[OPE-L:6247] RE: Realism regularities and prediction

From: P.J.Wells@open.ac.uk
Date: Tue Dec 18 2001 - 14:20:54 EST

In a message some weeks ago [#6239] Paul C wrote:

"... relating to Lawson's argument that the reality of free human
choice implies that we can expect to see few if any regularities in the
social realm.

"It strikes me that were this objection to be true, then it would not apply
to the social realm alone. At a microscopic level, quantum indeterminacy
implies that particles can chose which path to follow in an
fashion.  This would apparently rule out the detection of regularities in
the physical realm. Of course this turns out not to be the case: although
individual events are unpredictable, the mean rate of such events can
exhibit remarkable regularities."

and then quoted Quetelet:

		One of the facts which appears to have excited the greatest
                             alarm, out of all pointed to in my work, is
naturally that relating
                             to the constancy with which crime is committed.
>From the
                             examination of numbers, I believed myself
justified in inferring,
                             as a natural consequence, that, in given
circumstances, and
                             under the influence of the same causes, we may
reckon upon
                             witnessing the repetition of the same effects,
the reproduction
                             of the same crimes, and the same convictions.

Quetelet may not be the most reliable support for the standpoint that Paul
advocates (rightly so, I think).

 On other occasions he went further than his assertion here that given
social conditions produce given statistical regularities, and appeared to
suggest that statistical regularities undermined the notion of free will:

		It is society that prepares the crime; the guilty person is
only the
		instrument who executes it. The victim on the scaffold is in
		certain way the expiatory victim of society. His crime is
the fruit
		of the circumstance in which he finds himself.

There was a major 19th debate over this kind of so-called statistical
fatalism. The interesting fact about it, if one believes Hacking's account
in his "The Taming of Chance", is that belief in statistical fatalism had a
well-nigh 100 per cent correlation with Manchester-style liberalism (hence
was most popular in England and France). The defenders of free will had
their headquarters in the offices of the Prussian statistical service.

His acid test is the career of Adolf Wagner, who started out as a liberal
and fatalist; when he converted to the professorial sort of socialism he
also recanted his fatalism (Hacking, page 130).


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