novembro 25, 2014

Bateson - Mind & Nature (1979)

[N]othing has meaning except it be seen as in some context. [...] Without context, words and actions have no meaning at all. [...] It is the context that fixes the meaning. (p.14ff)

There is a parallel confusion in the teaching of language that has never been straightened out. Professional linguists nowadays may know what's what, but children in school are still taught nonsense. They are told that a "noun" is the "name of a person, place, or thing," that a "verb" is "an action word," and so on. That is, they are taught at a tender age that the way to define something is by what it supposedly is in itself not by its relation to other things. Most of us can remember being told that a noun is "the name of a person, place, or thing." And we can remember the utter boredom of parsing or analyzing sentences. Today all that should be changed. Children could be told that a noun is a word having a certain relationship to a predicate. A verb has a certain relation to a noun, its subject. And so on. Relationship could be used as basis for definition, and any child could then see that there is something wrong with the sentence " 'Go' is a verb." (p.17)

Science sometimes improves hypotheses and sometimes disproves them. But proof would be another matter and perhaps never occurs except in the realms of totally abstract tautology. We can sometimes say that if such and such abstract suppositions or postulates are given, then such and such must follow absolutely. But the truth about what can be perceived or arrived at by induction from perception is something else again.

Let us say that truth would mean a precise correspondence between our description and what we describe or between our total network of abstractions and deductions and some total understanding of the outside world . Truth in this sense is not obtainable. And even if we ignore the barriers of coding , the circumstance that our description will be in words or figures or pictures but that what we describe is going to be in flesh and blood and action-even disregarding that hurdle of translation, we shall never be able to claim final knowledge of anything whatsoever. (p.27)

Knowledge at any given moment will be a function of the thresholds of our available means of perception. The invention of the microscope or the telescope or of means of measuring time to the fraction of nanosecond or weighing quantities of matter to millionths of a gram all such improved devices of perception will disclose what was utterly unpredictable from the levels of perception that we could achieve before that discovery. [...] Science probes; it does not prove (p.29)

All experience is subjective. (p.31)

The division of the perceived Universe into parts and wholes is convenient and may be necessary but no necessity determines how it shall be done [...] Explanation must always grow out of description, but the description from which it grows will always necessarily contain arbitrary characteristics. (p.38)

If I throw a stone at a glass window, I shall, under appropriate circumstances, break or crack the glass in a star-shaped pattern. If my stone hits the glass as fast as a bullet, it is possible that it will detach from the glass a neat conical plug called a cone of percussion. If my stone is too slow and too small, I may fail to break the glass at all. Prediction and control will be quite possible at this level. I can easily make sure which of three results (the star, the percussion cone, or no breakage) I shall achieve, provided I avoid marginal strengths of throw.

But within the conditions which produce the star-shaped break, it will be impossible to predict or control the pathways and the positions of the arms of the star. 

Curiously enough , the more precise my laboratory methods, the more unpredictable the events will become. If I use the most homogeneous glass available, polish its surface to the most exact optical flatness, and control the motion of my stone as precisely as possible, ensuring an almost precisely vertical impact on the surface of the glass, all my efforts will only make the events more impossible to predict.

If, on the other hand, I scratch the surface of the glass or use a piece of glass that is already cracked (which would be cheating), I shall be able to make some approximate predictions. For some reason (unknown to me), the break in the glass will run parallel to the scratch and about 1/100 of an inch to the side, so that the scratch mark will appear on only one side of the break. Beyond the end of the scratch, the break will veer off unpredictably.

Under tension, a chain will break at its weakest link. That much is predictable. What is difficult is to identify the weakest link before it breaks. The generic we can know, but the specific eludes us. Some chains are designed to break at a certain tension and at a certain link. But a good chain is homogeneous, and no prediction is possible. And because we cannot know which link is weakest, we cannot know precisely how much tension will be needed to break the chain. (p.41)

[G]radual growth in a population, whether of automobiles or of people, has no perceptible effect upon a transportation system until suddenly the threshold of tolerance is passed and the traffic jams. The changing of one variable exposes a critical value of the other.

A pure description would include all the facts (i.e., all the effective differences) immanent in the phenomena to be described but would indicate no kind of connection among these phenomena that might make them more understandable. For example, a film with sound and perhaps recordings of smell and other sense data might constitute a complete or sufficient description of what happened in front of a battery of cameras at a certain time. But that film will do little to connect the events shown on the screen one with another and will not by itself furnish any explanation. On the other hand, an explanation can be total without being descriptive. "God made everything there is" is totally explanatory but does not tell you anything about any of the things or their relations.

In science, these two types of organization of data (description and explanation) are connected by what is technically called tautology. Examples of tautology range from the simplest case, the assertion that "If P is true, then P is true," to such elaborate structures as the geometry of Euclid, where "If the axioms and postulates are true, then Pythagoras' theorem is true. " Another example would be the axioms, definitions, postulates, and theorems of Von Neumann's Theory of Games. In such an aggregate of postulates and axioms and theorems, it is of course not claimed that any of the axioms or theorems is in any sense "true" independently or true in the outside world.

Indeed , Von Neumann, in his famous book, expressly points out the differences between his tautological world and the more complex world of human relations . All that is claimed is that if the axioms be such and such and the postulates such and such, then the theorems will be so and so. In other words , all that the tautology affords is connections between propositions. The creator of the tautology stakes his reputation on the validity of these connections. 

Tautology contains no information whatsoever, and explanation (the mapping of description onto tautology) contains only the information that was present in the description. The "mapping" asserts implicitly that the links which hold the tautology together correspond to relations which obtain in the description. Description, on the other hand, contains information but no logic and no explanation. For some reason, human beings enormously value this combining of ways of organizing information or material. [...] An explanation has to provide something more than a description provides and , in the end , an explanation appeals to a tautology.

Now, an explanation is a mapping of the pieces of a description onto a tautology, and an explanation becomes acceptable to the degree that you are willing and able to accept the links of the tautology. If the links are "self-evident" (i.e., if they seem undoubtable to the self that is you), then the explanation built on that tautology is satisfactory to you. (p.81ff)

Information consists of differences that make a difference. If I call attention to the difference between the chalk and a piece of cheese, you will be affected by that difference, perhaps avoiding the eating of the chalk, perhaps tasting it to verify my claim. Its noncheese nature has become an effective difference. But a million other differences-positive and negative, internal and external to the chalk remain latent and ineffective.

Bishop Berkeley was right, at least in asserting that what happens in the forest is meaningless if he is not there to be affected by it.

We are discussing a world of meaning, a world some of whose details and differences, big and small, in some parts of that world, get represented in relations between other parts of that total world . A change in my neurons or in yours must represent that change in the forest, that falling of that tree. But not the physical event, only the idea of the physical event. And the idea has no location in space or time---Only perhaps in an idea of space or time. (p.99)

novembro 20, 2014

The Ethical Method

"[...] it’s remarkably common these days for people to insist that their values are objective truths, and values that differ from theirs objective falsehoods. That’s a very appealing sort of nonsense, but it’s still nonsense. Consider the claim often made by such people that if values are subjective, that would make all values, no matter how repugnant, equal to one another. Equal in what sense? Why, equal in value—and of course there the entire claim falls to pieces, because “equal in value” invites the question already noted, “according to whose values?” If a given set of values is repugnant to you, then pointing out that someone else thinks differently about those values doesn’t make them less repugnant to you. All it means is that if you want to talk other people into sharing those values, you have to offer good reasons, and not simply insist at the top of your lungs that you’re right and they’re wrong.

To say that values depend on the properties of perceiving subjects rather than perceived objects does not mean that values are wholly arbitrary, after all. It’s possible to compare different values to one another, and to decide that one set of values is better than another. In point of fact, people do this all the time, just as they compare different claims of fact to one another and decide that one is more accurate than another. The scientific method itself is simply a relatively rigorous way to handle this latter task: if fact X is true, then fact Y would also be true; is it? In the same way, though contemporary industrial culture tends to pay far too little attention to this, there’s an ethical method that works along the same lines: if value X is good, then value Y would also be good; is it? Again, we do this sort of thing all the time.

Consider, for example, why it is that most people nowadays reject the racist claim that some arbitrarily defined assortment of ethnicities — say, "the white race" — is superior to all others, and ought to have rights and privileges that are denied to everyone else. One reason why such claims are rejected is that they conflict with other values, such as fairness and justice, that most people consider to be important; another is that the history of racial intolerance shows that people who hold the values associated with racism are much more likely than others to engage in activities, such as herding their neighbors into concentration camps, which most people find morally repugnant. That’s the ethical method in practice." - John Michael Greer

novembro 18, 2014

Walter Kaufmann - The Faith of a Heretic

Kierkegaard saw that reason and philosophy were unable to tell him what idea he should choose to live and die by. Hence, he despised philosophy and reason. What he, like millions of others, overlooked is a very simple but important point: reason and philosophy may well safeguard a man against ideas for which he might better not live or die. Indeed, if reason and philosophy had no other function whatsoever, this alone would make them overwhelmingly important. (p.87)

[Theologians] resemble lawyers in two ways. In the first place, they accept books and tradition as data that it is not up to them to criticize. They can only hope to make the best of these books and traditions by selecting the most propitious passages and precedents; and where the law seems to them harsh, inhuman, or dated, all they can do is have recourse to exegesis. Secondly, many theologians accept the morality that in many countries governs the conduct of the counsel for the defense. Ingenuity and skillful appeals to the emotions are considered perfectly legitimate; so are attempts to ignore all inconvenient evidence, as long as one can get away with it, and the refusal to engage in inquiries that are at all likely to discredit the predetermined conclusion: that the client is innocent. If all else fails, one tries to saddle one's opponent with the burden of disproof; and as a last resort one is content with a reasonable doubt that after all the doctrines that one has defended might be true. (p.126)

The attempt to solve the problem of suffering by postulating original sin depends on the belief that cruelty is justified when it is retributive; indeed, that morality demands retribution. (p.172)

The crucial point that should never be forgotten in the history of ideas can be put into a single sentence: one may have been influenced profoundly by others and yet be strikingly original and even revolutionary. (p.183)

In India, the Jina and Buddha, founders of two new religions in the sixth century BC, came to be worshiped later by their followers. In China, Confucius and Lao-tze came to be deified. To the non-Christian, Jesus seems to represent a parallel case. In Egypt, the Pharaoh was considered divine. In Israel, no man was ever worshiped or accorded even semi-divine status. This is one of the most extraordinary facts about the religion of the Old Testament and by far the most important reason for the Jew's refusal to accept Christianity and the New Testament. [...] Why, then, was Moses never defied or worshiped? The most obvious explanation is that he himself impressed his people with the firm idea that no human being is divine in any sense in which the rest of mankind isn't. (p.220)

According to the Gospels, Jesus' conception of salvation was radically otherworldly [...] The perspective of the prophets was reversed. They, too, had taught humility and love, but not this preoccupation with oneself. The accent had been on the neighbor and the stranger, the orphan, the widow, and the poor. Social injustice cried out to be rectified and was no less real because it meant a lack of love and a corruption of the heart. Man was told to love others and to treat them justly -- for their sake, not of his own, to escape damnation. To the Jesus of the Gospels, social injustice as such is of no concern. Heaven and hell-fire have been moved into the center. (p.221)

Consider the rich man who, according to Luke (18:18ff), asked Jesus the identical question [How to inherit eternal life?]. To him, Jesus cites five of the Ten Commandments before adding: "One thing you still lack. Sell all you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, and follow me." It is no longer the poor that require love and justice; it is the giver who is to accumulate treasure in heaven. The social order, with which Moses and the prophets were centrally concerned, counts for nothing; the life to come is everything. If what truly matters is treasure in heaven, what do the poor gain from what they are given? (p.222)

The Pharisees had tried to build what they themselves called "a fence around the Law" -- for example, by demanding that the observation of the Sabbath should begin a little before sunset, to guard against trespasses. It might seem that Jesus, in the sermon of the Mount, was similarly erecting a fence around morality. For he introduces his most extreme demands: "Till heaven and earth pass away, not a iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven... Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Then Jesus goes on to say that it is not enough not to kill: "Whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to hell fire." It is not sufficient not to commit adultery, nor not to covet one's neighbor's wife, but "every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart". On reflection, the old morality is not protected but undermined, not extended but dissolved; and no new morality is put in its place. Where murder is not considered importantly different from calling a man a fool, nor adultery from a lustful look, the very basis of morality is denied: the crucial distinction between impulse and action. If one is unfortunate enough to have the impulse, no reason is left for not acting on it. (p.226)

[...] we confront the objection that faith and morals are quite different [...] men of different faiths can live together in peace, provided they agree on standards of behavior; but without moral agreement men cannot live together in peace. This objection is half-true but quite insufficient to establish any absolute morality. Where there is much traffic, there have to be traffic rules to avoid needless injuries and deaths and to ensure the attainment of the purposes of traffic. There has to be an agreement on what side of the road one is supposed to drive. It does not matter whether the rule is to drive on the right or on the left; what matters is that everybody should follow the same rule. [...] it would be silly to insist that driving on the right is absolutely preferable, true or moral, while driving on the left is absolutely false and immoral. To live together peacefully, men need rules, and these rules may even have to be enforced, if all else fails, with penalties. It does not follow that these rules are absolutely right or that every act that conflicts with a rule, even if the rule should be important, is immoral in some absolute sense, unless, of course, we define immorality as violations of mores, of conventions -- as non-conformity. (p.311)

Most discussions of morality rest on the false assumption that 'moral' have one single central meaning. [...] Agreement that stealing is immoral may be comparable to a case in which five men refuse to eat beef and warn others not to eat it either: the first does not like the taste and either does not believe that taste differ or, admitting that they do, considers his own taste the only 'true' one. The second one loves the taste but wants to punish himself; and he too thinks that what is right for him is right for others. The third thinks that meat is poisonous or dangerous. The fourth is a Hindu. The fifth, who is not a Hindu, is a vegetarian. Their superficial agreement is not altogether unimportant. As long as they do not enter into questions of meaning, faith, or morals, they may get along; and they may even suppose erroneously that they agree on certain facts -- absolutely true facts -- which moral idiots who eat beef deny. (p.313)

Some people think moral disagreements are like disagreements about facts; others claim they are like differences of taste. Actually, moral judgments are almost invariably elliptical [ie, they miss relevant information], and when they are spelled out they are found to involve all kinds of assumptions about facts as well as an element of taste. And moral disagreements generally involve disagreements about facts, differences in taste, or both. Spelling out the factual disagreements may at times dispel a moral disagreement; but even when it does not, it will generally lead to a drastic reduction of heat. (p.315)

An ethic cannot be proved; to be held responsibly, it has to be based on encounter upon encounter. This notion of encounter is of the most philosophic importance. It makes possible safe passage between the untenable claim of proof and the unwarranted charge of irrationality. A position may be rational through it cannot be deduced from universally accepted premises, and a man may be rational without claiming that his views, his ethic, or his faith are susceptible of such proof. The pose of Socrates, always willing to subject any view to objections, was that of the rational man par excellence. (p.333)

Negative thinking is what save us from relativism. One has to show why alternatives are untenable. (p.334)

A man who does not consider how his actions are likely to affect other people is to that extent irresponsible, even if he acts on 'principle'. Moral judgments on specific actions are also irresponsible insofar as they are passed in ignorance of the background, the interests involved, and the probable consequences -- even if such judgments appeal to 'principle'. The principles themselves may be held in a more or less informed, responsible, rational manner. To be responsible and rational in such matters, one must consider what can be said against one's moral principles and standards. The man who gives no thought to objections and alternatives is, to that extent, irrational. (p.335)

novembro 13, 2014


De todos os métodos filosóficos, a comparação é o mais fidedigno. Comparar gestos, atitudes, comparar a viabilidade e o benefício, a linguagem e a coerência. Há quem diga que é impossível comparar, que uma situação é sempre incomparável. Parece-me uma subtileza que esconde uma cobardia. Pedro Mexia

novembro 10, 2014

Truth had never been a priority

All those gut feelings, right or wrong, that had kept the breed alive on the Pleistocene savannah—and they were wrong, so much of the time. False negatives, false positives, the moral algebra of fat men pushed in front of onrushing trolleys. The strident emotional belief that children made you happy, even when all the data pointed to misery. The high-amplitude fear of sharks and dark-skinned snipers who would never kill you; indifference to all the toxins and pesticides that could. The mind was so rotten with misrepresentation that in some cases it literally had to be damaged before it could make a truly rational decision—and should some brain-lesioned mother abandon her baby in a burning house in order to save two strangers from the same fire, the rest of the world would be more likely to call her a monster than laud the rationality of her lifeboat ethics. Hell, rationality itself—the exalted Human ability to reason—hadn’t evolved in the pursuit of truth but simply to win arguments, to gain control: to bend others, by means logical or sophistic, to your will. Truth had never been a priority. If believing a lie kept the genes proliferating, the system would believe that lie with all its heart. Peter Watts - Echopraxia

novembro 06, 2014

Invisible Tigers

[...] fifty thousand years ago there were these three guys spread out across the plain, and they each heard something rustling in the grass. The first one thought it was a tiger, and he ran like hell, and it was a tiger but the guy got away. The second one thought the rustling was a tiger, and he ran like hell, but it was only the wind and his friends all laughed at him for being such a chickenshit. But the third guy, he thought it was only the wind, so he shrugged it off and a tiger had him for dinner. And the same thing happened a million times across ten thousand generations — and after a while everyone was seeing tigers in the grass even when there weren’t any tigers, because even chickenshits have more kids than corpses do. And from those humble beginnings we learned to see faces in the clouds and portents in the stars, to see agency in randomness, because natural selection favors the paranoid. Even here in the twenty-first century you can make people more honest just by scribbling a pair of eyes on the wall with a Sharpie. Even now, we are wired to believe that unseen things are watching us. 

 And it came to pass that certain people figured out how to use that. They painted their faces or they wore funny hats, they shook their rattles and waved their crosses and they said, Yes, there are tigers in the grass, there are faces in the sky, and they will be very angry if you do not obey their commandments. You must make offerings to appease them, you must bring grain and gold and altar boys for our delectation or they will strike you down and send you to the Awful Place. And people believed them by the billions, because after all, they could see the invisible tigers. Peter Watts - Echopraxia

novembro 03, 2014

"Justiça Fiscal", JL Saldanha Sanches

Constitucionalizar um princípio é a forma contemporânea de tentar sacralizar e eternizar um valor considerado imperecível. Claro que já não é possível, e está longe dos diagramas de força que regem as sociedades actuais, a possibilidade de produzir uma nova versão dos Dez Mandamentos bíblicos, mesmo para fins a que hoje chamaríamos estritamente laicos. Não quer isto dizer que uma Constituição, tal como sucede com as nossas, não deva ter uma durabilidade mínima, pois a flexibilidade patológica constitui um forte elemento de deslegitimação.

A defesa dos direitos fundamentais, se for feita por meio de regras sujeitas a permanentes alterações, equivale a uma espécie de baluarte móvel, ou seja, uma contradição dos seus termos na defesa das garantias do sujeito passivo no Estado constitucional. A alteração essencial, feita por meio da ruptura com um anterior texto normativo, deverá caber ao trabalho do juiz ou, em termos mais amplos, da jurisprudência. Não temos valores jurídicos eternos e imutáveis e não podemos conceber princípios para todo o sempre, mas a mudança e construção de novas interpretações num texto constitucional são uma tarefa a realizar de forma comunitária pelos juristas e cidadãos, maxime pelos tribunais. (pg. 29)

As leis fiscais estão sempre sujeitas a um processo de discussão pública, uma vez que devem ser aprovadas pelo Parlamento, podendo a opinião pública facilmente reagir a movimentos perceptíveis de maior oneração fiscal quando o executivo se vê obrigado a aumentar impostos. 

No entanto, para além destas grandes decisões perceptíveis (por exemplo, quando a taxa do IVA aumenta 2 pp) a lei fiscal está sempre cheia de um conjunto de pequenas excepções, de regimes especiais, de benefícios fiscais que, ainda que no seu cômputo final alterem profundamente a distribuição da carga tributária, escapam quase sempre à percepção da grande maioria dos contribuintes. São excepções que estilhaçam a lógica interna do sistema e os princípios de oneração, são um conjunto de «contranormas» que o contribuinte normal percebe mal, mas que lhe transmitem a noção (exacta) de que as leis fiscais são injustas.

Estas sistemáticas criações de nichos de privilégio mediante a acção de lobistas foram minuciosamente estudadas nos EUA onde a enorme complexidade do tax code tem sido explicada por uma intensíssima e permanente interacção entre legisladores e interesses particulares. (pg.43)

Os benefícios fiscais [isenções] são uma excepção à regra da tributação [...] A desigualdade de tratamento entre factos semelhantes com alguns excluídos de tributação exige uma justificação, sob pena de um regresso aos privilégios fiscais. Tal justificação pode ser de ordem económica ou social. [...] Em todos estes casos poderemos encontrar razões para a atribuição de um regime fiscal mais favorável, mas a multiplicações destas razões -- e a consequente multiplicação de benefícios fiscais (que depois de serem concedidos tendem a perpetuar-se independentemente de um juízo renovado sobre a sua real eficácia) -- é um dos problemas principais dos sistemas fiscais de hoje.

Numa lógica liberal que se opõe à intervenção do Estado na economia, a atribuição de benefícios fiscais não deverá existir, ou, pelo menos, deverá ser desempenhada por subsídios. Em relação às consequências financeiras, o custo do subsídio é o mesmo que a receita perdida em virtude do benefício fiscal, com a vantagem de ser mais transparente e de a sua atribuição dever ser decidida todos os anos, orçamento após orçamento. (pg.49)

Os impostos sobre os combustíveis são a negação de tudo aquilo que aprendemos sobre a justiça fiscal: aumentando o preço da gasolina ou do gasóleo atingem-se principalmente os contribuintes com menor capacidade contributiva, cidadãos estes que podem ser obrigados a mudar de comportamento -- abandonar o uso do automóvel -- quando o imposto se junta ao aumento do preço do produto-base. E, no entanto, tudo visto e ponderado, estes impostos são justos. Mas justos em que sentido? 

Ao internalizar as externalidades negativas ligadas ao uso dos combustíveis fósseis, o imposto sobre os combustíveis amplifica um sinal que o mercado transmite de forma insuficiente: a necessidade de poupar energia por, nesta área, as flutuações do preço não conduzirem a uma situação de equilíbrio. Não conduzem, porque, a curto e médio prazo, os combustíveis fósseis são o método mais económico de produzir energia. Mas apenas a curto e médio prazo, e porque não se contabilizam os custos ambientais. [...] a inacção do Estado, com a ausência de políticas públicas sobre energias alternativas e a manutenção do petróleo para consumo interno a preços agradavelmente baixos, ainda que socialmente pareça justa, tem efeitos geopolíticos inaceitáveis [...] os argumentos ligados à eficiência económica e social desta tributação são tão fortes que se tornam um argumento de justiça. (pgs 69-71)