Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Economic Epistemology

Image courtesy of Cliff Kule

In recent years I’ve been curious about the fluidity of presumed objectivity at the heart of modern economics. Chiefly, its occasional lack of ability to explain the behaviours of markets:

Central bankers still debate whether it’s possible to recognize asset bubbles when they occur, and whether they can or should be deflated. Regulators and bankers are still at odds over new financial products such as credit derivatives: Do they simply improve the market’s ability to process and reflect information, or do they also present new dangers of their own? This is a failure that left the world unprepared for the most recent financial crisis, and the economics profession has been far too complacent about it. Economists can’t be expected to predict the future. But they should be able to identify threatening trends, and to better understand the conditions that can turn a change in prices into a financial tsunami.

Following events such as the financial crisis of 2008, and rising levels of destabilizing inequality (especially in the United States, at the center of the world economy) in the years since, a growing number of economic minds have begun conceiving of a “Brave New Math:”

While the limitations of GDP have since been echoed by many prominent economists including Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen (whose landmark 2010 report included dozens of important socio-economic measures drawn from the developing world), there has been little change in the obsessive overreliance on GDP as the primary economic barometer. And if GDP was an unreliable indicator in the pre-globalized world, it is woefully misleading today. Increasingly, understanding the quality of GDP and its composition, especially the weighting of its four constituent parts—consumption, government spending, investment, and net exports—is most important to our long-term national health. Yet few governments have managed to divorce themselves from the simple GDP figure, regardless of how irrelevant it has become.

Editorialists at the New York Times have opined that:

“Infinite growth in a finite world is impossible, growth based on speculative finance is unstable, and since the 1960’s, GDP growth and self-reported well-being have been completely uncorrelated phenomena. In this sense holistic, deep-reaching change of both thought, education and practice is needed. Indeed, we were brought together by an increasing realization that our global economic troubles aren’t just a few bad apples; the problem is indeed the apple tree.”

 Writers at the Guardian have called for an expanded undergraduate economics curriculum

We propose that neoclassical theory be taught alongside and in conjunction with a broad variety of other schools of thought consistently throughout the undergraduate degree. In this way the discipline is opened up to critical discussion and evaluation. How well do different schools explain economic phenomena? Which assumptions should we build our models upon? Should we believe that markets are inherently self-stabilising or does another school of thought explain reality better? When economists are taught to think like this, all of society will benefit and more economists will see the next crisis coming. Critical pluralism opens up possibilities and the imagination.

From a certain perspective it could be stated that we are reaching the end of an economic paradigm, giving us something of a real-time example to examine in the realm of Epistemology, as old truths are investigated, and assumptions are tested against the possibilities of the new.

Or not.

That’s the thing about shifting paradigms: How do we know that the existing paradigm is flawed to its foundation? Might it require merely ‘tweaks’ as opposed to full-scale revolution and regeneration?

How do we ensure that this conversation has a means of happening democratically?



Harvard Justice: John Rawls & What is a Fair Start?

The first statement of the two principles reads as follows:

First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.

Second: social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all…

John Rawls Theory of Justice (1971)

Today we’ll be looking at John Rawls’ Theory of Justice and reflecting upon how this theory informs discussions we’ve been having thus far in the unit, as well as how it adds to (or undercuts) previous theories of justice and morality put forth by John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant.

A few questions to spark our thinking:

  • First of all, what are your impressions of Rawls’ theory next to concepts of Utilitarianism and/or notions of the Categorical Imperative?
  • Second, do you agree that everyone should have the same basic liberties, whether they are a man or a woman, young or old, rich or poor, part of the minority or part of the majority? And if you do, what basic liberties should everyone have?
  • And third, how do you see Rawls’ theory applying to the discussions we have had around systemic oppression in the last week or so? What insights might the theory offer for those looking to combat a misogynistic or racially discriminating culture? Are there other groups or conditions to which Rawls’ insights may oppose?

Those of you who are currently (or have in the past) studied economics may have unique insights into how Rawls’ theory works (or doesn’t) within our modern capitalist economies. What do the prevailing theories of modern economics make of a system guided by Rawls’ principles? Are these systems of thought congruent?



Saving Art from Itself

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Greetings and Happy New Year, Philosophers!

I wanted to share a few links and the Conan joke above as a follow-up to our conversation today about the value, purpose and nature of art and beauty.

I saw this article recently in Slate Magazine, “Why the Art World is So Loathsome,” and I think it might provide a jumping off point for those of you wishing to take your pursuits during this week’s study of Aesthetics toward the more modern. I thought this laundry list of complaints about modern art might offer an opportunity to recalibrate and state what we might deem as art’s redeeming purpose, or necessity.

Freud said the goals of the artist are fame, money, and beautiful lovers. Based on my artist acquaintances, I would say this holds true today. What have changed, however, are the goals of the art itself. Do any exist?

How did the art world become such a vapid hell-hole of investment-crazed pretentiousness? How did it become, as Camille Paglia has recently described it, a place where “too many artists have lost touch with the general audience and have retreated to an airless echo chamber”?

The Slate piece links to another article that posits a solution to the dire situation that will no doubt entice at least one of our face to face participants:

For the arts to revive in the U.S., young artists must be rescued from their sanitized middle-class backgrounds. We need a revalorization of the trades that would allow students to enter those fields without social prejudice (which often emanates from parents eager for the false cachet of an Ivy League sticker on the car). Among my students at art schools, for example, have been virtuoso woodworkers who were already earning income as craft furniture-makers. Artists should learn to see themselves as entrepreneurs.



Trying to grasp Epistemology (Gregory Gosse)

So. Epistemology. Whats my Take on it? Well…

I’m told its A & B = C … So is that like saying Shopping & Bills to pay = Money Loss?

If you decide to go shopping ALL THE TIME then you have NO money left to pay your bills. Yet when you paid off those treacherous bills, you have left over money and decide to SPEND it! Thus leaving your poor little wallet lonely and weightless. (Greg, you have a terrible concept on this whole Epistemological thesis” Yeah. But that isn’t stopping me from trying!) So. Back to this whole Epistemology concept. Its pretty straight forward, you SHOP and SPEND money on your bills thus leaving you broke.

      • Shopping + Bills to Pay = No more money

Well, there you have it. My take on an Epistemological Statement. It’s not much, but hopefully I’ll get a better understanding in this next class and seriously expand my knowledge.