[FOM] Re: Contrasting methodologies

tom holden thomas.holden at balliol.ox.ac.uk
Thu Oct 2 21:51:14 EDT 2003

Briefly, and without wanting to tread on any more toes, here are my thoughts
on Friedman and Koskensilta's replies to me.

Firstly in reply to Koskensilta: Yep, I agree with all that.

Secondly and slightly less briefly, in reply to Friedman:

Initial disclaimer: I apologise if I wrongly construe you as more optimistic
for the philosophical power of FOM than indeed you are in the below, the
only other alternate reading of your message I found construed philosophy as
of no "permanent value." I chose the more acceptable of the two.

I realise that you were trying to make the bigger point of "contrasting
methodologies" in your reply to Chow, I was merely worried that your remark
about the "computer revolution" betrayed a somewhat less "blah blah blah"
attitude to the philosophical issues than your final sentence did.

You write:
"If someone complains that this is only vaguely related to any issues of
skepticism being discussed..."
With the suggestion that my criticism of the philosophical irrelevance of
work such as that you and Koskensilta cite was something that could be
resolved by more work in FOM. However great the "permanent intellectual
value" of the snail trail of FOM work which follows the philosophical issue,
my contention was not that current FOM solutions to scepticism (such as
complexity measures, finite work etc.) are deficient, but that FOM "full
stop" is fundamentally impotent when it comes to answering the philosophical
question. I am not saying that research on this area of FOM is pointless,
merely that any use it may have lies elsewhere than philosophy. E.g. formal
complexity measures may serve as useful psychological models of our
intuitive rule building. (But fundamentally the best such models can hope to
do is to use our intuitive practice to suggest extensions of that practice,
rather than ever stepping outside the human psychological and linguistic
make-up to give some scepticism beating justification.)
You write:
(*)"Give a theory which tells us why certain "machine instructions" are
elemental, and others are not."
To which I would respond, like a well trained Wittgensteinian, because they
concur with our linguistic use.

For me the most convincing argument for rule-scepticism, and for its
ultimate invulnerability to any amount of formal treatment, is found not in
Wittgenstein but in Goodman. My Turing machine functions which behave
differently depending on the number of instructions already executed are
directly parallel to Goodman's "grue" (meaning "green before time t and blue
after time t" for the mathematicians on this list). The initial response is
always to invoke the extra complexity of "grue's" definition, but this
thought is soon dismissed upon the realisation that green and blue can just
as easily be defined in terms of "grue" and "bleen" than the other way
round. Goodman's ultimate (and I believe correct) conclusion, is that
projecting "green" not "grue" ("1111111..." not "11..1000..") is right
simply because it is what we do.

I doubt this reply will be overly well received due to your perfectly
"I thought I made it clear that I was not attempting to engage in a
discussion of skepticism directly"
My justification for it, is that wittingly or unwittingly, you have
persistently made remarks that a philosopher would be hard pressed to not
construe as "engaging in a discussion of scepticism", both directly e.g. (*)
above and the sentence I quoted at the start of the last e-mail, and
indirectly in your vague notion of the "permanent intellectual value" of

To finish on a note more closely related to the subject line, there are only
"contrasting methodologies" between FOM and philosophy as long as one does
not attempt to do the other's job.

Tom Holden

P.S. As for "naove" believe it or not it was caused by Outlook auto-correct
adding an umlaut to the "i" and the list not being able to handle Unicode.
But thank you for so considerately pointing it out... (^_^)

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