Archive for April, 2006

On Retrospective Valuation

by Jason Stotts

No, this is not another melancholy bemoanment of a loss that I’ve only just realized; rather, it’s an analysis of the whole idea of retrospective valuation.

Retrospective valuation is when one realizes the value of something (whether it’s a person, place, things, etc.) only ex post facto – that is, you only realize how valuable or significant something was for you after the fact.

What prompts me to think of this issue is being back in Florida after a long absence; I forgot how beautiful the weather was here and how nice it was to be able to sit outside in the sunshine, with a gentle breeze buffeting me, with birds singing, and big puffy clouds floating overhead – all when it is still winter where I live. It certainly seems to me that people are better suited to the milder climes than the harsh winters of the North.

The point of this essay, however, is not to sing the praises of the South, but rather to point out some significant philosophical issues; such as part of the problem that gives rise to retrospective valuation seems to involve people being too present oriented and yet at the same time not being present oriented enough. While this seems to be a contradictory statement, I think that if you think about it for a minute you’ll understand.

It is often the case that people are too present oriented insofar as they are only focused in the present without giving thought to the future. This is a problem because value partly comes from the future effects and expected positive benefits. For example, one reason why people don’t always value the people they are with is that they fail to recognize that a good relationship only gets better with time and so while one may not be that excited about their current relationships (whether friendships or intimate relationships) often one fails to see that they will continue to improve if they’re with good people. Also, if you think on your own life for a minute I’m sure you remember a time when you had something that you didn’t value at the time, and now thinking back you wish you could do it over with the knowledge you have now of it’s true value.

The other part of the problem is that people are not present oriented enough – by this I mean that sometimes people expect all of the value to come from future positive benefits and fail to recognize that the present also gives rise to value. To think that all value comes from the future would be to rob the present (and ultimately your whole life of value). This is, unfortunately, an all too often occurrence in today’s culture which emphasizes “forward thinking.” For example take this little note:

Don’t love me for who I am,
love me for who I will be,
but don’t try to make me be,
what I should be.

The problem is that if one truly loved another for what they will be in the future and this is the sole source of valuation, then this will start an infinite chain of forward valuation – except people are not immortal and so the future chain will end with death, which will destroy all the values predicated upon it. To insist that value only comes from the future ultimately destroys value itself.

It makes me wonder why people always insist upon creating false dichotomies such as values comes either from the future or from the present. Why can’t it be both?

It seems to me that in order to have a full theory of valuation one must account for both the present and the future – not that one should ignore the past either, but that’s a trickier case.

The past is harder because while the past can be a great source of value, one must remember that people are not static and if one only values based on the past and ignores the current state of the person, then they are not being Just. Furthermore, the past can often induce people into courses of action based on false premises, if they don’t take change into account. However, the past is one of the most important bases of valuation because from your past you have proof of the value. For example, you know that the car you’ve had for three years is reliable because every time you’ve ever tried to start it, it starts without a problem and it has never had any mechanical issues. The past is a proof of the value of something – it is tests passed or failed and a sure indication. However, relying solely on the past can be disastrous because it can cause one to ignore the dynamics nature of existence in favor of the static conception which ignores a lot of relevant information.

To return to our point – it seems that the idea of retrospective valuation is quite significant to valuation theory and that understanding its nature can protect one from the complications and problems that it can cause.

You must always be on guard against operating solely through retrospective valuation as it is detrimental to living your life now – if you only understand the value of that which is around you by looking back, you’re sure to miss out on the most important things in life.

Aristotle and Plato

by Jason Stotts

It’s interesting, that while Aristotle had significant problems with Plato’s philosophy, he still respected him greatly. Not only was his respect great, but also his eloquence and the depth of his feelings for his teacher betray the beauty of his character. The following is part of Plato’s eulogy, which Aristotle wrote.

Coming to the fair land of Cecropia
he piously founded an altar of holy friendship
for a man whom the wicked may not properly even praise;
he, alone or the first of mortals, showed clearly
by his own life and by the courses of his arguments
that a man becomes good and happy at the same time:
but now none can grasp this any more.

One could scarcely ask for a higher honor than for The Philosopher himself to say that you are so noble that the wicked may not properly even praise you.

It makes me wonder, though, where eloquence has gone in modernity and where this depth of love and passion for one’s friends has disappeared to…where has Nobility gone?

Necessary v. Sufficient Conditions

by Jason Stotts

The Case of Morrell v. Stotts

At Philosophy Department Senior Symposium a question was raised in which Matt Morrell and I took polemical sides – the question was on the nature of necessary conditions and the nature of sufficient conditions. This article will chronicle the debate point by point with Matt and me adding to it in turn. Comments are welcome, especially if you discover a problem with either of our arguments or if we seem to be speaking at cross-purposes.

Matt #1:

My position is this: If the exhaustive set of necessary conditions is satisfied for some action X, then this is a sufficient condition for X.

Jason #1:

My problem, Matt, with your position is two-fold:

1. Is this exhaustive of the class of sufficient conditions? I would object, whole-heartedly, if you asserted that all sufficient conditions are only exhaustive sets of necessary conditions – however, I shall reserve that objection in case this is not your position.

2. What difference does it matter that this set of necessary conditions is exhaustive – no matter how many necessary conditions you fulfill, unless one of them is sufficient you will never have X. That is, of course, unless you want to argue that sufficiency is something that only comes about from having this set of exhaustive necessary conditions (see “1” above). Otherwise all I’ve done, by exhausting the set of necessary conditions, is to make it extremely easy to effect the sufficient condition – a condition which, it seems to me, is fundamentally different from a necessary condition.

Matt #2:

Your intuition is correct that (1) is not included in my position, so I will move on to address point (2). I’m a bit surprised to see that you’ve taken this argumentative tact. To say “you can not have X unless one [condition] is sufficient” mandates that, for every X, there exists a single sufficient condition. By definition, if a sufficient condition is fulfilled for X, no other conditions are necessary to establish X. Thus, your stipulation that every X must be accompanied by a sufficient condition renders senseless the notion of conditions that are necessary but not sufficient. By taking this tact, then, you destroy the distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions — something of which you accused me earlier.

The problem with your argument is that you establish a false dichotomy between these two claims:

a) A sufficient condition can not be merely an exhaustive set of necessary conditions (your position)

b) A sufficient condition must be an exhaustive set of necessary conditions (1).

In reality, there is a third possibility. This states that a sufficient condition can, but need not be, merely an exhaustive set of necessary conditions. In other words, an exhaustive set of necessary conditions forms one instance of a sufficient condition, though not all situations require that a sufficient condition be an exhaustive set of necessary conditions. Whether this sufficient condition for X is an exhaustive set of necessary conditions will depend on the particular instance of X at hand. This third option is my position.

Jason #2:

Matt, I’m not sure that your “third way” actually presents a viable option significantly different from the alternatives; furthermore, my position is that no sufficient conditions are sets of necessary conditions. This is substantially different from the position which you wish you to attribute to me. My position is the categorical claim:

No SC are {NC}.

This is, I think, a position which does not destroy the distinction between NC and SC. I can still say that some action A is a NC for X, but that A is not a SC for X – I can also still say that some action Y is a SC for X, but that Y is not a NC for X. I see no problem with this, to particularize my point: the former would be something like “having normally functioning legs is a necessary condition for jumping, but having normally developed legs is not sufficient for jumping”, while the latter would be something like “Jumping is a sufficient condition for leaving the ground, but jumping is not a necessary condition for leaving the ground”.

I firmly belief that when one talks of the “cause” of some X, that one is only looking for the sufficient condition for X – to ask about the necessary conditions goes beyond the standard explanation and requires an explicit question pertaining to it. However, just because some action Y is a SC for X does not mean that I cannot go further and say that {A,B,C} were NC. Think about it less abstractly for a minute and you’ll see how evident this is: it was necessary for me to go to preschool, go to grade school, go to middle school, and go to high school – but none of those were sufficient for me to get into college, whereas actually applying was sufficient.

Because of the foregoing, I don’t see how I’ve destroyed the distinction, nor do I see how you have substantiated your claim that it’s ever possible for a SC to be a {NC}.

Also, it seems to me that your original position relies on an equivocation between senses of “necessary”. The first sense is the logical sense where A must happen for X, but does not “cause” X. The second sense is the common language(CL) sense where A must happen for X, but this can “cause” X. For example, the CL statement “running was necessary for me to sweat” makes sense to us, but is not true. The true statement would be “running was sufficient for me to sweat”, since clearly running caused me to sweat and others things could have caused it. The CL path seems to be what you are relying on, since you say that some {NC} are SC for X – but this only seems to follow from the CL definition of necessary and not the proper logical definition of necessary

Matt #3:

Jason, it seems you are, in fact, holding the position I attribute to you. I maintain that your claim renders senseless the idea of conditions which are necessary but not sufficient. You have given me an example of a situation that has a single sufficient condition (i.e. jumping -> leaving the ground), and of a situation that has a condition that is necessary but not sufficient (i.e. having legs -> jumping). You must provide me with a single instance that has both:

a) a sufficient condition


b) a distinct necessary-but-not-sufficient condition (bearing in mind that this can not be included within the sufficient condition, based on your categorical claim).

Otherwise, your argument will face my earlier problem that it renders the idea of necessary-but-not-sufficient conditions to be unintelligible.

Bullsheet Article

by Jason Stotts

With the recognition that my collegiate career has reached its conclusion, I write to carry on the tradition of the seniors who came before me who write into the Bullsheet to share their wisdom with the underclassmen.

First, though, I’d like to condone all the recent Bullsheet submissions, it’s always amusing for me to see how one funny article can spur a string of stupidity. Case in point: Max wrote an article the other day about people who utter the non-sense phrase “I heart you”. Now this phrase would be cute for a third grade girl who didn’t know any better, but for someone in college it doesn’t speak highly to your intelligence. What’s funnier for me though, is that we have freshmen who think themselves so worldly as to show Max up by engaging in more stupidity: Mattew Ezzard wrote “piss off”, Alexandra van Dam proffered a beautiful example of an ad hominem abusive when she insinuated Max was poor, and Katie Berta pointed out that Max is not a god speeler (oops!) while missing the point of his argument. To these kind people, I say “good move, good move” – albeit quite sarcastically.

Now, time for the real reason I write today, to give unto you, you charming little underclassmen, some reflections and advice about Denison from a graduating senior.

1. College changes you, even if you don’t always notice it at the time, bit by imperceptible bit you become more mature and grow in your abilities (that is, of course, unless you drink yourself stupid)

2. I advise you all to take advantage of everything Denison has to offer: be involved, try new things; you’ll find out a great deal about yourself from this.

3. Meet new people and be friendly to everyone, every smile makes the world a better place (as trite as this sounds).

4. Learn new things and grow – don’t remain stuck in your past with your half-formulated ideas that you’ve never analyzed anyway.

5. Res-Life and Security are not out to get you, nor are they evil people (most of them), they do have a job to do. You knew there were rules at Denison and if you didn’t, you should have checked. By coming here and remaining here you are agreeing to their rules, so don’t be upset when someone holds you accountable.

6. Coffee: I once heard that “philosophy is best done caffeinated.” Well, so is college.

7. Attend the comedians, performances, plays, and trips. Do you realize that in just a couple years, these things will not be free and you’re going to have to pay to see them? Not only that, but they’re a great break from studying and they can help get you through the week.

8. The dining halls do suck. That’s just a fact.

9. If you don’t like the way something is in life, stand up and speak out against it. YOU can make a difference in the world if all you do is stand up for what you believe in. Have some integrity and a backbone!

10. Being haughty, instead of showing that you have “class”, shows quite the opposite.

11. Don’t let your life pass you by – while studying is important, you can’t forget to enjoy yourself and have fun with your friends and the people you care about, this is college after all.

I wish all you underclassmen luck in your upcoming year(s).

To my fellow seniors, WE’RE ALMOST DONE!!!