Law in Contemporary Society
This topic is about socio-biological arguments and consilient argument structures. Specifically whether the interaction seen between Tharaud and Cerriere in Cerriere's Answer from “Lawyerland” has a biological basis (or whether it matters)

I didn’t fully work out my argument in class until we had moved on, but I still think that the biological conclusion is unnecessary and harmful to the strength of the argument.

The problem is the strength of the conclusion we are working towards. If we are trying to support the conclusion that the behavior we are seeing has a biological basis, we have a much more difficult task than if we are simply trying to support the conclusion that this is an ancient and ubiquitous form of social interaction.

Consilience can support the “ancient” hypothesis easier than the biological hypothesis. It is easy to use biology as evidence in a consilient argument that this is ancient, deeply rooted behavior. It is also possible to use sociology, anthropology, and other evidence that stems from observations of human behavior. If we are trying to draw a behavioral conclusion, we can easily pull together arguments from anything on the same level (or lower) on the explanatory “stack” that Eben has mentioned in class.

The problem arises when we try to support the biological hypothesis with consilience. It is extremely difficult to determine the low-level workings of a complex process by observing the behavioral output. This is the classic “black box” problem… you can give an input and record an output, but if the black box is a complex system, you will generally be unable to work backwards and figure out what the system is actually doing. (Even if you took all the behaviors and constructed a new box that had the same responses to input, you would still have no way of knowing whether your construction matched the original).

The same problem is at issue here. The social behavior arises out an extremely complex interaction of biology, culture, and specific stimulus. It is very difficult to derive lower level functions from this high level output. Therefore the value of social and cultural observations to our consilient biological argument is very low.

This was the point I was trying to make in class, and doing a very poor job of. Using biology to support behavior makes sense, using behavior to support biology has a much lower value in a consilient argument, and therefore we should be focusing on the first conclusion and not the second.

Does anyone have thoughts on this?

-- TheodoreSmith - 03 Apr 2008

After our discussion, I had some other thoughts, but they are jumble now.

First, when Andrew was speaking about transactions costs (I was honestly a little lost because I don’t really understand how this is a problem of transaction costs) I was reminded of the danger of socio-biology. I’m sorry if I oversimplify your point Andrew, but I gather that you were at some point saying that studies in the area of biology, physics, etc… are more specific or precise. While socio-biology is currently discredited and associated with racists on the fringes of their field. I think that if you take some socio-biological arguments and rename them (cognitive science maybe?) they are then cloaked in the authority of what most consider a reliable enterprise --- an enterprise more reliable than the more subjective, field-based disciplines. Arguments made by scientists are more readily accepted than those made by sociologists or anthropologists. So if we are trying to create some sort of multi-disciplinary matrix to explain social facts, using this one theory that completely overwhelms all other theories might be a little counter productive. This is one reason why I find the use of socio-biology dangerous, if not entirely unhelpful.

-- ThaliaJulme - 03 Apr 2008

To add to Julia's comments or maybe even regurgitate her arguments, I say that perhaps we are justified in distrusting sociobiological arguments insofar as their extremely low independent probability of explaining social phenomena does not outweigh the historically proven high risk of distorting that probability. Eben started out the entire discussion with the argument that it is intellectually irresponsible to discount the biological mode of describing human interactions. But perhaps it would be irresponsible to provide a biological explanation - whose explanatory probability is relatively low compared to other modes - in light of the historically high risk of organizational negligence in distorting these explanations for group advantage. In this sense, while I support the freedom to voice these arguments and for us to listen to them, our vigilant distrust ought to continue.

-- JesseCreed - 03 Apr 2008


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r5 - 07 Jan 2010 - 23:00:42 - IanSullivan
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