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.