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Examples of straw man arguments

Following the brilliant ‘straw man’ quote below, I thought I would list a few regular straw man arguments that I come across in the comment threads of this blog as well as in the wider media/public world where the ideas of liberty, defence policy or the free market are mentioned:

Free marketeers do not believe in law and rules of any kind

This is often posited as a fact, when in fact law and liberty are necessary for each other. Without laws defining property rights, for example, much peaceful intercourse is impossible.

If you are against the invasion of Iraq, you are a peacenik

This boils down to a form of argument by intimidation. Even though many opponents of the operation to overthrow Saddam are stupid, evil or possibly both, quite a lot were against it for prudential reasons.

If you are in favour of the invasion of Iraq, you must be a warmongering lunatic

Many people from all parts of the political spectrum thought overthrowing Saddam, who was a bloodthirsty tyrant, invader of neighbouring nations, sponsor of terror, user of WMDs, was a humanitarian and necessary act.

If you are a skeptic about global warming and other alleged environmental terrors, you care nothing for future generations and might also be in the pay of Big Oil

This is not a start of an argument, but an attempt to shout debate down. It betrays the fact that Greenery is becoming a religion with its own notions of heresy. If anyone plays this gambit, refuse to take it up.

Libertarians believe in the idea that humans are born with a mental “blank slate” and hence pay no heed to inherited characteristics of any kind

I often see this argument made by bigots as well as more benign folk. In fact it is possible to believe that many human characteristics are inherited but also changeable. And just because we are influenced by genes, it does not mean were are driven in a deterministic way. Free will still exists. The more knowledge we have about human nature etc, the more power it gives individuals, not less.

For capitalism to work successfully, everybody has to be obsessed with making money all the time

All that is necessary is that human economic interaction is based on voluntary exchange, not force. How much people want to get rich or not is irrelevant.

Libertarians are uninterested in preserving certain old traditions and cultures

In fact, a free society is often much more able to preserve certain traditions, not less so.

Libertarians tend to be loners and discount the importance of community life

This is rubbish: liberals value communities so long as membership is voluntary and further, co-operation is a consequence of liberty, not its opposite. An individualist can enjoy group activities as much as anyone, such as being part of an organisation, club, football team, whatever. The key is that such membership is freely chosen.

I am sure that other commenters can think of a few more…

57 comments to Examples of straw man arguments

  • Brian

    I had a similar one from a collegue the other day…

    “Capitalism can only survive in an expanding economy.”

    Answer…

    So what: humans can only survive in an atmosphere with oxygen.

    Also: any capitalist economy will grow,

    And: a capitalist economy can survive provided it grows faster than the state (not so easy, that one).

  • Freeman

    Free will still exists.

    Maybe not. But even so, we need to pretend it does for our legal and social interactions to make sense.

  • otherpeople

    “If you’ve done nothing wrong then you have nothing to fear from a state-sponsored identity card.”

    Or, that real opener of constructive debate, “All UKIP policies are inherently racist“.

  • Free will still exists.

    Maybe not. But even so, we need to pretend it does for our legal and social interactions to make sense.

    Of course it exists (according to David Deutsch even the laws of physics seem to suggest it does within each layer of the multiverse). But in any case I am not sure how it is an example of a straw man argument.

  • Personally I hate the one where a good intention is supposed to wipe out a bad action, or complete lack of action. Like people that apologise for the Kray Twins by saying that they loved their mother.

  • Ham

    Oh, the amount of times people have reordered my words to suggest that, by opposing state ownership, I am doing nothing but take things – education, healthcare, etc. – away from people is too big a number for the Samizdata server to hold.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Perry, good point about David Deutsch. He’s a thinker who deserves to get a lot more exposure.

    The “straw man” bit referred to the initial claim that many libertarians deny inheritance or other influences on behaviour such as genes, etc. I was pointing out that of course many libertarians are not blank-slaters at all, so it is a “straw man” to suppose that libertarians or indeed other philosophies take this view.

    I remember that more than a year ago, we had a rash of these genetic determinists – one of them was called Matt O’Halloran – endlessly sneering that libertarians were “blank-slaters” who denied the “realities of genetics” or whatever. That is a classic straw man”. I deny no such things. What of course I do strenuously deny is the idea that we are, as a result, puppets on genetic strings. I mean, think about it folks: we are creatures capable of thinking about the conditions of our existence; we ask, “what values shoud a person have?”, etc. These are not just hard-wired from the point of conception.

    Of course, genetic determinists of course, like other determinists, have a problem explaining how, if determinism is true in any significant sense, moral values can have traction since morality needs the notion that people are responsible for their actions.

    Anyway, I am drifting off the topic of my own posting.

  • Free will may or may not exist. Personally I think the probability is that the universe is deterministic.
    That said, we cannot show what will happen (look at the computation debate for an outline as to why) so its no use worrying about it.

    For society to work we require the assumption of free will and the responsibility for our actions it implies.

  • “Libertarians tend to be loners and discount the importance of community life”

    From all the pictures you keep posting of boozy Samizdata parties, this one is risible on its face.

  • This thread over at CiF offers many examples of straw men. I posted under the name SwissBob.

    “Libertarians talk as if every
    family lived on its own forty acres and that
    everyone is more or less an equal player.
    Libertarianism ignores the collective power of
    modern corporate capitalism.”

    “Libertarianism is fantasy. The world needs pragmatic political and economic thought, not some deeply rationalist philosophy that has never, and will never, reflect the reality of the world we live in”

    “Both Marxist and libertarian may congratulate themselves on their superior and enlightened understanding of how society ought to be run…”

    “…It’s a case of ‘every man for himself’…”

    “An easy example of market failure in this regard is homeopathy … yet the stuff still sells. This is not rational behaviour.”

    “Libertarians deny human nature … in the Libertarian fantasy, once Libertarianism is brought about … everything with go swimmingly.”

    “The problem with economic libertarianism, is that it has to repress the human instinct to organise into collectives.”

    “[Libertarians] are saying that they would prefer to revert to a state where hired help was cheap and the person cleaning the street lived in a slum and had a life expectancy of 35.”

    “[Libertarians] evidently want a pure abstract system where people make choices purely based on me me me. The fact that some people make choices, including electoral choices, based on the conditions of people living in run down estates they don’t live in, the state they see their country being in two generations down the line, how closely political policies fit in with altruistic notions they have – these things seem to elude the committed Libertarian.”

    “Libertarianism lauds union-busting,
    but ignores the power of corporate collectivism.”

    “The market was created and is sustained by ‘government intervention’.”

  • Nick M

    Perry,
    How does Deutsch reconcile the post-empirical Many Worlds interpretation with Popperian episitomology?

    Surely Copenhagen would fit more neatly? Although I suspect preference for one QM interpretation over another is more a matter of aesthetics.

  • Dunno if this qualifies as a straw man, but it popped up on a local paper’s blog . . .

    “Well you all know what a “libertarian” really is right?? …. A Libertarian is a dumb conservative who wants to be able to do oxycontin and cheat on their wives without feeling guilty.”

    He goes on to say(Link) . . ‘in other words scum’.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Nick M,

    Popper was firmly against Copenhagen. Although the famous Popper’s experiment (look it up) to try to challenge it was misformulated (a strawman of the implications of Copenhagen if you like), his line was much the same as Einstein’s – he didn’t believe that probability could be a real part of physics, he thought it had to be an illusion caused by our limited epistemic access to reality. (I’m saying all this based on the discussions of other people discussing Popper, rather than the source. I don’t vouch for its reliability.)

    Because all interpretations of QM have the same observational consequences, Popper would say it wasn’t a scientifically meaningful question to ask which was “true”. However, I suspect he probably would have preferred Everett-Wheeler (I don’t like the Many Worlds label for it, it’s misleading) for its philosophical simplicity.

  • How does Deutsch reconcile the post-empirical Many Worlds interpretation with Popperian episitomology?

    Deutsch is a very much a Popperian but the answer to your question is just too much to go into it a comment and too far off topic. Strongly recommend you read The Fabric of Reality if you really want to know.

  • Nick M

    Thanks Perry. I’ll look it up.

    Pa,
    MW might be cheap on assumptions but it costs a fortune in universes. I’d only ever read Popper on falsificationism and viewed that very much as a methodology. I don’t know what he thought about “the nature of reality” so to speak.

    I appreciate Copenhagen has pretty weird consequences on that score and the problem of what counts as an observation and the question of when psi collapses is tricky to say the least. But I have never felt comfortable with the idea of “other universes” (I appreciate that is a charicature) which are in principle unobservable and therefore empirically untestable.

    I never thought much of the assorted “hidden variables” approach of the likes of DeBroglie and Bohm and I never got to first base with Bohm’s Implicate and Explicate Order stuff.

    Can MW (I’ll keep on calling it that for consistancy) be in some way thought of like a Gibbsian Ensemble?

    D’ya think one interpretation will ever cease to be be an “interpretation” and become an integral part of QM?

    (My favourite name for an entity is “Josiah Willard Gibb’s Grand Canonical Ensemble” – It sounds like they should be playing Souza).

  • Pa Annoyed

    Yeah, That’s why I hate the Many Worlds tag.

    The Everett-Wheeler interpretation does not posit many universes, it posits a single universe in which many of the parts do not interact. From the point of view of an intelligence implemented in any one of them, it is as if all the others were in separate universes, but in fact this is not so.

    There’s a very simple example I use to illustrate what I mean. Think of the double slit experiment conducted with an electron. Does the part of the electron wavefunction passing through one slit “see” the part passing through the other slit? This is testable, since “seeing” is tantamount to interacting electromagnetically – does the electron at one slit electrostatically repel itself at the other, which would obviously affect the interference pattern?

    QM predicts that the different parts of the wavefunction will not see each other – they are orthogonal, like normal modes of vibration, they do not interact. When Wheeler was trying to explain this orthogonality to a lay audience he said it was as if they were in different worlds, each individually classical but combining quantum mechanically. The label stuck, and now leads to all sorts of horrible misunderstandings.

    Everett called it the relative state formulation, but that isn’t very clear what it means. If you accept the ordinary quantum mechanics of the two-slit experiment, you already accept the essential idea of “Many Worlds”. The “interpretation” is just to say QM applies at every level. Everett just showed that QM actually predicts classical observations naturally, so all the wavefunction collapse was simply unecessary. All outcomes occur simultaneously, you just don’t see them for the exact same reason the electron does not see itself going through the other slit. It also resolves the EPR paradoxes without any action at a distance.

    It’s the most simple, elegant, and beautiful of the interpretations. But entirely unverifiable.

  • Midwesterner

    To grossly over simplify an entire volume, Popper’s take on quantum mechanics is of a useful statistical method falsely wearing the robes of fundamental knowledge.

  • Paul Marks

    “Capitalism” is a fairly pointless word. I know that Ludwig Von Mises used it – but I still do not much care for it.

    The word implies (atlthough, yes, it does not state) that different laws of political economy come into play when most production is from big factories using complex tools, than when most production is from little sheds using simple tools.

    Actually exactly the same policies should be followed. Security of property, taxes as low as practical, ditto goverment spending, and no web of regulations (the law being a matter of applying the common law principle of justice – i.e. to each his own).

    Will such an “economy” (another irritating word – civil society is not some single household) “grow”?

    Well that depends on what people choose to do. If they all despise material goods and services then “no” (if everyone wants to live like strict monks and nuns that is up to them). It is like “market forces” which are really just the actions of people in civil society. For example, if large numbers of people choose to pay extra for some bottle of something with “fair trade” written on it, then this marketing idea will be successful – and if not it will not be. It is like cars with fins or any other fad.

    As for “we” having to “pretend” that there is free will.

    Certainly this is going off topic…….

    But who is this “we”? Who is doing the “pretending”?

    Are there some higher beings who pretend to be the flesh robots called humans (who are not “beings” at all – for they do not have agency, and as non agents can not “pretend” or do anything else that only free will beings can do), in the hurd of the mindless?

    The very existance of mind (of the “I”) is agency (“free will”) the great distinction between mind and will is not valid.

    A thought does mean a thinker, contrary the double talk opposing this, and a mind (a thinker) is a agent (a free will being) – again contrary to the all the double talk opposing that.

  • Paul Marks

    “Capitalism” is a fairly pointless word. I know that Ludwig Von Mises used it – but I still do not much care for it.

    The word implies (atlthough, yes, it does not state) that different laws of political economy come into play when most production is from big factories using complex tools, than when most production is from little sheds using simple tools.

    Actually exactly the same policies should be followed. Security of property, taxes as low as practical, ditto goverment spending, and no web of regulations (the law being a matter of applying the common law principle of justice – i.e. to each his own).

    Will such an “economy” (another irritating word – civil society is not some single household) “grow”?

    Well that depends on what people choose to do. If they all despise material goods and services then “no” (if everyone wants to live like strict monks and nuns that is up to them). It is like “market forces” which are really just the actions of people in civil society. For example, if large numbers of people choose to pay extra for some bottle of something with “fair trade” written on it, then this marketing idea will be successful – and if not it will not be. It is like cars with fins or any other fad.

    As for “we” having to “pretend” that there is free will.

    Certainly this is going off topic…….

    But who is this “we”? Who is doing the “pretending”?

    Are there some higher beings who pretend to be the flesh robots called humans (who are not “beings” at all – for they do not have agency, and as non agents can not “pretend” or do anything else that only free will beings can do), in the hurd of the mindless?

    The very existance of mind (of the “I”) is agency (“free will”) the great distinction between mind and will is not valid.

    A thought does mean a thinker, contrary the double talk opposing this, and a mind (a thinker) is a agent (a free will being) – again contrary to all the double talk opposing that.

  • Sunfish

    If you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to hide.

    If I’m not doing anything wrong, then whatever I am doing is none of anyone’s damn business.

    Only terrorists need (insert ugly gun name here)

    Then why did my department require me to buy and carry one?

    If you brew ten gallons of beer at once, you must be an alcoholic.

    If I were an alcoholic, tbere wouldn’t be ten gallons sitting around in my cellar unconsumed.

  • Why would we care about our interactions or anything else if free will didn’t exist?
    Pretending would be the act of somebody who had free will but had been convinced he hadn’t.
    Predisposition? Not likely.
    But to be sure, the nearest thing to predispostion is the set of choices we make when we are very young; these determine our preferences and these will have a massive effect on our ability to be happy.

  • Winzeler

    All conspiracy theorists are lunatics and believe in alien abduction crap.

  • Or a classic from a loon on Blogcritrics.com

    Liberatarians for state’s right are merely neo-Confederates in disguise

    Then there is this one:

    Libertarians are all selfish bastards who want to see people dying in the street

  • MarkE

    Libertarians are all selfish bastards who want to see people dying in the street

    Guilty as charged. But only certain, carefully selected people. Does that mean its not a straw man?

  • Pa Annoyed

    I’m getting confused. Are some of the arguments above supposed to be examples of strawmen?

    “The word implies…[crazy and obviously false theory that I’ve never heard anyone express]”

    OK, that one’s obvious. :-)

    “But who is this “we”? Who is doing the “pretending”?”

    Are these supposed to be hard points to answer? This sort of implies the existence of a strawman without ever actually presenting one. A sort of “virtual strawman”, if you will.

    “Are there some higher beings who pretend to be…”

    Obvious too.

    “A thought does mean a thinker, contrary the double talk opposing this”

    Is “double talk” too vague to be a strawman? I tend to think of it as putting up a weak argument that is supposedly your opponents position to be knocked down, but I suppose putting up a vague allusion to an opposing argument is just a more extreme example. I’m not sure.

    “If I’m not doing anything wrong, then whatever I am doing is none of anyone’s damn business.”

    Well of course, but proponents of the argument above didn’t say it was. The dispute arises because maintaining privacy implies that even if you are doing something wrong, it’s still none of their damn business. It’s a classic strawman, but I can’t tell if it was intended or not. Well done, anyway.

    “Pretending would be the act of somebody who had free will but had been convinced he hadn’t.”

    Arguments against free will do not (in my experience) suggest that anyone is pretending to have it, or pretending to care. Why do we care? Because we’re programmed to.
    Because I’m not sure what the counterargument against free will being suggested is, I’m not sure if it counts as a strawman. Fine attempt, though.

    “All conspiracy theorists are lunatics and believe in alien abduction crap.”

    Is that supposed to be a strawman of conspiracy theories, or a strawman of the arguments dismissing them? I can’t tell. It seems to be both. Nice one!

    I think I’m impressed, but I’m not sure. Maybe I should keep to the easy topics, like quantum mechanics.

  • The essence of “straw man” is to counter a person’s views by debunking a view they do not actually hold or which is not actually germane. The notion incorrectly ascribed to them is the “straw man”.

  • Because all interpretations of QM have the same observational consequences, Popper would say it wasn’t a scientifically meaningful question to ask which was “true”.

    This doesn’t sound at all like the Popper who wrote “Three views concerning human knowledge” (realism, instrumentalism and essentialism). To Popper, the choice between empirically equivalent interpretations of quantum theory is not a pointless one, still less “meaningless” as his positivist opponents had suggested. The choice, rather, is one of crucial methodological importance. Popper saw Bohr and Heisenberg as following in the “instrumentalist” tradition of Osiander (the author of the preface to Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus) and Cardinal Bellarmino – a tradition which he characterised as obscurantist and unconducive to scientific progress.

    However, I suspect he probably would have preferred Everett-Wheeler (I don’t like the Many Worlds label for it, it’s misleading) for its philosophical simplicity

    I don’t recall that he did, though the idea had been around since the late 1950s

  • Pa Annoyed

    QM interpretations are metatheories, are not falsifiable, and therefore the scientific method can say nothing regarding their truth. That is not to say that they aren’t true or false, that you can’t address the question on non-scientific grounds, or that one interpretation cannot be scientifically preferable to another on grounds other than the question of its truth. Science certainly has something to say on metatheories, but it isn’t to ask whether they are true. Because the answer would always have to be “we can’t possibly know.”

    It’s not meaningless to ask about the truth of the unknowable, but the question isn’t a scientific one. Science asks “Is it a simple and elegant theory or messy and ad-hoc?”, “Does it generalise?”, “Does it explain a wide variety of previously disparate phenomena?”, “Does it have explanatory power?”; not “Is it true?”

    I’ll grant you, Popper might not have actually said that, but I still think he would. :-)

    I think Popper came up with the propensity interpretation as an alternative. No, he didn’t subscribe to Everett-Wheeler, but I don’t know whether that was because he had a particular objection to it, or whether he simply didn’t know about or understand it. Even today, a great many physicists don’t actually know what it really says.

  • Nick M

    Mid,
    But, if God truly does play dice then maybe the statistical approach is the best that can be achieved. If by fundamental knowledge you mean something like classical determinism then we have no reason to suspect the universe works like that. Perhaps things really are irreducibly stochastic.

    rexie,
    Well, it depends what you mean by “methodology”. I take it to mean what method scientists should/do use in order to get results. I don’t know to what extent Bohr took an instrumentalist approach. At times he could sound almost mystical.

    Pa,
    Well, action at a distance is spooky. I can’t (annoyingly) recall EPR but I seem to recall it can be resolved without the need for action at a distance or the MW interpretaion. But I only half recall it and I’m not going to witter on about socks under those circumstances.

    You seem to be saying that choice of interpretation in QM is essentially aesthetic? My great hope is for there to be something even more achingly mysterious comes along and sorts all of this out yet generates even cooler paradoxes and puzzles. Plus Ultra!

  • Pa

    The key difference of opinion between realists (like Popper and I suppose Einstein especially in his later years) and instrumentalists (Bohr most of the time – though I agree he is not consistent) is about what constitutes the descriptive or explanatory content of a scientific theory, and, therefore, how much is theory and how much interpretation. Popperian realists, as opposed to those he labels “instrumentalists” take the view that there is more to a scientific theory than its observable consequences. This is precisely what the Copenhagen interpretation seemed to deny. To a Popperian, statements about the sub-phenomenal may not be subject to refutation, but they are nevertheless true or false.

    At the risk of being labelled a heretic here, I have some sympathy with the instrumentalist point of view, though not in its strictest interpretation (that scientific theories are merely instruments or tools for predicting the phenomena). Poincare and also, I believe, Heisenberg (though less consistently) thought that the mathematical structure of their theories was also part of what purported to be about reality; this is defensible though not I think what Popper had in mind by realism.

  • Midwesterner

    Nick M,

    Popper appears to my reading to be making the same case that I was making earlier before I read Popper. Namely that ‘truth’ is seldom ‘useful’ and ‘useful’ is seldom ‘true’. There is no binding correlation between the to.

    Intricate models of ‘gods in the sky pulling chariots’ to explain celestial movements could be very predictive. But would anyone today make the case that they are true?

    Popper appears to believe (as I do) that it is the conflating of ‘true’ and ‘useful’ that has lead the search for understanding down a dark alley and mugged it.

    Regarding the “God plays dice” theory, it equates to proving something is unprovable. Whether true or not, we must proceed on the theory that understanding is possible. For the implication of the “God plays dice” theory is that we have reached a road block and no further advance is possible.

    Hardly the foundation from which to search out better understanding!

  • Pa Annoyed

    Rexie,

    Agreed. There is more to a scientific theory than just what is verifiable, and these other bits are important. All I was saying was that the criteria on which they are judged cannot be the question of whether they are true.

    Nick,

    EPR involves a situation where you get two particles with correlated states and on observe one, the other, however far away is effectively observed too. The paradox proves that the outcome cannot be determined at the time the particles separate, and therefore to get the correlation in results from decisions made at the time of observation, some sort of influence-at-a-distance must mediate it.

    Everett-Wheeler, in contrast, says the decision is not made at the time of observation either. In an observation, the observer becomes correlated with the particle, and is part observer-seeing-up and part observer-seeing-down. When the observers of the two particles get back together to compare notes, the up part of one observer can only interact with the down part of the other, so they always see balancing outcomes. Everett-Wheeler is happy that the decision is not made prior to observation, because it believe the decision is never made at all.

    Aesthetics is a reasonable way to summarise it, but that incorporates all sorts of other things. Like, for example, being a local theory. Action at a distance is a difficulty, and fixing it is a real advantage.

    But if you want some plus ultra, just try fitting gravity into it. Because now when the mass goes one way or the other changes the shape of spacetime – and now how do you line up points in one alternative with points in another to say “these are the same point” in order to work out your quantum interference? It’s like laying a carpet when the walls and floor aren’t level.

    The electron at the two slits doesn’t gravitationally attract itself either, but quite how it all works is a mystery.

  • If you are against the invasion of Iraq, you are a peacenik

    The true defining hallmark of a peacenik is the inability to distinguish between aggressor and peace-loving governments. The US was to blame for the Cold War. Israel and the US are to blame for Islamofascist terrorism.

    Peaceniks are like the B-movie scientist who insists on learning to reason with the monster that’s eating half the town – only to wind up getting eaten himself.

  • Sigivald

    Libertarians are uninterested in preserving certain old traditions and cultures makes sense and is true if you add “through the use of the state to force the continuation of same” to the end.

    Which in my experience is what people lamenting others being “uninterested” in preserving such things always want. (With the exception of those lamenting that those who hold such traditions and cultures are uninterested; That statement is often but not always just a lament.)

  • Charlemagne

    Straw Man arguments are often one prong of a fork of simplification. The other being a rather question-beggingly pious description of one’s own position. So those who are apt to caricature libertarians, say, as ‘not caring whether people die in the street’ are as likely, in some succeeding sentence to claim that their own position as Social DemocratsProgressivesThe Left is to ‘seek a better life for everyone in society’. You never see these prongs stabbing more closely together than in the arguments of those whose opinions about how to deal with some international Hell-hole are self-defined as ‘anti-war’, presumably against the blood-thirsty thugs of the ‘pro’ war gang.

  • You don’t believe in public education? You must want everyone to be uneducated!

    The libertarian should respond: You don’t believe in the government providing shoes for everyone? You must want everyone to go barefoot!

    The danger: This attempt at a reductio ad absurdum fails when the statist goes, “You’re correct! Government should provide Universal Footcare and nationalize all of the shoe companies!”

    Where did things take such a bad turn?

  • Pa Annoyed-congratulations.
    “Crazy and false”…”That nobody has expressed”
    That’s even better than Straw Man, even better than Ad-Hominem, and, since I expressed it, actually false, not just because somebody(you) said so.
    Great stuff.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Thanks, Pietr, I do try!

    I must have missed where you gave your implications of the word “Capitalism”, because I can’t recall ever having seen it in that form before. (BTW, I seem to have been slightly misquoted. :-) )

    The size of the factory and the complexity of the tools is what matters? Oh, If only Stalin had realised! He could have fixed the Soviet economy by moving everyone into small sheds! Or is it the other way round? ;-)

    Never mind. I know what you mean. During the industrial revolution something like that happened, because industry was being limited by the scale of production. However, if it had been limited by something else, Capitalism might instead have “implied” better quality (but still simple) tools, more R&D, more expensive materials, better educated and more highly skilled workers, or longer manufacturing processes. At the end of the industrial revolution we shut down all the big factories, the steel works and the car plants, and moved to a smaller scale service industry basis; again, because of Capitalism. Was that also implied?

    In normal circumstances I wouldn’t have commented on it – it was just more material for my warped sense of humour. It’s not an unreasonable observation, I just don’t think the differences are an implication of the word Capitalism, or that the economic laws being applied were new.

    Apologies for any offence that might have been caused. :-)

  • Paul Marks

    Pa Annoyed misquoted me.

    However, it was determined by a chain of cause and effect going back into the mists of time that he would misquote me.

    Just as it was determined by a chain of cause and effect going back into the mists of time that I would write this comment.

    Neither of us has any choice about our actions.

    For those people who can not see that the above line of thought is crap, nothing more can be done.

  • Paul Marks

    “Do not hang me – my crime was the result of a mixture of my genetic inheritance and my environment, I could do no other than I did”.

    “Indeed – and our hanging you is the result of our genetic inheritance and our environment, we can do no other than we are doing”.

    This sort of thing is certainly not a “straw man argument”. It is not my fault that determinism is silly.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Just because the universe is deterministic doesn’t mean we don’t have any choice. :-)

  • Sorry Pa. I thought you were quoting me but apparently somebody else was the object.
    As for Capitalism shutting down the big industries, I would disagree.
    Shipbuilding was destroyed by communist unions, as were cars.
    Both suffered from dreadful management, due to cultural rot, such as ‘the British way of doing things’ being pursued in some cutesy Ealing-comedy pretense; aircraft were destroyed by the government plain and simple.
    In 1957 Hawker Siddeley alone employed 250,000 worldwide; even when the government tried to help it only made things worse.
    Remember the Trident? The reason it wasn’t a 727 was that it was designed for the state airline.
    The BAC111 was never a DC9/MD-80 because BAC was a corporation formed for TSR2 and darlin’ Harold cancelled that to make way for the Soviet Union. Where was the income stream?
    Shipping was destroyed along with Ports by government regulation.
    Airports survived because of restrictive international politics, but mark my words, if Heathrow was still nationalised it would go the way of the Port of London in relation to Europort.
    Thass wh’ I think.
    Thass Rock’n’Roll!

  • Paul Marks

    If we have choice (and if we do not not talk of “we” of of human beings, or any other sort of being, is false) then the universe is not deterministic – Pa Annoyed.

    Unless you are saying that “the universe is deterministic – apart from are choices”.

    Or “everthing is determined – accept we determine some of these things and we could determine otherwise that we do”.

    But this is not “determinism” as it is normally understood. Indeed the basic point of determinism is that we do not have choices – i.e. our choices are “illusions” (who is having the illusion, there being no agents, is never explained) with predetermined outcomes.

    I say again the effort to make a great distinction between mind and will is false. If there are no choices (real choices) then there is no mind – no “me” and no “you”.

    By the way the physics people tell us that the universe is not deterministic anyway – the Q.P. people claim to have to refuted the idea many decades ago.

    Just as the maths people no longer believe in determinism – as chaos theory indicates.

    However, it would make no difference if there were no such folk.

    As Ralph Cudworth poined out almost four centuries ago choice is not randomness.

    There are three elements here (not two).

    Materialist cause-and-effect (the clockwork principle).,

    Random chance (what the Q.P. people are interested in).

    And CHOICE – which is neither of the above.

    Our choices are not entirely predetermined by our genetic inheritance or by our environment (i.e. by prior events).

    Nor are they random.

    The “I” (the agent, the being) does exist.

    By the way I agree with you that the theory that “capitalism” implies different laws of political economy is “crazy and false”.

    However, I am surprised you have never heard of the theory – it is Marxism (from Karl Marx – who I am sure you have heard of).

    This germanic gentleman held that new “forces of production” (such as big machines in factories) led to changes in the “economic base” (how production is organized) which (in turn) led to changes in the “cultural superstructure” (not just changes in legal institutions, but changes in the laws of the subject of political economy as well).

    However, I repeat that I agree with you that the theory is false.

    I just wish that no one had ever heard of it.

  • Pa Annoyed

    No. What I meant was that the universe being deterministic means that the universe has no choice. But we are only a very small part of it, and considered in isolation, we do. It’s a subtle concept and I am not doing it justice here.

    It’s hard to explain concisely, and the following isn’t quite accurate. But consider a computer program that has an IF statement somewhere in it. Is there a sense in which both branches of the IF are possible? Considered as combined program and data, obviously not. The same path is followed every time, the same thing happens, the future is determined by the past. But consider the program as an entity in itself, and the data as its unknown environment, and now there is a choice to be made, and depending on the data different paths may be taken, and the program cannot say beforehand what the future holds.

    The concept of ‘choice’ is a consequence of our limited perspective, but because our perspective is limited, a perfectly valid one.

    Of course, our fear of determinism comes from our fear of something else entirely: the fear of being forced to do something we wouldn’t normally want to do, especially by that most insidious of methods, fooling us into thinking we want it. Also because we are built to construct a narrative, in which “I” am the agent in control. Daniel Dennett’s books have shown how neurophysiologists and psychologists now believe that to be false, but because of the way we are wired it’s a hard thing to accept. You must believe you have choice because that is the way the software works.

    Can you perhaps give me the argument as to why you believe this cannot be so? And indeed, how you think this “unmoved mover” might work?

    I’m aware of the conclusions of quantum physics and chaos theory. The Everett-Wheeler interpretation of quantum physics (which I was coincidentally talking about earlier) is entirely deterministic. It is yet another of its advantages over the probabilistic Copenhagen collapse. So the best you can say about that is that randomness is at least an unprovable conjecture; that it is not impossible. As for chaos, besides the fact that it is entirely a feature of classical mechanics and doesn’t actually exist in the quantum world, it is thoroughly deterministic. Indeed, that’s the whole point – it explains how you can get something that looks random but in fact isn’t; like the irregular ticking of the Patrician’s clock. (Points to anyone who gets the reference.)

    Set the first entry in the sequence to be 0.1 and call it x(0). The next number in the sequence x(i+1) is always four times x(i) times one minus x(i). You can churn it out on a pocket calculator. Utterly deterministic, but keep applying the rule, and you would be hard put to spot the pattern – the numbers jump all over the place. That’s Chaos.

    I’ll accept your point on Marx. I can’t recall having read it put that way, but after reading a couple of his works I avoided all the rest as a form of mental pollution, and tried to forget those bits I had read.

    I bow to your expertise on Marx, and thank you for giving me the opening to expound at length on maths and physics again. It’s a lot more fun! :-)

  • Paul Marks

    Determinism – that all things are determined by prior events.

    Agency (“free will”) – that some things are decided (i.e. that there are such things as beings – agents, thinking creatures, the “I”), not totally determined by prior events.

    These two things are not compatible.

    Which is why the “compatiblism” of David Hume (that determinism and moral responsibilty exist at the same time) is false.

    Neither physics or mathematics have anything to do with the above.

    Most physics people hold that the universe is NOT deterministic (hence such things as Q.P.) – but it would not matter if they held that it was.

    I am not competant to judge between yourself and most men of science – it may be that you are correct and that they are wrong.

    However (I say again) physics and mathematics are not what this question is about.

    As for scientific evidence. Whether by Daniel Dennitt or anyone else.

    As my own existance is self evident (I exist), scientific evidence indicating that I am not an agent (i.e. that the “I” does not exist) would simply prove that science was false (at least as regards to my existance as an agent – a being).

    Indeed (as Descartes pointed out) my own existance may be the only thing I can be sure of. Even if Daniel Dennett was to hit me on the nose – I would still have far less reason to believe in his existance (or the existance of my nose, for that matter) than I have to believe in my own existance. Indeed – how can I believe in anything if I do not exist? Belief is something that can only be had by an agent.

    Bricks, and cars (and so on) do not believe in anything. Only agents (beings) can have beliefs – which is why determinism is a contradiction (by definition). An agent (the person claiming determinism) is claiming (by his claim for determinism) that he does not exist as a being – the only thing that can have a belief (including a belief in determinism).

    Saying “the “I” does not exist, my scientific evidence shows that the body is preparing to act before any “choice” is made” really is the same thing as saying “I do not exist”, and is (therefore) false.

    Perhaps natural science really does point in this direction – but if it does, that simply shows the limits of natural science. It shows that, in some cases, following “the scientific method” can lead to an absurdity.

    I hold that the universe exists (I have no reason to doubt it), but the existance of the universe is not the totally certain thing that that my own existance is.

    To deny agency (non predetermined choices) is to deny the agent – the “I” (myself).

    I say again that to try and draw a great distinction between mind and will (as some people try to) is not valid.

  • Paul Marks

    Pa Annoyed – in case you think I have treated you with a lack of respect (in fact I have the highest respect for you) I will point out the following:

    If God himself informed me that I did not exist (i.e. that there was no “I”) I would tell that him that he was wrong.

    Just as I would if God claimed something incorrect on an ethical (as opposed to a logical) matter (for example if he claimed “rape is a good moral action”).

    As the Schoolmen put it “some things are right and some things are wrong, and not even God can make them otherwise”.

    Although, of course, God could respond (to my insisting that I exist) by making me no longer exist.

    Finally.

    None of the above relies on the existance of God. It is possible that God does not exist.

    However, it is not possible that I do not exist (our knowledge of our own existance is our certain starting point, which can only be denied by falling into a contradiction).

    By the way, as a man interested in mathematics, you may be interested in the old point made by the Schoolmen (and others) that “not even God can make one plus one equal other than two”.

    This is also not a matter of scientific experiment.

  • My (un) favourite straw man argument is triggered whenever libertarian-ish types lament some aspect of modern life for its vulgarity, stupidity, cruelty etc. Then up jumps some bozo saying, with an air of triumph, “How can you complain about that? It’s only what the market provides! I thought you supported the market, huh? Huh?”

    Suggested response: “I also support the right to free speech. Doesn’t mean I have to like everything that everyone says.”

    I am wondering if this one will come up on Midwesterner’s recent post on cruelty in comedy as it applies to the Imus affair.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Paul,

    I likewise have great respect for you and most of the rest of the people here. When I’m more openly critical and argumentative, it’s usually intended as a compliment, because I think you can take it. If I’m wrong about something, I’d prefer to be told, and do others the honour of assuming they would like to be treated the same way. I see that as the primary purpose of debate – to sharpen our understanding. (And if anyone feels differently, please say so.) I have to admit I like the philosophy a lot more than the politics, and I do sometimes feel my politics don’t really fit in here, but it’s close enough for me to relate.

    OK, on to the philosphy. People have been arguing about free will for thousands of years, and having thought about it a bit myself, I don’t think it’s an easy question. The problem is that there are reasonable-sounding arguments why positions both for and against cannot be right. The answer isn’t clear cut, at least, not to me. It’s part of the whole “explanatory gap” thing in the philosophy of consciousness.

    I’m happy to go along with you on your own existence, but less willing on introspection being a reliable way of telling exactly what you are. Dennett bases a lot of his version on the Pandemonium model, which I think was expounded by von Neumann. In this model the mind acts as a sort of committee. When new information comes in, each part of the brain sort of shouts out if it recognises it, or has something to say about it. The components go quiet if they get shouted down, or enhanced if they get backing, until after a fairly large fraction of a second there’s one or maybe a couple left. Whoever wins then becomes “you” for the moment, as far as your awareness/memory is concerned. The process by which it happens is edited out; even if you were aware of it at the time you wouldn’t be able to report on it or remember it. It’s like not noticing the blurring when your eyes move about.

    The committee makes the decision, and then generates an internal narrative to explain it all, which is what goes into memory. A lot of what goes on in your head you’re not aware of, and a lot of what you think goes on in fact didn’t.

    There’s a cool experiment – by Libet if I remember rightly – where they use an electroencephalogram to pick up the decision being made (to press a button, say) by direct measurement of the brain. The odd thing is that it happens about half a second before you think it does, and apparently the feeling is very spooky when they tell you to press the button at random times, but the light goes on just before you do. If they delay the response by the right amount you don’t notice, but whatever it is that actually makes the decision, it appears to do so some time beforehand, and only tells you about it later.

    The experiment is controversial, and its meaning unclear. Is the decision made consciously early on but labelled afterwards with the wrong time? Is decisionmaking perhaps not an instantaneous process but one that takes some time to set up and execute, and you are only aware of the end of the process? Is the experiment simply wrong?

    Awareness is a separate thing to will, as even Aquinas realised, and just because you are certain you are aware of events and that there must be a you to be aware of them, it’s not quite so clear that the same applies to the will.

    I can’t do justice to Dennett’s ideas and evidence in this short space, but it’s definitely worth reading his books if you have any interest at all in the subject, even if to know what to refute.

    I’d be more cautious, if I was you, over saying what God can and cannot do, what can and cannot be so. 1+1 = 2 is a common stated model of certainty, but even mathematicians can (sort of) change that one. There are many other algebras and arithmetics, and truths within them depend upon axiom and definition. In the finite field called GF(2) for example, it is the case that 1+1 = 0, and there is no number 2. Even in physics, and the very concrete example of counting physical objects, it turns out things are not so clear cut. In quantum field theory the number of particles is a quantum operator, and subject to uncertainty (like position or energy). A box that is empty in a stationary frame of reference may be full of particles in an accelerated one, and may contain several different numbers of particles simultaneously. A lot of things depend upon your point of view.

    There appears to be no limit to the potential weirdness of the universe, and theology is most notable for its lack of imagination. Religious revelation always has a peculiarly human outlook, and with the exception of that of the Goddess Namagiri, does not look at all like the work of the actual creator.

    I don’t know the answer to the questions of consciousness. If there is anything other than the laws of physics going on then nobody has detected it and our current understanding of physical law has no room to allow it, and the laws of physics are at the level the brain works thoroughly deterministic. But the brain is complex, there is a lot we do not know, and I cannot say that there isn’t something that serves the same function as a free will when considered from the appropriate point of view.

  • Paul Marks

    As I have said above above, this matter (agency “free will”) is nothing to do with natural science (in the sense of being testable by it) or “the scientific method” (experiments).

    To treat agency as if it was subject to experiment is to make a category mistake.

    On natural science itself:

    You have previously stated that “the scientific method” can say nothing about Q.M. This puts you against the vast majority of people in the field of physics, who claim that experiments have proved that Q.M. (in one form or another) is correct – i.e. that “God plays dice with the universe” (not that this proves the existance of God of course – it simply shows that the universe is not deterministic).

    However, as I stated above, it is possible that you are correct and that most men of natural science are wrong.

    I am not competant to judge this dispute in natural science.

    But I am competant to know that all things are not covered by the same subject (the point of view of reductivism) or the same method or mode of thought.

    Logic, for example, is not a matter of experiment.

    As for mathematics.

    Your implied claim that one plus one may not equal two, shows the danger of becomming too dependent on the methods of physics. Or rather taking those methods outside their subject, and trying to apply them to questions for which they are not suitable.

    It appears that, at least when taken outside their province, such methods can lead to false (indeed absurd) conclusions.

  • Paul Marks

    I must point out that I am well aware that some people in such fields as logic claim to have moved beyond the old principles.

    Indeed it would not suprise me if some academics even claimed that one plus one did not equal two (or that I am not myself, or claimed any absurdity no matter how vast).

    The effort to go “beyond reason” is, in reality, a falling away from it.

    Almost needless to say: Reason is not the same thing as “the scientific method” (i.e. the experimental method of physics), the scientific method is simply one of the tools of reason (indeed created by reason). A tool which is useful for some things, but not others.

    Again any effort to draw great distinctions between “reason”, “mind” and “will” is folly.

  • Paul Marks

    Natalie Solent makes a good point.

    Allowing people to make choices (as long as these choices do not violate the bodies or goods of other people) – which is all that “market forces” are (lots of human choices within the nonaggression principle) does not mean that any of us have to like the results of these choices.

    Perhaps it is the utopian idea.

    Socialists (or some of them) believe that if they had their political way perfection would result.

    Therefore (not unnaturally) they assume that we believe the same thing – i.e. if we get our way in politics perfection will result.

    I believe no such thing.

    I just believe that the world will be less disgusting, overall, if people are not aggressed against than if the state is allowed to boss people about.

    I certainly do not believe that freedom will result in perfection.

    This is at the root of the doctrine in modern economics known (as I am sure N.S. knows) as “market failure”.

    “The market fails to produce perfection in such-and-such a way, therefore the state must get involved” is supposed to be a powerful argument.

    Actually it is no argument at all, for it just assumes that state intervention will (overall) make things less disgusting – rather than more disgusting.

    “Government failure” is a concept that does not enter the minds of the “market” (i.e. human choices) failure people.

    Or, rather, if government fails it is because of “corruption” or the “wrong people being in charge”.

    The vote yesterday in Ecuador is in line with this view.

    The old system (of a division of powers between the President and Congress, and so on) has failed to give everyone lots of nice things (good education, health care, jobs, housing and so on).

    So all power must be concentrated in the President – who is not corrupt and means well.

    I am sure this exacademic is not corrupt (at least in the sense that he is not interested in bribes or stealing money for himself) and I am sure he means well (in that he wants everyone to have lots of nice things).

    But the change will not work – it will lead to things being much worse than they are now, rather than better.

    For those who reject the apriori logical approach of the Austrian school of economics and demand experiments such an experiment is available.

    Venezula (another oil rich South American nation) has already tried handing over power to the President – and he has acted with great energy (also he is not “corrupt” in the conventional sense and “means well”).

    For example, the President has demanded that various things be cheaper – so the poor can afford them, and when these goods and services no longer appear for sale he has acted to take over the sources of supply (and so on).

    It will all end in tears, but it remains to be seen if many people will learn much.

    No doubt it will be said that President Chevez is a bad man, or whatever.

    However, bad people are in making choices in their own lives – they are much worse at making political choices.

  • Paul Marks

    My last sentence was, at least as I wrote it, false.

    It is quite possible for a person to make a total mess of their lives, but for their political judgement to be sound (I am example of this myself).

    What I should have said is that no matter how foolish people are in their choices, the results will tend to be even worse if they are ordered about by govenment. But sadly most people either do not understand that trusting the government to do nice things for them is handing over power over their goods and lives to the govenment – or they think this is a good thing.

    The warning of Samuel (First Book of Samuel, Chapter Eight) is still not known, or people think it does not apply to democratically elected governments.

  • goldylocks

    At last Ive found something resembling my truth..

  • When only 1 photon goes through 1 of the slits you still get an interference pattern. I don’t see how that can be compatible with a single universe – it seems to mean there must be a large number of photons, all in separate alternates, for interference to take place. I wonder if anybody has tried it with less than 1 photon (ie fewer photons released than time intervals measured). If there simply couldn’t have been any photon here & we still got an effect I think this would be Everett-Wheeler proven.

    As regards “Capitalism can only survive in an expanding economy” – it has happened many times, albeit for a limited period & indeed is happening now since we are in recession.

  • This is not a start of an argument, but an attempt to shout debate down. It betrays the fact that Greenery is becoming a religion with its own notions of heresy. If anyone plays this gambit, refuse to take it up.

    How ironic.

  • Scarecrow

    For those of you who do not know. Scarecrows are always using humans as a scare tactic for what ever is needed in their field of view. Why do humans NOT allow the straw man to speak for them self on any debate? OK. so many of you have figured out by now that I am a straw man. But wait! My proof of expertise is that I alone am outstanding in my field. And other humans are always using plagiarism for my ideal, twisting them to fit their human needs. Then when I request to be on the debate, any debate, I am told my views are strictly for the birds. Even with famous examples, even without a birth certificate. My linage goes all the way back to the great revelation of humans, …Alice and Wonderland aka the yellow brick road. I do my job day and night. Hot or cold, rain or shine. Always standing my ground. So let it be known, as of today I am putting my hat in to run for…….
    President of the World. Lets get the word out! VOTE “STRAW MAN”