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I really don't understand what the big deal is with the apparent 'fine tuning'

I really don't understand what the big deal is with the apparent 'fine tuning' of the constants of the universe, or even if 'fine tuning' is even apparent! The conditions have to be just right for life to emerge, sure, but so what? Conditions have to be just right for many things in the universe to occur, but we don't always suspect an outside agent as responsible for setting them up that way just so they'll happen. Is this the final refuge of the 'god of the gaps' habit the humans tend to fall in to? I also don't get the need for a multiverse theory either. To me it's a bit like saying, because I rolled a six on a die there must be five others each rolling the other possible numbers in order to explain it. Okay, much bigger die....

let me add a bit more in favor of the argument here ... we do tend to believe that certain very improbable things do not occur by chance -- poker/slot machine analogies common -- if your friend gets five royal flushes in a row you'd almost certainly be pulling your piece on him -- the fine tuning argument suggests that the very same sort of very ordinary, accepted reasoning applies to the universe -- that the specific tuning of the various constants is so improbable, when all others are possible (no combination of which would lead to any foreseeable valuable universe, key point), that just as you respond to your poker friend you should respond to the universe: not likely to have occurred by chance (tho always, of coure, remotely possible) -- but still the fact it is remotely possible that your friend randomly drew 5 straight royal flushes would stop no one from reaching for their piece ....

i have a bit more about the argument in my book 'the god question' --

hope that helps!

I've had as good a time as anyone else discussing armchair philosophy based on

I've had as good a time as anyone else discussing armchair philosophy based on cosmology and human nature, but now take the position that it would be professional negligence to engage in same without a firm grounding in e.g. particle physics and evolutionary biology. Other than a Dan Dennett (on evolutionary bio side), who are some contemporary philosophers who are exploring this space? For example, I would love to read the extent to which Aristotle survives or thrives in the light of scientific discoveries over the intervening millenia.

I agree that philosophers should engage with relevant science. But of course, what science (if any) is relevant depends very much on what philosophical questions you are tangling with.

If you are concerned with the metaphysics of time, for example, then you'll no doubt want to know something of what various kinds of physicist doing foundational work on relativity, etc., are thinking (but you needn't care at all about e.g. neuroscience). If you are concerned with the philosophy of mind then you'll probably want to know something of neuroscience and experimental psychology (but you won't care about cosmology). If you are interested in whether numbers are objects in Frege's sense, or under what circumstances abortion is permissable, or in how names latch on to the world, or whether a non-minimal state is justified, you won't care much about either neuroscienc e or cosmology, or about evolutionary biology either.

So what science, if any, you need a "firm grounding" in as a philosopher will evidently depend on your particular interests. And as the literature on various areas of philosophy attests, many philosophers are indeed up to speed on the relevant science, when it is appropriate: for instance, lots of philosophers of mind know an impressive amount about what other, more scientific, investigators into the mind are up to!

If everything that physically exists is indeed the result of primordial

If everything that physically exists is indeed the result of primordial coincidence, is there any way of statistically measuring the chances that human beings (in our present state of development and after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution) would be able to comprehend the origin and nature of the universe? In other words, when I think about the organic lump of brain in my head understanding the universe, or anything at all, it seems absurdly unlikely. That lump of tissue seems to me more like a pancreas than than a super-computer, and I have a hard time understanding how organic tissue is able to reach conclusions about the universe or existence.

I think the simple answer is that any probabilities we come up with here are pretty much meaningless. Probability calculations ade only as good as the information we feed into them, and it's hard to see what a well-formed question would be like here - not least since it would require some way of quantifying how hard the universe is to understand.

Perhaps there's some clever way to come up with a calculation, but let me turn to your other issue - the brain/pancreas thing. To my inexpert eye, brains and pancreases hace a certain superficial resemblance, but neuroscientists will be able to tell you in a good deal of detail why the brain is better suited to computing than the pancreas is. The real point here is that our casual impressions on such matters aren't really worth very much. After all, a casual look at my iPad makes it pretty mysterious that it could be used to write this response, but that's exaclry what it let me do.

Science theorises by proposing ideal types and deducing ideal relationships

Science theorises by proposing ideal types and deducing ideal relationships between them. In nature there is no ideal sphere touching an ideal frictionless plane in an ideal single point. Instead of these ideals, nature gives us avalanches. Yet to study real avalanches the theory derived from the unreal ideal is required. Presumably, reality is too chaotic to theorise directly. Does all useful theory depend on ideal types? It does seem usual. Economics creates idealised relational theories from idealised constructs such as homo economicus, market clearing, perfect information and other things which do not and cannot exist in reality. Presumably, this idealisation approach is one reason for the relative success of economics compared with other social sciences. In the natural sciences measurement is also ideal. For example, a temperature noted as 23.59 degrees is not real: the reality will be plus or minus some small amount. The recorded value, like any exact number, is a mathematical...

Your question is excellent. Though I am afraid your proposal is not completely novel insofar as Plato initiated a philosophy of ideal forms in all areas of life (the good, the true, the beautiful, the just, and so on), though of course he was working long before we began carving up inquiry into the different natural and social sciences. At many points in the history of ideas, philosophers have worked with ideal or what has come to be called paradigm cases. So, in the theory of knowledge, a philosopher might describe an ideal or paradigm case of what it is to know some internal state (the feeling of pain) or see a remote object and then use that paradigm to assess different, more controversial knowledge-claims. So, one might entertain an ideal case of what it is to see a person, and then ask whether claims to see or perceive a sacred reality (God) in religious experience is similar or too remote to count as evidence. And in ethics we often use thought experiments to try to capture the different values that come into play with, for example, the duty to keep promises or refrain from killing and so on. So while there has been a healthy role for ideal or paradigm cases, there has also been a focus on all the messy details in non-ideal situations. To go with ethics again, the reason why philosophical disputes persist on abortion is not (in my view) because of disagreements on ideal cases, though there actually is disagreement on that level. But more often (I suggest) it is because we continue to wrestle with problems in philosophy of mind (when can we say with confidence that there is mental life..), reverence for life principles, and so on.

You may find the work of John Rawls interesting. He proposed two levels of reflection when carrying out political (and essentially ethical) theory. Balance your abstract reasoning with a study of concrete, case studies and work out your position in what he called reflective equilibrium.

I read an answer here that said a description says HOW something is while an

I read an answer here that said a description says HOW something is while an explanation entails WHY it is that way. If so then how do we determine when something has been explained (if it can be)? For example, I understand that when it rains the ground becomes wet. Why? I don't know the chemistry behind it but water is wet and covers the ground. But some could ask WHY is it wet and not something else to which many would respond "It just is". Is "It just is" the real explanation? Is the real explanation to everything "It is what it is", even though we may not know what IT is?

Very interesting! It is not easy in the abstract to form a sharp distinction between an explanation and a description. Presumably, every explanation involves some description (you are describing the cause of an event, for example), and any description of a thing could probably be used as part of an explanation (e.g. at a minimum, the description "I am reading AskPhilosophers" could be the answer to this request: "What are you doing right now?" and so on). What counts as an explanation may depend on the relevant inquiry. There are fairly restrictive accounts of what counts as a good explanation in the natural sciences (Hempel's nomological explanations) but then there are what Hempel called explanation sketches that are more loose. "It is wet" could be a sufficient explanation as to why you are not wearing a specific coat, though it would not get at why the coat got wet or why you prefer a dry coat. Your reference to "It is what it is" sort of explanation suggests a category of BASIC explanations, explanations that do not admit of further accounts or explanations. Perhaps the law of identity is basic in that sense. There seems nothing more fundamental than the notion that A is A or everything is what it is and not what it is not. Some philosophers think there are basic explanations in epistemology (the certitude in self-awareness) and in philosophical theology (the existence of God is not explainable in terms of any additional reality or law of nature; God's necessary existence is (according to theism) not further accountable).

Why can’t science tell us what morality ‘is’?

Why can’t science tell us what morality ‘is’? In the trivial sense, science can certainly catalog the diversity, commonalities, and contradictions of cultural moral standards and moral behaviors. But science is very good at teasing out underlying principles. What forbids determining such principles (if any exist) using the normal methods of science? For instance, we might propose an observation like “Almost all moral behaviors are strategies for increasing, on average, the synergistic benefits of cooperation and are unselfish at least in the short term” as an hypothesis about what moral behaviors ‘are’. Then we could evaluate its provisional ‘truth’ as a matter of science by how well this hypothesis meets criteria for 1) explanatory power for the diversity, commonalities, and contradictions of moral standards, 2) explanatory power for puzzles about moral behavior, 3) predictive power for moral intuitions, 4) universality, 5) no contradictions with known facts, and so forth. Of course, provisional ...

I think science can probably tell us lots of things about how people reason morally, that is, how they think about what they ought to do. And it might well be interesting to look at cross-cultural differences, and perhaps even more interesting to look for cross-cultural similarities, that is, "moral universals", in the sense of moral principles, or forms of reasoning, that are in some sense universal. Psychologists and philosophers have been doing just this in recent years.

But it seems important to recognize the contrast you cite at the end of your question: No such investigation could possibly tell us what moral behavior ought to be, that is, tell us what one actually ought to do. Suppose there turn out to be certain "moral universals". It would be a coherent position that these are just wrong, that is, that, by reasoning in accord with them, one will not typically arrive at the thing one ought to do. One cannot just assume otherwise. That is not to say that it would not be interesting, even on this view, to know about these "moral universals". It would mean we would have to work especially hard to combat them!

That said, I'm bothered by the phrase "moral behavior", which is very different from "moral reasoning", which is what I've just been discussing. Consider this claim, which you cited as a provisional observation: "Almost all moral behaviors are strategies for increasing, on average, the synergistic benefits of cooperation and areunselfish at least in the short term." How is the scientist supposed to know which the moral behaviors are? I take it that a "moral behavior" here is supposed to be one that is morally appropriate: right, or good, or whatever. Whether a particular act is moral in that sense isn't the sort of thing one can in any plausible sense observe, nor even design an instrument to measure. Presumably, then, the scientist will have to judge which behaviors are "moral" using his or her own sense of morality. But maybe she's just wrong. Note that this problem is the one that is supposed to be avoided by founding scientific investigation on observations that are, at least to some significant extent, "theory neutral": scientists are at least supposed, at least ideally, to be able to agree on the data, even if they disagree about how the data are to be interpreted. The problem is that there seem to be no data for a scientific theory of "moral behavior".

So, science can (and, as I said, currently does) investigate what different societies believe about moral standards, and investigate how different people think about what one ought to do. But I doubt science can, even in principle, investigate what you are calling "moral behavior", that is, investigate moral standards themselves.

What is the correct resolution to the Fermi Paradox?

What is the correct resolution to the Fermi Paradox? As I understand it, the Fermi Paradox is physicist Enrico Fermi's acute observation of the discrepancy between the apparent high probability that extraterrestrial civilizations exist elsewhere in the universe, and the lack of empirical evidence of their supposed existence. It seems to me, that the Fermi Paradox is not a genuine paradox, as it neither commits self-reference nor leads to infinite regress. Any attempt to resolve this so-called paradox just needs to give an explanation for this discrepancy, but how does that contribute towards resolving the paradox? It seems that even if we were to make contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, the paradox would still be unresolved, so can there be any wholly satisfactory resolution to this paradox? Perhaps I just have the wrong attitude about it... I'm interested in seeing what other philosophers think about the Fermi Paradox, so that perhaps I may be assisted in developing my own stance on this...

I don't know what the precise definition of a "paradox" is, but roughly speaking, it is an argument that begins from premises that are too obvious to deny and ends by deriving from them a conclusion that is too ridiculous to accept. (Did Bertrand Russell say that somewhere?) By this standard, a paradox need not involve self-reference or lead to an infinite regress. Carl Hempel's famous "Paradox of Confirmation" (a.k.a. "Paradox of the Ravens") fits the above rough definition but involves neither self-reference nor infinite regress.

Now the Fermi Paradox, as you say, begins from several considerations that aim to show that it is highly likely that extraterrestrial civilizations exist. Perhaps none of these considerations is really too obvious to deny, but all of them are intended to be well-grounded (e.g., the number of potentially life-supporting planets in the universe). With a few further premises about interstellar communication, the conclusion of the argument is supposed to be that (it is highly likely that) we have been contacted by extraterrestrials. But that we have been so contacted is too ridiculous to accept (though when I was a kid, there was a cult book entitled "Chariots of the Gods" that purported to show that extraterrestrials had contacted us, helping the ancient Egyptians to build the pyramids and the like).

So we do have here a genuine paradox, under some generous definition of "paradox." The responses that have been given to this argument (e.g., that civilizations tend to last only a brief period of time, that interstellar communication is too costly, that extraterrestrial civilizations will tend not to try to communicate with one another) are too numerous and speculative for me to bother reviewing them. However, I disagree with your conclusion that if we were to make contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, then the paradox would not thereby be resolved. It would -- because the conclusion of the paradox (that we have been contacted by extraterrestrials) would then no longer be too ridiculous to accept.

Is it possible for any legitimate science to prove, if not now at least someday,

Is it possible for any legitimate science to prove, if not now at least someday, that God indeed exists? Or is Richard Dawkins more intuitively right in saying that "someday we would have to understand the whole of the universe without anymore referring to a supernatural being"?

I can only think of one thing to say in response to Allen's remarks, and that would be "Amen!"

How to tell bad philosophers from good ones?

How to tell bad philosophers from good ones? How to determine the "value" of a philosopher and his work? How can we tell that e.g. Plato, Descartes, Kant or Marx were great philosophers while many around them weren't so great? I'll start with analogy from different field. When we look back at history of science, we (at least in a simplified view) can say that the "good" scientists were those whose predictions about the nature of the world matched the objective reality. In science, what is true, is valuable, and vice versa. Some other criteria could be though of as well. One could say that Newton's and Einstein's theories were regarded valuable because they matched with objective reality AND explained things that weren't explained before AND could be used to build other theories and reasoning on top of them. Now, what about philosophy? One could say that a good philosopher is a philosopher whose argumentation is good, i.e. convincing. But shouldn't in this case many lawyers be regarded as great...

I think there is no simple or objective way to determine this (say, by counting cites in Google Scholar) for the simple reasons, first, that what counts as a good work of philosophy depends on the exact reasons why you wish to read philosophy in the first place and, second, that there are many, many different reasons why someone might want to study philosophy in a serious way.

As an example, let's consider the value of historical texts. One way to understand the value of a particular thinker or of a particular work is to understand its historical context (was the thinker or text addressing problems that it was important to answer at that time, and in a manner that engaged other significant thinkers and texts in important ways?) and historical legacy (did the thinker or text influence significantly future work on important philosophical issues). If you, as a reader, are especially interested in the "local history" of a particular philosophical concept or question or problem as it was understood at a specific time, then you will probably value thinkers who pass the first test with respect to your areas of concern, regardless of whether or not that thinker had a significant historical legacy. If, however, you are read the history of philosophy to understand development of ideas over larger periods, then you would probably value (and count as "good" for your purposes...) philosophers who do best according to the second test. And, of course, some of the greatest philosophers do extremely well according to both tests.

Or, alternatively, you may find some historical philosophers valuable because they help you understand contemporary philosophical issues or problems or concerns. If so, those philosophers would count as good to you even if you don't care enough about historical questions to make the two tests I sketched out above germane to your interests.

So, I'm suggesting that a primary way that you should count a philosopher as good or not is by reading him or her carefully enough to see whether his or or her ideas are useful to whatever drives you to care about philosophy. Since there are lots of routes into philosophical inquiry, many different problems to investigate, and multiple pathways for exploring any one specific issue, this sort of criterion may mean that there is not a lot of agreement about exactly which philosophers are good or bad. That is fine by my lights.

I doubt that it is the case that most lawyers could create good philosophy-for-hire without them also undergoing intensive training in the discipline (otherwise they would not know enough--or care enough--to be able to produce professional work), but I do think it is the case that training in philosophy provides a good grasp of argumentation that serves law students well when they work to get specialized knowledge in that field. Even though both law and philosophy may value argumentation (and leaving aside the question of whether how similar or not is their view of what good argumentation amounts to), good work in philosophy or in law also requires attaining special knowledge within the field.

What underpins acceptance of scientific theories by non-scientists? In a recent

What underpins acceptance of scientific theories by non-scientists? In a recent argument about climate change, I maintained that, as a non-specialist, I’m not in a position to judge the validity of theories or critiques of theories of anthropogenic climate change but I instead have to make a judgement about the reasonableness of believing in statements that a certain body of people make about the world. My point was that in the absence of any dramatic evidence to the contrary it’s much more reasonable to believe that the IPCC (and almost everyone else) is right than it is to believe either that there’s a huge con or a huge mistake. I think this is right but am I missing something more?

You ask an important question about how non-experts should make reasonable judgments when there is expert disagreement. It is not enough to say that the reasonable choice lies with the majority opinion; the majority has been both unreasonable and/or wrong often enough. I think it is important to look at the case in some detail (although obviously not in as much detail as experts are able to do) and see what kind of evidence the minority is putting forth. That is, are they just nitpicking at the dominant theory, when all theories have areas of weakness, or are they themselves engaged in active empirical research? Scientific disagreement can be productive when both sides are engaged in experiment and observation, but less so when one side is working from an armchair.