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Ships Passing in the Night, Reducing "Reduction," and "Hierarchical Dictionary"

Old Toad
OldToad
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Dallas, TX
Post #: 274
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Ships Passing in the Night, Reducing "Reduction," and "Hierarchical Dictionary"

Recently, Ahmad Hassan and Tom Miovas (we have two Toms) had a debate regarding "reduction."

At the end of that debate, Ahmad stated (probably reiterated) what he regarded the specific issue of the debate to be:

What is very troubling to me is that I was as EXPLICIT as I know how to be to make clear what I was doing in that argument. Again, I stated _explicitly_ that the primary question in dispute is what the Objectivist view of the nature of reduction IS, _NOT_ whether the Objectivist view is CORRECT.

As I came into part of the discussion in the middle (in person at "the Ranch"), I did not realize the formal limits on the debate that Ahmad had wanted to have. And, having joined the discussion in the middle, I do not know whether Tom Miovas had understood and agreed from the beginning to such a formal limit on the debate, but I do not think his responses were so limited.

This was a source of frustration to Ahmad.

I observe that debates too often end with such comments among some of our members.

I thought that perhaps I might be able to help moderate in this particular case if I could "reduce" the concept of the word "reduction" itself, which is the word at the heart of the debate, instead of us endlessly referring to Dr. Peikoff's example in OPAR of reducing the concept "friend."

In starting the process and searching various dictionary definitions for "reduction," it occurred to me it would be helpful to have one that was organized "hierarchically" instead of alphabetically. I "Googled" the keywords "hierarchical dictionary" and found one at http://www.wordnet-on...­ (I would expect there are others out there, but I started with this first one I came across.)

After playing around with it a little bit, I think such a "hierarchical dictionary" could help us resolve a lot of these "ships passing in the night" issues, perhaps before a discussion degenerates. For example, such a dictionary could help clarify the different senses of the noun "reduction." Tracing words up and down in such a "hierarchical dictionary" may help validate some concepts and identify the different senses in which we may be using the same words. Referring to the particular "hierarchical dictionary" noted above, for example, it states that "reduction" has three different senses, each of which "reduces" somewhat differently. Tom (and me, too) may be tending to the first sense, and Ahmad may be tending to the third sense presented in that hierarchical dictionary.

This by itself certainly does not resolve the substantive debate issue(s) between Ahmad and Tom Miovas or any of the side issues that came up between them, including whether or not Ahmad had first secured an agreement with Tom regarding the scope of the formal debate that Ahmad wanted to have. But I do think such an hierarchical dictionary would be an interesting and helpful resource for us all to have and consider in our discussions and in helping us make "reductions."

I hope this post does not make matters worse between Ahmad and Tom Miovas, but I think the underlying discussion is interesting to continue to discuss, if we could do so constructively, and that we all should make an effort to learn how to be clearer in our discussions.

-- Todd
Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 147
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Thanks for that link, I have a feeling this will come in handy in the near future. One of my great difficulties when discussing things in the past has been my vocabulary, which I've been working on, and it gets very frustrating when your trying to make a point and someone else is making a different point in rebuttal and it's becomes difficult to articulate enough to get the discussion back to where you think it should be. I'm usually correct, and who I'm talking to is correct, we're just talking about 2 different things.

- Travis
Hammad Hussain
user 2469690
San Marcos, TX
Post #: 39
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To Todd:

My problem with Tom's replies in the debate is NOT a matter of whether I "had first secured an agreement with Tom regarding the scope of the formal debate that [I] wanted to have." (I had never secured such an agreement.)

It is a matter of whether or not a debater addresses or answers the _actual argument_ offered by his opponent. To properly evaluate an opponent's argument, one must first be clear about what the argument IS. This means, one must clearly be able to identify the conclusion and the premises of the argument. It also helps to be able to identify some of the tacit premises behind the argument--unstated premises that are taken by one's opponent to be part of one's knowledge. (A typical argument, especially a complex, "higher-level" one, does not and _cannot_ explicitly name all of the premises.) This applies whether the argument is inductive or deductive. Failure to clearly identify what an opponent's argument IS, will result in an inappropriate response (which may include unjustified accusations of committing a fallacy, such as appeal to authority).

For example, suppose I quote various passages from Marx's _Capital_, passages which express the idea that history will _inevitably_ develop through a progression of certain economic systems and that no one can do anything to change this. Suppose, from that, I conclude that Marx was a determinist. An appropriate reply from my opponent would NOT be that I am committing the fallacy of appealing to authority because I am quoting Marx. Please observe that such a reply would NOT be justified even if I had not secured an agreement about the scope of the debate. Such a reply would indicate that my opponent had not bothered to clearly identify to himself what the argument IS (i.e. what its conclusion and premises are). Only if the conclusion of the argument were "So, determinism is true" (and not: "So, Marx was a determinist") could an accusation of appeal to authority be justified.

If my opponent does not think that what the argument is arguing _for_ is the important issue to dispute, there is a way of saying that. He can say, simply, "Whether your argument is conclusive or not, I don't think that the issue it addresses--Marx's position on free will vs. determinism--is the important one, and I think we should turn to the other issue of what the truth of the question of free will-vs.-determinism is." If my opponent does not agree that the issue addressed by an argument is the important one, that does _not_ justify him in carelessly misconstruing the argument, and hurling an unjustified accusation (such as that of appeal to authority).

Please observe that these demands I am making for conduct in a debate are not _arbitrary_ demands. They are part of the application of Aristotelian logic to a debate between two opponents. (As Objectivists, I presume that we accept Aristotelian logic.)

In regard to what IS an important issue in the debate on reduction, we should observe what the nature of studying someone else's ideas necessarily consists of. Whenever we study an idea developed and authored by someone other than us, we must be clear about what the idea IS before we can determine whether it is true or false. If there is any question about what the idea IS--what, specifically, the idea CLAIMS--that question must be answered before one can determine whether the idea is true or false. There is no way to determine whether the idea is true or false BEFORE one clearly knows what the idea CLAIMS. It makes no difference whether the idea is from a philosophy or scientific theory--whether it is from Platonism, Newtonian mechanics, Darwin's theory of natural selection, Marxism, Freud's theory of the "unconscious," Einstein's theory of general relativity--or Objectivism. There is no way to determine whether the Objectivist view of the nature of reduction is true or false BEFORE one clearly knows what the view IS.

In regard to continuing the debate on reduction, I have observed far too much evidence of Tom failing to respond to what I actually say or argue, and of putting words in my mouth (such as in one of his posts on the NTOS OPAR Discussion Group thread where he states that, according to me, we can disregard everything he says because he is not an Objectivist). I will agree to continue only so long as you, as moderator, can firmly be relied upon to consistently enforce logically appropriate conduct in the debate. Part of this is the demand of clarity of both opponents (including the clarity of what question is being addressed by an argument being offered). Another part of this is requiring that one respond to what one's opponent has _actually_ said or argued, and that if one disagrees that the issue addressed by an argument is the important one, one say so instead of misconstruing the opponent's argument. Engaging in such moderating, needless to say, will require work on your part.

Any debate over a theoretical issue--especially an abstract, technical one within an epistemology developed by someone else--requires the unflinching, uncompromising commitment to logically appropriate conduct within the debate. I can state from experience that anything less than that will cause the debate to degenerate into a farce.

--Ahmad Hassan


[Copy-edited, 8/17/06. -AH]
A former member
Post #: 46
There is something I am trying to understand here, and I guess it is my "principle behind the dean": Why do (some) people get so angry at me?

I mean, it's pretty wide spread and has happened on all the forums for which I have participated, discussions in person, and even at work. And it has happened for my entire life. I don't get it, and I am very frustrated by that.

I was able to continue the discussion about reduction and induction here because I was sent home early from work, due to an argument. I was trying to show my boss that doing something a certain way would lead to difficulties, I proved it inductively (I showed her what the problem was and that it was the nature of the method that would lead to that problem), and she got very angry at me and told me to leave. I thought she had fired me, but she called me up to tell me that I hadn't been fired and asked me to come back to work. I accepted, but she and I need to work a few things out -- and she doesn't like to argue, whereas I love to show someone that I am right.

Personally, I think the argument between Ahmad and myself degenerated when it wasn't clear what each of us meant by "reduction" -- and I think he should have stuck to that topic, rather than bringing up the nature of proof and whether someone could honestly call himself an Objectivist if he disagreed with Dr. Peikoff on the nature of proof (that all proofs are necessarily reductive). The relationship between reduction and proof is a side issue until we come to understand what "reduction" means.

My "flippancy" came about due to this frustration. And I didn't see the necessity of answering every one of Ahmad's points until the main one was resolved. Because it all hinges on what is "reduction" and I don't see that being resolved in the discussion articles by Ahmad.

However, I don't think that on-line dictionary resolves the issue, though it comes close; because for issues of a philosophic nature within a particular philosophy (i.e. Objectivism), I think using the Objectivists texts are much more germane. Dr. Peikoff gave a very succinct definition of "reduction," and I accept it because I haven't seen it presented any better anywhere else.

I'm still thinking through the relationship of "reduction"and "proof." If Ahmad, or someone else, can demonstrate that all proofs require reduction, then, OK, I will concede that point. But, so far, I'm sticking to what I have written regarding that relationship.
Old Toad
OldToad
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Dallas, TX
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I am glad to see the thoughtful responses by both Ahmad and Tom M. I hope I am not putting words in either of their mouths, but in summary I understand their respective lengthy responses as follows:


Ahmad --
1. In general, thinks discussions should be in the form of formal debate, with "unflinching, uncompromising commitment to logically appropriate conduct within the debate."
2. In particular, believed "the primary question in dispute is what the Objectivist view of the nature of reduction IS, NOT whether the Objectivist view is CORRECT."
3. Goes to Dr. Peikoff's "OPAR" book to demonstrate what he thinks is the Objectivist position regarding "reduction" (not his own position or whether or not it is correct).
4. Is frustrated because he feels Tom M. "does not address or answer the 'actual argument' offered by his opponent."
5. But now recognizes that he "had never secured such an agreement" regarding the particular issue he wanted to debate with Tom M.



Tom M. --
1. Wondered: "Why do (some) people get so angry at me?" (even after he "proves his argument inductively").
2. Wanted clarification of what each of Ahmad and Tom personally and respectively meant by "reduction" before addressing any other issues;
3. Says his flippancy to Ahmad was borne of frustration with Ahmad's not stating what he meant by "reduction" before addressing any other issues;
4. Continues to disagree with or misunderstands Ahmad's purpose in going to the OPAR text regarding "reduction" as being an "appeal to authority," but goes to OPAR for his own purpose of defining what he thinks it means;
5. Suggests that Ahmad needs to "improve [his] skills regarding going to the facts to validate [his] position" ... "rather than being a keeper of history."


Would each of Ahmad and Tom M. briefly (in 500 words or less) comment on whether or not I have correctly understood his respective position as it was stated above on this thread only?

To be clear, I only want affirmations or specific, cogent corrections. I do not want lengthy restatements or elaborations. I do not want any comment in response to the other, but only directly to me and only in direct response to my particular question here. I want to verify that I fairly understand what each one has said on this discussion thread and give each an opportunity to have any misunderstanding on my part corrected.

And yes, I mean 500 words or less -- preferably much less. Make a point, not a dissertation.

-- Todd
Hammad Hussain
user 2469690
San Marcos, TX
Post #: 40
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To Todd:

The corrected list for me would read:

Ahmad--

1. In general, thinks discussions involving disagreements should be in the form of a disciplined debate, with "unflinching, uncompromising commitment to logically appropriate conduct within the debate."

2. In particular, believes "the primary question in dispute is what the Objectivist view of the nature of reduction IS, NOT whether the Objectivist view is CORRECT." Only AFTER we are clear about what the Objectivist view IS can we determine whether the Objectivist view is CORRECT.

3. Goes to Dr. Peikoff's "OPAR" book (and other Objectivist literature/lectures) to demonstrate what he thinks is the Objectivist position regarding "reduction" (not his own position or whether or not it is correct).

4. Is frustrated because he is convinced Tom M., as a result of careless listening or reading, often "does not address or answer the 'actual argument' offered by his opponent" and sometimes puts words in his opponent's mouth and/or hurls at the opponent unjustified accusations of committing a fallacy. Ahmad considers this to show serious incompetence in debating on Tom M.'s part.

5. Knew all along that he "had never secured such an agreement" regarding the particular issue he wanted to debate with Tom M., but does not consider that, in any way whatsoever, a justification for Tom M. to misconstrue an argument (fail to clearly identify its conclusion and premises) and hurl against it an unjustified accusation of committing a fallacy.


Notes:

For Item 1: A "formal debate" is what you observe in high-school and college debate clubs, where there is a moderator, a pre-defined format of definite time slots, pre-defined terms, etc. This is not what I advocate for _every_ discussion, or even every discussion that involves a disagreement.

For Item 4: "Feels" is not the correct verb for this statement. It refers to a position based on actual, solid evidence.

For Item 5: If necessary, please re-read my last post on this thread, particularly the example of an argument based on quotations from Marx. I think that post expresses what the _revised_ Item 5 (above) states.


--Ahmad Hassan


[Edited on 8/17/06.-AH]
A former member
Post #: 47

Tom M. --
1. Wondered: "Why do (some) people get so angry at me?" (even after he "proves his argument inductively").
2. Wanted clarification of what each of Ahmad and Tom personally and respectively meant by "reduction" before addressing any other issues;
3. Says his flippancy to Ahmad was borne of frustration with Ahmad's not stating what he meant by "reduction" before addressing any other issues;
4. Continues to disagree with or misunderstands Ahmad's purpose in going to the OPAR text regarding "reduction" as being an "appeal to authority," but goes to OPAR for his own purpose of defining what he thinks it means;
5. Suggests that Ahmad needs to "improve [his] skills regarding going to the facts to validate [his] position" ... "rather than being a keeper of history."

I think this is a good summary.



Going in that direction (up the hierarchy instead of down the hierarchy), shows me that he doesn't grasp the concept "reduction," nor does he use the process. One does not show what "reduction" means by going to "proof" and then to "Objectivism."

It would be like someone asking, "What is a power steering unit?" and the answer he receives is: "It's a manufactured item." OK, but what does that mean? "Well, it's an aspect of capitalism." To which the person asking the question says, "Look, I just want to know what a power steering unit is." To which he gets the reply: "All of capitalism works together to make the economy run smoothly; and if you don't understand that then you must be a communist!"

That's the way I see it.
Old Toad
OldToad
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I have a busy day getting ready to host one of our NTOS social gatherings tonight. If both Ahmad and Tom M. would hold their horses, I will try to make a constructive step in moderating this discussion tomorrow or Monday night at the latest.

-- Todd
Santiago Valenzue...
sanjavalen
Dallas, TX
Post #: 106
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Gentlemen, if I may interject (as I am wont to do):


Tom M. --
1. Wondered: "Why do (some) people get so angry at me?" (even after he "proves his argument inductively").
2. Wanted clarification of what each of Ahmad and Tom personally and respectively meant by "reduction" before addressing any other issues;
3. Says his flippancy to Ahmad was borne of frustration with Ahmad's not stating what he meant by "reduction" before addressing any other issues;
4. Continues to disagree with or misunderstands Ahmad's purpose in going to the OPAR text regarding "reduction" as being an "appeal to authority," but goes to OPAR for his own purpose of defining what he thinks it means;
5. Suggests that Ahmad needs to "improve [his] skills regarding going to the facts to validate [his] position" ... "rather than being a keeper of history."

I think this is a good summary.



Going in that direction (up the hierarchy instead of down the hierarchy), shows me that he doesn't grasp the concept "reduction," nor does he use the process. One does not show what "reduction" means by going to "proof" and then to "Objectivism."

It would be like someone asking, "What is a power steering unit?" and the answer he receives is: "It's a manufactured item." OK, but what does that mean? "Well, it's an aspect of capitalism." To which the person asking the question says, "Look, I just want to know what a power steering unit is." To which he gets the reply: "All of capitalism works together to make the economy run smoothly; and if you don't understand that then you must be a communist!"

That's the way I see it.

I believe thats just an unconfirmed premise.

The validation, as far as I know, for reduction is that the only thing that we can consider self-evident is the perceptual. Thus, in order to "build up" to more complex (valid) concepts (those more and more steps away from identifying the perceptually self-evident as what is) you must begin with - and go "up" from - the perceptually self-evident.

Thus, in order to validate a conclusion you come to fully, you must trace its evolution back to the perceptually self-evident facts that give rise to it. Usually it is reasonable to stop with other concepts you have proven (to yourself) beyond any reasonable doubt are valid. When reducing things I do not end up at "A tree is a tree" when I think of validating my thoughts on the ecosystem, for example. But thats only because I've already done that work and have confirmed that whatever I concept I do stop at is validated in this way.

As far as I know (and I am no philosophy major) this is how reduction works. It is a very useful concept in double-checking your own logic on whatever propositions you wish to name.

Hope this helps some.
Hammad Hussain
user 2469690
San Marcos, TX
Post #: 41
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To Santiago,

Without intending to address or reply to, in any way _whatsoever_, what Thomas Miovos has written on this or any other thread , I think your comment above on the grounding of reduction, and description of how it works, is, in essence, totally correct.


--Ahmad Hassan
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