Tagged: Philosophy

Measurements presuppose theories

(cited in Gillies’ “Philosophical theories of probability”): 

“Against this view [operationalism] it can be shown that measurements presuppose theories. There is no measurement without a theory and no operation which can be satisfactorily described in non-theoretical terms. The attempts to do so are always circular; for example, the description of the measurement of length needs a (rudimentary) theory of heat and temperature-measurement; but these in turn involve measurements of length.” (Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, 1963)




“The address that Moore delivered to the British Academy, entitled ‘Proof of an External World,’ caused him a great deal of torment in its preparation. He worked hard at it, but the concluding portion displeased him, and he could not get it right as the time approached for his appearance before the Academy. On the day of the lecture he was still distressed about the ending of the paper. As he was about to leave the house to take the train to London, Mrs. Moore said, in order to comfort him, ‘Cheer up! I’m sure they will like it.’ To which Moore made this emphatic reply: ‘If they do, they’ll be wrong!’” — Norman Malcolm (hat tip: Martin Kusch).

Towards an ethical stance on sex work

I’m finding it tricky to make sense of all this. Here are some starting premises:

  • Any assessment of sex work needs to take place in the wider context of exploitation inherent in labour. Much work is dull or damaging. No doubt some sex work is too – but that doesn’t mean that all work – including sex work – is, or necessarily must be.
  • Plenty of jobs require workers to feign interest, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions. For instance psychotherapy: “Just as prostitutes, for the good of their business, will often have to fake an erotic enthusiasm far from their actual feelings, so psychotherapists will spend many hours of boredom, frustration and at times even irritation, that they will, quite properly, be at pains to conceal from their clients” (Smail, 1995. Love for Sale: ‘Psychotherapy as Prostitution’ Revisited.)
  • There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with body-work. Take the examples of builders and life models.
  • There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with benefiting financially from arousing emotions in people – including sexual emotions. Take musicians, performance artists, ballet dancers, writers.
  • Stigmatisation is one of the main causes of emotional distress – including that experienced by sex workers.
  • We just don’t know how most sex workers feel about their work.
  • Also it’s not clear how sex workers could feel, if working circumstances were improved and sex workers offered the same rights and opportunities as workers with “respectable” jobs such as hedgefund managers.
  • Some people enjoy sex work, e.g., participant 532 in Rhoda Grant’s consultation:
    • “I chose to escort for money. I enjoy it. I do not feel exploited or dehumanised. I feel liberated, excited, expressive, creative and earning good money. I am one of very few people who ACTUALLY enjoys their job. This job has allowed me to support myself, allow myself to explore things i wouldnt have been able to otherwise and opens opportunities for me for further education. I feel that i am able to do so much more with my life in every sense since i chose to work in this line of work. I have a mortgage, i’m supporting myself, i went full time when i got made redundant in march. I haven’t claimed benefits and putting additional pressure against the welfare. I work hard and proud. I have NEVER been in danger with my job as i use the necessary precautions along with an advice network of working girls across the UK. I work as a stand alone worker and not for a pimp/organisation and pay my taxes. I would also like to add that by doing this line of work, it does not make me feel any less equal to the opposite sex. By me acting as an escort i very much have dignity and sexually empowered. I believe that any negitive perceptions about what i do is from people who are not in my line of work and are either threatened or are simply judgemental of something they know nothing about.”
  • Some people hate non-sex-work. (Listen to most conversations in most pubs.)

The role of measurement in science

The road from scientific law to scientific measurement can rarely be traveled in the reverse direction. To discover quantitative regularity one must normally know what regularity one is seeking and one’s instruments must be designed accordingly; even then nature may not yield consistent or generalizable results without a struggle. […] I venture the following paradox: The full and intimate quantification of any science is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Nevertheless, it is not a consummation that can effectively be sought by measuring. As in individual development, so in the scientific group, maturity comes most surely to those who know how to wait.” (Kuhn, 1961, pp. 189-190)

Kuhn, T. S. (1961). The function of measurement in modern physical science. Isis, 52(2), 161-193.

An attempt to explain what statistics is about

Statistics is about trying to infer a pure, imaginary, nonexistent, often massively multidimensional structure which relates different quantities to each other, together with estimates of how uncertain the estimates are of the shape of this structure. This inference is based on the statistician’s expression of their best guess of the qualitative nature of this structure (based on substantive theory, experience wandering around the world…), combined with data which is used to constrain this best guess and estimate quantitative parameters describing the shape.

George Box said “All models are wrong…” (if they’re models then they’re imaginary and they’re intended to simplify reality)  “… some are useful…” (they help us understand some phenomena, or to make predictions, when combined with, say, psychosocial theory; they relate in some way to the – or at least a – reality out there…).

A kõan about why science is tricky


Shuzan held out his short staff and said: “If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. Now what do you wish to call this?”

Mumon’s Commentary:

If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. It cannot be expressed with words and it cannot be expressed without words. Now say quickly what it is.

Mumon’s Poem:

Holding out the short staff,
He gave an order of life or death
Positive and negative interwoven,
Even Buddha’s and patriarchs cannot escape this attack.

Nagel on arousal and meaning

“Suppose a man and a woman, whom we may call Romeo and Juliet, are at opposite ends of a cocktail lounge, with many mirrors on the walls which permit unobserved observation, and even mutual unobserved observation. Each of them is sipping a martini and studying other people in the mirrors. At some point Romeo notices Juliet. He is moved, somehow, by the softness of her hair and the diffidence with which she sips her martini, and this arouses him sexually. […] Romeo senses Juliet, rather than merely noticing her. At this stage he is aroused by an unaroused object, so he is more in the sexual grip of his body than she of hers.

“Let us suppose, however, that Juliet now senses Romeo in another mirror on the opposite wall, though neither of them yet knows that he is seen by the other (the mirror angles provide three-quarter views). Romeo then begins to notice in Juliet the subtle signs of sexual arousal: heavy-lidded stare, dilating pupils, faint flush, et cetera. This of course renders her much more bodily, and he not only notices but senses this as well. His arousal is nevertheless still solitary. But now, cleverly calculating the line of her stare without actually looking her in the eyes, he realizes that it is directed at him through the mirror on the opposite wall. That is, he notices, and moreover senses, Juliet sensing him. This is definitely a new development, for it gives him a sense of embodiment not only through his own reactions but through the eyes and reactions of another. Moreover, it is separable from the initial sensing of Juliet; for sexual arousal might begin with a person’s sensing that he is sensed and being assailed by the perception of the other person’s desire rather than merely by the perception of the person.

“But there is a further step. Let us suppose that Juliet, who is a little slower than Romeo, now senses that he senses her. This puts Romeo in a position to notice, and be aroused by, her arousal at being sensed by him. He senses that she senses that he senses her. This is still another level of arousal, for he becomes conscious of his sexuality through his awareness of its effect on her and of her awareness that this effect is due to him. […]”

“Another example of such reflexive mutual recognition is to be found in the phenomenon of meaning, which appears to involve an intention to produce a belief or other effect in another by bringing about his recognition of one’s intention to produce that effect. (That result is due to H. P. Grice, whose position I shall not attempt to reproduce in detail.) Sex has a related structure: it involves a desire that one’s partner be aroused by the recognition of one’s desire that he or she be aroused.”

(Nagel, T., 1969, Sexual Perversion. The Journal of Philosophy, 66, 5-17.)