In critical rationalism, ethics on 15/07/2011 at 5:15 am

It is clear (I should hope) that an individual’s physical strength is not a reliable process for discovering the truth of a conjecture. A brute can beat everyone into submission and still be wrong. Nor is flipping a coin, for the randomness of a flipped coin does not have any necessary connection with the truth of a conjecture either.

However, is engaging in a critical discussion, and then adopting the conclusions of that critical discussion, any more reliable a process for discovering the truth of a conjecture than flipping coins or hitting each other?

No, but it is preferable to flipping coins or hitting each other.

Why? (1) humans are ethical creatures, and ethical action should rest on ethical principles or attitudes, rather than on randomness or mere might; (2) a critical discussion may not be a reliable process for discovering the truth of a conjecture, but it is a reliable process for eliminating incoherence.

(If anyone should disagree with me, they are more than welcome to state their disagreement. If they should respond with threats of violence, then the discussion is over and I will take the necessary precautions to protect myself–one wouldn’t want to argue with a rabid dog.)

Incoherence is a possible meta-problem for all proposed solutions to our problems. If a proposed solution is incoherent with itself or our background knowledge, it logically implies everything, and therefore it is not a solution at all. The same logic goes for our scientific theories as well. We should then seek to eliminate incoherence. Of course, beating someone over the head or flipping a coin are not activities that search for incoherence. What other way to eliminate incoherence exists than by a critical examination of our theories for incoherence?

If 2 is coupled with several methodological principles towards (1) which theories are initially viable candidates (and these methodological principles are themselves open to revision in light of a critical discussion), (2) if the theory contradicts some existential state of affairs, (3) if the theory can contradict some state of affairs (otherwise, it does not speak about anything empirical), and so on, then we may, if we are lucky, move closer to the truth.

Furthermore, a critical discussion does not preclude flipping a coin (in the case of having two equally palatable choices) or resorting to violence (when, for instance, a group is confronted with violence). But is this now a reliable process? Of course not. No matter how we decide, we still may make mistakes, for we are not omniscient.


  1. […] Argument (thephilosophyofscience.wordpress.com) […]

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