Monday, June 21, 2010

No Final Theory

I read Marcelo Gleiser’s book, A Tear at the Edge of Creation. Gleiser is a physicist who has begun to wax reflective about the methods and limits of science. His main message is that the idea of a final theory is misguided and counterproductive (Gleiser blogs at the NPR 13.7 blog; he has a recent talk online here; hat tip goes to Peter Woit’s blog).  [UPDATE: 25 June 2010:  Prof. Gleiser responds to some criticisms here.]

Monday, June 14, 2010

Order Underpins Everything

I discovered the work of Kevin H. Knuth, and took a dive into his papers and this recent talk given at the Perimeter Institute. The theme of his research is that a simple ordering relation among elements is more fundamental than, and can be used to derive, more familiar theories. The talk is entitled “The Role of Order in Natural Law”, and was part of a workshop on the topic of laws of nature.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Getting Moral Truths from Non-Moral Truths

David Chalmers has been posting chapters of a draft manuscript entitled “Constructing the World”. The project has to do with the idea of “scrutability”: given some set of base truths and ideal reasoning, can all truths be known? He thinks so, and the work is mainly about fleshing out (in much detail) variations on this thesis.

Chalmer’s arguments engage the more technical side of analytic philosophy, which makes it more difficult reading for me. But, there is good stuff here to be sure (I thought the chapter which confronts Quine’s critique of the analytic/synthetic distinction was very valuable by itself).

In Chapter 6, Chalmers briefly discusses “hard cases” of truths which seem difficult to derive from a more limited set of truths: these include some mathematical truths, philosophical truths, and moral truths. The case of moral truths was on my mind given the recent discussion of Sam Harris’ remarks on developing a science of morality. Chalmers seems to think that if moral truths are real, then they should be scrutable from the set of non-moral truths.