Sunday, October 31, 2010

World War II according to Wikipedia

An excellent post here about the way that proponderance of amateur military historians who are unable to leave a single fact unturned no matter how insignificant, leading to a nearly complete lack of proportion so that important facts get glossed. Seeing the wood rather than the trees is the essence of a training in the liberal arts.

The Wikipedia parody section is very funny.


Scientific reasoning

At the end of Posterior Analytics, book I, Aristotle gives some examples of scientific reasoning.

Quick wit is a faculty of hitting upon the middle term instantaneously. It would
be exemplified by a man who saw that the moon has her bright side always turned
towards the sun, and quickly grasped the cause of this, namely that she borrows
her light from him; or observed somebody in conversation with a man of wealth
and divined that he was borrowing money, or that the friendship of these people
sprang from a common enmity. In all these instances he has seen the major and
minor terms and then grasped the causes, the middle terms. Let A represent
‘bright side turned sunward’, B ‘lighted from the sun’, C the moon. Then B,
‘lighted from the sun’ is predicable of C, the moon, and A, ‘having her bright
side towards the source of her light’, is predicable of B. So A is predicable of
C through B. (Posterior Analytics I.34 89b 10)
The syllogism that Aristotle gives right at the end is demonstration propter quid, reasoning from cause to effect.
The moon is lit by the sun
Things lit by the sun have their bright side turned towards the sun
The moon has her bright side turned towards the sun
But the reasoning process he describes is demonstration 'quia', reasoning from effect to cause. The man sees that the the moon has her bright side always turned towards the sun, and reasons from this effect to the cause of it, namely sunlight.
The moon has her bright side turned towards the sun
Things that have their bright side turned towards the sun are lit by the sun
The moon is lit by the sun
Are either of these illustrative of scientific reasoning itself? Surely not. Whoever has grasped the truth of the minor premiss or 'middle' has already grasped why the effect follows from the cause. The 'reasoning' described by Aristotle does not describe the thought-process that solves the scientific puzzle. What is the thought process that leads to the discovery of the middle? Aristotle merely says it is 'quick wit'.

There are some examples of scientific reasoning here. Unfortunately these do not describe how individuals such as Archimedes or Galileo or Newton actually hit upon the ideas that led to their discoveries. In this paper the nineteenth century epidemiologist John Snow argues, using the case of a water pump Broad Street, Soho in 1854, that cholera must be transmitted by drinking water. He reasons that there was no particular outbreak or increase of cholera except among the people who were in the habit of drinking the water from the pump. Nearly all the deaths were within a close distance of the pump. People who lived close to the pump but did not use it (such as the employees of a local brewery who only drank ale). But the paper is a reasoning process intended to convince others - it does not necessarily represent the thought process that Snow went through in arriving at his discovery. There is an important distinction between proving something to yourself, and proving it to others.

Is there any common thought process that underlies scientific reasoning and scientific discovery?

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Longeway on Ockham on science

There's a neat review here of John Longeway's translation of book III-II of Ockham's Summa Logicae*. I can't vouch for it, as I haven't got hold of the book itself (it is on the reading list), but it seems coherent and well-written (my first line of defence against nonsense on the Internet).

The book is an English translation of Ockham's commentary on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, and includes an extensive commentary and a history of the intellectual background to Ockham's work. Longeway argues for Ockham's importance as the founder of empiricism in the West. According to the review:
... he avoided that error of Early Modern empiricism that now seems most
objectionable: the attempt to construct our public world from purely subjective
experience. Ockham is a direct realist, relying on the causal relation between
concept and object to establish the concept's reference. In his view, what makes
belief cognition is the right causal relation between the knower and what is
known, not the possession of a sufficient justification for one's belief.

Definitely worth acquiring. Unfortunately (and surprisingly) not yet in the Warburg Library, so we shall see if Waterstones can deliver.

* Demonstration and Scientific Knowledge in William of Ockham: A Translation of Summa Logicae III-II: De Syllogismo Demonstrativo, and Selections from the Prologue to the Ordinatio.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Supernatural powers

I knew someone years ago - I'll call him Pieter - who was very serious about alternative medicine and even practiced it. He believed in biological energy that emanates from people, and which (if you have the right abilities) you can detect and use to determine the state of their health. One evening I invited him to a drinks at my house, where he met another friend who I will call Francoise. Afterwards, my wife said she thought Francoise was pregnant, and indeed two weeks later Francoise announced that she was.

When I told this to Pieter, he was intrigued. How had my wife known this, given that Francoise had said nothing at the time? (Perhaps he was also a little peeved, given that his own energy detectors had clearly failed).

How had my wife guessed? Francoise had invariably accepted the offer of a glass of wine before this. This time, she only wanted water.

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Aristotelian science

The Catholic Encyclopedia has a neat characterisation of the difference between the modern sense of 'science' and its medieval and Aristotelian sense. The modern meaning is of course restricted to the natural sciences. The older meaning is wider.
Aristotle defines science as a sure and evident knowledge obtained from
demonstrations. This is identical with St. Thomas's definition of science as the
knowledge of things from their causes. In this sense science comprises the
entire curriculum of university studies.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Philosophy and popular consciousness

Larry Sanger's current battle with Joseph Reagle at Reagle's blog reminds me of odd ways in which philosophers have influenced popular culture. Aristotle is a case in point (but I will leave him for later).

First, there is Sanger's sly link to 'On bullshit' (see also here)by the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt . Frankfurt's book is brilliant. His aim is to present, using philosophical principles how bullshit "and the related concept of humbug" are distinct from lying. He concludes that the liar is concerned to communicate something false as if it is true. The bullshitter is indifferent to the truth. It is a work of genuine, and serious philosophy, yet it has also penetrated the popular consciousness (I first became aware of Frankfurt when I noticed the book on the rack by the till at Waterstone's, the rack intended for impulse purchases).

Second, there is the influence of philosophical principles, via Sanger, on Wikipedia itself. Sanger took the neutrality policy he wrote for the now-defunct Nupedia and introduced it to Wikipedia in this significant set of edits over December 2001-January 2002. This became the famous Wikipedia policy on 'Neutral Point of View'.

The policy will strike any philosopher as the work of a philosopher. It says, for example, that rather than attempting to state what the truth about T is, one should attempts to state, fairly, the various different views about T. In representing views fairly, we must recognise that on any topic about which there are competing theories, each theory represents a different view of what the truth is, so that its adherents believe other contrary theories are not knowledge.

We could do far worse than to accept, for purposes of working on Wikipedia, that
"human knowledge" includes all different (significant, published) theories on
all different topics are parts of human knowledge. So we're committed to the
goal of representing human knowledge in that sense. This is, to be sure,
something like this is well-established sense of the word "knowledge," a sense
in which what is "known" has changed considerably over the years.

The policy also makes the distinction between presenting a popular view without asserting the popular view. "Writing unbiasedly can be conceived very well as representing disputes, characterizing them, rather than engaging in them". This idea (namely that 'S says that p' and 'it is true that p' have independent truth-conditions) is key to modern (and ancient) work in the philosophy of language. Like Frankfurt's book, Sanger's work on the core policy of Wikipedia involves ideas which are fundamental to philosophy and part of its core set of principles and methodology, but which at the same time has entered popular consciousness in a roundabout and odd way.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Demonstration of the reason why

This month I am struggling with Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. It gives Aristotle's account of demonstration, especially scientific demonstration. There is a nice illustration in Book I chapter 13 of the difference between what the scholastics called propter quid and quia demonstration. Demonstration propter quid (which Muir translates as 'demonstration of the reasoned fact' is when syllogistic reasoning shows us the reason why something happens. For example (ignoring Aristotle's actual science* for sake of argument).

Propter quid
Near things do not twinkle
Planets are near
Planets do not twinkle

The reasoning is from cause (nearness) to effect (not twinkling). With demonstration quia, on the other and, we reason from effect to cause, as follows.

Things that do not twinkle are near
Planets do not twinkle
Planets are near

Here, you have demonstrated a fact by reasoning from effect to cause. Of course pretty much all demonstration in the natural sciences is of this sort. The medieval Aristotelians were perfectly aware of this.

Sometimes that which is more known in reference to us is not more known
absolutely, as happens in natural sciences where the essences and powers of
things are hidden, because they are in matter, but are disclosed to us through
the things which appear outwardly. Hence in these sciences the demonstrations
are for the most part made through effects which are better known in reference
to us but not absolutely. (Lectures on the Posterior Analytics, Book I lecture

* On the actual science, I found this helpful. If this is correct, the propter quid syllogism should be as follows:

Objects sufficiently large that they have non-zero apparent diameter when viewed from the Earth do not twinkle
Planets [or nebulas] have non-zero apparent diameter when viewed from the Earth
Planets [or nebulas] do not twinkle

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Liberal education and the internet

Here is an essay by Larry Sanger* that you should read it in full. Sanger writes well, expresses his thought clearly, concisely and with great insight. Nonetheless (for this is the age of the internet where the “complex, dense and cathedral-like structure” of educated prose is a challenge) I shall summarise it here.

Sanger takes three common strands of thought about education and the Internet. The first is the idea that the instant availability of information online makes the memorization of facts unnecessary or less necessary. The second is that collaborative learning is superior, or to be preferred, to outmoded individual learning. The third is that lengthy, complex books are inferior to knowledge constructed by members of a group.

Against the first idea he argues as follows. A strong focus is necessary for true knowledge, but the internet – the instant availability of information online - is a distraction for people who find it difficult to focus, and hinders them acquiring true knowledge. Therefore the internet is a hindrance to true knowledge. Also, true knowledge requires fairly substantial background knowledge to interpret the answer. Background knowledge is more than amassing a lot of facts: it requires assimilation and understanding as well. But assimilation and understanding (by implication – Sanger does not spell it out) take longer than just looking something up.
If public intellectuals can say, without being laughed at and roundly condemned,
that the Internet makes learning ("memorizing") facts unnecessary because facts
can always be looked up, then I fear that we have come to a very low point in
our intellectual culture. I fear we have completely devalued or, perhaps worse,
forgotten about the deep importance of the sort of nuanced, rational, and
relatively unprejudiced understanding of issues that a liberal education

Sanger considers the objection that new information makes old information redundant, replying that new information does not replace old information. Reading, writing, mathematics and basic science has changed little in the last one hundred years.
The vast body of essential facts that undergird any sophisticated understanding
of the way the world works does not change rapidly … in most fields, there is
certainly a body of core knowledge.

Against the second idea, that collaborative learning is superior, or to be preferred, to outmoded individual learning, he argues that while online collaborative learning can be an excellent method of exchanging ideas between the interested and motivated and obtaining free public reviews of work on wikis, this is not a sufficient condition of the most important ingredient, namely interest and motivation. “There is no reason to think that online conversation will necessarily reproduce, in students, either the motivation to pursue interests or the resulting increase in knowledge”

Regarding review of work on wikis or online, the problem is that users of online forums and especially Wikipedia may have “some rather idiosyncratic ideas about the subject .. which arguably wastes the student's time”. Another problem is that a significant level of useful feedback cannot be guaranteed.

A further fundamental difficulty he raises is that true learning is an essentially solitary process. You can find the Decameron online, but you must mentally process it yourself. You may post an essay online but you must engage in “the essentially solitary act of writing” by yourself (I don’t agree entirely with this, but I will leave for now).

In his final point - ‘boring old books’ - Sanger addresses the familiar arguments that books are old-fashioned, not interactive, constitute a single, static, one-way conversation with an individual, and so on. This view declares the irrelevance of most of the thinkers throughout history. Can knowledge, “even the knowledge contained in great books, now something that can be adequately replaced by the collaborative creations of the students themselves?”

To be well educated, to be able to pass along the liberal and rational values
that undergird our civilization, we must as a culture retain our ability to
comprehend long, difficult texts written by individuals. Indeed, the single best
method of getting a basic education is to read increasingly difficult and
important books. To be sure, other tasks are essential, especially for training
in scientific and applied fields; there are some people who are very well
trained for various trades without reading many books. But when it comes to
getting a solid intellectual grounding — a foundational, liberal education —
nothing is less dispensable than getting acquainted with many books created by
the "complex, dense" minds of deep-thinking individuals.

There is much to think about here, in a solitary, Cartesian way, so I will leave this for now. I need to assimilate.

* “Individual Knowledge in the Internet Age” EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 45, no. 2 (March/April 2010): 14-24

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

University of the future?

An amusing example of Web 2.0 nonsense, byJim Barber, vice-chancellor of the University of New England, is being discussed all over Web 2.0. It's the usual stuff. Wikipedia is 10 years old, it's full of 'user-generated content', Encyclopedia Britannica has lost the battle, Wikipedia has 10 million articles, reference to the 'Nature' article which apparently showed Wikpedia was more accurate than Britannica, open-courseware movement, blah blah.

Barber suggests "we could start by dispensing altogether with the term lecturer", and that "with the recent arrival of web 2.0 technologies and the imminent arrival of the National Broadband Network, social interaction is no longer constrained by space and time."
Universities that continue to regard user-generated knowledge as inferior to
that of experts and treat technology as an adjunct to genuine learning will find
it increasingly difficult to compete with the new virtual institutions that
offer open courseware without the capital-intensive overheads that campus-based,
proprietorial education imposes.
This is nonsense. As I have argued in a series of posts over the last two months, Wikipedia is not designed to produce 'user-generated knowledge'. It is a tertiary source reflecting information in secondary sources generated by subject-matter experts - indeed, century-old subject-matter experts. Wikipedia is not putting the academic world out of business.

But who is Wikipedia putting out of work? To understand this, and to understand the truth about 'user-generated knowledge', you could do no better than to read Joseph McCabe's excellent discourse on how encyclopedias are actually written (he is referring to Columbia encyclopedia, not Wikipedia):
But let me say at once that this encyclopedia [i.e. Columbia] has certainly one
distinction, though it does not boast of it. It has more ladies than men on the
list of its editorial and writing staff, 31 females and 28 males. We, of course,
applaud their bold vindication of the new equality of the sexes; or we would
applaud if we could take it as proof that the majority of experts on the many
subjects discussed are now feminine. Unfortunately, we cannot infer that if we
know the technique of creating an encyclopedia. A number of real experts are
paid handsomely to write and sign lengthy articles on subjects of which they are
masters, and the bulk of the work is copied from earlier encyclopedias by a
large number of "Penny-a- liners." None of the articles in the Columbia are
signed. You might infer from this that all articles are written by experts, but
we shall have reason, presently, to doubt this.

Doesn't that remind you of Wikipedia? The bulk of the genuinely encyclopedic content in Wikipedia is copied and pasted from other sources. Indeed, from 100-year old sources, as I have argued in earlier posts. At least traditional encyclopedias plagiarise more recent sources (I have an amusing example of that here)! and at least traditional encyclopedias have lengthy articles by masters of the subject, whereas Wikipedia has practically nothing.

See also the insightful essay by the late Roy Rosenzweig, writing in the The Journal of American History June 2006 about whether history can be open source. It was written four years ago, but his observations about Wikipedia then are true now, even down to the fact that the article Cultural history of the United States was a stub then and is a stub now - with the odd result that a Google search on 'cultural history of the United States' returns the article #1 on the search, even though there is nothing in it, apart from one banal sentence.

Will Wikipedia put professional historians out of business? asks Rosenzweig. No. "Good historical writing requires not just factual accuracy but also a command of the scholarly literature, persuasive analysis and interpretations, and clear and engaging prose. He puts his finger on why subjects like history (and, I would argue, philosophy) are so difficult for Wikipedia to get right. Broad synthetic writing is not easily done collaboratively. Good historical writing requires not just factual accuracy but also a command of the scholarly literature, persuasive analysis and interpretations, and clear and engaging prose. Exactly the same is true of philosophy, and more so.
Overall, writing is the Achilles' heel of Wikipedia. Committees rarely write
well, and Wikipedia entries often have a choppy quality that results from the
stringing together of sentences or paragraphs written by different people. Some
Wikipedians contribute their services as editors and polish the prose of
different articles. But they seem less numerous than other types of volunteers.
Few truly gifted writers volunteer for Wikipedia. Encarta, while less
comprehensive than Wikipedia, generally offers better—especially, more concise—
And the bottom line, in any case, is that students are not supposed to rely on any kind of encyclopedia.
Most readers of this journal have not relied heavily on encyclopedias since
junior high school days. And most readers of this journal do not want their
students to rely heavily on encyclopedias—digital or print, free or
subscription, professionally written or amateur and collaborative—for research
papers. One Wikipedia contributor noted that despite her "deep appreciation for
it," she still "roll[s her] eyes whenever students submit papers with Wikipedia
as a citation." "Any encyclopedia, of any kind," wrote another observer, "is a
horrible place to get the whole story on any subject." Encyclopedias "give you
the topline"; they are "the Reader's Digest of deep knowledge." Fifty years ago,
the family encyclopedia provided this "rough and ready primer on some name or
idea"; now that role is being played by the Internet and increasingly by

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Astronomy and astrology II

Following my previous post about translating the medieval Latin astrologia, I found the article "Astrology" by Charles Burnett in Medieval Latin: an introduction and bibliographical guide (ed. Mantello and Rigg, here at Amazon).

It turns out that astronomia was also a term used in medieval Latin. Astronomia was the mathematical science that measured the position and movements of the heavenly bodies. Astrologia was a physical science based on the (not entirely incorrect) assumption that events on earth (such as tides, but also human characters and events) were influenced by the stars and planets. Isadore divides astrology into the 'natural' part - which concerns events such as tides and seasons - and 'superstitious' part, which concerns the prediction of human character and events.

To complicate matters, thirteenth century authors used the terms interchangeably. Bacon uses the term astrologia to signify astronomy, and astronomia to signify astrology. It is not clear which sense Thomas intends for astrologia in the passage I quoted in the previous post.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Astronomy and astrology

Looking at Aquinas in Latin and English I was struck by the way that a modern translator has consistently rendered 'astrologia' as 'astronomy'. And this reminded me of the challenge of translating technical terms in general. Words representing concepts that are pretty much the same across all human societies - say 'dwelling place' or 'age' or 'clothing' - the problem is not so great, although even here there are difficulties ('bungalow').

For technical terms the difficulties are multiplied. Is the word being used as a technical term, or just figuratively? Take materia. Do you translate it as 'material', which is what the Latin really means? Or do you recognise that it may have taken on a technical meaning at the time of use, in which case 'matter' is probably better? There is a similar problem with continuum. Do you render it literally as 'the continuous', or as the mathematical term 'the continuum'?

In both cases, and particularly the latter, you face the added problem of Latin words that were imported into English (mostly in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries) because English itself had no corresponding terms for the idea. Nearly all of our philosophical vocabulary, and much of our scientific vocabulary, is taken from Latin. But the technical meaning may have changed considerably since the importation. 'Matter' probably has different connotations now (i.e. as something that has mass) than it did in the medieval period (when mass and weight were not properly distinguished). And 'the continuum' has a special meaning for mathematicians now - in connection with Cantor and uncountability and all that - that it could not have had for medieval writers such as Thomas of Sutton or Ockham.

Terms that have fallen into disuse represent a different problem. 'Quiddity' is simply an English version of the Latin 'quidditas'. Both are invented terms, and represent an utterly outmoded philosophical theory. Thus it means whatever the Latin writers thought it meant. But then you have to explain what they did mean, and that is difficult, because it is not clear to anyone what they did mean, and it probably wasn't clear even to them, either. There are further difficulties with terms that have acquired a common use outside science, or which are of 'general intellectual interest' not specific to any discipline. For example 'per se'. Does the common use reflect the real, original meaning, given that 'per se' and 'quiddity' really live in the same house and form part of the same outmoded theory? Are we, as it were, being eliminativists about quiddity, but reductivists about 'per se'? A priori is another problem that I discussed earlier.

Finally, astrologia. Do we translate it as 'astronomy' or 'astrology'. For 'astronomy', there is the argument that Aquinas was writing about the science of his time, which included the study of heavenly bodies that they called astrologia. The modern equivalent of that is astronomy'. For 'astrology' there is the argument that astrologia, as a theory, was much closer if not identical to what we call 'astrology', as the name suggests. It involved a smaller number of planets, the idea that the earth was the centre of the universe, and the theory that they physics of the sub-lunary sphere was fundamentally different from that of the heavenly bodies, plus many other wrong ideas, including that the heavenly bodies somehow influenced human life and thought. You might argue that Aquinas thought astrologia was a science, whereas 'astrology' is now just a jokey thing you find in the darker parts of the Daily Mail, but the reply to that is that plenty of people still do think that astrology is a science.

This is a question about translation, the only resolution of which is to supply the reader with both the original and the translation in close proximity, which is the purpose of the Logic Museum. But it is connected with a deeper question about the connection between science and philosophy, which I shall explore later.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What is Wikipedia doing with our money?

Events again take over again. In the Examiner today, Greg Kohs reports that the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) which runs Wikipedia awarded a contract to a consulting firm which had close connections to a WMF employee. The contract was not put out to competitive bid and when interviewed by Kohs the executive director (Sue Gardner) said she did not know what it cost. This is an obvious concern. WMF is entirely financed by donations. They have a fiduciary responsibility to be responsible with that money, and to use it in ways that they told the donors they would use it. Not even to know how they are using it is irresponsible.

This is almost certainly the reason why Kohs was banned from the WMF mailing list. Why I was blocked is still unclear, although the concerns I expressed there are similar to Kohs. I like the mission of the WMF to "empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally". But I have a concern that the WMF is not pursuing this mission, that it is (for example) deliberately ignoring the problem of plagiarism, use of outdated or biased sources, as well as sources that are blatantly incorrect.

How can we trust an organisation that claims it is committed to free dissemination of information, and yet rigorously prohibits any dissemination of information about itself?

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Free culture?

Today I was going to write something serious about encyclopedias, but events have overtaken all that. Today Gregory Kohs has been banned from the mailing list ('foundation-l') run by the Wikimedia Foundation ('WMF'), and I have been put 'on moderation' (meaning my posts are monitored for any 'negative comment'). Our crime? Greg has been making a series of well-argued posts about the potential misuse of funds by the WMF. For example, he questioned the connection between the WMF and a firm it hired for a donor survey. For more about this, and for an excellent summary of why you shouldn't donate to Wikipedia, see his well-argued essay here.

My fault was to make the same sort of comments about Wikipedia and 'free culture' in general as I have been making here, for example about Andronicus of Rhodes - "if Wikipedia now is relying on century-old sources, what sources will Wikipedia be relying on in 100 years time? For Wikipedia has apparently made traditional sources obsolete". This seems to have caused an outcry. Fred Bauder, a lawyer who has close connections to the project, writes "This list is for people who support the project, not those who are actively opposing it . Gerard Meissen says "Mr Damian uses hyperbole to the extend [sic] that you would believe there is nothing good to be found in Wikipedia".

I don't particularly mind - far more people read this blog than the WMF mailing list. In fact, I find it fascinating and I love the absurdity of it. The advocates of free speech and free culture preventing open discussion and critique of the very idea of free speech and free culture. And in any case, actions like these are much more convincing evidence for my views about Wikipedia, than anything I could write about here.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Andronicus of Rhodes

A remark by Boethius about Andronicus of Rhodes took me on a search for the man. As usual, Wikipedia came up. I was struck again, as so many times before, by Wikipedia's reliance on old out-of-copyright material mostly from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and by the ironic contrast between the advanced technology which led to the birth of the "Web 2.0" project, and the sort of material that ends in it - informative and interesting but essentially obsolete scholarship from more than a hundred years ago.

I have compiled a table below showing how the Wikipedia article on Andronicus was entirely plagiarised from two sources. Most of it is from William Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, with the exception of two short passages taken verbatim from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica article about him (in bold). The only difference is the part at the end which was omitted from Wikipedia (presumably because too dull or serious).

There is now much better scholarship available about Andronicus. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article is a good start. But the SEP project involves professional philosophers who are rewarded for their contribution by having their name against the article, and by the guarantee of protection against vandalism of the 'anyone can edit' sort. Interesting as the project is, I don't think we will ever see anything of real value from Wikipedia.

If Wikipedia is around in 100 years time, will the historical information in it still be 100 years out of date? But then which encyclopedias will it use? This was supposed to be the project that made traditional encyclopedias obsolete.

ANDRONICUS of RHODES, a Peripatetic philosopher, who is reckoned as the tenth of Aristotle's successors,Andronicus of Rhodes (fl c 60 BC) was a Greek philosopher from Rhodes who was also the eleventh scholarch of the Peripatetic school[Ammonius, In de Int 524]
was at the head of the Peripatetic school at Rome, about B C 53, and was the teacher of Boethus of Sidon, with whom Strabo studied (Strabxivpp 655,757; Ammon, in Aristot Categ P8, , a, ed Ald)He was at the head of the Peripatetic school at Rome, about 58 BC, and was the teacher of Boethus of Sidon, with whom Strabo studied[ Strabo, xiv; Ammonius, in Aristot Categ]
We know little more of the life of Andronicus, but he is of special interest in the history of philosophy, from the statement of Plutarch (Sull, c 26), that he published a new edition of the works of Aristotle and Theophrastus, which formerly belonged to the library of Apellicon, and were brought to Rome by Sulla with the rest of Apellicon’s library in BC 84We know little more of the life of Andronicus, but he is of special interest in the history of philosophy, from the statement of Plutarch,[ Plutarch, Sulla c 26] that he published a new edition of the works of Aristotle and Theophrastus, which formerly belonged to the library of Apellicon, and were brought to Rome by Sulla with the rest of Apellicon's library in 84 BC
Tyrannio commenced this task, but apparently did not do much towards it, (Comp Porphyry vit Plotin C24; Boethius ad Aristot de Interpret 292 ed Basil 1570) The arrangement which Andronicus made of Aristotle's writings seems to be the one which forms the basis of our present editions and we are probably indebted to him for the preservation of a large number of Aristotle's worksTyrannion commenced this task, but apparently did not do much towards it [Comp Porphyry, Vit Plotin c 24; Boethius, ad Aristot de Interpret] The arrangement which Andronicus made of Aristotle's writings seems to be the one which forms the basis of our present editions and we are probably indebted to him for the preservation of a large number of Aristotle's works
Andronicus wrote a work upon Aristotle, the fifth book of which contained a complete list of the philosopher's writings, and he also wrote commentaries upon the Physics, Ethics, and CategoriesAndronicus wrote a work upon Aristotle, the fifth book of which contained a complete list of the philosopher's writings, and he also wrote commentaries upon the Physics, Ethics, and Categories
None of these works is extant, for the paraphrase of the Nicomachean Ethics, which is ascribed to Andronicus of Rhodes, was written by someone else, and may have been the work of Andronicus Callistus of Thessalonica None of these works is extant Two treatises are sometimes erroneously attributed to him, one On Emotions, the other a commentary on Aristotle's Ethics (really by Constantine Palaeocapa in the 16th century, or by John Callistus of Thessalonica)
, who was professor at Rome, Bologna, Florence, and Paris, in the latter half of the fifteenth century Andronicus Callistus was the author of the work Peri Pathon, which was also ascribed to Andronicus of Rhodes, The Peri Pathon was first published by Hoschel, Aug Vi del 1594, and the Paraphrase by Heinsius as an anonymous work, Lugd, Bat 1607, and afterwards by Heinsius as the work of Andronicus of Rhodes Lugd Bat 1617, with the Peri Pathon attached to it The two works were printed at Cantab 167? and Oxon 1809 (Stahr, Aristotelia, ii p129)

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bat's eye view

Thomas' commentary on Book II of Aristotle's Metaphysics ("Alpha the lesser") is here. On reading it again, I was struck by Aristotle's comment here as well as by Thomas' lengthy comment on it from n7 to n14. Aristotle says (Ross's translation)
Perhaps, too, as difficulties are of two kinds, the cause of the present
difficulty is not in the facts but in us. For as the eyes of bats are to the
blaze of day, so is the reason in our soul to the things which are by nature
most evident of all.
Aristotle and Thomas are commenting on how reaching the truth is both difficult and easy. It is easy (according to Aristotle) in the sense that the sun is the most obvious and visible object in the world. It is so obvious, in fact, that the eyes of a bat are blinded by it, and cannot see it (Thomas mentions owls, and other translations have moles, I think). Thus, the truth is right before us, and in an obvious way. Yet we are blinded by it, and cannot grasp it.

Is that right? How is this idea related to the distinction between a posteriori and a priori that I discussed here? A priori reasoning is from what is logically prior to what is derivable from it. The exemplar is geometric and mathematical reasoning, and in that sense the truth must be easy, for we begin with self-evident truths, and move from them to other truths which are less evident, but logically deducible. A posteriori reasoning is from effect - typically observed effect - to cause. The exemplar being the truth attained by the natural sciences, which is clearly difficult to get hold of, as I suggested earlier.

But is that what Aristotle has in mind? Probably not. The difficulty of a posteriori investigation - from effect to cause - is precisely because the cause is not visible to us. This is clearly not like the case of the sun. Thomas interprets him as follows:
Obviously, then, the difficulty experienced in knowing the truth is due
principally to some weakness on the part of our intellect. From this it follows
that our soul’s intellectual power is related to those immaterial beings, which
are by nature the most knowable of all, as the eyes of owls are to the light of
day, which they cannot see because their power of vision is weak, although they
do see dimly lighted things.

The analogy is between the weakness of an owl's eye (or a bat's eye, or a mole's eye) and the weakness of our intellect. The difficulty is not a matter to be resolved by scientific investigation, i.e. natural scientific investigation. The problem (according to Thomas) is that the human mind cannot be elevated to the level of knowing the essences (quidditates) of immaterial substances because they are not on the same level as sensible substances. The difficulty is not in things but in us.

And here you have the fundamental problem of understanding the Metaphysics, indeed the problem of understanding the project of all Western philosophy. Is it a fundamentally rational project? But as Hugh Lawson-Tancred says in his excellent introduction to and commentary on the book, "it seems excessively implausible that mere rumination on some of the more elementary features of our quotidian experience could lead to a profound revision of our conception of the universe". Or is it essentially mystical, as the popular meaning of the word metaphysics suggests? More later.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Aristotle on the history of philosophy

New in the Logic Museum: the commentary on the first boook of Aristotle's Metaphysics. It includes a comprehensive set of links to Ross's (English) text of the same book here. Aquinas' commentary is always clear and is still a good introduction to Aristotle, whose writing is terse and obscure. Once Google has the text indexed, you will also be able to search it using the Museum's Latin site searcher.

By coincidence, there was a Horizon programme on British television last night: What Happened Before the Big Bang? I was struck by the resemble to Aristotle, in many ways. They say "They are the biggest questions that science can possibly ask: where did everything in our universe come from? How did it all begin?" Aristotle says "For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. " The scientists in the program presented a bewildering variety of theories about what may have happened before the Big Bang. Aristotle refers to a bewildering variety of theories proposed by different pre-Socratic philosophers about the origin and fundamental causes of the universe. The scientists were divided between material accounts of the universe, and purely mathematical-theoretical ones. The pre-Socratics included those who thought matter was the fundamental principle of being, as well as those (the Pythagoreans) who thought that number explained everything. Many of the modern scientific ideas were pretty strange (the scientists interviewed included Roger Penrose, author of the idiotic The Emperors New Mind). Practically all the ancient Greek ideas were equally daft. Thales thought the world was made of water. Hesiod thought the basic principles were love and strife.

So nothing has changed. In particular, no one seems to have an answer, which is depressing, but then still we have that sense of wonder, which is good. More on Book I later.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Aquinas in the Logic Museum: IIa 49-70

10 October 2010. Questions 49-70 of the first part of the second book of Summa Theologiae. Concerning habits in general, their causes and effects; the virtues - intellectual, moral, cardinal and theological; the gifts, beatitudes and blessings of the Holy Ghost.

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Argument by equal reasoning

What is an argument by 'equal reasoning' (Latin: pari ratione, sometimes anglo-fied as 'by parity of reason/ing')? Is it the same as an argument from analogy? In his System of Logic (Book III Chapter II "Of Inductions Improperly So Called"), J.S. Mill characterises it as follows (my emphasis):

Having shown that the three angles of the triangle ABC are together equal to two
right angles, we conclude that this is true of every other triangle, not because
it is true of ABC, but for the same reason which proved it to be true of ABC. If
this were to be called Induction, an appropriate name for it would be, induction
by parity of reasoning . But the term can not properly belong to it; the
characteristic quality of Induction is wanting, since the truth obtained, though
really general, is not believed on the evidence of particular instances. We do
not conclude that all triangles have the property because some triangles have,
but from the ulterior demonstrative evidence which was the ground of our
conviction in the particular instances.

This appears very similar to what Kit Fine calls 'argument by arbitrary object'- see here e.g. Take any A. It can be demonstrated that this particular A is a B. But this was any A. Therefore every A is a B.

A similar method is commonly used to show that an argument is invalid. My opponent and I agree that A is true, but he believes that B follows from A. I object that if B followed from A, then 'by equal reasoning' D would follow from C. But we both agree that while C is true, D is not. Therefore B cannot follow from A. My argument depends on the logical form of the argument from A to B, and from C to D, as being essentially the same. Woods and Hudak explain it well*. Although two different arguments differ substantially in their surface structure, they may possess a common 'deep structure', so that one could not consistently hold that one argument is valid, and the other not. Thus:

1. A possesses a deep structure whose logical form provides that the premisses of A bear relation R to its conclusion
2. Argument B shares with A the same deep structure
3. There, B possesses a deep structure whose logical form provides that its premisses likewise bear R to its conclusion.
4. Hence, B is an analogue of A. A and B are good or bad arguments, by parity of reasoning, so-called.

But Woods and Husak also call this an "analogical argument". Is that right? And is the same as an argument I had with a vegetarian years ago? She argued as follows

P1 It is wrong to kill animals for use by human beings
P2 Eating animals is an example of killing animals for use by human beings,
C It is wrong to eat animals.

I pointed out that the following argument was also valid

P1 It is wrong to kill animals for use by human beings
P2 Wearing leather shoes is an example of killing animals for use by human beings,
C It is wrong to wear leather shoes.

Which caused some difficulty for her, as she was fond of (very expensive) leather court shoes. She first denied that the cases really were the same, then ended up modifying the major premiss to 'it is wrong to directly cause the death of animals for use by human beings', arguing that the manufacture of leather is a only by-product of the food industry, and not a direct cause of their death. But this is not an issue about the validity of an argument, but rather its soundness. An argument is unsound if one of its premisses is false. The vegetarian conceded the identity of logical form, and defended the validity of the argument. But it was the minor premiss where the problem lay. Wearing leather shoes is not an example of killing animals for a certain purpose.

According to Juthe, they are sometimes presented as inductive probable arguments. He cites Copi and Burgess Jackson 1992**. Juthe denies this, saying that a true argument by analogy is where the inference goes via an 'analogical relation'. He cites the 'classic case' of Mill's argument for other minds: other humans have bodies like me, act in the same way as me, in cases which from my experience have the same causes, namely feelings and thoughts which only I can observe. Therefore other humans have feelings and thoughts. But this is clearly not the same as argument by equal reasoning.

It seems there is some confusion about the precise distinction between argument by analogy, and argument by 'equal reasoning'.

* "By Parity of Reasoning", *Informal Logic XI.3, 1989
** Informal Logic, Macmillan 1982


Aquinas on the passions

Now available in the Logic Museum. Thomas explores and analyses the phenomena of love and hatred, concupiscience and delight, pain and sorrow, fear and daring, and anger.

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Friday, October 08, 2010

What did Aquinas know about Islam?

An interesting page here. What did Thomas know about Islam? There are two specific references in his works. One at the beginning of Summa contra gentiles, written for Dominicans who were going to preach in Muslim territories, the other, De rationibus fidei contra Saracenos, Graecos et Armenos ad Cantorem Antiochenum*, where Thomas considers the main objections which Muslims make to the Catholic Faith, such as the possibility of the Trinity and of the Incarnation, the wisdom of the Crucifixion and human liberty before divine predestination.

There are some interesting summaries of which Islamic philosophers and which of their works are mentioned by Thomas, and which of their works he appears not to have known.

See also Joseph Kenny's website here. Many translations of Aquinas.

*Now in parallel Latin-English at the Logic Museum.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Aquinas in the Logic Museum

29 September 2010. Questions 1-21 of the first part of the second book of Summa Theologiae. Index page here. This is part of a continuing project to take the whole work (three books) into a parallel Latin-English version (the only one on the web). There is now full indexing on the questions for Book II. For example, if you want to link to q. 19 a. 8 arg. 1, use the link as follows: authors/aquinas/summa/Summa-IIa-18-21.htm#q19a8arg1. More to come.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

The 20 most important philosophy articles

This week I am fascinated by the page here which reflects my continuing fascination with Wikipedia itself, and the question of why it is generally good in certain areas (mathematics or biography for example), why equally bad in others (economics, psychology), and why it completely stinks in the area of philosophy. It is a list of all articles categorised as philosophy in Wikipedia, with an assessment of their importance and quality. On the importance of each article, I think it is roughly right. There are some articles almost entirely unrelated to philosophy, such as Council communism and (bizarrely) Andy Warhol. There is the usual political correctness of balancing 'Western' philosophy with 'Eastern' philosophy, even though these are not different species of the same genus, but something radically different.

But regarding the 'top' importance articles I think the selection has it about right. If I had to choose the 20-30 most important philosophy articles? Clearly the subject and its main branches: Philosophy, Epistemology, Ethics, Metaphysics, Logic, Political philosophy, Aesthetics. Also the 'philosophies of' mind, language, mathematics, religion, science. The periods of philosophy Ancient, Medieval, Early modern, contemporary, and an article on the history to thread them together. The 'transcendentals' such as essence, existence, identity, truth, time, and so on. The main 'tendencies' - Realism, Nominalism, Idealism, Scepticism. Major historical figures always difficult, but if forced to choose two or three from each period I would go for Aristotle and Plato; Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham; Locke, Berkeley, Hume; Kant and Hegel; Russell and Wittgenstein.

On the subject of quality, more later, although this snippet from the Aristotle article may amuse you.

Even Plato had difficulties with logic; although he had a reasonable
conception of a deducting system, he could never actually construct one and
relied instead on his dialectic. Consequently, Plato realized that a method for
obtaining conclusions would be most beneficial. He never succeeded in devising
such a method, but his best attempt was published in his book Sophist, where he
introduced his division method.

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