Tag Archives: news

On Block and Kitcher on Fodor

Ned Block and Philip Kitcher have posted a review of Fodor/Piatelli-Palmarini’s “What Darwin Got Wrong” (via Leiter).

It is a well executed, though flawed, counter to Fodor’s arguments.  First they give a nice rundown of the underdetermination issue I posted about here.

Then they discuss the “intensional fallacy”.  They argue that the crux of F & P’s argument can be seen as trying to split up the causal efficacious trait and the selected-for trait.  This means that F & P believe that there is no way to connect the evolutionary reason – the trait that increased an organism’s fitness – with our explanation of the trait that was selected-for.  Block & Kitcher argue that it is trivial to match the two up because

selection-for is a causal notion, and, since causation is extensional, so is selection-for.

Insofar as we believe that our explanation of the selected-for trait is extensional, i.e. truth-preserving when switching between different names of the same thing, we can say that we do pick out the causally efficacious trait.

Unfortunately Block and Kitcher sacrificed our normal concept of explanation to make this counter-argument.  They note that explanations are never normally extensional, but that we are making an exception in this case.  This is ok to do because

we thinking beings can give (intensional) explanations in terms of [one trait] rather than the other properties. In giving the explanation, we (thinking beings) describe the property in our preferred way.

I do not understand what is going on here.  Basically it looks as if “preferred way” is just a fancy way to say “own words”, but describing something in our own words doesn’t make it right.  Nor is it a reason to change what should count as an explanation.

Unless Block and Kitcher are prepared to give further justification as to why we should disregard our normal understanding of explanation, it looks as if their solution to Fodor’s argument is ad hoc.  They are using explanation* — which is a special kind of explanation that can be extensional — but they have not given a reason why explanation* should be preferred over of regular explanation (outside of causing Fodor trouble).  Without this reason, the use of explanation* is ad hoc, and hence the argument fails because it turns on an ad hoc premise: the assumption that explanation* can be substituted for explanation.

However, I did say above that Block and Kitcher’s argument is well executed:  My argument against using an ad hoc term-term* distinction is obscure compared to their argument and so, for the vast majority of people, it will appear that their argument is effective.  Overall this is a good thing: less nonsense needs to surround evolution (though I’ll be a little sad to see it go: I’m #1 in a Google search for “fodor what darwin got wrong“).

[EDIT:  I’ve put up a new analysis (24 March 2010) of Fodor’s argument here: Hypotheses Natura Non Fingo.  It also includes a review of the responses of Block, Kitcher and Sober ]

For my take on what Fodor got wrong, see my post What Fodor Got Wrong, and the follow up Dismantling Fodor’s Argument (also linked above in reference to underdetermination).  I’ll post something soon specifically addressing the intensionality issue:  Fodor’s Intensional Criticism of Evolution.

Posted in argumentation, biology, evolution, fitness, news, philosophy, science. Tagged with , , , , , .

GroundReport: Citizen Journalism (and some Rogue Philosophy)

GroundReport.com is a website dedicated to citizen journalism that I have co-opted. But this is not something you should hold against GroundReport. Its mission is to provide ordinary people an opportunity to report on news that the mainstream media does not pick up on. For instance you can find people reporting on the major news stories of the day, local news from just about anywhere in the world, and every so often a scoop that some ordinary chap happened to get. And they split the advertising revenue 50-50 with the reporter based on page-views. All very good bringing power to the people.

So after hearing about the site back in the days before this blog (from the founder’s proud papa: I went to high school with the founder Rachel Sterne and I ran into her father while at home) I figured it wouldn’t be too off topic of me to post some of my writing and gain some notoriety (and some cents). Long story short take a look at this:

Report Name Report Views
Consequences of Relativity in Evolutionary Biology 200
Special Relativity in Evolutionary Biology 87
Relativity in Evolutionary Biology 88
On Absolute Certainty 107
On The Scientific View of the World 104
Total: 586

These are unique page views too.

With the 200th hit to ‘Consequences’ I figured I ought to give some credit where it’s due. You can check out my ‘Reporter Page‘, but I suggest just going to the homepage and poking around. You might even get inspired to report on something. See Paul Sterne‘s “GroundReport’s Ten Commandments” for a good primer on how to get started (and forgive his GroundReport fanboy rhetoric: he’s the proud papa).

Posted in internet, news, philosophy. Tagged with , , , .

Watson Out as Unit of Biological Mass

I guess ‘Watson’ is out as a name for the unit of biological mass with James’ comments that people of African decent are intellectually inferior to people of European decent. It always amazes me exactly how idiotic smart people can be. Pride is the devil’s favorite sin and it is my suspicion that people like James Watson and the old president of Harvard Larry Summers are guilty of it. It seems that they believe since they got where they were first, as old white men, that other people are somehow inferior.

What’s worse is that if James Watson can make such a mistake, I shudder to think how many others make it and how many others will use these comments to propagate messages of hate.

For the record this is one type of thing that I am trying to head off with my recent writings. If you understand that evolution is relative then you won’t use biology as a reason to claim superiority. You just can’t do it without contradicting relativistic principles. (update: I think an ethics paper is in my future to flesh this out a tad)

And these comments, if anything, just go to show how stupid old white men can be.

Posted in biology, evolution, news, Relativity, science. Tagged with , , , , , .