Voigt's Zahl und Mass in der Ökonomik contain[s] more error than insight. Here, I'll discuss one of the more egregious errors. In section V, Voight writes

An die Spitze der Erörterung dieses vielberufenen Begriffes sollte gestellt werden, dass es Einheiten des Wertes giebt, dass man also untersuchen kann, wievielmal so gross ein Wert als ein anderer ist und Güter gleichen Wertes durch einander ersetzen kann, dass also der Wert ein eigentliches in einer Kardinalzahl ausdrückbares Mass hat.

which may be translated as

At the forefront of discussion of this much used concept should be placed that there are units of value that one thus can investigate how many time as large a value is as another and can replace goods of the same value with each other, that thus the value has a real measure expressible in a cardinal number.

I'll deal first with the point that it seems that one can investigate how many times as large a value is as another.

Numbers are used in many ways. Depending upon the use, what is revealed by arithmetic may be a great deal or very little. Sometimes numbers are ascribed with so little meaning that we may as well consider them strings of numerals, the characters that we use for numbers, and not numbers at all. Sometimes numbers do nothing but provide an arbitrary order, good for something such as a look-up table but nothing else. Sometimes they provide a meaningful order, but one in which the results of most arithmetic operations are meaningless, as when items produced at irregular intervals are given sequential serial numbers. (The difference between any two such numbers tells one which was produced before the other, but little else.) Sometimes the differences between the differences are meaningful, as when items are produce at regular intervals and given sequential serial numbers. And so forth.

Monetary prices are quantities, but they are more specifically quantities of money; that does not make them quantities of value nor proxies of quantities of value. One would have to show that the results of every arithmetic operation on such a quantity of money said something about value for it to be shown that value were itself a quantity.

The second part of Voigt's claim is that one Güter gleichen Wertes durch einander ersetzen kann [can replace goods of the same value with each other]. But an equivalence between things corresponding to the same numbers doesn't make results of the application of arithmetic to those numbers meaningful. (Consider lots of items produced at irregular intervals, with each item in the lot given the same serial number, unique to the lot but otherwise random.) And we should ask ourselves under just what circumstances we can and cannot ersetzen one set of commodities of a given price with another of the same price.

Nor does somehow combining the use of quantities of money for prices with a property of equivalence imply that value is a quantity.

Voigt is unusual not in making this unwarranted inference, but in so clearly expressing himself as he does. From the observation that prices are usually quantities of something, which quantities increase as value increases, most people, and even most economists blithely infer that value itself behaves as a quantity.

A Translation of Voigt's Zahl und Mass in der Ökonomik

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

In early 2013, I made freely available a transcription of Zahl und Mass in der Ökonomik: Eine kritische Untersuchung der mathematischen Methode und der mathematischen Preistheorie (1893) by Andreas Heinrich Voigt. I have to-day completed a first pass of a translation of this as Number and Measure in Economics: A Critical Examination of Mathematical Method and of Mathematical Price Theory. Although I believe that there are many errors to be corrected in that translation, I am making it available. I do not plan to use a different URI for corrected versions.

I have been very disappointed by my reading of Voigt's article. I regard it as containing more error than insight.

In the course of translation, I found and corrected extremely minor errors in the transcription of the original. A name was at one point misspelled by me, and I failed to capitalize a word beginning a sentence. I also marked a die die as questionable which I've since concluded was deliberate. I do not believe that anyone could have been led to a mistaken reading as a result of those errors, but I have naturally corrected them.

I may change the URI for the transcription, moving it from another domain to place it amongst the uploads for this 'blog. If so, then I will edit entries to reflect that change.

Published

Thursday, 20 February 2020

On 20 February 2020, a year to-the-day after I submitted my paper Formal Qualitiative Probability to The Review of Symbolic Logic and nearly five months after I was notified that a revised version had been accepted, Cambridge University Press published the manuscript on-line.

(I believe that an unchanging DOI 10.1017/S1755020319000480 will be used for whatever is the latest version of the article, as it is type-set for paper publication and eventually assigned to a specific issue.)

This work was badly treated across journals of philosophy. Regardless of whether any of my future work is perhaps best regarded as philosophic, I will henceforth avoid submitting to such journals.

Lost in Translation

Sunday, 9 February 2020

I recently started reading Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, a translation of Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt[e] by Franz Brentano. My copy happens to be of the 1973 Humanities Press edition.

In the translation of the 1874 foreword, I hit a sentence

I was prompted to undertake a rather detailed study of these opinions because at the present time they enjoy an undue popularity and exert a lamentable influence upon a public which, in matters of psychology even less than in other fields, has not yet learned to demand scientific cogency.

This sentence is a muddle, with restrictions and negations working to say something contrary to what Brentano must surely have intended. A scan of the original is available on-line, the German reads

Und was mich dazu trieb, auch auf sie weitläufiger einzugehen, waren nur eine ungebührliche Verbreitung und ein beklagenswerther Einfluss, welche sie gegenwärtig auf ein Publicum gewonnen haben, das in sachen der Psychologie weniger noch als anderwärts auf wissenschaftliche Strenge Anspruch zu machen gelernt hat.

That refers to

a public, who in matters of psychology less still than elsewhere have learned to make a demand for scientific rigor

So the muddle is not in the original, but is an artefact of translation that doesn't strive to be as close to the original as possible while conforming to the conventions of the target language.

I checked a scan of the 1995 second edition of the translation, and found the same muddle as in the 1973 edition.

Naturally, I'm wondering to what extent I can reasonably trust the remainder of the translation. I reälize that passages recognized as crucial will probably have been treated with greater care and received more scrutiny, but there may be passages the importance of which has not been recognized. And even passages whose importance were recognized might be poorly translated. (I certainly saw such cases in translations of the work of Aristoteles.)

Acceptance

Monday, 23 September 2019

On 22 September, I was informed that my article Formal Qualitative Probability had been accepted for publication by The Review of Symbolic Logic. I do not yet know in what issue it is to be published.

Up-Date (2019:11/03): I have not yet received a galley-proof of my paper nor a copyright-assignment form. I have learned that the journal publishes papers on-line before scheduling them to a specific issue of the journal, so I will probably be in the odd position of having a DOI and a URI before I know the issue in which the paper is to appear.

Thief of Dreams

Friday, 26 April 2019

A psychologist once told me that people do not begin to dream until they've fallen into a relatively deep sleep. I know her assertion to be false based upon my own experience and upon the reports of others. Some of us begin dreaming right after or perhaps right before falling asleep. Being either barely on one side of consciousness or perhaps in an intermediate state in which dreaming occurs is not quite the same as what is normally called lucid dreaming, but I'm able to notice some peculiar psychological phenomena as such.

Amongst these are spurious memories. In a dreaming state, I seem to remember events that did not occur in the waking world, though I don't experience those events within the dream. Because the events are not dreamt, but instead there is an apparent memory of these events, it can be harder upon becoming wakeful to discern that the apparent memory were false. But such spurious memories do disintegrate much like memories of dreamt events. In fact, I notice apparent memories often disintegrating within dreams, which disintegration is sufficiently troubling to make me more wakeful.

One disintegration, experienced a few mornings ago, was especially disturbing. I dreamt that I had an old Japanese bank note, and I had (spurious) memories of how I'd acquired the note. But I dreamt that some woman stole the note from me; and, as I dreamt of that theft, my apparent memories of how I'd come to have the note disintegrated, as if themselves stolen.

Another Monday

Monday, 15 April 2019

Another Monday has effectively passed without my receiving a rejection from the latest journal to which I offered my paper on probability.

My paper was submitted to that journal on 20 February, and on 2 March I was informed that it were assigned to a handling editor and that I'd be notified when a report were returned by a reviewer. I don't know whether a reviewer has accepted the assignment; but, while sometimes it takes months to find a reviewer, usually that happens more quickly. The journal says that it makes an effort to make a decision within three months; but, at most journals, reviewers are asked to return a report in something like four weeks or a month. So, while the three-month mark is six weeks away, it is increasingly plausible that a decision will be made soon.

Those who review academic articles and edit academic journals do so as a side activity, and are most likely to give time to this activity on the weekends. Additionally, weekends are psychologically natural for self-imposed deadlines. Monday becomes the most probable day for an editor to inform an author of a decision. Because the journal and the handling editor are in Europe, Monday effectively ends in what is for me the late after-noon.

And the most likely decision is a rejection. I don't think that I quite said this when previously writing about submitting my article to a journal. Instead, I wrote about the fate of most articles being rejection. But, after observing the responses of reviewers at those previous journals, I've reached a judgment about probability. It's probable that my article will again be rejected.

Thus, on each Monday, I look for a rejection.