Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 121

laughing at jokesHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Psychologist discovers world’s funniest joke. Meh, it’s okay.

In praise of unfinished novels, a literary genre of its own.

You call that a sport??

The real reason many Americans stay poor. (Hint: it has nothing to do with them being lazy over-spenders.)

Pinker is disdainful and condescending, sympathetic to humanity in the abstract, but impervious to the suffering of actual human beings.”


Please notice that the duration of the comments window is three days (including publication day), and that comments are moderated for relevance (to the post one is allegedly commenting on), redundancy (not good), and tone (constructive is what we aim for). This applies to both the suggested readings and the regular posts. Also, keep ‘em short, this is a comments section, not your own blog. Thanks!

99 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 121

  1. Robin Herbert

    We get the term “normative” invoked a lot. According to the dictionary it means “Establishing, relating to, or deriving from a standard or norm” which seems to give it pretty wide scope.

    If I am having a discussion with a couple of people and we agree at the outset that when we use a particular word during the discussion, we will use it to mean a certain thing then we have established a standard.

    If some people having a party say “tonight, none of the usual rules and taboos apply” then they have established a standard for the coming evening, even if they abandon that standard after they leave.

    So I don’t see that the term ‘normative’ is particularly useful concept for establishing even a limited form of objectivity.

    When I was young I would have been considered a morally bad person according to what was “normal” then, but I did not consider that “norm” had any bearing on whether I was good or bad. Today the “norm” is closer to my view back then and people who were considered “good” by that norm are often considered “bad” now. I would still be regarded as morally lacking by that norm in quite a lot of countries, and by quite a lot of people in Australia who still have that norm for the group with which they identify.

    So the “norm” is not particularly helpful in the case of morality, since we still have to decide which “norm” we want to go with and which we don’t.

    If there is any sort of objectivity in morality, it cannot be that someone was bad in the 1970’s but is good now, not because his behaviour or attitudes changed, but because the attitudes of those around him changed. It cannot be that John is good in Sydney, but if he jumps on a plane to Uganda then he is bad, by virtue of that plane journey.

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  2. brodix


    It would seem to be a bit of the map, versus territory relationship.

    Though for many people the map is more real than the territory.

    Mathematical platonism comes to mind.

    Territories are more complicated than maps.

    Reminds me of a teeshirt my girlfriend mentioned seeing in a store today; Being a people is difficult. Time to be a unicorn.


  3. Robin Herbert


    Mathematical platonism comes to mind.

    Territories are more complicated than maps.

    Indeed, there are territories in mathematics that are intrinsically impossible to map.


  4. Philosopher Eric

    Well done Robin. Meaning does indeed exist before language. I suppose that we often forget this given how language centric we happen to be. No other conscious animal on Earth has language (as far as we know), and yet existence surely has meaning to these creatures as well.


  5. Robin Herbert

    Mathematical Platonism is a good example of how terminology and meaning are separate.

    I was not a Mathematical Platonist until I read Lee Smolin and Carlo Rovelli’s explanations as to why Mathematical Platonism was wrong.

    They way they defined MP I am a mathematical platonist, but I am still not a mathematical platonist they way I used to understand the term.

    So there are these two things – the thing I used to use the term to describe, for which I no longer have a term, and the thing I now use the term to describe, having accepted Smolin and Rovelli’s usage of the term.

    So the thing that is open to negoiation, attempted legislation, codification etc is not the meaning, it is the term we decide to apply to a particular meaning.


  6. Philosopher Eric

    So the “norm” is not particularly helpful in the case of morality, since we still have to decide which “norm” we want to go with and which we don’t.

    Now you’re really singing my tune Robin! Observe that philosophy’s branch of ethics is today, and always has been, founded upon this simple social construct. It’s exactly as arbitrary as you’ve observed.

    Philosophy has three branches: Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Axiology (composed of ethics and aesthetics). Note that this final “value” branch is explored without any theory regarding the nature of value itself. Apparently this is given that everything has always been centered around normative morality.

    I say fine. Continue on with this work in the spirit of humanistic philosophy. But let’s also try exploring something else as well. Let’s also try to identify what is valuable regarding existence, and so develop a “real” or “non normative” or “amoral” form of value study. If physics can be amoral, why can’t this form of reality study be amoral as well?

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  7. davidlduffy

    Robin makes a lot of nice comments:

    “still be able to see a commonality…meaning”:

    In a recent interview, Burto comments

    …mental representations represent (1) linguistically (in whatever way language represents, without the intervention of sensory modalities); (2) pictorially (in whatever way pictures represent, via quasi-spatial
    features and the involvement of sensory modalities); (3) a mixture of (1) and (2); (4) magically (they just
    represent, with no further questions asked on how they do it).

    As to norms and meaning, I recall previously quoting
    “X ought to accept ‘snow is white’ iff X ought to accept snow is white” is the subjective ought, while
    “X ought to accept ‘snow is white’ iff snow is white” is the objective ought [Gibbard]. As per Hume, we can’t force anyone to agree to the latter, can we?

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