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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

More on the Henson case

In the wake of the hysteria over Bill Henson's photographs earlier this year, David Marr has just published what sounds like a sensible book on the subject. I look forward to reading it, but meanwhile here's a review by Peter Craven. It seems to me that Craven has pretty much nailed it this time.

Once again, we see some very unfortunate populism from our politicians - who should know better. Even Malcolm Turnbull, whose comments last time round showed good sense, has got caught up in it. When will they ever learn?

11 comments:

Brian said...

A popularist is only concerned with cultivating the love of the population. Not with being responsible or giving a thought to the long term effects of his/her actions. Turnbull is just jumping on the bandwagon......

Brian said...

Russell, if I may trouble you. I would like to ask why many (if not most) philosophers think or seem to think that logic binds the universe? By that I mean, why do philosophers who propose a first cause, a modal ontological argument, or a syllogism and presume that logic or intuition is descriptive of and/or controlling of reality?

As Hume probably said, this line (our brains/experience/knowledge) cannot plumb such depths. So, why is it that we have Lane Craig/Plantinga/Swinburne et al.for and Makcie (whom did a bang up job)/Sobel/Merriston et al., against, arguing that logic and metaphysical intuition (whatever that might be, OK Lane Craig does it to make his irrational belief seem rational and even says faith rules reason) are descriptive or not of and constrain or control reality? To me, that's the ultimate in hubris.

To get all Humean, I never did see the beginning of the universe, or ride a photon at the speed of light. Why can I claim that my evolved brain with it's evolved logic and intuition that is obviously fallible in everyday situations is somehow infallible in situations that no one has experienced such as that before plank time (granting its existence) or at the speed of light? (This argument works just as well if you are a christian who thinks that humans aren't perfect like God and thus can't know everything. God may have created everything, but for us to argue backwards from what we see to something else is to plumb greater depths than our line reaches.)

To say it's an intuition or follows logically seems to me to place logic and/or intuition above reality. What justifies this? Has anyone stepped outside the universe and experimented and found that in all cases our logic and intuition are infallible? Even when we see them fallible in everyday situations that don't move into sub-atomic or near-luminal provinces.

Anyway, I'm sure this is a first-year newby question, but if you've the time, can you say why logic or intuition are binding on the universe (which Quantum mechanics would say not)? I don't mean to say that humans cannot or should not argue logically, what choice do we have? Just that as far as we know or could ever know humans aren't all there is viz knowledge, logic, whatever. The universe, being uncaring, wouldn't care that we can't conceptualize it........Claiming anything after or outside the universe when we don't even understand well the 'abnormal' parts, quantum, relative parts, would be unjustifiable. And that's assuming our current theories are close to reality.

Did any of that make sense? How does one argue against the primacy of logic while trying to be logical?

(I don't think this line of questioning is useful to a theist. This form of skeptical agnosticism doesn't deny that we take on faith induction or the expected behaviour of nature. These things all see. I just wonder why we can claim as logical or intuitive that which does not comform to our worldy experiences?)

Thanks. :)

Blake Stacey said...

Um, quantum mechanics is all still about logic and reasoning, declarations of self-proclaimed mystic sages notwithstanding. And if you're worried that it is not "intuitive". . . well, is it "intuitive" that only air resistance makes a feather fall more slowly than a cannonball?

Brian said...

Um, quantum mechanics is all still about logic and reasoning Hi Blake, I tried to explain myself, and looking at how much I wrote, I only seem to have been verbose.

Science uses logical conjecture and evidence to give us a good idea of reality. I don't think you would say it gives us reality as it is in itself. As far as I can tell, we're indirectly measuring the properties of sub-atomic particles, not as we would directly study a stick or a person. Even if we do directly interact with these entities we don't know all about them and don't know if later theories will change how we understand them or even if any theory will ever capture what they are. How would we know if a theory did completely describe something like in all situations? Perhaps electrons or quarks are useful fictions and not real stuff? If I understand Kant's terminology, an analogy might be science gives us the matter and not the phenomena. I think science is great and not at all mystical. It's indispensable and amazingly successful.


Anyway, I was referring to the idea that logic is binding on reality. For example: something cannot both be and not be. I can't argue against that principle as I affirm it in doing so. However, I think that the wave/particle duality of light, the smearing of an electron in its orbit, or quantum indeterminacy (as we understand them) puts that logical principle in a problem, as logic and language are intimately entwined in our brains we don't seem to be able to conceptualize and reason with things on the quantum level, though we can encapsulate them in mathematical reasoning even if we don't understand them as they are.


Our brains seem good at logically dealing with environments and concepts that would be similar to and contained in our original evolutionary environment.

Anyway, I read a philosopher saying that reality is bound by the law of non contradiction like it was a known fact. Whereas I would only venture that our ability to conceptualize and reason creates and works with, and is thus binded by the law of non contradiction. Perhaps logic is the form with which we conceptualize our impressions of reality (to labor and abuse the Kantian terminology). I don't see the justification for going any further.

Hopefully you can see what I'm getting at now.

Brian said...

And if you're worried that it is not "intuitive". . .
No, quite the opposite. I meant that I don't think intuition is an infallible guide, especially when in situations that we can't perceive or comprehend. That's why science is so great. It seems to me a lot of philosophers do think that intuition and logic are a an accurate guide to reality. How does one justify this?

Blake Stacey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blake Stacey said...

As far as I can tell, we're indirectly measuring the properties of sub-atomic particles, not as we would directly study a stick or a person.

What about a person you only see on TV, or the inside of a stick? Remember, when you break the stick, you're not seeing the inside, just a new outside.

For example: something cannot both be and not be. I can't argue against that principle as I affirm it in doing so. However, I think that the wave/particle duality of light, the smearing of an electron in its orbit, or quantum indeterminacy (as we understand them) puts that logical principle in a problem,

No, it doesn't. To paraphrase a passage from Feynman's The Character of Physical Law (1964): Electrons, photons and other quantum entities do not behave like waves, nor do they behave like particles. They behave "in their own inimitable way", which we designate as the quantum fashion of behaviour. Under certain conditions, wave motion is a decent approximation of quantum phenomena; in other circumstances, particulate descriptions provide useful results. Experiments can be devised which require a wave description in one part and a particle view in another (the classic two-slit experiment has this flavour), while other experiments have been performed which admit neither approximation and require the full apparatus of quantum mechanics (Bell Inequality tests, for example).

They always are, but they often are unfamiliar.

as logic and language are intimately entwined in our brains we don't seem to be able to conceptualize and reason with things on the quantum level, though we can encapsulate them in mathematical reasoning even if we don't understand them as they are.

As I hinted above, I believe this is often enough the case in classical physics as well. Intuition must be grown.

Brian said...

Hi Blake, I bow to your greater knowledge on physics. I think we're not quite on the same page here. Perhaps I shouldn't have tried to provide examples from physics. I still think that the intuition 'every thing that begins to exist has a cause' of someone like William Lane Craig is suspect because of the uncaused events like the decay of radioactive isotopes. But I probably have that wrong too.

You say you grow intuition, but I would think that intuition is next to useless in situations like advanced physics or maths. How can intuition, the ability to feel something right or true without reasoning, help one in such circumstances? Growing intuition seems to me to be another term for learning and understanding.

Anyway, it appears that I'm asking meaningless questions. I just thought it way to dogmatic to declare that human logic and intuition is consonant with and accurately describes the universe, especially the armchair ratiocination I imagine some philosophers doing. I still don't think many scientists claim their models perfectly describe the reality of whatever they're describing. Thanks.

Brian said...

I think the position I'm inclined to argue for is at least tangentially linked to experimental philosophy. It seems this school or group argues for the discrediting of armchair intuitions, or at least demands justification. Got to love epistemology. :)

Brian said...

Call it coincidence, but I just started reading the introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosphicus by Bertrand Russell and this section pretty much captures what I've been trying to say:

According to this view we could only say things about the world as a whole if we could get outside the world, if, that is to say, it ceased to be for us the whole world. Our world may be bounded for some superior being who can survey it from above, but for us, however finite it may be, it cannot have a boundary, since it has nothing outside it. Wittgenstein uses, as an analogy, the field of vision. Our field of vision does not, for us, have a visual boundary, just because there is nothing outside it, and in like manner our logic world has no logical boundary because our logic knows nothing outside it...Logic, he says, fills the world. The boundaries of the world are also its boundaries. In logic therefore we cannot say there is this and this in the world, but not that, for to say so would apparently presuppose that we exclude certain possibilities, and this cannot be the case, since it would require that logic go beyond the boundaries of the world as if it could contemplate these boundaries from the other side also. What we cannot think we cannot think, therefore we also cannot say what we cannot think.

I'd add that we cannot declare that what we cannot think does or does not, by that lack of our logic, exist or even that we may ever know anything about it. Our line is not long enough to plumb such depths. Sorry, I love Hume. Looks like I'll be reading Wittgenstein next however. :)

I had forgotten what a great writer Bertrand Russell was.

I think I have the answer I'm looking for. Thanks Blake for taking the time and Russell for providing me with the place.

Anonymous said...

Obviously you have to have a consistent law. We cannot have one law for leftist sensibilities and another for everyone else.

If Henson was within the law where does the law now stand?

Is it now the case that there is a free for all on taking nude pictures of kids?

If so we ought to get that law changed back. But the fact of the matter is the dumb left seems to have a hard time comprehending the idea that the law has to apply equally to all without fear or favour.