Empiricism and Inequality

Not quite philosophy discussions, debates, various thought experiments and other topics of interest.

Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Daktoria on August 2nd, 2015, 7:32 pm 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk ... really-is/

Apparently, one of the major roadblocks to convincing rich people to alleviate poverty is that so many rich people focus on learning from experience. They're surrounded by each other, so they're convinced that inequality isn't really a problem in society.

This isn't much of a surprise though. After all, one of the basic problems of social empiricism is it ignores how everyone doesn't have equal access to facts in reality. In turn, those with the greatest access become empowered the most.

In essence, what we have here is circular reasoning. Rich people surround themselves by each other on purpose for the sake of conserving social status, and then after the fact, they talk among themselves and say that poverty isn't that bad. If you accuse them of conspiracy, they call you cynical and say, "How dare you accuse us of that?!" while playing dumb.

If equality is to be achieved in society, a non-empiricist route must be taken.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby TheVat on August 2nd, 2015, 7:58 pm 

Always liked the quip about Romney -- "born on third base, but thinks he hit a triple."

True of many of the empathy-challenged 1 percenters.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Daktoria on August 3rd, 2015, 1:34 pm 

Braininvat » August 2nd, 2015, 6:58 pm wrote:Always liked the quip about Romney -- "born on third base, but thinks he hit a triple."

True of many of the empathy-challenged 1 percenters.


Exactly. A lot of the problem is a results-oriented attitude that merely looks at the facts rather than a process-oriented attitude that looks at the values which made facts happen. If we just look at the evidence, then we jump to conclusions in assuming that people are necessarily self-made when in reality, people can be handed down estates from the past.

The key to equality is focusing on reliability, not evidence. That way, we make sure people are applying themselves to become successful rather than just being a product of their circumstance.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Natural ChemE on August 3rd, 2015, 7:18 pm 

Daktoria,

You linked a great article, Rich people, surrounded by other rich people, think the U.S. is richer than it really is. The understanding conveyed in it should go toward bettering society.

However your analysis sucks. You turn around and start knocking empiricism and asserting bigoted stereotypes. It's gross.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Paralith on August 3rd, 2015, 7:31 pm 

Indeed. And I hardly think it an empirical approach to observe a very small percentage of a population and assume your observations of that percentage apply equally to the rest of the population. That's not empiricism - that's cherry picking in the direction of existing values and bias.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby CanadysPeak on August 3rd, 2015, 9:04 pm 

If rich people were to be empiricists, would they not say something like, "We can't really know how the working class feel unless we take a job scrubbing floors and actually live on that wage?" Even Dewey might have thought, "I make $150 000.00 a year and have extra money, so I think that the minimum living wage must be lower than $150 000.00 a year."

Daktoria fails to make the point that he is talking about empiricism.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby BadgerJelly on August 4th, 2015, 1:17 am 

I am correct in saying that inequality/equality is about social status and much as about physical possessions?
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Natural ChemE on August 4th, 2015, 6:23 am 

I checked out the actual study (Why Wealthier People Think People Are Wealthier, and Why It Matters: From Social Sampling to Attitudes to Redistribution) to see what the numbers were like.

Figure 1.b shows how subsets of study participants estimated wealth distribution in the US. The figure showed the estimates provided by the poorest 20% of study participants and wealthiest 20% of study participants, though it curiously omitted the average group "for clarity".

This figure also omitted the actual values, so I took a screenshot of the figure and superimposed over the 2010 US Census data provided on Wikipedia:
Household income data.png
.

I'm surprised that these estimates are so good. The largest error seems to be that both shown subsets of participants underestimated how many rich households there are. Apparently about 9% of households make more than $150,000 each year, but both groups thought that it was about 3%.

Also notable is that the richest 20% of study participants underestimated the poorest bracket of Americans . The actual number's about 13.5% while the study seems to show an average estimate of about 10%.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Natural ChemE on August 4th, 2015, 6:45 am 

Also important: this study didn't really survey "rich people". Rather, it looks like they had about 30 online-survey participants from upper-middle class households. The study notes that this included participants who reported being below the age of 25, but they didn't include much more detail.

It's still a great-looking study, but they didn't really have data on rich people.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Daktoria on August 7th, 2015, 4:52 pm 

Paralith » August 3rd, 2015, 6:31 pm wrote:Indeed. And I hardly think it an empirical approach to observe a very small percentage of a population and assume your observations of that percentage apply equally to the rest of the population. That's not empiricism - that's cherry picking in the direction of existing values and bias.


The problem with empiricism is it always involves a sample, not a population. Its nature innately cherry picks.

You can never really engage in rigor while being empirical. There will always be false positives and negatives when equating correlation to causation.
Last edited by Daktoria on August 7th, 2015, 4:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Daktoria on August 7th, 2015, 4:54 pm 

CanadysPeak » August 3rd, 2015, 8:04 pm wrote:If rich people were to be empiricists, would they not say something like, "We can't really know how the working class feel unless we take a job scrubbing floors and actually live on that wage?" Even Dewey might have thought, "I make $150 000.00 a year and have extra money, so I think that the minimum living wage must be lower than $150 000.00 a year."

Daktoria fails to make the point that he is talking about empiricism.


Rich people are often empiricists because they believe in work ethic. Their point is focusing on what lifestyle is proven to work, and expecting people to go with the flow.

Likewise, many rich people argue that they did jobs scrubbing floors earlier, and their point is to be anti-intellectually stuck in their ways in expecting you to follow their footsteps. Likewise, many also claim that their ancestors did it even if they didn't, so you're disrespecting their ancestors in expecting to circumvent their struggle by working smart rather than hard.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Daktoria on August 7th, 2015, 4:58 pm 

BadgerJelly » August 4th, 2015, 12:17 am wrote:I am correct in saying that inequality/equality is about social status and much as about physical possessions?


Basically, yes.

Equality isn't about what you own. It's about how you own it and making sure you're free in your pursuit of owning it.

Social status determines who has access to information in the process of securing that freedom. If I abuse you while you pursue wealth, but you can't prove that abuse, then I can keep you pinned down.

You can't prove that abuse because you live in an unorganized society where people aren't always watching what's going on. Likewise, if you're not liked and people equate likability to respectability, then even if others witness that abuse, they won't admit it.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Paralith on August 7th, 2015, 5:07 pm 

Daktoria wrote:The problem with empiricism is it always involves a sample, not a population. Its nature innately cherry picks.

You can never really engage in rigor while being empirical. There will always be false positives and negatives when equating correlation to causation.


A sample can be cherry picked or a sample could be randomly distributed. Selecting a sample is not per force always from a select group.

How is equating correlations to causations empirical? That's the opposite of empirical because it can be empirically demonstrated in many, many cases that correlations and causations are not the same.

Daktoria, you are using a very weird definition of empiricism. Any human researcher can do research poorly; they can cherry pick their samples; they can misinterpret their statistics; they can jump to conclusions that their data does not actually support. These can all happen, but these are examples of poor research and unsound methodology. I'm sure there are many people out there who call themselves empiricists but are poor researchers, but this does not mean empiricism as a concept is innately at fault. Perhaps what you are really trying to say that it is difficult for a lay person to be knowledgeable enough to pursue empiricism with good methodology, which I think might be true. But I think we need to agree to adjust our terminology if that's what you really want to discuss.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby CanadysPeak on August 7th, 2015, 5:18 pm 

Daktoria » Fri Aug 07, 2015 4:54 pm wrote:
CanadysPeak » August 3rd, 2015, 8:04 pm wrote:If rich people were to be empiricists, would they not say something like, "We can't really know how the working class feel unless we take a job scrubbing floors and actually live on that wage?" Even Dewey might have thought, "I make $150 000.00 a year and have extra money, so I think that the minimum living wage must be lower than $150 000.00 a year."

Daktoria fails to make the point that he is talking about empiricism.


Rich people are often empiricists because they believe in work ethic. Their point is focusing on what lifestyle is proven to work, and expecting people to go with the flow.

Likewise, many rich people argue that they did jobs scrubbing floors earlier, and their point is to be anti-intellectually stuck in their ways in expecting you to follow their footsteps. Likewise, many also claim that their ancestors did it even if they didn't, so you're disrespecting their ancestors in expecting to circumvent their struggle by working smart rather than hard.


Your understanding of empiricism is incorrect, I think.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Natural ChemE on August 7th, 2015, 11:46 pm 

Daktoria,

Hypothetically, say that all people are born with a soul. This soul is exactly the same for all individuals upon birth; any apparent deviations are superficial or circumstantial, following from the differing conditions in that souls are born. Since no human agency is capable of perfect analysis, any sufficiently large set of empirical analyses is bound to falsely refuse some aspect of equality to arbitrarily rigorous statistical significance.

Since this imperfection in empirical evaluation is fundamental, i.e. it's impossible to avoid false positives so long as they're an allowable result, the only way we could ever fully realize equality is to acknowledge it in our hearts and minds rather than test for it or allow our belief in it to be colored by observation.

Is something like what you're thinking?
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Daktoria on August 8th, 2015, 1:53 pm 

Natural ChemE » August 7th, 2015, 10:46 pm wrote:Daktoria,

Hypothetically, say that all people are born with a soul. This soul is exactly the same for all individuals upon birth; any apparent deviations are superficial or circumstantial, following from the differing conditions in that souls are born. Since no human agency is capable of perfect analysis, any sufficiently large set of empirical analyses is bound to falsely refuse some aspect of equality to arbitrarily rigorous statistical significance.

Since this imperfection in empirical evaluation is fundamental, i.e. it's impossible to avoid false positives so long as they're an allowable result, the only way we could ever fully realize equality is to acknowledge it in our hearts and minds rather than test for it or allow our belief in it to be colored by observation.

Is something like what you're thinking?


I've written something in response, but before I post it, can you explain how this pertains towards discussing equality?
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Daktoria on August 8th, 2015, 2:00 pm 

CanadysPeak » August 7th, 2015, 4:18 pm wrote:
Daktoria » Fri Aug 07, 2015 4:54 pm wrote:
CanadysPeak » August 3rd, 2015, 8:04 pm wrote:If rich people were to be empiricists, would they not say something like, "We can't really know how the working class feel unless we take a job scrubbing floors and actually live on that wage?" Even Dewey might have thought, "I make $150 000.00 a year and have extra money, so I think that the minimum living wage must be lower than $150 000.00 a year."

Daktoria fails to make the point that he is talking about empiricism.


Rich people are often empiricists because they believe in work ethic. Their point is focusing on what lifestyle is proven to work, and expecting people to go with the flow.

Likewise, many rich people argue that they did jobs scrubbing floors earlier, and their point is to be anti-intellectually stuck in their ways in expecting you to follow their footsteps. Likewise, many also claim that their ancestors did it even if they didn't, so you're disrespecting their ancestors in expecting to circumvent their struggle by working smart rather than hard.


Your understanding of empiricism is incorrect, I think.


My understanding of empiricism is based on studying facts in reality, and extrapolating the sample of what you study to everything else. The definition of a rigorous sample, however, is subjective since different sample sizes correlate to different levels of significance. There is no objective benchmark on how large of a sample we should take.

On top of that, in society, people often make appeals to Occam's Razor as an excuse to not have to take further sample sizes since the presently taken sample is the best one around. Therefore, they'll often take samples that are too small on purpose while allowing others to fall through the cracks. After, they'll say it's others' burden of proof to expand the sample if they wish to be included in society. Otherwise, they have to conform to norms.

Basically, on a social level, empiricism leads to what I call "procedural slavery". By manipulating the due process of burden of proof, people are able to force others to do things without consent.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Paralith on August 9th, 2015, 1:06 pm 

Daktoria wrote:My understanding of empiricism is based on studying facts in reality, and extrapolating the sample of what you study to everything else. The definition of a rigorous sample, however, is subjective since different sample sizes correlate to different levels of significance. There is no objective benchmark on how large of a sample we should take.


But empirically we can assess levels of certainty and significance so that different samples and different methodologies can be empirically demonstrated to have different levels of likelihood that they accurately represent the larger sample. Empirical studies have shown that a sample of five of your friends and what they said at the bar last night is less likely to represent the entirety of the population of the US than a randomized national standard survey of 10,000 people. Not that the survey is guaranteed to be 100% accurate, but we know is much more likely to be accurate than your bar sample.

Again, you're talking about people who use poor methodology and make assertions that are not, in fact, empirically supported, and saying empiricism is to blame. I simply do not follow.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby mtbturtle on August 9th, 2015, 1:29 pm 

Paralith, do you know what is meant by empiricism in this thread?
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Daktoria on August 9th, 2015, 4:20 pm 

Paralith » August 9th, 2015, 12:06 pm wrote:
Daktoria wrote:My understanding of empiricism is based on studying facts in reality, and extrapolating the sample of what you study to everything else. The definition of a rigorous sample, however, is subjective since different sample sizes correlate to different levels of significance. There is no objective benchmark on how large of a sample we should take.


But empirically we can assess levels of certainty and significance so that different samples and different methodologies can be empirically demonstrated to have different levels of likelihood that they accurately represent the larger sample. Empirical studies have shown that a sample of five of your friends and what they said at the bar last night is less likely to represent the entirety of the population of the US than a randomized national standard survey of 10,000 people. Not that the survey is guaranteed to be 100% accurate, but we know is much more likely to be accurate than your bar sample.

Again, you're talking about people who use poor methodology and make assertions that are not, in fact, empirically supported, and saying empiricism is to blame. I simply do not follow.


What I'm saying is it doesn't matter how large your sample size is.

Say you live in a society of 10,000 people. Someone conducts a study by sampling 10 people. You could argue that's a poor sample, yes.

Then say someone takes a sample of 100 people. Is it a better sample? Of course.

Then say someone takes a sample of 1,000 people. Is it an even better sample? No doubt...

...but the point is that no matter how large the sample is, you will always force people to assume the risk of being exceptions to the rule and falling through the cracks.

My complaint isn't about specific poor samples. It's about understanding that no matter what, a sample is not a population. Yes, you can incrementally progress in getting better and better, but you will never have a complete understanding.

In natural science, yes, it's your right to do that. You're entitled to assume the risk of not necessarily getting things right...

...but in society, it's not. When you have a responsibility to take care of, each and everyone in society is part of that responsibility. You're not entitled to say some people are too difficult to look out for, so it just sucks to be them.

If you think it is, then put yourself in the shoes of those who fall through the cracks.

Then imagine how much empirical sampling you'd be able to do after you fall through those cracks. For example, imagine that you're the victim of a crime in the course of conducting a scientific experiment, but the person who victimizes you gets off the hook. Maybe someone physically assaults you, steals from you, or outright murders you.

You'll realize very quickly that your empiricist methodology isn't reliable. The only way you'd have the security to conduct experiments in the first place is if you got lucky.

Therefore, there's no need to respect the skill of your empiricism.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby CanadysPeak on August 9th, 2015, 11:03 pm 

Daktoria,
You have confused empiricism with a method used by many empiricists to obtain evidence. Nonetheless, we all use sampling and inference hundreds of times a day with complete confidence in the reliability. We fly in airplanes that are inspected perhaps every twentieth flight, we drive cars in which the brakes are measured every 6 months, we ride on elevators that are inspected every 3 months, we leave the electricity connected to our homes even though we have not tested every fuse, we take drugs that have not seen clinical trials for years, and so on. Without sampling, you would have to visit the dentist after each meal.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby mtbturtle on August 10th, 2015, 6:39 am 

CanadysPeak » Sun Aug 09, 2015 10:03 pm wrote:Daktoria,
You have confused empiricism with a method used by many empiricists to obtain evidence. Nonetheless, we all use sampling and inference hundreds of times a day with complete confidence in the reliability. We fly in airplanes that are inspected perhaps every twentieth flight, we drive cars in which the brakes are measured every 6 months, we ride on elevators that are inspected every 3 months, we leave the electricity connected to our homes even though we have not tested every fuse, we take drugs that have not seen clinical trials for years, and so on. Without sampling, you would have to visit the dentist after each meal.



What is supposed to be the connection between sampling and inequality?
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Positor on August 10th, 2015, 8:02 am 

I understand Daktoria's argument to be as follows:

It is rational and acceptable to sample things and take the risk that one's conclusions about the unsampled members of the group may be inaccurate or incomplete. However, it is unethical to sample people, and take political decisions on that basis, because one may be overlooking special needs that the unsampled persons may have. In a political context, therefore, one needs to consider every person in a group individually. Applying so-called 'equal treatment' to a group of people when one is ignorant of the specific (perhaps anomalous) needs of all of them can lead to inequality of outcome.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby vivian maxine on August 10th, 2015, 9:35 am 

Positor » August 10th, 2015, 7:02 am wrote:I understand Daktoria's argument to be as follows:

It is rational and acceptable to sample things and take the risk that one's conclusions about the unsampled members of the group may be inaccurate or incomplete. However, it is unethical to sample people, and take political decisions on that basis, because one may be overlooking special needs that the unsampled persons may have. In a political context, therefore, one needs to consider every person in a group individually. Applying so-called 'equal treatment' to a group of people when one is ignorant of the specific (perhaps anomalous) needs of all of them can lead to inequality of outcome.



A very good example. A certain town in Kansas (better not name it and start a war) allows pedestrians 30 seconds to cross a quite busy six-lane thoroughfare. Actually, it was more like 18 seconds to me but maybe I count fast when crossing a busy street. When some of us protested that 30 seconds was not enough time, the reply was "My job is to keep traffic moving". Any sampling will show that there are more cars than people today. Even with no sampling, this pedestrian can attest to that fact.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby CanadysPeak on August 10th, 2015, 10:16 am 

mtbturtle » Mon Aug 10, 2015 6:39 am wrote:
CanadysPeak » Sun Aug 09, 2015 10:03 pm wrote:Daktoria,
You have confused empiricism with a method used by many empiricists to obtain evidence. Nonetheless, we all use sampling and inference hundreds of times a day with complete confidence in the reliability. We fly in airplanes that are inspected perhaps every twentieth flight, we drive cars in which the brakes are measured every 6 months, we ride on elevators that are inspected every 3 months, we leave the electricity connected to our homes even though we have not tested every fuse, we take drugs that have not seen clinical trials for years, and so on. Without sampling, you would have to visit the dentist after each meal.



What is supposed to be the connection between sampling and inequality?

As I understand his argument,
Empiricists use sampling. Sampling does not include the entire population. Some members of the population can thus fall through the cracks. This means unequal treatment for those members.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Natural ChemE on August 10th, 2015, 10:35 am 

Just to link the technical ideas related to how we avoid issues in empirical analysis:
  1. Markov chain Monte Carlo;
  2. Metropolis algorithm.

The linked subjects are graduate-level topics, so they're probably not accessible from the Wikipedia articles alone. However, the gist is that we repeat samples to check for "convergence". Convergence is said to be achieved the found solution stops changing after further iterative refinement/sampling, so we consider refinement/sampling to be sufficient.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Natural ChemE on August 10th, 2015, 10:42 am 

Daktoria » August 8th, 2015, 12:53 pm wrote:
Natural ChemE » August 7th, 2015, 10:46 pm wrote:Hypothetically, say that all people are born with a soul. [...]
Is something like what you're thinking?


I've written something in response, but before I post it, can you explain how this pertains towards discussing equality?

I'm just trying to guess your position since I'm not clear on exactly what it is.

You needn't respond to the guess I made there if it's not on the right track. I'm mostly just curious what your actual thinking is.

I'd note that, among the ideas it sounds like you might be advocating, there's the Leftist objection to evolution. It's basically an extreme-Left reaction to social Darwinism. Sometimes folks in this category refer to social Darwinism as "social empiricism" - a phrase that you used in the OP.

If this is the case, it may be worth remaking this thread with the title "Social Darwinism and Inequality" - or perhaps something more descriptive that'd indicate to readers what the thread's about.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Daktoria on August 10th, 2015, 11:57 am 

CanadysPeak » August 9th, 2015, 10:03 pm wrote:Daktoria,
You have confused empiricism with a method used by many empiricists to obtain evidence. Nonetheless, we all use sampling and inference hundreds of times a day with complete confidence in the reliability. We fly in airplanes that are inspected perhaps every twentieth flight, we drive cars in which the brakes are measured every 6 months, we ride on elevators that are inspected every 3 months, we leave the electricity connected to our homes even though we have not tested every fuse, we take drugs that have not seen clinical trials for years, and so on. Without sampling, you would have to visit the dentist after each meal.


Right, but you're ignoring that this thread is about empiricism and inequality. It's not merely about empiricism. The point is about using empiricism to determine people's rights and responsibilities in the public sphere, not the usage of empiricism in our private lives.

You're more than welcome to be empirical as you see fit in investigating reality. The point is you're not welcome to project your investigations upon others who don't necessarily trust your investigations.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Daktoria on August 10th, 2015, 11:59 am 

mtbturtle » August 10th, 2015, 5:39 am wrote:
CanadysPeak » Sun Aug 09, 2015 10:03 pm wrote:Daktoria,
You have confused empiricism with a method used by many empiricists to obtain evidence. Nonetheless, we all use sampling and inference hundreds of times a day with complete confidence in the reliability. We fly in airplanes that are inspected perhaps every twentieth flight, we drive cars in which the brakes are measured every 6 months, we ride on elevators that are inspected every 3 months, we leave the electricity connected to our homes even though we have not tested every fuse, we take drugs that have not seen clinical trials for years, and so on. Without sampling, you would have to visit the dentist after each meal.



What is supposed to be the connection between sampling and inequality?


Empiricist egalitarians presume that just because they have a sample of how people live their lives means they can project that sample upon everyone.

The problem is different people are different. Just because you've studied an abundance of people doesn't mean you've studied everyone.
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Re: Empiricism and Inequality

Postby Daktoria on August 10th, 2015, 12:01 pm 

Positor » August 10th, 2015, 7:02 am wrote:I understand Daktoria's argument to be as follows:

It is rational and acceptable to sample things and take the risk that one's conclusions about the unsampled members of the group may be inaccurate or incomplete. However, it is unethical to sample people, and take political decisions on that basis, because one may be overlooking special needs that the unsampled persons may have. In a political context, therefore, one needs to consider every person in a group individually. Applying so-called 'equal treatment' to a group of people when one is ignorant of the specific (perhaps anomalous) needs of all of them can lead to inequality of outcome.


That's basically it, yes.
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