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  #1  
Old 10-30-2010, 02:06 AM
Bloggingheads Bloggingheads is offline
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Default Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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  #2  
Old 10-30-2010, 08:44 AM
cosmic_electrons_dancing cosmic_electrons_dancing is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism

"Is nature a battlefield? It depends on where you look."

Dr's Murray Bowen and Michael Kerr have long suggested that in reciprocal social systems, it is not so much "where" you look, but "how" you look, i.e. through what power of lens does one look.

http://www.amazon.com/Family-Evaluat...der_0393700569
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Old 10-30-2010, 09:26 AM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism

Wow, just wanted to say this bloggingheads was incredible. Educational, fascinating, a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
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Old 10-30-2010, 09:55 AM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism

Thanks for your excellent presentation! What I learned:

1) Within the group it makes sense to be an individual and act independently but when competing it makes sense to cooperate with members of your group.

2) In a harsh environment, organisms are more likely to cooperate than those from abundant environments do.

3) This bit sounds like a page from Edmund Burke's writings. (nice way they streamlined the digalink process)

4) We all have ideological commitments and look at science and nature through those lenses. Yep, I thought so. For example, some look at nature and see the hand of God along with the attendant interest God has in humans' welfare. Others look at nature and realize how unremarkable any individual really is.

5) My own opinion is that the scientist's political predilections may not poison the results of his research but that doesn't mean the politics don't influence the interpretation of the results.

6)a) Group selection isn't stable because an egoist can infiltrate the group and overtake the gene pool. b) kin selection may make the case for evolving group selection or altruism.

7) IMO, Trivers' 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' is a shorter version of Adam Smith's invisible hand.
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Old 10-30-2010, 11:18 AM
Starwatcher162536 Starwatcher162536 is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism

Very good. Most talks over evolution bore me but this one managed to capture my attention throughout the entire diavlog.
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  #6  
Old 10-30-2010, 01:08 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

The discussion about the more recent history of science was interesting, butthe discussion about the philosophical question of altruism at the beginning was really disappointingly bad from the point of view of philosophy. The discussion seemingly willfully ignores the distinction between two quite different questions, which our diavloggers state as though they were the same.
The philosophers' question is primarily, "how is it RATIONAL to be altruistic?" (where what the diavloggers later distinguish as "psychological altruism" is the intended meaning).
The scientific question is "given natural selection, how could biological altruism (and psychological altruism as a fairly reliable special case of the former) have arisen.
They run these two questions together at one point, restating the question "where did altruism come from?" (the second question) as "how does it make sense?" (potentially a version of the first).

Then at the end, they return to the distinction they've glossed over, but in a ridiculously touchy-feely, poetical way, maundering about the "feeling of heartache", vs. the release of oxytocin (a reference to a much different issue regarding whether the mental can be fully reduced to the physical).

The question that remains at the end is not how altruism feels, or something mysteriously unsayable, but rather the question of whether it is rational to act, not just altruistically, but morally (i.e., restricting one's pursuit of one's own or even one's group's interests with an eye to an impartial point of view), when, on a given occasion, one could do better for oneself or one's group by acting immorally but hypocritically (so as not to draw reprisals).
This is the philosophers' question that goes back in one form or another to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and which has received fairly clear statements since that time. It isn't in the mystical realm whereof one cannot speak, and it's quite different from the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness that they seem to be conflating it with in the end. (This problem too can receive a fairly clear statement -- one really can speak of it -- see Thomas Nagel's delightful paper "What is it like to be a bat?", for a start.)

Last edited by Bloggin' Noggin; 10-30-2010 at 02:32 PM..
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  #7  
Old 10-30-2010, 06:39 PM
whburgess whburgess is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin View Post

The question that remains at the end is not how altruism feels, or something mysteriously unsayable, but rather the question of whether it is rational to act, not just altruistically, but morally (i.e., restricting one's pursuit of one's own or even one's group's interests with an eye to an impartial point of view), when, on a given occasion, one could do better for oneself or one's group by acting immorally but hypocritically (so as not to draw reprisals).
This is the philosophers' question that goes back in one form or another to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and which has received fairly clear statements since that time. It isn't in the mystical realm whereof one cannot speak,
Many seemingly 'clear statements' in the history of philosophy has turned out to be highly contestable. I think the Bh'ers were quoting Ludwig Wittgenstein who was a philosopher. I think they were attributing to him the philosophical position that we don't have the conceptual apparatus to answer some questions we are able to ask. While, if this was his position, it was a philosophical one, the Bh'ers seem to be extrapolating that to include the idea that science, as a rational enterprise, also has these limitations when it comes to certain human issues.
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Old 10-30-2010, 09:03 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

Thank you. I was aware that Wittgenstein was a philosopher.
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  #9  
Old 10-30-2010, 09:16 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin View Post
Thank you. I was aware that Wittgenstein was a philosopher.
geez, noggin, at least tell me if I'm right about Nagel. Pleez!
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Old 10-30-2010, 10:07 PM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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Thank you. I was aware that Wittgenstein was a philosopher.
Were you aware of this?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1MgCV6uGuc
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  #11  
Old 10-30-2010, 11:02 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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I drink therefore I am.
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  #12  
Old 10-30-2010, 11:12 PM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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I drink therefore I am.
To the bottom!
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  #13  
Old 10-31-2010, 11:11 AM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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How could I not be? I studied Monty Python before I studied philosophy.
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  #14  
Old 10-31-2010, 12:32 PM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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How could I not be? I studied Monty Python before I studied philosophy.
Ah, a cosmopolitan.
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  #15  
Old 10-31-2010, 02:27 AM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin View Post
Thank you. I was aware that Wittgenstein was a philosopher.
That seems more like something I'd say, BN. Is the new reverse solidus in your username making you crabby? I hope not -- you should take pride in being escaped!

I don't think I can put it more clearly than Oren or Mark did, but I don't think whburgess was wrong to try to point out that we might get to a point where we say we have complete scientific understanding of something, like altruism, where we still feel like that's ... not the whole story. Or that we sense there are things left to say, but do not have the words for them.

And in the latter phrasing, I think this speaks particularly to what whb was saying -- while I agree that philosophers have been talking about altruism for a long time, such that it is not completely a "mystical realm whereof one cannot speak," it is also likely that what results from summing up what philosophers have said on this topic may be less than clear to some people, even those much better read than I.
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  #16  
Old 10-31-2010, 11:52 AM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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That seems more like something I'd say, BN. Is the new reverse solidus in your username making you crabby? I hope not -- you should take pride in being escaped!

I don't think I can put it more clearly than Oren or Mark did, but I don't think whburgess was wrong to try to point out that we might get to a point where we say we have complete scientific understanding of something, like altruism, where we still feel like that's ... not the whole story. Or that we sense there are things left to say, but do not have the words for them.

And in the latter phrasing, I think this speaks particularly to what whb was saying -- while I agree that philosophers have been talking about altruism for a long time, such that it is not completely a "mystical realm whereof one cannot speak," it is also likely that what results from summing up what philosophers have said on this topic may be less than clear to some people, even those much better read than I.

Well, I wasn't sure what to make of whb's response. Your clarification helps a little, but I guess I still feel puzzled how it is much of an answer to my objections.
I criticized the diavloggers for doing a hand-wavy "since the beginning of time" high schoolish introduction, where they try to show how philosophers have really always been asking the question that scientists (and our diavloggers) want to discuss without really attempting to understand what the philosophers were asking and the actual differences and similarities between the question at hand here and the questions that philosophers were asking.
And I was specific about the difference between what the philosophers were generally asking and the current question. I should say that there are many interesting commonalities between the questions and their answers, but sloppily treating them as the same thing without really understanding them just in order to get that high schoolish "since the beginning of time" opening struck me as a huge flaw in the diavlog.

Then, through not understanding what the philosophers were talking about, they end the diavlog by suggesting that what many philosophers have stated pretty clearly can't be stated at all.
I myself attempted here to explain what they were leaving out or confusing -- I didn't just say "but philosophers have been talking about this forever".

The response from whb, i didn't get at all. Your answer clarifies, I guess, that the point is that we shouldn't blame the diavloggers for not understanding philosophers. All right, I won't blame them for that, but I will still criticize the muddle-headedness of its treatment of the philosophy, and I'll still criticize them (as I did) for bullshitting their way through the philosophical stuff when they could have just started with Darwin.

My criticisms stand -- they are giving a highly misleading picture of the philosophical questions they claim to want to cover. I guess you both feel my rhetoric was too harsh. That's probably true -- I do get irritated that so many of those who approach altruism from the evolutionary perspective and yet hope to have something to tell philosophers about it as a result refuse to understand the philosophical conversation they are blundering into. If you've been defending Obama against the charge that his policies are extreme or bad or "socialist" and someone blunders into the middle of your conversation, and informs you in a superior voice "don't you know that the Democrats are going to lose the midterms?" as thought that were the question you were discussing -- it's annoying. And if it keeps happening over and over because people don't wait to see what you are actually talking about, then that's even more annoying and you may lash out a little to much at the most recent person to do it.
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Old 10-31-2010, 03:03 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin View Post
Well, I wasn't sure what to make of whb's response. Your clarification helps a little, but I guess I still feel puzzled how it is much of an answer to my objections.
I criticized the diavloggers for doing a hand-wavy "since the beginning of time" high schoolish introduction, where they try to show how philosophers have really always been asking the question that scientists (and our diavloggers) want to discuss without really attempting to understand what the philosophers were asking and the actual differences and similarities between the question at hand here and the questions that philosophers were asking. [...]
I will agree that the quick references to philosophers' takes on altruism was, even to me, a bit superficial. I guess I did not think of it as anything but an attempt to give a little context to the historical scope of the problem, a reminder that people have been thinking about this phenomenon in humans and other species since long before Darwin, and as something to get out there in the introduction so that when they got to the present, the notion of talking about the two kinds of altruism would be more easily grasped.

I can appreciate that since this is your specialty, you would be annoyed. I can also imagine that this diavlog reminded you of something that you see as a problem more broadly -- biologists, neurologists, etc., encroaching on territory previously mapped by the philosophers, and often seeming to stumble around in their clodhoppers.

Still, I think you might have done better to use their remarks as an opening hook to your comments, in the sense of "Let me elaborate on some things that were only touched on in passing," rather than demanding that people whose specialty is different from yours be as fluent as you in your field before daring to say word one about it. Or that they give the comprehensive treatment you might have liked, especially in light of the huge swath of material they hoped to cover in one hour. That's all.
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Old 10-31-2010, 03:55 PM
whburgess whburgess is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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Thank you. I was aware that Wittgenstein was a philosopher.
No problem. You're welcome. Sometimes I, as well, forget relevant facts during posting, that I'm otherwise aware of..

As for the rest of my posting, think nothing of it.
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Old 10-30-2010, 08:32 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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(This problem too can receive a fairly clear statement -- one really can speak of it -- see Thomas Nagel's delightful paper "What is it like to be a bat?", for a start.)
I should look before I speak but I want to astound you with my knowledge. Didn't Thomas Nagel write The View from Nowhere? I believe, in very crude and simplistic terms (mine), he argues that it is rational to be moral because at the end of the day we really mean nothing except to ourselves. If we give importance to ourselves then it is only right to give that same importance to everyone else.
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Old 10-31-2010, 11:08 AM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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I should look before I speak but I want to astound you with my knowledge. Didn't Thomas Nagel write The View from Nowhere? I believe, in very crude and simplistic terms (mine), he argues that it is rational to be moral because at the end of the day we really mean nothing except to ourselves. If we give importance to ourselves then it is only right to give that same importance to everyone else.
Hi badhat (or do you prefer "harry"?),
Yes, Nagel did write The View from Nowhere and for a two-sentence summary, you are close. It's been a while since I read the book myself, but I would say that you are probably getting one thing a little backwards. You say "it's only right to give importance to everyone else" -- this seems to employ a moral explanation (fairness), where Nagel is trying to explain why we should be fair.
As you say, Nagel admits that from a purely objective point of view -- the view from nowhere -- nothing whatever has any importance. But we can't help treating our own lives as though they were important -- this is the origin of the sense that life is absurd. He doesn't think there's a complete way out of that cognitive dissonance, but he thinks we can come close. Suppose that instead of taking up the point of view of a purely passive intellectual observer, we abstract away everything but our rational agency. Any agent is going to have to treat his own ends as important just because they are his (or hers, or its). If it is to be rational for me to treat my own goals as important simpliciter (particularly where I expect others to allow me to pursue them), then I must regard it as rational for every rational agent to regard his own goals in the same way. To deny that your goals have any importance (except in the case where your goals are themselves based on the denial of the importance of rational agents and their goals) is to deny the importance of my own goals. To treat your goals as unimportant just because they are not mine, while at the same time treating my own goals as important because they are mine is, therefore irrational on Nagel's view, and this irrationality explains why unfairness is ultimately irrational.

I was invoking a quite different part of Nagel's philosophy -- also discussed in _The View from Nowhere_ -- his argument that we really are not in any position at the moment to understand what a reduction of consciousness to physical processes could look like. Attempts to show us how such reductions are possible always change the subject and try to show us how something ELSE (not conscious experiences but e.g., computer simulations of conscious experiences) is reducible to physical processes.
His attitude isn't really like the Wittgensteinian view that science says everything that can be said, but there's some unsayable, semi-mystical "beyond" that can't be said, though. He thinks that there really is something that we don't understand here and we can say what it is.

By the way, I highly recommend Nagel's early collection of essays _Mortal Questions_ to everyone with even the slightest curiosity about philosophy. They're about issues that seem immediately interesting to non-philosophers (e.g., death, the absurdity of life, sexual perversion) and yet they are wittily and lucidly written and really interesting -- and most are pretty short.
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Old 10-31-2010, 11:31 AM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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His attitude isn't really like the Wittgensteinian view that science says everything that can be said, but there's some unsayable, semi-mystical "beyond" that can't be said, though. He thinks that there really is something that we don't understand here and we can say what it is.
I haven't read Wittgenstein, and in a previous discussion in this forum I was strongly discouraged by other commenters to do it. I was left with the feeling that I would need to take a three year sabbatical in order to embrace that task, or that nature may not have given me the intellectual power to succeed.

But, leaving that aside, every time I hear about the general idea that you express above, I come up with my own understanding of the issue. A metaphor for that idea would be that science can find the rules that govern the objects that my eyes see, but can't say much about my hallucinations. There's a dimension that only exists in our mental realm which includes all our representations, abstractions, concepts, imaginations, questions, fears, desires, etc, that ultimately is unreachable due to its dynamic and fleeting nature. We can answer all questions and still come up with one more.

Again, this may have nothing to do with Wittgeinstein, but it is something that has always puzzled me.
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Old 10-31-2010, 01:09 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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I haven't read Wittgenstein, and in a previous discussion in this forum I was strongly discouraged by other commenters to do it. I was left with the feeling that I would need to take a three year sabbatical in order to embrace that task, or that nature may not have given me the intellectual power to succeed.

But, leaving that aside, every time I hear about the general idea that you express above, I come up with my own understanding of the issue. A metaphor for that idea would be that science can find the rules that govern the objects that my eyes see, but can't say much about my hallucinations. There's a dimension that only exists in our mental realm which includes all our representations, abstractions, concepts, imaginations, questions, fears, desires, etc, that ultimately is unreachable due to its dynamic and fleeting nature. We can answer all questions and still come up with one more.

Again, this may have nothing to do with Wittgeinstein, but it is something that has always puzzled me.
Actually, I think Wittgenstein is in many ways quite easy to read -- at a superficial level, he writes lucidly and beautifully. It's harder to figure out exactly what he is doing. He's engaged in a conversation with other philosophers (and, in the case of the later philosophy, his own earlier self), but most of the time you are only hearing his side of the conversation as though you were overhearing him on the phone. Really understanding him is a matter of being able to reconstruct the part of the philosophical conference call that you aren't hearing.

I wouldn't at all discourage you from reading him -- I think it can be inspiring and worth chewing on. I'd just counsel against the trap that some people fall into of imagining, because you aren't hearing the other side of that conversation, that what he says is the last word and the other people on the conference call have all been left speechless. I'd just recommend supplementing the reading of Wittgenstein with the reading of a good book about Wittgenstein that attempts to put him in context. I've read Anthony Kenny's book, which I think is somewhat helpful.

As for your general issue, my own way of thinking about it is through the analogy of a landscape painter who paints an accurate videw of what he sees before him. He suddenly thinks, "but wait a second, I haven't painted the whole truth -- I've painted from a point of view, but that point of view isn't in the painting. How can I repaint my painting so that my point of view is included in the painting itself? First he tries paiting his previous picture from a few paces back and including himself (from the back painting his first picture. But, wait a minute! What he is doing now is painting his old point of view in his new picture -- the point of view of the new picture is not itself included in the new picture. He can step back yet again and paint himself painting himself painting the landscape, but the same problem keeps arising.

The scientific approach of putting our own point of view aside, stepping back from it, is very effective at many things, but it isn't going to work when it comes to understanding our subjective point of view itself.

The scientist, for example, is supposed to examine only positive facts -- what is the case, not what should be done. But if you are to understand science itself, you need to re-invoke the normative questions about whether a certain inference is rationally warranted. Without that, you end up with the sociology of science, which treats scientific endeavor as if it were just another custom, like the rain dance or a poetry slam.

If we accept that the scientist deals only with positive facts and empirical claims, and that these exclude evaluative questions like "what conclusion is warranted based on these data?" it seems that there are questions about science that cannot fall within science -- in the current example, these questions would be the philosophy of science, which cannot itself be a science. I'm inclined to believe that these questions can themselves be well-formed, and that they can themselves receive better and worse answers. To the degree that I understand Wittgenstein, he believed that these last questions -- these philosophical questions, were not genuine questions at all and that they didn't have answers in the usual sense. Philosophical problems, were, on his view, less like scientific problems and more like psychological problems -- the answer to them was not an answer, but rather a sort of therapy that could help you see the world in a way such that you no longer expected an answer of any sort.

Lest I give too much ammunition to those who want to be dismissive of philosophy, I should say that Wittgenstein's approach to eliminating these questions was NOT simply to dismiss the questions as bunk, but rather to make observations about the way the "problems" arise that a philosopher of my ilk might regard as illuminating materials for an answer. Even if there were no real "answers" an even if those last questions weren't really questions, he still would have found it necessary to continue to ask them and to continue to dissolve them, if not answer them.
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Old 10-31-2010, 02:10 PM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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Actually, I think Wittgenstein is in many ways quite easy to read -- at a superficial level, he writes lucidly and beautifully. It's harder to figure out exactly what he is doing. He's engaged in a conversation with other philosophers (and, in the case of the later philosophy, his own earlier self), but most of the time you are only hearing his side of the conversation as though you were overhearing him on the phone. Really understanding him is a matter of being able to reconstruct the part of the philosophical conference call that you aren't hearing.

I wouldn't at all discourage you from reading him -- I think it can be inspiring and worth chewing on. I'd just counsel against the trap that some people fall into of imagining, because you aren't hearing the other side of that conversation, that what he says is the last word and the other people on the conference call have all been left speechless. I'd just recommend supplementing the reading of Wittgenstein with the reading of a good book about Wittgenstein that attempts to put him in context. I've read Anthony Kenny's book, which I think is somewhat helpful.
Thank you for the tips and the encouragement.

Quote:
As for your general issue, my own way of thinking about it is through the analogy of a landscape painter who paints an accurate view of what he sees before him. He suddenly thinks, "but wait a second, I haven't painted the whole truth -- I've painted from a point of view, but that point of view isn't in the painting. How can I repaint my painting so that my point of view is included in the painting itself? First he tries painting his previous picture from a few paces back and including himself (from the back painting his first picture. But, wait a minute! What he is doing now is painting his old point of view in his new picture -- the point of view of the new picture is not itself included in the new picture. He can step back yet again and paint himself painting himself painting the landscape, but the same problem keeps arising.
Yes, the artist's view is similar to what I tried to express by "hallucinations", one's own version of the view. The image of the painter painting himself and receding ad infinitum is also particularly meaningful.

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The scientific approach of putting our own point of view aside, stepping back from it, is very effective at many things, but it isn't going to work when it comes to understanding our subjective point of view itself.
Yes. After I wrote my previous comment, I walked away to do other things and I was thinking about an aspect that I didn't really define clearly. It isn't about our individual subjective states but rather about our subjective constructs (as you said, the painter's point of view). We really lack the natural ability to separate our point of view from the view itself. So, that point of view, our subjective construction of reality, is either enmeshed with objective reality, or it becomes fleeting, always escaping, moving beyond.

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The scientist, for example, is supposed to examine only positive facts -- what is the case, not what should be done. But if you are to understand science itself, you need to re-invoke the normative questions about whether a certain inference is rationally warranted. Without that, you end up with the sociology of science, which treats scientific endeavor as if it were just another custom, like the rain dance or a poetry slam.

If we accept that the scientist deals only with positive facts and empirical claims, and that these exclude evaluative questions like "what conclusion is warranted based on these data?" it seems that there are questions about science that cannot fall within science -- in the current example, these questions would be the philosophy of science, which cannot itself be a science. I'm inclined to believe that these questions can themselves be well-formed, and that they can themselves receive better and worse answers. To the degree that I understand Wittgenstein, he believed that these last questions -- these philosophical questions, were not genuine questions at all and that they didn't have answers in the usual sense. Philosophical problems, were, on his view, less like scientific problems and more like psychological problems -- the answer to them was not an answer, but rather a sort of therapy that could help you see the world in a way such that you no longer expected an answer of any sort.
The idea of frame of reference comes to mind. It seems that he is saying that there's no objective answer to philosophical problems/ questions, but rather a way of changing the perspective, the frame of reference so that the lack of an answer is no longer an obstacle.

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Lest I give too much ammunition to those who want to be dismissive of philosophy, I should say that Wittgenstein's approach to eliminating these questions was NOT simply to dismiss the questions as bunk, but rather to make observations about the way the "problems" arise that a philosopher of my ilk might regard as illuminating materials for an answer. Even if there were no real "answers" an even if those last questions weren't really questions, he still would have found it necessary to continue to ask them and to continue to dissolve them, if not answer them.
I guess this is similar to what I said above.

Thank you for giving me material to stretch my thoughts even if, there's no right answer.
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Old 10-31-2010, 04:18 PM
whburgess whburgess is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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As for your general issue, my own way of thinking about it is through the analogy of a landscape painter who paints an accurate videw of what he sees before him. He suddenly thinks, "but wait a second, I haven't painted the whole truth -- I've painted from a point of view, but that point of view isn't in the painting. How can I repaint my painting so that my point of view is included in the painting itself? First he tries paiting his previous picture from a few paces back and including himself (from the back painting his first picture. But, wait a minute! What he is doing now is painting his old point of view in his new picture -- the point of view of the new picture is not itself included in the new picture. He can step back yet again and paint himself painting himself painting the landscape, but the same problem keeps arising.
This reminded me of the cover of Nagels' book "A View from Nowhere" which is brought up elsewhere in this thread--which I had read 25 years ago while a teenager and had completely forgotten about. The image just popped into my head, so I amazoned it..sure enough. http://www.amazon.com/View-Nowhere-T...8555193&sr=1-1

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Lest I give too much ammunition to those who want to be dismissive of philosophy, I should say that Wittgenstein's approach to eliminating these questions was NOT simply to dismiss the questions as bunk, but rather to make observations about the way the "problems" arise that a philosopher of my ilk might regard as illuminating materials for an answer. Even if there were no real "answers" an even if those last questions weren't really questions, he still would have found it necessary to continue to ask them and to continue to dissolve them, if not answer them.
I'm reminded of the quote (mis?) attributed to Wittgenstein "Philosophy is a disease for which only philosophy is the cure".
It would be easy to use this quote to dismiss philosophy---unless philosophy necessarily infects every attempt to understand the world.
Then the choice is stay a bad philosopher and deny it, or embrace the disease (and the cure) with gusto.
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Old 11-01-2010, 10:40 AM
Florian Florian is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

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I'm reminded of the quote (mis?) attributed to Wittgenstein "Philosophy is a disease for which only philosophy is the cure".

It would be easy to use this quote to dismiss philosophy---unless philosophy necessarily infects every attempt to understand the world.
Then the choice is stay a bad philosopher and deny it, or embrace the disease (and the cure) with gusto.
It is a misquotation. It was Karl Kraus, Wittgenstein's contemporary and compatriot, who said that psychoanalysis, not philosophy, is "the disease whose cure it purports to be." But Wittgenstein, in his first stage (that of the Tractatus) had a similar view of philosophy as a futile attempt to say the impossible.

I think that this discussion of "altruism" could have profited from a little philosophical logic-chopping, but it is a waste of time to apply logic to Darwinian accounts of morality.
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Old 11-01-2010, 03:13 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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I think that this discussion of "altruism" could have profited from a little philosophical logic-chopping, but it is a waste of time to apply logic to Darwinian accounts of morality.
I quite disagree, especially with the latter half. Please give us some plc, if you're in the mood.
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Old 11-02-2010, 04:27 AM
Florian Florian is offline
 
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I quite disagree, especially with the latter half. Please give us some plc, if you're in the mood.
PLC?

In a nutshell: The problem of altruism as understood by evolutionary biology (kin selection theory etc.) and the problem of altruism as understood by moral philosophy are unrelated. Evolutionary biology purports to give a causal explanation of the origin of altruism in all social species---an unscientific or pseudo-scientific* explanation in my opinion--whereas moral philosophy, my moral philosophy in any case, starts from the presupposition---it may be wrong---that human beings are self-conscious, rational and free.


*To show why it is unscientific or pseudo-scientific would take a long time. It would also no doubt provoke your usual retort: that I am anti-science. So why should I bother?
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Old 11-02-2010, 10:39 AM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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PLC?
From ...

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Originally Posted by Florian View Post
philosophical logic-chopping
... and a play on TLC.

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In a nutshell: The problem of altruism as understood by evolutionary biology (kin selection theory etc.) and the problem of altruism as understood by moral philosophy are unrelated.
Seems to me that Oren and Mark were at some pains to explain that they see a difference between biological altruism and what they called psychological altruism. As I understood it, they meant by the latter the choices humans make, due to their intellectual capacity, as distinct from other animals.

I think there are some quite different aspects to the two, and Oren and Mark gave some examples that indicated that they could be seen as provoking almost opposite behaviors in certain situations. However, I don't think they're completely unrelated -- humans are a species that evolved, the human brain is an organ that evolved, and even if we're just beginning to talk about group selection, it seems at least intuitively correct that there could be something to the idea that in some circumstances, individuals will behave in ways that end up benefiting the group, even at their own expense, and that this behavior is also something that has evolved; i.e., been selected for as being advantageous to the propagation of the species.

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Evolutionary biology purports to give a causal explanation ...
Probably some biologists are more assertive than others, but my sense is that it would be more accurate to say "evolutionary biologists are working on developing a causal explanation."

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... of the origin of altruism in all social species---an unscientific or pseudo-scientific* explanation in my opinion--whereas moral philosophy, my moral philosophy in any case, starts from the presupposition---it may be wrong---that human beings are self-conscious, rational and free.
Since I view the area of research as just getting started, I think it's unfair to call it "unscientific or pseudo-scientific." I don't deny some people may get ahead of themselves on what can be confidently stated, and I also grant that when discussions are presented to a lay audience, or continued by interested laypersons, it can sometimes sound like a Just So story.

We share the presupposition that is at the base of your moral philosophy, and I am not saying what has been derived from that, on altruism or many other topics, is not without worth. I do think, however, that there may be more to the story, and in any case, it seems to me a reasonable question to ask, "Where did this tendency to act against individual self-interest come from?" and "Is it connected to behaviors we see in other species where we see actions against individual self-interest?"

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*To show why it is unscientific or pseudo-scientific would take a long time. It would also no doubt provoke your usual retort: that I am anti-science. So why should I bother?
If you're not up for the effort, no problem.

I would say two things to this, though. First, I am not going to respond in a kneejerk manner to a solid logical argument, even if I don't agree with it. Second, I do not call you "anti-science" as a matter of course. I do think that from time to time, as when you dismiss even the possibility that we will ever be able to understand something in scientific terms, this appellation is deserved.
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Old 11-04-2010, 06:37 AM
Florian Florian is offline
 
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I have been too busy to reply to your thoughtful post. So better late than never:


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Seems to me that Oren and Mark were at some pains to explain that they see a difference between biological altruism and what they called psychological altruism. As I understood it, they meant by the latter the choices humans make, due to their intellectual capacity, as distinct from other animals.
Yes, but the existence of rationality and freedom changes everything. Are self-sacrificial acts always rational? Some Americans no doubt thought that in overthrowing Saddam Hussein and establishing democracy in Iraq their government was acting altruistically---for the benefit of Iraq. Was it acting rationally or justly? Was it even acting in the American national interest? Are altruistic acts necessarily good for the beneficiary? A mother's love for her children is proverbially blind. Is it always good for her children? Self-sacrificial subordination to the group, which biologists confuse with acting for the good of another or for the good of the group, is not necessarily a virtue. It is not even clear to me that there is such a thing as self-sacrificial subordination to the group in the case of human beings---whatever may be true of the hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps etc).

The term "altruism," invented by the French positivist Auguste Comte, was intended as kind of secular replacement for Christian "charity," the love of others (autrui) taking the place of the "love of one's neighbor." But Christians have always thought that acts of charity are rare, indeed impossible without the love of God. I tend to agree, but since I am not a Christian I have no answer to the question of why such acts are so rare. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that Christian charity is a misnomer in the first place.


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I think there are some quite different aspects to the two, and Oren and Mark gave some examples that indicated that they could be seen as provoking almost opposite behaviors in certain situations. However, I don't think they're completely unrelated -- humans are a species that evolved, the human brain is an organ that evolved, and even if we're just beginning to talk about group selection, it seems at least intuitively correct that there could be something to the idea that in some circumstances, individuals will behave in ways that end up benefiting the group, even at their own expense, and that this behavior is also something that has evolved; i.e., been selected for as being advantageous to the propagation of the species.
Yes, obviously. But the question, as I said above, is whether human beings are a social species in the same way that ants, bees and wasps are social species.

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Probably some biologists are more assertive than others, but my sense is that it would be more accurate to say "evolutionary biologists are working on developing a causal explanation."
There is a huge literature on this, and the causal explanation seems to be widely accepted by most biologists I have read, including the best known popularizer of inclusive fitness, Dawkins. Stringing together some sentences gleaned from my reading I come up with this:

An organism acts in such a way as to maximize, not its individual fitness or chances of surviving and reproducing, but its "inclusive fitness," that is the fitness of a group of conspecifics which includes, first, the organism itself, then those with which it shares the highest proportion of it genes, then those with whom it shares the next highest proportion of genes etc.

In other words, the proportion of genes which we share with our parents or siblings, or relatives, is the cause of altruism. We love our children because they share half of our genes; and this is also the reason why altruism developed in our species: our ancestors acted in such a way as to favor the reproduction of their genes in offspring, siblings and relatives, even if they perished in so doing.

There is one obvious objection to this: all sexually reproducing species share half of their genes with their offspring, but there are only a few species that display the trait of altruism. Why, if selection for this trait depends on shared genes, are there so few species that behave altruistically? Why are there no altruistic carp? There are other logical objections, including the usual objection to natural selection (that it is tautological), but this one has always stumped me.


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I would say two things to this, though. First, I am not going to respond in a kneejerk manner to a solid logical argument, even if I don't agree with it. Second, I do not call you "anti-science" as a matter of course. I do think that from time to time, as when you dismiss even the possibility that we will ever be able to understand something in scientific terms, this appellation is deserved.
There is no reason to think that science is capable of answering all the questions it asks or that it is capable of progressing indefinitely, but I agree that it is impossible to rule out the possibility.
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Old 11-05-2010, 12:36 AM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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I have been too busy to reply to your thoughtful post. So better late than never: [...]
Thanks. And sorry: just noticed. Have read, but will have to postpone reply.
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Old 11-21-2010, 08:34 PM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

I read this article today which may be of interest to those who were following this thread.
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  #32  
Old 11-21-2010, 10:13 PM
Wonderment Wonderment is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism (Oren Harman & Mark Borrello)

Yes, I read that too. What's your take on autismo?

I loved the Wittgenstein quote about the lion:

"If a lion could speak, we could not understand him."
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Old 11-22-2010, 08:08 AM
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Yes, I read that too. What's your take on autismo?

I loved the Wittgenstein quote about the lion:

"If a lion could speak, we could not understand him."
Yes, I liked that quote too. It's a nice way of putting language in context.

I don't know what "autismo" is (besides being the Spanish word for autism). Autism isn't an area in Psychiatry that I'm very informed about. It's mostly addressed by Child Psychiatrists. However, it seems to be a continuum from what we would consider "normal", through traits, milder forms of autism to the more severe well known forms that have been shown in movies. This article seems to refer to the group that goes from normal personality traits to mild forms of autism.

I object to using the label of autism for mild cases. It should be reserved to those situations when there's clinical pathology. It's the common problem of labeling. According to the article it seems that one could legitimately argue that we all have a degree of autism or at least autistic moments. When you use the term in that way it loses meaning.
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Old 11-22-2010, 08:38 PM
Wonderment Wonderment is offline
 
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I don't know what "autismo" is (besides being the Spanish word for autism).
I think the author was suggesting that "autismo" had parallels to "machismo," -- in other words, that men in general were prone toward "autistic" thinking. He was using autism as a kind of metaphor for maleness, which I can see might be insulting to the families of autistic (disabled) persons.

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I object to using the label of autism for mild cases.
I haven't really thought about it much, but I might object to the general idea of "spectrum" disorders. Too vague and all-encompassing.

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When you use the term in that way it loses meaning.
Exactamente.
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Old 11-22-2010, 08:54 PM
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I think the author was suggesting that "autismo" had parallels to "machismo," -- in other words, that men in general were prone toward "autistic" thinking. He was using autism as a kind of metaphor for maleness, which I can see might be insulting to the families of autistic (disabled) persons.
Okay, thanks.

Yes, it seems that they were talking of an stereotypically masculine cognitive style.

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I haven't really thought about it much, but I might object to the general idea of "spectrum" disorders. Too vague and all-encompassing.
It shouldn't be about objecting. Often that's the way it is. Think of height, blood pressure, etc, there's a continuum between what's considered normal and what's a problem.
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Old 11-23-2010, 12:40 AM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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I read this article today which may be of interest to those who were following this thread.
That was an interesting read. Thanks.
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Old 11-23-2010, 07:55 AM
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That was an interesting read. Thanks.
You're welcome.
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Old 10-31-2010, 09:02 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Hi badhat (or do you prefer "harry"?),
Yes, Nagel did write The View from Nowhere and for a two-sentence summary, you are close. It's been a while since I read the book myself, but I would say that you are probably getting one thing a little backwards. You say "it's only right to give importance to everyone else" -- this seems to employ a moral explanation (fairness), where Nagel is trying to explain why we should be fair.
Hey, thanks. I have one question about what you wrote. Any agent is going to have to treat his own ends as important just because they are his (or hers, or its). Is this an example of an a priori position which requires no evidence or argument proving its validity?
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Old 10-31-2010, 09:04 PM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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Hey, thanks. I have one question about what you wrote. Any agent is going to have to treat his own ends as important just because they are his (or hers, or its). Is this an example of an a priori position which requires no evidence or argument proving its validity?
That's a pretty good question, harry.
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Old 10-31-2010, 09:56 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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That's a pretty good question, harry.
only pretty good?
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