Saturday, 14 November 2009

Proceedings of 37th Session of the Philosophical Foundations of Law and Finance on Friday the 13th of November 2009 - Joe's Note

1. In attendance, 3 university lecturers, 8 PhD candidates, 5 LLM graduates and 3 professional bankers. If this were an Aikido class, this would be a class of san-dans just sharing their techniques with each other, having fun learning in a serious way.

2. Invariably, in "high-level classes", we engage in discussion about simple and fundamental things.

3. What we enjoy and genuinely appreciate from each other are not complexities for their own sake but clarity and risk.

4. Title of presentation was: "Grotesque Symmetries-- Blame and Defensive Arguments in Plato's Apology and Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice".

5. Thanks to Laura Niada for providing a marvellous set of slides and Ece Ozdilek for her assistance.

6. Although the discussion was vibrant with most making contributions, the following is a brief rendition of my intended argument which I believe I failed to make entirely clear. Also, I must thank James Waters in particular for asking questions which forced me to consider the following propositions in some sort of axiomatic and deductive form.

7. Blame and Defensive Arguments make up much of our world communications.

8. Perfect blame would pinpoint causes of misery while perfect defensive arguments would completely exculpate the blamed.

9. These forms of arguments are symmetric over cultures, over time, and evident in courts of law.

10. Does this observation of symmetry give us any important and fundamental information about how we are as humans and is there some way we can make use of this pattern of observations into our daily lives?

11. To find out, we resort to the extreme abstraction (which unfortunately requires some familiarity with an austere vocabulary) of symmetry theory.

12. Distinguish between "substantive symmetry" and "formal symmetry". From Kosso interpreting van Fraasen, substantive symmetry is the use of symmetry arguments which identify and re-describe a particular situation in symmetry terms without adding any extra risk of the person giving the description for being wrong. Thus, the claim made by a substantive symmetry statement is trivial. Nothing risked, nothing gained.

13. A Proper Symmetry Argument is fundamental, of great significance to the epistemological and ontological aspirations of humanity, and is in effect a big bet that a particular symmetry identified for a particular observed phenomenon applies generally. This is a scientific hypothesis waiting for confirmatory proof. This is a bet set by a financial trader that his hunch-based calculation will come right. This is a theory of law at the level of proposed legal or equitable remedy will be rendered in the affirmative by the judge. Or not!

14. So, all the grotesque symmetries that we see around us, from terrorists to soldiers killing each other and the highly emotive or insanely rational arguments in support thereof are substantive symmetry arguments. They add nothing to our fundamental understanding of humanity. They are to put it mildly, completely untrustworthy arguments, immediately betraying both a conflict of interest and evident biases which are at bottom self-interested.

15. A proper symmetry argument translated into human interaction is unconditional love, utter gratefulness and unqualified respect--these cannot be finally proved but only like big scientific hypotheses, worked out daily and lived out until proven wrong.

1 comment:

John Flood said...

While I like the arguments portrayed, I'm struck by a lack. In fact I think there are two. One is that any explication of symmetry must have within it a rendering of asymmetry. And asymmetry has effects. I almost wonder if by talking of symmetry that asymmetry is being marginalized or made nugatory in some way.

The structuralists argued (well, some did) that there were "marked" categories that assumed normalcy and the standard case. So men included women, illness can include the effects of poverty, and so on. The problem with marked categories, although necessary, is that they tend to ignore the unmarked.

If asymmetry is your unmarked category, are we not in danger of excluding its effects. We could pose the question another way: is asymmetry the norm? The present financial crisis surely is a result of asymmetrical information processes, among other things.

Of course asymmetry is messy compared to symmetry, but are we searching for beautiful patterns or truth?

My second point is that in this argument about symmetry is an empirical element which I suspect you allude to in point 13. I think we will need more hypotheses and methods for getting at these issues.