Synthesis Forum 4

After Monday's class, each member of Team 4 will comment and reflect on any ideas raised, or neglected, in the question, keyword, response and discussion process during the preceding week.

--Roger’s synopsis of group 4 discussion:
“What is a law?” was the question on the table for most of the session. Thoughtful answers to the group questions as well as the keyword definitions helped form a backdrop for the discourse. The modes of discerning what constitutes a law were examined and it was generally agreed that psychology comes into play during these endeavors. Indeed, the term “attitude” invoked by Ayer seems to pertain and shows his admission that the psychology of the thinkers who establish laws pertains. A great conversation flowed regarding who and what has the authority to establish laws. In the past, the “sovereign” clearly can establish laws he or she deems needed, but when dealing with natural phenomena, how are laws established? Our conversation often seemed non-conclusive and circular, but that is not because the class members lack the ability to perceive, but rather because the subject is quite elusive, as was pointed out in Ms. Patrick’s response even Ayer states that his “explanation is indeed sketchy.”
After different types of laws and the authority to establish them was roundly pondered, the focus shifted to what is a law of nature. Ms. Kleine’s response summarized that “laws of nature give us better predictions.” It seems to be an overarching goal of science to give us the ability to predict the natural world and the philosophers of science are bent on making sure that whatever scientists cook up is held to a high standard of truth. As Mr. Awumey states: “When natural laws are assumed but cannot be relied upon, the science based on these laws is unstable.” Many of the previously studied methods for establishing the laws of nature were rehashed and it seems that each has pros and cons and is approximately correct. That our big thinkers of the past couldn’t nail this down shows that it is a worthy problem. Then the class introduced the idea of probability into the fray and that indeed throws another curve our way. Consensus was that probability does indeed play and it seems much of the debate of earlier thinkers revolved around the effort to eliminate this word from the conversation. However, when “probability” is introduced, science is no longer pristine. Indeed, it might start looking a bit like technology.
A couple wrap up thoughts:
First, no one took the bait from the Cartwright question in which “then it must be physics which is the second rate science” was stated. How shocking!! Physics, the gold standard of science being challenged. Maybe not really so shocking, but rather elaborating on the obvious that probability does enter the fray as in biology or engineering and this fact really isn’t so shocking.
Secondly, the group board leader erased our conclusions before I could write them down, so the above is the best i could do. Despite that, she did a great job for our group

Amanda Synthesis
In all honesty, this was a very challenging article both to digest and translate into a workable discussion for class. When I approach the presentations (both in this class and externally), I try to think through productive ways to teach and organize the material for discussion. The tried and true grad school method of questions and discussions often yields productive discussions. Yet, I am finding it hard to translate this format into the hyper-specific arguments made in the philosophy of science. I attempted to try to bridge main themes and ideas in the Ayer’s article to promote class discussion. I asked my peers for keywords or ideas they felt were essential to the essay or to point out moments that were confusing during reading. This produced an interesting diagram, but a difficult one to make sense of. Overall I do not feel I was terribly successful in supporting this conversation or helping discussion along. This failing emerged from my own troubles in understanding the scope of Ayer’s argument.

For instance, I hyper focused on Ayer’s discussion of Hume’s problem of induction. Much of the first part of this essay discusses the problem set forth by Hume, but in my reading I missed the point where Ayer moves away from this method of reasoning. Jim needed to point out that Ayer mentioned and then bracketed this discussion to more forward to his larger arguments in the essay. Indeed as I look back now to the keywords – I see my confusion regarding trajectory of Ayer’s argument present there as well. Logical relations and necessities are important for they attempt to map onto relationships of nature. This is seems like a glaring omission in retrospect.

Roger’s comments here do great work of describing the interactions of a class discussion (and I thank his attention to detail for being able to ascribe comments to commentators). If I could do the class again I would have started simply and begin not with the text but a more informal discussion of what laws do for us. While we had some discussions about the status of laws and what purpose they serve, it might have helped for us to think simply and see how laws of nature do or do not guide our daily interactions with the world and science. We could have discussed why these understandings seem important and why this might be an important discussion for philosophers. By beginning with high abstraction we rarely touched upon why this understanding or debate might have some importance. Additionally, connecting Ayer’s argument to the familiar might have been used to better comment upon his confusing conceptualization of ‘attitude.’

Joshua's Synthesis

This discussion was difficult, due a lot to the strong analytic bent of the article. Once people see math (or what looks like it, and even if it is relatively simple), they can check out a bit, and I think that was the case for many people, including myself. I don't know that I got a good enough handle on the second part of the article to truly guide discussion in a meaningful way, and that felt like the case for the others as well. I would have like to delve deeper into everyone's individual responses to our questions, as well as get a clearer idea of what Ayer meant by "attitude." Similarly, I agree with Amanda. I think we stayed too long on the abstract, and found it hard to put a real-world example to the questions we were dealing with. Perhaps that would have helped us wrestle with the attitude problem as well.

As a more positive note, I am glad that I got to bring up what feels like the underlying issues (which I talked about in more depth in my thought piece) about the ontology-epistemology divide, and being more explicit about which we are speaking when making philosophical arguments, as well as the difficulty in definition and purification/simplification. These problems seem to creep in with most of our discussions on philosophy, especially the philosophy of science, and one wonders if, much like for science, there might be another way to do it that doesn't run smack into this wall over and over.

In future positions such as this, I think I would try to follow the direction I did more in the our first group: keying more off of individual student's responses to the questions than attempting to produce a higher-level, abstract discussion of the existential issues within philosophy itself. In our first class I felt a little too much that I ended up zeroing unfairly or trying to lead people to my own conclusions too much, and thought a more organic approach might work better this time, but perhaps being more specific was indeed the way to go.

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