Sunday, December 31, 2006

The transgender excitement over at Twisty's has inspired me a bit. I must say it came at the perfect time, as I just finished a paper on social constructs and gender. The blogosphere does quite a job traveling along with me, intellectually at the least.

So what the hell is gender? Well, it's a bunch of stuff. It's how we dress, how we react to others, what stuff we own, what we learn, and why we do all those things the way we do. Gender, in western society, is a function of sex traditionally speaking. Whatever sex you are born, you get the gender that goes along with it. All this stuff is of course completely made up. Gender doesn't exist in any sort of real way, it exists like race exists as a social construct. But the problem here seems to be that people either don't know or reject the idea of social constructs. So what is a social construct? Simply put it is something that exists as it is owing completely or mostly to society. That includes houses and race and cars and other stuff, so is probably overly broad so lets narrow it down.

Sally Haslanger, my new favorite philosopher, in her paper Ontology and Social Construction lays out a great breakdown of all the different types of social construction.

What is sex then? This one is harder. The way that we define people as certain sexes is definitely a social construct. There are people we would define as female even though they lack certain features we see as essential to being female, ovaries for example. The problem arises in the border areas. Some people seem happy to not worry about those areas, see Twisty's thread on lipstick for a few, but those are the areas which show us how any sort of essentialist view of sex breaks down.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The sun has risen more than a million times in recorded history, and yet, logically speaking, there is no apparent justification for us to assume it will rise tomorrow, as common sense would dictate. This is the predicament of the lack of justification for inductive logic. We can, however, consider this from a different perspective: If induction is truly unjustified, then either we have enjoyed an incredible streak of dumb luck up until now (just witness the general past success of inductive inferences) or something else explains our good fortune. (1) Induction has justification after all—we just haven’t found it, (2) We’ve enjoyed an incredible streak of dumb luck but have no reason to expect it to last, or (3) Some force or being has been ensuring that our unjustified inferences tend to pay off. Let us begin with the view that induction does have justification.
The idea that induction is not justified, and as such does not exist, simply because we have not yet found a method of justification strikes me as rather arrogant. The existence of a thing is not dependent upon man's ability to discover it. The problem here, of course, is that it is all well and good to say that, but the fact is that induction does not always work, e.g. black swans. It does however work most of the time. But if we appeal to the apparent past efficacy of inference then we do no more than to justify induction with itself, and this path of circular justification is one which must be avoided as shown by Salmon in his examples with counter-inference rules as justifying themselves and creating the paradox of giving the opposite likelihood of something happening as an inference rule would given that both are self justifying and given the same starting set of information. This paradox leads us away from those attempts at justifying induction but, again, to rule out the possibility of something simply because we lack the ability to account for it seems the hight of folly and arrogance.
Given that, perhaps it is true, we have merely enjoyed an incredible streak of dumb luck; we have flipped the coin a million times and it has nearly every time landed heads. But this is a highly unsatisfying answer. If true then we simply drift in a sea of chaos on an island of apparent order, viewing the world as a model for the rest of existence when in fact the only thing we can say about the universe is that we are damn lucky to even be here to see it. But if this is true then all knowledge we have about the world falls apart. We cannot say that we have not been created from nothing five minutes ago and merely have the
That leaves us with the idea that there is some force which has been ensuring our unjustified inferences pay off. This strikes me as even less likely than the idea that it has been all mere chance. That there could first be some force out there both powerful enough to know what our inductive inferences have been (though not all apparently, see again: black swans) and additionally willing to make sure that some of those inferences come to be seems highly outlandish. Although this view can be reconciled quite well with Berkeley's view of the world existing only insofar as it is perceived and that there must be a God to perceive things when there is no person. Then we have both an explanation for why we appear to live in a physical world, despite the lack of proof for said world actually existing, and why inductive logic works on a regular basis. The interesting aspect of this idea, that there is a force working to make our inferences come true, is that said force cannot be a force which enacts actual inductive logic, it must be a force which merely makes the world conform to our inferences. This again seems a bit more than absurd. If there were this force with the power to make all these things happen, then why would it not simply make inductive logic justified? Or perhaps we can say that the force would come from us, that we through sheer force of will can cause our inferences to come to be, but again with the arrogance.
Given all of these three options it seems that one of them must be true, that is to say, we can think of no other possibility. I suppose one could argue that there is some other possibility and that our inability to conceive of it does not rule it out, but we lean in that case away from philosophy and logic and more towards esoterica and mysticism. So it seems that we have here a good argument, one of these three must be true.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

I've been gone for a while and I'm finally back, not that anyone will notice.

But, let the rejoicing commence!

Anyway, on to the point: Islam.

I picked up a Qu'ran the other day and have been reading it, avidly even. The first thing I noticed was that it is head and shoulders above the bible in terms of interest. As in it actually held mine. Also amazing is how much it completely refutes what a lot of people seem to think about Islam. It has had only one reference to making war that I have encountered as of yet and that reference was that it is only ok to war when people of the faith are being oppressed. And it stresses, multiple times, that once those people are no longer oppressed then the war must stop. "Well, who really cares?" You might say. You should.

What this means is that if the U.S. and other western powers were to pull out of the middle east and stop our bumbling war efforts there would not be any more attacks on us. Now some would say that this is "appeasement," but is it really appeasement to do the right thing? If I steal money from someone and they keep fighting me to get it back is it appeasement for me to return it or just the right thing to do?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Monday, April 10, 2006

There are some things people do not know about Islam and the history of Islam. Now, I'll put out there right now that I am an atheist, I do not believe in god and I am certainly not a muslim; but if we are to understand the world today we must understand this faith. With that in mind I am going to discuss the current facination with "fundamentalist" or radical Islam. These have been generally seen as having a long history and being rooted in the past and traditions of Islam. They are rooted in the past and traditions of Islam, but they do not have as long a history as some would have you believe.
Before the time of western colonialism in the Islamic world Islamic legal codes and
political philosophy had been fairly static for hundreds of years. The four schools of Sunni jurisprudence had been around in their current form for hundreds of years and Shi', though more dynamic, was around for even longer. But these were not the Sharia that we see in today's radical sects, these were drawn from the Quran and Sunnah (collection of writings about Muhammad) and interpreted acording to different philosophical ideals. With the advent of western colonial powers in Muslim lands, specifically england (it always is, isn't it?), the muslims began to question why they were seemingly so easy to conquer and rule. Some answered this with modernism and progressive Islam, al-Afghani and, later, Iqbal, others answered with a reformation of sorts. In the same way that the christian reformation sprouted new sects which viewed the bible as the only true christianity these new regressive sects viewed the Quran and Sunnah as the only true way to know Islam. Unfortunately, they seem to have done a none to great job, or, at best, have read into these resources rationalizations for traditional behavior which is not mentioned in either source. The burqa and hijab, coverings for women, are not prescribed for women specifically, only that they cover their chest and be modest. Both of these examples are traditions of arab and east asian cultures that have been integrated into Islam.
One of the better known sects of radical Islam is the Wahhabis. al-Wahhab was around in the 17th century, pre-colonial days for the middle-east, and basically decided that because the Califate(Khalifat), the Ottomans, was corrupt and could no longer be considered the true leaders of Islam he had to lead true muslims only according to the Quran and Sunnah. This didn't really catch on right away. It was a prosperous time for the Muslim world and the west had not begun the largest of their colonizations of muslims, so he was mostly dismissed. The Wahhabis continued as a small sect until the colonization began in earnest, when the failings of the Muslim world began to be blamed on its corruption in the eyes of Allah. This is, of course, a story as old as time. Great power begins decline and suddenly the "moral" people pop up yelling about how it is the godless and the sinners who are to blame, see: fundies in the US. Well, unfortunately for us, this really took hold.
When this became a real problem was at the beginnings of decolonization. The radical sects had heretofore remained fairly apolitical if the colonizers allowed them to practice their form of Sharia, which the Brits inevitably did. Once the former colonies were formed into new states these groups began organizing politically in a number of them. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is generally the most known of these groups. They were a Wahhabi group which began to organize to bring the country under Sharia. Because of a strong secular military they failed. Not so in Saudi Arabia. The house of Saud, the royalty in Saudi Arabia, used the Wahhabis as a local powerbase and used the Wahhabi ideology as a basis for their rule. Given that 15 or the 19 11 sept. hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, we can see how successful the Wahhabis were in establishing their ideology.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

So I ran across a great quote the other day:
"The liberals who defend Islam do not know it. Islam is the complete unity of the spiritual and the temporal, it is the reign of a dogma, it constitutes the heaviest chains which have ever shackled humanity. In the first half of the Middle Ages . . . Islam put up with philosophy , because it could not do away with it; it could not do away with it because it lacked cohesion and was little equipped to use terror . . . But when Islam found that it could depend on masses of ardent believers, then it destroyed everything. Islam was liberal when it was weak, and violent when it was strong."
-Ernest Renan

Reading this my first thought was exactly what you would expect, "Those darn right-wing nutjobs." Then I realized when it was from; the nineteenth century. What this says to me is that we have seen people saying the same things for around a hundred and fifty years. The nutjobs really are persistant.

Oh, and for fairness I'll give you another quote, speaking on how Islam persecuted free thought.
"I will not say more violently than other religious systems, but more effeciantly."

So, i'll give him one for his dislike for all religion.