Sunday, July 11, 2010

Four Fragments in Search of an Argument

From the unpublished archives:
Jimmy Dugan: "Shit, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great. I'm in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It's what lights you up, you can't deny that."
Dottie Hinson: "It just got too hard."
Jimmy Dugan: "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard ... is what makes it great."

— A League of Their Own

"You think him honest;—don’t you?" asked Lady Carbury. Mr Booker smiled and hesitated. "Of course, I mean honest as men can be in such very large transactions."

"Perhaps that is the best way of putting it," said Mr Booker.

"If a thing can be made great and beneficent, a boon to humanity, simply by creating a belief in it, does not a man become a benefactor to his race by creating that belief?"

"At the expense of veracity?" suggested Mr Booker.

"At the expense of anything?" rejoined Lady Carbury with energy. "One cannot measure such men by the ordinary rule."

"You would do evil to produce good?" asked Mr Booker.

"I do not call it doing evil. You have to destroy a thousand living creatures every time you drink a glass of water, but you do not think of that when you are athirst. You cannot send a ship to sea without endangering lives. You do send ships to sea though men perish yearly. You tell me this man may perhaps ruin hundreds, but then again he may create a new world in which millions will be rich and happy."

"You are an excellent casuist, Lady Carbury."

"I am an enthusiastic lover of beneficent audacity," said Lady Carbury, picking her words slowly, and showing herself to be quite satisfied with herself as she picked them.

— Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now

In short, if you believe this, how can you also believe that? The answer is that the realms of belief supposedly existing in a condition of opposition and conflict are, at least to some extent, discrete. What you believe in one arena of human endeavor may have no spillover into what you believe, and do, in another.

Thus, for example, you may have assented to an argument that calls into question the solidity of facts, but when you’re not doing meta-theory, you will experience facts as solidly as the most committed and polemical of empiricists. In doing so you will not be inconsistent or self-contradictory because the question of a belief in facts arises only in the special precincts of philosophical deliberation. In everyday life, we neither believe nor disbelieve in facts as a a general category; we just encounter particular ones in perfectly ordinary ways; and any challenge to one or more of them will also be perfectly ordinary, a matter of evidentiary adequacy or the force of counter examples or some other humdrum, non-philosophical measure of dis-confirmation. The conclusions we may have come to in the context of fancy epistemological debates (a context few will ever inhabit) will have no necessary force when we step into, and are asked to operate in, other contexts.

— Stanley Fish, here

There are those who style themselves intellectuals—a notably large portion of whom, in my personal experience, happen to be economists—who are deeply suspicious of anecdotal data in general and anecdotes about finance, economics, and the behavior of market participants in particular. This has always struck me as revealing both a superficially shallow skepticism about the primary sense and experience data of others—which, after all, is the most reliable data each of us individually possesses—and a similarly unwarranted credulity about its opposite, broad and impersonal third party datasets.

Perhaps I am being overly harsh, and the division I perceive is simply one between insiders like me who do [investment banking] for a living and outsiders without germane experiences of their own to call upon. In any event, the disjunction has explained to my total satisfaction most economists' thorough misunderstanding of and inability to explain my business without making complete asses of themselves.

Oh, and by the way, while quality has certainly improved since I started in investment banking 20 years ago, it remains true, for example, that the banker who wishes to remain employed will always check the accuracy of third party data against original sources before he incorporates it into his own work product. So much for the reliability of external datasets when real money—as opposed to, let's say, a research grant—is on the line. Oh snap.

— TED, unpublished remarks

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It may be a little late, but I always find Spring cleaning—physical and intellectual—to be therapeutic. Don't you?

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