Thursday, May 28, 2015

More choices does not make us happier

What makes a person happy is knowing the right thing to do, and doing it. When someone is disoriented, and does not know the right thing to do, giving them more and more choices only makes them more and more miserable.

Fifty-inch plasma screen TVs cannot cure spiritual emptiness.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rape occurs in many animals, therefore…

Would anyone use this as an argument that human rape is therefore morally unproblematic?

If not, then there is no reason to think other arguments of the same form are valid either.

"Nothing is more important than family"

I often hear people state the above as if by doing so they are proving that they are a good person. But as Rod Dreher came to recognize, not just golden calves, but things that if viewed from the right perspective can be quite positive, will turn into idols if taken as more important than they are:
Once Dante unmasked this [family worship] within me, I saw that I too had made false idols of family and place. It's not that loving family and loving place are bad, but that are only good relative to the ultimate good, which is unity with God. We were all professed Christians, but it sometimes seemed that the family's real religion was ancestor worship. -- How Dante Can Save Your Life, p. 125
I had the experience, as a child, of realizing that, while my family's apparent religion was Catholicism, it's true religion was social respectability. This affected my relationship with religion for many, many years.

Nothing is more important than The Good itself: anything else you put in its place has become your golden calf.


Ed Feser points out, as I have in the past, that an appeal to authority generally is only a fallacy when the authority isn't really an authority at all. (There is the minor case when someone mistakes it for a deductive proof, but that essentially never happens.)

Furthermore, he notes:
Similarly, not every ad hominem attack -- an attack “against the man” or person -- involves a fallacious ad hominem. "Attacking the man" can be entirely legitimate and sometimes even called for, even in an argumentative context, when it is precisely the man himself who is the problem.
Incorrectly accusing an opponent of one or both of these fallacies is a favorite last resort of the Internet jerk. He shows up in some comment section, and claims, "That's nonsense: everyone knows electrons move at the speed of light!" When someone finally gives up arguing with the fellow, and notes, for the benefit of onlookers, "Well, every physicist in the world disagrees with you," he is sure to be met with the invective: "Appeal to authority!"

But this is a good appeal to authority: physicists know what they are talking about on this topic, and the Internet jerk doesn't.

The other accusation arises when someone evades all attempts at counter-argument. The person trying to reason with him finally declares, "You are being an idiot!" Immediately, he will hear: "Ad hominem!"

But, as Feser says:
There is in such a case nothing wrong with calling such a person an ignoramus, a crank, a troll, etc. and refusing to engage with him any further. That is certainly an attack on the person, but it is no fallacy. It is just a straightforward inference from the facts, a well-founded judgment about him and his behavior, rather than a fallacious response to some argument he has given.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Dreher Is on to Rationalism in Religion


And he sees the resemblance between "conservative" fundamentalists and most modern, American "conservatives":
Well, anyway, I have no interest in engaging in theological disputation here, and won’t. What prompts this post is my curiosity about this question: Does laying hold to a position so extreme and so ungrounded in history leave people like Mr. Bible Church vulnerable in other ways to the forces of modernity, which deny the authority of the past? That is, does the nature of their conservatism leave Christian fundamentalists particularly vulnerable to the cultural forces that are tearing Christianity apart in the West?

This reminds me of firebrand political conservatives who seem to think conservatism began with Ronald Reagan, and that before his appearance among us, there was a vast void between the age of the Founding Fathers, and Reagan’s coming. Their historical ignorance denies them deeper philosophical resources that they could rightly draw on to defend their position against contemporary challenges. All true conservatives — as opposed to ideologues — lay hold to continuity with the past, and the democracy of the dead.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Designing sophisticated equipment...

Without words:

"Now, in my work, before I attempt any construction, I test run the equipment in my imagination. I visualize my designs being used in every possible situation, with different sizes and breeds of cattle and in different weather conditions. Doing this enables me to correct mistakes prior to construction... I can view it from any angle, placing myself above or below the equipment and rotating it at the same time. I don't need a fancy graphics program that can produce three-dimensional design simulations. I can do it better and faster in my head." -- Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures, pp. 4-5

I think it is ridiculous for someone to deny that Grandin is thinking when she does the above. (By the way, fully a third of the cattle and hogs processed in the US pass through her equipment.)

Thinking in Pictures

"I think in pictures. Words are like a second language to me. I translate both spoken and written words into full-color movies, complete with sound, which run like a VCR tape in my head. When somebody speaks to me, his words are instantly translated into pictures. Language-based thinkers often find this phenomenon difficult to understand, but in my job as an equipment designer for the livestock industry, visual thinking is a tremendous advantage." -- Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures, p. 3

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Bad Boudreaux Critique of Minimum Wage Hikes

Here. He claims: "If this minimum-wage hike is truly justified by employer monopsony power, there’s no reason for any delay in hiking the wage."

Well, one reason to phase in the hike, even if one believes in monopsony power, is epistemic modesty: perhaps one's diagnosis is wrong, so let's start the treatment slowly, and see how the patient responds. If critics are right, and unemployment spikes, we can always repeal the law.

A second good reason for gradualism would be that even adopting a healthy diet or dropping a bad habit can be a shock to the system: cold turkey can kill a serious alcoholic, while gradual withdrawal might work fine.

It only took me a couple of minutes to come up with two perfectly sound reasons for phasing this hike in. If one is going to write a column claiming there is "no good reason for X," it is a good idea to spend at least a couple of minutes thinking about whether there might be a good reason for X.

Note: As I've said before, I think minimum wage hikes are at best a crude way to help the poor, and more likely to be a way to hurt them. Still, a bad argument against a bad idea is still a bad argument.

A Good Murphy Critique of Krugman

Here. Murphy honestly notes that his predictions were  often wrong on the macroeconomy as well.

My explanation as to why essentially no macroeconomists have a consistently good prediction record on the macroeconomy: while almost all of their models make sense
1) given their assumptions, and
2) if those assumed factors were the only things influencing the macroeconomy,
number 2) is never true: the macroeconomy is influenced by a myriad of factors, ceteris is never paribus, and the real use of these models should be to give us hints as to what factors, among others, are at play in any situation.

So, for instance, I still think the Austrian model of distortion of the capital structure is a fine model, and captures something important that sometimes occurs, and that can be a factor in a boom-and-bust cycle, a distorted capital structure is only one thing among many that can be wrong about the economy, and its effect can be swamped by a thousand other things going on.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What is needed to teach X

1) One must understand X.

2) One must understand why it is difficult for the student to understand X.

3) One must understand The correct next step to take in removing the difficulty in 2).

And that is pretty much it. If you don't have 1 to 3 down, years of studying "education" won't help much. And if you do have 1 to 3 down, then those years of study will mostly be icing on the cake.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Embracing the Gambler's Fallacy...

gets you a job commenting for ESPN:

ESPN: "Who or what will be the X-factor in this series?"

Brian Windhorst: "Korver. If he gets going, he can terrorize a defense. The fact that he hasn't been making shots is even more worrisome for the Cavs."

So the idea is that, because Korver has been cold recently, he's bound to be hot now! But what if he has been "cold" because of an undetected wrist injury? Because he has lost his confidence? Because he has been on a drinking binge? Because he has picked up a hitch in his stroke at some point? Any of those reasons for his recent "cold streak" would mean that he might get even "colder" still, e.g., if it is a wrist injury, and continuing to play aggravates it more.

What Would You Pay to Make Your Essays This Illogical?

There is a fair amount of nonsense in this Alex Renton essay, but this is the worst bit:

"But his findings appeared to say elemental things about the human condition – not least that people are more motivated by fear of financial loss than by the possibility of financial gain, to the extent that they will behave highly illogically. Most of us, for example, would rather forgo a pay rise if our colleagues are going to get more than us."

And so if we actually care more about our relative pay than our absolute pay, and we act on that preference... this is illogical how?