Book Club: The Edge of Reason, ch. 3, rationality and judgment

IMG_8136We come now to the third installment of our discussion of Julian Baggini’s book, The Edge of Reason: A Rational Skeptic in an Irrational World (ch. 1 here; ch. 2 here). Thus far, Julian has been arguing that reason by itself is insufficient to objectively adjudicate between arguments. Reasoners, as he puts it, have to exercise their own judgment, implying therefore that judgment is both distinct from, and to be deployed in augmentation of, reason. The latter, by itself, is not an algorithm for making decisions on our behalf.

Baggini defines judgment as: “a cognitive faculty required to reach conclusions or form theories, the truth or falsity of which cannot be determined by an appeal to facts and/or logic alone.”

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No top-down, or bottom-up, causality

I am preparing a paper for what looks like a very promising workshop to be held in May at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Theoretical Biology near Vienna, on the topic of causes and processes in biology. The workshop is organized by Kevin Laland (St. Andrews, UK) and Tobias Uller (Lund, Sweden), and aims at initiating close interaction and exchange between philosophers of science and biologists to reflect on the nature of causation in biological evolution. The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis — a project in which I am involved — has a different perspective on causation in evolution, and ascribes evolutionary significance to a greater range of processes, than traditional perspectives. As the organizers put it, “the workshop will set out to scrutinize these claims, with both philosophers (acting as independent arbiters) and non-project members (including non-sympathizers) present to ensure good debate.”

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The most important philosopher you never heard of

The latest video in the Sophia “Dan & Massimo” series covered a philosopher you likely never heard of, and yet you should. We talked about Wilfrid Sellars¬†(1912-1989), who had a big influence on Dan and who I discovered only relatively recently, to my delight.

Sellars is perhaps most famous for his distinction between what he called the “scientific image” and the “manifest image” of the world, meaning our¬†understanding of how things are from, respectively, the scientific and the commonsense standpoints.

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Book Club: The Edge of Reason, ch. 2, science for humans

Time to go back to Julian Baggini’s book, The Edge of Reason: A Rational Skeptic in an Irrational World, which I have began discussing last month. While the first chapter was about God and the rationality (or lack thereof) of arguments pro and against, the second one is about science and why it is far less rational that we are led to believe (especially by scientists).

The chapter opens with the observation that science is not an objective “view from nowhere” thing, but a sophisticated, yet fallible, human enterprise, fundamentally dependent on human judgment. As in the case of a poll Baggini cites from 1999: when 90 leading physicists were asked which interpretation of quantum mechanics they thought was best, 4 voted for Copenhagen, 30 for Many Worlds, and 50 said either none of the above or undecided. Clearly, which available model is preferable is a question of subjective judgment, not empirical fact (as the very word “interpretation” strongly suggests…).

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