Dr. Jeremiah Lasquety-Reyes

Jeremiah Lasquety-Reyes obtained his M. Phil. and Ph.D. in Philosophy, as well as an advanced M. A. in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. He also studied computer science at the University of the Philippines and the Universität Hamburg. His primary research focuses on the use of computer simulations for ethics and economics. His articles have been published in journals such as Asian Philosophy, Etikk i praksis - Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics, and Open Philosophy (special issue on “Computer Modeling in Philosophy”).

Forschungsprojekt Sommersemester 2019

Simulating Ockham's Philosophy

This project investigates the potential of computer simulation to model the ideas of the philosopher, William of Ockham. Ockham is most famous for "Ockham's razor," a principle of parsimony often used in scientific theorizing. However, he is also famous for his nominalism or conceptualism, the metaphysical position that insists there are no real universals in the world but only singulars (in contrast to the position dominant during his time). He also developed an original cognitive theory of “mental language” that serves as the foundation for written and spoken language. This project attempts to use current resources in machine learning and computer simulation (specifically, agent-based modeling) to represent Ockham’s ontology and psychology, and in the process, explore how computer simulations can help facilitate the understanding of philosophical ideas. Ockham conceived of reality as made up only of singulars. Each tree, for example, is as different from another tree as a tree is from a cat or a man. There is nothing in reality that trees share that gives them all their ‘tree-ness.’ Rather, what makes them all trees is a pre-linguistic concept in our minds of TREE. We acquire this concept through the actual encounter with individual trees and this concept signifies all the trees in the world. The project will simulate this ontology using a virtual world populated with unique singular objects and agents with algorithms that convert the cognition of these singulars into universal concepts. Though the primary mechanism is simple, numerous elements in Ockham’s text offer challenges for simulation. For example, he makes a distinction, common to Aristotelians, between the substance which is the object per se (for example, the substance of a man), and the accidents which inhere in the substance (for example, being blue-eyed, left-handed, etc.). Upon encountering a unique singular in the world, one not only derives the concept of the substance, but also the concepts for all the accidents that inhere in the substance. In addition, these accidents taken together allow us to recognize substances as particular individuals (for example, this man is Socrates because of his bald head, his beard, etc.). What is the best way to implement all these factors in a computer simulation? The second stage of the project focuses on Ockham’s psychology of “mental language” as it applies to memory, recognition and human communication. Concepts are combined and remembered in the memory as mental propositions which are structured similarly to normal sentences. These mental propositions are used by a person in activities such as recognizing objects encountered before and, more importantly, in human communication. What happens in the mind when we recognize objects or when we learn new things from other people? In order to simulate this aspect of Ockham’s thought, the project will draw from Ockham’s Summa Logicae in conversation with the contemporary philosophy of language.

Forschungsprojekte im Wintersemester 2019/20

Austrian Economics Model
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This project attempts to create an agent-based model (ABM) computer simulation of Austrian economics. Austrian economics is a specific school of thought in economics founded by Carl Menger (1840-1921) and developed by eminent representatives such as Ludwig von Mises (1881 – 1973) and the Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek (1899 – 1992). It differs from other economic schools of thought in its emphasis on methodological individualism (a focus on the purposeful actions of individuals), subjectivism (the value of goods is based on the subjective desires of human beings), and viewing the market as a complex and dynamic process. This contrasts with mainstream approaches to economics that employ a set of idealized mathematical equations to represent and predict the behavior of a whole economy.
The design of the Austrian Economics Model (AEM) is inspired by the Sugarscape model of Epstein and Axtell (1996). The Sugarscape model was the first large-scale agent-based model. Starting with agents that move around a grid world and collect “sugar” in order to survive, Epstein and Axtell were able to add more and more complex phenomena such as trade and wealth distribution, war, evolution, and the transmission of diseases. The AEM also begins with agents that move around in a grid world to collect natural resources. From these natural resources, agents produce more complex goods, trade with each other, and choose different strategies to obtain their economic goals. The purpose of the AEM is not to make predictions about the current economic situation, but to create believable artificial economies which capture important aspects of real life economic behavior, especially through the lens of the Austrian school.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, there has been increased interest in ABM and Austrian economics. However, there have only been two attempts in the past to simulate Austrian economics. The first was by Don Lavoie and the “Agorics Project” at George Mason University in the 1990s, the second was by Hendrik Hagedorn in 2015. Our project differs from these previous attempts in its use of a BDI (Belief-Desire-Intention) cognitive architecture (Rao 1995). The minds of agents are structured according to what they know/believe, what they want/desire, and the plans that they employ/intend to obtain their desires. I argue that such a cognitive architecture allows us to capture the intrinsic subjectivism in Austrian economics. Among cognitive architectures, BDI is also one of the most successful and popular because it captures how human beings think they think (Norling 2004, Balke and Gilber 2014). In the AEM, the BDI framework dictates a wide range of actions that an agent can take, from negotiating prices with a seller to creating a brand new product.

The AEM is developed using Godot, a free and open-source game engine, while additional data analysis is done with Python. For more information about the project, please visit www.austrianeconomicsmodel.com.

Computer Simulations of Ethics 

This project considers the application of agent-based modeling (ABM) and computer simulation for ethics and develops a functioning computer simulation for virtue ethics. Though ABM is already well established in the social sciences, it has not yet found acceptance in the field of philosophical ethics. Currently, there are only a handful of attempts at simulating ethics. However, one of the most attractive features of using computer simulation for both social scientists and philosophers is the possibility of conducting social and ethical “experiments” which would be impossible to conduct in real life. Many of the phenomena studied by social scientists and philosophers that involve human beings in their ordinary, daily life and decision-making cannot be replicated as one can do with physical experiments in a laboratory. However, a computer simulation representing certain behaviors of human beings can be run an indefinite number of times with different conditions and variables. The results can then be compared with each other and also quantitatively analyzed. A computer simulation can serve as a more complex and detailed counterpart to the thought experiments that philosophers sometimes employ. For this reason, certain pioneers have called their project a “new experimental ethics” or “experimental computational philosophy” (Mascaro et al. 2010, Wiegel 2007).

There are currently no agent-based models for virtue ethics. In addition to investigating existing computer simulations of ethics, this project will also attempt to develop the first ABM for virtue ethics. The hypothesis is that there is a natural compatibility between ABM and virtue ethics because virtue ethics is essentially “agent-based.” In its traditional form in Aristotle and Aquinas, virtue ethics focuses on the “state” (hexis) or “habit” (habitus) of a person that leads to positive or negative moral behaviors. There is a functional parallelism between virtue ethics and ABM because in virtue ethics, a person can possess virtues or vices that lead to similar repeated behaviors of an ethical nature, while in ABM, an agent can possess variables that result in more or less predictable behavior as the computer simulation is run. Given this functional parallelism, ABM could serve as an ideal technological instrument for virtue ethics research.

To simulate virtue ethics, I employ a PECS framework. PECS stands for “physical conditions, emotional state, cognitive capabilities, and social status” (Urban 2000, Schmidt 2000). Virtue is conceived as the interaction between these internal components rather than a single variable. I argue that using the PECS framework is more suitable for simulating virtue ethics because it can capture the internal struggle and conflict sometimes involved in the practice of virtue. The computer simulation is programmed in Python and builds upon the well-known Sugarscape simulation (Epstein and Axtell 1996).