I've found many of your recent posts to be full of interesting ideas that are related to what is knowable, if one steps back a bit.
1) For example Stu spoke of the paradox of Buddhists (inner directed) that he is acquainted with, who appear to be L-minds. I may be totally wrong, but I'm guessing that these people are converts. On the other hand, I've known several people in Hawaii who were brought up Buddhist. They were happen to be pretty much mixed minded.
This introduces us to the problem of data from a self-selected set. The converts are self-selected and as such don't represent Buddhists as a group very well. We don't really know what conditions caused them to select this religion. For instance, during the sixties the pacifism of the Dali Lama and rebellion against parents was often a cause for conversions. Their alignment to political liberalism came before their selection of Buddhism. So, the general question we must ourselves, is whether self-selection biases a group we are studying. A particularly clear example might be the fact that students who take drivers education have fewer accidents. It's not the drivers education that causes the lower accident rate. It's the fact that they are sufficiently prudent to elect drivers education in the first place. In other words, their self-seclction biases the data.
2) Another remark (made by Ira) also set me to step back and think a bit. Ira believes that insurance companies should use all data in setting rates, because "selfishly" speaking that would lower his own rates. Since Ira has spoken in favor of "enlightened self-interest" before, I assume that is what's driving his view. I have trouble with several aspects of this approach to public policy. The first is the word "enlightened." This word is so vague that acting in one's self interest has no meaning. Anytime I choose not to act selfishly, I can call it enlightened. Other examples of such modifiers might be "compassionate conservatism" and "pragmatic socialism.
My other problem with Ira's approach is that we are not a Ross Perot democracy (thank God!). If each of us had a voting machine in his home and voted on each and every issue, one might argue that each person voting selfishly concerning insurance and everything else would produce the "best" result on average. (I say "might" because such a system provides no protection for minorities.) Given that we have a layers of representatives and regulators between us and public policy, I can't see how a philosophy based on selfishness can be justified. I propose that a philosopher needs a more objective approach that optimizes the result as if one had the responsibility of deciding for all, despite the personal consequences. We can borrow an idea from Plato here. A king needs to be a philosopher, but also, a philosopher needs to believe as though he had the responsibility of a king. Socrates chose to die rather than use the escape plan that had been arranged for him by his disciples. In short, his reasoning was that he would be setting a bad example for all others.
3) Several things that Howard wrote lead me to this general thought. None of us can get inside the head of another. We can observe actions and we can listen to a person's explanation for action, but we cannot determine motivation. We are therefore free (in the intellectual sense) to choose to believe what we will about the motivation of others. But, in the end we must recognize that choosing to believe does not make it so. Let's take the phrase "It's all about oil" agreed to by both Ira and Howard, as an example.
This phrase is somewhat like the "getting 'round the squirrel" anecdote from the Willam James, which hinges on the unknown intent in the use of the word 'round. In "It's all about oil" the key word is "all." For some, the phrase means that the real reason behind the war in Iraq is that powerful industrialists in the U.S. want to obtain Iraqi oil in order to profit in some manner. The word "all" implies the existence of a hidden agenda. For others like me, the phrase means that there is a war between the forces of despotic theocracy and individual freedom. Oil is a strategic material which can be (and has been) used as a weapon by despots to coerce democracies. For me, "all" means that a free worldwide market for oil is "crucial". We have a choice in the meaning which depends upon the unknowable motivation of our leaders. Both sides in this dispute can selectively point to actions that they claim support their belief as to motivation. However, in the end, we need to recognize that there is no proof positive as to motivation. With respect -Joel