março 30, 2012

Questões menores?

"Words like "maximize" or "minimize" are disdained by the great thinkers among us as they are associated with common problems, not ultimate ones. But there are some evils we can minimize or even prevent, regardless of the ultimate origin of evil. I think it is clear that we should emphasize addressing common problems. Perhaps we'll find that when common problems have been resolved the ultimate ones will no longer interest us." Ciceronianus

março 28, 2012


"As enunciated by classic thinkers such as Locke, Montesquieu, and Mill, liberalism holds that the legitimacy of state authority derives from the state’s ability to protect the individual rights of its citizens and that state power needs to be limited by the adherence to law. One of the fundamental rights to be protected is that of private property; England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688–89 was critical to the development of modern liberalism because it first established the constitutional principle that the state could not legitimately tax its citizens without their consent.

At first, liberalism did not necessarily imply democracy. The Whigs who supported the constitutional settlement of 1689 tended to be the wealthiest property owners in England; the parliament of that period represented less than ten percent of the whole population. Many classic liberals, including Mill, were highly skeptical of the virtues of democracy: they believed that responsible political participation required education and a stake in society -- that is, property ownership. Up through the end of the nineteenth century, the franchise was limited by property and educational requirements in virtually all parts of Europe. Andrew Jackson’s election as U.S. president in 1828 and his subsequent abolition of property requirements for voting, at least for white males, thus marked an important early victory for a more robust democratic principle." Francis Fukuyama

março 21, 2012


"Se uma pessoa decide ir contra os factos da História e contra os factos da Ciência e da Tecnologia, não há muito que possamos fazer por ela. Na maioria dos casos, sinto apenas pena por termos falhado na sua educação" -- Harrison Schmitt

março 18, 2012

Limites e Influências

[An] ethical theory, explicit belief about right and wrong, is not omnipotent in determining our behavior, but it is influential. Good theories of ethics can encourage us to behave well; bad theories can promote correspondingly unethical behavior. Grounding ethics in reciprocal altruism unduly encourages selfishness; ultimate reliance on social, legal, or religious tradition or authority tends to entrench the oppressive or persecutorial aspects of those institutions; and perhaps most insidiously, denial that there is a rational foundation for ethics exerts influence toward ethical relativism, which tends to imply that any adopted ethical standard is as good as any other—and thence toward ethical nihilism, the doctrine that there is no real distinction between right and wrong. - Gary L Drescher, Good and Real.

março 15, 2012

Definições e Abusos

[A] definition can be anything we choose. But the arbitrariness of definitions doesn’t make truth arbitrary. Rather, it just means that in order to understand which proposition it is whose truth we’re being asked about, we need to know what the words mean. Once again, it is just a matter of pinning down the meaning in order to pin down the truth. [...] whenever something substantive seems to depend on a choice of definition—for example, if whether to take a contemplated action seems to depend on whether the action falls within the scope of some proposed definition of right—we should suspect that a tacit definition is being smuggled in, and a sleight-of-hand substitution of the tacit definition for the explicit one is occurring. Here’s a good diagnostic technique: define some made-up word in place of the familiar one that is being defined, and see what apparent difference that substitution makes. [...] A definition is just an arbitrary association between a symbol and a concept; it has nothing to do with what is true or false about the world. [...] If concepts yielded to our attempts to equate them just by our proclaiming definitions in that manner, then definitions would be like magic spells, capable by their mere incantation of somehow rearranging the substantive facts of the world. Obviously, definitions have no such power. [We need arguments, not definitions] [e.g. ownership] A supporter of libertarian capitalism may argue that you are morally entitled to use your own property for your exclusive benefit, because such entitlement is the very definition of the word own. But by that definition, you have not established that anything is your own until you have (somehow) established that you are morally entitled to use it for your exclusive benefit. However, there is another definition of own that is often implicitly smuggled in—roughly, that if you have obtained an item by purchasing it, inheriting it, building it, and so forth, then you own it. Sleight-of-hand alternation between the explicit and implicit definition creates the illusion of having established that whatever you build, purchase, inherit, and so forth, you are necessarily entitled to use for your exclusive benefit. [You need to argue that the latter implies the former]. - Gary L Drescher, Good and Real.

março 12, 2012


Um modelo científico não é verdadeiro ou falso. Ele pode ser adequado à evidência relevante, passível ou não de estabelecer predições, coerente internamente e ainda, espera-se, compatível com o corpo científico relacionado. É sobre estas propriedades que devemos avaliar um dado modelo, não se ele corresponde à verdade. Qualquer modelo, qualquer conceito dele derivado, qualquer crença estruturada, é uma narrativa, um conjunto de construções cognitivas socialmente construídas e biologicamente limitadas. O mesmo não se pode dizer dos respectivos referentes, aos quais apenas temos impressões indirectas, projecções incompletas sobre os efeitos que produzem. Esta é a componente real que tentamos entender e sobre a qual há pouco a dizer (imagino a epistemologia como um corpo de conhecimento imensamente maior que o da ontologia). E este entendimento é procurado seja através das impressões subjectivas do que é a verdade -- pelo respeito da tradição, pelas diversas convicções colectivamente chamadas fé --, seja através da abordagem empírica e racionalmente crítica que designamos por método científico. Ou, muitas vezes, por uma mistura das duas.

março 08, 2012

Tainter - The collapse of complex societies IV

Collapse then is not a fall to some primordial chaos, but a return to the normal human condition of lower complexity. The notion that collapse is uniformly a catastrophe is contradicted, moreover, by the present theory. To the extent that collapse is due to declining marginal returns on investment in complexity, it is a economizing process. It occurs when it becomes necessary to restore the marginal return on organizational investment to a more favorable level. [...] In a situation where the marginal utility of still greater complexity would be too low, collapse is a economical alternative.


Collapse occurs, and can only occur, in a power vacuum. Collapse is possible only where there is no competitor strong enough to fill the political vacuum of disintegration. Where such a competitor does exist there can be no collapse, for the competitor will expand territorially to administer the population left leaderless. Collapse is not the same thing as change of regime. Where peer polities interact collapse will affect all equally, and when it occurs, provided that no outside competitor is powerful enough to absorb all. [...] there are major differences between the current and the ancient worlds that have important implications for collapse. One of these is that the world today is full. That is to say, it is filled by complex societies; these occupy every sector of the globe, except the most desolate. This is a new factor in human history. Complex societies as a whole are a recent and unusual aspect of human life. The current situation, where all societies are so oddly constituted, is unique. [...] There are no power vacuums left today. Every nation is linked to, and influenced by, the major powers, and most are strongly linked with one power bloc or the other. [...] Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole. Competitors who evolve as peers collapse in like manner.

março 05, 2012

Tainter - The collapse of complex societies III

Any complex hierarchy must allocate a portion of its resource base to solving the problems of the population it administers, but must also set aside resources to solve problems created by its own existence, and created by virtue of overall societal complexity. Prior to the development of modern welfare states it is likely that these increased administrative costs did little for the population as a whole other than to maintain some semblance of basic needs. And often even that was not accomplished. To maintain growth in complexity, hierarchies levy heavier taxes on their populations. At some point even this yields declining marginal returns. This happens when rates are so high that avoidance increases, and taxation-induced infation erodes the value of the money collected.

Rulers [...] must constantly legitimize their reigns. Legitimizing activities include such things as external defense and internal order, alleviating the effects of local productivity fluctuations, undertaking local development projects, and providing food and entertainment (as in Imperial Rome) for urban masses. In many cases the productivity of these legitimizing investments will decline. Whatever activities a hierarchy undertakes initially to bond a population to itself (providing defense, agricultural development, public works, bread and circuses, and the like) often thereafter become de rigueur, so that further bonding activities are at higher cost, with little or no additional benefit to the hierarchy. [...] The alternative course is to reduce legitimizing activities and increase other means of behavioral control. Yet in such situations, as resources committed to benefits decline, resources committed to control must increase. Although quantitative cost/beneft data for such control systems are rare, it seems reasonable to infer that as the costs of coercion increase, the benefits (in the form of population compliance) probably do not grow proportionately [...] These remarks are not meant to suggest that social evolution carries no benefits, nor that the marginal product of social complexity always declines. The marginal product of any investment declines only after a certain point; prior to that point benefits increase faster than costs. Very often, though, societies do reach a level where continued investment in complexity yields a declining marginal return. At that point the society is investing heavily in an evolutionary course that is becoming less and less productive, where at increased cost it is able to do little more than maintain the status quo.


For human societies, the best key to continued socioeconomic growth, and to avoiding or circumventing (or at least financing) declines in marginal productivity, is to obtain a new energy subsidy when it becomes apparent that marginal productivity is beginning to drop. Among modern societies this has been accomplished by tapping fossil fuel reserves and the atom. Among societies without the technical springboard necessary for such development, the usual temptation is to acquire an energy subsidy through territorial expansion.