Archive for the ‘fideism’ Category


In fallibilism, fideism on 19/11/2011 at 12:19 pm

If a problem is compared to a maze, one could “solve” it by walking around its border without ever entering, if the relevant rules did not forbid it. To some that would be the height of intellectual dishonesty. They would call this ‘cheating’. Maybe they are right, but we should not think the “solution” a cheat if the maze has no exit, for it is a solution to a different problem, namely that of progressing from point A to B, rather than traversing a maze. It is an optimum in a different context. In other words, if one sees that the maze has no exit, is therefore unsolvable by traditional methods besides walking around or knocking down walls.


You Just Don’t Understand …

In fideism on 09/11/2011 at 12:52 am

There’s an excellent article, ‘You just don’t understand my religion’ is not good enough, on the vagueness of central commitments of religion — it’s applicable to non-religous commitments as well.



In fideism on 10/10/2011 at 4:50 am

Sometimes I cannot tell if someone is intentionally creating a parody of an outlandish position.

Sometimes I cannot tell if someone is intentionally parodying the entire cognitive framework — the ad hoc adjustments, the refusal to listen to criticism, any arguments that can be mustered, any defense possible — used in the defense of this position.

This is one of those times.


A Study in Stubbornness

In fideism, irrationalism on 12/09/2011 at 8:00 am

The BBC’s Conspiracy Road Trip: 9/11 is a recent documentary on the conspiratorial 9/11 Truth movement.


Catholic Dogma

In fideism, irrationalism on 08/09/2011 at 7:59 am

Edward Feser has a strange argument in favor of the possibility of reconciling evolutionary theory with Catholic dogma.

Supposing, then, that the smallest human-like population of animals evolution could have initially produced numbered around 10,000, we have a scenario that is fully compatible with Catholic doctrine if we suppose that only two of these creatures had human souls infused into them by God at their conception, and that He infused further human souls only into those creatures who were descended from this initial pair.  And there is no evidence against this supposition. (bolded)

Put aside that, as far as our scientific theories indicate, that the first biological human male and first human female existed, at minimum, thousands of years apart. Instead, focus on what Feser has done: yes, it is a possibility that an omniscient being imparted a particular cognitive structure (which Feser calls ‘souls’) into two biological humans, but possibility amounts to very little. It is possible that other humans are in fact androids, and to save this theory from attempted refutation, a defender can easily claim that no, this particular being is a human, but androids walk among us! There cannot be, by the very structure of the argument, evidence against this supposition.

Within the larger scheme of things, if we see how Catholic dogma began, their stances on epistemology, the historical structure of their ‘holy’ texts, their gradual refinement and replacement of dogmas under pressure from within and without the Church, then who cares if it is possible to reconcile even the most de-clawed version of Catholic dogma with evolutionary theory? It’s retreated too far, for too long. No, the Israelites never were slaves in Egypt. It’s just a story. No, Adam and Eve never lived, and certainly never were given dominion over all other creatures, and they never lived in a magic garden with a talking snake. There was no Noah’s ark, and to think otherwise would be intellectual suicide. I’m sure, or at least I hope that Feser would agree with me on all these points. But what remains? He can have his supposition for all I care, he can attempt to square the circle by redefining both until the two are one (we’re not talking about biological humans, but humans with souls!), but I take it as seriously as attempts to reconcile origin stories from other — now-defunct — religions.


It Works!

In fideism on 02/09/2011 at 7:16 am

A friend just sent me this interview of Gov. Rick Perry …

I’ve cleaned up the relevant parts of the interview, scrubbing Perry’s horrible speaking style so that it’s somewhat understandable.

Interviewer: … Why does Texas continue with abstinence education programs when they don’t seem to be working … ?

Perry: Abstinence works.

Interviewer: But … we have the third highest teen pregnancy rate among all states in the country. … It doesn’t seem to be working.

Perry: It works. Maybe it’s the way it’s being taught or the way it’s being applied out there, but the fact of the matter is, it is the best form to teach our children.

I should preface this by noting that Perry is not talking about the act of abstaining from sex. Yes, of course that prevents STDs and pregnancies in teenagers. The question is whether or not abstinence-only education works. Perry clearly answers in the affirmative.

The problem here is not that Perry has the wrong answer. Abstinence-only education does not work. The reasons are well-known, and almost gobsmackingly obvious to anyone that can remember their own hormone-driven teenage years. The temptations of the flesh, directed through billions of years of evolution, compel us to behave in specific ways.

The problem here is not that Perry wants more pregnant or STD-positive teenagers in Texas. Attributing such motives to Perry does little more than paint him as a devil, a person that wishes to make others suffer for making choices he finds distasteful. It’s far too easy to dismiss him as a bad person, for in doing so we reject his position when it is at its weakest. Perry thinks, so I conjecture, that his policies will work to solve a host of plagues in his state. What these problems are, however, are up for debate.

Perry seems unable to go through the process of problem-solving. If a proposal does not, as far as we can tell, work, then we must either reject the proposal or produce some iteration of the proposal that explains why it failed. This is the basic trial and error process: We accept our mistakes. Perry will have none of this. He starts with a proposal (“Abstinence works”) and then when confronted with conflicting data, ends with the proposal!

Here we have an individual that will not change his position even with the world against him. Possibly this is for religious or moral reasons. He might think that premarital sex is sinful. Since Perry think his religion’s position on sinful acts is true, endorsing condom use would do little more than beget sin. Perry has a duty to follow his dogma come what may, otherwise it would not be dogma any more. Any possible consequences, such as a high level of teen pregnancy in Texas, the untold suffering of others, and the spread of STDs, is tolerable when souls hang in the balance.



In ethics, fideism, van til on 30/08/2011 at 12:57 pm

For the life of me, I cannot understand the attitude of Robert Sungenis, as seen in the following quote from the LA Times. The pure inanity of Sungenis, the hubris, the fantastic will to impose his cognitive state onto the world without understanding the possibility of just being flat-out wrong.

“Heliocentrism becomes dangerous if it is being propped up as the true system when, in fact, it is a false system,” said Robert Sungenis, leader of a budding movement to get scientists to reconsider. “False information leads to false ideas, and false ideas lead to illicit and immoral actions — thus the state of the world today.… Prior to Galileo, the church was in full command of the world, and governments and academia were subservient to her.” (A few Catholics still insist Galileo was wrong)

Frankly, Sungenis is an intellectual and cultural fascist. Read some of his work if you don’t believe me. This website too examines his behavior when confronted with criticism, specifically on his anti-Semitic drivel. Even in the above quote, he publicly yearns for the time when the Catholic church governed most of the world. Who could dare say such a thing with a straight face? Is he not aware how appalling such a wish sounds to anyone versed in the history of the Church? The genocide of the Americas, burning of Bruno, pacts with Hitler and Mussolini, and the perpetuation of the lie about the Jews should give anyone a moment’s pause. All dissent would, presumably, be quieted in any way necessary, be it house-arrest, murder, and restricting information or literacy only to the priestly elite.

Since it is obvious (at leas to Sungenis) that he is good — for we all see ourselves as good — it follows that he does not and cannot possibly err. If others have differing theories, this indicates that they are mistaken, and since they cannot see the manifest truth, since “false ideas lead to illicit and immoral actions”, they are therefore evil. Would that there were someone to rid Sungenis of those pesky scientists? Putting these moral conundrums about legislating the truth aside for the moment, his assumption — in much the same way Van Til and other presuppositionalists have in the past — that error is a sign of immorality reveals Sungenis to be closed off from any sort of honest discussion. He cares not about the journey towards the truth, a journey that is forever covered in fog, always down dead-ends and winding labyrinths; he cares only about defending the faith, about crossing his arms and refusing to acknowledge anyone else as even being a moral equal, much less the possibility of them being right.

It doesn’t help that Sungenis is an ignorant creationist. The following video is pure lunacy.



In bartley, critical rationalism, empiricism, fideism, quine, van fraassen on 12/08/2011 at 11:18 am
Empiricism in the philosophy of science, even in its modern variants, takes observation reports of phenomenal states as a reliable route to knowledge. The problem for empiricists is as follows: Why adopt the theory (T1) that observation reports are a reliable way to sort out true from false theories and not adopt the theory (T2) that theories are a reliable way to sort out true from false observation reports? If the empiricist rejects T1 and adopts T2, the empiricist rejects empiricism and becomes a Kantian; however, this does not address the problem, for why should the Kantian adopt T2 and reject T1? The epistemological pendulum swings back.

If a basic statement and theory are incoherent, then observation reports cannot inform us that theories are wrong and theories cannot inform us that observation reports are wrong. Either the theories or observation reports are wrong — or both. Neither T1 nor T2 should be adopted a priori, for they effectively annihilate one another: all we can see is an incoherence between T1 and T2.

Furthermore, even after we recognize an incoherence between an observation report and a theory, this ‘recognizing’ is relative to a given system of logic, background assumptions, language, and cognitive framework: we are even fallible in recognizing incoherence. Whatever method or route we follow that leads to preferring one over the other will either not rest on an Archimedean point, or will not be known to rest on an Archimedean point. All is theory-laden and subject to error. We must admit that it is possible to change the logic we employ, statements we adopt, theories we accept, methods we follow, language we use, or the cognitive frameworks we inhabit, for none of them are privileged.


Van Til

In critical rationalism, fideism, justificationism, van til on 29/07/2011 at 5:14 am

I mentioned in passing some time ago the name ‘Van Til’ in the context of presuppositionalism. It is a prime example of what Lee Kelly (see this article) refers to as ‘objective dogma,’ for the structure of the presuppositionalist stance is so that any criticism of it is rejected as impermissible. I’ve done my best to reconstruct Van Til’s argument as best I can, but if there are any glaring mistakes, please correct me in the comments …

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In critical rationalism, fideism, popper, wittgenstein on 26/07/2011 at 5:51 am

A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push. (Ludwig Wittgenstein)


In Wittgenstein’s posthumous Philosophical Investigations he argues that meaning of terms is equal to its use within language: each ‘linguistic universe’ has its own rules. Content cannot be separated from criteria by which they are judged: criteria is never inter-cultural, but sub-cultural. Each discipline or ‘language’ game has its own standards, which cannot be reducible to other standards or principles. The task of the philosopher is then to describe and clarify standards, not to judge, defend, or criticize proposals laid out within a ‘language game.’ Criticism can only point out the misuse of language, or violations of the rules.

Argument or judgment does not cross disciplines, for they exist only in reference to criteria of the rules of the game. This leads to relativism, where there is no rational choice to be made between competing games: all games are equally defensible.

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In fideism, induction on 23/07/2011 at 6:24 am

Nothing is more characteristic of a dogmatist epistemology than its theory of error. For if some truths are manifest, one must explain how anyone can be mistaken about them, in other words, why the truths are not manifest to everybody. According to its particular theory of error, each dogmatist epistemology offers its particular therapeutics to purge minds from error. (Imre Lakatos)

I’ve heard it said from followers of Rand that a theory (usually one of Rand’s own, or a variation thereof) is unassailable, for any criticism of the theory must necessarily assume the theory in order to criticize it. This, somehow, invalidates all criticism.

Is the supposition “Any criticism must assume the validity of the theory being criticized” self-evident?

One problem: how does one know that all possible criticisms employ that theory? Is anyone familiar with all potential arguments against the theory? Of course not: novel ideas are created every day. Therefore, this assertion, that all criticism must assume the theory is true, is based on an inductive inference, which cannot, as a matter of logic, be as demonstrably self-evident or unconditionally immune to criticism as it first appears.

It might be the case that it is true, but it is hardly evident to me, especially once this doubt is raised. Furthermore, whatever theory is used to demonstrate how the initial theory is self-evident must, of course, be scrutinized to determine if it suffers from the same problem: is this new theory self-evident as well? A regress of ‘unassailable’ theories begins in earnest.

The world is far more interesting than we can imagine: asserting that no criticism could possibly exist speaks only to, I think, their limited intellectual horizon. I conjecture that it is better for an idea to stick its neck out as far as it can, therefore inviting many criticisms, and taking them serious. One criticism, if accepted, is enough. As the followers of Rand would have it, the world can only be a constant construction of sandcastles following the blueprints of the Master, and yet no helpful criticism of the blueprints or their faithful execution is permitted. I might go so far as to say that this meta-theory is self-evident, but of course, I don’t.

Assume that everything I have just said is not the case: assume that the Randian (for they are such an easy punching bag, no?) now says that by any criticism that does not assume the same things as Objectivism is then starting from different — incompatible — assumptions, and is not a viable criticism. This might be a possible defensive maneuver for the Randian, for it disallows criticism of its assumptions and criticism of its coherence. Here we have the gestation of the most uninteresting post-modernists within the Randian (or the religious presuppositionalists like Van Til), for the Randian must not be aware of a reductio ad absurdum.

And this, I should note, is a point that deserves no further clarification on my part, for pointing out incoherence is one of the most powerful criticisms available.


Quick Follow-Up

In critical rationalism, empiricism, fideism on 19/07/2011 at 9:13 am

The comments over at Feser’s blog are fairly amusing. The theist’s side is wanting, so they give the tu quoque: the empiricist’s is unfounded as well. I can only shrug and let them fight it out amongst themselves.

That said, it’s a good example of two groups operating within the justificationist meta-context, and generally falling all over themselves–one comment even relates to my previous post and CR in general, if you’re able to slog through the whole thread:

The OFloinn says,

What has been discounted was Popper’ larger program of discrediting the certainty of scientific knowledge, reducing it from knowledge to opinion, however well-educated the opinion was. It’s inadequacy can be seen by considering two falsified theories: Heliocentrism, falsified by the lack of stellar parallax by Aristotle, Archimedes, et al.; Maxwell’s electromagnetism, falsified by the existence of permanent magnets. These two examples indicate the inadequacies of Popperian irrationalism.

I sometimes wonder how some people are able to think and breathe at the same time without choking.


Necessary Minimal Familiarity

In fideism on 19/07/2011 at 9:01 am

The philosopher Edward Feser has a response to the ‘gnu’-atheists that has been floating around for a few months. In the past week he’s brought up the response again. It doesn’t amount to much, but give it a read. Feser must think that the response is powerful enough to sway the critic (or at least powerful enough to quiet any doubts he may have) if he pulls it out more than once. My comments are below the fold.

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In fideism, kuhn, lakatos on 18/07/2011 at 12:14 pm

Because they can ordinarily take current theories for granted, exploiting rather than criticizing it, the practitioners of mature sciences are freed to explore nature to an esotoric depth and detail otherwise unimaginable. (Thomas Kuhn, Reflections on my critics. In: I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds.) Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, p. 247. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.)

[T]rial attempts [to solve puzzles], whether by the chess player or by the scientist, are trials only of themselves, not of the rules of the game. They are possible only so long as the paradigm itself is taken for granted. (Kuhn, 1993, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd edition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, pp.144-5.)

Kuhn implies that if a scientist is super-critical, they can never begin to practice science. They’ll spend their time tackling foundations of disciplines, rather than addressing the logical consequences of all manner of scientific theories. While puzzle solving is a critical activity, according to Kuhn, it is a very limited kind of criticism, for it leaves certain questions as verboten. Is Kuhn right that most scientists practicing normal science need to uncritically accept theories?

A scientist can accept a theory for any purposes they so choose — practical, theoretical, or critical purposes are all acceptable. Kuhn thinks that ‘normal science’ can be conducted “only so long as the paradigm itself is taken for granted,” yet all that is needed is to consider what would be the case if the paradigm were valid.

Many scientists are more than willing to look at cases of dowsing even when they find the very idea absurd. Rather than uncritically accepting dowsing, scientists provisionally adopt the theory in order to parse out its logical consequences, one of them being the ability to determine the location of water with sticks. In fact, this is a commonplace tactic in science and philosophy: in order to undermine a rival theory, one must address it on its own terms and simultaneously attempt to catch it in a contradiction.



In critical rationalism, fallibilism, fideism on 11/07/2011 at 5:50 am

Over at Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature, Daniel Barnes (who I understand is at least sympathetic to critical rationalism) provides the following quotation from Rand:

“Don’t be so sure—nobody can be certain of anything.” Bertrand Russell’s gibberish to the contrary notwithstanding, that pronouncement includes itself; therefore, one cannot be sure that one cannot be sure of anything. The pronouncement means that no knowledge of any kind is possible to man, i.e., that man is not conscious. Furthermore, if one tried to accept that catch phrase, one would find that its second part contradicts its first: if nobody can be certain of anything, then everybody can be certain of everything he pleases—since it cannot be refuted, and he can claim he is not certain he is certain (which is the purpose of that notion). (Ayn Rand, “Philosophical Detection”, Philosophy: Who Needs It? p.14)

Barnes provides a subjectivist account of the comprehensively critical rationalist’s response, but it should be objectified to explain its true strength: talking about the status of mental states tells us nothing about the epistemological status of statements. Is the statement “Nobody can be certain of anything,” when rephrased as “We cannot know of any statement as justified” justified, true, or believed?

Someone may in due time develop a powerful objection to the statement, but so far none have been raised and survived even the most superficial criticism. If some statement is found that is known to be justified, then the sentence would be false. This negates the first criteria of justification.

It’s then permissible to adopt the statement as true. Adopting a statement as true, provisionally as it may be, does not make the statement true. This means that we cannot know (in the sense of having sufficient reasons) that the statement is true. The statement is then not self-refuting, but a conjecture about a critical failure in justificationist theories of knowledge: they are dealing with a pseudo-problem, a ‘false consciousness’ about ‘knowledge.’

It is not my duty to justify conjectures, for the conjecture asserts that very impossibility. To anyone that adopts the conjecture, according to their own lights, such an activity would be a waste of time, for it is prima facie absurd. It is my duty, and the duty of others, to criticize conjectures.

I do believe the statement is true, in much the same way I believe that I exist, but my beliefs, my psychological states, are unimportant–truth is primary.


A Little Effort, Luck, and Creativity

In critical rationalism, fallibilism, fideism on 07/07/2011 at 12:42 pm

Anti-justificationists can have a lot of fun with any philosopher who claims that a particular class of statements or some specific proposition is certain and, therefore, immune from criticism, because, with a little effort, luck, and creativity, it is possible to find a way of criticizing any given statement. (Diller, A. ‘Constructing a Comprehensively Anti-Justificationist Position’, Kark Popper: A Centenary Assessment Volume II, p. 121)


Positive and Negative

In bartley, critical rationalism, duhem, experiments, fallibilism, fideism, irrationalism, skepticism on 29/06/2011 at 11:53 am

There is a significant difference between what I will call ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ thinking. Positive thinking rests on the assumption that a solution’s past success (the ‘is’) guarantees or increases the probability of the solution’s future success (the ‘ought’): past success ought to show future success. Negative thinking, however, does not run into the is/ought problem: if a universal statement contradicts an existential statement, and the existential statement corresponds with the facts, then the existential statement is false.

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Among the Truthers

In fallibilism, fideism on 24/06/2011 at 7:27 am

The definition of the conspiracy theory … goes to the mindset of the conspiracy theorist, which is this: when presented with contrary evidence to their theory, they do not address the substance of the evidence. Instead, what they do is they systematically draw larger and larger circles around the groups of conspirators who are involved. (Jonathan Kay, Michael Coren Show Interview)

The analogy from conspiracy theories to ad hoc adjustments or immunizing procedures in science is, I would think, far too obvious.

Jonathan Kay’s blog Among The Truthers is an excellent resource explaining the mental state of conspiracy theorists.


The Fallibilists

In fallibilism, fideism on 20/06/2011 at 9:26 am

If the argument from the criterion is correct, the fideist ought to suspend judgment on his dogmatic philosophical beliefs, along with his ordinary beliefs, for the argument applies equally to both.

Since the skeptic wants to see whether his opponent at least by his own standards or canons has knowledge, he in his own arguments adheres to these standards. But this does not mean that he himself is committed to them. He is aware of the fact, e.g., that ordinarily we do not operate by these [the dogmatic] standards and that it is because his opponents want more than we ordinarily have that they try to subject themselves to these stricter canons; they want “real” knowledge, certain knowledge. (Michael Frede, The Skeptic’s Beliefs (1987), p. 204)

Thus, the fideist ought to withhold assent on all subjects; and yet, the argument has no implications for what the fallibilist ought or ought not to believe, except for that the fallibilist ought to believe nothing if he were a fideist.

But of course, the fallibilist is not a fideist: no part of the fallibilist’s position assumes that judgments may only be made on the basis of a criterion of truth.

And yet, if true, fallibilism cannot be warrantly asserted to be true. What of it, when fallibilism denies that very possibility? If it were false, then welcome criticism that unveils its weakness.



In critical rationalism, fideism, justificationism on 16/06/2011 at 7:00 pm

A key moment in her [Rep. Bachmann’s] political evolution, as for many of her generation, was the film series How Should We Then Live by the theologian Francis Schaeffer, who is widely credited for mobilizing evangelicals against abortion, an issue most had previously ignored. A Presbyterian minister, Schaeffer argued that our entire perception of reality depends on our worldview, and that only those with the right one can understand the true nature of things. Christianity, he argued, is “a whole system of truth, and this system is the only system that will stand up to all the questions that are presented to us as we face the reality of existence.” Theories or assertions from outside this system—evolution, for example—can be dismissed as the product of mistaken premises. (Michelle Goldberg, Bachmann’s Unrivaled Extremism)

I don’t know what to say about people that are incapable of admitting fault. Ideology can be very powerful, psychologically, especially if it’s grounded in religious convictions: there are people that, if presented with evidence that challenges or discredits their beliefs, are capable of writing it off entirely.

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