Milton Friedman was a Statist

Now you know.


In the interview, he expresses disagreement with Ayn Rand and her view that the State is bad because it uses force against its citizens. He does not provide any argument that she's mistaken, or that his view is better.

Milton also, for example, advocated a negative income tax. That means if you contribute a sufficiently small amount to the economy then the State takes money by force from other citizens and gives it to you.

The purpose of this post is simply to inform people about how a libertarian icon is a blatant Statist. (And, by the way, he's not the only one.)

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Beyond Criticism?

The Retreat To Commitment, by William Warren Bartley III, p 123:
There may, of course, be other nonlogical considerations which lead one to grant that it would be pointless to hold some particular view as being open to criticism. It would, for instance, be a bit silly for me to maintain that I held some statements that I might make—e.g., "I am over two years old"—open to criticism and revision.

Yet the fact that some statements are in some sense like this "beyond criticism" is irrelevant to our problems of relativism, fideism, and scepticism.
The claim that some statements are beyond criticism is anti-fallibilist and anti-Popperian.

It is not at all silly to maintain that the example statement is open to criticism. It's essential. Not doing so would be deeply irrational. We can make mistakes, and denying that has consequences, e.g. we'll wonder: how do we know which things we can't be mistaken about? And that question begs for an authoritarian, as well as false, answer.

You may be thinking, "Yes, Elliot, but you are over two years old, and we both know it, and you can't think of a single way that might be false." But I can.

For example, my understanding of time could contain a mistake. Is that a ridiculous possibility? It is not. Most people today have large mistakes in their understanding of time (and of space)! Einstein and other physicists discovered that and space are connected and it's weird and doesn't follow common sense. For example, the common sense concept of two things happening simultaneously at different places is a mistake: what appears simultaneous actually depends where you watch from. If some common sense notions of time can be mistaken, why laugh off the possibility that our way of keeping track of how much time has passed contains a mistake?

Another issue is when you start counting. At conception? Most people would say at birth. But why birth? Maybe we should start counting from the time Bartley was a person. That may have been before or after birth. According to many people, brain development doesn't finish until age 20 or so. In that case, a 21 year old might only have been a full person for one year.

Of course there are plenty of other ways the statement could be mistaken. We must keep an open mind to them so that when someone has a new, counter-intuitive idea we don't just laugh at him but listen. Sure the guy might be a crank, but if we ignore all such ideas that will include the good ones.

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Another Problem Related To Critical Preferences

X is a good trait. A has more of X than B does. Therefore A is better than B.

That is a non sequitur.

You can add, "All other things being equal" and it's still a non sequitur.

X being a good or desirable trait does not mean all things with more X are better. There being all sorts of reasons X is amazing does not mean X is amazing in all contexts and in relation to all problems.

You'd need to say X is universally good, and all other things are equal. In other words, you're saying the only difference between A and B is amount of something that is always good. With the premises that strong, then the claim works. However, it's now highly unrealistic.

It's hard to find things that are universally good to have more of. Any medicine or food will kill you if you overdose enough. Too much money would crush us all, or can get you mugged. An iPhone is amazing, but an iPhone that's found by a hostage taker who previously asked for everyone's phones can get you killed.

You can try claims like "more virtue is universally good". That is true enough, but that's because the word "virtue" is itself already context sensitive. It's also basically a tautology and immune to criticism, because whatever is good to do is what's virtuous to do. And it's controversial how to act virtuously or judge virtue. If you try to get specific like, "helping the needy is universally good," then you run into the problem that it's false. For example, if Obama spent too much time working in soup kitchens, that wouldn't leave him enough time to run the country well, so it'd turn out badly.

You could try "more error correction is a universal good thing" but that's false too. Some things are good enough, and more error correction would be an inefficient use of effort.

You might try to rescue things by saying, "X is good in some contexts, and this is one of those contexts." Then you'll need to give a fallible argument for that. That is an improvement on the original approach.

Now for the other premise, "all other things being equal." They never are. Life is complicated and there's almost always dozens of relevant factors. Even if they were equal, we wouldn't know it, because we can never observe all other things to check for their equality. We could guess they are equal, which would hold if we didn't miss anything. But the premise "all other things being equal, unless I think of some possible relevant factor" isn't so impressive. You might as well just say directly, "A is better than B, unless I'm mistaken."

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Examples of Accepting Contradicting Ideas

People commonly say things like, "That's a good point, but alone it's insffucient for me to change my position."

In a debate club meeting, or a Presidential debate, most of the non-partisan audience usually comes away thinking both sides made some good points.

Debaters think an idea can suffer a few setbacks, but still be a good idea. They aren't after perfection but just trying to get the better of their debating opponent.

These are examples of the same mistake underlying critical preferences: simultaneously accepting two conflicting ideas (such as a position, and a criticism of that position).

PS Notice that "simultaneously accepting two conflicting ideas (and making a decision about the issue)" would be a passable definition of coercion for TCS to use. This highlights the connection between coercion and epistemology. The concept of coercion in TCS is about when rational processes in a mind break down. The TCS theory of coercion tries to answer questions like: What happens then? (Suffering; a big mess.) What causes the breakdown to happen? (Different parts of the mind in conflict and the failure to resolve this by creating one single idea of how to proceed.) What's a description of what the mind looks like when it happens? (It contains conflicting, active theories.)

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Weak Theory Example

T1 is a testable, scientific theory to solve problem P. T2 is a significantly less testable theory to solve P. In Popper's view, barring some important other consideration, if both T1 and T2 are non-refuted then we must prefer T1 and say it's better.

But T1 might not be better. You could easily choose T1 so it's false and T2 so it's true as best we know today, without contradicting the situation description.

You can assert that T1 is better, as far as we know, given the current state of knowledge. But is it? Where is the argument that it is? This looks to me like both explanationless philosophy and positive philosophy (T1 is supported by its testability, and T2 isn't). T2 is losing out without any criticism of it.

What we should do is not say T1 is better, but say: T2 needs to be testable to be a viable theory because X. X can be a generic reason such as scientific theories should be testable and P is a scientific problem. Once we say this, we are now making a criticial argument: we're criticizing T2. This offers T2 the chance to defend itself, which never came up in the original analysis.

It's now up to T2 to offer a reason that it doesn't need to be more testable, or actually is more testable. T2 can criticize the criticism of it, or be refuted. (BTW if T2 didn't already contain this reason, and it has to be invented, then T2 is refuted and T2b is now standing, where T2b consists of the content of T2 plus the new content that criticizes this criticism of T2.)

Then if the testibility criticism is criticized, it can either be refuted or be ammended to include a criticism of that criticism. And so on. This approach takes seriously the idea that we only learn from criticism. That makes sense because criticisms are error-correcting statements: they explain a flaw in something, which helps us avoid a mistake.

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Using False Theories

C&R by Popper p 306
we are, in many cases, quite well served by theories which are known to be false.
This is a mistake! Consider a theory of motion, say, which we'll call T. We know T is false, but it's also a good approximation to the truth in common and well defined circumstances.

We do not use theory T. We use theory U which consists of what I said in the first paragraph: that theory T is an approximation, and useful in certain circumstances. Theory U contains in it theory T, but also some other ideas including the refutation of T. Theory U is a way of approximating motion in certain circumstances, it's useful, and it's not known to be false. Theory U is just plain better.

If we can't create a true variant of T or any other false theory, like we did with U, then T is not actually useful at all. Refuted theories can only be useful via non-refuted theories that make reference to them, not on their own.

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Critical Preferences and Strong Arguments

The following is intended as a statement of my position but does not attempt to argue for it in detail.

The concept of a critical preference makes the common sense assumption that there are strong and weak arguments, or in other words that arguments or ideas can be evaluated on a continuum based on their merit.

The merit of an idea is often metaphorically stated in terms of its weight (e.g. Popper wrote "weighty though inconclusive arguments", Objective Knowledge p 41). It's also commonly stated in terms of probability or likeliness. And it's also stated in terms of ranking or scoring ideas to see which is best.

Ideas do have merit, and they can be closer or further from the truth (more or less truthlike, if you prefer). However, we never know how much merit an idea has. We can't evaluate ideas that way.

(BTW suppose we could evaluate how much merit ideas have. A second assumption is that doing so would be useful and that it would make sense to prefer the idea with more merit. That should not be assumed uncritically.)

Popper did not give detailed arguments for the idea that we can or should evaluate arguments by their strength or amount of merit. That's why I call it an assumption. I think he uncritically took it for granted without discussion, as have most (all?) other philosophers.

In the strength based approach, an idea could score a 1, or a 2, or a 20. In Popper's view, the numbers don't have an absolute meaning; they can only be compared with the scores of other ideas. Or in other words, we never know how close to the truth we've come on an absolute scale. In this approach, an idea can have infinitely many different evaluations.

In my approach, an idea can only have three possible evaluations. An idea can be unproblematic (non-refuted), problematic (refuted), or we're unsure. Ignoring the possibility of not taking a stance, which isn't very important, an idea gets a boolean evaluation: it's either OK or not OK.

If we see a problem with an idea, then it's no good, it's refuted. We should never accept, or act on, ideas we know are flawed. Or in other words, if we know about an error it's irrational to continue with the error anyway.

On the other hand, if we have two ideas and we can see no problem with either, then we can have no reason to prefer one over the other. This way of assessing ideas does not allow for the middle ground of "weighty though inconclusive arguments".

If an idea is flawed, it may have a close variant which is unproblematic. Whenever we refute an idea, we should look for variants of the idea which have not been refuted. There may be good parts which can be rescued.

My approach is in significant agreement with Popper's epistemology because it does not allow for the possibility of ideas having support. Some people would say we can differentiate non-refuted ideas by how much support each has, but I follow Popper in denying that.

Popper's alternative to support is criticism. I accept the critical approach. Where I differ is in not allowing an idea to be both criticized and non-refuted. I don't think it makes sense to simultaneously accept a criticism of an idea, and accept the idea. We should make up our mind (keeping open the possibility of changing our mind at any time), or say we aren't sure.

As I see it, a criticism either points out a flaw in an idea or it doesn't. And we either have a criticism of the criticism, or we don't. A criticism can't contradict a theory and be itself non-refuted, but also fail to be decisive. On what grounds would it fail to be decisive, given we see no flaw in it?

Let's now consider the situation where we have conflicting non-refuted ideas, which is the problem that critical preferences try to solve. How should we approach such a conflict? We can make progress by criticizing ideas. But it may take us a while to think of a criticism, and we may need to carry on with life in the meantime. In that case, the critical preferences approach attempts to compare the non-refuted ideas, evaluate their merit, and act on the best one.

My approach to solving this problem is to declare the conflict (temporarily) undecided (pending a new idea or criticism) and then to ask the question, "Given the situation, including that conflict being undecided, what should be done?" Answering this new question does not depend on resolving the conflict, so it gets us unstuck.

When approaching this new question we may get stuck again on some other conflict of ideas. Being stuck is always temporary, but temporary can be a long time, so again we'll need to do something about it. What we can do is repeat the same method as before: declare that conflict undecided and consider what to do given that the undecided conflicts are undecided.

A special case of this method is discussed here. It discusses avoiding coercion. Coercion is an active conflict between ideas within one mind with relevance to a choice being made now. But the method can be applied in the general case of any conflict between ideas.

My approach accepts what we do not know, and seeks a good explanation of how to proceed given our situation. It is always possible to find such an explanation. It may sound difficult, but actually you already do it dozens of times per day without realizing it. Just like people must use conjectures and refutations to understand each other in English conversations (and must use them in all their thinking), and when they first hear that idea it sounds bizarre, but they already do it quickly, reliably, and without realizing what they are doing.

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Me on Critical Preferences

Follow up:

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Freedom Is Slavery -- Hume
It will be found, if I mistake not, a true observation in politics, that the two extremes in government, liberty and slavery, commonly approach nearest to each other
Why does anyone respect Hume?

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Edmund Burke on Parenting

In my course I have known and, according to my measure, have co-operated with great men; and I have never yet seen any plan which has not been mended by the observations of those who were much inferior in understanding to the person who took the lead in the business.

Reflections on the revolution in France By Edmund Burke
In other words, criticism of parental ideas by children will frequently be successful.
Time is required to produce that union of minds which alone can produce all the good we aim at.

Reflections on the revolution in France By Edmund Burke
In other words, gradual persuasion is the source of progress. Without creating agreement between people ("union of minds"), no good will come. Therefore parents should focus on coming to agree about ideas with their children.

Both of these quotes are strikingly similar in thinking to William Godwin.

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Force and Charity at CR Blog

I posted about Force and Charity:

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Quicktime Player 7 Lies About Playback Speed

In Quicktime Player 7, under Snow Leopard with Perian, if you open the A/V controls (cmd-K), it has a playback speed slider which you can set from 0.5 to 3.

I like playing videos faster to save time. I noticed that if you play the same video on double speed in Quicktime 7 and in VLC, the audio sounds faster and harder to follow in VLC. At first I thought Quicktime was doing a better job speeding up the sound.

But then I timed it with the stopwatch on my iPod touch.

VLC and the new Quicktime Player (version 10.0 in the about window) both play one minute of video in 30 seconds on my stopwatch. They correctly play at double speed.

But with quicktime 7:

When the slider is set to 1.5 playback speed, it goes at 1.25 speed.

When the slider is set to 2 playback speed, it goes at 1.5 speed.

When the slider is set to 2.5 playback speed, it goes at 2 speed.

When the slider is set to 3 playback speed, it goes at the full 3 speed.

At .5, .75, and 1 speed on the slider, it plays at the correct speed.

Isn't that bizarre? And disturbing. It lied to me! And the slider doesn't even have a linear effect on playback speed.

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