[Top] [All Lists]

Re: [ontolog-forum] Laws: physical and social

To: "'[ontolog-forum] '" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 07 Jun 2013 23:48:04 -0400
Message-id: <51B2A974.9090400@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ed,    (01)

At the end of this note is a copy of my reply to Doug, which covers
some of the issues in your note.    (02)

>>> If a driver does not stay on his side of the centerline,
>>> he is prosecuted for reckless driving.    (03)

>> [that] is an implication.  As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr would
>> say, that implication is the meaning of a law that says "Drivers shall
>> stay on their side of the center line."  The modal word 'shall'
>> or 'must' is critical to stating a law.    (04)

> Indeed!  Which is why that implication is not at all the same thing
> as the law.  It is also a statement which may be either true or false.    (05)

I apologize for being sloppy in my note.  A modal statement is not
logically equivalent to a non-modal statement.  Peirce always insisted
that a prediction is a "would be".  I should have corrected your
example by replacing 'is' with 'would be':    (06)

    If a driver does not stay on his side of the centerline,
    he *would be* prosecuted for reckless driving.    (07)

> I disagree that OWH intended his wisdom in this area to be cast as
> formal logic, whereas Isaac Newton did!    (08)

As a regular participant in the Metaphysical Club with C. S. Peirce,
OWH was familiar with logical arguments about philosophical issues.
In fact, OWH discussed the role of logic in that article I cited:    (09)

OWH, paragraph 16 of http://constitution.org/lrev/owh/path_law.htm
> The fallacy to which I refer is the notion that the only force at work
> in the development of the law is logic. In the broadest sense, indeed,
> that notion would be true...   The condition of our thinking about
> the universe is that it is capable of being thought about rationally,
> or, in other words, that every part of it is effect and cause...
> The danger of which I speak is not the admissionthat the principles governing
> other phenomena also govern the law, but  the notion that a given system, 
> for instance, can be worked out  like mathematics from some general axioms of
> conduct. This is the natural  error of the schools, but it is not confined to 
>them.    (010)

> And quite frankly, I don't believe that the intent of a law of any legislature
> is a "prediction of what would happen under certain circumstances".    (011)

I'm sure legislators didn't believe that -- I doubt that they were more
intelligent than today's Congress.  But OWH's intent was to inform any
legal scholar who read his article how the law does, in fact, work.
And OWH is still the *third most widely cited jurist* in legal opinions.    (012)

> It [a law] is rather a directive to the populace not to PRODUCE those 
>circumstances.    (013)

A directive without any prediction that a violation would be met with
undesirable consequences is totally meaningless.  Remember the old
proverb, "When the cat's away, the mice will play."  The mice don't
have to be deep thinkers to know when they can get away with something.    (014)

> Holmes' predictions are conditional upon the violation being observed and
> the law being enforced.  And unless those conditions are stated in the
> implication, the implication is logically false!  By comparison, Newton's
> laws are not conditional on observation or on the decisions of an "officer
> of the laws of nature".    (015)

The method by which the consequences are produced is useful for
classifying certain laws as physical, and others as social.
That is the distinction I made in the subject line above.    (016)

But the *meaning* of every law, as Peirce and Holmes observed, is in the
prediction of consequences.  Physical consequences come about through
physical mechanisms.  Social consequences come about through social
mechanisms.    (017)

> The fact that Newton's laws are inadequate and inaccurate for atomic
> physics is a different problem.    (018)

Newton's laws are accurate in the ideal case when all the initial
conditions are known and all the exceptions can be accounted for.
For practical engineering problems, that ideal is almost never
achieved.  Please note my response to Doug's point below.    (019)

> But they [drivers who slowed down on seeing the police] were up to that point
> violating the law; they are only taking  care to avoid having the violation 
>OBSERVED.    (020)

Thank you for confirming my point:  The meaning of the law is in the
prediction of consequences.  In those cases where the agents can predict
that there are no undesirable consequences, the law is meaningless.    (021)

> I think we can all agree that the real "law of the land" is that which
> is enforced by the courts.  But that definition makes many traffic "laws"
> some other category of "statements of guidance".    (022)

Yes, indeed!  Peirce made the point that there is a continuum from
preferences to recommendations to habits to strictly enforced laws.
Whenever there is a predictable regularity with a probability above
chance, there is some law-like principle (physical or social). By the
way, Peirce also published some important studies on probability.    (023)

> the laws of Maryland do not in fact prophesy the behavior of any
> particular driver on Interstate 270.  And I would not be alive today
> if I were fool enough to make any such assumption...    (024)

Another confirmation of what Peirce and I have been saying.  The
meaning of any law-like regularity is its use in predicting the future.
You were successfully predicting the behavior of your fellow drivers
in observing some laws (usually staying in their lanes) and in their
habits of speeding when no police cars are seen.    (025)

John    (026)

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Laws:  physical and social
Date: Fri, 07 Jun 2013 10:56:29 -0400
From: John F Sowa
Doug,    (027)

I agree with your analyses and conclusions.    (028)

> Of course, the vast majority of times the antecedent occurs,
> the consequent does not.    (029)

That is certainly true.  Every law -- of science, of some
legislature, or of your mommy -- has implications about the
consequences of following it or violating it.  But none of the
laws, including F=ma, can state all the contexts and conditions
that may affect or completely block the consequences.    (030)

For example, the laws of fluid mechanics, of which the Navier-Stokes
equation is a prime example, are based on F=ma plus many assumptions
about the nature of the fluid.  In effect, those laws relate the
mass and acceleration of each particle of fluid to the forces being
exerted on it by surrounding particles.    (031)

The result is a very complex differential equation that is
(a) at best an approximation, since the assumptions are not
completely true, (b) far too complex to solve for most practical
problems even with the fastest supercomputers, and (c) impossible
to get complete data for all initial conditions of every particle
in the fluid.    (032)

For such reasons, engineers don't get problems that can be solved
just by plugging values into an equation and cranking out an answer.
As they say, "All models are wrong, but some are useful."    (033)

> It seems to me that it is far better to model social laws as
> proscriptions -- and then to derive predictions from them based
> on context, than to skip the proscriptive definition and jump
> straight to their predictive force.    (034)

It is also true that different laws have different origins, and
any ontology should classify them based on the source, the range
of applicability, and the mode of enforcement.  The term
'proscription' just means a law that is stated and enforced
by some authority.    (035)

Therefore, the general category of Law (or whatever you want
to call it) will have subcategories for which you can choose
different names.  Examples:  charter, constitution, by-law,
rule, regulation, proscription, prohibition, recommendation,
or just habit.  (Social norms, for example, are shared habits.)    (036)

But the same principle applies to every one of them, no matter
what its source, level of confidence, or kinds of exceptions:
their essential meaning is a prediction about the future.    (037)

John    (038)

Message Archives: http://ontolog.cim3.net/forum/ontolog-forum/  
Config Subscr: http://ontolog.cim3.net/mailman/listinfo/ontolog-forum/  
Unsubscribe: mailto:ontolog-forum-leave@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Shared Files: http://ontolog.cim3.net/file/
Community Wiki: http://ontolog.cim3.net/wiki/ 
To join: http://ontolog.cim3.net/cgi-bin/wiki.pl?WikiHomePage#nid1J    (039)

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>