[FOM] Permanent Value?

Harvey Friedman friedman at math.ohio-state.edu
Sat Oct 4 22:58:45 EDT 2003

Reply to Holden and Lindauer.

In recent postings, I was careful to use terminology like

"universally accepted to be of permanent value"
"almost universally accepted to be of permanent value".

I was referring to work in f.o.m. as opposed to work in philosophy.

What I wrote was obviously true, because of the words

"universally accepted"
"almost universally accepted".

This doesn't even commit myself to anything but a sociological observation.

E.g., it commits me only to statements such as

"Godel's second incompleteness theorem is almost universally accepted to be
of permanent value"

"Work in philosophy is generally not almost universally accepted to be of
permanent value".

This is NOT the same as

"Work in philosophy is generally almost universally accepted to be of no
permanent value". 

Nevertheless, I do hold more than mere sociological positions along these
lines, as you rightly expect.

BUT: my position is a little bit more subtle than what can be characterized
properly in SOUNDBITES.

1. I didn't intend to spend the time to polish up my position, as this would
be a lot of effort - too much for me right now. And I certainly don't want
to get into an extended effort in which I would be compelled to adopt at
least some of the standard methodology of philosophy as opposed to the
standard methodology of f.o.m.!

2. I am talking about

*permanent value in the sense of KNOWLEDGE*, i.e.

Obviously a main point I was making was that all sorts of philosophy, even
more than generally acknowledged, LEADS to permanent-value-as-knowledge.

In fact, it is so USEFUL, that I use it all the time, every day.

3. But I am making a clear distinction between the philosophy (according to
standard methodology) and the

knowledge that it leads to;
the knowledge that comes out of it later.

4. Permanent value? There is an INDIRECT permanent value to philosophy in
its role in the later creation of knowledge that is of

5. What happens to the philosophy? It gets refocused, reworked, reexposited,
in light of the aspects of it that have lead to knowledge - for
presentations by scholars outside philosophy departments.

6. The original texts became of

i) great historical interest;
ii) sometimes great literary value;
iii) possible sources for further developments in the
permanent-value-as-knowledge sense I am talking about.

7. i-iii constitute an entirely different kind of "permanent value" - NOT


On 10/3/03 7:23 PM, "tom holden" <thomas.holden at balliol.ox.ac.uk> wrote:

> I must say I'm still puzzled by your notion of "great permanent value" and
> would be inclined to classify many of the great philosophical texts
> (including some modern ones) as of considerably more "permanent value" than
> even the development of ZFC. Lack of popular consensus on a work does not
> mean it is of no value. But we shall agree to differ.

Indeed, many classical texts in philosophy have lots of "permanent value" in
this ENTIRELY DIFFERENT sense , entirely different than


> As for Godel, yes I am perfectly aware of his work and its place in the
> literature, but the impression I get is there is nowadays a distinct
> movement against attributing any great philosophical significance to it.
> After all there are still formalists and Maddy/Yablo-esque
> "semi-formalists".

The concept

*philosophical significance*

needs careful rethinking. The foundations of it are rather poor - or
nonexistent. Metaphilosophy is distinctly unfashionable, at least in the
philosophical circles I am most in touch with.

I do not think that

*philosophical significance*

is a good primitive, and I don't think that there is enough agreement as to
its meaning among philosophers, let alone nonphilosophers, to be useful. At
least, not without some foundational work.

I have not seen Maddy and Yablo assert the lack of philosophical
significance of Godel's second incompleteness theorem, nor is it apparent to
me just what the relationship is between formalism, semi-formalism, and
interest/disinterest in the Godel second incompleteness theorem
(philosophically, or otherwise).

> Not quite. More "can we learn to follow a trivial rule like:...

This can't be your philosophical problem, as every normal child who has
reached the age of about 2 or 3 knows the answer to this question: yes.

>and in what
> sense are we 'justified' in the continuation we choose," maybe this is the
> root of some of our misunderstandings.

It is obvious to me that if you really want to say something interesting
about "justification" here, then you have absolutely no choice but to
immerse yourself in the f.o.m. methodology. More precisely, the f.o.m.
methodology, DIRECTED by philosophical thinking.

I don't think for even an instant that it is possible to do something of


along these lines, without being steeped in f.o.m. methodology, and the
ability to expand its scope in novel ways.

Of course, you could try to emulate Wittgenstein in trying to write things
that may have a kind of long term literary, artistic, historical, or
humorous value. Things that may LEAD to something of


partly because of the controversy it creates, that may attract people with
the skills to do something of


>> I suspect that 
>> ***the deep 'cart before the horse' issues that had to be fleshed out in
>> order to build a real (even very low level) computer system based on the
>> stored program idea***
> I don't, simply because as no one actually worries about whether they're
> adding 1 right, it's unlikely computer scientists would. But as we're both
> working on the level of suspicions, again I propose we agree to differ.

But computer scientists care whether a computer will append 1 correctly, and
will respond appropriately (follow a different rule) when the stored program
is "changed". This was a major feat.

The computer is perhaps approximately as dumb as the "student" in the
Wittgensteinian story who has "trouble" "learning" how to append 1
correctly. Nevertheless, the this dumb student, the computer, did in fact
learn. Or so it seems. Want to doubt that? Fine. Should lead to more
>> Now do something with that idea. Provide a calculus for determining
>> which ones concur with linguistic use and which ones do not. Go well beyond
>> W. 
> Use is transient, formalisation in a calculus defeats the purpose. It may be
> interesting to formalise a snap shot, (just as people have done many times
> before with other areas e.g. the many logics in existence) but it's not
> going to answer any of my questions.

So as I said before, after doing this, one would then proceed to do
something with more constraints, about which you would complain less.

And I'm not sure you remember my last posting when I indicated f.o.m.
advances that would help bolster the skeptics. When I have the time and
energy, I display the famous my old card


The antiskeptics would like half the projects, using it against the
skeptics, and the skeptics would like the other half of the projects, using
it against the antiskeptics.

I don't care, since there is a persistent trail of documented

>> I know of nothing invulnerable to formal treatment.
> Yes nothing is invulnerable to formal treatment, but many things are
> invulnerable to formal treatment in a way which preserves the answers to
> philosophical issues.

You are wrapped up in philosophical methodology, and do not see its inherent

I DON'T CARE if you don't see its inherent limitations, since you may
generate discussions that lead later to


whether you are interested in or welcome the resulting knowledge or not.

>E.g. What is truth?: Philosophers: Errr. Logicians:
> Easy, formalise it, Tarski condition is all there is. Few philosophers (e.g.
> Davidson): Ahh so that's all there is to truth. Many more: No however
> correct Tarksi may be, it does not answer the philosophical issue.

There is a huge give and take development of f.o.m., and undoubtedly much
more to come, connected with notions of truth. You can contribute indirectly
to this my having good discussions of no


so that under f.o.m. methodology, one is lead to

>> And how does this relate to the fact that we have no problems now with
>> computers misbehaving on trivial tasks?
> As I said in my first message, reliance on computer behaviour comes down to
> a combination of finite testing of individual ops. against our conception of
> the "right" way of applying such ops. combined with scientific knowledge.
The computer has no "idea" what we intended, yet we now - after deep work -
have no trouble communicating with it to get it to do what we want (in
simple situations). This suggests that there is no problem, and it squarely
puts the skeptic on the spot - at least on the spot as far as any nonskeptic
is concerned. 

As I said before, I am happy to do f.o.m. that, on the other hand, DEFENDS
the skeptics.

On 10/4/03 3:10 PM, "Robbie Lindauer" <robblin at thetip.org> wrote:

>> So engaging in that iteration for its own sake is not the focus of
>> foundations. The focus is on what new subjects arise from analyzing
>> philosophical criticisms and defenses - even iterated.
> The value of a creative process of iteration is without question in
> either the history of philosophy or of mathematics.    But the pursuit
> of these subjects without the foundational "philosophical approach" of
> attempting to establish the Truth about the particular matter is of
> less value.  That is, it is essential to the iterative process that
> someone be trying to establish a truth which would come under the
> heading of Philosophy.

You are perhaps too wedded to standard philosophical methodology to see its
inherent limitations. The whole issue of


in philosophy is up for grabs. In fact, just what philosophy IS in the first
place is up for grabs. Metaphilosophy is in a very poor, almost nonexistent

As I said before, I don't care, since I know just how useful


is, regardless of just WHAT it is, and regardless of what notion, if any, of
TRUTH lies in the background. What is it useful for?

*developing permanent-value-as-knowledge*
>> Just giving it their best
>> shot, hoping that their views and criticisms will stand the test of
>> time.
> This is a flimsy view of philosophers which they no doubt deserve, but
> it has been often thought that philosophers try to Prove what they
> believe to be true much in the same sense that a geometer would be said
> to prove that a cube has such and such characteristics.

Some of them may think that. But under that standard - WHICH I THINK IT AN
INAPPROPRIATE STANDARD - the work is extremely unconvincing, as entirely

If philosophers are looking for (rigorous) PROOF of highly nontrivial
matters, they need to incorporate other methodologies. But division of labor
is important. E.g., I would like to compose music of permanent value (not,
at least on face value, as knowledge!), but I had best leave that to other

> Here the systematic difference breaks down.  Without being a
> philosophically committed and motivated interlocutor, there will be no
> progress at all - given that progress would be defined not as merely
> expansion into other areas of potential interest VS. attempts to find
> "The Truth".

I am not "philosophically committed" in the sense that I think you mean, and
do not adopt the normal philosophical methodology. Yet the progress in
f.o.m. is INCOMPARABLY clearer than the progress in philosophy, if PROGRESS
is measured in terms of


>> 1. Philosophers do not normally engage in the development of new
>> subjects
>> (in the sense we are talking about).
> This is just straightforwardly false, historically speaking - all of
> the subjects which we currently think are "hard or social sciences" are
> derivatives/results of either philosophical or religious investigation.

As I said many times earlier, I distinguish between

"leading to developments of permanent-value-as-knowledge"


"being a development of permanent-value-as-knowledge".

So what I mean is that

1'. Philosophers do not normally engage in the quest for
"permanent-value-as-knowledge", hoping, at most, that it will lead to such
at some future date.

Do you suggest that we pick up the last 5 issues of the Journal of
Philosophy and evaluate the articles strictly in terms of


What conclusions would you draw?
> Recently, philosophers have been responsible for the development of
> information theory which is foundational for computer science as well
> as the various forms of political and social analysis which are popular
> today (Marx, etc.).

So Shannon was using the philosophy methodology, and was a normal member of
the philosophy community?

And if I do a Google search on information theory, I will find that some key
explicit findings are generally explicitly credited to philosophers?

This is most interesting, and I will look into it.
> I would say that Philosophy is vigorous and fecund.

I am sure that the FOM list would appreciate an accounting of what you think
are the highlights in philosophy from the last 5 years as far as


together with a detailed list of publications. Start with the last five
years of Journal of Philosophy, and Philosophical Review, perhaps the two
leading philosophy journals today(?).
>> 2. Mathematicians do not normally engage in philosophical thinking (in
>> the
>> sense we are talking about).
> This is straightforwardly false at least since Theodorus of Cyrene and
> Plato.  You appear to be a towering example of it not being true.  But
> trying to rid the world of the word "Philosophy" won't make it
> not-philosophy.

Give us some examples of clear and/or effective philosophical thinking in,
at least, the writings of contemporary figures in mathematics.

Let us start with the Annals of Mathematics, and Inventiones Mathematicae,
perhaps the two leading mathematics journals in the world today(?). Please
point out which articles in the last 5 years that you regard as most

Harvey Friedman  

More information about the FOM mailing list