Sunday, 28 July 2013

Roberto Unger & Hume's cat

   What's the difference between a fact and a value judgement? The answer, of course, is 'Miaow' - at least, if you ask my neighbor's cat.
   Suppose the cat to be speaking for Hume or Kant or Moore or some other such non-tabby. Let M be the set of all instantiations of Miaow meanings re. the fact value hiatus as cognized and received in a given decision context by Roberto Unger. The question arises, is there any fact, in that decision context, which, with some Bayesian probability, is also a value judgement? Suppose there is only one possible way the world can be such that a given fact is true iff a semantically identical deontic proposition is implemented. Here, the value judgement is the condition for the fact. Relaxing the assumption of only one possible world, we can get a Bayesian debate re. the probability that a value is a fact, based on the available M which is uniquely resolved for every Unger.
In this sense, Unger's M, for some given decision situation, includes the null element. Is it possible to classify all value judgments according to how close they come to the nearest possible fact? If so, M is well ordered provided values are. This suggests a relationship to stochastic dominance in inference based decision theory such that for some given 'value-aversion' or 'fact-aversion', we can devise a heuristic which has the effect of turning any value judgement into a factual statement with an 'error term' related to distance from the null element. In other words, if one fact is a value judgement and it is possible to rank value judgments according to how different they are from the 'closest possible' fact, then all value judgments are facts with a bigger or smaller error term and are, for any given degree of value aversion or adhesion, more or less stochastically dominated.

Another approach, which might converge on the above, is to think of Putnam fact/value entanglement as legitimating mixed strategy choice. In this case considerations of Evolutionary stability yield a ranking over M.

The good news is that we can now get rid of the cat's Miaow and the philosopher's message it encodes. Why? Well, how does it help us to keep pulling the tail of the cat and hearing it say Miaow? We can proceed in an ad hoc manner till, like the cat, we get bored and saunter off over the rooftops. One good reason to do so, is that the calculus of inference based stochastic dominance and/or the evolutionarily stability of mixed-strategies has the effect of cashing out Putnam fact/value entanglement as something more or less antinomian if not De Maistre's theory of sacrifice.

Unger, however, is not Hume or Kant or even Putnam. He believes in 
1) 'infinite personality'- not multiple personalities as arising from conflicting drives but infinite personality arising out of a sort of conatus of divine discontent- coz, obviously, we have infinite cognitive processing capacity and don't need to eat to fuel our brains which, magically, are totally hysteresis free and like always shortest path ergodic and able to bitchslap math till P=NP and other cool stuff of that sort. Unger is constrained to believe impossible things about our brains because he rejects ontological dysphoria as a possible expression of human freedom which, for some reason, has to feel at home in this world or else it won't get any pudding and be sent straight up to bed.
By contrast, I can believe I have low cognitive power in this world but 'infinite personality' across possible and impossible worlds- but this cashes out as not feeling at home in this world- that's ontological dysphoria- which Unger thinks is real, real bad and evil and will probably cause hair to grow on my palms and lead to blindness.
If it's 'wrong' to be ontologically dysphoric, you can throw away information about preferences while still pretending to be doing Democratic Social Choice- but that erases the fact/value distinction at the get go. This aint Philosophy, it's the Dictatorship of Prejudice.

2) some sort of 'real' Time which evolves and so isn't really many fingered and has no truck with that Possible Worlds bullshit- i.e. this is a brutalist 'anything goes' Presentism, wholly at odds with the fin de siecle, fin du globe, Proustian pathos of Bergsonian duration and which, as such, only attracts Tim Maudlin or Lee Smolin type Soft Left senile delinquents.
Essentially, in Unger's conception of Time, nothing inter-personal is conserved, Noether's theorem gains no purchase, so we know the system is dissipative- it throws away information. But, that's the same thing as erasing the fact/value distinction. But in that case Smolin, Woits et al needn't actually do any Physics to say String theory is not even wrong because human beings have no right way to agree something is wrong. Thus the only game in town is condemning a theory as ontologically dysphoric because it isn't dedicated to 'making itself at home in the World'- itself constrained to be Unger's moral gymnasium.

Still, on the basis of the above two premises, if Unger thinks the cat's miaow stands for his own theory, then does something real cool happen such that we get a genuinely prescriptive 'super-theory' out of just plain old pi-jaw?
One reason to think so is that, on Unger's assumptions, human passions are Divinized, while Time (that is Evolution that is hysteresis that is Ontological dysphoria) is  put firmly into a box marked 'don't open till Xmas- or else'. 
Thus the cat's Miaow is now the voice of that God who creates us and sustains us and to whom we return in death.
But only for Unger who, having successfully erased the fact/ value distinction, felt able to become the Minister for Strategic Corruption under Lula in Brazil and to hand out Govt. money to various random shitheads- not because it was fun or the optimal mixed strategy but because it was like EMPOWERING DEMOCRACY and finding a THIRD WAY and other such shite.
Still he came out against Obama in 2012, so at least we know he isn't Mormon.
The moral of this story is- don't waste your money on books by Harvard Professors who erase the fact value distinction. Cut out the middle-man! Just listen to your neighbor's cat. If only in this sense, it really is talking to you.

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