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Ch. 2: Rationality and Irrationality | Rationality

#180: Jan. - Mar. 2022 (Non-Fiction)
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Chris OConnor
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Ch. 2: Rationality and Irrationality | Rationality

Ch. 2: Rationality and Irrationality | Rationality

Please use this thread for discussing Ch. 2: Rationality and Irrationality | Rationality.
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LanDroid
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Re: Ch. 2: Rationality and Irrationality | Rationality

To be sure, not far from where I live in downtown Boston there is a splendid turquoise and gold mosaic that proclaims, "Follow reason." But it is affixed to the Grand Lodge of the Masons, the fez- and apron-sporting fraternal organization that is the answer to the question "What's the opposite of hip?"

My own opinion on rationality is "I'm for it." Though I cannot argue that reason is dope, phat, chill, fly, sick, or da bomb, and strictly speaking I cannot even justify or rationalize reason, I will defend the message on the mosaic: we ought to follow reason.
:lol: A bit of humor and lightheartedness should make for easier going...

I briefly considered joining that uncool fraternity but was prevented by their sole requirement: You must believe in God.
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LanDroid
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Re: Ch. 2: Rationality and Irrationality | Rationality

Just because I believe P implies Q, and I believe P, why should I believe Q? Is it because I also believe [(P implies Q) and P] implies Q? But why should I believe that? Is it because I have still another belief, {[(P implies Q) and P] implies Q} implies Q?
Some portions of this book will be difficult to discuss. I managed to avoid "logic algebra" so this is Greek to me. (I wonder if this is where the phrase "Mind your Ps and Qs" comes from?) Pinker seems to think the best way to dissect an argument is to put it into a logical format of Ps and Qs but admits this is not practical.
As Homer Simpson said to Marge when she warned him that he would regret his conduct, "That's a problem for future Homer. Man, I don't envy that guy."
:lol: Frequent humor lightens the load...
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Robert Tulip
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Re: Ch. 2: Rationality and Irrationality | Rationality

In Chapter Two, Pinker defines rationality as the ability to use knowledge to attain goals. I find that to be only part of the answer, since rationality also includes the ability to accept logical inference, separate from any goals we might have. It is rational to agree that 2 + 2 = 4, as an analytic deduction from the meaning of the terms, as pure abstract mathematical concept separate from any utility.

But Pinker insists that goals are central to rationality, about what is true and what to do, that reason enables us to get what we want. This leads to a discussion of the famous (or infamous) comment by the philosopher David Hume that ‘reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions.’ That is untrue for the goalless logic of pure mathematics, but entirely true when we use reason as a means to an end.

This addresses ideas that have fascinated me for many years regarding the relationship between facts and values, between evidence and policy, between what is the case and what we should do. Statements of fact are never sufficient by themselves to determine what action we ought to take. Our values always come from a moral principle or belief, not from factual knowledge. Like geometry, morality rests upon ideas that are considered self-evident, that cannot be proved and must simply be assumed to be true as axioms of systematic thinking.

The alternative to this approach to ethics is to insist that systematic thinking is itself impossible, and that our values are essentially arbitrary and incoherent. But that is an anti-ethics, a regression to instinct.

The axioms that make most sense to me in forming a moral geometry are that human flourishing is good and that the meaning of life is the good of the future. These postulates seek to strip back ethical logic to ideas that can only be accepted or rejected as self-evident statements of value. With the axiom that human flourishing is good, the implication is that we then need to collect factual evidence about what is required to sustain human flourishing, a process that is deeply challenging to religious traditions that separate culture from nature.

Another example of an axiomatic moral postulate is from the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who based his ideas in Being and Time on the proposition that care is the meaning of being. This presents an extremely interesting way to integrate facts and values, by asserting that relationships of care are fundamental to human existence, and that it makes no sense to collect factual information separate from the basic question of why anyone should care about it.

Pinker’s discussion of Hume places reason entirely within the human framework of desires and goals. The questions for logic/reason are what we think is good, and how we can achieve it. My view that human flourishing is good leads to the evolutionary questions of how we can flourish in a way that is stable, durable and productive. As I see it, that requires an integration of culture and nature, recognising that their widespread separation leads to dangerous and false ethical assumptions about how life can flourish regardless of natural constraints. So once this axiom that flourishing is good is accepted, it opens a systematic path to base our values upon facts, determining what we must do to flourish into the future.
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Re: Ch. 2: Rationality and Irrationality | Rationality

We don't have a "thanks" button, but thanks. (And by the way, didn't it used to be that the most recent post in a thread was at the top? I like that better.)

Human flourishing isn't to me so rock-solid as a value we can agree to use to construct the future. I see our flourishing has created a huge problem with the natural limits of the earth. By and large, this flourishing is a good thing purely in terms of our own well-being, which at least in the predominate philosophy we don't define as merely being OK: having enough to eat, shelter, safety, etc. For well-being, we demand to constantly expand our range of opportunities, our consumption, and our push-back against nature (new medical treatments, longer lives). As Eric Hoffer observed, people aren't inspired by having just enough; always we want a little more, then a little more after that. If flourishing is to be the criterion for well-being, we must do that in a particular way if we can hope to be in synch with the limits of nature (and we have to agree that there are limits, in the first place). That's where the trouble starts, when we try to persuade others that a type of flourishing can be increased while each one of us consumes much less energy. Because it all comes down to energy in the end. This is a prospect not pleasing to advocates of material abundance, in other words to the whole capitalist world. Directing abundance away from high energy consumption for the lucky minority to lower consumption that gives everyone a chance to share in the good life, appears to be the humanist challenge of the next century.
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Re: Ch. 2: Rationality and Irrationality | Rationality

DWill wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 11:32 am We don't have a "thanks" button, but thanks. (And by the way, didn't it used to be that the most recent post in a thread was at the top? I like that better.)
We do have the thanks button, it is the Thumbs Up at the top right corner of the post. This was added back in recently, together with the Thanks tally from before. Thanks Chris! The most recent post has always been at the bottom. My practice is to bookmark Active Topics as my main Booktalk screen so I see the latest posts (also at top right of home screen), and when a thread I am following comes up I click the small arrow to the right of the name of the person with the last post, which goes straight to the most recent comment.
DWill wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 11:32 am
Human flourishing isn't to me so rock-solid as a value we can agree to use to construct the future. I see our flourishing has created a huge problem with the natural limits of the earth.
This is an issue that also came up in our discussion of The Wizard and the Prophet. Your comment reflects the scientific consensus, but I don’t think it takes everything into account. Firstly, you are totally correct that the way flourishing has been understood has been a disaster, for the earth, for biodiversity and for humanity. The separation of spirit from nature in conventional religion has enabled a destructive linear form of economy that accumulates waste, notably CO2, without any recognition that eventually all waste must be converted into assets in a circular economy if we are to sustain flourishing in perpetuity. Global civilization can only hope to flourish with some basic changes in values that recognise our own flourishing is entirely dependent on seeing natural biodiversity as sacred. That does not diminish the value of human flourishing, rather it suggests we need new thinking about how to achieve it.

There are several factors here that make such a planetary transformation possible. Firstly, the sun pumps out more than a billion times as much energy in all directions as the amount that hits the earth. The simply vast quantity of natural energy means that in fact we are nowhere near energy limits that future technology could exploit. Secondly, as we move toward a global civilization, a key factor is the absolutely vast amount of resource that exists in the world ocean which has barely been tapped in terms of creating a circular economy. The ocean has a billion cubic kilometres of water, containing abundant quantities of numerous minerals, notably carbon and phosphorus. If these resources could be constantly recycled, they can provide the basis for universal prosperity in ways that can also protect and enhance biodiversity.

Rather than talking about a “low carbon economy”, we should aim to replace as much metallic and other materials with carbon as possible to build cities of carbon in a high carbon economy. This could be done through intensive industrial algae production on one to ten percent of the world ocean, mining far more carbon from the biosphere than our total emissions to return the planet to stable temperature suited to human flourishing. The result would be the production of vast quantities of biomass, enough to add a metre of carbon to all the soils of the planet, and leaving as much of the planet as possible to wildlife while humans are mainly urban, using carbon based construction and energy to create universal abundance.
DWill wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 11:32 am By and large, this flourishing is a good thing purely in terms of our own well-being, which at least in the predominate philosophy we don't define as merely being OK: having enough to eat, shelter, safety, etc. For well-being, we demand to constantly expand our range of opportunities, our consumption, and our push-back against nature (new medical treatments, longer lives).
Again, the way human flourishing has been pursued in the past has been in conflict with nature rather than what is needed, to flourish in harmony with nature. The only way humans can sustain a flourishing economy is through a zero-waste strategy that fully recycles all commodities, with a new theory of value that puts planetary biodiversity as the most valuable thing.
DWill wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 11:32 am As Eric Hoffer observed, people aren't inspired by having just enough; always we want a little more, then a little more after that. If flourishing is to be the criterion for well-being, we must do that in a particular way if we can hope to be in synch with the limits of nature (and we have to agree that there are limits, in the first place).
I agree that a shift of values is essential to sustain flourishing. This is where I see a reformed scientific Christianity as central, moving toward relationships of universal love as the primary goal, and recognising that all supernatural language in the Bible is metaphor for such purely natural ethical goals. A shift of values away from material to spiritual needs can only occur when there is material abundance, so our economy can fund people to focus on pure creativity.
DWill wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 11:32 am That's where the trouble starts, when we try to persuade others that a type of flourishing can be increased while each one of us consumes much less energy. Because it all comes down to energy in the end. This is a prospect not pleasing to advocates of material abundance, in other words to the whole capitalist world.
We don’t need to consume less energy. We just need to change how we manage energy. It is even possible to continue to use fossil fuels, as long as we work out how to recycle all the emitted carbon by transforming it into valuable commodities.
DWill wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 11:32 am Directing abundance away from high energy consumption for the lucky minority to lower consumption that gives everyone a chance to share in the good life, appears to be the humanist challenge of the next century.
It is entirely possible that the high energy consumption of the rich world could become available to everyone. This could be done in a way that regulates the planetary climate and biosphere to focus on sustained flourishing for all. It should be more about finding ways to bring everyone up to the level of freedom and prosperity enjoyed now by the rich.
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