We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

On dismissing questions about democracy with cliches

I’m more than a little sick of people quoting Churchill (and generally mangling the quotation badly) in discussions about democracy as though his famous remark on the topic was a substitute for clear thinking.

Blithely saying “yes, it’s the worst form of government… except for all the others! hahaha!” doesn’t really lend any new information or depth to a discussion about legal systems, decision making and institutions.

Indeed, bringing up the quotation seems to often be a way of de facto avoiding meaningful in-depth discourse rather than a way to illuminate discourse. Perhaps I’m excessively caricaturing here, but one almost imagines the subtext as: “Ha, ha, yes, isn’t it funny and uncomfortable that this goddess I worship, Democracy, is such a fickle and awful violator of my trust. In fact, so deep is my devotion to Her in spite of Her terrible behavior, and so uncomfortable is this realization that my devotion may be misplaced, that I’d rather not have this discussion at all. So, how about the baseball playoffs?”

This is not useful. Turning away from a problem that makes you uncomfortable doesn’t fix the problem, it just perpetuates it. I recognize most people don’t agree with my view of the necessity, morality or efficacy of having a state, but even among those of you with the mainstream position on that topic, there is a lot of legitimate, and even important, discussion to be had here.

For example, there is always a central question about goals versus methods. That is to say: is the point to have as good a set of laws and as well managed a legal system as possible, with voting being used as a tool to try to achieve that, or is the notion that the maximally faithful expression of the general will is in itself the goal?

If it is the latter, of course, one must accept the idea that at intervals “the people” will vote for censorship, suppression of minorities, genocide, and even worse. If it is the former, then voting is a decision making process, and one must ask, really ask, if it is truly so important that one make sure that every last person, no matter how uninterested, uninformed, or frankly stupid, should get their input into the decisions being made?

As just one more of many example of this: the drafters of the U.S. constitution (and we know this because we have their writings) feared the very sort of Imperial Presidency we’ve developed. They wanted a very limited Presidency, and they wanted the President to be elected quite indirectly. Indeed, at the start of the U.S.’s experiment in government, the Electoral College was a meaningful body, and the Electoral College members were often chosen by state legislatures and not even directly by the people. This was specifically intended to impede the potential for large, ignorant mobs to have too much of a hand in the selection of the President.

Now, if your goal is to give “the people” as much say as possible in the selection of the President, well, this probably seems like a bad thing, and indeed, the electoral college would seem like an institution to be subverted or defanged to the greatest extent possible. If, on the other hand, you are trying to make sure that on average the decision made is reasonable (though perhaps not a particularly imaginative or interesting one) and that extreme decisions (especially extremely bad ones) are very unusual to impossible, this choice makes considerably more sense.

When people whip out the old “democracy is terrible except for everything else!” chestnut, and wink at you, what they’re ultimately doing is impeding thinking about this sort of thing, and certainly impeding having a meaningful discussion about the available points in the design space for institutions. Don’t be one of the people who quotes it as a substitute for having a real conversation.

(BTW, as an aside, most people get the original Churchill quotation badly mangled. It was:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

That comes from a speech before the House of Commons on November 11, 1947. You will note that he’s far less glib than the average person misquoting him.)

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

118 comments to On dismissing questions about democracy with cliches

  • Runcie Balspune

    The problem is placing the democracy cart before the liberal horse.

  • The point of democracy is to show which side has more adherents. Basically when there are more of them than there are of you, you will think twice before starting a fight. (This can get more complicated when there are many sides, and many lunatics. Gotta watch out for them lunatics.)

  • Ken Mitchell

    Democracy is a TERRIBLE form of government; it is the equivalent, according to the old joke, of two wolves and one sheep voting on what to have for dinner. The United States isn’t a “democracy”; it’s supposed to be a REPUBLIC, and the founders tried (vainly, it seems) to keep it that way.

    The original purpose of the Constitution was to PREVENT any branch of government from becoming so powerful that it could be detrimental to our freedoms. It was supposed to protect the liberties of every person from becoming trampled by the baying mobs that we’re seeing today.

  • lucklucky

    We are now step by step entering Totalitarian Democracy.

    “The most evident sign of totalitarian democracy is the fact that “it treats all human thought and action as having social significance, and therefore as falling within the orbit of political action.” So the space for personal decisions is continuously narrowed and politics (i.e. political men) reigns supreme. Politics becomes the new religion and it could very well be seen as the new “opium of the people.”

    https://www.amazon.com/Origins-Totalitarian-Democracy-J-Talmon/dp/0393005100

  • Brian Swisher

    The Electoral College is still meaningful. It prevented one region’s votes from overwhelming all the rest in 2016.

  • Rick

    Lucklucky just added to my reading list. Thanks.

  • For me, the funamental question is a variant on the one Plato explores in the Euthyphro, where Socrates asks, “Do the gods love holy things because they are holy, or are holy things holy because the gods love them?” Politically, the analog is, “Do we have rights because the state/government/the people grant them, or are governments instituted to secure rights that are inherent to our nature?” Of course the latter is the theory of the Declaration of Indendence and was a big part of Madison’s thinking; but the former was sold during the Progressive era, under the malign influence of Bentham, and in parallel with the emergence of the idea that “democracy” is inherently good—to the point where I have exchanged comments with people who cannot even understand the idea of rights that are prior to or above the state, and therefore cannot understand the theoretical basis of American government, leading to constant demands to alter it.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Perry, a very good, clear, concise piece. Thank you.

    .

    I’m not so sure that the common short-form quotation from Mr. Churchill is so bad, however. For one thing, I often do see, or hear, it quoted including the final words “except for all the others that have been tried.”

    A lot of the time, it seems to be used as a way to end a conversation with somebody who’s all lathered up against “democracy.” As a way of saying, “OK, fine, catch you later, dude,” because further discussion will get you nothing but an attack of dyspepsia or the need for a stiff one. Or because the whole thing reminds you that cleaning the gutters sounds like a fun project for the rest of the day.

    But other times, it really does result in a discussion about the goods and ills of “democracy,” and indeed of exactly the distinction you make in the posting.

    Anyhow, I don’t think “Direct Democracy” is a very good idea either. Also, “the general will” is a fiction, although “some General Wills are more general than others,” so to speak. Also, ideally the uninformed or unintelligent wouldn’t vote — although given that the “Elites,” educated at Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, and on and on and on are the Leaders of those who vote against the fundamental political policies that are aimed at protecting the right of self-determination, it is not clear to me that “education” (in the formal sense at least) has proven to aid us who would like to see far, far better protection of said right.

    By the way, I see that since its instigation, at Samizdata.net there has been ongoing discussion (never wrangling, of course) of what is the best way to get a good government (and of just what is “good government,” anyway?), and indeed whether such a thing is even possible.

  • Ken Mitchell

    “Direct democracy” is an _excellent_ form of government – if your polity is 200 people or fewer. I’m not sure it would work well for many more. Just as “communism” is an excellent form of government for a religious order like a monastery or priory or convent.

    For more than a few hundred people (too many to all voice their own opinions on a topic), then we are best served when we can select a spokesman to represent our faction of society; hence, a representative republic.

  • Best pithy remark about democracy I know comes from Guy Herbert, occasionally of this parish:

    Democracy makes an excellent brake but a terrible steering wheel

    – Guy Herbert

  • Patrick Crozier

    The purpose of a constitution is to confer legitimacy on the state that arises from it. A state needs legitimacy so that it can use violence without having to worry about rebellion – in principle, that is, it doesn’t always work that way.

    So, when libertarians talk about constitutions they immediately run into the problem that they are helping to legitimise the very violence they are so much against.

    At this point a lot depends on how you think freedom comes about. If you think it comes about through revolution then you tend to walk away. If you think it comes about through evolution then it makes sense to be involved in shaping pro-freedom constitutions or – more frequently – less anti-freedom ones. I tend to the view that it is best to argue for the maximum amount of freedom you can get at any given time given the prevailing political currents.

    It is worth considering what the best constitutional arrangements might be. I can’t help noticing that the English-speaking world has come up with any number of constitutional arrangements over the years and yet the results are remarkably similar. This makes me think that the ins and outs of the voting process are not that important. What matters is who gets to vote. I can’t help but observe that in the days when the UK franchise was restricted to property owners the scope of state violence was much smaller.

  • Julie near Chicago

    William, Amen to that! A good example of one who seems utterly clueless is a particularly nasty piece of work, one Prof. Jed Rubenfeld of Yale (I think). Eventually Richard can take it no longer and smacks him upside the chops. Verbally, of course.

    The Federalist Society in 2009 presented a panel discussion on the topic “Redistribution of Wealth.” Richard Epstein and Steve Forbes think it is a bad idea; Rubenfeld and Andy Stern (president of SEIU, American branch at least) are all in favor. (Stern’s appearance and demeanor certainly give him the air of a kindly, harmless soul. Appearances can be quite deceiving.)

    It is up at UT in 11 parts. The fireworks occur in Part 11:

    —> U of the Tube, .com/watch?v=k7rYKJYj308

    Of course, the whole thing is pretty interesting. You can watch it from the beginning, Part 1, at

    —> U of the Tube, .com/watch?v=wGai6lXq4LA

  • Julie near Chicago

    Patrick, the problem (or one of them anyway) is that property in land hardly assures sensible and rights-respecting voting. And if a government is not respectful of rights — which means, quite specifically, the right of each person to control his own life, which is to say, the right of self-determination: all rights, properly speaking (i.e., liberty-rights), follow from that — if a government is not respectful of liberty rights, indeed does not see their protection as its most fundamental duty — then what good is it?

    Mr. & Mizz John “Ketchup” Kerry are landowners. So was Obama; so was FDR. So are most if not all of the people who are elected to Federal office. I don’t see great respect for the Fundamental Duty as the defining characteristic of most of the bunch. Nor, I’m sorry to say, do the land-owning Little People uniformly hold that as the fundamental task of the people for whom they vote.

    On the other hand, there are at least a few people who rent rather than owning land, yet who agree on that fundamental task.

    Conclusion: Whether or not one owns land is no proof of political or philosophical soundness.

    .

    My own solution is that only those who pay taxes, and/or who have served in the military, should have the vote. Not that I expect to see this anytime soon.

    (Actually, my preferred solution is that the right to vote must be purchased, a flat, fixed sum for all purchasers, before each Federal election. And that this provides the only source of income for the government and its employees. I think I went into all that in more detail here, some years back. And no, even that is not a perfect solution, but it still seems to me the best overall.)

    .

    PS. Agree on the Evolution method, and “argue for the max amount of freedom you can get” given whatever are the current circs. Of course, sometimes there is virtually none practically possible, but I don’t think you and I are in quite that position yet.

  • Fraser Orr

    >My own solution is that only those who pay taxes, and/or who have served in the military, should have the vote. Not that I expect to see this anytime soon.

    Of course that has a snowballs chance, but one thing that I think might work in the present situation is if we added another sheet to the end of a tax return. It listed all government programs costing more than, say, ten million dollars. You can score them 1-5 (default to 3 if you don’t score them) any 1 or 2 the budget for that program is decreased pro rata to your tax amount, anything above 3 gets a small boost in funding. It doesn’t change your taxes (god forbid), but it does give people the right to stop the government buying things they find absolutely repulsive, such as Planned Parenthood, or the Iraq war, depending on your particular preferences.

    I think there is something in there that the left and the right would really like.

    At the end there is a line that says “I pay too little in taxes, please increase my tax bill by $x.” These $x would be applied to the programs you scored a 4 or 5. Warren Buffett could stop complaining about being charged too little in taxes. How nice for him.

  • Laird

    Julie, “property” doesn’t necessarily have to mean land (“real” property); there are other types which could be used for this purpose. One possibility could be simple net worth (fair market value of all assets minus any debt), which would permit the inclusion of cash, securities, collectibles, etc. In today’s world, where land is no longer the most important species of property, that might be a good basis for conferring the franchise.

    I like your payment of taxes idea, but there are interesting problems with that, too. How much do you have to pay to get a vote? Is $1 sufficient? Do those who pay more get extra votes? Do government employees get a vote? They pay taxes, but the source of their income (and thus their taxes) is itself taxes. If not, which ones are excluded? Military members? First responders? Teachers? This gets tricky, too.

    Neville Shute, in his novel In the Wet (set in Australia in the early 1950s), had an interesting idea: every citizen of legal age gets one basic vote, but you can qualify for up to 6 additional votes based on the following criteria:

    1. Basic vote (everyone gets this)
    2. Education (university degree, or officer’s commission in a military service)
    3. Foreign travel (earning your living outside the country for at least two years; vacation travel doesn’t count, but military service does)
    4. Family vote (raise two children to the age of 14 without a divorce)
    5. Achievement (earned income exceeds $5,000 per year [1953 Australian pounds]
    6. Official of a recognized church (in the novel must be a Christian church)
    7. Queen’s pleasure (reward for meritorious service, in the sole judgment of the Queen)

    We can quibble about the specifics, but the basic idea seems sound. It doesn’t disenfranchise anyone, but expands the voting power of those who deserve it. I have never seen this discussed anywhere else.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    And it’s not even my birthday! How very thoughtful of you, Perry. I’m flattered, really.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, yes, I do know what “real property” is. 😉 But in the discussions as to whether only “property-owners” should have the vote, “property” nearly always means property in land. You remember: “skin in the game.”

    Which is pretty silly, because anybody who lives under whatever regime it is has real skin, his very own body’s actual skin, in the game.

    Even so, how much you’re worth financially ought to have nothing, just nothing, to do with your right to vote — except insofar as you have to come up with the scratch to buy a given year’s vote; this price should be quite small at the outset, so that the Beautiful People can’t run up the cost of voting enough to effectively price the poorer out of the election process. Given that, perhaps the New Const. should set some maximum price, based on something-or-other.

    As to the rest, I’ll run through it quickly.

    1. Votes are sold at a fixed price, same for all who wish to vote.

    2. How much the vote will cost is voted on by the voters in the election immediately previous, whether directly or indirectly (decided by their representatives). At each election, the price for the next election would be decided. Emergencies do happen, so I suppose that contrary to My Will (since I am not, after all, the Great Frog) there would have to be a mechanism for borrowing. Fraser’s idea about ranking preferred functions of government might be useful here.

    3. Votes are not transferable. (Sooner or later corruption will out, however. Or maybe men will turn into angels first, although I have no doubt that I’ll be able to take issue on something or other with any angel who shows up.)

    4. If you want to vote but can’t afford the price, you can either save up for the next election, take a part-time job, etc., or borrow the money to pay for it. Meanwhile, talk your mom or your kid into voting for a lower vote-price this time around.

    It’s to the voter’s immediate financial advantage* to keep Govt. employees (secretaries, janitorial staff) to a minimum. Of course, education oughtn’t to come into it at all. First responders are either in the military or work for private outfits or local jurisdictions. *Of course, again, Corruption Will Out. Sooner or later, I daresay something would have to be done about this.

    The idea is to make it difficult for some people to hold up other people. No subsidies from the taxpayers for anything. No taxes of any kind. (I’m assuming something like the “Federation of States” that we theoretically have, and I’m only talking about the funding of the Federal government by those who are paying for it.)

    The idea is also to make it hard for The Gov to dream up more projects for itself, such as getting into the education biz, or the medical biz, or the social-worker biz, or whatever.

    This surely would represent a sea-change from what we have now, and the voters will never go for it. But I still think that would be the best of the solutions I can see.

    I haven’t seen anything like Mr. Shute’s proposal either, but it seems antithetical to mine. I mean, your his get extra votes, subsidies, perks, for various reasons. Me, nobody gets nuttin’.

    So Obama, say, who has a U. degree, gets therefore one or more extra votes over a man who is merely a H.S. grad but earns his daily bread himself and doesn’t want Obama (rather, Aussie version thereof) telling him what he has to buy? Let’s see. Various U.S. servicemen have ended up supporting Saddam’s or other baddies’ regimes. Oh, that wonderful Cleaver bunch! You know, they got their name because she kept using one to chop off the occasional kidlet’s finger. But he put up with it for 14 years, so together they get extra votes. Then there are all those (alleged) Priestly Pædophiles.

    Point 7, however, I like. As long as I’m the Queen in question. As for the rest … I think it needs work. :>(

    OTOH, perhaps you’re actually joking, Laird, and my humor-receiver-and-translator is on the fritz again. 😥 ❓ :mrgreen:

    . . .

    Fraser, you’re right about the snowball’s chances. :>((

    I love your final addendum to the tax return. I expect to see LARGE checks from all those billionaires who keep screeching at us about why we should be happy to support their favorite Causes. And, of course, their favorite Underdogs.

    –That reminds me. Do you know where I pick up the form that I fill out to apply as a Federally Approved Underdog?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, about the Govt. employees: How about excluding the members of SCOTUS, the Executive Branch including the Cabinet, and Congress from the right to buy a vote? After all, they still get paid some small pittance, and in the end they’re the ones who get to spend the money.

    You could make the same argument about the cafeteria and janitorial staff, and the secretarial pool.

    In fact you could exclude the families of all government workers. Even contractors.

    The first problem with all that, though, is that it will obviously require Staff to check that all those who do buy a vote are eligible under these strict rules. I can imagine a small group of, say, some 20,000 personnel, full-time, to do it….

    I think we should simply make a law that everyone who takes a job anywhere, doing anything, must register with the Gov what the job is and who the employer is. Well, the immediate employer, right up to the holding company. This of course does have to include little Susie and her lemonade stand.

    Also all businesses should have to register who their customers are.

    See, once the database is set up, it’s just a matter of keeping the computers fed. Er, I mean inputted. Oh–you know what I mean.

    We might need a little extra tech staff to keep the printers working, though. Unless you want to keep vital, private Gov information and data in the Cloud.

    👿 😥 😈

  • MadRocketSci

    Let me put the obvious two cents in in defense of democracy:

    Problem with restricting the franchise is that as soon as you do so, there is no longer any legal recourse for the disenfranchised to prevent being abused by the governing class. You’ve set up an aristocracy, and that aristocracy is going to treat their lessers like livestock. (The aristocracy doesn’t even necessarily need to be a majority: Ours sure isn’t. But it needs to nullify the direct interest of anyone who could oppose them.) The extent to which a state is democratic (whether you’re talking about direct democracy or a complicated republic) is an attempt to prevent this (or at least slow it down). (You can argue about how effective it is, but less democracy means the devolution into some kind of technocracy or feudal state or caste-ocracy is much faster.)

    Once you have a caste system, you have people who can use the government to abuse and take advantage of the disenfranchised castes. Maybe not all of them will decide to do it, but those that will will have no directly interested opposition. Also, people’s capacity for rationalizing their tribal interests is incredible. I’m beginning to doubt that any serious fraction of humanity actually has principles.

    You could propose something like: “Only those who pay net taxes can vote.” (And for some things like social spending, this might enable a democratic country to have a social safety net while defanging the political power of the socialists to loot the middle class.) But the problem scenario there is that the aristocrats can try to herd the disenfranchised into ever deeper and more hopeless dependency, to the point where they are putting out quite a lot of value in labor, but have various other non-official-tax rents/fines/costs imposed such that they can never get out of official dependency. (Not the problem that we have, but one that is possible.)

    All examples of limited franchises that I can think of were used to abuse the disenfranchised to some degree or another.

  • MadRocketSci

    One idea that I’ve floated before is this one:

    Congress can set up agencies, pass laws, and propose programs and set a tax *rate*. But it can’t fund anything itself. People decide individually what to fund when they turn in their tax returns. (This couldn’t possibly have worked before electronic communication.) If you don’t like abortions, don’t fund abortion clinics. If you think the whales need to be saved, you can fund the whale hatchery yourself. The people who are paying taxes get to decide how big this year’s bottom-X%-safety-net payout is. If you think we really should be colonizing space, there would be no “non-essential national hobby” objection to blowing your entire contribution on that. The culture wars would be defanged, I think.

    To prevent Congress from “increasing taxes until support for my program improves”, the taxpayers can burn their tax contribution in protest: No one gets it if they’re pissed off at Congress.

    It’s a little complicated, but not anywhere near as complicated or dubious as some stuff I’ve seen posted. In a supermarket, no one votes on which flavor of ice cream the store is going to stock, nor do they elect representatives to govern the food that everyone should eat. They buy what they want, and smart store owners stock what their customers are buying.

    Also: Congress could set up duelling programs. If one program gets bloated and incompetent for the purpose for which it was founded, the competing agency could make a good case to the taxpayers that it does a better job.

  • MadRocketSci

    Ah, I see Fraser proposed something along those lines upthread.

    In such a system there would be much more feedback from voters than democracy or any given republic, not less. But I think it would help, not hurt, because it can’t be used to directly punish/loot a minority.

  • MadRocketSci

    Whale hatchery: I think I meant fish when I was typing. 😛 I bet environmentalists would fund one though.

    also: Other things I’ve seen posted: I meant on the internet in general.

  • bobby b

    Julie near Chicago
    August 25, 2017 at 12:21 am

    ” . . . anybody who lives under whatever regime it is has real skin, his very own body’s actual skin, in the game.”

    Completely true. I cannot square this with your scheme for a poll tax.

    All of these ideas are not going to get us a “better” electorate. They’re going to get the one that is most attuned to the values of the person who decides the rules.

    Whether it be guided by property ownership, or net worth, or ability to pay this year’s vote fee, or the number of pumpkins one can juggle while hopping up and down, these requirements only serve to disenfranchise those people who the Rule Maker decides aren’t worthy of having their opinions counted. Better hope you’re always the Rule Maker.

    That’s the stuff that revolutions are rightly made of.

    Perry de Havilland (London)
    August 24, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    “Democracy makes an excellent brake but a terrible steering wheel.”

    The best democracy is the most deadlocked democracy.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    It takes not different ideas or different thinking or different approach to thinking but it takes an actual different way OF thinking to see things in a way that you have not only never seen before but never could have imagined.

    http://maistre.uni.cx/considerations_on_france.html

  • Julie near Chicago

    Too late for me to pursue this further tonight, bobby, and plizz to podden my shabby shabby Engriss here, but:

    It depends on where you’re deadlocked at.

  • MadRocketSci

    It takes not different ideas or different thinking or different approach to thinking but it takes an actual different way OF thinking to see things in a way that you have not only never seen before but never could have imagined.

    Well, it’s a different point of view, alright. 😛 (I’m through about chapter 1.5) “Providence” certainly does work in mysterious ways when you ascribe divine intent to genocidal human revolutions and the indiscriminate slaughter unleashed thereby.

    Your point stands though: I don’t think I could have invented this worldview, and exposure to alien worldviews does broaden your mind.

  • Julie near Chicago

    The Great Frog help me, I can’t resist.

    bobby, a buy-your-vote method of funding government lets anybody play who has the brains to realize he’s got skin in the game, and enough interest to educate himself and to make the money to vote. No one is disenfranchised except through real functional disability that doesn’t permit him to think well, or to earn money.

    Today people vote because Obama gonna give ’em a phone, or because somebody was bright enough to figure out that, contrary to certain wannabe-semi-eminent nitwits, he who gets out the most votes wins.

    “Who sets the rules” is a red herring if there ever was one. Who set the rules for our Constitution? It wasn’t some Almighty Ruler, I can tell you. It was a whole bunch of people who thought and taught and fought and fussed.

    You’re right that no set of rules will last if (in a democratic Constitutional Republic, anyway) there aren’t enough voters on board with the basic program. But given a Constitution and enough agreement on it among the citizens at the outset, then, if it’s well-written, not nearly all of those who vote have to agree on every jot and tittle of what’s up for the vote.

    Sure, there are problems with my idea. There are problems with every type of government or method of choosing governments or rules that I can think of. But it seems to me that people who care enough to make the effort not just to vote, but to come up with the relatively small (which I did specify, remember?) price for doing so, are more likely to have made the effort to understand the issues that will help them to vote for whatever they think is truly in their best interest.

    The aim here is not to disenfranchise anybody. It’s to give people incentives to vote at least somewhat knowledgably, and to keep government slimmed down as much as humanly possible.

    But getting the Constitution–setting down the meta-rules that state how the government must conduct itself–comes ahead of determining both the voting system and the system for financing the govt.

  • Julie near Chicago

    M R S, Thanks for reminding me–I’ve been looking for a good place to set up a high-class whale hatchery.

    I wonder what sort of offspring a mare and a rooster would have. Maybe I can get the Gov to give me some funding to look into that. :>)

  • Laird

    Julie, in your scheme* you say that “votes are not transferable”. Why not? If the purchase price for the vote is, say, $10, and someone values it at more than that, why shouldn’t I sell it to him? Or let’s just dispense with the “vote price” to begin with, and leave the system just as it is (only citizens of legal age, not under any legal disability, etc., have the franchise) but make votes transferable. If someone offers me $20, or a half pint of cheap whiskey, for my vote, and I consider that to be a fair price, what’s wrong with selling it? As with any good, from an economically rational perspective the vote should find its way into the hands of the person who values it the most.

    * Which, by the way, is nothing more than an old-fashioned poll tax, which is unconstitutional (per the 24th Amendment), but let’s leave that detail aside.

  • To my mind, the two worst abused words in the past century’s political vocabulary are “democracy” and “fascism” and they are abused in comparable ways. Democracy is automatically assumed to be good, and any regime that anyone thinks is good is called “democracy” (North Korea, for example, claims to be a democracy). Fascism is automatically assumed to be bad, and any regime that anyone thinks is bad is called “fascism.” Both usages are the death of rational analysis.

    I’d also note that my view is that democracy and fascism are both evils, politically, because both are founded on the unrestrained power of a ruling group: under fascism, a party elite (though fascism often goes in for mass mobilization); under democracy, a majority (though “democratic” parties are often elites in practice). It’s the unrestricted power that’s the problem. Once you have that, there’s little difference between democracy and fascism.

  • MadRocketSci


    Julie, in your scheme* you say that “votes are not transferable”. Why not? If the purchase price for the vote is, say, $10, and someone values it at more than that, why shouldn’t I sell it to him? Or let’s just dispense with the “vote price” to begin with, and leave the system just as it is (only citizens of legal age, not under any legal disability, etc., have the franchise) but make votes transferable. If someone offers me $20, or a half pint of cheap whiskey, for my vote, and I consider that to be a fair price, what’s wrong with selling it? As with any good, from an economically rational perspective the vote should find its way into the hands of the person who values it the most.

    The “patronage” system in Antonine Rome comes to mind: In that era of Roman history I’m told (via a history podcast – I’m not that old!) that slavery and conquests in the provinces had made various provincial governors incredibly wealthy: And depressed the wages of freemen to the point where literally no service they could provide could be worth anything to the governors and government-connected class who could always get a slave to do it. Property devolved almost entirely into the hands of slave-owners. The slave-owners instituted a “generous” system of “patronage” whereby they would provide some living allowance to the destitute freemen in exchange for their votes (and support in political street battles). Not a fun place to be. Even creepier since this is apparently what the American Silicon-Valley Left seems to be aiming for in their fantasizing about an “automation utopia”. Free-men as useless appendices to the true ‘creative’ robot-owners, but they can be kept as pets if they behave. (And I think there is more than a bit of rationalization to their use of ‘robot’ in rhetoric or their understanding of ‘automation’.)

  • Chip

    Hugo Chavez was elected. Chavez-fan Jeremy Corbyn would likely be elected today. Polls show 60% of US Democrats would vote for a socialist president. More than half of US population growth comes from Hispanics, of whom about 70% vote Democrat, which means Texas is likely to become a toss-up state within the next two elections.

    Demography is king. You can discuss Burkean philosophy till the cows come home but at the end of the day only a few bare facts matter: 1) a culture that prizes free markets and individual liberty is rare, 2) that culture is being destroyed in classrooms, and 3) immigrants are increasingly statist.

    The Left understands numbers 2 and 3 very well. And they’re winning.

  • Roué le Jour

    Just as open borders and welfare are mutualy exclusive, so, I would argue, are redistribution and universal suffrage. The system will inevitably be captured by recipients making contributors forced labour.

  • Alisa

    It should be about what issues can be subject to a vote, rather than who can vote on any given issue. There seems to be no interdependence between the two numbers – but the smaller is the former, the less we would have to worry about the latter (although that one may still require some attention, such as with government employees).

  • Jacob

    It should be about what issues can be subject to a vote.
    Of course.
    And how do you determine that? By a vote?

  • Jacob

    About schemes to modify the universal voting rights and assign voting rights according to property and/or education:

    I wish to note that it was the “uneducated” and “unwashed” who gave us Brexit and Trump.

    I would rather limit the voting rights of college educated people and millionaires (especially their heirs), to prevent the rule of socialists and crony capitalists.

    The idea that poor or uneducated people are prone to vote according to their material interest, i.e. for expropriating the rich – is a Marxist idea. It’s part of his ideas on materialism and on class struggle. Like all his ideas, they are ridiculously false, all invented in some feverish mind that was totally unconnected to any facts.

    Since even Marx realized that the unwashed masses don’t favor revolution – he stipulated that the revolution and the proletarian masses need to be led by an educated vanguard of intellectuals (i.e. small bourgeoisie people like Marx himself).

    The biggest opponents of freedom are not the masses of “uneducated” and “unwashed”, but the “intellectuals” – i.e. the college educated and indoctrinated Marxists, the eggheads who think they know everything and actually know nothing.

  • Roué le Jour

    The idea that poor or uneducated people are prone to vote according to their material interest, i.e. for expropriating the rich – is a Marxist idea. It’s part of his ideas on materialism and on class struggle. Like all his ideas, they are ridiculously false, all invented in some feverish mind that was totally unconnected to any facts.

    Hilary nearly won and Jeremy reduced the government’s majority. Other than that, perfectly sound.

  • TomJ

    The last time I trotted out the Churchill line it was in preparation for introducing this essay by Karl Popper on what the purpose of democracy actually is. https://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2016/01/karl-popper-democracy

    Tl,dr: Democracy is not about enforcing the Will of The People or even about getting the best leaders, but rather about ensuring it is possible to get rid of sitting leaders without bloodshed.

  • Jacob

    “Hilary nearly won and Jeremy reduced the government’s majority.”

    And who voted for them? The “intellectuals”.

  • lucklucky

    Democracy can only survive if people are allowed to define the intensity of its Politics by vote, otherwise it will turn to totalitarian democracy.

    Today Politics replaced Religion and journalists are today priests that define what is moral.

    abstention,non valid,blank votes should be represented in Parliament with empty seats. The scale of this should restrict the quorum necessary for certain laws to pass.

    For many laws conscientious objection also should be available.

  • If you want a stable democracy, let only the middle three quintiles (by taxes paid) vote. If the Marxists hate the bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie must have something going for them.

  • John B

    ”Blithely saying “yes, it’s the worst form of government… except for all the others! hahaha!”

    Churchill was wrong… having no Government worked well enough for England untill the 11th Century and Ireland until the 12th and Iceland.

    Government is not required to have laws… the Common Law emerged without Government or even a legislature. Iceland had a legislature but no Government.

    The three cases cited above got a Government when kings came along and decided they wanted to rule. (aka own the land, collect rents, levy taxes)

    Governments bring legislated… invented law… which in most cases undermines or overwrites discovered (Natural or Common Law) for the benefit of those in charge and their cronies.

    Democracy is the new opium of the People numbing the minds of the Masses to the truth that Government is a coercive, extortion and protection racket run for the benefit of the few who rule, by making them think it is ‘We The People’ in charge. And of course the Masses are pleased to believe this particularly if they are promised lots of free stuff paid for by somebody else.

    We are told that without Government there would be chaos, but that ignores spontaneous order at which Humans are so good.

  • Fraser Orr

    @John B, I don’t quite agree with your interpretation of history, it is more complicated than that, there certainly were laws enforced by the powerful pre-Norman conquest, and that time was certainly not some idilic anarcho capitalist paradise. (Though Iceland is indeed a good counter example.)

    However, your underlying point is correct, and it is how I respond to the Churchill quote. Churchill was wrong, there is a better form of government, it is called freedom, which is to say, leave people the hell alone. The Americans gave it a pretty good shot with their limited powers, competing interests, anti democratic constitution, and it lasted pretty good for for over 100 years (though it is a tragedy and a stain on the integrity of the men who wrote it that their high words and worthy promises didn’t apply to black people.)

    Which is why I am a little resistant on all this talk of better voting systems. The real solution to voting is to make it less powerful (corporately, since an individual vote is worth effectively zero). I love the quote from Perry: democracy is a better brake than a steering wheel. It is very much on point. The vote should be powerful enough to prevent tyrnnts, and their accumulation of power, and shouldn’t be able to do much more than that.

    The most important vote of all is the vote with our feet. The goal of any system of government should be to enable the people to tell the government to f**k off by moving to the next town over. The goal of the tyrant is to move the power decisions further up the federal hierarchy to prevent anyone from escaping their grasp.

    Imagine a country when the vote for the local mayor was considered vastly more important than the vote for President. Because the mayor held far more sway over your life (and consequently, if he pisses you off you can move down the street to a different town, or get together a group of people large enough that you can endanger his re-election.)

    What went wrong in America is that we allowed power to get sucked up into Washington. At the root is a series of constitutional amendments 14th through 18th (excluding the 15th) along with the parallel tracks of the welfare stated starting with FDR and the war on drugs (arguably starting with the 18th amendment.)

    I’m afraid modern Britain never got this right, except for the recent devolution of power. My nephew is visiting from Scotland right now, and I have been having some political discussions with him. It seems that the SNP want to raise the income tax (because the insane Scots voted for a devolved assembly with tax raising powers), but aren’t brave enough to do so because of their recognition of the fact that the rich people will tell them to bugger off and move to London. That is true accountability, that is the true and most powerful vote, the one that says “go f**k yourself.” to the tyrant.

  • John B,

    It’s actually not the case that Iceland had “no government.” In fact I have discussed this with David Friedman, whose writings on anarchocapitalism seem to have helped suggest this, and he explicitly said that he did not consider Iceland a stateless society; and a reading of Bloodtaking and Peacemaking, by William Ian Miller, who discusses the ways in which Iceland was and was not libertarian (for one thing, some of its population was thralls who definitely did not have equal rights), supports this.

    Iceland had an institution called the Thing, which functioned in small measure as a legislature, but more importantly as a supreme judiciary (and often a court of original jurisdiction as well). And the Thing did not have a monopoly of force, because law was privately enforced; nor a monopoly on adjudicating disputes, because anyone could do that—there was even a custom called “self-judgment” where the complainant was trusted to dictate the compensation that would resolve his complaint. But the Thing did have a monopoly on compulsory process: You could present yourself to someone, and demand that they show up at the Thing to answer your complaint, and if they did not show up they would be outlawed and lose all their legal rights, and no other body had the power to outlaw people or, thus, to compel their participation in a trial. That’s an important feature of a legal system (I think it can be shown that one lacking it does not function as well, if at all), and it was held as a monopoly power by the Thing, which makes the Thing a state—an ultraminimal state, perhaps, but it’s still a statelike power.

  • Alisa

    Churchill was wrong… having no Government worked well enough for England untill the 11th Century and Ireland until the 12th and Iceland.

    His words rested on the widely shared assumption that there must be a government (whether he himself shared it or not, I have no idea); he didn’t say that having a government is the least-worst way of organizing society, only that democracy is the least-worse form of government.

  • What the United States classically had, and still has in a smaller measure, is what might be called “superdemocracy”: There are laws that cannot be changed by simple majority vote, but require a supermajority. In the US it’s two-thirds of Congress and then endorsement by three-fourths of the states. This is not infallible! The income tax amendment, and popular election of senators, and Prohibition all passed with supermajorities, after all. But it’s better than a “constitution” that can be changed any time by a 50% plus one vote. And since people regularly object to any judicial decision to overrule a law passed by a simple majority as “undemocratic,” I think it’s fair to say that superdemocracy is better than democracy.

    I have the impression that the British political system is straightforwardly majoritarian, which may account for why Churchill thought democracy was the least bad system. But the United States had, and still has, something better, even if only marginally better. For one thing, laws against “hate speech” and “blasphemy” and the like still get struck down by our courts, and doing away with the constitutional protection for freedom of expression would require supermajorities that cannot currently be achieved. Of course, that’s also why the United States is now experiencing attempts to do away with freedom of expression and freedom of assembly by mob action instead of law.

  • EdMJ

    For further discussion of Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic societies, you might want to check out some of Nicholas Dykes (of this parish) writings, which is where I first heard about them.

    He covers them in his excellent novel “Old Nick’s Guide to Happiness: A Philosophical Novel”, or in more detailed form in some of his essays, such as The Facts Of Reality: Logic And History In Objectivist Debates About Government, in the “A. The Principles of Customary Law” section.

    He seems to draw heavily from “The Enterprise of Law” by Bruce Benson, so might be worth checking that out directly as well, reviewed here: http://folk.uio.no/thomas/po/enterprise-of-law.html

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, of COURSE it’s what we call a poll tax. Yes, it’s unconstitutional according to the present constitution; believe it or not, I’m well aware of that and have been since I started thinking about it back in about 2010. Obviously the idea requires a whole new constitution, and you’ll forgive my mentioning that above I said, in so many words, that first a new constitution would have to be devised. (Not only to put pay-to-vote, or even proof-of-tax-paid-to-vote, but for other reasons as well; one of them being to specifically and strictly curtail tail government initiatives such as meddling in education, in health care and insurance, in social work — to mention again the three areas I noted above. There are others, of course. No subsidies for anybody in any industry, for instance.)

    The whole idea is only brainstorming anyway, although I still think it has considerable merit. Even the much less drastic requirement that only those have paid taxes may vote is unthinkable in today’s political mind — if I may so put it. As I also stated above, and as Fraser reiterated, this “has a snowball’s chance.”

    .

    The flaw in the plan, and it is huge, is the simple fact that all it takes to capture the vote is for Daddy Morbux to simply go around and give people enough to pay for the vote plus a little gratuity on the side. And, of course, bussing them to and from the polling place. (Just as the Dims have so masterfully collected the votes of the ignorant, the uninvolved, and those who are ethically challenged.) And it needn’t be a single Daddy. Any loose collection of the like-minded could pool whatever funds the members have or could dredge up, to be used for the same purpose.

    .

    The point is to keep the govt. too strapped for funds to engage in activities or projects outside its specific and narrow remit, in order to protect political liberty insofar as is humanly possible, including but not limited to taking money or property from persons against their will. Along with that, is the objective of keeping the vote available to nearly everyone, which is why one-person-ONE-and-only-one vote, no exceptions, is so important; and in order to do that, the voters themselves would presumably vote to keep the price low. This, however, might need the help of some sort of constitutional requirement as to a maximum possible charge. Finally, there’s an aim of trying to rein in “faction,” whether of sheep-farmers vs. cattle-ranchers or of authoritarians or near-totalitarians somewhat united in some Noble Cause vs. those who think Live & Let Live is a great idea. (It is not the latter group who have great interest in running roughshod over the interests and rights of others.)

    .

    Excuse me now. I’ve already let my coffee get cold.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Demography is king. You can discuss Burkean philosophy till the cows come home but at the end of the day only a few bare facts matter: 1) a culture that prizes free markets and individual liberty is rare, 2) that culture is being destroyed in classrooms, and 3) immigrants are increasingly statist.

    The Left understands numbers 2 and 3 very well. And they’re winning.

    This.

    I almost said thread winner, but I obviously already won the thread with the Maistre link. So this comment takes a strong silver medal.

  • For those interested in the Iceland of the Settlements, the first volume of Gragas (Gray Goose, the Icelandic code of laws) is now available in English, on Kindle, for a reasonable sum. The second volume is not.

    (It’s on Amazon. I tried to give a link, but the button didn’t work for me.
    https://www.amazon.com/Laws-Early-Iceland-Gragas-Icelandic-ebook/dp/B00NYD8IQ8/ref=sr_1_1_twi_kin_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503692023&sr=1-1&keywords=gragas

  • Paul Marks

    This post rather misses the point. Although, yes, an elected Presidency may be a mistake (as Roger Sherman argued at the Convention – indeed I tend to agree with the late Mr Sherman on quite a few of the matters of dispute at the Constitutional Convention).

    It is not an “Imperial Presidency” that is the real problem – indeed American Presidents tend to have less power than British Prime Ministers (as President Trump is discovering – although President Obama acted as if he had vast powers, and was allowed to do so by a Republican Congress dominated by cowardly vermin terrified of what the media would say if they “shut down the government” by not voting to borrow and spend what Mr Obama told them to borrow and spend), the problem is that the BILL OF RIGHTS is not enforced.

    The United States was indeed NOT meant to be a “democracy” – the word was mostly used in a negative sense in the 18th century, implying not just lots of voters but also (the fatal step) these voters having the right to override the basic laws of natural justice.

    Aristotle, and even more the students of Aristotle, did not divide forms of polity (government) into three – they divided them into six.

    Monarchy, tyranny, aristocracy, oligarchy, democracy and just “polity”.

    What divides monarchy, aristocracy and “polity” (in this context not just any form of government – but one is which there are very many voters) on one side – and tyranny, oligarchy and democracy on the other side?

    What divides them is that in the former three forms of government the basic laws of natural justice are (broadly speaking) respected – and in the latter three forms of government the basic laws of natural justice are NOT respected, they are violated.

    In the case of the United States the Bill of Rights limits the powers of the Federal Government – the Tenth Amendment is especially important.

    However, as Luther Martin pointed out at the Convention, a Supreme Court of judges appointed by the government itself and sitting WITHOUT A JURY is likely sooner-or-later to be an unreliable defender of the Bill of Rights.

    With hindsight it is not a wonder that the Bill of Rights has been violated – but that it lasted so long, and some of it (some of it) is STILL ENFORCED.

    For example the First Amendment is largely enforced – which makes the United States vastly superior, in-this-respect, to the modern United Kingdom where there is no protection for Freedom of Speech.

    Also the 2nd Amendment is, partly, enforced – which again makes the United States vastly superior, in-this-respect to the modern United Kingdom.

    It is the Tenth Amendment that is very rarely enforced – due to the courts (quite wrongly) deciding that there is a “general welfare spending power” which allows the Federal Government to spend tax money on anything it feels like spending money on. There is no “general welfare spending power” – the “common defence and general welfare” is the PURPOSE of the specific spending powers then listed in Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution of the United States.

    Also the courts have decided that “regulate interstate commerce” does not mean free trade over State lines (there is still NOT free trade over American State lines – try selling health insurance over State lines), but a power to regulate every aspect of economic activity within States.

    Basically the courts (sitting without juries) act as if the Constitution of the United States was the European Union “Single European Act” giving the government the power to pass any regulations it likes. Even (as a famous case 1940s case had it) a farmer selling food on his own farm – this was ruled “interstate commerce” by judges who can most politely described as intellectual corrupt subhuman scum.

    As a randomly selected jury is a democratic instrument (as every Ancient Athenian knew) a major problem of the United States could be said to be that it is NOT a democracy.

    After all most voters in general elections (in the United States or Britain) have no idea how much money government spends or on what, and have no idea what government regulations are – “representative democracy” with an electorate of tens of millions is, therefore, a rather lose concept. But a few people (say 12) with a specific issue before them and able to hear the arguments of both sides – that is a very different matter.

    It might still not work – it might be an utter failure. But democracy should be tried. Ironically democracy in the good sense might be the best way of limiting democracy in the bad sense – Mob Rule with an ill informed mass of citizens voting for the person with the nicest smile, or who flatters them the most. That was what Aristotle meant when he described a polity where most people had the vote but were sober and understood their responsibilities (for example a collection of Ancient Greek farmers, or a New England town meeting in the life time of Calvin Coolidge – a man who could, and did, read Ancient Greek) rather than a wild “democracy” where the city mob disregarded the basic laws of natural justice (which should bide us all).

    12 randomly selected people asked a specific question “is this Constitutional?” and hearing the arguments of both sides, is a very different matter from tens of millions of people each of whom knows that THEIR INDIVIDUAL VOTE DOES NOT MATTER MUCH (because there are so many voters).

    Particularly when they are normally NOT voting on a specific issue – they are voting on “which of these candidates do you like best – or dislike least”, indeed (in Britain – where most people do not even know the names of the candidates, let alone anything about them) “which party label do you like best or dislike least”.

    “Do the people rule well or badly?” rather misses the point that the people very rarely have much say in policy (they do sometimes – but very rarely). I repeat….the people mostly do not know what government spends or what it spends it on, and most people do not know the government regulations.

    If people do not decide taxes and spending and they do not decide the laws – then they do NOT rule. They choose the people who do rule – and they place power into the hands of these OTHER PEOPLE.

    Such power must NOT be unlimited.

    This was understood by all the American Founders – but not just be them.

    The great thinkers of the Common Law (before the Blackstone Heresy) would have been horrified by the thought of the Divine Right of Parliament. Indeed such people as Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke and Chief Justice Sir John Holt (Chief Justice from 1689 to 1710 – he Glorious Revolution period) and the successors of Sir John Holt made it clear that the idea of unlimited power for Parliament is just as obscene as unlimited power for the King.

    To those who argue that there are no fundamental laws of natural justice and that the rulers (the man or men with the biggest sword or swords) should be allowed unlimited power – the answer is plain. If such people (the supporters of Thomas Hobbes and so on) are killed (without pity or remorse) by-their-own-arguments no crime has been committed – as their killers are simply the “sovereign” they love so much (who may be “one person or many persons”). So if-one-is-to-take-them-at-their-word one need waste no time arguing with such a person – one should simply cut their throat. If they scream for help, on seeing the knife heading towards their throat, they contradict all their most basic arguments. For who are they screaming for help from? Not the “sovereign”, he is the man trying to cut their throat – whilst his henchpersons hold them down, they scream for help from passers by – the “Rednecks” whom the “educated” despise so much, and they scream for help on the basis of the basic laws of natural justice – which they deny exist.

  • Paul Marks

    The normal point applies….

    No political system is worth a damn if most people forget (or are led by false philosophy to deny) what they are.

    If most individuals do not keep in mind that they are moral agents (have free will – are persons, not flesh robots) capable, with effort. capable of telling moral right from moral evil, and (again with effort) capable of CHOOSING to do what is morally right against their desire to do evil (or just run away), then no political system will work.

    A nation that is no longer inhabited by human beings (but, rather, by human shaped creatures who have forgotten or been led by false philosophy to deny what it is to be a human person) will be Hellhole – regardless of what the formal political system is.

    “Why did you save me? Did you not see how many of them there were?”

    “I am not an educated person, I never learned to count, but I know what is right and what is wrong – and I would not be much of a man if I did not act upon that knowledge”.

  • bobby b

    Shlomo Maistre
    August 25, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    ” . . . I obviously already won the thread with the Maistre link . . .”

    His “the nobility and the king are God’s elect doing His work unless they’re really not and then the CPS with its white-hot cleansing sword is really doing His work and thank God I’m here to explain the difference after the fact” theme always left me cold, just as it does when some high-ranking member of the social hierarchy explains to me why the social hierarchy is God’s own ranking system.

    If God himself came and explained to me – directly – that the king and his hierarchical-nobility staff were His emissaries on earth, it would get me past two hurdles – I’d believe in God, and I’d believe the social hierarchy thing was something more than self-serving propaganda from the nobility – but it would still leave me with the third hurdle of, So What?

    In other words, is God good? Should we be following his expressed desires even if they conflict with whatever system of morality we’ve come up with? Or is it just that we shouldn’t cross anyone with ultimate power?

    If you’re expressing the utilitarian argument that humanity’s psyche leaves it most effectively governed by some unquestionable revealed truth with a strong stick behind the carrot, that’s one thing. But if your argument really is that we cannot question God’s pronouncements, well, why not?

    (Is that what you mean by a different way of thinking?)

  • Paul Marks

    In case someone can not work out the context of my little “quotes”.

    The second “speaker” does know how to count (he knew just how many foes he was facing – and that there was no way he could choose to come to rescue and still live himself) – and he is dying of his wounds as he speaks.

    We are all both “speakers”.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Bobby b,

    His “the nobility and the king are God’s elect doing His work unless they’re really not

    Where does he say anything to the effect of “unless they’re really not”?

    and thank God I’m here to explain the difference after the fact”

    Joseph de Maistre was famously very reluctant to write about his opinions for a variety of reasons. He rejected many requests to write about the French Revolution partly because he (rightly) saw argumentation entirely superfluous to the process by which governments are formed.

    always left me cold

    Revelation is not intended to make you feel warm. If your comfort level isn’t being tested you’re not challenging yourself. If you find yourself questioning the most basic assumptions about how you go about life then you may be on the right track. Feeling cold is a pretty decent indication that you may be doing something right. Or not.

    always left me cold, just as it does when some high-ranking member of the social hierarchy explains to me why the social hierarchy is God’s own ranking system.

    Discounting arguments because of who delivers them is ad hominem. I’m not impressed.

    If God himself came and explained to me – directly – that the king and his hierarchical-nobility staff were His emissaries on earth, it would get me past two hurdles – I’d believe in God, and I’d believe the social hierarchy thing was something more than self-serving propaganda from the nobility – but it would still leave me with the third hurdle of, So What?

    Would it still be faith if God did this?

    I am not a scientist or an astronomer or a physicist and yet I believe that the moon is not made out of cheese. I have not proven empirically with science that the moon is not made out of cheese. I accept authority figures who have taught me that the moon is not made out of cheese.

    The only difference between the moon and God is that you can see one. For most of human history humans have believed that within the circle of truth about the universe there are two primary subsets: that which humans can prove empirically and that which humans cannot ever prove empirically but is nonetheless true. There aren’t many people these days who still believe that at least a small portion of the true things about the universe INHERENTLY CANNOT be proven to be true by humans. I’m one of them though. And I’m not convinced that you have thought through the implications of agreeing with what today is the majority on this. For instance, have you contradicted Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem? If not, what does this indicate to you about the nature of existence?

    Also do you think that social hierarchy can be escaped somehow? Do you think there’s no social hierarchy in America these days?

    In other words, is God good?

    Define “good”. In an underlying sense, yes, God is good. He is aligned with truth, beauty, unity, and strength. He is the source of creation. Which is not to say that all things that transpire within His creation are good; many things are not.

    Should we be following his expressed desires even if they conflict with whatever system of morality we’ve come up with?

    You think God’s expressed desires can be known in any real sense? Outside spiritual Protestantism there have through history been very few genuine theologians of such an opinion; I’d be curious as to how you seem to have refuted them.

    But yes, God’s Law supersedes any law conjured up by mere man, though one might wish it were otherwise (again, truth should not make you feel warm). Spiritual law undergirds temporal law. Which is why temporal disorder is born of spiritual order, which also explains how (and why!) democracy is effectively political Protestantism, since if you don’t need a spiritual authority (Priest) for salvation then you don’t need political authority for political rights. But that’s a long story.

    Or is it just that we shouldn’t cross anyone with ultimate power?

    No mere mortal has “ultimate power” in my opinion, but feel free to explain how it is or could be otherwise.

    With that said, yes sovereignty implies infallibility, which is why Hillary Clinton can never be prosecuted for her many high crimes without a change in the composition of sovereignty (think something like 1865) in the USA. There has always been and will always be at least one to whom it cannot be said “you have erred”.

    If you’re expressing the utilitarian argument that humanity’s psyche leaves it most effectively governed by some unquestionable revealed truth with a strong stick behind the carrot, that’s one thing. But if your argument really is that we cannot question God’s pronouncements, well, why not?

    Well, I could argue both. I have argued both.

    The answer as to why you cannot question God’s pronouncements… to make a long story short, is that you do not even know what they are.

    (Is that what you mean by a different way of thinking?)

    You seem to be examining a philosophy that contradicts your own using the tools, methods, and standards to which you already subscribe. Consider examining revelation on its own merits, which requires accepting certain things for the sake of argument and running with those arguments with not just an open mind but a mystical, contrarian, and determined mind. The limits of knowledge are those of its nature, so if you want to understand completely foreign ideas you may need to change yourself first by delving into the perspective head-first and taking some things on, yes faith. This means suspending your disbelief. This means abandoning your intellectual identity and maybe even temporarily your personal identity.

    I was not born a Reactionary. I was born into a highly Progressive liberal Democrat Jewish family. All my teachers, friends, and family friends growing up were likewise. My college and friends from childhood and high school etc also same perspective. These changes take time. Years.

  • God herself often speaks to me in dreams (Eris or Tawaret, it depends of the method of summoning: Scotch or Gin & Tonic respectively) and thus I have it on the highest authority that not only is she a figment of my imagination, it is only cheesemakers who are blessed, and providence relates to the appearance of delicious mold (or Rhode Island), and has nothing to do with kings (and the latter should only be commemorated on January 21st in France and January 30th in England).

  • bobby b

    Shlomo Maistre
    August 25, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    “Where does he say anything to the effect of “unless they’re really not”?”

    “It would be futile to deny that France exercises a dominant influence over Europe, an influence she has abused most culpably. Above all, she was at the head of the religious system, and it was not without reason that her king was called most Christian: Bossuet has not over-stressed this point. However, as she has used her influence to pervert her vocation and to demoralize Europe, it is not surprising that terrible means must be used to set her on her true course again.”

    Isn’t he saying that the king – God’s chosen king – eventually erred and strayed and so the revolution came to set things right?

    “Revelation is not intended to make you feel warm. If your comfort level isn’t being tested you’re not challenging yourself. If you find yourself questioning the most basic assumptions about how you go about life then you may be on the right track. Feeling cold is a pretty decent indication that you may be doing something right. Or not.”

    “Revelation” seems to me to be something that has either happened to one, or has not. It is not something that can be brought about by any effort or questioning or logic. If it hasn’t been experienced, it is the unfalsifiable assertion. If it has, it is Truth.

    “Discounting arguments because of who delivers them is ad hominem. I’m not impressed.”

    Ad hominem isn’t entirely useless. When questioning someone’s assertions, that person’s self-interest is relevant.

    “Would it still be faith if God did this?”

    No, it would be knowledge. “Faith”, they way you used it here, seems to depend on lack of knowing for its strength. It all goes back to revelatory experience. You have it, or you don’t. There’s no seeking it, or earning it, or learning it. So far as I can tell, there’s no merit in having it or not having it. You just do, or not.

    “And I’m not convinced that you have thought through the implications of agreeing with what today is the majority on this. For instance, have you contradicted Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem? If not, what does this indicate to you about the nature of existence?”

    The halting problem baffled me. I’d probably end up killing myself if I took on Incompleteness.

    “Define “good”. In an underlying sense, yes, God is good. He is aligned with truth, beauty, unity, and strength.”

    How do you know this? If the answer is “He told me so”, then I think it’s open to question, both as to the existence of the telling and the truth of the matter asserted.

    “Outside spiritual Protestantism there have through history been very few genuine theologians of such an opinion; I’d be curious as to how you seem to have refuted them.”

    Refuted them? No. But if history’s theologians agree that God’s morals match ours, that leaves me with the skeptic’s Chicken Or Egg problem. Haven’t we merely ascribed our morals to God?

    “But yes, God’s Law supersedes any law conjured up by mere man, though one might wish it were otherwise . . .”

    Why? Who says? God? Again, this statement relies completely upon revelation. Without it, it becomes self-serving.

    “No mere mortal has “ultimate power” in my opinion, but feel free to explain how it is or could be otherwise.”

    I meant God. That the second possibility is that we shouldn’t disobey God out of fear of his power.

    “The answer as to why you cannot question God’s pronouncements… to make a long story short, is that you do not even know what they are.”

    These kinds of statements always sound to me like “God is not understandable or visible to man”, and brings everything right back to revelation. Without it, there’s no meaning. With it, there’s no need for meaning.

    My assumption is that your revelatory experience has shaped your view into one that cannot be shared with anyone without such experience. It leaves all of this unfalsifiable within my own systems of thought, and proven in yours. I don’t know that such a gulf can be bridged.

    That’s the same feeling I get reading J-M de Maistre – that there’s an entire world of assertions he’s not making because he sees no need for them, while I can’t function without them. He’s still an empiricist, but he perceives inputs that I lack.

  • bobby b

    Perry de Havilland (London)
    August 25, 2017 at 11:28 pm

    ” . . . it is only cheesemakers who are blessed . . . “

    I am a cheesemaker.

    You are correct.

  • MadRocketSci

    For most of human history humans have believed that within the circle of truth about the universe there are two primary subsets: that which humans can prove empirically and that which humans cannot ever prove empirically but is nonetheless true. There aren’t many people these days who still believe that at least a small portion of the true things about the universe INHERENTLY CANNOT be proven to be true by humans.

    How do you know?

  • MadRocketSci

    WRT the French Revolution and mysterious justice of divine providence, the Vendee of Normandy seemed to be pretty devout, and resisted the revolutionaries in an attempt to keep their way of life and the independence of their consciences and their priests from government coercion. They were, if anyone in France could claim to be from a Christian perspective, God’s people.

    They were pretty much exterminated. I think that dispenses with Maistre’s claim that only the guilty were punished, unless he has a pretty tortuous method for evaluating guilt and innocence.

  • MadRocketSci

    Whoops – not Normandy. Wrong region.

  • MadRocketSci

    For instance, have you contradicted Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem?

    As far as I can tell, Godel’s incompleteness theorem doesn’t apply to most mathematical claims about truth or falsehood. Nor does mathematics really have any bearing on the validity or invalidity of empiricism for that matter! (Mathematical truth and empirical truth are two different kinds of claims.)

    As far as I can tell, Godel’s theorem applies to systems where you are either playing games with non-terminating sets, in which case certain statements are undetermined (you don’t necessarily get provable definite return values from non-terminating processes), or if you are playing cute games with axioms about whether empty sets contain themselves or not.

    That you get nonsense when you do this isn’t necessarily any more or less mysterious than getting nonsense when multiplying, then dividing by zero.

  • Publius

    As far as I can tell, Godel’s theorem applies to systems where you are either playing games with non-terminating sets

    I don’t think the term “non-terminating set” is meaningful. Perhaps you mean something else.

    if you are playing cute games with axioms about whether empty sets contain themselves or not

    Er, no. “empty sets” are not self containing (and indeed, no consistent set theory allows any sort of self containing set whatsoever) and Gödel’s theorem has nothing to do with such things for the resulting obvious reason.

    Gödel’s theorem states that there exist, for any reasoning system that allows mathematical induction (that is, reasoning over sets like the integers), statements that are true but cannot be proven true. As a corollary, it also states that you cannot prove the consistency of a such a mathematical reasoning system (that is, one that includes induction) within itself.

    I suspect you don’t fully understand Gödel’s theorem or the related mathematics, at least, not if you’re making errors this obvious. You also seem to be dismissing it as somehow trivial, when it isn’t.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    “It would be futile to deny that France exercises a dominant influence over Europe, an influence she has abused most culpably. Above all, she was at the head of the religious system, and it was not without reason that her king was called most Christian: Bossuet has not over-stressed this point. However, as she has used her influence to pervert her vocation and to demoralize Europe, it is not surprising that terrible means must be used to set her on her true course again.”

    Isn’t he saying that the king – God’s chosen king – eventually erred and strayed and so the revolution came to set things right?

    In that paragraph he is not saying that the King perverted France’s vocation; he is saying that France has perverted France’s vocation. And in that paragraph he is not saying that France’s King was God’s chosen King (most Christian is a different thing).

    In any case, I was asking you for an example of where Maistre says something to the effect of “unless they’re really not” from your sentence that Maistre says “the nobility and the king are God’s elect doing His work unless they’re really not”. According to this paragraph you provided, what specifically are you saying is God’s work that they/it/France is/are not doing in this paragraph? France’s vocation? France’s vocation may in some sense align with God’s plan (the order of things) according to Maistre but God’s work seems a bit of a stretch.

    “Revelation” seems to me to be something that has either happened to one, or has not. It is not something that can be brought about by any effort or questioning or logic. If it hasn’t been experienced, it is the unfalsifiable assertion. If it has, it is Truth.

    Yep. Except I’d say that with effort one can I think experience it in some sense, to a certain level. I did it.

    But real, genuine revelation on the most fundamental level is incommunicable and ineffable and what I’d call prophecy. Completely involuntary. And miraculous.

    Ad hominem isn’t entirely useless. When questioning someone’s assertions, that person’s self-interest is relevant.

    Interests do not impact actual truth, only perception of truth. Ad hominem has no merit in proving or revealing truth whatsoever. Ad hominem is useful in persuading people of the truth; ad hominem is useless in determining the truth.

    No, it would be knowledge. “Faith”, they way you used it here, seems to depend on lack of knowing for its strength. It all goes back to revelatory experience. You have it, or you don’t. There’s no seeking it, or earning it, or learning it. So far as I can tell, there’s no merit in having it or not having it. You just do, or not.

    You are right that if God came and explained to you anything then it would no longer be faith. Thus, He would no longer be God. Because God is a function, in part, of how He exists in the mortal domain. If He appeared then He would cease to be nowhere and everywhere at once. Thus He would be “God” by name but not by meaning. And there would need to be something Else to explain Paley’s Watchmaker, Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, etc. We could call that new God Individual Rights or Spaghetti Monster, doesn’t matter.

    The halting problem baffled me. I’d probably end up killing myself if I took on Incompleteness.

    Don’t kill yourself. Life is good. Nothing to be afraid of. Godel’s Incompleteness Thereom:

    The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an effective procedure (i.e., an algorithm) is capable of proving all truths about the arithmetic of the natural numbers. For any such formal system, there will always be statements about the natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system. The second incompleteness theorem, an extension of the first, shows that the system cannot demonstrate its own consistency.

    In other words any system of laws about the universe must refer to something outside that system to demonstrate its consistency. I can honestly say that this makes sense to me. There has always been and always will be certain knowledge outside the scope of human comprehension.

    How do you know this? If the answer is “He told me so”, then I think it’s open to question, both as to the existence of the telling and the truth of the matter asserted.

    I obviously do not know that God is good according to your definition of knowing, since after all I don’t know that God exists according to your definition of knowing. It’s certainly open to question; what isn’t open to question these days? Human reason degrades faith, gives rise to dispute, and corrodes social order.

    Refuted them? No. But if history’s theologians agree that God’s morals match ours, that leaves me with the skeptic’s Chicken Or Egg problem. Haven’t we merely ascribed our morals to God?

    When did I suggest that most theologians think that God’s moral match ours? I don’t even think that we have a single system of morals! There are probably thousands of moral systems. I was questioning whether you think God’s expressed desires can be known in any real sense. Maybe I’m missing something here. Don’t really see what your point is or how you are seeking to address my point.

    Why? Who says? God? Again, this statement relies completely upon revelation. Without it, it becomes self-serving.

    A statement that relies entirely on revelation may be true. As can a self-serving statement.

    I meant God. That the second possibility is that we shouldn’t disobey God out of fear of his power.

    Well, that’s a bit elementary for my liking, but that we shouldn’t disobey God for fear of His power is more or less true in my opinion.

    These kinds of statements always sound to me like “God is not understandable or visible to man”, and brings everything right back to revelation. Without it, there’s no meaning. With it, there’s no need for meaning.

    My assumption is that your revelatory experience has shaped your view into one that cannot be shared with anyone without such experience. It leaves all of this unfalsifiable within my own systems of thought, and proven in yours. I don’t know that such a gulf can be bridged.

    That’s the same feeling I get reading J-M de Maistre – that there’s an entire world of assertions he’s not making because he sees no need for them, while I can’t function without them. He’s still an empiricist, but he perceives inputs that I lack.

    This is interesting. Seriously.

    I appreciate you taking the time to really try to read Maistre. He’s one of the reddest of red pills – an alien to modern minds.

    I agree there’s a whole world of assumptions he isn’t explicating – in some cases this is because doing so would be superfluous and in some cases because doing so would be impossible.

    To you he is still an empiricist and so you imagine that he perceives inputs that you don’t have. Like a fish watching a bird fly imagining that there must be invisible water up there that enables the bird to flap its wings and soar across the blue.

    There’s no water up here.

  • MadRocketSci

    A few different kinds of questions:

    (The mathematical realm):

    Q: Is “this sentence is false” true or false? Come on, give me a boolean answer! ZOMG, mankind might never know.
    A: ……

    Q: What number does the set {1,0,1,0,1,0,…} terminate in?
    A: It doesn’t. Terminate.
    Q: But I want a number!
    A: Tough. Go looking for the end of the sequence, and come back when you find it.

    (The empirical realm):

    Q: “I don’t believe you know whether or not Russel’s teapot is orbiting the sun right now.”
    A: “Correct! I don’t. But empirically, knowing what we know about the origin of all known teapots (and being able to generalize a pattern like any animal more complicated than a flatworm), it would be highly surprising if we found one orbiting the sun. And we do know how to conduct the search, and what it would mean to find it, and whether or not it had been found or excluded. If found, it would suggest profound changes to what we know about teapot-origins, or about the space programs of trolls.”

    Q: “I don’t believe you will EVER know whether Russel’s teapot orbits a region beyond the reach of any possible method of detection.”
    A: Aand, we’re back to the mathematical realm. This is true. By definition. But stupid.

    Q: “But *I* know that it orbits over here rather than over there in this unknowable realm.”
    A: Contradiction!

    Q: “But *I* believe that it orbits over here rather than over there in this unknowable realm.”
    A: “Why? Also, does any claim like this even *mean* anything? If it had any bearing on the knowable world over here, then it would be a method of detection (back to empiricism), and hence not unknowable, wouldn’t it?”

    Perhaps there are ways of understanding your argument that I haven’t covered yet.

  • I think that Ayn Rand had a point about things like Russell’s teapot: Such claims are arbitrary, and thus not even false.

  • MadRocketSci

    As to whether or not you should start with different standards of logic entirely (say, conduct mathematics according to entirely different rules – (actually you would still end up with mathematics. It might be sterile or fruitful: The only requirement for it to be math is that it is *consistent*)).

    David Deutsch had some very interesting arguments about what makes a useful philosophical “kernel” to have loaded into your brain. It centers around whether or not your decision procedure is closed to input from the world, or conditionally dependent on feedback from the world: If it’s closed, it’s going to stagnate. Everything that it could contain is already contained within it. If it’s open, it can grow, as long as it doesn’t cut off feedback, from which it can gain information. All methods of converging on something empirically true or complex or interesting relies on a process of feedback. A hill climber has to evaluate a gradient, etc.

    I’d highly recommend this book for a thinker that I think is interesting/has a useful way of looking at the world:
    https://www.amazon.com/Beginning-Infinity-Explanations-Transform-World/dp/0143121359/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1503716527&sr=8-1&keywords=the+beginning+of+infinity

  • Shlomo Maistre

    I think that dispenses with Maistre’s claim that only the guilty were punished

    Maistre doesn’t claim that only the guilty are punished. In his St. Petersburg Dialogues Maistre spends thousands of words trying to understand why it is that the innocent are punished in the world God created. Maybe one day you’ll even read it.

    As far as I can tell, Godel’s incompleteness theorem doesn’t apply to most mathematical claims about truth or falsehood.

    Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem applies to all claims in mathematics in general.

    Nor does mathematics really have any bearing on the validity or invalidity of empiricism for that matter!

    It is true that mathematics does not in itself lend validity to the practice of empiricism; however, mathematics is often how empirical scientific inquiry is determined to be valid or invalid.

    (Mathematical truth and empirical truth are two different kinds of claims.)

    This is actually true.

    Godel’s theorem applies to systems where you are either playing games with non-terminating sets, in which case certain statements are undetermined (you don’t necessarily get provable definite return values from non-terminating processes), or if you are playing cute games with axioms about whether empty sets contain themselves or not.

    Not sure what you mean by non-terminating set. I suspect that you don’t really understand Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems. The First Theorem states no consistent system can contain all truth about arithmetic. The second Theorem states that any system that is consistent cannot demonstrate its own consistency. So, for any set of mathematical axioms intended to describe all mathematical truth in the world, that set must be either inconsistent or incomplete.

    For a real mind-fuck, lets remember Godel’s disjunctive conclusion based on his Incompleteness Theorem:

    either … the human mind (even within the realm of pure mathematics) infinitely surpasses the power of any finite machine, or else there exist absolutely unsolvable diophantine problems.

    Source:
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/goedel-incompleteness/#SecIncThe

    I’m trying to figure out if Godel’s opinion that the theory of integers is demonstrably non-analytic (as opposed to synthetic) is valid IFF one also chooses the first option in the disjunctive conclusion above. Anyone have thoughts on this?

    I suspect you don’t fully understand Gödel’s theorem or the related mathematics, at least, not if you’re making errors this obvious. You also seem to be dismissing it as somehow trivial, when it isn’t.

    Yep. The more I learn about the implications of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem the more I am convinced that it’s one of the most important mathematical proof in human history – possibly even the most important one.

  • MadRocketSci

    I don’t think the term “non-terminating set” is meaningful. Perhaps you mean something else.

    Non terminating sequence, I mean, traversing some infinite set.

    Gödel’s theorem states that there exist, for any reasoning system that allows mathematical induction (that is, reasoning over sets like the integers), statements that are true but cannot be proven true. As a corollary, it also states that you cannot prove the consistency of a such a mathematical reasoning system (that is, one that includes induction) within itself.

    I suspect you don’t fully understand Gödel’s theorem or the related mathematics, at least, not if you’re making errors this obvious. You also seem to be dismissing it as somehow trivial, when it isn’t.

    That’s what it says in the dictionary. But what does this *mean*? Perhaps not: I’m just working from the examples that I’ve seen. I’m an engineer, not a mathematician. Algorithms/procedures in systems of formal language seem to either be self-referential (in which case they can but not necessarily do contradict themselves), non-halting/infinite (in which case you might not get a final state), or halting/finite (in which case I’ve never seen that you *don’t* get one.)

    “Statements that are true but cannot be proven true” doesn’t seem well defined.

    “Statements that have been proven true with elements X, but cannot be proven true with smaller subset of elements Y” seems like it should close.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    I think that Ayn Rand had a point about things like Russell’s teapot: Such claims are arbitrary, and thus not even false.

    Russell’s teapot is not false, but we humans will always require such a non-provable claim to make sense of the universe (whether spiritually or scientifically) because as Godel proved with his Incomplete Theorem: no set of axioms (which includes a subset known as scientific theories intent on explaining how the entire universe functions) can be consistent, true, and complete without relying at least minimally on an assumption that is not provable by its own axioms. See below.

    Nor does mathematics really have any bearing on the validity or invalidity of empiricism for that matter! (Mathematical truth and empirical truth are two different kinds of claims.)

    As I stated previously: it is true that mathematics does not in itself lend validity to the practice of empiricism; however, mathematics is often how empirical scientific inquiry is determined to be valid or invalid.

    With that said, Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem (“GIT”) does apply to mathematics in general. And any theory of everything – system of laws that explain how the universe functions – is subject to GIT, assuming that GIT is true.

    I believe that any set of scientific axioms to explain how the whole universe functions must rely at least minimally on at least one statement that is outside the bounds of any and all of the axioms set forth. Thus any set of axioms that comprise any scientific theory of everything must be either inconsistent or incomplete without at least one non-falsifiable assumption.

    I know, I know. Math is not science! But insofar as science can explain how the universe operates through formal theorems, it does so with math, which is subject to GIT.

    Wikipedia:

    A number of scholars claim that Gödel’s incompleteness theorem suggests that any attempt to construct a ToE is bound to fail. Gödel’s theorem, informally stated, asserts that any formal theory expressive enough for elementary arithmetical facts to be expressed and strong enough for them to be proved is either inconsistent (both a statement and its denial can be derived from its axioms) or incomplete, in the sense that there is a true statement that can’t be derived in the formal theory.

    Stanley Jaki, in his 1966 book The Relevance of Physics, pointed out that, because any “theory of everything” will certainly be a consistent non-trivial mathematical theory, it must be incomplete. He claims that this dooms searches for a deterministic theory of everything.

    Freeman Dyson has stated that “Gödel’s theorem implies that pure mathematics is inexhaustible. No matter how many problems we solve, there will always be other problems that cannot be solved within the existing rules. […] Because of Gödel’s theorem, physics is inexhaustible too. The laws of physics are a finite set of rules, and include the rules for doing mathematics, so that Gödel’s theorem applies to them.”

    Stephen Hawking was originally a believer in the Theory of Everything but, after considering Gödel’s Theorem, concluded that one was not obtainable: “Some people will be very disappointed if there is not an ultimate theory, that can be formulated as a finite number of principles. I used to belong to that camp, but I have changed my mind.”

  • Mr Ed

    By the time that this thread is done, random collisions in the Asteroid belt may well have fashioned a teapot.

  • Shlomo: I don’t think that Russell’s teapot is comparable to a Gödelian unprovable statement. Gödel was talking about statements in a formal deductive system. But it’s really odd to think of deciding that there is a teapot floating in outer space somewhere as a deductive conclusion from formal postulates. That claim is a statement about the physical world, and our knowledge of the physical world does not constitute a deductive system; it comes from observation and experiment.

  • I am a cheesemaker.

    You are correct.

    I am always correct, but I am but Tawaret’s bum trumpet 😉

  • Darin

    Shlomo Maistre

    If divine right absolute monarchy is the only true God-ordained system of government, why it failed so badly, totally and disgracefully? Why God allowed His chosen kings to fall and the lowborn canaille to prevail all over the world? (well, you still have Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Swaziland – are they the shining future of the world?)

  • Darin

    http://maistre.uni.cx/considerations_on_france.html

    Maistre’s Considerations on France was written in 1797. He says that French revolution was just punishment for man’s sin, and temporary setback.

    The present generation is witnessing one of the most dramatic sights humanity has ever seen; it is the fight to the death between Christianity and the cult of philosophy. The lists are open, the two enemies have come to grips, and the world looks on.

    220 years passed on, and “philosophy” won as decisively as is possible to win. Maistre’s form of Christianity, traditional Catholicism, is as dead as ancient Greek or Norse religion. Vatican itself abolished all what remained of tradition and embraced liberalism, and remaining traditional Catholic groups are as influantial as Wiccans.

    Various fundamentalist tongue-speaking churches thrive in United States and other parts of Third World, but they are something that Maistre wouldn’t recognize as “true Faith”.

    But if one wants to predict the probable result of time, it is enough to examine what unites all the factions. All of them have aimed at the degradation, even the destruction, of the universal Church and of monarchy, from which it follows that all their efforts will end in the glorification of Christianity and the monarchy.

    Written in 1797. Happened in 1815, afted burning of all Europe from Atlantic to Moscow and millions more deaths – and happened as short lived farce. The restored monarchy was booted in 1830, never to return, and all absolute monarchies of Europe and rest of the world (except Arabia) followed them to the dustbin of history.

    TL;DR: why shall be de Maistre taken more seriously than, for example, some Communist writing in the year 2000 that fall of USSR was just a temporary setback and the world revolution is coming soon?

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Shlomo: I don’t think that Russell’s teapot is comparable to a Gödelian unprovable statement. Gödel was talking about statements in a formal deductive system. But it’s really odd to think of deciding that there is a teapot floating in outer space somewhere as a deductive conclusion from formal postulates. That claim is a statement about the physical world, and our knowledge of the physical world does not constitute a deductive system; it comes from observation and experiment.

    Ok forget about Russell’s Teapot for a moment then.

    If you accept GIT, then any set of scientific axioms to explain how the whole universe functions must rely at least minimally on at least one statement that is outside the bounds of any and all of the axioms set forth. Thus any set of axioms that comprise any scientific theory of everything must be either inconsistent or incomplete without at least one non-falsifiable assumption.

    So we can use science for the next 10 trillion years. It doesn’t matter. We will never have a complete, consistent, and true list of scientific laws that explain how the universe functions without reference to a non-falsifiable assumption. We can call that non-falsifiable assumption God, individual rights, Spaghetti Monster, Objectivism, etc. Doesn’t matter. The point is that science cannot formally explain the whole universe on its own; and inductive reasoning certainly can’t.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    If divine right absolute monarchy is the only true God-ordained system of government, why it failed so badly, totally and disgracefully?

    Hasn’t.

    Why God allowed His chosen kings to fall and the lowborn canaille to prevail all over the world?

    Good question. Read St. Petersburg Dialogues.

    (well, you still have Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Swaziland – are they the shining future of the world?)

    Not sure.

    220 years passed on, and “philosophy” won as decisively as is possible to win.

    Time will tell.

    TL;DR: why shall be de Maistre taken more seriously than, for example, some Communist writing in the year 2000 that fall of USSR was just a temporary setback and the world revolution is coming soon?

    Because one is correct and one is not correct.

    Darin, I have previously answered many of your questions about Maistre’s piece on the French Revolution. Your reading of Maistre leaves much to be desired.

    https://www.samizdata.net/2015/09/samizdata-quote-of-the-day-617/

    I’d suggest you read my comments in that thread, including my comment at September 20, 2015 at 4:19 pm which you never replied to.

  • Darin

    Shlomo Maistre
    August 26, 2017 at 2:31 pm
    If divine right absolute monarchy is the only true God-ordained system of government, why it failed so badly, totally and disgracefully?

    Hasn’t.

    You definition of failure seems to be different from mine.

    Why God allowed His chosen kings to fall and the lowborn canaille to prevail all over the world?

    Good question. Read St. Petersburg Dialogues.

    Can you summarize his argument?
    If de Maistre says it was God’s will, this is theory that explains everything and nothing.
    If you postulate omniscient and omnipotent God, everything that happens is, per definition, God’s will.
    The French revolution was God’s will, rise and fall of Napoleon was God’s will, the Restoration was God’s will, the revolutions of 1830,1848,1871 were God’s will. Perfect example of unfalsifiable theory.

    Because one is correct and one is not correct.

    What makes him correct? All concrete Maistre’s prediction were proven wrong.

    I’d suggest you read my comments in that thread, including my comment at September 20, 2015 at 4:19 pm which you never replied to.

    In this long post you explained how great was pre-revolutionary French monarchy, how great rulers were Louis XIV and Frederick the Great.

    I beg to differ.

    Taxes in Ancien Regime, read the summary there:

    CHAPTER II. TAXATION THE PRINCIPAL CAUSE OF MISERY.
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2577/2577-h/2577-h.htm#link2HCH0016

    (from The Origins of Contemporary France, by Hippolyte Taine. Taine was lifelong conservative and enemy of the revolution, but, unlike you, he understands why the revolution happened.)

    Regardless of taxes, 43% of French budget went to debt paynment.

    http://www.emersonkent.com/images/france_expenditures_1780.jpg
    from.

    http://www.emersonkent.com/history_dictionary/taxation_in_pre_revolutionary_france.htm

    Here is comparison with godless kingless America:

    https://www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-budget-101/spending/

    Rule of Louis the Great was time of famine, plague, genocide and endless wars against whole Europe, wars that Louis started and lost. On the other side, lots of great art and awesome architecture was made.

    Frederic gets better mark, he won his wars against most of the world due to great skill, great pile of English shopkeeper’s money and even greater luck.

    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SevenYearsWar.png

    No one would bet on Blue team, but they made it. Well played. 😀

    Still, all Central Europe was devastated and 20% of his country died so flag with one headed eagle instead of two headed one could fly over Silesia.
    I wouldn’t want to live under either one of the “greats” and neither would you.

  • Mr Ed

    Darin

    well, you still have Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Swaziland – are they the shining future of the world?)

    But then there is Liechtenstein, not an Absolute monarchy, but a powerful one.

    The Prince talks some good sense about balancing the budget, something no prominent British or American politician seems to address:

    Hereditary Prince calls for further reforms
    16.08.2017
    Liechtenstein needs further reforms, according to Hereditary Prince Alois. These should consider long-term perspectives without disadvantaging any generations, and should prioritize balancing the state budget.
    The time of lavishly flowing tax revenue has passed, said Hereditary Prince Alois in his speech on Tuesday’s national holiday in Vaduz.

    Investments must now be handled carefully, he warned, stating that there must be “no indiscriminate allocation of tax revenue”.

    “Over the next few months”, reforms must be addressed, he said, but “unnecessary haste” would be futile. Instead, emphasis should be placed on gathering the resources required for these reforms and consideration placed on incentivizing measures.

    “We must think in the long-term to avoid placing burden on one generation at the expense of another,” said the Hereditary Prince in his speech.

    The “first priority” must be balancing the state budget, according to the Hereditary Prince. He explained: “As a small state without a central bank, we cannot turn to deficit spending.”

    Hereditary Prince Alois also called for long-term reforms to old-age provision, health provision and care. He added that the education system must be further optimized and work-life balance guaranteed.

    “To make our conditions more attractive, we must work on the international reputation of our location and on offering access to the global markets that is as free as possible,” said the Hereditary Prince.

  • MadRocketSci

    I’ve looked up that formal-language book that I was vaguely (and incorrectly) remembering. I had had a few things munged together in my mind.

    Okay: Formal-Languages:

    In the late 19th century, apparently they wanted to formalize mathematics to be able to avoid making mistakes. A formal language reduces the evaluation of mathematical expressions to a mechanical process. You set up all your propositions in a finite set of symbols, and set up certain rules for going from proposition to proposition (propositions would be strings in this symbol space) (and I believe they called the rules ‘productions’). You start with a set of productions, which are the axioms of your mathematical system.

    Example proposition: “abacaab”
    Example production: “ac => ca”
    Example result of applying production on proposition: “abaacab”

    “abaacab” follows from “abacaab” and the set of productions.

    What we mean when we say that something is *true* or *false* in formal mathematics (in some system of axioms) is that it follows from applying the axioms to whatever starting state you use. There exists some path in string space from string A to string B via taking these productions and their associated logical values. (Imagine a bunch of nodes and a set of partial edges connecting them. The nodes are the strings. The edges are applicable productions. The orphaned nodes are *undecided* propositions)

    What we mean when we say something is *undecidable* is that there isn’t any path to the statement using the axioms given. You can’t find a route from string A to string B. String B could have either value, unconstrained by the axioms and string A. That there exist such propositions/strings for a set of axioms and a start string is what Godel was talking about.

    So it makes no sense to say “things that are true, but aren’t provable within axiom set X.” The set of things that are true in axiom system X *is* the set of things that you can prove in axiom system X. They are undecided by axiom set X. You could adopt either logical value for unreachable string B as an additional axiom.

  • MadRocketSci

    PS: I am somewhat annoyed by ‘awe’ and gushing over the philosophical profundity of arcane arguments in mathematics and philosophy. My personal goal is to understand things, not to be awed.

    Furthermore, I think it is well within someones rights when confronted by “But you obviously don’t understand (arcane topic X), nor have you (proven/disproven) it, so you really can’t refute (my argument that supposedly imports arcane topic X).” to continue disbelieving. No, perhaps I don’t know that it is false. But neither do I know that it is true, or that you have used said (arcane topic X) correctly, or are just waffling. It is incumbent on the arguer to make himself clear.

  • Chip

    You’ve shaped and honed your perfect voter and democratic system. Wonderful. You now have a choice between Corbyn/Chavez and the hideous Theresa May, now tilting at the capitalist windmill after years as Home Sec figuring out how to strip people of liberty.

  • Shlomo: You say,

    If you accept GIT, then any set of scientific axioms to explain how the whole universe functions must rely at least minimally on at least one statement that is outside the bounds of any and all of the axioms set forth. Thus any set of axioms that comprise any scientific theory of everything must be either inconsistent or incomplete without at least one non-falsifiable assumption.

    So we can use science for the next 10 trillion years. It doesn’t matter. We will never have a complete, consistent, and true list of scientific laws that explain how the universe functions without reference to a non-falsifiable assumption. We can call that non-falsifiable assumption God, individual rights, Spaghetti Monster, Objectivism, etc. Doesn’t matter. The point is that science cannot formally explain the whole universe on its own; and inductive reasoning certainly can’t.

    I don’t think that the attempt to produce a single theory that deductively explains everything about the universe is a good model for science as a whole. By far the larger part of scientific research is investigation of special topics. Much of it aims to produce “laws,” which seem to be a sort of inductive generalizations; and while there is a central problem of induction, knowing when it’s sufficient to assert firm conclusions, it also produces many quite solid results that are good enough to rely on for an extended time. Conversely, attempts to provide a deductive explanation for everything have had a poor record ever since Descartes produced a body of physical theory that apparently has almost no contact with reality at any point.

    The pursuit of formal axiomatic systems doesn’t seem to me to be a good model even for mathematics. Formalism is only one philosophy of mathematics; there is also, for example, the intuitionist/constructivist tradition. And while formal logic is a wonderful technique for auditing mathematical theories to make sure they don’t contain logical gaps or contradictions, it reduces mathematics to the manipulation of empty symbol strings—the mathematician may choose to equate those strings to some aspect of the physical world, but the strings themselves do not dictate such an application. They’re just Hume’s “relations of ideas” and have nothing to do with “matters of fact.” But science is about matters of fact. It’s all as if an accountant supposed that the whole purpose of business ventures was to produce journals and ledgers to be audited, as a display of accounting technique, and didn’t care if the business made money or not.

    I’d also note that Ayn Rand’s “axioms” are not intended as postulates of a deductive system, though those of us who have been exposed to Euclid and Spinoza may be tempted to take them that way, as I used to be. Rand was explicit about her axioms being reminders of what human knowledge is based on: There is a physical world, we are aware of it, and we need to organize our awareness in a coherent way. Actually paying attention to the physical world and to methods for studying it was the business of scientists, in her view. The seminars on philosophy of science that form the later part of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology are full of disavowals of knowledge, including notably her statement that she did not have a theory of induction and did not know enough to propose one. It might make sense to call her axioms “non-falsifiable assumptions.” They are more like that than they are like Euclidean self-evident truths.

  • Thailover

    What I find a bit annoying is when people truncate “Western democracy” to mere “Democracy” when the two could couldn’t be more different. “Western Democracy” shouldn’t be called democracy at all, but rather republicanism, or Republic with democratically elected representatives. Democracy is, as Jim Bovard noted, two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.

  • Thailover

    Bobby B wrote,

    “In other words, is God good? Should we be following his expressed desires even if they conflict with whatever system of morality we’ve come up with? Or is it just that we shouldn’t cross anyone with ultimate power?”

    That’s a variation of Platonic-Socrates (or would it be Socratic-Plato?) in his argument with Euthyphro about piety. Is X pious because the gods say so, or there some sort of quality or qualification that designates X as pious, and the gods merely recognize it as such? In the former case, piety would be arbitrary, and in the latter case, no one needs the gods to tell us what is pious (or, likewise, good and evil). “Whirlwind god” in the book of Job “argued” (more like yelled out) that his might makes right.

    The Abrahamic god(s) are evil as described, but they’re described in ancient tomes by primitive peoples, so that’s to be expected I suppose. I agree with Marcus Aurelius, or what’s been ascribed to Marcus Aurelius, that if the gods be evil, we should not worship them. The god of Job is a monster.

  • Thailover

    “I don’t think that the attempt to produce a single theory that deductively explains everything about the universe is a good model for science as a whole. By far the larger part of scientific research is investigation of special topics. Much of it aims to produce “laws,” which seem to be a sort of inductive generalizations; and while there is a central problem of induction…”

    It doesn’t really matter when half our theories and models are bullshit to begin with. They, theories and models, are designed so we can wrap our minds around an idea, or so we can pretend to, even if it doesn’t reflect reality. In truth, atoms are not balls in a nucleus stuck together, with tinier balls orbiting in discrete orbits. In truth, the subatomic are not waves, particles, nor particles that traverse in a wave-type way. In truth, particles and waves don’t behave that way, and “things” that behave that way are not waves nor particles, but are “something else”. In truth, conscious awareness does not collapse probability waves. The universe did not come from “Nothing”, despite what Lawrence Krauss suggests, as “nothing” and “exists” are diametric and incompatible opposites. There was no time when ‘Nothing existed’, for a myriad of reasons. One of which is that time, space, matter-energy are interwoven and mutually dependent, probably different facets of a single phenomenon. In truth, LDL and HDL are not “cholesterol”…at all. They’re lipo-proteins. The list goes on.

  • Thailover

    “No, perhaps I don’t know that it is false. But neither do I know that it is true, or that you have used said (arcane topic X) correctly, or are just waffling”

    If X is not, even in theory, falsifiable, then if it’s false, we can’t know it, and likewise we can’t know that X is not-false, i.e. true. So to take non-falsifiable X as true would be to take it on faith rather than because of demonstrable merit.

    “X is falsifiable and yet isn’t falsified” means something.
    “X is not falsifiable, and isn’t falsified” means nothing. That’s tautologous, like saying blue is blue.

  • Laird

    The central problem with “democracy” occurs when it is used as a noun. As an adjective (“democratic”, as in “our democratic republic”) it’s just fine.

    And as to the existence of a god/gods, I’m with Laplace: I have no need of that hypothesis.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    A detective looks at a printed version of the claims of a witness, and says, “This statement is false.” So the statement is referring to something else, and that something else is false. What’s your problem?

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Another interpretation is that the sentence is nonsense, along the lines of- ‘What happens when an irresistable force meets an immoveable object?’ A black hole is both, so they would merge to form a more irresistable block hole that stays where it is.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    As for GOD, science is on its’ way to proving HIS existence. A recent article in New Scientist pointed out some physicists are looking into the implications of the Observer effect, and what that implies for a conscious universe, and what else would a conscious universe be but God?
    Secondly, the consequences of the many-worlds theory suggest that all permeations of laws should exist in other dimensions somewhere. Some of these should be self-contained Universes that are lifeforms, in the same way that random forces are supposed to have created life on Earth. So I claim that if God didn’t exist ‘First’ (what ever that might mean in relation to entities outside our realm of Spacetime), but Chaos did exist, then God would spontaneously arise from Chaos, and control it (in the same way that we control the physical matter that we were born into).
    Laplace was wrong.

  • As for GOD, science is on its’ way to proving HIS existence. A recent article in New Scientist pointed out some physicists are looking into the implications of the Observer effect, and what that implies for a conscious universe, and what else would a conscious universe be but God?

    A self-aware universe might be a pantheistic god, but would not be a theistic one, which is what that word means to people in the Abrahamic religions. (I’d also note that when I think pantheistically, it seems more natural to me to describe the god that is the cosmos as “she,” but your mileage may vary.)

    Your whole argument seems to assume mind-body dualism. Who is the “I” who is said to control the physical matter of my body? If it’s not my body, it’s some immaterial entity. I agree with Patricia Churchland: I don’t believe in “spooky stuff,” including consciousness as an entity distinct from the body. When I say “I” I mean my physical self, including the awareness that is one of its activities. And if you’ll forgive me, I think that physics that assumes mind-body dualism is bullshit.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Then what do you think of all the people who experience near-death experiences? Are they all frauds, self-delusional, insane? Some of them were able to describe accurately what was happening to their bodies even when the brain was effectively unplugged, and they were later revived. You might not regard this as evidence, but I do.
    Nowhere in my previous posts was there any talk of dualism, but let’s not forget that Einstein didn’t believe in ‘spooky action at a distance’, and we think he was wrong to say so. I think of physics in terms of gradualism, not dualism. And science has only just got around to admitting that 3/4 of the mass of the universe is in some form of unexplained dark matter, which doesn’t interact with light, but only with gravity.

  • Paul Marks

    To be fair Britain and the United States do not claim to be democracies – they claim to be “Representative Democracies”.

    The people rarely decide anything – new spending schemes or regulations are not normally from the people, they are (supposedly) from politicians elected by the people. But that is not in fact true.

    Since the late 19th century “professional Civil Servants” have guided politicians (both in Central and, later, in Local Government) – today most regulations are created by Civil Servants (politicians, let alone the people, have no real say) and how information is presented to politicians is controlled by Civil Servants – by staff they do NOT hire and can NOT fire. Their whole view of the world is controlled (to a great extent) by the “permanent government”. It is true that a very strong minded minister (or other politician) can break through and have a real effect on policy – but such people are the exception rather than the rule.

    So even “Representative Democracy” is, to a great extent, an illusion – because of the creation of a professional Civil Service and Local Government Officers.

    In the time of President Andrew Jackson one could argue about whether American Democracy (under the Bill of Rights – it was never an unlimited democracy and was NOT supposed to be) was a good form of government or not – but now such arguments today rather miss the point, as the United States is not really such a system of government today. The unelected bureaucracy (that the President does not hire and can not fire) are, to a great extent, the people who rule.

  • Paul Marks

    The “permanent government” (the Civil Service and Local Government officers) are “educated” in the same places tht the “mainstream media” are – the same sort of schools and the same sort of universities, and reflect the same basic “World View”.

    Elections come and go – but these people remain. This structure has not always existed (it is a late 19th century creation), but it is very real and has a very strong grip upon policy. Because it controls (to use a line of Perry’s) the “metacontext” in which policy is decided. Not just the general education and media system – but the specific information given to politicians (what they see – and what they do NOT see).

  • Laird

    Paul, that’s why “Yes, Minister” is still relevant today (as well as being terrifically entertaining!).

  • Julie near Chicago

    What Laird Said, in spades!

    AND, of course, definitely What Paul Said.

    .

    However, I will notice that in his latest podcast w/ Troy Senik for “The Libertarian,” Richard gives Pres. Trump a B+ on foreign affairs, noting in particular that (in his opinion) Trump has managed to get himself some very good and, in particular, strong-minded advisors in that area. (He is FAR from enchanted with the President in some other areas.) If anyone wants to listen, it’s ~18 min. long.

    https://0055d26.netsolhost.com/libertarian/20170825.mp3 FROM https://ricochet.com/hosts/troy-senik/

  • Julie near Chicago

    MRS, re yours at August 26, 2017 at 6:42 pm,

    I just have to say this yet again for the record.

    Per my own reading on the subject, there is disagreement in the ranks of mathematicians as to the difference between axioms and postulates. There are indeed mathematicians (and I certainly hope logicians!) who understand that the two terms are NOT synonymous nor interchangeable.

    For instance, we speak of Euclid’s famous “Parallel POSTULATE,” because that is not and never has been an axiom within the preferable meaning of the word.

    Similarly, in their textbook A Survey of Modern Algebra (considered a classic in the field, although I preferred Herstein’s Abstract Algebra myself), Profs. Garrett Birkhoff and Saunders MacLane include a section in which they explain the Peano POSTULATES, not Axioms, as the substructure from which the integers can be generated.

    .

    Much confusion among all concerned would be avoided if the word axioms were reserved for those statements in a logical system which must, in ANY logical system regardless of the domain of discourse, be followed if the thinking is logical. They aren’t really “unproven assumptions” in the way that postulates are. Rather, they are rules that state how the human mind itself does logic. The famous A=A (often called “the Axiom of Identity) is one such.

    Postulates are different, in that they needn’t hold true for all systems; in fact the characteristics of the system depend upon the elements or “objects” of which it consists, the relations among them, and the definitions of same; but these last two vary depending upon the postulates chosen as the (logical) foundation of the system. Thus Riemannian geometry differs from Euclidean Geometry precisely because it chooses a different postulate from that in the Euclidean system about the convergence of “parallel” lines.

    [Actually, the setup in spherical geometry uses a different metric from that in plane geometry: The equivalent of “equidistant lines” in spherical geometry is “‘lines’ (they’re not lines, really) which are separated at all points by a fixed angle as measured from some initial point” (as I would put it, HIGHLY informally) regardless of the perpendicular distance between the two lines as measured from any given point on one or the other.]

    .

    In the Real World, we struggle to construct theories that will hold together logically AND will fit what we observe in the Reality of which we’re a part. Because we do seek for them to be logical, we must obey the Axioms of Logic (if we don’t, we’ve made an error, and if we still reach a valid conclusion that will be because somewhere there is an offsetting error, or more than one).

    There are other Axioms that metaphysics, for instance, must include, such as the axiom “I exist” — to argue against this is impossible (given a reasonable definition of “I,” construction of which is a chore) because if the axiom were false, “I” would not be here to make the argument against it.

    This is the explanation of “self-evident” in Miss Rand’s language and, I believe, that of a great many other philosophers, including Dr. Johnson (“I refute it thus!”)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Johnson

    Hope there aren’t too many mistakes here. Gotta run — Dr. appt. ;>)

  • Julie near Chicago

    He–ck.

    Just below first dot, s/read “…if the word axiom were reserved….”

    Worse, the point about the great circles around a spherical surface is that they’re analogues of the plane’s parallel lines, but the rest is badly garbled and I’m too tired to straighten it out.

    If anybody ever reads this and is curious, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spherical_geometry and read there the section on “Properties.”

    .

    I state categorically that “axiom” and “postulate” are not interchangeable. That’s true for me (i.e. in my view), but quite a few who are distinctly not mathematically challenged apparently disagree. Pity, it must hurt to be so wrong. /hopefully-humorous clarification.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Right you are Julie! Jesus had 12 Postulates, not 12 Axioms!

  • Laird

    Nicholas, I thought those were “pustules”. (But clearly not axioms!)

    Seriously, nice explanation, Julie. As a non-mathematician I’ve always been fuzzy on the distinction between the two. Thanks.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, YVW 😉

    Glad you found it helpful.

  • Paul Marks

    Who should people in America vote for if they want to get rid of Obamacare?

    The Republicans have said for years that they will get rid of it – and they control the House, the Senate and the Presidency, and yet Obamacare goes on. And even if the vote in the Senate had gone the other way Obamacare would have gone on – with a few cosmetic changes. The establishment elite, the “educated classes”, have decided that the basic principles of Obamacare are a Good Thing (T.M) and that is that – the opinions of the voters are not relevant.

    How about government spending in general? Who should people vote for if they want to cut it? Where is the Republican budget? Will it get rid of things the people do NOT want (such as Federal Government funding of the arts and overseas aid) and include things the people do want (have wanted for many years – such a the border wall with Mexico) do-not-hold-your-breath.

    “But Paul just because America is not a democracy (and the President, far from being “Imperial”, is essentially a powerless figure – who can not even stop the left-establishment bureaucracy persecuting his own friends and family) does not mean that the United Kingdom is not a democracy”.

    O.K. who should people vote for to end the “Development Agenda” that is ruining the county I live in, Northamptonshire, this “agenda” was introduced under the last Labour government but has been continued by the Conservative Party government without any vote to do so. The Civil Service like the Development Agenda (as does academia – the education system, establishment opinion) and that is that.

    How about Overseas Aid? Or “HS2” and the other Black Hole “Infrastructure” projects that the people detest?

    How do the voters end these spending schemes – how?

    More than a year ago we voted to end the rule of European Union law in the United Kingdom – we are still in it. And any “leaving” of the E.U. is likely to be a cosmetic trick by the establishment elite (the “educated” classes) with European Union still being the law INSIDE the United Kingdom (anyone who pretends that the “Single Market” is about international trade is a liar – of the worst kind).

    Why have a thread about democracy when we are not a democracy? Not a direct democracy and not a representative democracy either.

  • Perry E Metzger

    Seriously, nice explanation, Julie. As a non-mathematician I’ve always been fuzzy on the distinction between the two. Thanks

    I was ignoring this so long as no one seemed to be continuing it and especially so long as no one was paying attention, but Julie’s explanation is utterly contrary to the usage of real mathematicians.

    There is no difference between a postulate and an axiom, just as there’s no difference between a lemma and a theorem. They’re just different words for the same thing in English, much as car, auto, and automobile mean the same thing. I’ve never even heard of this distinction Julie is making, and I would have given the amount of time I spend on formal mathematics. Both “postulate” and “axiom” just mean initial string in a system. Sometimes people like saying “lemma” when they want to refer to a “small theorem”, or a helper theorem used in a larger development, but many lemmas (say, Zorn’s Lemma) aren’t actually “small” at all. Similarly, sometimes (though quite rarely these days, since the term is a bit out of fashion), “postulate” gets used for “axiom”.

    If you build a mechanized version of your mathematical system in Coq, “postulates” and “axioms” are entirely the same sort of thing, there’s no distinction in how you tell the system to accept some assumption. I think that’s the most definitive evidence that there’s no distinction. However, I think further evidence is real world usage. If you look at the set of axioms in a real formal axiomatization of geometry, say Hilbert’s axioms, the word “postulate” doesn’t show up. (Side note: Euclid didn’t really properly axiomatize geometry, he was missing a bunch of needed axioms.) Hilbert refers to none of his axioms (and not the parallel lines axiom) as “postulates”. When people discuss alternative formulations of the parallel lines axiom (say Playfair’s Axiom), they call them “Axioms”.

    There is no technical difference between the two, just as there’s no difference between a lemma and a theorem. Axioms, postulates, etc., are just initial strings in your formal system.

    The only reason the parallel lines axiom/postulate got a distinct name was because there was a long period where people somehow hoped that it wasn’t actually independent of the other axioms, that is to say, hoped it could be derived as a theorem. It is independent and thus either it or its negation may be stated as a theorem without making the formal system inconsistent.

    Were Julie’s claim correct, things like the “Axiom of Choice” would be called the “Postulate of Choice” but no one calls it that.

    Julie also says:

    Much confusion among all concerned would be avoided if the word axioms were reserved for those statements in a logical system which must, in ANY logical system regardless of the domain of discourse, be followed if the thinking is logical. They aren’t really “unproven assumptions” in the way that postulates are. Rather, they are rules that state how the human mind itself does logic.

    There is no single way the human mind does logic. This should be obvious from the fact that there are perfectly reasonable logics with quite different rules that humans have no trouble understanding. Constructivist logics don’t contain double negation elimination, classical logics do. Some logics (like pCiC) do not have a distinction within them between the rules of the logic and the axioms chosen to define elements of the domain of the universe of discourse, some base reasoning systems (like ZF or ZFC) distinguish them.

    I have weird objectivist friends who insist there can’t be many different logics. The fact that I work daily in several different logics depending on what I’m trying to do doesn’t seem to interest them, but then again, I’ve never managed to get one of them to learn enough formal logic to discuss the topic in any sort of intelligent way.

    The famous A=A (often called “the Axiom of Identity) is one such.

    BTW, “A=A” isn’t an axiom in any modern system of logic I’m aware of — I think the notion of identity as a part of the underlying logic vanished with the formalization of logic in the 19th century. “A=A” is usually true for all sane definitions of “=”, of course. It is an easily derived consequence of the fact that equality (as it is generally described) is the smallest reflexive, transitive, and symmetric relation, and since it is reflexive, A must (definitionally!) equal A.

    However, equality isn’t a basic concept of most logics. You generally define it in your system. In pCiC, for example, you define it as an inductive proposition, though it comes pre-defined in the base library of pCiC systems like Coq since it is of such universal use. There are also a number of different kinds of equality that are useful in different formal systems — concepts like functional extensionality are needed to decide if two functions that produce the same outputs are equal because there’s no obvious method of proving that without a new axiom. Claiming “A=A” is a fundamental axiom is a sign of not knowing much formal mathematics, and is usually a thing that is only brought up by objectivists and not modern logicians.

    Anyway, I’m sure Julie will come back and say I’m a wrong here, even though I’m saying nothing more than what the average working logician would tell you. I am uninterested in pursuing the discussion ad infinitum, and will not respond any further on this topic.

    I’d just prefer if those reading didn’t think her opinion was widely accepted, since it isn’t, and thus I’ve said this.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Well Perry, that’s your opinion, but in point of fact there are two schools of usage about this, they do differ, and although people including mathemeticians have an unfortunate tendency to use words in the way they hear them used, that doesn’t alter the fact that important differences in concepts are lost when two words that might other wise distinguish between them and have often enough been so used (as I showed above), are used to refer, willy-nilly, to both.

    I don’t see how I could have made it more clear that many mathematicians don’t “bother” with, or maybe even notice, the distinction. But if you think that a postulate like “in this discussion, the positive integers are taken to be the same for all intents and purposes as the the even positive integers” (yes, that’s legit in certain discussions, since there are mappings from each set to the other that are one-to-one or, to use the modern Fashionable Word, are “injective”) is the same sort of creature as “A=A,” you’re missing a crucial distinction, which is that the former is NOT true in every discussion of the positive integers — hence the rather lengthy beginning caveat, whereas the latter is always and everywhere true, for all time, as long as ” = ” is understood as absolute equality and not mere equivalence-in-some-respects. (This is also unfortunate; it would be better if the “=” sign were reserved in math and Formal Logic to mean true equality rather than merely the existence of an equivalence relation, nicely represented as ” = with a tilde on top of it”. This boils down to saying that there’s no difference between saying that “these dresses are the same,” PERIOD, and saying that “these dresses are the same insofar as they’re both red.”)

    .

    I can’t say I think Perry M.’s added much to the discussion, except to show a certain lack of ability to comprehend distinctions, to adduce a bunch of examples of the poor usage in order to “prove” that the distinctions don’t matter, and a well-developed ability to take a true observation that surprises him and, pretending that he knows all about it, is therefore entitled ignore the facts of what was actually said in order to gainsay it in a rather insulting way.

    .

    Now, Perry, you go right ahead and do your bit to continue the confusion, and I’ll go ahead and continue to clarify the crucial difference between two sorts of statements, one of of which is always and everywhere inescapable when thinking clearly (logically), and the other of which is a hypothesis or “given” assumed without proof for the purpose of the particular discussion, but which is not a principle true in any sense in EVERY logical discussion.

    And since there is in fact plenty of form for using the words “axiom” and “postulate,” at least within the field of mathematics — whether you think so or not — those are the words I shall continue to use to refer to the two categories of concepts.

  • Julie near Chicago

    “Plenty of form for using the words ‘axiom’ and ‘postulate’ so as to honor the distinction….’

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Although most of what you just said is meaningless or wrong, I’ll focus on just one technical point.

    (This is also unfortunate; it would be better if the “=” sign were reserved in math and Formal Logic to mean true equality rather than merely the existence of an equivalence relation

    And here we see that you just don’t understand foundational issues in mathematics.

    What sort of thing would “true equality” mean? It isn’t written in mile high stone letters at the edge of the Dead Sea you know. One needs to define any such notion for it to be usable in formalized mathematics.

    Sure, it is trivial to say “things that are the same are equal, what sort of idiot are you!”, but what does “the same” mean when we’re not talking about an object and itself? 2 clearly equals 2, but “1 + 1” isn’t structurally identical to “2”, so to say “1 + 1 = 2” we need to first get the notion that things that computationally reduce to the same thing are equal, which is a pretty sophisticated notion and is not the same as structural equality at all.

    We then start getting into all sorts of interesting cases, because math deals with arbitrary structures, not just numbers, and some of them are very complicated semantically. Proofs, for example, are themselves mathematical objects, and are subject to mathematical reasoning in a reasonable logic system like a Martin-Löf type theory. Are two proofs of the same proposition in Martin-Löf type theories equal, for example? You can’t say a priori, you need to decide that and make it part of your definition.

    And what of the Univalence Axiom of Homotopy Type Theory? HoTT is proposed by many as a replacement for ZFC, and it mandates that you add the Univalence Axiom.

    So, how does one even begin to define “true equality”? You seem to think, the way a person with no actual knowledge of how complicated foundational issues can be, that this is obvious. But it isn’t obvious. One doesn’t just “reserve” some symbol and that’s that. If you want to do fully formal mechanized reasoning, you can’t handwave this away, either. You need to actually produce computationally effective rules for checking fully formalized proof objects, which means you need a fully mechanized definition, not the “but that is obvious!” of a hand-waving mystic.

    “Equal” isn’t as obvious a thing as you think it is. Generally, one has to define what one means by it, as precisely as possible, and in a modern mechanized reasoning system like HOL or Coq or what have you, that means that it isn’t part of the underlying reasoning system, it’s something you need to be able to explain in the reasoning system, because otherwise the reasoning system isn’t good enough to let you describe the rules. For example, depending on whether it is useful to the sort of reasoning one is doing, one can decide that two functions that have the exact same output for every input are equal even if they’re distinctly defined. (That last one is the Axiom of Functional Extensionality, which is not a part of the base of the Predicative Calculus of Inductive Constructions for very obvious reasons. I know they’re not obvious to you of course, though in a reasonable world you would need to understand such issues before starting to discuss ideas like “equality”.)

    The sort of primitive, handwaving, “isn’t that obvious!?” view of mathematics being forwarded in your comments is common among people who have never studied the logical foundations of mathematics particularly closely, and especially among those who don’t actually ever do mechanized reasoning, which is to say, the only sort of reasoning that is actually completely precise.

    However, if you start working in a fully mechanized formal system, suddenly you discover that it isn’t entirely obvious what most notions mean. Hell, it isn’t even obvious what it means to bind a variable — the amount of sophistication needed to be able to precisely describe a simple and important formal notion like alpha equivalence (that is to say, that terms are unchanged across renamings of free variables) is high. The stuff that is and isn’t fundamental isn’t particularly obvious, at least not until you have to fully mechanize it, at which point it turns out that there’s a big difference between handwavy ideas about logic and mathematical foundations and actual understanding of logical foundations good enough to mechanize them.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    (And with that, I’m really out.)

  • bobby b

    Last year, I was at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, picking someone up for dinner. I got there a bit early, and ended up waiting just outside a classroom where advanced Farsi was being taught.

    I’m pretty sure I understood more listening to that class than I did reading this last thread.

    Humbling.

  • Laird

    Thanks, Perry. You have restored my confusion.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Any time.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, anyone is entitled to be fuzzy on the actual differences between two distinct concepts, when the words that ideally would be used to distinguish them one from the other are instead taken to be synonyms and are used that way. Result: Conflation of the two concepts and intellectual mud.

    You can take the explanation I gave above and replace one of the words “axiom” and “postulate” with a new term, say — mmm — “rixall,” and the other with a different term, maybe “loball.”

    Now read what I said about the difference between rixalls and loballs. The concepts remain the same, and it’s they and the difference between them that are of fundamental importance; not the noises we make when we refer to those concepts.

    Rixalls, loballs, and definitions of the objects in the logical system — be it a system in mathematics, in physics, in biology, in psychology, in any area of Reality as well as in any abstract or semi-abstract system — are what we need in order to get off the ground, so to speak. From these, and in particular from the loballs assumed for this particular system, we derive or logically validate the relationships among the objects in the system.

    What is of the greatest importance is that two different types of “statements” or “propositions” form the basis for logical systems. Thus there need to be (at least) two different words to distinguish between them. What if we called both turtle soup and fried chicken by the exact same name, perhaps “mucklik”?! The names themselves could be anything you like, as long as they serve to distinguish between these two wildly different concepts.

    So, in our new terminology, rixalls are statements of the rules that Nature forces us to follow when we are actually thinking logically. When we fail at this–make a mistake–somewhere we’ve broken one of these rules. Loballs are foundational assumptions or hypotheses or “givens” that, along with the objects in it and their definitions, determine what an actual system IS, what its properties are.

    Now, as I pointed out above, there is disagreement about the proper use of the words “axiom” and “postulate.” This disagreement goes back hundreds of years; I seem to remember that the original OED said something like 500 years, at the time the word “axiom” came into use. (I was doing research on this very issue several months ago, and that’s the number that I think I remember.)

    Regardless of the jargon that our believer in Mechanical Reasoning tells is The Only Nomenclature Ever Used by Anyone But an Utter Ignoramus, i.e. by professionals and, also, talented and productive amateurs in the fields of mathematics and logic — not to mention in metaphysics and epistemology — there have indeed been such professionals and amateurs who have understood the words as referring to two distinctly different comments, and used them accordingly. Again, I point to the two examples above. I have also read commentary on the internet that leads me to believe that at least some professionals (and amateurs) still understand their discipline well enough, and have the ability to think clearly enough and deeply enough, to continue that usage.

    (“Mechanical Reasoning.” Makes me think of the adage about computers: GIGO, Garbage in, garbage out. Speaking of infelicitous terminology. *g*)

    .

    Every field has its own jargon and terminology, of course. Personally, I think the words “utility” and “scarce” as used in economics are downright baneful, they are so misleading to anyone not a student of that field. “Utilities” are things that are utile, which in general parlance suggests tools and “the electric company”; not “The Birth of Venus,” or a Rachmaninoff concerto, or The Taming of the Shrew. Or Marilyn on the half-shell, come to that, speaking of Venus and the cinematographic arts. But if you want to say that these things’ ability to produce enjoyment is their usefulness, their “utility,” I will protest but I’ll also allow that I see why you say that.

    As for “scarce,” there’s nothing whatsoever scarce about a good many things. If 7 billion people want something and there are 699,999,999,999 available, the damn things aren’t scarce no matter how nifty the word sounds to the economists. What they are, is available only in finite quantities, and some poor soul somewhere on the planet wants one and maybe can’t get it, or at least not at the going price.

    Thanks for indulging me in that Scarcity Rant, if you have. I think we here do know what the words are used to mean in The Dismal Science. I just think their use is unfortunate and misleading to the layman who doesn’t have the inside scoop. Try explaining to a resident of New Orleans why water is a “scarce” resource….
    😉

  • Julie near Chicago

    Perhaps I ought to mention that my degrees are in pure math. Not applied math, not math-for-teachers or math-for-nurses, not computer science. The real deal: What I wanted was to be an ivory-tower research mathematician. (Life intervened.) To this end I attended The University of Chicago, which at the time had one of the three or four top math schools in the country. (Competition: Harvard, with Stanford and MIT scrapping over 3rd place, IIRC.) That’s where I earned my Bachelor’s.) I went to the U. of I. in Chicago (then called UICC — for “Chicago Circle) which also boasted an excellent math department, if not quite one of the Top Four. And that’s where I got my Masters, again in “pure math.”

    Biscuits on the table were then provided in part by Yrs Trly, programming IBM mainframes in Fortran and Assembler, and then moving up into telecommunications.

    So I’m not entirely an ignoramus about the subject under discussion here. Even if I can’t count to 1 with my socks on. ;>)

    . . .

    Speaking of being counting-challenged, I see I made one of my famous counting bloopers above. Please decrease the number of 9s above by 2. :>(((

  • Paul Marks

    I notice Perry M. is not defending his claim that we live in a democracy (let alone his claim about an “Imperial Presidency” – when the President can not even stop the government “Justice” Department bureaucrats, and allied establishment types, grinding him down with with their endless “investigations”). It is true that a very strong minded elected politician (with a very clearly thought out set of principles) can indeed have a real effect on policy – but normally the unelected Civil Service (and the rest of the “educated classes”) determine policy – so, most of the time, we are not very democratic.

    Perry M. has gone on to talk about reasoning – with his talk of different logics and so on. That may be technically true (it depends on what definition of the word “logic” one is using) – but if one said “basic rules of reasoning” (not “logic”) it is NOT true.

    Indeed the central principle of Classical Liberalism is the denial of what Ludwig Von Mises called “polylogism” – the idea that there are different rules of reasoning for different “social classes” or “races” or “historical periods!. Hence, for example, Carl Menger’s “The Errors of Historicism” (1883) with its refutation of the German “Historical School of Economics” – one can not be a Classical Liberal (let alone a libertarian) and support polylogism. It is as bad as calling one’self a “libertarian determinist” (dry water), the concepts are fundamentally opposed. The human person, the free will agent, the “I”, either exists or it does not exist – efforts to “explain” personhood are really effort to EXPLAIN AWAY personhood. Although this does not mean that the soul exists in a religious sense – it may only exist in a nonreligious sense (that possibility was pointed out thousands of years ago).

    There is no more a “Proletarian logic” (in the sense of a basic rules of thought – not some made-up new definition of the word logic) than there is a “Jewish logic”. There are just the basic laws of reasoning – whether one uses the word “logic” for them or not.

    The basic laws of reasoning are universal – they are not dependent on social class, or on race, or on “historical period”.

    The “Historicists” (whether of the National Socialist “right” or the Marxist “left”) were wrong – there is one set of basic laws of reasoning (not many). And to continue….

    A human being is just that – a being (a Free Will moral agent) who can, with effort, know moral right from moral wrong and can (again with effort) choose to do what is morally right against our desire to do evil.

    This philosophical dispute is, for example, what the conflict in the skies over the island of Britain in 1940 was really about. As such philosophers as Sir William David Ross (Major Ross) and Harold Prichard, as well as such thinkers as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. (“Jack”) Lewis understood. And Winston Churchill in 1940 also had a basic grasp of the issues at stake.

    The struggle against determinism (the denial of human moral personhood, for there can be no morality, and no persons, if all actions are predetermined – Kant and William James were wrong about many things but they were right to reject “compatibilism” as the dishonest hollow sham that it is) and relativism (whether moral relativism or relativism in the principles of reasoning – polylogism) is ancient – it is indeed the “for-ever-war”.

    Whether it is Saint Patrick preaching against slavery in ancient Ireland, or Ralph Cudworth teaching against the evil falsehoods of Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century (the arguments of Cudworth were rediscovered by Professor Prichard in 20th century Oxford – but the time and place is not the thing of importance) or “Mad Jack” Churchill fighting the Nazis with his longbow and sword (no I am not making that up), it is all the same war.

    As Erik Brown pointed out – his interrogations of the guards at Belson showed that all of them (all of them) knew what they did was wrong (when they did it) and that all of them (again – all of them) admitted they could, with effort, have done otherwise than they did. Erik Brown was not easy to lie to (he was good at seeing through lies) and the guards knew they were going to be hanged whatever they said. Their polylogism and relativism and determinism all broke down under interrogation (and not a finger was laid upon them) – they knew what they were doing was evil (they knew that as they did it) and they could have done other than they did.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Perhaps I ought to mention that my degrees are in pure math

    What a shame, then, that you never learned not to argue from authority. Even I, a mere illterate homeless person, can tell you that isn’t a valid mode of reasoning, and thus I didn’t mention my qualifications as an illiterate homeless person.

    Also a shame that your teachers never explained that “axiom” and “postulate” mean exactly the same thing, or that somehow you forgot that.

    Any math dictionary or reference will tell you so.

    For example, Wolfram’s “Mathworld” says, about “Postulate”:

    A statement, also known as an axiom, which is taken to be true without proof.

    The documentation for Coq says, about the Axiom keyword:

    The fact asserted by term is thus assumed as a postulate.

    (which is to say, the creators of Coq see no difference between the two words, and even explain that the keyword that introduces a new axiom introduces a term “as a postulate”.)

    Wikipedia says the same thing. “Postulate” redirects you to “Axiom” which says, in its first sentence:

    An axiom or postulate is a statement that is taken to be true, to serve as a premise or starting point for further reasoning and arguments.

    and

    “axiom”, “postulate”, and “assumption” may be used interchangeably.

    (Though it does note at one point that in ancient times there were some who held there was a vague distinction.)

    The Merriam Webster dictionary says, as its second definition of “Postulate”:

    Axiom

    The Encyclopedia Britannica says the same thing. Three books on formal logic I consulted on my shelf say the same thing. I literally cannot find a single source asserting a substantive distinction. Every reference work I’ve consulted has an identical opinion, which is that the two words are synonyms. At best, there are claim there was a vague distinction thousands of years ago, but that it was debatable even then, and that there certainly is no such distinction in modern mathematics whatsoever.

    Most importantly, all the mechanized proof systems I know of (Isabelle/HOL, Coq, Lean, ACL2, etc.) draw no distinction. That is, systems in which one does serious mechanized work in mathematics draw no distinctions, and were there even the slightest operational distinction in how such things need to be treated, mechanized reasoning systems would need to carefully draw that distinction because there’s no fooling mechanized logics.

  • Laird

    I am no mathematician and claim no special training in that area, so I am completely out of my depth here at a technical level. But as a matter of reason (I hesitate to use the term “logic” in this charged atmosphere!) it seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong with a discipline that aspires to a high level of intellectual rigor having two different terms for the identical concept. There should be some difference, even if it is a subtle one not readily apparent to the non-initiated. Synonyms exist in English prose largely for stylistic purposes (as well as by historical accident); they should have no place in precise scientific discourse.

    Furthermore, since they are written principally for lay audiences, I don’t accept Wolfram’s “Mathworld”, the Encyclopedia Britannica, or (especially!) Wikipedia as relevant authority for such a narrow technical point which is of relevance mostly to experts. (The fact that Wikipedia asserts that “ ‘axiom’, ‘postulate’, and ‘assumption’ may be used interchangeably” demonstrates conclusively that its explanation is unacceptably vague and sloppy, if not simply incorrect.)

    I’m not saying that Perry M is wrong (I have no competence to make that judgment); but I am saying that he should be wrong, and that Julie’s description of the difference between the two terms makes much more sense to me.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    it seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong with a discipline that aspires to a high level of intellectual rigor having two different terms for the identical concept

    Medicine, law, chemistry, biology, and more or less every other discipline have multiple names for some concepts. Why is a benzene ring also a “phenyl” ring? Why do we have two names, epinephrine and adrenaline, for the same hormone? You can, in each case, learn the historical accident that created the situation, but in the end, the answer is usually “because human languages are like that, and even scientists and mathematicians and lawyers speak in human language”.

    Furthermore, since they are written principally for lay audiences, I don’t accept Wolfram’s “Mathworld”

    That isn’t even remotely true, Mathworld is incomprehensible through most of its content to non-specialists. It isn’t for laymen. Try reading, say, this, and tell me what it means if you’re not a mathematician.

    You will find that any mathematicians desk reference defines things the same way. (The Princeton Companion to Mathematics does.)

    And again, the real proof is, operationally, you can’t distinguish what you do with the one kind of thing with the other kind of thing when working as a mathematician. You really cannot.

    The most rigorous possible way to do math is in a fully mechanized reasoning system like Coq or Metamath or some such. If you use a fully mechanized reasoning system, that is, if you work with a computer program that checks that your proofs are correctly derived, you will find no distinct way of introducing a “postulate” and an “axiom” to such a system. They are, to such systems, identical ideas, which is to say, identical introduced initial strings of the systems. There is literally no distinction to a machine.

    What you see as “fundamentally wrong” is just the result of the fact that human language is imprecise, and that humans developed fields like Mathematics and Chemistry over hundreds or (in the case of Mathematics) thousands of years, and human languages are not designed, they evolve.

  • Paul Marks

    The English language is indeed often clumsy – for example we use the same word “good” for “feels nice” and for “morally good”.

    Many evil actions give pleasure – which is why people do them. And doing what is morally right can mean physical (and mental) agony.

    However, if people are of good will (in the common sense of that term) they can work out their misunderstandings in communication.

    For example one can say “by good I meant morally right – not pleasant” and people of good will (people why are trying to understand) can understand this.

    It is actually rather pointless to have long conversations with someone who is not of good will – someone who is not trying to understand what one is saying, and making good-faith intellectual errors (something I most certainly do – I have made many stupid errors in my life in terms of not understanding various things), but is “misunderstanding” ON PURPOSE.

    For example the basic laws of human reasoning were not traditionally expressed in mathematical terms – and it does not really add anything of use to wander off into mathematics when one is talking about the human person (the human mind).

    One does not have to go back to Richard Whately’s work on Logic in the early 19th century, the work of Ernst Cassirer (who influenced Ludwig Von Mises) does not tend to be very mathematical. I am sure he could do mathematics – but there is a time for mathematics and a time for philosophy, and they are not the same thing.