Thursday, December 11, 2014

Competing Superveniences

List & Pettit's arguments in Group Agency are well structured and transparent to follow.  One of their theorems is that holistic supervenience is consistent with robust group rationality (pp. 69).  In simpler terms this means that a group which rationalizes things generally can't make judgements in a piece-wise fashion.  The group's judgments must supercede individual judgements.  For things on which the group speaks, everyone must listen.

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Now if this is the case, then how can education hold competing purposes? For example, how can education vacillate between a focus on things like social equality and a focus on things like the selective academic streamlining*?  Within List & Pettit's logical structure, education can't have a logical split personality.

The following options emerge; well at least they emerge from my deduction.

Social equity & streamlined academics must produce close judgment calls for dominance.  Ebb and flow of group members and environmental factors may cause one or the other to rise or fall in predominance.

The problem with this position is that cultural evolution suggests a fairly strong selection gradient.

The reason is simple: cognitive attractors will rapidly concentrate the cultural variation in a population. Instead of a continuum of cultural variants, most people will hold a representation near an attractor. If there is only one attractor, it will dominate. However, if, as seems likely in most cases, attactors are many, other selective forces will then act to increase the frequency of people holding a representation near one attractor over others. Under such conditions, even weak selective forces (“weak” relative to the strength of the attractors) can determine the final distribution of representations in the population. (Henrich, Boyd, Richerson, 2008)
Thus, one shouldn't really expect to see a long-lasting tension without a fairly explicit organizational structure facilitating the competing memes.

Another option explaining durability of two competing judgment conclusions for a List & Pettit group agent is that individuals form multiple groups, each with their own supervening judgment conclusion.

This fits in incredibly well with multi-level selection theory.  Rather than the aggregate of individual judgments producing competing group conclusions, it is competition between competing holistic superveniences which produce education's competing purposes.  Thus group allegiance tensions most inform education's competing purposes.

Another way you could get two competing judgment conclusions would be to vacillate between premise based judgment aggregator functions.  Put in simpler terms, you change the logic used to take premises to conclusions.

This would seem highly likely to produce more than two stable states.  Now its entirely possible that educational purpose vacillates between more than two states.  While this is true when analyzing things with a precise sense, educational change history really does seem to reveal a pattern of cycling between large group orientation and local group orientations.  While premise function aggregators may only produce two stable outputs, I'll rely on a simple probabilistic argument that this is highly unlikely given the number of premises operating within education.  However, I'll certainly concede that a two state output based on a complex function is theoretically possible.

List & Pettit also mention another way that could explain a scenario of competing purposes.   Conclusions formed by specialized groups dictate all individual attitudes on a given issue.  This places the group agent in the role of rationalizing multiple conclusions.  Rationalization occurs by the laity's formation of a supervening holistic conclusion.  However, a quote seems to baffle this last idea, so I must be missing something:

First for each presumes, the attitudes of some subgroup - the relevant 'specialists - suffice to determine the group attitude on that premise, whereas other individuals' attitudes are not necessary; and the subgroups in question differ across premises.  Second, to determine the group attitudes on the entire agenda of propositions, each individual needs to contribute only a single attitude on a single proposition, namely on the premise he or she 'specializes' on; no contribution on other propositions is needed. (pp. 75)
The statement as written begs the question of formation of a single supra conclusion.  I don't think they would leave this to mysterious "emergentism".  Nor do I think they are unaware of the aggregation problem the quote as written begs.  Therefore, the only thing I can think of is that the gross laity also form a single conclusion for the group agent.  This single conlcusion then has the role of rationalization potentially contradictory multiple specialist conclusions.  It doesn't over-write them, but "vox-splains" them into a coherent narrative.  This narrative is certainly may be logically inconsistent.

However, List & Pettit seem to leave the rationalization act as a very weak form of emergence:
Let a collection of individuals form and act on a single, robustly rational body of attitudes, whether by dint of a joint intention or on some other bases, and it will be an agent. (pp. 75)
As I mentioned, joint intention seems to be the supra conclusion of the laity.  This either minimizes (if the group's conclusion is an attitude) or completely eliminates emergence (if the group's conclusion is an agreed upon structure, or perhaps even an attitudinaless action).  In practice, you end up with specialized groups getting feedback from the group's supra conclusion in a manner potentially describe by social-cognitive theory.

I'd suggest the specialized group explanation is tatamount to my multi-level group explanation.  Difference seems to be the extent to which sub-groups are best considered embedded within the larger group or competing with the larger group.  List & Pettit's specialized group approach seems unstable over time.  If people have a tendency to form groups, then there is little reason why that tendency wouldn't express itself in the autonomization and dissociation of small groups from a large group.

Cognitive dissonance theory may be used as a descriptive approach to when embodies ends and competition begins.  Because I'm more interested in the causal side than descriptive side, cognitive dissonance explanations don't excite me much.  I just chalk it up to "that's down to complex behaviour....".

*While lots of people do mental gymnastics to reconcile how social equity, ensuring people don't get too far apart from each other, and academic streaming, ensuring people get as much acceleration as they can easily be handled, the two are pretty mutually exclusive.  Weak social equity can certainly handle a bit of streamlining.  However, because the have's get accelerated more than the have-nots, the end results reveal the weakness of this cover-up. Addressing student needs at the non-universal level will (eventually) always produce streamlining which challenges social equity.

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