0958: "Hotels"

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Gamma Ray
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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Gamma Ray » Sat Oct 01, 2011 11:53 am UTC

Anyone else find the irony kind of fascinating, in that the Classhole's one review is so insignificant on a review site, he would need everyone to pick up on this method and write a bad review?

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Gamma Ray » Sat Oct 01, 2011 11:56 am UTC

Or have I just ruined the interest of the comic by explaining the exact point of it?

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby scarletmanuka » Sat Oct 01, 2011 5:58 pm UTC

hawkinsssable wrote:
chernobyl wrote:SMBC did a comic on that yesterday, now xkcd.

Anybody else think that comic would have been even better if they had cut out the last panel?

But then the extra panel on the vote button wouldn't make any sense.

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby PsyFro » Sat Oct 01, 2011 7:58 pm UTC

chernobyl wrote:
scarletmanuka wrote:
chernobyl wrote:It's quite interesting how modern economics theory relies, mostly, on the assumption that everyone's a dick.

I think it's because the assumption has been pretty well validated historically.

Genuine concern for one's neighbor may be a pretty rare thing, but any theory that doesn't account for its existence is flawed because it distorts reality.

Kayangelus wrote:only problem is that given how many people read xkcd, now I have a feeling a lot of people are going to start doing this.

At least I've never gotten a bobcat from eBay so far...


just spent about ten minutes planning out the logistics of mailing somebody a bobcat...
you would need to get air inside the container, without allowing sound out, which means an oxygen tank with an automatic release system. then an automated litter box, and some way to dampen the vibrations from all the machinery and, well, bobcat in that box.

If you can get that through the postal system, I might have to stop opening any packages I get ever.

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby philip1201 » Sat Oct 01, 2011 8:02 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
chernobyl wrote:
scarletmanuka wrote:
chernobyl wrote:It's quite interesting how modern economics theory relies, mostly, on the assumption that everyone's a dick.

I think it's because the assumption has been pretty well validated historically.

Genuine concern for one's neighbor may be a pretty rare thing, but any theory that doesn't account for its existence is flawed because it distorts reality.


Contemporary economics tries to purport itself as a science akin to the natural sciences, reporting theories about how people do behave, but there is a longstanding historical bent, which is still present and which I think should be the primary focus of it instead of this misplaced scientism, for economics to be more about strategies for how people should behave. This can still be done in a mathematically rigorous way, grounded in game theory; it just means we stop purporting to be describing what people do do, and instead we are prescribing what to do in a given situation, given the assumed goal of maximizing utility. (This is then easily extensible from "maximizing personal utility" to "maximizing total utility", making economics suitable to serve as applied ethics).


Explaining how things should be in order to get certain results while denying yourself the tools to establish the model by which you can figure out what things to do is very... inefficient. You must know how the universe does behave before you can figure out where to push to change things. This is what makes the difference between the Renaissance (continuing into modern times) and the classical era: all things being equal, it's the scientific method that makes the difference between philosophical non-productivity (however culturally beautiful) and exponential growth of human power, wealth, population and understanding of the universe. Any design for any product uses scientifically approved models describing the events that go on in it's functioning, from Bernoilli's equations in aeronautics to a whole lot of people's work on nuclear physics and solid state physics in nuclear plants and bombs.

What you're proposing is very nice and all, but it just doesn't work. I'm sorry, for you and all philosophers out there, but just thinking about how things are, or worse, how things should be, just doesn't come close to being as productive as looking at how things are. There is no such thing as "misplaced scientism": to have any influence on the world you must understand what you're dealing with. To know how the universe works we must investigate it.

but there is a longstanding historical bent, which is still present and which I think should be the primary focus of it instead of this misplaced scientism

How is historical inquiry not empirical science if it's used to build models?

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Seisachtheia » Sat Oct 01, 2011 10:49 pm UTC

What you're proposing is very nice and all, but it just doesn't work. I'm sorry, for you and all philosophers out there, but just thinking about how things are, or worse, how things should be, just doesn't come close to being as productive as looking at how things are. There is no such thing as "misplaced scientism": to have any influence on the world you must understand what you're dealing with. To know how the universe works we must investigate it.


How cute. As if productivity as such would be at all possible with only an idea of how things are and without an idea of how things should be.

But that basic error is beside the point. Pfhorrest's point with classical economics and rational choice theory is actually a descriptive project. Figuring out the optimal strategy in a game constrained by a set of rules is not normative in essence. Optimizing strategies, given a goal, say what people should do in order to achieve something. If I want to lift 500 pounds, saying I *should* use a lever of such and such a length is not normative. The best way to achieve a given goal within a set of constraints is a scientific problem (which, in social science, requires knowledge of how people do behave and how people can behave and, given that, a strategy for navigating that behavior)

The normative, ethical question (the ought) comes in at the level of deciding what to optimize - of deciding what goals are. Science can say that people want to optimize x and it can say how one best goes about optimizing x. It can't give an account of why one should choose to want x. It can, of course, potentially explain why one wants to choose x or why one will end up having chosen x. But the choice is not reducible to an explanation or prediction of the choice. This is because making choices is subject to that 'worse' pursuit of philosophy - discussing how things should be. Productivity, which presumes a value judgment about what counts as productive, is, as a pursuit, only made possible by consideration of what people 'should' do.

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Vash » Sun Oct 02, 2011 12:34 am UTC

So, it sounds like a pretty solid case that having people be paid instead of just having pure altruism might not always be the best idea.

I just think "you'll want to use what are called 'fractions'" is the perfect punch line.


Yeah, true. It's a great one.

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby SirMustapha » Sun Oct 02, 2011 2:22 am UTC

hawkinsssable wrote:
chernobyl wrote:SMBC did a comic on that yesterday, now xkcd.

Anybody else think that comic would have been even better if they had cut out the last panel?


I absolutely agree. The comic was very amusing all the way through, but in the last panel it became a lame, tired "lol economists suck" joke.

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Pfhorrest » Sun Oct 02, 2011 4:14 am UTC

philip1201 wrote:Explaining how things should be in order to get certain results while denying yourself the tools to establish the model by which you can figure out what things to do is very... inefficient. You must know how the universe does behave before you can figure out where to push to change things. This is what makes the difference between the Renaissance (continuing into modern times) and the classical era: all things being equal, it's the scientific method that makes the difference between philosophical non-productivity (however culturally beautiful) and exponential growth of human power, wealth, population and understanding of the universe. Any design for any product uses scientifically approved models describing the events that go on in it's functioning, from Bernoilli's equations in aeronautics to a whole lot of people's work on nuclear physics and solid state physics in nuclear plants and bombs.

What you're proposing is very nice and all, but it just doesn't work. I'm sorry, for you and all philosophers out there, but just thinking about how things are, or worse, how things should be, just doesn't come close to being as productive as looking at how things are. There is no such thing as "misplaced scientism": to have any influence on the world you must understand what you're dealing with. To know how the universe works we must investigate it.


You misunderstand me. I am not saying that we should not ask scientific questions, or that we should ignore scientific matters. I fully support that science is the best way of describing the facts about what really is. I am saying that there is a different kind of question entirely which science does not even purport to answer -- not a question about different things in the world, like "supernatural" objects vs "natural" objects, but a different kind of question about the same things -- and that trying to put every question into the form of a descriptive question so that science can answer it ultimately ends up leaving a whole field of other, prescriptive questions unanswered. Instead, I think we should be using a science-like method which is nevertheless not technically science per se, adopting the mathematical rigour of modelling proposed answers and the distributed, phenomenal criteria for selecting between those answers, but applying it to prescriptive questions (and thus using prescriptive criteria) instead of descriptive ones. I am not suggesting that people sit around in their armchairs to do this, any more than they sit around in their armchairs to do science; though both sides harken back to armchair-answerable questions that have to be settled before people can start doing the hard fieldwork.

Consider for illustration two sets of questions regarding the state of affairs of "people killing each other". I presume you would provide opposite answers to the questions "Do people kill each other?" and "Ought people kill each other?", despite that they are both questions about the same state of affairs; that is the difference in kind-of-question rather than subject-matter that I am talking about, and why I chose this for illustration.

Descriptive-track questions:
  • "Do people kill each other?"
    This is a simple question of descriptive fact.
    Presuming the answer to that is "yes"...
  • "Why do people kill each other?"
    This is a question which calls for a scientific theory, an understanding of causes and effects.
    But answering either of those requires we answer...
  • "How can we tell whether or not people kill each other, and if so, why they do?"
    This is a philosophical question, specifically an epistemological question; and I say the answer, roughly put, is SCIENCE!.

Prescriptive-track questions:
  • "Ought people kill each other?"
    This is a simple question of prescriptive value.
    Presuming the answer to that is "no"...
  • "How can we get people to stop killing each other?"
    This is a question which calls for an economic strategy, an understanding of incentives and motivations.
    But answering either of those requires we answer...
  • "How can we tell whether or not people ought to kill each other, and if not, how to stop them?"
    This is a philosophical question, specifically a metaethical question; and I say the answer is something different from but analogous to science.

You'll probably say the second question in each list is actually the same kind of question, but the second descriptive question is asking a question of fact; answering it requires we understand the causes of people's murderous actions, and in one sense answers "Why do people do this?". The second prescriptive question is a question of value; answering it requires we understand the purpose of people's murderous actions, and in a different sense answers "Why do people do this?".

To illustrate that difference, consider if someone asked about someone else "Why did he twitch his arm like that?" One answer might be "because the firing of his radial nerve triggered a contraction in his triceps". Another, equally valid answer to a different sense of that question would be "To shake off a fly." Same subject matter, different kind of question. Similarly, answers to the second questions of each type might be "They were raised in a culture of violence" and "Punish them for it." Notice that one of those answers is in the indicative mood, and the other is in the imperative. One is telling you "this is so" to explain a fact in need of explaining, the other is telling you "make this so" to achieve a goal in need of achieving. What facts there are that need explaining, and how to tell, are further questions, scientific and philosophical respectively; as are the economic and philosophical questions of what goals are in need of achieving, and how to tell that.

And to reiterate, I am not saying that descriptive questions are unimportant or less important, and certainly not that there are better ways than science to answer them; I am a huge supporter of science as the way to answer descriptive questions. I am only saying that prescriptive questions are equally important, and that we need to be applying science-like rigor to answering them, rather than eliminating them in a misplaced application of descriptive science. No action is guided solely by a factual belief nor solely by a normative intention; our actions are guided by comparing our models of what is and why that is, to our models of what should be and how it could be, and acting to bridge the difference between them. We thus need both kinds of models to be properly formed in order for our actions to be correct.

Bringing it back to my original point, this was all to say: economics should not and historically (despite contemporary pretenses) has not been about simply describing how people do behave. That's sociology, psychology, anthropology, and certainly those should inform our actions, but we don't need a whole other field studying the same questions over again.

Instead, economics is (and should be) about how to behave given that you have some objective and that other "players" in the relevant "game" have certain objectives. Ideally, in the long term, I would like to see that mathematical rigor of game theory coupled with a settled metaethical paradigm analogous to the metaphysical naturalism which underlies science, to give us a prescriptive analogue of physics; as game theory without a criterion for choosing the correct objectives is like physics without empiricism, just pure mathematical modelling. From there different sub-fields could study different kinds of game in detail, just as different natural sciences study different physical systems in details. But that is a long way off, rehabilitating the prescriptivism back into economics; getting the descriptivism out of it, leaving just the mathematics, is a good start for now.

but there is a longstanding historical bent, which is still present and which I think should be the primary focus of it instead of this misplaced scientism

How is historical inquiry not empirical science if it's used to build models?


You misunderstand me more simply here. I meant "There has, historically, been a bent in the field [which I am about to describe]...", not "There has been a bent in the field toward historicism."


ADDENDUM after reading Seisachtheia's response to Philip: You (Sei) are correct that game theory, rational choice theory, etc, do not produce prescriptive propositions per se, but neither do they produce descriptive propositions. They produce mathematical propositions, albiet presented in a somewhat prescriptive light, "to do x you ought to do y". You could light it descriptively as "doing y will cause x" instead, but either way is equivalent. Following Hume, I do not consider mathematical propositions to be descriptive per se; they are "relations of ideas", not "matters of fact"; nor matters of value, though unlike Hume I don't cast out the last as worthless.
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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Ghona » Sun Oct 02, 2011 12:23 pm UTC

Seisachtheia wrote: The best way to achieve a given goal within a set of constraints is a scientific problem


No it isn't.

It's an engineering problem.
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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Vash » Sun Oct 02, 2011 3:26 pm UTC

SirMustapha wrote:
hawkinsssable wrote:
chernobyl wrote:SMBC did a comic on that yesterday, now xkcd.

Anybody else think that comic would have been even better if they had cut out the last panel?


I absolutely agree. The comic was very amusing all the way through, but in the last panel it became a lame, tired "lol economists suck" joke.


I don't think it's saying that economists suck. He does that to every field. It's more talking about the interacting between philosophy and economics. As much as I hate to criticize SMBC, the reason it's boring is because he's done it too many times before with different fields. Then again, I guess you can repeat the same joke a few times.

The other punchline leaves things less evenhanded. But it also is funnier.

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby philip1201 » Sun Oct 02, 2011 3:43 pm UTC

Seisachtheia wrote:How cute. As if productivity as such would be at all possible with only an idea of how things are and without an idea of how things should be.


How things should be - philosophy, ethics, urges - sets the goals which can be reached productively or unproductively. Sure it's necessary to determine if/why you want to go to Mars, if the victory condition (hidden to the investigator) is going to Mars, but the measure of productivity I use doesn't include figuring out what it is you want.

But that basic error is beside the point. Pfhorrest's point with classical economics and rational choice theory is actually a descriptive project. Figuring out the optimal strategy in a game constrained by a set of rules is not normative in essence. Optimizing strategies, given a goal, say what people should do in order to achieve something. If I want to lift 500 pounds, saying I *should* use a lever of such and such a length is not normative. The best way to achieve a given goal within a set of constraints is a scientific problem (which, in social science, requires knowledge of how people do behave and how people can behave and, given that, a strategy for navigating that behavior)


But it's useless (though profitable if you can sell it) to attempt to create a guideline how to manipulate a process you don't understand; which you don't have models for. You can prescribe behaviors all you like, but at the end of the day, the only way to know which set works is scientifically. (As Pfhorrest says) For decades economics (and politics, and sociology, and investigation of the mind) has focused on people prescribing behavior, saying the market should behave a certain way: the free market should reduce prices to a minimum sustainable level, patents should protect new investors, etc. This however tells us nothing of how these things actually work, and if the proposed system is in any way effective.

This is because making choices is subject to that 'worse' pursuit of philosophy

In context, I said it's worse by the standard of productivity described above. I didn't say it was useless or bad.

In short, my measure of productivity (in this context) is the ability to accurately reach certain goals (especially, averaged out over multiple goals), not the ability to efficiently achieve moral good.

Pfhorrest wrote:Instead, I think we should be using a science-like method which is nevertheless not technically science per se, adopting the mathematical rigour of modelling proposed answers and the distributed, phenomenal criteria for selecting between those answers, but applying it to prescriptive questions (and thus using prescriptive criteria) instead of descriptive ones.

Once a model has been established, switching from descriptive to prescriptive economical questions should be as easy as entering the variables in an equation. Actually, it should be exactly that. Of course, economic science shouldn't limit itself to the economy as it currently exists in it's more-or-less natural state, no more than particle physics should turn off the LHC and limit itself to naturally occurring particles. An economic model which only works for the current legal system and in North America is a limited one indeed.

Instead, I think we should be using a science-like method which is nevertheless not technically science per se, adopting the mathematical rigour of modelling proposed answers and the distributed, phenomenal criteria for selecting between those answers, but applying it to prescriptive questions (and thus using prescriptive criteria) instead of descriptive ones.


I don't see how this conflicts with scientific economics, or I don't see how this would be related to economics, depending on what you mean exactly.

To illustrate that difference, consider if someone asked about someone else "Why did he twitch his arm like that?" One answer might be "because the firing of his radial nerve triggered a contraction in his triceps". Another, equally valid answer to a different sense of that question would be "To shake off a fly."

Both answers are incomplete for the scientific model of a person where they would twitch their arm at exactly the moment as it actually occurs. We can't model a human brain in full, so we've got the two partial models - psychology and neurology - which give similar answers to the same question. Neurologically: [sensory input] -> [sensor part of brain] -> [black box mental process] -> [motor cortex] -> [signals to muscle groups in arm] -> [arm moves]. Psychologically: [black box neurological process] -> [feels fly] -> [BBNP] -> [associates fly with germs and illness subconsciously] -> [BBNP] -> [feels disgust at fly] -> [BBNP] -> [decides that removing fly is beneficial] -> [BBNP] -> [accesses memory that shaking arm removes fly] -> [BBNP} -> [shakes arm]. Science is interested in both these models, and both of them are most accurately approached through the scientific method.

Similarly, answers to the second questions of each type might be "They were raised in a culture of violence" and "Punish them for it."

But how do you know the latter is the correct action? There's evidence that rather than punishment, corrective treatment (psychological help) is far more effective at preventing future crimes. You need evidence to verify what the influence of punishment is, and that's part of (my definition of) scientific inquiry.

Bringing it back to my original point, this was all to say: economics should not and historically (despite contemporary pretenses) has not been about simply describing how people do behave.

Economics has always been about finding the way of getting the most power from the economic data you possess. If that means you describe what people should do, then you describe what people should do. If that means you describe how the system factually works, then you do that. Because of the empirical nature of the universe, the second method is more profitable, so economists use that.

Ideally, in the long term, I would like to see that mathematical rigor of game theory coupled with a settled metaethical paradigm analogous to the metaphysical naturalism which underlies science, to give us a prescriptive analogue of physics; as game theory without a criterion for choosing the correct objectives is like physics without empiricism, just pure mathematical modelling. From there different sub-fields could study different kinds of game in detail, just as different natural sciences study different physical systems in details. But that is a long way off, rehabilitating the prescriptivism back into economics; getting the descriptivism out of it, leaving just the mathematics, is a good start for now.


In lay man's terms, you'd like to have an economics which doesn't attempt to describe what goes on in the physical world, but uses mathematics from game theory and a functioning absolute morality to describe the economy.
The only way I could understand this makes sense - without resorting to describing actual economics - would be by providing a "morally correct exchange of goods" based on what everybody possesses and what everybody wants. It wouldn't be able to account for free will, describe information exchange, predict corporations, corruption, etc, but rely on a Marxistically strict adherence to the above absolute morality (I mean that Marxism describes the people behaving as uncharacteristically reliable as you do). It would do precisely what you said: give a perfect description how everybody should behave in order to achieve the highest good. Even if we forget the objectivism for a while, it's incredibly unrealistic to expect everyone to strive for their own highest good, or to take the path which most efficiently achieves their own highest good. This very discrepancy is why economists started doing things scientifically: your models will fail if you expect companies to strive for their own profit.
Then there's the problem of your method demanding absolute morality.

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Halcyon Days » Sun Oct 02, 2011 7:26 pm UTC

I really like the line "If you're quick with a knife, you'll find that the invisible hand is made of delicious invisible meat."

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby ancientcampus » Sun Oct 02, 2011 7:50 pm UTC

Oh no, someone is wrong on the internet! ME, to the rescue! [/selfDepreciation]

austinbenji wrote:Wouldn't this more appropriately be called a Prisoner's Dilemma? It's most beneficial for all parties to give good review to good hotels, but the logic he uses in the argument to provide a bad review would appear to be mostly beneficial for him as an individual; whereas if everyone gives incorrect reviews, then there is no reliable system for determination and everyone must simply choose hotels at random.

*edit*
never mind, I suppose while it is also a Prisoner's Dilemma, it is more appropriately defined as Tragedy of the Commons.

No, you're right - it's a prisoner's dilemma. Tragedy of the Commons doesn't quite fit, because that usually refers to a depletion of a shared resource. I mean, yah, I suppose you could make a case for it, but it's a bit of a stretch. The more broad term "prisoner's dilemma" is better - Cooperation makes the best outcome for everybody, but the individual has an incentive to backstab others for personal gain.

Seisachtheia wrote:The appropriate rational choice problem here is neither tragedy of the commons nor prisoner's dilemma, but moral hazard.

Eh... moral hazard refers to risk. There's no real risk involved here. Again, you could stretch it to fit, but it's not worth the effort.

Cueball said it best. "That's not even the tragedy of the commons. That's the tragedy of you're a dick."

ANOTHER DAY SAVED! *wooosh*

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Pfhorrest » Mon Oct 03, 2011 3:58 am UTC

philip1201 wrote:But it's useless (though profitable if you can sell it) to attempt to create a guideline how to manipulate a process you don't understand; which you don't have models for. You can prescribe behaviors all you like, but at the end of the day, the only way to know which set works is scientifically.

And nobody is saying not to understand that too. You need to understand the facts, and how the facts relate to each other (the "stamp collecting" and "physics" halves of science, to put it crudely); and you also need to understand the goals and how those goals relate to each other (ethics and economics).

Pfhorrest wrote:Instead, I think we should be using a science-like method which is nevertheless not technically science per se, adopting the mathematical rigour of modelling proposed answers and the distributed, phenomenal criteria for selecting between those answers, but applying it to prescriptive questions (and thus using prescriptive criteria) instead of descriptive ones.

Once a model has been established, switching from descriptive to prescriptive economical questions should be as easy as entering the variables in an equation. Actually, it should be exactly that.


I actually agree with you here, I think. Following metaethicist R.M. Hare (actually not following him as I stumbled upon this myself, but he's the best-known proponent of this position), I advocate a system of logic where the descriptivity is abstracted out of statements, in a way that the relations between the ideas in the statements of a valid argument remain the same (and the argument thus remains equally valid), and the descriptivity can then be replaced with prescriptivity or just stripped entirely to leave a mathematical relation of ideas.

For example, one might make an argument of the form (A) "(i) All F are G, and (ii) x is F, therefore (iii) x is G." To strip the descriptivity from those sentences, we would get (B) "(i) All F being G, and (ii) x being F, entails (iii) x being G"; a purely formal, logical, mathematical statement, that does not assert any fact about the world at all. We can then add prescriptivity to those sentences to get (C) "(i) All F should be G, and (ii) x should be F, therefore (iii) x should be G."

So you have a model of how ideas relate to each other, and that model is valid or invalid on purely logical grounds that have no connection to empirical science, nor ethics of any sort; it's just a mathematical model. Then you have two different kinds of question to ask of what's depicted in that model: "is it real?" (which the scientific method interprets as asking "is it consistent with all observations?"), and "is it moral?" (which I am suggesting be interpreted analogously as "is it consistent with all appetites?") The model will tell you how answers to either question to one element of the model translate to answers about other elements of the model. Say for example that (iii) contradicts some observations; then we know either (i) or (ii) also contradicts some observations (for if they were both true, (iii) would have to be true too). Likewise, if we know that (iii) contradicts some appetites, then we know that either (i) or (ii) also contradicts some appetites (for if they were both good, (iii) would have to be good too).

Instead, I think we should be using a science-like method which is nevertheless not technically science per se, adopting the mathematical rigour of modelling proposed answers and the distributed, phenomenal criteria for selecting between those answers, but applying it to prescriptive questions (and thus using prescriptive criteria) instead of descriptive ones.


I don't see how this conflicts with scientific economics, or I don't see how this would be related to economics, depending on what you mean exactly.


I think I just explained how it differs from descriptive science above. It relates to economics because it is basically market research: you look out across society and see what problems people are having, as in what objectives are they trying to accomplish, what is bothering them, what would better satisfy their appetites. This is like the "stamp collecting" part of science; you are just gathering and cataloguing data. Then you work backwards from there to find models which have those appetites satisfied as a consequence of them, devising a strategy for accomplishing those ends; much like working backwards from raw facts to build a theory to explain those facts. Then you look at other implications of those models, and test them against people's appetites, and the strategy which accomplishes the given ends without contradicting any others is your best working strategy; much like how you test possible theories by looking at other implications of those and checking that they don't contradict any other observations, and the theory which explains the given facts without contradicting any others is your best working theory.

"What products and services they would buy for how much" is one thing you can derive from this data, but there's so much more there than that; this would also be useful data for founding non-profit organisations to charitably address societal needs. But whether for-profit or non-profit, I see a chain of occupations which descend from this analogous to those which descend from science. Scientists use a given epistemological method to find out what the facts are and come up with theories to explain them. Engineers then take the more successful of those theories and build machines with them. Technologists then take those things the engineers have built and operate and maintain them. Likewise, I see economists using a given metaethical method (not so different from the one they use now, really) to determine what is of value and come up with strategies for obtaining those valuables. Entrepreneurs would then take the more successful of these and build businesses (for profit or not) with them. Administrators would then operate and maintain those businesses.

In lay man's terms, you'd like to have an economics which doesn't attempt to describe what goes on in the physical world, but uses mathematics from game theory and a functioning absolute morality to describe the economy.


I wouldn't call it an "absolute" morality. An objective one, yes, in the sense that it is not dependent on anyone's opinions about it, just as scientific truths don't depend on anybody believing in them to be correct; but not "absolute" in that the same things are always right or wrong all the time for everybody in every context. The criteria by which to judge things right or wrong are the same for everyone everywhere, but that's different from the same things always being right or wrong, and necessary for there to be any real discussion of what's better or worse to begin with. Compare religious dogma, scientific consensus, and personal or popular speculation. I am suggesting a morality more akin to the second than the first, just not depending on any personal or popular whim like the third.

The only way I could understand this makes sense - without resorting to describing actual economics - would be by providing a "morally correct exchange of goods" based on what everybody possesses and what everybody wants. It wouldn't be able to account for free will, describe information exchange, predict corporations, corruption, etc, but rely on a Marxistically strict adherence to the above absolute morality (I mean that Marxism describes the people behaving as uncharacteristically reliable as you do). It would do precisely what you said: give a perfect description how everybody should behave in order to achieve the highest good.


I think my description above shows that this is far from what I mean.
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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Seisachtheia » Mon Oct 03, 2011 7:41 am UTC

Eh... moral hazard refers to risk. There's no real risk involved here. Again, you could stretch it to fit, but it's not worth the effort.


I'm not convinced that moral hazard refers strictly to risk, though that is the dominant use. It can have a more general meaning considered as a particular type of informational assymmetry. In any case, looking into it I'm realizing that really there's a whole field of terms (conflict of interest, free riding, perverse incentive, moral hazard, principal-agent problems) that all deal with similar sorts of issues and I'm not really sure how one would sort out everything into clearly distinct categories and sub-categories (I can find stuff referring to some of these as subcategories of moral hazard, some of them as categories of informational assymetry, some of them as categories of principal-agent problems, some of them as categories of free riding problems, some of them as categories of CoI or PI problems. In other words it seems to be a conceptual cluster fuck.) I can start to think of criteria by which to divide everything up, but, yeah, not worth the effort. In any case what's going on in the comic is something like those terms. Whether it is any specific one of them is a bit beyond me. I still think there are strong parallels to the motivational structure of a typical moral hazard problem though.

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Seisachtheia » Mon Oct 03, 2011 8:32 am UTC

@Ghona

No it isn't.

It's an engineering problem.


I'll grant that it's an engineering problem. Just not sure engineering problems aren't ultimately scientific problems.

@ philip

How things should be - philosophy, ethics, urges - sets the goals which can be reached productively or unproductively. Sure it's necessary to determine if/why you want to go to Mars, if the victory condition (hidden to the investigator) is going to Mars, but the measure of productivity I use doesn't include figuring out what it is you want.


And this was my point. Productivity makes sense only relative to a goal. A measure of productivity may not include figuring out what it is you want, but figuring out what it is you want is a necessary condition, or a condition of possibility, for being able to say something is or isn't productive.

But it's useless (though profitable if you can sell it) to attempt to create a guideline how to manipulate a process you don't understand; which you don't have models for. You can prescribe behaviors all you like, but at the end of the day, the only way to know which set works is scientifically. (As Pfhorrest says) For decades economics (and politics, and sociology, and investigation of the mind) has focused on people prescribing behavior, saying the market should behave a certain way: the free market should reduce prices to a minimum sustainable level, patents should protect new investors, etc. This however tells us nothing of how these things actually work, and if the proposed system is in any way effective.


But what you say here simply isn't true. For decades, political science, sociology, economics, and philosophy of mind have focused on making models and understanding processes going on in the real world. All of them have, on the whole, left prescriptions for public policy, editorials, and vague gestures in conclusions and other assorted final chapters (or, in some cases, left the problem of prescription to some corner of the discipline - political or social theory, or ethics and political philosophy).

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby philip1201 » Mon Oct 03, 2011 3:58 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
philip1201 wrote:But it's useless (though profitable if you can sell it) to attempt to create a guideline how to manipulate a process you don't understand; which you don't have models for. You can prescribe behaviors all you like, but at the end of the day, the only way to know which set works is scientifically.

And nobody is saying not to understand that too. You need to understand the facts, and how the facts relate to each other (the "stamp collecting" and "physics" halves of science, to put it crudely); and you also need to understand the goals and how those goals relate to each other (ethics and economics).


Understanding goals and the relation of goals can be done scientifically ((neuro)psychology & sociology and science-economics) or philosophically (ethics and ethical-economics). The way humans react and choose sub-ideal paths under pressure of time or work, the plethora of human pride, misgivings, prejudice, the use of word-to-mouth, viral videos, memes - could ethical systems predict the workings of the human herd with an accuracy close to that of sociology and psychology without being scientific? It seems unlikely.


Pfhorrest wrote:Instead, I think we should be using a science-like method which is nevertheless not technically science per se, adopting the mathematical rigour of modelling proposed answers and the distributed, phenomenal criteria for selecting between those answers, but applying it to prescriptive questions (and thus using prescriptive criteria) instead of descriptive ones.

Once a model has been established, switching from descriptive to prescriptive economical questions should be as easy as entering the variables in an equation. Actually, it should be exactly that.


I actually agree with you here, I think. Following metaethicist R.M. Hare (actually not following him as I stumbled upon this myself, but he's the best-known proponent of this position), I advocate a system of logic where the descriptivity is abstracted out of statements, in a way that the relations between the ideas in the statements of a valid argument remain the same (and the argument thus remains equally valid), and the descriptivity can then be replaced with prescriptivity or just stripped entirely to leave a mathematical relation of ideas.

For example, one might make an argument of the form (A) "(i) All F are G, and (ii) x is F, therefore (iii) x is G." To strip the descriptivity from those sentences, we would get (B) "(i) All F being G, and (ii) x being F, entails (iii) x being G"; a purely formal, logical, mathematical statement, that does not assert any fact about the world at all. We can then add prescriptivity to those sentences to get (C) "(i) All F should be G, and (ii) x should be F, therefore (iii) x should be G."

So you have a model of how ideas relate to each other, and that model is valid or invalid on purely logical grounds that have no connection to empirical science, nor ethics of any sort; it's just a mathematical model. Then you have two different kinds of question to ask of what's depicted in that model: "is it real?" (which the scientific method interprets as asking "is it consistent with all observations?"), and "is it moral?" (which I am suggesting be interpreted analogously as "is it consistent with all appetites?") The model will tell you how answers to either question to one element of the model translate to answers about other elements of the model. Say for example that (iii) contradicts some observations; then we know either (i) or (ii) also contradicts some observations (for if they were both true, (iii) would have to be true too). Likewise, if we know that (iii) contradicts some appetites, then we know that either (i) or (ii) also contradicts some appetites (for if they were both good, (iii) would have to be good too).

How would this be more extensive than logic (which, I sincerely hope, is trivially accepted in philosophy), without resorting to (descriptive) scientific modeling to verify different statements? The example you gave is the logical list of statements:
(i) F ⊆ G
(ii) x ⊆ F (or x = F)
(i, ii) => (iii) x ⊆ G
where the set of symbols can be replaced with any set of symbols (or statements like "should be") which has the same properties.

I think I just explained how it differs from descriptive science above. It relates to economics because it is basically market research: you look out across society and see what problems people are having, as in what objectives are they trying to accomplish, what is bothering them, what would better satisfy their appetites. This is like the "stamp collecting" part of science; you are just gathering and cataloguing data. Then you work backwards from there to find models which have those appetites satisfied as a consequence of them, devising a strategy for accomplishing those ends; much like working backwards from raw facts to build a theory to explain those facts. Then you look at other implications of those models, and test them against people's appetites, and the strategy which accomplishes the given ends without contradicting any others is your best working strategy; much like how you test possible theories by looking at other implications of those and checking that they don't contradict any other observations, and the theory which explains the given facts without contradicting any others is your best working theory.

"What products and services they would buy for how much" is one thing you can derive from this data, but there's so much more there than that; this would also be useful data for founding non-profit organisations to charitably address societal needs. But whether for-profit or non-profit, I see a chain of occupations which descend from this analogous to those which descend from science. Scientists use a given epistemological method to find out what the facts are and come up with theories to explain them. Engineers then take the more successful of those theories and build machines with them. Technologists then take those things the engineers have built and operate and maintain them. Likewise, I see economists using a given metaethical method (not so different from the one they use now, really) to determine what is of value and come up with strategies for obtaining those valuables. Entrepreneurs would then take the more successful of these and build businesses (for profit or not) with them. Administrators would then operate and maintain those businesses.
[...]
The only way I could understand this makes sense - without resorting to describing actual economics - would be by providing a "morally correct exchange of goods" based on what everybody possesses and what everybody wants. It wouldn't be able to account for free will, describe information exchange, predict corporations, corruption, etc, but rely on a Marxistically strict adherence to the above absolute morality (I mean that Marxism describes the people behaving as uncharacteristically reliable as you do). It would do precisely what you said: give a perfect description how everybody should behave in order to achieve the highest good.


I think my description above shows that this is far from what I mean.


So you aren't attempting to predict how the market will work, you aren't even attempting to see what any individual may do to achieve moral good within the system, you're simply looking for an entirely alternate method of making a market function. One where corporations look to fulfill the needs of consumers, without contradicting the needs of other consumers. Where philosopher-economists find out what people's "appetites" are and then make no attempt to distort them. Where people do their jobs of creating profit without doing immoral things (conflicting with appetites). I have to give it to you, when you say "non-descriptive", you mean it.

A few questions that still remain:
1. What are those "appetites" and how don't they conflict? (Or if they do, how do you resolve such conflicts. i.e. An African child wants to go to school instead of work in the mines (appetite #1), however, this conflicts with westerners' love for diamonds (appetite #2)).
2. Do you expect people to actually conform to your proposed economic system? I mean, seriously, this would require a complete overhaul or destruction of all corporations, demand a huge "economist" class to project or personally log the wishes of every human (and possibly non-human) affected by your economic model, have no system of checking itself with reality, and not account for corruption.
3. What if people, or reality for that matter, don't comply with your economic utopia? If they start building corporations without an economist's approval or guidance, or if they bribe an economist, or if there's war somewhere? What if people remain selfish bastards and do buy those blood diamonds?
4. Assuming, for the moment, that your economic ideal is impossible, do you think it's bad that economists attempt to factually describe the world for now?
5. (concerning the "historic bent") What branch of economics has ever cared about moral treatment of others?

Seisachtheia wrote:And this was my point. Productivity makes sense only relative to a goal. A measure of productivity may not include figuring out what it is you want, but figuring out what it is you want is a necessary condition, or a condition of possibility, for being able to say something is or isn't productive.

But economics has a purpose: profit.
Also, science is more efficient if you have no particular goal in mind, or if your method of figuring out what your goals are takes less than a month.`

But what you say here simply isn't true. For decades, political science, sociology, economics, and philosophy of mind have focused on making models and understanding processes going on in the real world. All of them have, on the whole, left prescriptions for public policy, editorials, and vague gestures in conclusions and other assorted final chapters (or, in some cases, left the problem of prescription to some corner of the discipline - political or social theory, or ethics and political philosophy).


I said politics, not political science.
They didn't use, in order of appearance: empirical data, good statistical analysis, empirical data, and science. Their fields are far too incomplete to make reliable prescriptions, especially in general as they are so often presented, and peer review is biased (politics), career suicide (economics, politics), or apparently non-functional (philosophy, sociology).

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Pfhorrest » Mon Oct 03, 2011 9:52 pm UTC

philip1201 wrote:Understanding goals and the relation of goals can be done scientifically ((neuro)psychology & sociology and science-economics) or philosophically (ethics and ethical-economics). The way humans react and choose sub-ideal paths under pressure of time or work, the plethora of human pride, misgivings, prejudice, the use of word-to-mouth, viral videos, memes - could ethical systems predict the workings of the human herd with an accuracy close to that of sociology and psychology without being scientific? It seems unlikely.

The whole point is that it's not about predicting; prediction is descriptive. Prediction should still be done, by normal scientific means, but there also needs to be a focus on non-descriptive questions.

How would this be more extensive than logic (which, I sincerely hope, is trivially accepted in philosophy), without resorting to (descriptive) scientific modeling to verify different statements? The example you gave is the logical list of statements:
(i) F ⊆ G
(ii) x ⊆ F (or x = F)
(i, ii) => (iii) x ⊆ G
where the set of symbols can be replaced with any set of symbols (or statements like "should be") which has the same properties.


I'm not sure what you mean "more extensive than logic" - there are many different logics, and this is a mostly-conservative extension of whatever descriptive logic you might like. It is conservative in that all statements of a normal descriptive logic can be translated into statements in this logic and retain their validity or not; it's not so conservative in that it takes the same strings of symbols to mean slightly different things, and requires the addition of an operator on those strings to restore the original meaning.

It's basically a form of modal logic. It takes "F ⊆ G" not to mean "all F are G" but to mean "all F being G": a gerund description of that state of affairs that does not assert anything about that state of affairs, and so can't strictly be true or false yet; it is just the contents of a proposition, but it has not yet been proposed. Then it adds either an indicative or imperative mood operator to it to get a fully-formed proposition: it either proposes that that states of affairs is (giving an indicative proposition), or it proposes that that state of affairs be (giving an imperative proposition). Let's let "ind()" and "imp()" be those operators; then to say "all F are G" you would write "ind(F ⊆ G)", and to write "all F ought to be G" (or in proper but stilted imperative form "be all F G") you would write "imp(F ⊆ G)". The important part is that the truth-conditions of ind(F ⊆ G) and imp(F ⊆ G) are not the same. Indicative propositions are made true by their correspondence with observation; imperative propositions are made true by their correspondence with appetites.

So you aren't attempting to predict how the market will work, you aren't even attempting to see what any individual may do to achieve moral good within the system, you're simply looking for an entirely alternate method of making a market function.


I wouldn't say entirely alternate. It would function the same way it functions now, with the addition of a new information-gathering process to facilitate its more efficient operation. Analogously, there were engineers building machines for millennia before the scientific revolution, and knowing it or not they built and improved those machines more-or-less empirically: the ones that relied on principles which would have been empirically verifiable were the ones that worked, and those which went against empirical reality failed, sooner or later. But then we made this big point a few centuries back of generating lots of different possible explanations for things and really enthusiastically testing them against observation to bang out how things really work; and with that knowledge, engineers have been able to make incredible progress on building much better machines that work much more reliably, instead of just trying things blindly.

Likewise, institutional endeavors (businesses, governments, every kind of organization of people, which I model as all essentially the same thing) work, in the sense of winning people's approval (and subsequently succeeding in their objective, be it profit or obedience or what have you), on more-or-less hedonistic grounds: the ones that satisfy people's appetites are the ones that people like and the ones that continue to function and don't go out of business or get torn down, and the ones that go against hedonistic morality and screw people over at every turn fail, sooner or later. I'm just suggesting that we do the analog of the heavy-duty scientific investigation which enabled us to made such headway in technological progress, so that we can make similar levels of sociological progress.

A few questions that still remain:
1. What are those "appetites" and how don't they conflict? (Or if they do, how do you resolve such conflicts. i.e. An African child wants to go to school instead of work in the mines (appetite #1), however, this conflicts with westerners' love for diamonds (appetite #2)).

An appetite is to a desire as a sensation or observation is to a perception; it is a feeling, a pain or hunger or lust, which can then be interpreted as a desire for a certain state of affairs, but is not itself of a state of affairs; any more than you can have an observation directly of a state of affairs, as observation always under-determines theory. There are always multiple possible theories to satisfy an observation, and there are always multiple possible strategies to satisfy an appetite. Just as science says not to rely directly on your intuitive perceptions as a guide to reality but to attend instead directly to the observations that those perceptions are interpretations of, and test such interpretations directly against other such observations from other perspectives, so too I'm saying we should not rely directly on anyone's emotional desires as a guide to morality but instead attend directly to the appetites that those desires are interpretations of, and to test such interpretations directly against other such appetites from other perspectives.

So appetites themselves can't conflict, any more than observations can; only interpretations of them can. (Compare the parable of the three blind men and the elephant: all of their observations were valid, but all of their interpretations of them were wrong). As for how to resolve conflicts of those interpretations and decide which interpretation is the correct one, the analogy with science leads us essentially to classical liberalism. Science uses a critical epistemology which does not privilege anyone's interpretation over anyone else's as the "default" position, and thus cannot say that anyone's theory is wrong until proven right (as that would privilege the opposite position); instead, anyone's theory is possible until proven wrong (by contradiction of observations), but just because your theory is possible doesn't mean others are obliged to adopt it too. Analogously, a liberal deontology does not privilege anyone's interpretation of the best course of action over anyone else's as the "default" position, and thus cannot say that anyone's strategy is wrong until proven right; instead, anyone's strategy is permissible until proven wrong (by contradiction of appetites), but just becasue your strategy is permissible doesn't mean others are obliged to adopt it too. In other words, everyone is free to choose their own course of action, until it can be shown that their course of action harms someone else. (Failure to prevent harm to someone else is not the same as harming them, any more than an unexplained observation counts as a contradiction of a theory, it just makes it an incomplete theory).

2. Do you expect people to actually conform to your proposed economic system? I mean, seriously, this would require a complete overhaul or destruction of all corporations, demand a huge "economist" class to project or personally log the wishes of every human (and possibly non-human) affected by your economic model, have no system of checking itself with reality, and not account for corruption.

That's not quite an accurate description of it, but either way, I don't have any pretenses of it happening any time soon, and I don't really know how to go about working toward it, but I think it's just as feasible as the scientific revolution was; which is to say, it'd be a big deal and require a major shift in the way people approach the problem to get going, but if people could get behind it, it could happen.

3. What if people, or reality for that matter, don't comply with your economic utopia? If they start building corporations without an economist's approval or guidance, or if they bribe an economist, or if there's war somewhere? What if people remain selfish bastards and do buy those blood diamonds?

I think the second part of my answer to your first question addressed this.

4. Assuming, for the moment, that your economic ideal is impossible, do you think it's bad that economists attempt to factually describe the world for now?

I think the field is a bit muddled as it is now, and that we already have psychology and sociology for describing how actual humans really function individually and in groups; the descriptive elements of economics should continue to be done, but under those fields instead. That would leave just the mathematical elements, the rational choice theory and game theory and voting theory, ways of mathematically modelling the optimal strategy for achieving a certain goal. Couple that with a method for determining what goals are worth achieving and you've got an economics which can replace normative ethics (which I consider a dead field and not properly part of philosophy anyway; it's like speculative cosmology is to modern physics. There's still room for metaphysics to justify the methods of the physical sciences, and there'll still be room for metaethics in my scheme to justify the methods of my "ethical sciences", but normative ethics is just poor speculation without the necessary rigor).

5. (concerning the "historic bent") What branch of economics has ever cared about moral treatment of others?

Going back to the early days, Adam Smith spoke of how free markets are more beneficial to societies than the mercantilism of his day. The political-economists which followed also had designs on how to fashion an economy so as to best benefit society, Karl Marx being a very notable one of them. Many libertarian schools of economic thought today argue for free markets first on deontological moral grounds (the legitimacy of property rights) and then try show how free markets actually do produce consequentially moral outcomes. I hear many people decrying that economics is "not a real science!" because of these sorts of things; I retort that it shouldn't be a (descriptive) science to begin with, but that the mathematics developing within it are a great start to a much-needed prescriptive science!
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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Seisachtheia » Tue Oct 04, 2011 7:54 am UTC

@philip

But economics has a purpose: profit.
Also, science is more efficient if you have no particular goal in mind, or if your method of figuring out what your goals are takes less than a month.`


The purpose of economics is to understand the economy.

The goal most in line with creating a successful business is profit, but a business need not, as a matter of fact, have profit as its main purpose (or as a purpose at all). That just may lead to it failing. But, again, not necessarily.

The purpose of an economy is a rather large question, but it is not generally thought to be 'profit.' The profit-motive is a mechanism by which something else is secured (wealth, or the fulfillment of human values/provision of human wants and needs).

I said politics, not political science.
They didn't use, in order of appearance: empirical data, good statistical analysis, empirical data, and science. Their fields are far too incomplete to make reliable prescriptions, especially in general as they are so often presented, and peer review is biased (politics), career suicide (economics, politics), or apparently non-functional (philosophy, sociology).


At some schools Political Science departments are called Departments of Politics. I'm not sure why politics as a practice has anything to do with your points. One way of defining politics in an elementary sense is simply 'willfully doing things in common.' Choosing to do things must, by definition, be prescriptive. That's a tautological property of willed action. What makes it willed is the choosing of an end. Any teleological behavior (otherwise known as action) is by nature prescriptive (but this goes back to the necessity of considering values).

As to your criticisms of various disciplines, they are at face absurd, and none of them are true. I'm not going to waste time making a list of durable or fruitful empirical findings and models from these disciplines. Particularly grand causal explanations or predictive models may not be any good because of the complexity of social phenomena, but the first order consequences of things like, say, institutional design or printing money or lowering trade barriers are pretty well covered by social science.

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Daggoth » Tue Oct 04, 2011 6:27 pm UTC

Most review websites have a captcha to them, so its usually not possible to post reviews with a script.

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby philip1201 » Sat Oct 08, 2011 6:07 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
philip1201 wrote:Understanding goals and the relation of goals can be done scientifically ((neuro)psychology & sociology and science-economics) or philosophically (ethics and ethical-economics). The way humans react and choose sub-ideal paths under pressure of time or work, the plethora of human pride, misgivings, prejudice, the use of word-to-mouth, viral videos, memes - could ethical systems predict the workings of the human herd with an accuracy close to that of sociology and psychology without being scientific? It seems unlikely.

The whole point is that it's not about predicting; prediction is descriptive. Prediction should still be done, by normal scientific means, but there also needs to be a focus on non-descriptive questions.

Then why do you say economists should abandon normal scientific means, if it's a necessary part of doing economics?

How would this be more extensive than logic (which, I sincerely hope, is trivially accepted in philosophy), without resorting to (descriptive) scientific modeling to verify different statements? The example you gave is the logical list of statements:
(i) F ⊆ G
(ii) x ⊆ F (or x = F)
(i, ii) => (iii) x ⊆ G
where the set of symbols can be replaced with any set of symbols (or statements like "should be") which has the same properties.


I'm not sure what you mean "more extensive than logic" - there are many different logics, and this is a mostly-conservative extension of whatever descriptive logic you might like. It is conservative in that all statements of a normal descriptive logic can be translated into statements in this logic and retain their validity or not; it's not so conservative in that it takes the same strings of symbols to mean slightly different things, and requires the addition of an operator on those strings to restore the original meaning.


Unless you're referring to the infinite number of alternate logics which can't be disproved but simply don't seen to apply to our universe, there really is only one logic: mathematical logic. And it isn't "descriptive": the logical consistency of the statements does remain true independent on whether it's applied to false assumptions, true assumptions, good, evil, green, bobcat-containingness, etc. Your definition of "modal logic" is quite exactly the definition of logic.

What I meant when I said "more extensive than logic" is that you didn't give an explanation how what you're proposing was more than logic, yet you were acting like it was something unusual.
To continue on the subject of your logic, you're saying it should do things that logic simply can't: "So you have a model of how ideas relate to each other, and that model is valid or invalid on purely logical grounds that have no connection to empirical science, nor ethics of any sort; it's just a mathematical model.". The most logic can do is show whether something is consistent or inconsistent, with itself or with mathematics in general. However, this doesn't make the model "valid" by any meaningful definition of the word. The description of the universe as a five-dimensional hypercube is perfectly "valid". It's just factually false, morally neutral, not particularly green and probably devoid of bobcats.

So you aren't attempting to predict how the market will work, you aren't even attempting to see what any individual may do to achieve moral good within the system, you're simply looking for an entirely alternate method of making a market function.


I wouldn't say entirely alternate. It would function the same way it functions now, with the addition of a new information-gathering process to facilitate its more efficient operation. Analogously, there were engineers building machines for millennia before the scientific revolution, and knowing it or not they built and improved those machines more-or-less empirically: the ones that relied on principles which would have been empirically verifiable were the ones that worked, and those which went against empirical reality failed, sooner or later. But then we made this big point a few centuries back of generating lots of different possible explanations for things and really enthusiastically testing them against observation to bang out how things really work; and with that knowledge, engineers have been able to make incredible progress on building much better machines that work much more reliably, instead of just trying things blindly.

Likewise, institutional endeavors (businesses, governments, every kind of organization of people, which I model as all essentially the same thing) work, in the sense of winning people's approval (and subsequently succeeding in their objective, be it profit or obedience or what have you), on more-or-less hedonistic grounds: the ones that satisfy people's appetites are the ones that people like and the ones that continue to function and don't go out of business or get torn down, and the ones that go against hedonistic morality and screw people over at every turn fail, sooner or later. I'm just suggesting that we do the analog of the heavy-duty scientific investigation which enabled us to made such headway in technological progress, so that we can make similar levels of sociological progress.


So after millennia of philosophy applied to everything and slow advancement of economics and knowledge, and after centuries of science applied to the physical world with great success, the time has come to pick between philosophy and science to revitalize the field of economics, and you choose... philosophy. This is kind of the same as what we did previously, so to spice things up this time you'll be using... logic. And because science is so unfit for this job, the largest change you'll bring to the field will be... information-gathering and mathematical modeling. Are you sure you aren't just proposing to use science?

Also, as hedonists have been desperately trying to explain the rest of the world for the past 2300 years: hedonism doesn't deny the existence of altruism: you don't need to justify everything as benefiting the acting individual.

A few questions that still remain:
1. What are those "appetites" and how don't they conflict? (Or if they do, how do you resolve such conflicts. i.e. An African child wants to go to school instead of work in the mines (appetite #1), however, this conflicts with westerners' love for diamonds (appetite #2)).

An appetite is to a desire as a sensation or observation is to a perception; it is a feeling, a pain or hunger or lust, which can then be interpreted as a desire for a certain state of affairs, but is not itself of a state of affairs; any more than you can have an observation directly of a state of affairs, as observation always under-determines theory. There are always multiple possible theories to satisfy an observation, and there are always multiple possible strategies to satisfy an appetite. Just as science says not to rely directly on your intuitive perceptions as a guide to reality but to attend instead directly to the observations that those perceptions are interpretations of, and test such interpretations directly against other such observations from other perspectives, so too I'm saying we should not rely directly on anyone's emotional desires as a guide to morality but instead attend directly to the appetites that those desires are interpretations of, and to test such interpretations directly against other such appetites from other perspectives.

So appetites themselves can't conflict, any more than observations can; only interpretations of them can. (Compare the parable of the three blind men and the elephant: all of their observations were valid, but all of their interpretations of them were wrong).


That's a non sequitur: You gave no reason why things which underlie desires couldn't conflict, not in a single human being, let alone a group of people. Observations don't conflict because they are produced by an objective system: reality. But appetites are produced by the human brain - there is no reason why there would be an underlying ethical frame they provide glimpses of, something you must agree to if you agree with reality that humans evolved, since evolution is the process by which successful inheritable traits become dominant, and there's no reason why it would be most productive for an organism to have non-conflicting appetites (including whether or not it is possible to build a mind using non-conflicting appetites at all), nor a guarantee that this has been reached instead of one of evolution's many local optima.
Do you have an idea what such an appetite might be, and if so, could you give an example of such an appetite with our distant cousins - bacteria? If bacteria have conflicting appetites, it's reasonable to assume so do we. It doesn't work the other way around, but I'd be terribly impressed anyway.

As for how to resolve conflicts of those interpretations and decide which interpretation is the correct one, the analogy with science leads us essentially to classical liberalism. Science uses a critical epistemology which does not privilege anyone's interpretation over anyone else's as the "default" position, and thus cannot say that anyone's theory is wrong until proven right (as that would privilege the opposite position); instead, anyone's theory is possible until proven wrong (by contradiction of observations), but just because your theory is possible doesn't mean others are obliged to adopt it too. Analogously, a liberal deontology does not privilege anyone's interpretation of the best course of action over anyone else's as the "default" position, and thus cannot say that anyone's strategy is wrong until proven right; instead, anyone's strategy is permissible until proven wrong (by contradiction of appetites), but just becasue your strategy is permissible doesn't mean others are obliged to adopt it too. In other words, everyone is free to choose their own course of action, until it can be shown that their course of action harms someone else. (Failure to prevent harm to someone else is not the same as harming them, any more than an unexplained observation counts as a contradiction of a theory, it just makes it an incomplete theory).


This part of your justification of your ethics is very much an attempt to justify your preconceived notions. In an attempt to shape ethics like science you're bending a lot of concepts crooked with strange translations, while science and ethics simply aren't analogous in most cases. It certainly isn't trivial that they would be.
1) You state that in science no theory is wrong until it's been proven. However, we discount every theory which can't be proved wrong out of hand, use Occam's razor to dismiss complications of the same theory (default is simple), and never treat an unverified theory as we would a verified one. Theories can be classified as the untested, where the qualifications of truth and falsehood are not applicable because no observation has been made (only logical consistency can be checked), and the tested, where their truth or falsehood is dependent on statistical analysis of experiments. (factual assessment)
1a) In the scientific method, it doesn't matter whether you call untested theories true or false. In ethics, however, it matters a great deal. Therefore, the cases aren't analogous at all.
2) Theories aren't subjectively held. Sure people may expect one theory to be correct and another false, but this has no impact on their actual standing. (factual assessment)
3) Interpretations of the best course of action aren't analogous to theories (doubt of trivially made statement).
4) Strategies towards achieving the best results aren't analogous to theories (doubt of trivially made statement).
5) You're stating that casually adopted ethical systems are likely not to cause harm.
6) You're making a sudden distinction between contradicting someone else's appetites and allowing someone else's appetites to be contradicted.
6a) How do you justify this?
6b) Attempting to use your translation system back to factuality, this is like stating that there's a factual distinction between making a theory that contradicts an experiment, or allowing a theory to exist which contradicts an experiment. Both are an affront to science (actually the second one may be worse, because people are less likely to believe you with the first one), and both cause the same amount of falsehood to be believed. Within the analogy, it makes no sense. There's no reason why "harm to someone else" ~ "unexplained observation" while "harming someone" ~ "contradicting observation".


2. Do you expect people to actually conform to your proposed economic system? I mean, seriously, this would require a complete overhaul or destruction of all corporations, demand a huge "economist" class to project or personally log the wishes of every human (and possibly non-human) affected by your economic model, have no system of checking itself with reality, and not account for corruption.

That's not quite an accurate description of it, but either way, I don't have any pretenses of it happening any time soon, and I don't really know how to go about working toward it, but I think it's just as feasible as the scientific revolution was; which is to say, it'd be a big deal and require a major shift in the way people approach the problem to get going, but if people could get behind it, it could happen.


I didn't say they wouldn't support it, I asked if they would obey it. Having people support crazy ethical and philosophical ideas is quite easy, regardless of if they're true, false, good or evil. Marxism was a far more detailed ethical-economical proposal remarkably similar to your system in terms of idealism, trust in individual freedom and open-mindedness, lack of methods to fish out the corrupt and selfish, etc.. It was supported, adopted, given power, and the result was communism as we know it.

3. What if people, or reality for that matter, don't comply with your economic utopia? If they start building corporations without an economist's approval or guidance, or if they bribe an economist, or if there's war somewhere? What if people remain selfish bastards and do buy those blood diamonds?

I think the second part of my answer to your first question addressed this.

Then you will gather all your strength and ... call them evil?

4. Assuming, for the moment, that your economic ideal is impossible, do you think it's bad that economists attempt to factually describe the world for now?

I think the field is a bit muddled as it is now, and that we already have psychology and sociology for describing how actual humans really function individually and in groups; the descriptive elements of economics should continue to be done, but under those fields instead. That would leave just the mathematical elements, the rational choice theory and game theory and voting theory, ways of mathematically modelling the optimal strategy for achieving a certain goal. Couple that with a method for determining what goals are worth achieving and you've got an economics which can replace normative ethics (which I consider a dead field and not properly part of philosophy anyway; it's like speculative cosmology is to modern physics. There's still room for metaphysics to justify the methods of the physical sciences, and there'll still be room for metaethics in my scheme to justify the methods of my "ethical sciences", but normative ethics is just poor speculation without the necessary rigor).

Economics is the study of the economy - it's a profession. Why would they be the ones called upon to split up and do different things? Why wouldn't there be place for factually describing money flows? If you want your applied normative ethics, why not just call it that? With the free market as my witness, economics is a productive field (there isn't massive unemployment among economists).

Also, "speculative cosmology" (which really is just cosmology) is a very alive field of science, collecting 3/10 Nobel prizes in physics in the past decade and being the large end of the scale which Grand Unified Theories are attempting to sew together with the small end of the scale of the standard model. Cosmology and high energy particle accelerators are the two place in physics where theoretical physics can be tested.

5. (concerning the "historic bent") What branch of economics has ever cared about moral treatment of others?

Going back to the early days, Adam Smith spoke of how free markets are more beneficial to societies than the mercantilism of his day. The political-economists which followed also had designs on how to fashion an economy so as to best benefit society, Karl Marx being a very notable one of them. Many libertarian schools of economic thought today argue for free markets first on deontological moral grounds (the legitimacy of property rights) and then try show how free markets actually do produce consequentially moral outcomes. I hear many people decrying that economics is "not a real science!" because of these sorts of things; I retort that it shouldn't be a (descriptive) science to begin with, but that the mathematics developing within it are a great start to a much-needed prescriptive science!

A prescriptive science without observation or factual models of reality. One which assumes an objective morality. One which assumes that there is no conflict between the innermost desires of individuals, nor any conflict between the innermost desires of different individuals. One which simply deletes the current research field of economics.

I admire the sentiment of a prescriptive science, but these limitations you demand of it aren't grounded in reality, they're grounded in morality. To be specific, yours.

Seisachtheia wrote:The purpose of economics is to understand the economy.

The goal most in line with creating a successful business is profit, but a business need not, as a matter of fact, have profit as its main purpose (or as a purpose at all). That just may lead to it failing. But, again, not necessarily.

The purpose of an economy is a rather large question, but it is not generally thought to be 'profit.' The profit-motive is a mechanism by which something else is secured (wealth, or the fulfillment of human values/provision of human wants and needs).


We began this when I said thinking about how the economy should be was a bad way to do economics. You responded by saying economics needed a purpose. I said I didn't include purpose with productivity. You said your point was that productivity is useless without a purpose. I said profit was the purpose of economics (quite inaccurate: there's economists in lots of non-profit organizations). Now you say the purpose of economics is to understand the economy.
Given the sole purpose of economics is to understand the economy, then it's obvious that the scientific method is the best way to do economics: the scientific method is the most efficient way to understand anything.

At some schools Political Science departments are called Departments of Politics. I'm not sure why politics as a practice has anything to do with your points. One way of defining politics in an elementary sense is simply 'willfully doing things in common.' Choosing to do things must, by definition, be prescriptive. That's a tautological property of willed action. What makes it willed is the choosing of an end. Any teleological behavior (otherwise known as action) is by nature prescriptive (but this goes back to the necessity of considering values).

It didn't have much to do with anything, which was why it was in between parentheses in a short list and wasn't referred to further. I listed it because it's mostly a prescriptive occurrence which could probably have a lot less prescription and a lot more description used to make policy as logical consequence from a couple of prescriptive tenets.

"Choosing to do things must, by definition, be prescriptive". It isn't necessarily described that way. It's perfectly possible to describe what a simple organism would choose to do in terms of psychological models. To a lesser degree of accuracy, the same can be done for higher lifeforms, and again with greater accuracy if one looks at major groups of organisms.

As to your criticisms of various disciplines, they are at face absurd, and none of them are true. I'm not going to waste time making a list of durable or fruitful empirical findings and models from these disciplines. Particularly grand causal explanations or predictive models may not be any good because of the complexity of social phenomena, but the first order consequences of things like, say, institutional design or printing money or lowering trade barriers are pretty well covered by social science.

Since you won't waste your time writing about this, let me just give a general response to whatever you may say in xkcd comic form.
Seriously - first order term of changing a handful of market parameters after half the economy as research grant? How much money is that wasted, measured in MegaHubbles (10^6 times the cost of figuring out the first order derivative of the entire goddamn universe).

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Pfhorrest » Sun Oct 09, 2011 7:49 am UTC

philip1201 wrote:
The whole point is that it's not about predicting; prediction is descriptive. Prediction should still be done, by normal scientific means, but there also needs to be a focus on non-descriptive questions.

Then why do you say economists should abandon normal scientific means, if it's a necessary part of doing economics?

I didn't say scientific means are a necessary part of doing economics. I said scientific means are the best way of making predictions. I also said economics should not be in the business of simply making predictions, because that is just a descriptive activity, and economics has a function beyond merely describing what people do. The most unique and differentiating aspects of economics as a field are game theory, rational choice theory, etc, which are all about saying what it is rational to do given a certain scenario and a certain goal, without saying whether that scenario obtains or whether that goal should be pursued; a sort of proto-prescriptivity. If economics focused solely on predicting the behavior of actual people in actual markets, it would just be a branch of sociology focused on one particular aspect of society. What makes it unique is the part that is not focused on just factual description.

Unless you're referring to the infinite number of alternate logics which can't be disproved but simply don't seen to apply to our universe, there really is only one logic: mathematical logic.

There is no singular system of logical called "mathematical logic"; that is the branch of mathematics which studies systems of logic, of which there are many. For a brief overview of just a handful, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_logic#Formal_logical_systems.

And it isn't "descriptive": the logical consistency of the statements does remain true independent on whether it's applied to false assumptions, true assumptions, good, evil, green, bobcat-containingness, etc.

Agreed that logical consistency is independent of the nature of the propositions you're working on. What I mean by "descriptive" logic is that most systems of logic take a proposition formulated in them to be a statement (maybe a false one, maybe about color or felines, whatever) about some way that the world is. The most familiar of modal logics introduces operators for possibility and necessity and allows the formulation of statements that non-modal logics can't formalize: statements about ways the world must be or could be, without necessarily saying whether it is like that or not. There is also a class of deontic modal logics which allows formulation of statements about how things should be.

My proposed system is a deontic modal logic which places statements about how things are and how they should be on the same level of orthography; you write a formula representing a state of affairs, and then an operator on that formula either proposing that it is or proposing that it be. The only really unique thing about this is that it doesn't privilege descriptive propositions as the "default" ones: a prescriptive proposition is not an operation on a descriptive proposition, both descriptive and prescriptive propositions are operations on gerund states-of-affairs. Roughly put in natural language, instead of saying "be it the case that all men are kind", a prescriptive wrapper of "be it the case that" around a descriptive proposition of "all men are kind", you just say "be all men kind".

The most logic can do is show whether something is consistent or inconsistent, with itself or with mathematics in general. However, this doesn't make the model "valid" by any meaningful definition of the word.

It makes it "valid" in the sense used of arguments, in contrast to "cogent" or "sound". A valid argument is one whose conclusions logically follow from its premises, whether or not those premises or the conclusion are true. For instance, "All asteroids are yellow; my pencil is an asteroid; therefore, my pencil is yellow" is valid, despite that most asteroids are not yellow, my pencil is definitely not an asteroid, and my pencil is not yellow. "All asteroids should be yellow; my pencil should be an asteroid; therefore, my pencil should be yellow" is also valid, despite those premises and conclusion being equally incorrect. "All asteroids being yellow and my pencil being an asteroid entails my pencil being yellow" is logically true because it formulates the gerund form of a valid argument; of that valid chain of logic, we can say of the things it talks about either that they are true or that they are good, if we like (and be correct or incorrect on the grounds of whatever criteria by which descriptive and prescriptive propositions are respectively to be judged).

The description of the universe as a five-dimensional hypercube is perfectly "valid". It's just factually false, morally neutral, not particularly green and probably devoid of bobcats.

Precisely my point. We can come up with consistent models of ways the world may or may not be, without saying of the things depicted in them that they are either true or good. Then we can say, separately, that those things are true, or that those things are good.

So after millennia of philosophy applied to everything and slow advancement of economics and knowledge, and after centuries of science applied to the physical world with great success, the time has come to pick between philosophy and science to revitalize the field of economics, and you choose... philosophy. This is kind of the same as what we did previously, so to spice things up this time you'll be using... logic. And because science is so unfit for this job, the largest change you'll bring to the field will be... information-gathering and mathematical modeling. Are you sure you aren't just proposing to use science?


No. I am saying that the physical sciences are the greatest thing ever to come out of philosophy, that their success demonstrates this; but that they leave half the questions unanswered, with people still groping around in the dark and making shit up on those subjects. I am saying that we need to look at what makes the physical sciences so great at answering descriptive questions, and learn from that to devise an equally great method of answering prescriptive questions. But that what we shouldn't do is pretend that answering enough descriptive questions will give us answers to the prescriptive ones, and we shouldn't ignore the prescriptive ones to be settled only by personal whim, any more than we should the descriptive ones. They are both equally important kinds of questions and they deserve the same kind of rigor and dedication.

In contrast, you seem to be saying that descriptive questions are the only ones worth investigating, and that when it comes to prescriptive questions we should all just go with our gut. So when some sociopath kills your family and you want him held accountable for that, your reasoning behind that demand is the simple description of fact that that "evolution has lead to me feeling displeasure at deaths in my kin-group and an impulse for retribution upon the perpetrators of such", or just an expression of emotion "grrr philip mad! no kill family!"; not some kind of argument for why what he did was actually wrong?

Also, as hedonists have been desperately trying to explain the rest of the world for the past 2300 years: hedonism doesn't deny the existence of altruism: you don't need to justify everything as benefiting the acting individual.

I think you misunderstood me somewhere; I am quite explicitly a hedonistic altruist. I mentioned "hedonistic morality" in analogue to "empirical reality"; that is to say, "what is good by the standard of what hurts or feels nice" (to anybody, not anyone in particular), in analogue to "what is true by the standard of what can or can't be observed" (by anybody, not anyone in particular).

That's a non sequitur: You gave no reason why things which underlie desires couldn't conflict, not in a single human being, let alone a group of people. Observations don't conflict because they are produced by an objective system: reality.


Observations cannot conflict with each other, in principle; there is no such possible thing as a group of observations inconsistent with each other, only with a model. If I could stick you in a virtual reality machine and feed you random observables at a whim, feed you something incoherent and nonsensical completely unlike what we observe in reality, the most you would really be justified in saying is "I have no model which is consistent with all these observations"; not even that "there is no model", just that you are not aware of one. The observations themselves are neither consistent or inconsistent with each other; they are just data-points. It is the curve you attempt to plot against them which they may or may not be consistent with.

Likewise, appetites are just data-points. Finding a curve which fits them all might be very hard. But it's taken us millennia to get to a point where the data points from all the various physical sciences are (at least in principle) reducible to some rather simple curves (those of physics). For a long time we've had to have lots of ad-hoc theories patched together at the seams with holes cut in them for oddly-shaped protrusions to fit all the data. I suspect that will be the case with ethical sciences as well. But we can never conclude that there definitely is no general model of what should be which will satisfy all these particular hedonistic data-points of what should be. We can never conclude that there definitely is, either, not until we find one at least. We can only assume either direction. To assume there is no model is to give up trying to find one, so if we are to try to find one -- if we are to try to satisfy everyone's appetites, to figure out what is good by this hedonistic-altruistic standard -- then we are acting on the tacit assumption that there is such a thing.

1) You state that in science no theory is wrong until it's been proven. However, we discount every theory which can't be proved wrong out of hand, use Occam's razor to dismiss complications of the same theory (default is simple), and never treat an unverified theory as we would a verified one. Theories can be classified as the untested, where the qualifications of truth and falsehood are not applicable because no observation has been made (only logical consistency can be checked), and the tested, where their truth or falsehood is dependent on statistical analysis of experiments. (factual assessment)

I said that any theory is permissible until it's proven wrong, but that consequentially no theory is obligatory until its negation is proven wrong. So say Bob Crackpot comes up with a random theory (a genuine, falsifiable theory) and there's no evidence against it, but he doesn't really have any evidence against any other existing theory either; ok, so Bob can keep believing his pet theory, but nobody else has to abandon theirs for his either. Science operates on falsification: nobody changes their mind until they're proven wrong, but nobody gets to say "you disagree with me therefore you're wrong!" either. If somehow we had two different theories equally compatible with the evidence and equally popular, and no way to test which of their differing predictions came true yet, neither side would have any merit in claiming the other was wrong, yet.

1a) In the scientific method, it doesn't matter whether you call untested theories true or false. In ethics, however, it matters a great deal. Therefore, the cases aren't analogous at all.

The ethical analogue of an "untested theory" is a course of action whose consequences on the appetites of others are not known. Analogously to science's approach to untested theories, my ethics says of such actions "maybe, I guess, if you want to, we'll see how it turns out". It says neither "yes, that should be done" nor "no, don't do that"; it just shuts up until the implications are evident and then comments on it at that point. That is precisely why liberty falls out of this analogy: the "law" is silent on matters not known to cause harm, tacitly allowing anything until it can be shown to be wrong. And just as scientific theories are never proven, they are only disproven, untested, or at best not-disproven-and-strongly-suggested, so too the "law" never obliges any action, only forbids, permits, or encourages them.

2) Theories aren't subjectively held. Sure people may expect one theory to be correct and another false, but this has no impact on their actual standing. (factual assessment)

Last I checked there is no official Government of Science which decrees by fiat which theories are sufficiently proven or not; we got rid of such a thing as "official truth" in the Dark Ages. Each individual scientist checks the evidence and if necessary repeats the experiment and accepts or rejects the results for his or herself. Consensus only arises because we have agreement on what standards by which to judge evidence. That agreement didn't fall out of nowhere; it was the work of philosophers like Francis Bacon making strong, persuasive arguments about why we should use those standards.

3) Interpretations of the best course of action aren't analogous to theories (doubt of trivially made statement).
4) Strategies towards achieving the best results aren't analogous to theories (doubt of trivially made statement).

I'm using "strategy" and "interpretation of the best course of action" synonymously here, and I suppose I am using "strategy" in a slightly technical sense. The analogy is this:
- a theory is a mathematical model of how facts relate to each other, a function by which to string a series of facts together; it is proposed to explain a given set of facts, and judged correct or incorrect by how well it explains those facts without contradicting other given facts.
- a strategy is a mathematical model of how ends relate to each other (as in game theory), a function by which to string a series of ends together; it is proposed to achieve a given set of ends, and judged correct or incorrect by how well it achieves those ends without contradicting other given ends.

5) You're stating that casually adopted ethical systems are likely not to cause harm.

No, I'm stating that we have no grounds on which to assume a given course of action will cause harm until it can be shown to cause harm. That doesn't mean we should adopt that course of action for ourselves; just that we have no grounds to deny others the freedom to do so, unless we can find something wrong with it. "I wouldn't do that" is not a good reason, any more than "I disagree" is a good argument against someone of differing beliefs. You don't have to adopt their beliefs, but you have no grounds to insist they don't either, unless you have a good argument against them.

6) You're making a sudden distinction between contradicting someone else's appetites and allowing someone else's appetites to be contradicted.
6a) How do you justify this?
6b) Attempting to use your translation system back to factuality, this is like stating that there's a factual distinction between making a theory that contradicts an experiment, or allowing a theory to exist which contradicts an experiment. Both are an affront to science (actually the second one may be worse, because people are less likely to believe you with the first one), and both cause the same amount of falsehood to be believed. Within the analogy, it makes no sense. There's no reason why "harm to someone else" ~ "unexplained observation" while "harming someone" ~ "contradicting observation".


A theory may do one of three things with regard to a hypothetical observation: it may explain it, it may contradict it, or it may have nothing to say on the matter. Likewise, a strategy (a proposed course of action) may do one of three things with regard to a hypothetical appetite: it may satisfy it, it may contradict it, or it may have no impact on the matter.

For example, I may have a theory of ballistics which makes predictions about how a rock will fly through the air. If the rock lands where my theory predicted, then my theory has successfully explained the observation of the rock landing there. If the rock lands elsewhere than my theory predicted, then my theory has contradicted the observation and is therefore known to be wrong. If a bolt of lightning flashes while the rock is in flight... that has no impact on my theory. My theory can't tell you why that happened, that's not something my theory would have predicted, but it's not falsified by it, either, because my theory of ballistics does not set out to explain lightning strikes.

Likewise, I may have a plan to raise money to feed the local homeless. If the homeless get fed as a result of my actions, then my plan has successfully satisfied those appetites. If more people end up hurt or hungry as a result of my actions, then my plan has contradicted those appetites and is therefore known to be wrong. If homeless people are still dying of exposure in the next town over... that has no impact on my plan. My plan isn't about sheltering people over there, and the fact that people are still freezing to death has no bearing on whether my plan to feed the homeless here is right or not. That's what I mean by saying failure to satisfy appetites is not the same thing as contradicting appetites. My plan didn't make those people start freezing, and my plan isn't trying to address that problem, so them freezing has no bearing on the success or failure of my plan. Them freezing is still a problem calling for a solution (just like that bolt of lightning needs an explanation too); but that doesn't have any bearing on my proposed solution to a different problem.

Economics is the study of the economy - it's a profession. Why would they be the ones called upon to split up and do different things? Why wouldn't there be place for factually describing money flows? If you want your applied normative ethics, why not just call it that? With the free market as my witness, economics is a productive field (there isn't massive unemployment among economists).


Honestly, I'd like to call it just "ethics", by analogue to physics, which was once considered a branch of philosophy too, but no longer. However, that has connotations of all kinds of floofy speculative baseless argument about what "really" is right or wrong appealing only to people's intuitions. I say the only philosophical questions are metaethical ones to do with semantics, ontology, and epistemology, and a related question for political philosophy: what does it mean to say something is right or wrong, by what criteria do we measure the truth of such assertions, by what method do we apply those criteria to sort through such assertions, and who gets to apply that method? Actually enumerating substantial statements about what in particular is right or wrong is not for philosophy to do, any more than it's philosophy's place to enumerate statements of scientific fact: philosophy tells us why to listen to scientists about such statements, why their criteria and methods are correct, not which of their assertions are true; and I think it should do the same for ethical assertions.

I talk about economics being the field where this non-philosophical "ethics" should be done because economics is the field where game theory, rational choice theory, etc are studied, and those are the mathematical tools which, together with answers to the metaethical questions above, would allow an ethical science to be conducted.

Also, "speculative cosmology" (which really is just cosmology) is a very alive field of science, collecting 3/10 Nobel prizes in physics in the past decade and being the large end of the scale which Grand Unified Theories are attempting to sew together with the small end of the scale of the standard model. Cosmology and high energy particle accelerators are the two place in physics where theoretical physics can be tested.


By "speculative cosmology" I meant what people were doing before the advent of modern physical cosmology, back in the days of speculative (pre-analytic) philosophy. Theologians and pre-scientific philosophers idly speculating on what material the Celestial Spheres were made out of and bullshit like that.

A prescriptive science without observation or factual models of reality.

A prescriptive science paired with descriptive models of reality. The point is only that prescription should not be pushed aside in favor of pure description; not that description should be pushed aside itself.

One which assumes an objective morality.

Which you merely assume there is none of, giving up all hope of trying to find real solutions to moral problems, in favor of what, dry descriptions of facts together with gut instinct?

One which assumes that there is no conflict between the innermost desires of individuals, nor any conflict between the innermost desires of different individuals.

Not at all, desires may and do conflict; but so do beliefs about matters of fact. We have a method of reconciling conflicting beliefs and deciding which are wrong, which might be right, and how likely that is. And that method isn't simply "comparing them to objective reality", because those beliefs are about reality, so whose "reality" is the objective one? No, that method is about what we accept as evidence and how we compare those differing beliefs to that evidence. Why is it so ridiculous that there could be equally well justified standards about what to accept as justification for our desires and how to compare differing desires against such justifications?

I don't even think such standards are more far-fetched in acceptance than the empirical realism that underlies science. People were always empiricists about most things, they just weren't very rigorous about applying that standard instead of whatever took their fancy or whatever imposing authority figures told them. Likewise, I think most people will agree in principle that hurting people is wrong and if you're not hurting anyone you're not doing anything wrong; we're just really bad at rigorously judging actions just by that standard instead of by what we feel like or what the nice men with guns tell us to do.

One which simply deletes the current research field of economics.

Or moves it to a different field. Or moves the unique parts of economics out of economics into their own field if you really want, I don't really care, I just don't want those unique bits that make economics special lost in favor of dry sociological description of how humans in fact behave, and I'd like to see them greatly elaborated upon.

I admire the sentiment of a prescriptive science, but these limitations you demand of it aren't grounded in reality, they're grounded in morality. To be specific, yours.

Being grounded in morality (prescriptive) instead of reality (descriptive) is kind of the point. But morality is no more mine than reality, in that both apply to me as much as you; and the standard of judging morality I'm advocating is no more mine than the standards of the scientific method, in that I advocate both, but I'm not putting either forth as simply "because I say so".
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philip1201
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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby philip1201 » Sun Oct 09, 2011 9:31 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:I didn't say scientific means are a necessary part of doing economics. I said scientific means are the best way of making predictions. I also said economics should not be in the business of simply making predictions, because that is just a descriptive activity, and economics has a function beyond merely describing what people do. The most unique and differentiating aspects of economics as a field are game theory, rational choice theory, etc, which are all about saying what it is rational to do given a certain scenario and a certain goal, without saying whether that scenario obtains or whether that goal should be pursued; a sort of proto-prescriptivity. If economics focused solely on predicting the behavior of actual people in actual markets, it would just be a branch of sociology focused on one particular aspect of society. What makes it unique is the part that is not focused on just factual description.

Okay, so you didn't say it, but it's still true!
The knowledge what the rational thing to do is in a certain scenario with a certain goal is descriptive: it's a model of the economy with input parameters. It isn't proto-prescriptive except in that it's everything you need to do short of determining your goals and ethics (prescription) in order to know what action to take.

In the limit of the influence on the market of an individual going to zero, knowing what to do requires solely to know exactly how the market behaves without interference, and what you want to gain from it. Your behavior has no influence on the market. (< 0.001% market share)
As your influence grows, you get a first order derivative. Your demand affects prices through simple high school economics: a rise in demand means you have to pay more, but little else happens (<0.1% market share).
If you continue further influence grows, you get higher and higher order terms as your actions start affecting the market which affects your strategy, etc. However, determining what the result of your actions will be (and therefore whether it meets with your goals) is still a descriptive affair, just even more complex than just predicting the market without interference. But the extent of prescription is still nothing more than to find out what goals you want to reach. If you give prescriptive ethics a bigger role, then you'll simply reach your goal less efficiently.

Unless you're referring to the infinite number of alternate logics which can't be disproved but simply don't seen to apply to our universe, there really is only one logic: mathematical logic.

There is no singular system of logical called "mathematical logic"; that is the branch of mathematics which studies systems of logic, of which there are many. For a brief overview of just a handful, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_logic#Formal_logical_systems.

All listed systems of logic are derived from each other and/or are consistent with one another. They're all subsets of mathematical logic (and, as the article says, the dividing lines between each system of logic, and between each system of logic and mathematics in general, are vague).

What I mean by "descriptive" logic is that most systems of logic take a proposition formulated in them to be a statement (maybe a false one, maybe about color or felines, whatever) about some way that the world is. The most familiar of modal logics introduces operators for possibility and necessity and allows the formulation of statements that non-modal logics can't formalize: statements about ways the world must be or could be, without necessarily saying whether it is like that or not. There is also a class of deontic modal logics which allows formulation of statements about how things should be.

My proposed system is a deontic modal logic which places statements about how things are and how they should be on the same level of orthography; you write a formula representing a state of affairs, and then an operator on that formula either proposing that it is or proposing that it be. The only really unique thing about this is that it doesn't privilege descriptive propositions as the "default" ones: a prescriptive proposition is not an operation on a descriptive proposition, both descriptive and prescriptive propositions are operations on gerund states-of-affairs. Roughly put in natural language, instead of saying "be it the case that all men are kind", a prescriptive wrapper of "be it the case that" around a descriptive proposition of "all men are kind", you just say "be all men kind".

That is still a subset of logic, just with new axioms added defining certain functions. It's certainly new to me and interesting, but it's not a new kind of logic, or different from other logics. The other systems of logic aren't necessarily descriptive, they simply don't have the functions defined on them which makes them more efficiently describe certain elements.
As far as I know, descriptive statements are not favored in any kind of logic. I know no reason why this should be, so would you please explain how it is not.
While using this kind of logic is indeed not trivial, that's not something which satisfies my question how you would make sure it's functional in reality. Unless you're proposing that given everybody's appetites, a purely logical system would prescribe everybody's behavior (possibly asking for their desires again) and each individual could then follow the prescription and it would actually work, you're going to need more. Something to link it to reality, and define which statements should be, but can't be (bankers should be honest and transparent).

So after millennia of philosophy applied to everything and slow advancement of economics and knowledge, and after centuries of science applied to the physical world with great success, the time has come to pick between philosophy and science to revitalize the field of economics, and you choose... philosophy. This is kind of the same as what we did previously, so to spice things up this time you'll be using... logic. And because science is so unfit for this job, the largest change you'll bring to the field will be... information-gathering and mathematical modeling. Are you sure you aren't just proposing to use science?


No. I am saying that the physical sciences are the greatest thing ever to come out of philosophy, that their success demonstrates this; but that they leave half the questions unanswered, with people still groping around in the dark and making shit up on those subjects. I am saying that we need to look at what makes the physical sciences so great at answering descriptive questions, and learn from that to devise an equally great method of answering prescriptive questions. But that what we shouldn't do is pretend that answering enough descriptive questions will give us answers to the prescriptive ones, and we shouldn't ignore the prescriptive ones to be settled only by personal whim, any more than we should the descriptive ones. They are both equally important kinds of questions and they deserve the same kind of rigor and dedication.

That is matter of opinion. Answering descriptive questions makes prescriptive questions more basic, and makes the answers to prescriptive questions accurate, possible, more plentiful, and better. Uninformed decisions are wrong decisions. Powerless decisions have bad outcomes.
Furthermore, you haven't given a reason why something else than "personal whim" would exist.

In contrast, you seem to be saying that descriptive questions are the only ones worth investigating,


I'm not saying they're not worth investigating: any question which has not been proven unprovable (or proven unprovable to know if it's unprovable, etc.) is worth investigating. It's just not worth sending an army of economists into.

and that when it comes to prescriptive questions we should all just go with our gut. So when some sociopath kills your family and you want him held accountable for that, your reasoning behind that demand is the simple description of fact that that "evolution has lead to me feeling displeasure at deaths in my kin-group and an impulse for retribution upon the perpetrators of such", or just an expression of emotion "grrr philip mad! no kill family!"; not some kind of argument for why what he did was actually wrong?


Just because there is no objective morality, that doesn't mean we can't act like there is. The only legitimacy there could be is that which we define tautologically (much like the universe - there's no particular reason for this universe to be factual, except for that we experience it as such). "Actually wrong" is simply whatever humanity has defined as "wrong", or simply doesn't exist, depending on the definition. However, just like we discovered the universe is objective, we've discovered morality (the human feeling) has no such perspective. Since morality is a product of the brain, there's no reason for it to be objective either. I'll say that person is evil because that is an accurate term (within the public definition of evil) and my mental state would concur.

That's a non sequitur: You gave no reason why things which underlie desires couldn't conflict, not in a single human being, let alone a group of people. Observations don't conflict because they are produced by an objective system: reality.


Observations cannot conflict with each other, in principle; there is no such possible thing as a group of observations inconsistent with each other, only with a model. If I could stick you in a virtual reality machine and feed you random observables at a whim, feed you something incoherent and nonsensical completely unlike what we observe in reality, the most you would really be justified in saying is "I have no model which is consistent with all these observations"; not even that "there is no model", just that you are not aware of one. The observations themselves are neither consistent or inconsistent with each other; they are just data-points. It is the curve you attempt to plot against them which they may or may not be consistent with.
Likewise, appetites are just data-points.

That is still not an argument.

Finding a curve which fits them all might be very hard. But it's taken us millennia to get to a point where the data points from all the various physical sciences are (at least in principle) reducible to some rather simple curves (those of physics). For a long time we've had to have lots of ad-hoc theories patched together at the seams with holes cut in them for oddly-shaped protrusions to fit all the data. I suspect that will be the case with ethical sciences as well. But we can never conclude that there definitely is no general model of what should be which will satisfy all these particular hedonistic data-points of what should be. We can never conclude that there definitely is, either, not until we find one at least. We can only assume either direction. To assume there is no model is to give up trying to find one, so if we are to try to find one -- if we are to try to satisfy everyone's appetites, to figure out what is good by this hedonistic-altruistic standard -- then we are acting on the tacit assumption that there is such a thing.


This is why I am so frustrated by philosophers. They use words to hide, rather than to reveal. In this case, you use "appetites", a supposed underlying objective and non-conflicting form of desire, to distract from the still unsolved problem of conflicting desires. You claim without evidence that all desires come from non-conflicting appetites, and when asked to back that up you go :mrgreen: nope: this isn't a descriptive issue :mrgreen: . People want things. Things others have, and things others must pay for to provide. This is a fact. Your moral vocabulary is so constructed that you can't ask the simple question "How do you determine who gets something if people have different reasons for it?". Your moral vocabulary is so muddled, that you can't see the difference between prescription and description and asking any question about how the bridge is gapped results in a reference to the other. Say that it doesn't make sense two situations are analogous, and you get warped definitions of the two situations so they contain the same sentence structure but different words, all of which are assumed analogous without further reason.

2) Theories aren't subjectively held. Sure people may expect one theory to be correct and another false, but this has no impact on their actual standing. (factual assessment)

Last I checked there is no official Government of Science which decrees by fiat which theories are sufficiently proven or not; we got rid of such a thing as "official truth" in the Dark Ages. Each individual scientist checks the evidence and if necessary repeats the experiment and accepts or rejects the results for his or herself. Consensus only arises because we have agreement on what standards by which to judge evidence. That agreement didn't fall out of nowhere; it was the work of philosophers like Francis Bacon making strong, persuasive arguments about why we should use those standards.

You may compile the error margins on every experiment concerning the test of every theory or model, and therefrom gain an objective standard of how likely something is true or how large the error margins are. There is no personal judgment involved.



6) You're making a sudden distinction between contradicting someone else's appetites and allowing someone else's appetites to be contradicted.
6a) How do you justify this?
6b) Attempting to use your translation system back to factuality, this is like stating that there's a factual distinction between making a theory that contradicts an experiment, or allowing a theory to exist which contradicts an experiment. Both are an affront to science (actually the second one may be worse, because people are less likely to believe you with the first one), and both cause the same amount of falsehood to be believed. Within the analogy, it makes no sense. There's no reason why "harm to someone else" ~ "unexplained observation" while "harming someone" ~ "contradicting observation".


A theory may do one of three things with regard to a hypothetical observation: it may explain it, it may contradict it, or it may have nothing to say on the matter. Likewise, a strategy (a proposed course of action) may do one of three things with regard to a hypothetical appetite: it may satisfy it, it may contradict it, or it may have no impact on the matter.

For example, I may have a theory of ballistics which makes predictions about how a rock will fly through the air. If the rock lands where my theory predicted, then my theory has successfully explained the observation of the rock landing there. If the rock lands elsewhere than my theory predicted, then my theory has contradicted the observation and is therefore known to be wrong. If a bolt of lightning flashes while the rock is in flight... that has no impact on my theory. My theory can't tell you why that happened, that's not something my theory would have predicted, but it's not falsified by it, either, because my theory of ballistics does not set out to explain lightning strikes.

Likewise, I may have a plan to raise money to feed the local homeless. If the homeless get fed as a result of my actions, then my plan has successfully satisfied those appetites. If more people end up hurt or hungry as a result of my actions, then my plan has contradicted those appetites and is therefore known to be wrong. If homeless people are still dying of exposure in the next town over... that has no impact on my plan. My plan isn't about sheltering people over there, and the fact that people are still freezing to death has no bearing on whether my plan to feed the homeless here is right or not. That's what I mean by saying failure to satisfy appetites is not the same thing as contradicting appetites. My plan didn't make those people start freezing, and my plan isn't trying to address that problem, so them freezing has no bearing on the success or failure of my plan. Them freezing is still a problem calling for a solution (just like that bolt of lightning needs an explanation too); but that doesn't have any bearing on my proposed solution to a different problem.

What you're describing here is a descriptive test of what the effect of feeding the local homeless is. What the effect of feeding the homeless is is a factual matter. Whether it's ethically justified to allow the homeless in the next village over has not been addressed in the slightest - the only thing that has been done is that evidence has been gathered that feeding the homeless in a town will not alleviate the situation in another town. A factual inverse correlation has been found between local homeless food supplies and your personal food supplies.

Economics is the study of the economy - it's a profession. Why would they be the ones called upon to split up and do different things? Why wouldn't there be place for factually describing money flows? If you want your applied normative ethics, why not just call it that? With the free market as my witness, economics is a productive field (there isn't massive unemployment among economists).


Honestly, I'd like to call it just "ethics", by analogue to physics, which was once considered a branch of philosophy too, but no longer. However, that has connotations of all kinds of floofy speculative baseless argument about what "really" is right or wrong appealing only to people's intuitions.

How on earth did that happen?
So to explain why you said economics turn into ethics (and economists into ethicists) - it's because you don't like ethics being called ethics. That is quite a disappointing reason.

I say the only philosophical questions are metaethical ones to do with semantics, ontology, and epistemology, and a related question for political philosophy: what does it mean to say something is right or wrong, by what criteria do we measure the truth of such assertions, by what method do we apply those criteria to sort through such assertions, and who gets to apply that method? Actually enumerating substantial statements about what in particular is right or wrong is not for philosophy to do, any more than it's philosophy's place to enumerate statements of scientific fact: philosophy tells us why to listen to scientists about such statements, why their criteria and methods are correct, not which of their assertions are true; and I think it should do the same for ethical assertions.

I talk about economics being the field where this non-philosophical "ethics" should be done because economics is the field where game theory, rational choice theory, etc are studied, and those are the mathematical tools which, together with answers to the metaethical questions above, would allow an ethical science to be conducted.


You know what would allow an ethical science to be conducted? Something to start with. If I try to say something, I'll get jumbled up in your terminological pitfalls, so I can't be more specific (I've said this before but your analogies just ransacked my argument and hid all the problems).

A prescriptive science without observation or factual models of reality.

A prescriptive science paired with descriptive models of reality. The point is only that prescription should not be pushed aside in favor of pure description; not that description should be pushed aside itself.

Then you have nothing to worry about for economics.

One which assumes an objective morality.

Which you merely assume there is none of, giving up all hope of trying to find real solutions to moral problems, in favor of what, dry descriptions of facts together with gut instinct?

Occam's razor. Objective morality is a set of objective laws, and therefore requires more laws than subjective morality, which requires none.
Dry description of fact is what reality is. Also, my gut tells me it's quite awesome. (and gut instinct implies simplicity, thoughtlessness and barbarism. That's quite unnecessary).

One which assumes that there is no conflict between the innermost desires of individuals, nor any conflict between the innermost desires of different individuals.

Not at all, desires may and do conflict; but so do beliefs about matters of fact. We have a method of reconciling conflicting beliefs and deciding which are wrong, which might be right, and how likely that is. And that method isn't simply "comparing them to objective reality", because those beliefs are about reality, so whose "reality" is the objective one? No, that method is about what we accept as evidence and how we compare those differing beliefs to that evidence. Why is it so ridiculous that there could be equally well justified standards about what to accept as justification for our desires and how to compare differing desires against such justifications?

I don't even think such standards are more far-fetched in acceptance than the empirical realism that underlies science. People were always empiricists about most things, they just weren't very rigorous about applying that standard instead of whatever took their fancy or whatever imposing authority figures told them. Likewise, I think most people will agree in principle that hurting people is wrong and if you're not hurting anyone you're not doing anything wrong; we're just really bad at rigorously judging actions just by that standard instead of by what we feel like or what the nice men with guns tell us to do.


What I meant with "innermost desires" was your blissfully undefined appetites. I was referring to your assumption that beneath it all is a list of non-conflicting elements of the human psyche.
It's relatively ridiculous because it has no justification in reality but you're already preaching it like it's true, and because in all of your philosophical obfuscation I haven't read a glimmer of a possibility of how to create a framework to write models which determine which action to take with any common moral problem.

Sure, everybody agrees that it's bad to hurt someone. However, it starts becoming difficult when you give people a reason to hurt people. Then you can start measuring how much people dislike hurting people. And that's annoyingly subjective.

One which simply deletes the current research field of economics.

Or moves it to a different field. Or moves the unique parts of economics out of economics into their own field if you really want, I don't really care, I just don't want those unique bits that make economics special lost in favor of dry sociological description of how humans in fact behave, and I'd like to see them greatly elaborated upon.

It's called ECONOMICS :evil: . You're asking economics to give up their name for the ethical philosophers so the economists can keep on doing economics somewhere else.
Seriously, this is not consistent with the implication of your original statement.

I admire the sentiment of a prescriptive science, but these limitations you demand of it aren't grounded in reality, they're grounded in morality. To be specific, yours.

Being grounded in morality (prescriptive) instead of reality (descriptive) is kind of the point. But morality is no more mine than reality, in that both apply to me as much as you; and the standard of judging morality I'm advocating is no more mine than the standards of the scientific method, in that I advocate both, but I'm not putting either forth as simply "because I say so".

And there we have it. It's an unprovable tautological ethical system based on your own morality which you claim to be universal and objective.


To summarize:
If I'm correct you're not actually telling economists to do anything differently. You simply wish there would be more attention paid to ethics, specifically the kind of ethics you expect to be correct. You said economics should become like ethics because you don't want your ethical theory to be associated with ethical theories and hoped the name change would solve your problems.
I still don't believe the analogy between science and your ethics can be so simply made, and implore you to provide evidence your ethical science is correct, without resorting to analogy with science, because any wordsmith can make situations sound the same. It's a common philosophical tactic of obfuscation.
I defend subjectivism by arguing from the principle that given nothing matters, the feeling something matters is as good as anything. Because this principle assumes no alternative method of ethics exists, it is the default position of ethics.
I express my frustration at the apparent lack of problems being solved, stating they are instead hidden away behind terminology and analogy, and ask that you make clear how you would expect ethical problems to be solved, since I don't have confidence your current framework could solve basic tasks.

top1214
Posts: 29
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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby top1214 » Mon Oct 10, 2011 6:25 pm UTC

philip1201 wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:I didn't say scientific means are a necessary part of doing economics. I said scientific means are the best way of making predictions. I also said economics should not be in the business of simply making predictions, because that is just a descriptive activity, and economics has a function beyond merely describing what people do. The most unique and differentiating aspects of economics as a field are game theory, rational choice theory, etc, which are all about saying what it is rational to do given a certain scenario and a certain goal, without saying whether that scenario obtains or whether that goal should be pursued; a sort of proto-prescriptivity. If economics focused solely on predicting the behavior of actual people in actual markets, it would just be a branch of sociology focused on one particular aspect of society. What makes it unique is the part that is not focused on just factual description.

Okay, so you didn't say it, but it's still true!
The knowledge what the rational thing to do is in a certain scenario with a certain goal is descriptive: it's a model of the economy with input parameters. It isn't proto-prescriptive except in that it's everything you need to do short of determining your goals and ethics (prescription) in order to know what action to take.

In the limit of the influence on the market of an individual going to zero, knowing what to do requires solely to know exactly how the market behaves without interference, and what you want to gain from it. Your behavior has no influence on the market. (< 0.001% market share)
As your influence grows, you get a first order derivative. Your demand affects prices through simple high school economics: a rise in demand means you have to pay more, but little else happens (<0.1% market share).
If you continue further influence grows, you get higher and higher order terms as your actions start affecting the market which affects your strategy, etc. However, determining what the result of your actions will be (and therefore whether it meets with your goals) is still a descriptive affair, just even more complex than just predicting the market without interference. But the extent of prescription is still nothing more than to find out what goals you want to reach. If you give prescriptive ethics a bigger role, then you'll simply reach your goal less efficiently.

Unless you're referring to the infinite number of alternate logics which can't be disproved but simply don't seen to apply to our universe, there really is only one logic: mathematical logic.

There is no singular system of logical called "mathematical logic"; that is the branch of mathematics which studies systems of logic, of which there are many. For a brief overview of just a handful, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_logic#Formal_logical_systems.

All listed systems of logic are derived from each other and/or are consistent with one another. They're all subsets of mathematical logic (and, as the article says, the dividing lines between each system of logic, and between each system of logic and mathematics in general, are vague).

What I mean by "descriptive" logic is that most systems of logic take a proposition formulated in them to be a statement (maybe a false one, maybe about color or felines, whatever) about some way that the world is. The most familiar of modal logics introduces operators for possibility and necessity and allows the formulation of statements that non-modal logics can't formalize: statements about ways the world must be or could be, without necessarily saying whether it is like that or not. There is also a class of deontic modal logics which allows formulation of statements about how things should be.

My proposed system is a deontic modal logic which places statements about how things are and how they should be on the same level of orthography; you write a formula representing a state of affairs, and then an operator on that formula either proposing that it is or proposing that it be. The only really unique thing about this is that it doesn't privilege descriptive propositions as the "default" ones: a prescriptive proposition is not an operation on a descriptive proposition, both descriptive and prescriptive propositions are operations on gerund states-of-affairs. Roughly put in natural language, instead of saying "be it the case that all men are kind", a prescriptive wrapper of "be it the case that" around a descriptive proposition of "all men are kind", you just say "be all men kind".

That is still a subset of logic, just with new axioms added defining certain functions. It's certainly new to me and interesting, but it's not a new kind of logic, or different from other logics. The other systems of logic aren't necessarily descriptive, they simply don't have the functions defined on them which makes them more efficiently describe certain elements.
As far as I know, descriptive statements are not favored in any kind of logic. I know no reason why this should be, so would you please explain how it is not.
While using this kind of logic is indeed not trivial, that's not something which satisfies my question how you would make sure it's functional in reality. Unless you're proposing that given everybody's appetites, a purely logical system would prescribe everybody's behavior (possibly asking for their desires again) and each individual could then follow the prescription and it would actually work, you're going to need more. Something to link it to reality, and define which statements should be, but can't be (bankers should be honest and transparent).

So after millennia of philosophy applied to everything and slow advancement of economics and knowledge, and after centuries of science applied to the physical world with great success, the time has come to pick between philosophy and science to revitalize the field of economics, and you choose... philosophy. This is kind of the same as what we did previously, so to spice things up this time you'll be using... logic. And because science is so unfit for this job, the largest change you'll bring to the field will be... information-gathering and mathematical modeling. Are you sure you aren't just proposing to use science?


No. I am saying that the physical sciences are the greatest thing ever to come out of philosophy, that their success demonstrates this; but that they leave half the questions unanswered, with people still groping around in the dark and making shit up on those subjects. I am saying that we need to look at what makes the physical sciences so great at answering descriptive questions, and learn from that to devise an equally great method of answering prescriptive questions. But that what we shouldn't do is pretend that answering enough descriptive questions will give us answers to the prescriptive ones, and we shouldn't ignore the prescriptive ones to be settled only by personal whim, any more than we should the descriptive ones. They are both equally important kinds of questions and they deserve the same kind of rigor and dedication.

That is matter of opinion. Answering descriptive questions makes prescriptive questions more basic, and makes the answers to prescriptive questions accurate, possible, more plentiful, and better. Uninformed decisions are wrong decisions. Powerless decisions have bad outcomes.
Furthermore, you haven't given a reason why something else than "personal whim" would exist.

In contrast, you seem to be saying that descriptive questions are the only ones worth investigating,


I'm not saying they're not worth investigating: any question which has not been proven unprovable (or proven unprovable to know if it's unprovable, etc.) is worth investigating. It's just not worth sending an army of economists into.

and that when it comes to prescriptive questions we should all just go with our gut. So when some sociopath kills your family and you want him held accountable for that, your reasoning behind that demand is the simple description of fact that that "evolution has lead to me feeling displeasure at deaths in my kin-group and an impulse for retribution upon the perpetrators of such", or just an expression of emotion "grrr philip mad! no kill family!"; not some kind of argument for why what he did was actually wrong?


Just because there is no objective morality, that doesn't mean we can't act like there is. The only legitimacy there could be is that which we define tautologically (much like the universe - there's no particular reason for this universe to be factual, except for that we experience it as such). "Actually wrong" is simply whatever humanity has defined as "wrong", or simply doesn't exist, depending on the definition. However, just like we discovered the universe is objective, we've discovered morality (the human feeling) has no such perspective. Since morality is a product of the brain, there's no reason for it to be objective either. I'll say that person is evil because that is an accurate term (within the public definition of evil) and my mental state would concur.

That's a non sequitur: You gave no reason why things which underlie desires couldn't conflict, not in a single human being, let alone a group of people. Observations don't conflict because they are produced by an objective system: reality.


Observations cannot conflict with each other, in principle; there is no such possible thing as a group of observations inconsistent with each other, only with a model. If I could stick you in a virtual reality machine and feed you random observables at a whim, feed you something incoherent and nonsensical completely unlike what we observe in reality, the most you would really be justified in saying is "I have no model which is consistent with all these observations"; not even that "there is no model", just that you are not aware of one. The observations themselves are neither consistent or inconsistent with each other; they are just data-points. It is the curve you attempt to plot against them which they may or may not be consistent with.
Likewise, appetites are just data-points.

That is still not an argument.

Finding a curve which fits them all might be very hard. But it's taken us millennia to get to a point where the data points from all the various physical sciences are (at least in principle) reducible to some rather simple curves (those of physics). For a long time we've had to have lots of ad-hoc theories patched together at the seams with holes cut in them for oddly-shaped protrusions to fit all the data. I suspect that will be the case with ethical sciences as well. But we can never conclude that there definitely is no general model of what should be which will satisfy all these particular hedonistic data-points of what should be. We can never conclude that there definitely is, either, not until we find one at least. We can only assume either direction. To assume there is no model is to give up trying to find one, so if we are to try to find one -- if we are to try to satisfy everyone's appetites, to figure out what is good by this hedonistic-altruistic standard -- then we are acting on the tacit assumption that there is such a thing.


This is why I am so frustrated by philosophers. They use words to hide, rather than to reveal. In this case, you use "appetites", a supposed underlying objective and non-conflicting form of desire, to distract from the still unsolved problem of conflicting desires. You claim without evidence that all desires come from non-conflicting appetites, and when asked to back that up you go :mrgreen: nope: this isn't a descriptive issue :mrgreen: . People want things. Things others have, and things others must pay for to provide. This is a fact. Your moral vocabulary is so constructed that you can't ask the simple question "How do you determine who gets something if people have different reasons for it?". Your moral vocabulary is so muddled, that you can't see the difference between prescription and description and asking any question about how the bridge is gapped results in a reference to the other. Say that it doesn't make sense two situations are analogous, and you get warped definitions of the two situations so they contain the same sentence structure but different words, all of which are assumed analogous without further reason.

2) Theories aren't subjectively held. Sure people may expect one theory to be correct and another false, but this has no impact on their actual standing. (factual assessment)

Last I checked there is no official Government of Science which decrees by fiat which theories are sufficiently proven or not; we got rid of such a thing as "official truth" in the Dark Ages. Each individual scientist checks the evidence and if necessary repeats the experiment and accepts or rejects the results for his or herself. Consensus only arises because we have agreement on what standards by which to judge evidence. That agreement didn't fall out of nowhere; it was the work of philosophers like Francis Bacon making strong, persuasive arguments about why we should use those standards.

You may compile the error margins on every experiment concerning the test of every theory or model, and therefrom gain an objective standard of how likely something is true or how large the error margins are. There is no personal judgment involved.



6) You're making a sudden distinction between contradicting someone else's appetites and allowing someone else's appetites to be contradicted.
6a) How do you justify this?
6b) Attempting to use your translation system back to factuality, this is like stating that there's a factual distinction between making a theory that contradicts an experiment, or allowing a theory to exist which contradicts an experiment. Both are an affront to science (actually the second one may be worse, because people are less likely to believe you with the first one), and both cause the same amount of falsehood to be believed. Within the analogy, it makes no sense. There's no reason why "harm to someone else" ~ "unexplained observation" while "harming someone" ~ "contradicting observation".


A theory may do one of three things with regard to a hypothetical observation: it may explain it, it may contradict it, or it may have nothing to say on the matter. Likewise, a strategy (a proposed course of action) may do one of three things with regard to a hypothetical appetite: it may satisfy it, it may contradict it, or it may have no impact on the matter.

For example, I may have a theory of ballistics which makes predictions about how a rock will fly through the air. If the rock lands where my theory predicted, then my theory has successfully explained the observation of the rock landing there. If the rock lands elsewhere than my theory predicted, then my theory has contradicted the observation and is therefore known to be wrong. If a bolt of lightning flashes while the rock is in flight... that has no impact on my theory. My theory can't tell you why that happened, that's not something my theory would have predicted, but it's not falsified by it, either, because my theory of ballistics does not set out to explain lightning strikes.

Likewise, I may have a plan to raise money to feed the local homeless. If the homeless get fed as a result of my actions, then my plan has successfully satisfied those appetites. If more people end up hurt or hungry as a result of my actions, then my plan has contradicted those appetites and is therefore known to be wrong. If homeless people are still dying of exposure in the next town over... that has no impact on my plan. My plan isn't about sheltering people over there, and the fact that people are still freezing to death has no bearing on whether my plan to feed the homeless here is right or not. That's what I mean by saying failure to satisfy appetites is not the same thing as contradicting appetites. My plan didn't make those people start freezing, and my plan isn't trying to address that problem, so them freezing has no bearing on the success or failure of my plan. Them freezing is still a problem calling for a solution (just like that bolt of lightning needs an explanation too); but that doesn't have any bearing on my proposed solution to a different problem.

What you're describing here is a descriptive test of what the effect of feeding the local homeless is. What the effect of feeding the homeless is is a factual matter. Whether it's ethically justified to allow the homeless in the next village over has not been addressed in the slightest - the only thing that has been done is that evidence has been gathered that feeding the homeless in a town will not alleviate the situation in another town. A factual inverse correlation has been found between local homeless food supplies and your personal food supplies.

Economics is the study of the economy - it's a profession. Why would they be the ones called upon to split up and do different things? Why wouldn't there be place for factually describing money flows? If you want your applied normative ethics, why not just call it that? With the free market as my witness, economics is a productive field (there isn't massive unemployment among economists).


Honestly, I'd like to call it just "ethics", by analogue to physics, which was once considered a branch of philosophy too, but no longer. However, that has connotations of all kinds of floofy speculative baseless argument about what "really" is right or wrong appealing only to people's intuitions.

How on earth did that happen?
So to explain why you said economics turn into ethics (and economists into ethicists) - it's because you don't like ethics being called ethics. That is quite a disappointing reason.

I say the only philosophical questions are metaethical ones to do with semantics, ontology, and epistemology, and a related question for political philosophy: what does it mean to say something is right or wrong, by what criteria do we measure the truth of such assertions, by what method do we apply those criteria to sort through such assertions, and who gets to apply that method? Actually enumerating substantial statements about what in particular is right or wrong is not for philosophy to do, any more than it's philosophy's place to enumerate statements of scientific fact: philosophy tells us why to listen to scientists about such statements, why their criteria and methods are correct, not which of their assertions are true; and I think it should do the same for ethical assertions.

I talk about economics being the field where this non-philosophical "ethics" should be done because economics is the field where game theory, rational choice theory, etc are studied, and those are the mathematical tools which, together with answers to the metaethical questions above, would allow an ethical science to be conducted.


You know what would allow an ethical science to be conducted? Something to start with. If I try to say something, I'll get jumbled up in your terminological pitfalls, so I can't be more specific (I've said this before but your analogies just ransacked my argument and hid all the problems).

A prescriptive science without observation or factual models of reality.

A prescriptive science paired with descriptive models of reality. The point is only that prescription should not be pushed aside in favor of pure description; not that description should be pushed aside itself.

Then you have nothing to worry about for economics.

One which assumes an objective morality.

Which you merely assume there is none of, giving up all hope of trying to find real solutions to moral problems, in favor of what, dry descriptions of facts together with gut instinct?

Occam's razor. Objective morality is a set of objective laws, and therefore requires more laws than subjective morality, which requires none.
Dry description of fact is what reality is. Also, my gut tells me it's quite awesome. (and gut instinct implies simplicity, thoughtlessness and barbarism. That's quite unnecessary).

One which assumes that there is no conflict between the innermost desires of individuals, nor any conflict between the innermost desires of different individuals.

Not at all, desires may and do conflict; but so do beliefs about matters of fact. We have a method of reconciling conflicting beliefs and deciding which are wrong, which might be right, and how likely that is. And that method isn't simply "comparing them to objective reality", because those beliefs are about reality, so whose "reality" is the objective one? No, that method is about what we accept as evidence and how we compare those differing beliefs to that evidence. Why is it so ridiculous that there could be equally well justified standards about what to accept as justification for our desires and how to compare differing desires against such justifications?

I don't even think such standards are more far-fetched in acceptance than the empirical realism that underlies science. People were always empiricists about most things, they just weren't very rigorous about applying that standard instead of whatever took their fancy or whatever imposing authority figures told them. Likewise, I think most people will agree in principle that hurting people is wrong and if you're not hurting anyone you're not doing anything wrong; we're just really bad at rigorously judging actions just by that standard instead of by what we feel like or what the nice men with guns tell us to do.


What I meant with "innermost desires" was your blissfully undefined appetites. I was referring to your assumption that beneath it all is a list of non-conflicting elements of the human psyche.
It's relatively ridiculous because it has no justification in reality but you're already preaching it like it's true, and because in all of your philosophical obfuscation I haven't read a glimmer of a possibility of how to create a framework to write models which determine which action to take with any common moral problem.

Sure, everybody agrees that it's bad to hurt someone. However, it starts becoming difficult when you give people a reason to hurt people. Then you can start measuring how much people dislike hurting people. And that's annoyingly subjective.

One which simply deletes the current research field of economics.

Or moves it to a different field. Or moves the unique parts of economics out of economics into their own field if you really want, I don't really care, I just don't want those unique bits that make economics special lost in favor of dry sociological description of how humans in fact behave, and I'd like to see them greatly elaborated upon.

It's called ECONOMICS :evil: . You're asking economics to give up their name for the ethical philosophers so the economists can keep on doing economics somewhere else.
Seriously, this is not consistent with the implication of your original statement.

I admire the sentiment of a prescriptive science, but these limitations you demand of it aren't grounded in reality, they're grounded in morality. To be specific, yours.

Being grounded in morality (prescriptive) instead of reality (descriptive) is kind of the point. But morality is no more mine than reality, in that both apply to me as much as you; and the standard of judging morality I'm advocating is no more mine than the standards of the scientific method, in that I advocate both, but I'm not putting either forth as simply "because I say so".

And there we have it. It's an unprovable tautological ethical system based on your own morality which you claim to be universal and objective.


To summarize:
If I'm correct you're not actually telling economists to do anything differently. You simply wish there would be more attention paid to ethics, specifically the kind of ethics you expect to be correct. You said economics should become like ethics because you don't want your ethical theory to be associated with ethical theories and hoped the name change would solve your problems.
I still don't believe the analogy between science and your ethics can be so simply made, and implore you to provide evidence your ethical science is correct, without resorting to analogy with science, because any wordsmith can make situations sound the same. It's a common philosophical tactic of obfuscation.
I defend subjectivism by arguing from the principle that given nothing matters, the feeling something matters is as good as anything. Because this principle assumes no alternative method of ethics exists, it is the default position of ethics.
I express my frustration at the apparent lack of problems being solved, stating they are instead hidden away behind terminology and analogy, and ask that you make clear how you would expect ethical problems to be solved, since I don't have confidence your current framework could solve basic tasks.


Instead of bobcat jokes, post contained serious discussion about economics. Would not read again.

The Mighty Thesaurus
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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby The Mighty Thesaurus » Mon Oct 10, 2011 9:13 pm UTC

Instead of adding anything useful to the discussion, poster just quoted a wall of text followed by a single line of unoriginal content.
LE4dGOLEM wrote:your ability to tell things from things remains one of your skills.
Weeks wrote:Not only can you tell things from things, you can recognize when a thing is a thing

Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam

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The Great Hippo
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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby The Great Hippo » Mon Oct 10, 2011 10:17 pm UTC

Would read again.

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Re: 0958: "Hotels"

Postby Kaiman » Tue Jan 10, 2012 9:52 pm UTC

The categorical imperative is right.

The hotel-reviewing liar is wrong.


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