Archive for the ‘commentary’ Category

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.)

Seen to Be Done

Saturday, 1 February 2020

I present this table

Justices of the US Supreme Court in November of 1952
Justiceappointed
by
prior
affiliation
birthseated
Hugo Lafayette BlackRoosevelt (D)Democrat27 Feb 188618 Aug 1937
Stanley Forman ReedRoosevelt (D)Democrat31 Dec 188427 Jan 1938
Felix FrankfurterRoosevelt (D)Democrat15 Nov 188220 Jan 1939
William Orville DouglasRoosevelt (D)Democrat16 Oct 188617 Apr 1939
Robert Houghwout JacksonRoosevelt (D)Democrat13 Feb 189211 Jul 1941
Harold Hitz BurtonTruman (D)Republican22 Jun 188822 Sep 1945
Frederick Moore VinsonTruman (D)Democrat22 Jan 189021 Jun 1946
Thomas Campbell ClarkTruman (D)Democrat23 Sept 188919 Aug 1949
Sherman MintonTruman (D)Democrat20 Oct 18905 Oct 1949

in advance of polemic that I anticipate over the next five or more years.

The Presidential candidates who might plausibly receive the nomination of the Democratic Party are such that, in the absence of a financial crisis, President Trump is very likely to be reëlected. He has, so far, been able to select two appointees to the US Supreme Court.

Four of the nine Justices now serving are appointees of Democratic Presidents. One of these, Justice Ginsburg, will be 87 years old in March, and has had repeated bouts with cancer. Another, Breyer, will be 82 years old in August; it is very likely that he will leave the Court before 2024. A third, Sotomayor, is in her mid-sixties, but suffers from type 1 diabetes. Whoever is elected to the Presidency in 2020 will surely replace between one and three of these Justices. There may be only one Justice from the Democratic Party in 2024.

Which is why I point to the Court in 1952. It had no Justices other than those appointed by Democratic Presidents, and only one Justice who, prior to appointment, had not been affiliated with the Democratic Party. The Republican Party won the Presidency and a majority in each chamber of Congress. But, if there were any argument that it would be right and proper to increase the number of Justices on the US Supreme Court in order to reëstablish a majority of Republican appointees or somesuch, that argument sank without a trace.

Still Goddamn'd Waiting

Monday, 20 January 2020

I've still not heard anything from the publishing team for The Review of Symbolic Logic. I've not heard anything from the handling editor since she told me on 5 January that she'd been informed by the publishing team that they could access the files for my probability paper. It has been slightly more than a month since I repeated the uploading of those files. It has been almost four months since I was informed that my paper had been accepted. It has been slightly more than eleven months since I submitted the paper to RSL.

Retaking Responsibility

Friday, 17 January 2020

The Constitution of the United States assigns various responsibilities to its Congress. Congress has increasingly slipt into a practice of delegating these responsibilities to other institutions. However, Congress is not empowered to amend the Constitution, to reduce the responsibilities of Congress or for other purposes; in that context, a legal theory that delegation of Congressional responsibilities were unconstitutional used to influence decisions of the US Supreme Court, and various liberal and conservative theorists have been arguing for a revival of that theory. Others are arguing that delegation is perfectly constitutional, so long as Congress retains the power to rescind the delegation, and thus retains ultimate responsibility.

While discussion of revival of that legal theory seems to be concerned with regulatory bureaucracy, delegation of another sort has been the subject of a separate discussion. Repeatedly, the Congress has obliquely delegated its power to declare war to the Office of the Presidency. The last time that the Congress itself declared war was in 1941, but the US has engaged in many subsequent wars, without quite formally calling them wars. The most recent such delegation occurred during the Administration of GW Bush, and remains in effect. In the wake of recent actions by the Trump Administration, a majority in each chamber of Congress assert that they want to withdraw some of that delegation; but they do not have the super-majority presumably required to over-ride a veto.

The reason that I wrote presumably is because, if indeed Congress is empowered to delegate its responsibilities so long as it is able to rescind that delegation, then they cannot have made a delegation that the President can veto; Congress must be able to rescind the delegation with a simple plurality vote. This Congressional power must obtain in the declaration of war, and it must obtain in the empowering of regulatory bodies the rules of which have the force of law.

An exception to the President's power to veto is hardly a trivial matter, and arguing that such an exception is present but only implicit is at least a bit breath-taking. But if that exception does not hold then the old theory that Congress could not delegate its responsibilities seems the only alternative compatible with the Constitution. And, in that case, the aforementioned regulatory bodies must be abolished, and there can be no more waging of war without Congressional declaration.

A New Projectionist

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

I am in the process of relocating video embedded in entries to this 'blog. (Only a few and rather old entries have such content.)

My experiences with YouTube have been unhappy. It routinely messed-up the synchronization of sound with image for my content. Without a ready appeal process, YouTube disabled videos that made fair use of copyrighted content. Although my content has not been affected by the political bias of Alphabet Inc. (the parent company of YouTube), it was grossly unethical for YouTube to get people to cluster at their site by representing itself as an honest broker, and then to bring a bias to bear. And, when YouTube disabled a video for one reason or for another, the embedding code responded inappropriately.

For now, I am moving most or all of my video content to BitChute; I don't know that my content will remain there. But any host that does not apply an ideologic filter will attract a disproportionate share of content from those penalized by the biases of YouTube; the main-stream of the media (who share the ideologic bias of YouTube) will seize upon this disproportion to claim or to insinuate that the host and those who use it are sympathetic with the more repellent of those filtered-out by YouTube. The sophistry will be evident to all but the rather stupid, but a much larger share of people will rôle-play as if the argument were sound.

Ideas of Choice

Monday, 11 November 2019

I have been more actively working on the decision-theory paper off of which the probability paper was spun. And this effort has me thinking about the meanings of choice.

As I noted in an earlier entry to this 'blog, my paper on indecision used choice to mean no more or less than selection. I defined relations of preference in terms of choice functions, which are functions that select a subset from a set of options. Defining relations of preference in this manner seems to explain preference in terms of something called choice rather than explaining the thing called choice in terms of preference. But something called choice is often said to result from preference. Certainly, we want somehow to explain selection by persons of alternatives (even if that which explains cannot itself be observed directly!), and some notion of preference represents an attempt at explanation.

(However, if preference is the proper explanation, then preference must be very changeable; much of real-world behavior does not conform to a constant set of preferences. And people do such things as regularly selecting {A} from a set {A, B, C} yet consistently selecting {B} from a set {A, B, D}; perhaps in such cases we can still contrive an explanation in terms of preference, but we should be dubious of such explanation. I don't think that we should reject the word choice if the selections that people actually make aren't driven by preference. If preference does not provide a proper explanation, then perhaps some more general concept does. And perhaps by teasing-out what people intend by the word choice when they intend something narrower than selection, we can arrive at that generalization. That's one of the reasons that I sometimes press some people, especially fellow economists, to tell me what they intend by the word choice or by coördinate terms, when they reject its application where it seems to me to fit. I'm not trying to catch them in error or Socratically to teach a lesson to them; I'm trying to engage with them in an important investigation. But, important doubts about the use of preference in descriptive theory not withstanding, preference makes considerable sense in prescriptive use. Indeed, that sense in prescriptive use is one of the reasons that we so easily accept it in descriptive use, and even assures us that it must at least approximate a realistic description fairly well, because unreasonable behavior is costly.)

Identification of a preference is sometimes itself called choice; but sometimes preference is instead expressed in terms of whom or of what one would choose, if given the choice; and, sometimes, after a preference is expressed, the response is something such as You don't get to make that choice! In conscious identification of a preference, one selects an ideation; in reporting such an identification, one selects an utterance; and these ideations or utterances are selected in a different way than are their subjects, except in odd, self-referential cases.

In discussion of decision-making in a world of uncertainty, I've found use for an idea that I call practical choice, by which I mean selection of an option which selection causes that option to be effected with certainty.

In a world without uncertainty, there would be a simple division between what one could attain and what one could not. Preference amongst the unattainable would ex definitione be without practical significance. Discussion of preference amongst the possible would be operationally equivalent to discussion of practical choice, and rational agents would always attain that possible state-of-the-world that they most desired.

When we begin to speak and write of uncertainty, we are actually speaking and writing of cases in which we may make practical choices amongst options that would, in turn, affect the state-of-the-world in imperfectly predictable ways. Hypothetically, I might not care about those effects; I might only care about the options that I can practically choose; but, with those options properly identified, that hypothetical is highly implausible and sterile. And, otherwise, it now becomes quite relevant to consider the difference and relationship between preferences amongst things that are subject to practical choice and preferences amongst things that are not subject to practical choice. Preferences amongst things that an agent cannot practically choose will determine preferences amongst things that she can.

(Our practical choices are more limited than some might at first realize. An agent has practical choice of no more than some mental states; and selecting amongst these mental states delivers no more power over other possibilities than to increase or decrease the probabilities of those possibilities. Given the selection of one mental state, one's arm is more likely to move, but there is at least some terrible possibility that it will not. Indeed, given the selection of one mental state, one is more likely to recall a desired datum, but there is a possibility that one will not. Still, in many cases we might, without doing too much violence to realism, pretend that our practical choices include operations that we think almost surely to follow upon our exercise of actual practical choice. For example, one might calculate as if one had a practical choice of whether to propose marriage, while acknowledging that one did not have a practical choice over whether one would marry the other party.)

The concern of my paper on indecision was in identifying a difference in observable behavior distinguishing indecision from indifference, and I didn't want that distinction to be simply self-reported. When an agent was undecided between X and Y rather than indifferent, I needed a difference in selection from a set in which X and Y options, rather than a difference in selection amongst utterances or somesuch. In hindsight, I wish that, in that paper, I'd discussed conceptions of choice more than I did, and had explicitly written of practical choice. Perhaps accordingly I will someday revise the working version of the paper.

What in the Name of Böhm-Bawerk?!?

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

A recent post to Facebook by Timo Virkkala reminds me of one of my peeves.

Eugen Ritter von Böhm-Bawerk died on 27 August 1914. The Austro-Hungarian Empire disintegrated in 1918. The Austrian state eliminated titles of nobility as such with a law passed on ‎3 April 1919, which law came into effect on 10 April 1919.

Had von Böhm-Bawerk lived into 10 April 1919, then he would have been given various choices as to what to do with his name. One of his choices would have been to change it to Eugen Böhm von Bawerk, which could alternately be spelled Eugen Boehm von Bawerk.[1][2] But of course he didn't, 'cause he'd been dead for almost five years.

Still, the Austrian central bank, the US Library of Congress, and that wretched mess Wikipedia decided to pretend that he'd done just that. He didn't adopt that name, his acolytes and admirers didn't and don't call him by that name, and he might have done something quite different (such as omitting the [Ritter] von altogether, which would have left his name more like its earlier form) if he'd been compelled to make a choice; but the Austrian state, the LoC, and Wikipedia still insist on sophomorically transforming his name into that form.


[1] The umlaut ( ¨ ) is an extremely stylized superscripted e. An umlaut may be replaced by writing an e after the letter over which the umlaut had been written; simply omitting an umlaut without replacement is illiterate.

Unfortunately, the modern glyph for the umlaut is indistinguishable from that of the diæresis, and the louts in Unicode Consortium decided to pretend that the two were the same character. (Yes, we've hit three of my peeves in this entry.) When not written diacritically, a diæresis should not be replaced by an e. (I've not seen that done, so it doesn't count as a peeve.)

[2] The [Ritter] von Bawerk might still look like a title of nobility, but it would not have counted as such. And somehow such reärrangements were seen as important.

A Suggested Reform of Educational Institutions

Sunday, 17 March 2019

For some decades, one of the clear and worsening problems with American institutions of formal education has been administrative bloat. I suggest a legislative response.

For institutions at each level of education, the mean and standard deviation can be determined for administrative expense per pupil in 1975. That is to say that these figures could be computed for kindergartens, for elementary schools, &c. For each level, these two figures can be summed and then that sum adjusted for price-inflation. In 2020, both the legislatures of the constituent states and the US Congress could pass laws such that, beginning five years after passage of the legislation (which in this case would be in 2025), no educational institution would receive any direct funding from the states (including the federal state) if its administrative expenses per pupil exceeded that computed amount, and no grants or guaranteed loans would be given to students beginning degree programmes at institutions whose administrative expenses exceeded that amount.

On Why Dr Pepper Tastes as if It Contains Prune Juice

Saturday, 16 March 2019

To many people, Dr Pepper tastes as if it contains prune juice.* For years, various sources (including the manufacturers of Dr Pepper) have said that it does not. But that contradiction provokes a question of why to so many people Dr Pepper tastes as if it does. Yet try searching on-line for the answer. Try searching on-line even for the question. One source after another tells us that it doesn't contain prune juice; none seems to explain why (to so many people) it tastes as if it does. None seems even to wonder.

I don't know the answer. But I do know that one of the flavorings in Dr Pepper is … plum. Yeah, that's the fruit that, if dried, becomes a prune. (In fact, some sellers of prunes label them as dried plums, because people have negative associations with prune.) I don't know why the manufacturer doesn't add something such as but does contain plum flavoring to the declarations that Dr Pepper does not contain prune juice. (Side payments from sellers of dried plums seem an unlikely explanation for the silence.)

But the plum may not actually explain the reported flavor like that of prune juice. There are many flavoring agents in Dr Pepper, including apricot and blackberry, and perhaps some of these would in combination still produce the taste of prune juice even were the plum omitted.


*Of course, sensitivity to various chemicals varies across persons, and some individuals might be familiar with tastes for prune juice and for Dr Pepper such that they didn't think that the latter were as if it contained any of the former.