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Post 60

Wednesday, May 19, 2004 - 4:44amSanction this postReply
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Previous posters, thank you for the interesting and well thought out posts. Regi, you've almost got me convinced.  However, call me an emotionalist but I’m sure something about patent rights makes them worth protecting, damned if I can work out just what!  Anyway, here’s some more fuel on the fire.

 

So far patents have been rejected on the grounds that there is no initiation of force, as ideas are not physical, and that patents are but thin disguises for monopolies.  These points true.  No amount of copying can damage the original, there is no loss to the owner.  A patent is the right to a monopoly of whatever is patented. No arguments thereJ

 

Law is a derivative of philosophy, the philosophy of Objectivism is rational self-interest.  This requires physical property rights, without them production could be stolen and therefore rational self-interest an impossible form of living.  What’s the point in being a creator if the creation can be taken from you?

 

I think intellectual property rights can also be derived from this principle.  Physical or not, protection of these rights is necessary for someone to survive by the creation of ideas.  Thus the production of patented ideas, which later benefit many people a thousand times over, is made a possible form of life.

 

We have already had a few arguments stating that the protection of these rights is not necessary for the creator of the ideas to make money, or live.  One was that hiding the process is better than patents anyway, well I doubt that in many cases otherwise companies would simply do that and never use patent laws.  Then there are the arguments about first person benefits, which are true but the benefits aren’t likely  enough to repay the initial investment.

 

There is a huge freeloader problem with all arguments involving competitive markets for something with massive intellectual investment; the creator has invested while both can receive.  Therefore there is incentive not to invent but to sit on your ass and wait for someone else to find it in their heart to do so, sound inline with Objectivist values?

 
Another thought was that a tight contract could perform the same thing as a patent, only better.  “If you purchase my product you agree that neither the product itself, nor the knowledge of the process inimical to it’s production, will be reproduced or passed to another person or company in any form”  Although bloody hard to enforce, this sort of thing would allow others to discover things for themselves without breaching the law, while still protecting intellectual property….
 


 





Post 61

Wednesday, May 19, 2004 - 6:08amSanction this postReply
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Hi, David.
 
You have weighed the pros and cons we have raised in this thread regarding patents, and I see that you are at the tipping point.  In defense of patents you raised a couple of concerns.  The first was: >>One was that hiding the process is better than patents anyway, well I doubt that in many cases otherwise companies would simply do that and never use patent laws.<< 
 
Most processes that manufacturers develop are not patented.  It may surprise you how much remains unknown about the OPTIMUM means of manufacturing a product with current technology.  Take for instance machining, a method of manufacturing which is well understood in principle, but I can assure you as manufacturer and a machinist, there remains a great leap from the comprehension of general principles to the development of the optimal process for the machining of a product.  A lot of R&D goes into that, and believe me, once you know what to do, the best thing to do is to keep it a secret.
 
Why?  I think the problem many outside of manufacturing have with an issue like this is the misconception that invention is the creation of something that breaks the mold.  In fact, most invention is the incremental advance of old technologies, and patent is seldom the best way to protect your competitive edge once you make such a discovery.  This is because competitors usually have the same technological base as you have, therefore, they can readily copy your discovery if the supplement it with sufficient improvement or difference to get around a patent.  So the best thing to do is to keep the idea out of the competition's view as much as possible.
 
This applies to products as well as process.  One thing I manufacture is a seemingly simple product -- a wiper insert, which is used to prevent the wrinkling that occurs on the inside radius of tube as it is being bent.  (Just one of the millions of products for processes that make the everyday things we all need and never think about.)  It consists of single component made of bronze or steel.  I could have had this patented, but that would have meant revealing its design to my competitors.  By concealing the design, my competitors have yet to make an effective knock-off, even though my product has been on the market for nearly twenty years.  But what they have done in their attempts is persuade a lot of the tube-bending market that wiper inserts are a great idea, if only they would work -- and guess who they end up coming to for the ones that work?  Yours truly.
 
So trade secret is very effective and practical.
 
Your second concern was:  >>Then there are the arguments about first person benefits, which are true but the benefits aren’t likely enough to repay the initial investment.<<
 
This is not generally true.  Keep in mind that R&D is typically a small percentage of the total cost of getting a product into the customer's hands.  The competition has to invest in the same plant and equipment, distribution chain, and sales and service functions as the inventor does to make a profit.  On top of that, the competition still has to reverse-engineer the invention, which means he has R&D costs too.
 
Remember that no idea produces a profit.  Profit only comes with the sale.  (Well, more precisely, upon collecting payment for the sale. ;)  Ninety-five percent of what the inventor has to do make that sale and thus make a profit is what his knock-off competition has to do to turn a buck.  So I think the question is:  If an inventor cannot manufacture and market a product as well as his competition, why should the government shield him from the consequences of his inadequacies?
 
Regards,
Bill




Post 62

Wednesday, May 19, 2004 - 6:26amSanction this postReply
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Hi, Regi.
 
>>Thanks!<<
 
You're welcome.  Glad to be of service in the advancement of truth, justice, and commonsense.  However, most of what I have had to say in this thread is born of experience and principles I have adopted from reading Hayek, Friedman, and other defenders of the free market.
 
So I do not want to make any pretense to arguing the "true" Objectivist point of view against Objectivist orthodoxy (unless I explicitly frame my remarks as such as I did in my last response to Michael Smith).  The reasons are simple enough.  First, allowing others that presumption would disingenuous because I am not a student of Objectivism.  Second, others here can do it better than I, especially when it does come to challenging orthodoxy.
 
However, it would be an injustice on my part to not give Objectivism any credit for influence upon me, including what I have written in this thread.  The one truly beautiful thing Rand wrote that embedded in me the essential goodness of capitalism was Francisco's soliloquy in "Atlas Shrugged" on money.  There is not a false note in that melody.
 
Regards,
Bill

(Edited by Citizen Rat on 5/19, 7:51pm)




Post 63

Wednesday, May 19, 2004 - 4:51pmSanction this postReply
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David wrote: 

 
Law is a derivative of philosophy, the philosophy of Objectivism is rational self-interest.  This requires physical property rights, without them production could be stolen and therefore rational self-interest an impossible form of living.  What’s the point in being a creator if the creation can be taken from you? 
 
True!  And I would like to add,  what kind of a man takes the results of another man’s mind without offering something in trade to him?  In other words, what kind of woman would I be if I reproduced Atlas Shrugged and sold it without Ms. Rand’s permission, without compensating her for creating and providing such a value?  Well, I wouldn't even call myself a capitalist.  It sounds more like plagiarism, really.  It is against rational self-interest to do this because although one may profit he has to give up his honesty, his integrity, his respect for life and in short completely side step the trader principle!  Not good.  So in accordance with the basic principles of Objectivist Ethics, no matter if intellectual property rights or laws are rational, it is still immoral to dispense with (profit from) or even attempt to do so with another man's work, the products of another man's mind, another man's life, without a mutually beneficial and voluntary trade for his work first

So you may be able to rationalize abolishing 'intellectual property law' but there is no excuse for living off another man's mind.  And I think that is the bottom line. 







Post 64

Wednesday, May 19, 2004 - 5:14pmSanction this postReply
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Excellent discussion on intellectual property rights. I especially liked Michael Smith's contributions. I'll probably add more later, but I found two points worth commenting on.

First, Regi brought up way back a point about "potential vs. actual". He refers to Ayn Rand's comments on abortion. This is taken way out of context though. The potential he's referring to is a not the same as hers. She's referring to the potential of having a right. He's talking about a right to a potential use of a product. The two aren't the same. If someone puts a gun to your head and says you aren't allowed to leave your house, it's true that they're only taking away your potential to leave the house. But they're still violating your rights.

Second, Regi argued that an idea is an idea, and it doesn't matter how someone came about it. He said it was Marxist to think the amount of work changed the value or nature of the result.

I just want to point out that if this were true, all property rights would be invalid. In fact, it's exactly the process by which a value was created that determines whether it's property or not. If I build a house (or a toothpick), it's mine because I built it. The process is everything! The fact that a house is a house, or a toothpick is a toothpick, and it could have been created in some other way doesn't invalidate it as property. So this particular argument against intellectual property seems misguided. Unless, Regi, you've got some alternative theory for how physical property becomes property.



Post 65

Wednesday, May 19, 2004 - 7:09pmSanction this postReply
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Welcome Joe,

I'm glad to see some fresh voices (and fresh ideas) added to this discussion; like yours, and Bill's (Citizen Rat - whose been carrying much of the load). I'm getting a bit stale on this subject, I'm afraid.

Your questions:

First, Regi brought up way back a point about "potential vs. actual". He refers to Ayn Rand's comments on abortion. This is taken way out of context though. The potential he's referring to is a not the same as hers. She's referring to the potential of having a right. He's talking about a right to a potential use of a product. The two aren't the same. If someone puts a gun to your head and says you aren't allowed to leave your house, it's true that they're only taking away your potential to leave the house. But they're still violating your rights.

What I said was:

"...The concept of theft is based on something being stolen, but if nothing is missing, just what is it the presumed violator of intellectual property rights stole? Ready for the answer. It is potential. In an entirely different context, Ayn Rand said, "Rights do not pertain to a potential." ["Of Living Death," The Objectivist, Oct. 1968] But, in any context, the principle is the same. In this world there are no guarantees and one of the greatest mistakes of all governments is the attempt to provide them. Patent and copyright laws are perfect examples of this folly. A potential cannot be property. What does not yet exist cannot be owned. What cannot be owned, cannot be stolen. ..."

I clearly pointed out the context was different, and it was the principle, a potential (to rights, property, or anything else) cannot be treated as a fact, I was referring to. If a potential is equivalent to a fact, the potential to leave the house would be the equivalent of actually leaving the house. Holding a gun to someone's head could take away the fact as easily as the potential, so doing so and saying, "you aren't allowed to leave your house," would cause someone to remain in the house, even if they had already left. (Yes, I know it's absurd, but that would be the result if fact and potential could be treated equally.)

If it were not true that a potential cannot be treated as a realized fact, I could not have used that principle in my argument, but then, Ayn Rand would not have been able to use it in hers either. The same principle applies in both contexts.

Second, Regi argued that an idea is an idea, and it doesn't matter how someone came about it. He said it was Marxist to think the amount of work changed the value or nature of the result.

I just want to point out that if this were true, all property rights would be invalid. In fact, it's exactly the process by which a value was created that determines whether it's property or not. If I build a house (or a toothpick), it's mine because I built it. The process is everything! The fact that a house is a house, or a toothpick is a toothpick, and it could have been created in some other way doesn't invalidate it as property. So this particular argument against intellectual property seems misguided. Unless, Regi, you've got some alternative theory for how physical property becomes property.

 
Of course, you are absolutely right. Property is property because it is the product of some individual's rationally guided action. My point was, while it is human effort that produces property, it is not the amount of effort that determines either the value or nature of the property. That was very clear I think in the original post, because I was arguing at the time against Michael's contention that the amount of work an inventor or creator had expended in some way determined the value that work should be to the originator.

But it is also clear in what you quoted, "He said it was Marxist to think the amount of work changed the value or nature of the result," which is one of the most well-know fallacies of Marxism. If it were true, the work of any brick-layer or ditch-digger would be worth more than the work of an Einstein or Newton.

Obviously, some people expend great amounts of effort (work) and produce very little of value; others are able, for various reasons, to produce many things of immense value with much less effort.

Good questions. I hope the answers were sufficient, even if you do not agree with them. (I suspect you won't.)

Regi





Post 66

Wednesday, May 19, 2004 - 7:50pmSanction this postReply
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Hi, Marnee.
 
You ask: >>... what kind of a man takes the results of another man’s mind without offering something in trade to him?<<
 
What did Rand give Aristotle for using the "results" of his mind?
 
It's not a nonsense question.  The odd thing about intellectual property is that it disappears - poof! - after an arbitrary number of years.  No other property is like this.  If intellectual property is property like anything else, why should it be different?  Why shouldn't a patent or copyright last forever?  Why shouldn't Aristotle's heirs or successors own the rights to his works?
 
Regards,
Bill




Post 67

Wednesday, May 19, 2004 - 8:52pmSanction this postReply
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Marnee,

And I would like to add,  what kind of a man takes the results of another man’s mind without offering something in trade to him?
 
Why, Marnee, you do, and I do, and everyone does almost every minute of every day that we are awake.

You are a computer engineer. How much have you paid Mr. Boole (or his estate), for developing the boolean algebra that is the basis of the logic in computers, their function, design, and, even the software. For that matter, did you invent the language you use in programming, or even the one you use in speaking? How much have you offered to those who did invent and develop them?

It is impossible for any adult in today's world to say, do, or even think anything that does not use concepts and principles and actual entities and machines discovered, invented, or developed by others we not only never acknowledge, but do not even know.

Does every surveyor in the world owe Pythagoras money; must every mechanical designer offer something to Euclid and Newton; should every musician in the world feel guilty about using notation invented by Bach?

An idea is an idea, and once someone has learned it, it is his own idea. No one who uses an idea takes anything away form anyone else with the same idea, whether they are the first or last to know that idea.

In your education as an engineer, everything you learned was originally someone else's idea they either discovered or developed. Do you really feel guilty about using your education without compensating everyone who developed any of the ideas that constitute your education?

Regi




Post 68

Wednesday, May 19, 2004 - 11:22pmSanction this postReply
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Regi,

 

You post good, well-thought out responses!

 

Certainty is the normal attitude of the psychologically stable. It is pathological to doubt everything, which one must, if nothing is certain. Once you have identified something and understand its nature, without some particular evidence to the contrary, one can be certain that what has been identified is what it is, and has the nature it has. When you are not being a, "philosopher," this is always your attitude.   

Many would say that it's the sense of certainty that's pathological, not uncertainty!  Religious fundamentalists, cultists, the insane, Leonard Peikoff etc all have a strong sense of certainty.... ;)

 

This idea that we cannot be certain about anything always astounds me. Are your really not certain, vaccination works, wireless communication is possible, heavier than air flight is possible, painless surgery is performed daily, antibiotics kill bacteria (but not viruses), machines can perform millions of mathematical functions that no single human being could ever perform, and that man can (and did) walk on the moon?

I really do not see that reasoning requires certainty.  All reasoning requires is that we can obtain probabilities which are high enough for all practical purposes.  In the examples you gave, reason does enable us to assign a very high probability for all of them, and this is sufficient for me to say that I know these things to be true.  But I do not see that any of them are absolutely 100% certain.  99.999999999999999% maybe, but not 100% ;)  I take it that we 'know' something when we have used reason to establish it 'beyond reasonable doubt’ (This is the legal definition by the way!).  But this doesn't require certainty. 

 

Now then, Fountain Head:

You are not 50% sure of the outcome—you are certain that the outcome will be one or the other.  It is your odds of being correct with your guess as to what the outcome will be, which are 50/50.

 

Look at it this way: were you not certain of the potential outcomes, and the concepts involved with tossing a coin, then from where are you assigning odds from, and to what?  Your certainty in the act of coin tossing--and all that goes along with it--is implied when statistical analysis is applied.

I don't think so.  The range of possible outcomes to the coin toss (Heads or Tails) is itself a theory based on empirical examination of the world.  Who is to say that for a very few coins the bank made a mistake and produced a coin with Heads on both sides?  Or perhaps the coin will land on its edge?  Or may be the coin will suddenly disappear in mid-flight?  Of course these are 'arbitrary' possibilities which we can reasonably reject, but not with certainty.  We can be say 99.999% sure that the result will be either heads or tails, but not 100% sure.  The statistical analysis itself is not certain, because statistics is, like every other piece of knowledge, empirical in nature and thus not 100% certain.  Read on...

 

 

For you to, not only state certitude concerning what is impossible, but also assign how percetage-ly sure you are as well, you would need to demonstrate, with certitude, the conditions by which would render it impossible. 

 

Firstly, I did not state anything with 'certitude', nor do I need to demonstrate anything with certitude.  I gave a figure of 98% likelihood that certainty is impossible.  Where did the figure come from?  It was based on the use of something called 'Bayes Theorem', which calculates probabilities based on input from each piece of knowledge relevant to the hypothesis.  The figure is itself not absolutely certain.  Nor is the Bayes Theorem.  But this is not paradoxical if we regard reasoning as a self-referential network, where each belief in our mind supports the others.  For instance take two pieces of knowledge A and B.  Belief A can support B, and B can support A.

 

In order to support my claim that certainty is impossible, all I need to do here is present good and sufficient reasons to place my claim 'Beyond reasonable doubt' (but not 100% certain).  So what reasons do I have for thinking that certainty is very unlikely?  It's worth me repeating in this thread the reasoning I gave in the other thread.  Here's what I argued:

 

'We are always operating off incomplete information (relative to the entire universe).  Rand said that we could fix the problem by specifying a 'context'.  But how do we know that there isn't something outside this context which is screwing with our reasoning faculties?  (Remember, brains are physical objects, existing in the physical universe like everything else).  We don't.  So a confidence level of 100% can't be justified.'

 

...

 

'To specify a context we need a working rational mind.  But this mind cannot be separated from that context!  For any given physical context, we could take a 'God's eye' view of it and imagine an observer looking at that context.  The mind of an observer is itself a physical object, and so we need to consider whether or not this mind is working properly.  But this would create a new context (physical context + mind of observer).  But then we could imagine a second observer looking at this new context - a watcher watching the watcher ;)  And this in turn would create yet another new context (physical context +mind of observer 1 + mind of observer 2) and so ad infinitum.  And that is precisely why specifying a context doesn't escape from uncertainty.'

 

All you need to do is apply Rand's own reasoning.  Firstly, consider that there is no analytic/synthetic distinction.  Rand herself came to this conclusion, and said that empirical knowledge was all there is.  Next, consider that brains are physical objects - there is no mind/brain dichotomy.  Again, this is Rand's own conclusion.   So your mental process themselves are physical in nature, and open to empirical uncertainty.  And now you should easily be able to see that certainty is very likely to be impossible (although of course I do not state this with certainty, just a high probability).

 

If anyone can rebut me, fire away.

 

 

As to married bachelors: You may be uncertain as to whether a person is a bachelor or not, but not that there can be married bachelors, as marriage and bachelor are concepts that humans invented concerning the contractual state of a male in relation to some other female/male.

 
Without putting too much thought into this, human inventions, such as marriage and bachelor, are not empirical, as the moon is perceived, but are constructed/invented to indicate a state of relationship with another person.  You seem to be confusing the two.

Brendan rebutted you there.   Your argument has adopted the philosophy of Kant, not Rand!  It was Kant who tried to classify knowledge into two different kinds.  One kind he called 'analytic' (truth by definition or constructed/invented truth) and the other kind 'synthetic' (whose truth had to be established empirically).  But the analytic/synthetic dichotomy is false!  All knowledge is empirical in nature.  Rand was right about this, surely.  So there is no such thing as invented/constructed true concepts.  Hence your argument is invalid. 

 


 


 


 

 

 


 

 

 




Post 69

Friday, May 21, 2004 - 4:12amSanction this postReply
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Hi, Bill

Your response contained many interesting points which have clarified my thoughts and added weight to your argument.  That most technology isn’t patented is very reassuring, and reduces the value of any role a patent might play.  Your point that most incremental advances are not patented for the reason that a patent is easy to get around is very helpful in understanding why it is patents aren’t as common as I thought. You are right

“…trade secret is very effective and practical.”

 

But here comes the but.  Because most companies act rationally most of the time, there must be some value in patents.  Which means one of two things:  On occasion trade secret doesn’t work, or there is some other value in getting a patent.  Even with reverse engineering not being easy it’s hard not to imagine some cases where a patent actually works better than trade secret, not to mention the added inefficiencies from having to hide every invention.

 

Venerable lovers of freedom may not even think like this, but if it’s ok for you to hide your ideas what difference does it make to protect your ideas?  Both cases have the same results, each effective in different circumstances.

 

In the earlier post I expressed doubts about creator benefits being sufficient to repay the initial investment.  Your reply, again, was very thoughtful and gave a great deal of strength to those arguing against patents.  And it’s very encouraging to learn that if patents were dropped it wouldn’t have the massive effect on development that I initially thought. 

 

However here comes the however.  The small section of R&D* in a company, or an independent lab could not be as strongly justified under a system without patents, as patents do play a role in returning benefits to idea creation.  The government should protect them not because they can’t compete, but because they deserve reparation for their investment.  As arbitrary as monopoly might be as a means of reparation it does have it’s benefits.

 

A monopoly provides profits correlating to how beneficial the product is.  It can never turn profit unless the development is somewhat better than what was already there, or better than a competing products idea.  I think these pros outweigh the cons of any other system of ‘payment’ for ideas, or no payment.

 

One of the nastiest disadvantages of patents is that it blocks others from rightful access to ideas.  If I invented fire, and patented the means of making fire, then everybody would have to pay me for the rights to make it.  This may be fair to a degree, as I invested my time in creating something incredibly useful, but what if somebody else came up with the idea on there own.  My patent would then block them from using something they rightfully invented.  So for this reason, and a few like this, I’m in support of a time restriction on patents.

 

I’m sure many people hate the idea of having to attribute an arbitrary payment rather than having the market do it, but I really can’t see the market operating on ideas unless patents are there.  Or unless, as mentioned earlier, a tight contract could be written having the same effect as a patent.

 

My basic argument is this; 

ideas are a needed for life

ideas require incentive,

incentive requires reward,

life requires rewarding ideas,

patents are the best means of providing rewards for ideas,

life requires patents J

 

Thanks,

David

 

 

 

 

*BTW   Looking at R&D statistics from around the world show that about 50% is done by business, and the rest provided by either non-profit or government.  And R&D amounts to between ~1.7 – ~2.7 % of GDP (USA ~2.7%).  Not really that small an amount.

http://www.statistics.gov.uk/articles/economic_trends/ET_Aug02_Morgan.pdf

(Edited by David on 5/23, 1:53pm)




Post 70

Friday, May 21, 2004 - 6:14pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Marc,
 
Thank you for the kind words.
 
Many would say that it's the sense of certainty that's pathological, not uncertainty!
 
Many say many things which are wrong.
 
Religious fundamentalists, cultists, the insane, Leonard Peikoff etc all have a strong sense of certainty.... ;
 
Some do, some don't. Many insane live in chronic terror of the uncertain. But if they were all absolutely certain, it would be irrelevant to my point.
 
It is not certainty that makes one sane, but sanity does make one certain. One can be certain without sanity, one cannot be sane without certainty.
 
I really do not see that reasoning requires certainty.

It doesn't, if you only mean by reason whatever one does with the rational faculty. Correct reason is both dependent on and results in certainty. I do not mean complete certainty about everything, I mean certainty about most things, and all those things which are essential to one's successful life.

All reasoning requires is that we can obtain probabilities which are high enough for all practical purposes.

This sounds like some kind of neo-pragmatism. I think the real problem is actually semantic. Maybe you better tell us what you mean by certainty.

Here is what I mean: Certainty, about any proposition, is that state one reaches when there is no remaining question about or specific reason for doubting the truth of that proposition. Like truth itself, certainty pertains only to propositions.

In the examples you gave, reason does enable us to assign a very high probability for all of them, and this is sufficient for me to say that I know these things to be true.
 
Probability only pertains to the unknown. If I toss a coin in the air, there is a 50% probability it will land "heads." After it has landed, and it is observed it is indeed heads, probability no longer pertains to the case. There is no probability at all, it is heads. That is the case with all of my examples, they are all already facts of history and facts of existence. There is no probability that pertains to them. They are irrefutable metaphysical realities.

But I do not see that any of them are absolutely 100% certain.  99.999999999999999% maybe, but not 100% ;)

Everything is certain for which you do not have a clear-cut reason for questioning that certainty. There is no reason to question any of my examples. A thing is either certain, or there is some reason to doubt it. To doubt something without a reason for doubting it is either superstition or a psychological fault.  

Except in those specific cases where statistical probability applies (and it only applies to statistically determined future unknowns), everything else is either certain, or, (because of some specific question) uncertain. Some things might be less certain than others, because there are more specific unanswered questions, but where there are no specific identifiable questions or reasons to doubt a proposition, it is certain. (100% certainty is redundant.)

I take it that we 'know' something when we have used reason to establish it 'beyond reasonable doubt’ (This is the legal definition by the way!).  But this doesn't require certainty. 

I'm not fond of using human invented law to establish philosophical principles, but in this case, if we accept the phrase, "beyond a reasonable doubt," it would fit exactly my view. If there is no specific identifiable reason to doubt a proposition, there is no reasonable doubt (or any other kind). The reasonableness is not established statistically, it is established absolutely (there is or is not a factual reason to doubt it).

What you are not certain about, you do not know, you only suspect, even if your suspicions run to 98%, or even 99.999999999999999%.
 
If you have no certainty about anything, you have no knowledge at all; all you have is a collection of more or less reasonable suspicions, all of which may, or may not, be true. Even though this is likely the dominant mental state of most people, it is pathological.

Regi




Post 71

Saturday, May 22, 2004 - 4:05amSanction this postReply
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This sounds like some kind of neo-pragmatism. I think the real problem is actually semantic. Maybe you better tell us what you mean by certainty.

Here is what I mean: Certainty, about any proposition, is that state one reaches when there is no remaining question about or specific reason for doubting the truth of that proposition. Like truth itself, certainty pertains only to propositions.

What I mean by certainty is simple:  A proposition is certain if we can use reason to assign a probability of 100% to that proposition.

I read your definition, and if that is what you believe, then I disagree with you, since I do not think that such a point ('no remaining question about or specific reason for doubting') can ever be reached.

Probability only pertains to the unknown. If I toss a coin in the air, there is a 50% probability it will land "heads." After it has landed, and it is observed it is indeed heads, probability no longer pertains to the case. There is no probability at all, it is heads. That is the case with all of my examples, they are all already facts of history and facts of existence. There is no probability that pertains to them. They are irrefutable metaphysical realities.
Of course I disagree that 'Probability only pertains to the unknown'.  After the coin has landed and you've made your observation, probability still pertains.  In order to assign a probability of 100% that the result was indeed 'Heads', you would have to be able to assign a probability of 100% that your sensory faculties were in perfect working order.  Your brain is a physical object, and subject to empirical uncertainty.  Since you cannot examine 100% of your own brain state, you cannot ever be 100% certain that your brain was working perfectly when you made the 'Heads' observation.  The 'Heads' observation is not an 'irrefutable metaphysical reality'.  There remains a tiny possibility that you were hallucinating.    Similarly, none of the examples you gave are 'irrefutable metaphysical realities' either.  Take the moon examples:  there are theories that the moon landing was a hoax.  These theories are very unlikely, but you cannot absolutey rule them out.  Thus you cannot assign a probabality of 100% to the proposition that man landed on the moon. 

Except in those specific cases where statistical probability applies (and it only applies to statistically determined future unknowns), everything else is either certain, or, (because of some specific question) uncertain. Some things might be less certain than others, because there are more specific unanswered questions, but where there are no specific identifiable questions or reasons to doubt a proposition, it is certain. (100% certainty is redundant.)
You are making an artificial distinction in types of knowledge:  on the one hand you talk about 'cases where statistical probablity applies', on the other hand 'everything else'.  This sounds rather like Kant trying to divide knowledge into analytic on the one hand, and synthetic on the other.  Knowledge is knowledge:  there is only one kind.  If you agree that we can have knowledge in 'cases where statistical probablity applies', then you must agree that all knowledge has to be described this way.

If you have no certainty about anything, you have no knowledge at all; all you have is a collection of more or less reasonable suspicions, all of which may, or may not, be true. Even though this is likely the dominant mental state of most people, it is pathological.
Well I disagree with your definition of knowledge, and say that you can have knowledge without certainty.  My definition of knowledge:  Accurate correspondence between thought and reality, supposed by good and sufficient reasons. 








 




Post 72

Saturday, May 22, 2004 - 8:20amSanction this postReply
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Marc,

It is obvious we are not going to agree. If you are familiar with my other posts, I do not try to convince others, I only try to make clear what I regard to be true and why. I appreciate your clear explanations of your views as well, even though we I do not agree, it makes it easier to understand the nature of our disagreement.

Well I disagree with your definition of knowledge ...
 
That, I think, is the basis of our disagreement. The difference is a profound difference in our epistemologies. You start with doubt, like Hume or Descarte, I start with certainty, because that is where all human knowledge begins.

Doubt has to be discovered. We begin by knowing everything we perceive is what is; later we learn that our interpretation of what we perceive is sometimes mistaken. But that discovery assumes what is perceived is correct, or we would never have anything to compare our mistaken assumptions against&mdash;there would be nothing by which to test our assumptions to conclude there was a reason to doubt them.

Of course I disagree that 'Probability only pertains to the unknown'.

Please provide a single example of probability applying to what is already known.

After the coin has landed and you've made your observation, probability still pertains.  In order to assign a probability of 100% that the result was indeed 'Heads', you would have to be able to assign a probability of 100% that your sensory faculties were in perfect working order.
 
You have conflated two different concepts. If the coin is heads, it is heads. Even if I look at it, and being poor of eyesight think its "tails," my perception of the fact does not change the fact. Probability does not pertain to existential facts.

Neither does it apply to my perception. Perception itself is never mistaken. What is perceived is what is perceived. Even dreams, hallucinations, and visions caused by a bump on the head are correct, in the sense that, whatever is being perceived is what is being perceived, and is always an indication of the actual nature of what is being perceived in its fullest context.

Mistakes about what is being perceived are always at the conceptual level. (The behavior of reflexes and the autonomic nervous system are excluded, because they are automatic, not knowledge.) I might believe the apparition I am experiencing is, "real," while experiencing it, but when the drug has worn off or the fever subsided, I will understand what I "saw" was caused by something wrong with my perceptual apparatus. The actual perception (the apparition) was a correct result of that particular physiological anomaly. For that anomaly not to have caused the hallucination would be a the contradiction and perceptual mistake.

I have chosen the extreme case, but the same is true for all so-called perceptual illusions. In fact, all such illusions are correct perceptions of facts within the context of those facts, which includes the state of the perceiver. So called perceptual allusion are always the result of not taking into account everything (a fever, fatigue, some disease, the lighting, for example) pertaining to a particular percept and interpreting it incorrectly.

Since a fact is a fact, and the accuracy of my perception of it does not change it, and, since my perceptual equipment is either working correctly, or it isn't, there is no statistical relationship between perception and facts. If you want to cast doubt on my perception of a coin's state (heads or tails), for example, it is not enough to say, you might be perceiving it wrong, how do you know your physical brain and nervous system are working correctly? You must provide some plausible evidence it is not working correctly, and that the particular malfunction would prevent me from correctly perceiving the case in question. (One's perceptual equipment would have to be working very badly not to able determined whether a coin were heads or tails, for example.)

If we don't start with certainty, we can never come to the valid conclusion there is anything to doubt. Even doubt assumes certainty about something.

Since that is the premise you simply do not accept, we will never agree on the rest of it.

Regi 




Post 73

Saturday, May 22, 2004 - 8:49amSanction this postReply
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Marc,

Thanks for complimenting me on my article. As this thread has now become quite relevant to a sentence found in my article, please take the time & effort required to expound your understanding of that single sentence from my article:

"100% precision is not required for 100% certainty."

Ed



Post 74

Monday, May 24, 2004 - 1:29amSanction this postReply
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Hello again Ed,

I already agreed that precision (accuracy) is something different to rational confidence level (degree of certainty).

Your sentence presupposes that certainty is possible.  So in the trivial sense I agree with it.  If in fact certainty is possible, then it would be true that 100% precision is not required for 100% certainty.  But of course accepting your statement in no way implies that I accept contextual certainty.

I still don't think my disagreement with certainty is just a matter of semantics.  See the above recent exchange between myself and Regi.  I think Bayesian epistemology (probabilistic reasoning) is definitely different from Objectivist epistemology (with it's contextual certainty).

I am re-reading the relevant section of your article.  Again, when talking the carpenter you have implicitly assumed that the mind is something outside physical reality.  The very process of reasoning itself is a physical process (because the brain is a physical object).  So the very process of defining a context itself relies on implicit theories about the world which introduces uncertainty.  So no, I still don't see the 'Contextual certainty' Objectivists talk about.   




Post 75

Monday, May 24, 2004 - 12:09pmSanction this postReply
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Hi, David.
 
You had a "but" and a "however" in response to me.
 
Your "but":  >>Because most companies act rationally most of the time, there must be some value in patents.  Which means one of two things:  On occasion trade secret doesn’t work, or there is some other value in getting a patent.  Even with reverse engineering not being easy it’s hard not to imagine some cases where a patent actually works better than trade secret, not to mention the added inefficiencies from having to hide every invention.  Venerable lovers of freedom may not even think like this, but if it’s ok for you to hide your ideas what difference does it make to protect your ideas?  Both cases have the same results, each effective in different circumstances.<<
 
Your point is true.  But it is most applicable to those circumstances in which an invention is simple in design or an incremental improvement -- i.e., by its nature, the invention is readily replicable by others.  Hence, the need for the government's protection of the inventor's monopoly on the market for his invention.  But, if you think about, David, such inventions are the least worthy of such protection because they add so little to our knowledge.  Most of what they are is already widely known, which is why they are so easily copied.
 
Your "however": >>The small section of R&D* in a company, or an independent lab could not be as strongly justified under a system without patents, as patents do play a role in returning benefits to idea creation.  The government should protect them not because they can’t compete, but because they deserve reparation for their investment.  As arbitrary as monopoly might be as a means of reparation it does have it’s benefits.<<
 
Again, what you say is true.  It is also utilitarian.  Not being an Objectivist, I don't view a utilitarian argument -- at least in practical matters -- with anathema.  So let's consider just how patents impact the market.  You argue that the value of patent protection is that it provides an incentive to bring new ideas to the marketplace.  Yes, but that incentive is a monopoly on the rights to market the products created from that idea for seventeen years.  During that seventeen years, competitors have little incentive to bring their improvements to that idea because the government will deny them any reward the marketplace might offer.
 
So do patents truly encourage invention that would not otherwise occur; therefore, the government must create and enforce temporary monopolies to ensure a vital stream of invention?  Or do these artificial monopolies stymie the flow of ideas and decelerate progress?  If it is the latter, then the utilitarian argument is against patents.
 
Regards,
Bill




Post 76

Friday, May 28, 2004 - 12:56amSanction this postReply
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 Hi Bill,

Your point is true.  But it is most applicable to those circumstances in which an invention is simple in design or an incremental improvement -- i.e., by its nature, the invention is readily replicable by others.  Hence, the need for the government's protection of the inventor's monopoly on the market for his invention.  But, if you think about, David, such inventions are the least worthy of such protection because they add so little to our knowledge.  Most of what they are is already widely known, which is why they are so easily copied.

 

I see your point, but I think the exceptions need to be protected.  Within patent law something has to be done to stop these incremental improvements being patented to excess.  Rules whereby the invention has to represent a significant change might be sufficient for this.

 

But the fact remains that easily replicable inventions don’t always correlate with incremental improvements.  A new drug, plastic, metal, drink, food or microchip may only contain a few basic easily replicable ingredients but represent a massive deviation from traditional products.  The hours and hours of trial and error and experimentation in the lab may end with a very simple but novel idea.  Something very worthy of protecting I think.

  

You argue that the value of patent protection is that it provides an incentive to bring new ideas to the marketplace.  Yes, but that incentive is a monopoly on the rights to market the products created from that idea for seventeen years.  During those seventeen years, competitors have little incentive to bring their improvements to that idea because the government will deny them any reward the marketplace might offer.

So do patents truly encourage invention that would not otherwise occur; therefore, the government must create and enforce temporary monopolies to ensure a vital stream of invention?  Or do these artificial monopolies stymie the flow of ideas and decelerate progress?  If it is the latter, then the utilitarian argument is against patents 

An excellent summary.  I guess patents clearly have disadvantages and advantages , and I can’t say which outweigh the other.  And as much as I’d like to think clauses such as time limits and conditions can reduce disadvantages to negligible, it just isn’t true.  Fuck it, I hate ending a good discussion so meekly! Somebody please step in and stoke this thread up!

 

Thanks,

David

 

 

 

 

 

(Edited by David on 5/28, 4:09am)




Post 77

Saturday, May 29, 2004 - 2:41pmSanction this postReply
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Marc:

 

hello!

 

Sorry for the delay.

 

I was not suggesting that knowledge is not empirical with my stating that marriage and bachelor are human constructs.  Of course what it is to be married and what it is to be a bachelor is certainly learned, that is to say, when I intelligibly express what these words mean to some other person who does not know what these words referent to.  In this context, they (marriage and bachelor) are taught/learned.  This is empirical.  What else is empirical, is knowing what it is like, through experience, to be married, or a bachelor.

 

What I’m saying is that without words to express our perception of reality, reality would still be perceived, and still would exist despite having no words to represent them.  The words we use are not characteristics of an entity—they represent them.

 

Example:

 

Does a child not perceive that shared reality that the rest of us do, without a language?  Does it not see the cat without ever hearing of or knowing of the word “cat?”  Of course it does.

 

Were I to show you the word “cat,” or say the word to you, without you ever knowing what it is a referent to, it would not trigger what it (“cat”) referents—that animal.


Did the first man not climb a tree to gain a fruit in which he desired, because he did not have words to which these actions and objects and desires refer?  

 

Words are human constructs--albeit, words can also be learned.  This is what I meant when I used human construct. 

 

Keep in mind that I am not saying that emotions, desires, and objects we experience are created by words, but are merely constructs that represent them.

 

Another way to look at this is: there are no words in nature, whereby words are constructed that referent to those words, in nature.  So I agree with you that all knowledge is empirical in nature, that our senses are our connect to nature, but you will find no words out there.  And there is nothing Kantian about it.

 
I will have a response to odds, possibilities, certainty, et cetera, later.  I have a screen to fix and a squirrel to take care of.



Post 78

Saturday, June 5, 2004 - 1:05pmSanction this postReply
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Marc

 

Hello!

 

Firstly, I do not recall certainty is contextual as being an objectivist position.  I am, however, familiar with knowledge being contextual as an objectivist position.  (Keep in mind that I am not saying that certainty is contextual as not being an objectivist position, but that I am not familiar with it being one.)  Non the less, if all non-spatial temporal knowledge is contextual (residing in the brain), and all non-spatial temporal knowledge exists in a mental context, then I am, at the very least, certain that my knowledgebase, which could all be false, or non-corresponding to reality, is “there,” as I am certain (without doubt) of its existence. 

 

So it seems as though certainty is contextual, as well.  And it would have to be, as it is my knowledgebase that which I am certain of, and knowledge (in the context that I am using it), is of the mental.

 

A problem that I was having with “your” probabilistic approach to establishing uncertainty is your reducing mental entities/events as also being in a state of uncertainty, due to their reliance on the empirical process.  It is true that mental entities/events are contingent upon perceiving existence/experiencing, and, as you have argued, may all be false, but they (mental entities/events) are not themselves empirical.  In other words, I do not come to know my thoughts via the senses, but through introspection—thinking. 

 

Thinking is not a sense faculty, so the coming to know that mental entities exist is exempt from empirical fallibility, and I am certain of them.

 

So to this I add that Bayes has nothing to say.  Bayes’s theorem applies to rational belief in outcomes, whereby “strong” incremental confirmation proportionally increases the odds of some hypothesis as being true, consequentially resulting in degrees of belief concerning any given hypothesis.

 

What is interesting here is that belief cannot be measured, nor can certainty.  But “adjusting” one’s beliefs to correspond to increasing confirmation leads to rational beliefs (certainty/to be without doubt).  Also, it can be said that if the increase confirmation leads to rational belief, then believing the contrary, or anything else which the confirmation does not lead, would be irrational and, as I would think, incapable of being accepted at all, in any degree.  If it cannot be accepted at all in any degree, or whereby reasonable doubt has not been met, then a person will find oneself in a state of uncertainty/doubt concerning that hypothesis, and unable to be certain of the unconfirmed.

 

The religious example below:

 

As to the religious claiming certainty of divine intervention, confirmation is not possible, as it is not falsifiable.  So the argument that religious people claim to be certain about religious claims, and we take it that they cannot be, and this being evidence of certainty no being able to be achieved, fails, as when analyzed, they also cannot be certain of these types of claims, as their confirmation method is specious at best.

 

So for one to continue to be certain over that which has not been confirmed, over that which has been, becomes the bases of things to be doubted/uncertain of.

 

I have yet to meet a theist who has claimed, when asked, if he knows god exists as he knows that when it rains he gets wet, that the answer is “yes.”  Theists do recognize the distinction between empirically derived beliefs based on confirmation, and “beliefs”/faith based not on the empirically derived and confirmation which concludes from it

 

What theists are doing is abusing certainty, and what leads to, as Regi stated (I think),  that psychological state of not holding doubt.

 



 

 As to coin tossing:

 

when we are having a general discussion on coin tossing, and during that general discussion there was mention of a side designated as head’s and a side designated as tail’s (or it is at least implied), I find it a tad frustrating to receive a reply of but the mint may have made a coin with two heads…  I know that we all get desperate at times to defend our positions, but this sort of thing, when it is taken that errors by the mint are not being used as part of the discussion, as being non-productive.   

 

Also, when I said that one is certain of the possible outcomes, it can only mean that the person is certain of the possible—the known.  The possible concerns the known.  The possible, in the context of coin tossing, is head’s, tail’s, or, on that rare occasion, standing on end.  All of these potentials concern what?  The known, that is to say, that knowledgebase concerning outcomes of coin tossing.

 

Where probability comes into the equation is which of the known will happen, but has yet to, and whether or not a belief about future results, based on past results, are more likely than not, through confirmation.  For example: if out of 500 coin tosses, the results are head’s 90% of the time, then accepting head’s as a belief that will result in coin tossing is the preferred, as it has been incrementally confirmed.  Unfortunately, it does not speak to why head’s are the most common result. 

 

On the other hand, since coins are not personally influenced by past results, say, as humans are, and sometimes give preference to satisfying a whim, it can be argued that after any number of coin tosses and results, the preferred belief is still 50/50, as coins are oblivious to past events, and will not allow for tail’s based on the coin’s feeling sorry for tail’s and its absence of appearances.

 


 

I’ll also take one last stab at intellectual property rights.

 

If actions cannot be owned, then what results from actions can only be owned up to.  I think we can all agree that when I own up to actions, what is being said is that the results of those particular actions are mine.  But that is the extent of it.

 

When some person other than the inventor replicates a product, what that other person is doing is merely copying actions of another, and since these actions cannot be owned, the product that results due to those actions is the product of the any given actor.  It can only be the actor that can rightfully own up to the results.

 

The human genome project is an example of intellectual property rights gone mad.  If a person happens to discover a sequence of genome, then patents it, then no other person can use this sequence in any application. 

 

The problem here is that what can only be patented is the action, and not that sequence, as being 99.9% identical to the person it was discovered in, and this discovered genome sequence does exist in me, then how can I not own my genome?  How can some other scientist not use MY genome, which is identical to the discovered genome in some other person, as WE see fit?

 
This I like suggesting that, were we all to have gold in our backyards, and some first person decided to dig in his backyard, found gold, then patented this discovery, that none of the rest of us would be permitted to dig in our own backyards and do what we wish wish with the gold we find.
 
 




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