September 29, 2007

Well Color Me Shocked

A while ago I reported that Rock Band was a top selling game already despite the fact that it won't be released until November. I bemoaned the people pre-ordering the mega package of the game for $200 as that pretty much guaranteed that the game would not sell for any less than that. Well, then my resolve broke and I became exactly one of those people who pre-ordered the game and now we get final pricing and it's $30 cheaper. Still no small investment, but hooray anyhow! Link.

September 27, 2007

Competition To Make Adam Smith Happy is getting into the mp3 business with DRM-free songs available at $.89 a pop and many albums at below $10.00. Now, I've always thought $1 per song was a bit high, but what really kept me away from itunes is the possibility that I would buy an mp3 player from another company and would have to buy my music all over again. The Amazon store also doesn't require you to download any software to buy songs (only to buy some whole albums) and provides 30 second clips of songs so you can get an idea of whether you actually want to buy it.

It's going to be really interesting how Apple and MS respond to this, but it's only good for us.

Tip o' the hat to EA.

Pretending that economics is the right way to think about problems of justice

Background: NARAL PCA wants to use text messaging to send action alerts to members who sign up to receive such alerts. Verizon, citing a longstanding internal rule prohibiting text messaging about `controversial' topics, refuses to let NARAL PCA run this program with Verizon customers. (Cont'd below the fold.)

What's to be done? One response suggests expanding something called the common carrier rule to include text messaging, now that text messaging has become a major form of interstate communication.

Professor Wu pointed to a historical analogy. In the 19th century, he said, Western Union, the telegraph company, engaged in discrimination, based on the political views of people who sought to send telegrams. “One of the eventual reactions was the common carrier rule,” Professor Wu said, which required telegraph and then phone companies to accept communications from all speakers on all topics.

But this isn't the only response.

Some scholars said such a rule was not needed for text messages because market competition was sufficient to ensure robust political debate.

“Instead of having the government get in the game of regulating who can carry what, I would get in the game of promoting as many options as possible,” said Christopher S. Yoo, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “You might find text-messaging companies competing on their openness policies.”

Well, yes, you might find text-messaging companies competing on their openness policies. Just the same way you might find organic foods being served at McDonald's and Burger King. Or the way you might find $500 in your winter coat next week.

The supply and demand model (which I presume Prof. Yoo is utilising here, the Times not having quoted him citing any more sophisticated model) assumes, among other things, that the marketplace is in a state of perfect competition. Primary features of this state include perfect and complete information (everyone knows everything), equal access (it's easy for consumers to move from one producer to another, among other things), free entry (it's easy to start up a new company in the market), and the independence of consumers and producers (the fact that my best friend chose to go with company A in no way influences my choice between companies A and B).

It should be clear that none of the assumptions made in the previous sentence obtain in the case of today's telecommunications giants. A quick Google search isn't turning up a nice chart or graph, so I don't have evidence, but AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint (I might be forgetting one or two prominent others) have almost complete control over the cell phone network within the United States. Critically, this includes the infrastructure, the physical network itself. A new carrier trying to enter the market must either pay one of these companies to use their infrastructure, or invest billions of dollars (and, most likely, engage in tedious legal fights) to build their own infrastructure. The big telecoms require customers to sign two-year service contracts, so buyers cannot easily move from one service to another. And, of course, the service contracts are specifically designed to encourage customers to use the same network as their friends, family, and co-workers, with significant discounts for in-network communications.

Again, a quick Google search isn't turning up the information I need to make good on this claim, but I think the cell phone networks in the US would be better described as an oligopoly. If this is the case, then both competition and collusion are likely, and a simple model can't predict with any reliability. For example, the telecommunications giants might start competing with each other to let NARAL PCA send action alert text messages. Or they might just as well all decide to ban NARAL PCA from their networks. Critically, in neither case do consumers have any real say over what happens. The ability of NARAL PCA to effectively communicate with its members using text messages depends on decisions made at the highest levels within the big telecoms.

Which leads to the real problem I have with Prof. Yoo's suggestion that we just let the invisible hand sort things out. There's a difference between NARAL PCA communicating action alerts to a list of members and what kinds of frozen pizzas we can find at the local megamart. The Times reporter recognises that difference, albeit only in one short sentence: `Messages urging political action are generally thought to be at the heart of what the First Amendment protects.'

The real, effective ability of citizens to express their political beliefs is at issue here. It's true that there are plenty of other ways for citizens to engage in political speech -- NARAL PCA has a website and sends out messages to its members by both e- and snail mail. But if Verizon is allowed to prohibit the communication of controversial ideas over its network, then mutatis mutandis so is FedEx, and so are landline phone companies and television stations and cable television and internet companies. Hence, by contraposition, if we accept a principle requiring these other common carriers to give NARAL PCA access to their networks (whether that principle is grounded in the First Amendment or something else), then we must accept a principle requiring Verizon to give NARAL PCA access to its text messaging network.

Finally, once we highlight this aspect, we realise that Yoo's economic argument (such as I assume he had; the Times just quoted his conclusion, not his reasoning for that conclusion) is a huge red herring. When we start debating the proper economic policy, we end up completely ignoring the deeper, and far more important, issue of justice: What impositions can and should we place on members of our society to ensure that everyone has a real ability to express their political beliefs?

September 26, 2007

Review: Teh Haloez 3

So I just finished the Halo 3 single player campaign. Yeah, unemployment has given me some spare time. The story was good. Yeah, in a world post-Bioshock (and several games before that for that matter, it's just on my mind having finished it so recently) it's no longer acceptable to say "Good enough for a video game". Both games have plenty of action, but Bioshock was Serenity, Halo 3 was Die Hard. Well actually, Halo 3 has a few missteps that Die Hard doesn't in that there are a couple times where you might be scratching your head if you don't pay close attention or haven't played the previous games. Still, it's not a movie, it's a video game and though the story could definitely be better (or perhaps just better told), the game is plenty of fun to play.

Really though, it's hard for me to fairly judge Halo. I finished the single player campaign, which is pretty rare normally, but the real focus of this game is multiplayer. While I'm really hoping to play matches with my friends over Live, I really don't have the time or energy to get good enough at multiplayer to really compete online, so there's a rather large chunk of the game that I'm not going to really play much of.

In the end I do really like the game. It's 8-10 or so hours of fun single player goodness, even if it won't blow your mind. The multiplayer will undoubtedly be tons of fun if I can get my friends into it, but I'd recommend the game even if you don't plan on using this feature. Is it the best single player campaign I've played all year? No, but it's quite good and definitely worth your time.

September 25, 2007

Differentiating human and non-human animals

In a 1986 article in the New England journal of medicine, `The case for the use of animals into biomedical research', Carl Cohen gives a handful of arguments against the work of Tom Regan and Peter Singer, who in turn had previously argued against the use of non-human animals as research subjects. (Cont'd below the fold.)

One of Cohen's arguments is to attack an analogy of Singer's, between the denial of the moral status of non-human animals and racism. Cohen quotes Singer:

The racist violates the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests of members of his own race when there is a clash between their interests and the interests of those of another race .... Similarly the speciesist allows the interests of his own species to override the greater interests of members of other species. The pattern is identical in each case.

(NB Singer also makes the analogy to sexism. For the sake of simplicity, I will confine my remarks to the racism analogy. I believe all that follows will apply, mutatis mutandis, to sexism.)

Cohen goes on to argue against this analogy (my emphasis):

Racists ... do grave moral wrong precisely because there is no morally relevant distinction among the races ....

Between species of animate life, however -- between (for example) humans on the one hand and cats or rats on the other -- the morally relevant differences are enormous .... Humans engage in moral reflection; humans are morally autonomous; humans are members of moral communities, recognizing just claims against their own interest.

Elsewhere in the article, Cohen seems to think living in a moral community supervenes on autonomy, and that the ability to engage in moral reflection and act with moral autonomy are one and the same. So I take the central claims here to be that the ability to engage in moral reflection is (A) not a morally relevant distinction among human beings, and (B) a morally relevant distinction between human beings and non-human animals.

Why accept (A)? Prima facie, one might attempt to claim that the ability to engage in moral reflection is an essential property of human beings: if a being does not have this ability, then that being simply cannot be a human being. But as it follows immediately from this that all human beings have the ability to engage in moral reflection, and this is clearly false, this is not a plausible reading of (A).

Cohen himself recognises this problem. However, his solution to the problem is simply to assert (B):

The issue is one of kind. Humans are of such a kind that they may be the subject of experiments only with their voluntary consent .... Animals are of such a kind that it is impossible for them, in principle, to give or withhold voluntary consent or to make a moral choice. What humans retain when disabled, animals have never had.

This appears to be nothing but a non-sequitur.

Why accept (B)? One might, following Kant, claim that the possession of a capacity for moral reflection is the only thing that is good or valuable in itself. Then the possession of this capacity is not just a morally relevant distinction between (many) human beings and non-human animals, but is in fact the only morally relevant distinction one can make in any circumstance.

But Cohen cannot follow Kant down this path. He denies `that we are morally free to do anything we please to animals' and affirms that `In our dealings with [non-human] animals, we are at least obliged to act humanely -- that is, to treat them with the decency and concern that we owe, as sensitive human beings, to other sentient creatures' (my emphasis). He denies, that is, that the capacity for moral reflection is the only thing that is good or valuable in itself: non-human animals have a certain intrinsic moral worth because they are sentient.

With this admission, Cohen not only undermines the classical argument for (B). He also leaves open the possibility that (C) the morally relevant distinction between human and non-human animals with respect to the capacity to engage in moral reflection is overridden by the morally relevant lack of distinction between human and non-human animals with respect to sentience. If (C) is true, then even if both (A) and (B) are true, Cohen's argument still fails: morally speaking, human and non-human animals are more similar than dissimilar, very much in the same way that humans of different `races' are more similar than dissimilar, and Singer's analogy holds up.

Why accept (C)? If the capacity to engage in moral reflection is less morally important than other features, common to impaired humans, non-impaired humans, and non-human animals, then this could explain obligations to impaired humans in ways that imply obligations to non-human animals. Sentience or an ability to reason above a certain threshhold (significantly lower than the classical, implicit standard of a highly-trained philosopher), could be capacities of this sort. This is not yet an argument, but is a line of thought that could be pursued.


This is months old, but in my internet wanders I just stumbled across a summary of a meeting of the APA (that's the American Philosophical Association) Committee on the Status of Women and Inclusiveness. There are lots of interesting numbers and theories, and it all makes me rather sad and frustrated with the spectacular backwardness of my discipline. From the conclusion of the post:

The session ended with some "anecdata". Haslanger mentioned (among other things) that she had once been told that she ought to stick to history on the grounds that women ought to reproduce the ideas of men (and keep their own to themselves), that she had been told that she ought to get tested to see whether she was in fact a man (given her success), that people would laugh when she told them that she did metaphysics (would anyone ever laugh at a man?), and so on. The audience (including a female undergraduate student) had similar stories to report about the current climate in the philosophy profession.

In conclusion: the joint session made it exceedingly clear that despite efforts made (under the names of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action) to prevent all forms of discrimination against women in academia (and elsewhere), many departments continue to tolerate discriminatory practices in graduate admissions, interviewing, hiring, promotion, article acceptance and invitation.

I'm not sure if Philosophy-Notre Dame is guilty here. But we clearly have a lot of trouble attracting and keeping female grad students and faculty. That's certainly not a good sign.

September 24, 2007

Live Action Halo

Link. You know what I'll be doing tomorrow.

September 22, 2007

Pornography is a mirror

As is often the case, this paradox can be resolved by recognizing that one of the assumptions is wrong. Here, it's the assumption that U.S. society routinely rejects cruelty and degradation. In fact, the United States is a nation that has no serious objection to cruelty and degradation. Think of the way we accept the use of brutal weapons in war that kill civilians, or the way we accept the death penalty, or the way we accept crushing economic inequality. There is no paradox in the steady mainstreaming of an intensely cruel pornography. This is a culture with a well-developed legal regime that generally protects individuals' rights and freedoms, and yet it also is a strikingly cruel culture in the way it accepts brutality and inequality.

That's Robert Jensen, a journalist at UT. You can read a review and excerpt of his new book, Getting off: Pornography and the end of masculinity.

Weekly Fantasy Feature

I'm not sure if this is going to end up as a weekly feature at this site or another of the blogs I participate in, but the message board's at Yahoo!, where my fantasy league is based, suck and we need to ability to discuss trades and other league decisions on a regular basis. I won't subject you all to my blathering, so check below the fold for a discussion about possible changes to our drafting. Update: Noumena, for some reason I can't get the collapsible post thing to work. If you have a second could you add that in to this post so it doesn't clutter up the front page.

So this year's draft is kind of a mess. We arbitrarily decided to keep three players from last year's roster. We have three players taking over two teams from last year from people that dropped out. Some people wanted the league to be forced to announce keepers at the end of last year and some wanted to wait until the last possible minute. There has been a huge debate about whether we should have a serpentine draft order or a straight draft order because we never decided ahead of time and frankly neither option is optimal given our three keeper system. This is intended as a possible solution to be enacted for next year. The idea is adapted from discussions with Brottman about his football league, so hopefully he can respond to questions that crop up about how that league handles certain issues, but obviously we're not bound to do things exactly the same.

I just want to say beforehand that this system sounds a lot more complicated than it really is because the temptation is to immediately talk about possible strategic applications. I might wander a bit into that but will try to keep things as simple as possible. Like so many rule sets, once you understand how it works it makes perfect sense.

For purposes of this discussion, let's assume you're participating in a new, fresh draft. You draft a team of 15 players (or however many the league allows). Each player is assigned the draft round in which they were drafted. If you got Crosby you undoubtedly drafted him in the first round, so he is assigned first round status. If you took a gamble that Teemu Sellanne is going to play this year you might have gotten him in the fifth round, so he is assigned fifth round status. At the end of the year each player's value increases by one round (Teemu is now a round four player), so you end up with two first round players and then decreasing from there. You are permitted to keep one player for each round, but only one player from rounds one and two.

Example: I draft Crosby, Hossa, Sakic, and Rolston in rounds 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively. At the end of the year Crosby and Hossa are both now worth first round picks, Sakic is worth a second round pick, and Rolston is worth a round three pick. I can only keep one of the first three players because they're all above that first/second round bar. If I kept Crosby and Rolston I would then get a second round pick because I no longer have a player of that value, but if I hold on to Rolston into the third year he'll be worth a second round spot now and I'll have to decide if I want him more than Crosby or whoever I picked up as a second round player.

Players who make their way back to the pool (Hossa in the example) are assigned a new round value after they are redrafted. This allows for a player who may have been hot shit a couple years ago to be redrafted at a lower round because they're just not worth what they used to be. It also means that each team can essentially hold on to one player forever but that the rest of their team gets cycled back to the pool eventually. A team forever holding onto a player like Crosby is also going to mean that they'll never have a first round pick in subsequent drafts. This also permits a ton more strategy during the year because players keep their round value for trade purposes, so it might be worth it to one manager to unload a player with a high draft value for a couple lower round players before the playoffs if they're not going to be a contender because that means they'll have a high round draft pick plus a couple players they can hold on to for longer. On the other side a team might decide it's worth it to unload some young talent to acquire marquee players for a playoff run even though they'll lose most of their acquisitions at the end of the year.

The only area I'm not sure about is free agency, so hopefully Brottman can let us know how they deal with that. Here's one way of dealing with it: Joe Sakic from the example is a third round player but also a million years old. If he breaks a knee during the year I may think his career is over so I could drop him and pick up a young free agent with lots of potential. There's good strategy to be had in dropping high value players to unload their draft spot while picking up young talent. On the other hand I'm not sure we want a situation like a couple years ago where Ovechkin wasn't available in the draft and was picked up off waivers and have him be a fifteenth round value. My inclination is that you split the difference between the value of your dropped player and your free agent with any decimals to be rounded down. It does mean that in our Ovechkin situation the manager that gets him can keep him for four years before he reaches third round value and tough decisions need to be made, but to me that seems like a fair benefit to a manager that obviously did a good job watching the waiver wire.

Jay has said that he has all the information from last year's draft, so this could be applied to our current teams if we decided to use it. He has also said that he would support using this system even though it requires a bit more work from the commish to keep track of the round values at play in the league. I think the system is good for the obvious strategic benefits it has. More than that though, this actually simplifies a lot of the drafting process for most people. You can keep as much or as little of your team as you like, allowing for rebuilding years and dynasties to both exist at the same time. It means we don't have to muck about with finding a utility player or a rookie. All you need to do is have one player for each round value from one to fifteen. The only tough decision between players that you'd have to make is with your top three picks and, if you've traded during the year, any players with the same values.

Questions? Comments?

You Don't Want To Know How Much I'd Pay To See This Show

I've been sitting on this picture for a while, and here it finally is for you to enjoy.

September 21, 2007

Full Guitar Hero 3 Setlist

You know, I avoided information on Bioshock so as not to spoil it for me when I finally got to play it, but I've never even considered doing the same for a Guitar Hero game. Hmmm, maybe I'll try to avoid Rock Band info from here on out to see if it's more fun to be surprised by the presence of a song I wasn't expecting. Link.

Anyway, this looks like a killer set list and I have to say that I'm glad that, insane amount of money though it's going to be, I put down preorders for both Guitar Hero 3 and Rock Band. Well, I guess I've been a really good boy this year because I'm getting myself awfully cool Christmas presents.

September 20, 2007

Link By Brottman

Some people (me) have too much time on their hands. Some people, however, use their spare time to create magic. Link.

September 19, 2007


I just finished playing Bioshock, the recently released Xbox 360 shooter/adventure. Bioshock is everything people that sneer at video games don't know about the medium. Like comics, people see video games as a pursuit for children. They remember Mario and Spiderman and while they may make for campy fun as an adult it's really something people should grow out of. Where comics answer that with Neil Gaiman's Sandman or other "serious" works, video games have games like Bioshock.

Bioshock did what few stories can do for me; they kept me guessing all the way through. It reels tidbits of information out to you through discovered audio diaries of characters, most of whom have long since died. What happened in the underwater city of Rapture and the relationships between the characters isn't presented linearly, but it's still one of the most engrossing stories I've experienced this year in any medium. Underneath all of that is a pretty sophisticated political tale as well.

On the gameplay side I thought things were very nearly perfect. I had a little bit of slowdown in the last couple of levels, but the controls were tight and intuitive. Personally, the most surprising thing for me was that the difficulty was almost perfect. I died plenty of times but rarely in the same spot twice. Unlike most games where the player increases in power linearly throughout the game Bioshock has a nonlinear progression while amazingly making every change in the status quo seem perfectly logical.

I could go on and on, but if you have either a powerful PC or an Xbox 360 you really owe it to yourself to play this game. I know I'm probably going to play through again eventually to see another ending, which is pretty unheard of for me. Hell, me even finishing a game these days is pretty unheard of. Count that as very high praise indeed.

September 17, 2007

Iron Man

Look, I realize this is really late in the game, but if you haven't watched the Iron Man trailer you should give it a go. I've said it before, but leaving aside the differences in careers Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark. Link.


I wonder, is that title past tense? Anyway, Marvel released a teaser image for their X-Men mega crossover "Messiah Complex" a while ago. Ominously, it's titled X-Men - Disassembled. That'll scare the pants off any comic nerds who still refuse to refer to Luke Cage's team as "Avengers". Link.

Still Alive

Well, since my law clerk position ended a couple weeks ago posting has taken a bit of a back seat. First, my girlfriend and I went on a few trips to Saratoga Springs, NY, to the Jersey shore, etc. Second, I no longer have a desk and I find that without one my internet time is drastically reduced, mostly because posting in bed (as I'm doing now) is a pain in the ass.

The new development, however, is that it seems there's an extra level of bureaucracy before I can start my job so I'm left semi-unemployed for at least this week. Hopefully everything will get straightened out soon though. In the mean time, I hope to post a bit more frequently while I'm off work as well as finish off some video games that I've never finished. If you have some time off this week and are interested in some Xbox Live action, let me know (my Xbox Live handle is MosBen as well).

As long as I've got a post going, it sounds like Microsoft might be brokering a deal with the BBC to put their content on Xbox Live Marketplace. Could this mean that Doctor Who would be available for download as it airs in the UK? Link.

Update: I'll be going out in a few minutes to pick up "skate" and "NHL '08" for the 360. If anyone wants to play those or other games on Live, post in the comments.

September 14, 2007

The indispensability of identity conditions

Sometimes metaphysicians can only be dealt with by doing some metaphysics. So, as much as it pains me, this is a post on metaphysics.

Philosophers who fancy themselves `Quinean meta-ontologists' believe in a simple condition for existence claims: something of type K exists if and only if statements of the form [there is something such that it is a K] are true. That is, if and only if


For example, to say that cats exist, represent [x is a cat] as Cx, and then assert that


It's not immediately obvious how to translate `something exists' into the formal idiom. A typical strategy is to use self-identity, so that `something exists' is taken to be formalised as


(NB Such a strategy is, I think, incompatible with the claim that existence is captured entirely by the existential quantifier. If that were so, then one wouldn't need identity to say that something exists. But that's not the main argument I'm making in this post.)

All cats are self-identical. Or, at least, the identity of cats (ie, whether one cat is or is not the same as `another' cat) is not considered deeply controversial. How do we say that all cats are self-identical?

(x)(Cx -> x=x)

Note that, from the claims that (1) cats exist and (2) all cats are self-identical, one easily concludes that something exists. Here's the derivation in all its glory, if you're curious:

(x)(Cx -> x=x)
Ca -> a=a

Some `Quinean meta-ontologists' believe in propositions. That is, they believe that propositions exist. If [x is a proposition] is symbolised as Px, then they believe that


Now, this is a departure from Quine. Quine very firmly believed that propositions did not exist. His argument was that there were no clear identity conditions for propositions -- it is generally impossible to tell whether one propositions was the same as `another'. Self-identity of propositions is, therefore, controversial.

The `Quinean meta-ontologists' who depart from Quine in this way claim that they do not need identity conditions. Some have claimed that they do not need identity conditions at all, for any type of thing, while others seem to commit to the far more modest claim that they do not need identity conditions for propositions. I take this to mean that they do not assert or assume that

(x)(Px -> x=x)

I claim (or at least I suggest as likely to be true, pending proof) that, from these two assumptions (or, more precisely, one assumption and one lack of assumption), one cannot conclude that something exists. That is, from (Ex)(Px) and the ordinary rules of first-order logic *without identity*, and without using (x)(Px -> x=x), one cannot derive (Ex)(x=x). In short, from the assumption `there is something such that it is a proposition', one cannot conclude that `there is something'.

It may be objected that I have crippled the `Quinean meta-ontologist' by forbidding the use of the logic of the identity relation =. But the `Quinean meta-ontologist' has done it to herself, by abjuring identity conditions for propositions. If there are no identity conditions for propositions, then neither of these two claims, nor any equivalent to them, can be assumed:

(x)(Px -> x=x)

The first of these captures, as an axiom, the standard rule of =-introduction used when identity is added to first-order logic. The second is equivalent to it under the assumption (Ex)(Px). There are therefore both unacceptable.

And I claim (or at least suggest as likely to be true, pending proof) that at least one of these, or something equivalent to them, must be used to derive the desired conclusion. I thereby conclude that identity conditions for propositions (and, indeed, every other type of entity one would countenance) are indispensable to make good on the programme of `Quinean meta-ontology'.

The challenge to the `Quinean meta-ontologist' who believes in propositions is to give the required proof.

September 09, 2007

What kind of fucked-up college experience did Cary Tennis have?

I think he's usually a terrible to simply bad advice columnist. But this `advice' to a socially awkward college freshman looking for some help on meeting people goes beyond the realms of the terrible and into the terrifying:

Take a good, long look around you. You've all been sent here for different reasons, but one thing is clear: Some of these people will stop at nothing to get what they want. Consider the desperate ploys and devious schemes they hatched to get here.[...]

As to the friendship angle, you may find that one or two of you enjoy socializing together. Fine. But don't overdo it. Don't start thinking you are friends. Remember, these are desperate people. The things they've done to end up there, you don't even want to think about. Don't believe for an instant that they won't sell you out. It's every student for himself. They don't call it an elite four-year university for nothing. Everything you've heard about life there is true. Don't forget it.

September 04, 2007

Polanyi's argument for the autonomy of science

Blogging took an unexpected break this weekend, as I was dealing with a personal crisis which, while not entirely dealt with (and will not be until, most likely, the end of the semester), is at least now manageable.

So let's do some straight-up Analytic philosophy. Only of science, because I still have no patience for metaphysics.

In his (apparently) famous piece `The republic of science' (1962), Michael Polanyi gives an argument for the autonomy of science. In particular, he's arguing that scientists ought to be allowed and encouraged, by society at large, to pursue whatever research projects they like, rather than the research projects that are felt to be likely to be useful to society at large. This is vague, and that reflects the fact that the conclusion of the argument is vague.

The particular argument I'm interested comes from page 61, for those following along at home. The terminology I use below is my gloss on Polanyi. (In other words, this is definitely a paraphrase.)

(1) Academic credit is an accurate indication of scientifically promising research programmes.
(2) Society ought to distribute grant money (and other material resources necessary for research) according to the scientific promise of research programmes.
(3) Therefore, society ought to distribute grant money according to academic credit.

This conclusion is to be contrasted with something like

(4) Society ought to distribute grant money according to projected social utility.

Polanyi's conclusion holds science to be autonomous (at least normatively) in the sense that the property determining the distribution of grant money is internal to the institutions of science (albeit not the sort of evidence-and-theory model of science of the positivists). It is not, in particular, the property of being expected to produce something of great value to society as a whole (eg, new technologies that will allow us to grow ten times as much corn).

One quick paragraph on `academic credit'. This term just refers to the level of esteem a research programme (or researcher) enjoys among the community of scientists. If everyone thinks nonlinear dynamics is going to be the Next Big Thing, then nonlinear dynamics enjoys a large amount of academic credit. On the other hand, if everyone thinks string theory is a complete dead end, then string theory enjoys very little academic credit. Polanyi is arguing that, in this situation, nonlinear dynamics should get lots of grant money (and grad students and lab space), while string theory should be basically cut off.

Another quick paragraph on `scientific promise'. This is supposed to be the promise (or, better, the potential or likelihood) of producting some new and valuable piece of pure knowledge. That `pure' is extremely important. Polanyi is operating with an implicit but very sharp division between science and technology (episteme and techne). Technology is a valuable product of scientific research, but is only an accidental product. The true product of scientific research is pure knowledge, and it is in this way that scientific research is valued `in itself'.

Now, I have a number of problems with this argument. First, and most trivially, we're not really given any reason to think (1) is true. But it's plausible, and there doesn't really seem any better way of measuring scientific promise around.

The blue whale that is the second problem is that (2) is begging the question, or coming so close to begging the question as makes no difference. With Polanyi's implicit distinction between science and technology, we can rewrite (4) as

(4') Society ought to distribute grant money according to technological promise.

If (4') is the anti-conclusion Polanyi is trying to reject, then (2) can't serve as a premiss. It's the conclusion he wants.

That is, if Polanyi's opponent is valuing science for its technological achievements, and not for its ability to produce pure knowledge, then of course the opponent is going to reject the premiss that grant money ought to be distributed according to the potential to produce pure knowledge. That, fundamentally, is just exactly where the disagreement lies.

Perhaps Polanyi intends (2) to be the real conclusion of the argument, and I'm just spectacularly misunderstanding him. But I don't see anything else that might serve as a premiss to get from (1) to (1).