About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Massimo's Picks

by Massimo Pigliucci

* "If you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a poor family, you're likely to go to prison. If born to a rich family, you're likely to go to business school."

* Three types of libertarianism, and the objections that can be raised against them.

* Could it be that Americans are smarter and more fair minded than the GOP assumes? Oh my spaghetti monster!

* The sort of movie about Wall Street you really don't want to miss.

* The perfect example of what is wrong with mixing financial interests and political power...

* Post hoc ergo propter hoc, Tim Minchin style.

* Quote of the Day: "Those who believe in telekinesis, raise my hand." -Kurt Vonnegut

* Conservative politics and authoritarian personality.

Thank evolution for giving us birds...

* New paper in Philosophy & Theory in Biology: Lamarckism ascending!

* The vacuity and ignorance of Alvin Plantinga.

* Jon Stewart takes on the idiotic "In God We Trust" vote in Congress.

* Insanity, defined: parents infecting their children on purpose, to develop natural immunities.

133 comments:

  1. I'm sorry, but the review of Plantinga's book-- especially his treatment of the EAAN-- was extraordinarily subpar. There are much better criticisms of the argument.

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  2. Re: Alvin Plantinga

    I have not read 'Where The Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, & Naturalism,' and I probably never will since I have largely made it a point to ignore almost everything that comes out of the Notre Dame philosophy department (their fetishes for libertarian free will and modal actualism are too much for me), but I was appalled at Plantinga's scholarship.

    Not only does he contort the Ruse & Wilson quote, which is bad enough, but he worsens matters by taking Ruse & Wilson's position on morality as being paradigmatic when he knows otherwise; Plantinga knows that the vast majority of naturalists are *not* error theorists, yet he overlooks this.

    Plantinga's bit on morality aside, his argument against naturalism on epistemic grounds(i.e.: given naturalism our cognitive faculties are unlikely to be reliably belief producing; our faculties are reliable; thus, naturalism is false) is bosh: as far as I am aware, no one of any importance outside of Notre Dame accepts that argument.

    Lastly, of course theism is *logically* compatible with evolution via natural selection. Theism is logically compatible with *everything*, which is to say that theism is sufficiently vacuous so as to be able rule out absolutely no state of affairs at all. That aside, we have no need of the god hypothesis in formulating and testing our hypotheses; we have no need of a 'god' parameter in our equations. So, what reason do we have to include god into our ontology?

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  3. "A review of the history of evolutionary theory reveals that many of the pioneers in its development were indefatigable supporters of the ancient doctrine of the inheritance of acquired characters. Despite widespread agreement regarding the explanatory power of the Lamarckian theory it was eventually abandoned in the face of the theoretical difficulty of accounting for directional genetic change. Recent developments in bacterial genetics, however, offer compelling evidence that the genome does indeed respond to the needs of the evolving organism. This evidence constitutes prima facie evidence for the Lamarckian theory of evolution which, taken in conjunction with the circumstantial evidence derived from paleontology and the study of the behavior of animals, suggests that a return to the ideas of Lamarck and Darwin may soon be in order."
    Author anonymous

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  4. Loved the quote of the day, I FB'ed with a h/t to you. Didn't like the piece about libertarianism. Pretty shallow. Confirmation bias, perhaps? Curious about your opinion about Boston Review in general: how does it compare to NY?

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  5. Norwegian,

    I'm not surprised you didn't like the libertarian critique. I don't think you can seriously make the accusation of shallowness, though. It's actually a nuanced piece within the limits imposed by the magazine. In general, though, I do prefer the NY Review.

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  6. Btw, I started listening to the podcasts. Not all of them, but the ones I've been interested in have been very well done. Philosophy of Science episode didn't change my mind about it, but it certainly wasn't shallow. (probably the wrong word for the BR piece, but within the limits imposed by my brain in nanoseconds, not bad).

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  7. Eamon: "Plantinga's bit on morality aside, his argument against naturalism on epistemic grounds(i.e.: given naturalism our cognitive faculties are unlikely to be reliably belief producing; our faculties are reliable; thus, naturalism is false) is bosh"

    Indeed. IIRC, when I had heard that line of argument, I thought, "Well, yeah, our cognitive faculties aren't that reliable." As an attempted disproof of naturalism, it stumbles badly just on that.

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  8. I thought Scanlon's short essay on (political) libertarianism was as deep as one can reasonably expect from a piece of that length. But, then, I admit that I was already biased towards his position.

    But now I'm left wondering: where do libertarians fall on the cognitive spectrum described in that Grist article on conservative politics and the authoritarian personality, which the author ascribes to today's Republican Party?

    Granted, the government enforcement of free-market norms and outcomes (e.g. property rights) that libertarians typically favor can feel pretty coercive. But, insofar as no successful real-world economy truly meets libertarian criteria (not even the US), it seems fair to say that libertarians prefer change over stability and novelty over familiarity - two traits that the article ascribes to liberals. (For that matter, many religious conservatives seem to prefer change, as well - albeit, more as a restoration to a dominantly white Christian past.) In these cases, liberals (or progressives) seem more like the ones engaged in system justification; e.g. while defending well established government policies - usually involving progressive taxes, market regulation, and social insurance (and church-state separation).

    Perhaps I'm just pointing out a general shortcoming in generalizations.

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  9. Change can be progressive and/or regressive.

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  10. I've assumed that the prion theory of wasting-type brain diseases certainly gave a foothold to neo-Lamarckian ideas. So, too, does research in epigenetic effects at the genetic level in general, vs. the organism level, which was Baldwin's focus.

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  11. EVOLVING RESPONSIVELY: ADAPTIVE MUTATION
    www.micab.umn.edu/courses/8002/Rosenberg.pdf

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  12. There is nothing vacuous or ignorant about Plantinga's claims regarding natural selection, his epistemological argument against naturalism, or his critique of evolutionary psychology.

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  13. "given naturalism our cognitive faculties are unlikely to be reliably belief producing; our faculties are reliable; thus, naturalism is false"

    This is nothing more than a sloppy misreading and distortion of Plantinga's argument.

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  14. Attlee,

    Please present Plantinga's epistemological argument against naturalism and let us see if it is or is not vacuous.

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  15. The argument turns simply and directly upon Plantinga's notion of a defeater and whether or not naturalism excludes the means to validating our cognitive faculties. Plantinga is in line with Humean skepticism when he correctly points out that "if the general reliability our cognitive faculties is under question, we can’t hope to answer the question whether they are reliable by pointing out that these faculties themselves deliver the belief that they are, in fact, reliable.” Thus, the reliability of our cognitive faculties is not Plantinga's premise, as you have it -- on the contrary, Plantinga chides naturalists for failing to provide a logically satisfactory argument for thinking that our cognitive faculties are reliable.

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  16. "Plantinga chides naturalists for failing to provide a logically satisfactory argument for thinking that our cognitive faculties are reliable."

    But that runs smack into the problem that quite a few naturalists don't think our cognitive faculties are that reliable. In practice, they kinda sorta work well enough for most of us to muddle through, but they are prone to a whole host of failures, many of which are documented on web pages that list fallacies.

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  17. I'm reminded of a quote by cognitive scientist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson (Philosophy in the Flesh, pg. 95):

    Realism is fundamentally about our success in functioning in the world. Someone who is "not realistic" is someone who is ill-adapted, someone who is out of touch and out of harmony with the world. Realism is about being in touch with the world in ways that allow us to survive, to flourish, and to achieve our ends.

    In other words, according to this view of "realism" - which seems pretty naturalistic to me - our cognitive faculties are only reliable insofar as they permit us "to survive, to flourish, and to achieve our ends." Yet, examples of failure even in these modest terms abound - nevermind the notion that our cognitive faculties are reliable in ways that actually exceed these capacities, for which there is no cognitive-scientific evidence - only faith.

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  18. Attlee,

    sorry but that's pure nonsense on stilts. First of all, to invoke Hume in Plantinga's favor is an insult to Hume. Second, the notion of a "defeater" has pretty much been abandoned by any serious philosopher for anything more complicated than elementary logic. Third, we have plenty of empirical evidence that human cognitive faculties work well enough, despite known biases (which can be corrected or accounted for, because we know about them). Fourth, we have a perfectly good explanation for the existence and degree of reliability of human cognition: evolution. Oh right, but Plantinga doesn't believe in evolution.

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  19. With regard to Gadfly's earlier reference to Baldwin, here's a paper that expresses that concept as well as any I've read:

    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/ip/davidpapineau/Staff/Papineau/OnlinePapers/SocLearnBald.htm

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  20. "we have plenty of empirical evidence that human cognitive faculties work well enough, despite known biases (which can be corrected or accounted for, because we know about them)"

    Dear Massimo, if your reasoning were any more circular, we (those of us who still have our cognitive faculties) could use it as a frisbee. As Plantinga still in line with Hume demonstrates, any argument given for the reliability of our cognitive faculties is circular in that it purports to give a reason -- or evidence -- for trusting our cognitive faculties, but "is itself trustworthy only if those faculties are indeed trustworthy". Thus, any one who has never read Hume may respond to your quite vacuous and ignorant comments by innocently asking: how do we know that the empirical evidence is reliable, given that it is produced by our cognitive faculties? Why should we believe in the empirical evidence, if the cognitive faculties that deliver and interpret that evidence are unreliable?

    "we have a perfectly good explanation for the existence and degree of reliability of human cognition: evolution."

    See above about the possibility of giving a non-circular, non-question begging argument for the veracity of the theory of evolution. Lest the readers of this blog get confused by Massimo's outrageous outpouring of falsehoods and intentional misinformation, Plantinga's argument is not against evolution, but the conjunction of naturalistic epistemology with naturalistic metaphysics via unguided evolution.

    "Oh right, but Plantinga doesn't believe in evolution"

    Finally, Massimo shows not only that he is ignorant of Plantinga's beliefs, but that he is ignorant of his ignorance.

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  21. "quite a few naturalists don't think our cognitive faculties are that reliable"

    No -- as effectively argued by Plantinga, and as evidenced by Massimo's response. The impossibility of giving a non-circular, non-question begging argument for the reliability of our cognitive faculties is the "defeater" for the belief that our cognitive abilities are reliable. This "defeater" cannot be defeated because the only way to defeat it is to rely on one's cognitive faculties to do so, as Massimo's response inanely demonstrates.

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  22. But Attlee, if your interpretation of Plantinga's position is accurate (and frankly it sounds like you're dragging a lot of Van Til and Bahnsen into the mix) then it functions (if at all) primarily as a takedown of naturalist foundationalism. It's completely ineffective against, for example, pragmatism and / or coherentism.

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  23. Attlee's most effective arguments are of the ad hominem variety. Apparently the logic is that only flawless cognitive processes can produce trustable results, yet the processes of science indicate that even the highly flawed activities of humans can bear much fruit. It just requires that a systematic process be followed to correct for errors. If your argument predicts the opposite, then there is something wrong with your argument.

    Therefore the circular logic argument fails, because it assumes that only a flawless process can be reliable, yet we know this is not true. Certain aspects of human cognition may be unreliable, but that doesn't mean that other more reliable aspects can compensate for this, or allow us to recognize the problem.

    It is like declaring that a vehicle must be discarded because it doesn't drive straight, yet most can recognize that a car that veers to the left can get you from point A to point B if you just turn the steering wheel a little to the right.

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  24. I don’t need to read the Plantinga book to know that the review was a juvenile attempt at proper criticism. There are purposes to be served by evolution that the reviewer and the other Dawkinsists can’t seem to grasp.
    We live in an anticipatory and problem solving universal system, where strategic purposes are served by trial and error efforts.
    But also one where no Plantinga fine tuners need apply, nor any first or final causative agents are needed.

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  25. Attlee,

    Essentially, I agree with Hodo Kwaja. The empiricist / naturalist must provide an argument for the fundamental reliability of our sensory and cognitive faculties only if she accepts a foundationalist epistemology. However, empiricists / naturalists need not (indeed, ought not to) accept a foundationalist epistemology.

    Rather, pace Hasok Chang (epistemic iteration), C.S. Peirce (pragmatism) or W.V.O. Quine (coherentism), the empiricist can take other routes. Take Chang's idea of epistemic iteration and thermometry as an example.

    The key assumption in thermometers is that mercury (or any other thermometric fluid) expands uniformly (or, linearly) with increasing temperature. But of course we construct the thermometer *in order* to provide quantifiable temperature values. We could provide initial temperature values for the calibration of any given thermometer with some other thermometer, but how do we know * that * prior thermometer provides reliable temperature values? So, you see, the assumption, essentially, is circular and thus we simply cannot know that our thermometric instruments are reliable.

    However, we *can* reliably measure temperature values; we do it all the time. But we do not solve the initial problem with any foundationalist solution(s).

    Epistemic iteration is a method in which we create successive stages of knowledge, each building on the preceding one, in order to enhance the achievement of certain epistemic goals, such as precision, consistency, scope, explanatory power, simplicity, etc. No recourse is made to indubitable or self-evident truths, or to such things as properly basic beliefs. We use our thermometers though we have good reason to believe they are not reliable in the way we want them to be and, through processes of calibration via successive measurements in similar experimental arrangements, establish consistently obtain temperature ranges.

    We use these temperature values to establish more precise thermometric instruments and, through simplifying idealizations such as perfect gases, absolute temperatures, etc., we create broadly theoretical temperature scales, and so forth. Even the notion of uniform expansion is a tentative, explanatory hypothesis which admits of testing via our improved thermometers (and theoretical implications).

    (For a wonderful case study of this process, see Percy Bridgman's work on high pressure physics. He constructed instruments which allowed him to surpass standard pressure levels and had to establish new ways of measuring the pressure and the properties of matter under these conditions.)

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  26. Think of epistemic iteration in other terms: A near blind man cannot see that the physical objects in his room are variously colored. He puts on glasses which permit him to see colors. He notices that some of the objects seem to change colors under various conditions.

    He theorizes about how this could be, establishes some explanatory hypotheses, and begins to test them. He suspect his glasses are not as reliable as he would like them to be. So, he uses the glasses to make new glasses, and he observes that the colors are less sporadic, more consistent, and seem to begin to form identifiable patterns, etc.

    With his new glasses, he also sees that his first pair of glasses were scratched in certain ways which could account for the haphazard color experiences. Nevertheless, he proceeds to improve his glasses at each successive state, all the while cataloguing what works and what does not, keeping the former and proceeding.

    In the same way that thermometers are instruments, our sense organs are also instruments; likewise for our cognitive faculties. The progressive trial-and-error way of working through our physical interactions with temperature is analogous to the way in which we proceed with our broadly empiricist epistemology. Our brain develops heuristics and epistemic rules of thumb and construct hypotheses which are tested by and often help construct our sensory stimuli. I would further argue that the logic we use in our evidential frameworks is also instrumental and must admit to broadly empirical support.

    (In this way I would say we ought to reject so-called classical logic and adopt a relevance intuitionistic logic, but this is for another conversation entirely.)

    In a sense, a measure of circularity remains, but the circle is a virtuous one (or at least an innocuous one). It is as problematic as the problem of naming landmarks and roads in a small town. A small town has one street and one bridge. When people stop to ask directions to a shoppe they are told to go take the road over the bridge and it will be on the left.

    But when another street pops up, the two must be distinguished. So, the street which passes over the bridge is called 'Bridge Street' and the other 'Grove Street' (it runs past orange groves). When another bridge pops up, the two bridges must be distinguished. The first is called 'Bridge Street Bridge' and the other 'Grove Street Bridge'.

    In a sense, the names involved are all circular, but insofar as people get to and fro without difficulty, the system works. As more need for naming arises, we progress in the usual way; making amendments as need arises.

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  27. "if your interpretation of Plantinga's position is accurate then it functions (if at all) primarily as a takedown of naturalist foundationalism. It's completely ineffective against, for example, pragmatism and / or coherentism"

    Ugh. As previously intoned, on this very blog: "Quinean coherentism cannot resolve the regress problem without incurring the charge of vicious circularity -- the idea that beliefs receive non-circular support from one another -- that appeal to mere relations of coherence could ground "knowledge" -- is nothing more than an intellectual prank played on the non-English speaking philosophical community. There can be no non-circular, non-arbitrary account of the terminus of epistemic justification … no coherentism can actually rest on a justified (non-arbitrary) first belief. The only way to stop the regress is by taking the first — "properly basic" — belief as a brute posit, assented to by pure intuition. The coherentist's "web" of empirical evidence is therefore indissociable from a circular chain". The same applies to pragmatism.

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  28. Attlee,

    as others have already argued, that is simply wrong. Coherentism is perfectly reasonable, particularly when part of what needs to "cohere" is empirical evidence. Unlike, you know, the made up stuff that Plantinga apparently believes.

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  29. Attlee,

    Rather than make bare assertions, perhaps you should address my comments above. It is easy enough to claim something, it quite another to fill in the details.

    That aside, about this properly basic business. Proper basicality figures prominently within epistemology only at Calvin College and Notre Dame.

    In other words, nobody takes reformed epistemology too seriously- and I say this from the inside of academia: Nobody at, say, Carnegie Mellon, Cal Berkeley, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, NYU, Columbia, MIT or Rochester, to name only a few, gives much thought to reformed epistemology.

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  30. I find it pretty amusing that Attlee thinks coherentism and pragmatism require foundationalist underpinnings. Massive failure.

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  31. "Apparently the logic is that only flawless cognitive processes can produce trustable results"

    No. The logic is merely that one cannot be certain that one's cognitive faculties reliably produce "trustable results" given the impossibility of deducing a non-circular, non-question begging argument against this conclusion. What we can deduce are "properly basic" propositions, as Plantinga has meticulously explained. As is the wont of Massimo, by misrepresenting Plantinga's argument, you have evaded addressing the very issue that is under dispute: how can we know that our cognitive faculties are "flawless"? how do we justify our "trust" in our cognitive faculties? why assume that our cognitive processes are reliable if they are ultimately the product of random mutations?

    "Therefore the circular logic argument fails, because it assumes that only a flawless process can be reliable"

    As with Massimo, readers of this blog may discern that the utterances of Mr. Bowers' tend to be of the circular variety. Accordingly, this statement only begs the question of how one might reliably deduce the truth that the deliverances and processes of our cognitive faculties are indeed "flawless" and "reliable". As Plantinga (a resolute Humean if there ever was one) definitively shows, the naturalist must produce a non-circular "defeater" to overturn Hume's inference to the "nullity of all pre-tensions of reason" to advance beyond the properly basic.

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  32. Eamon, despite your apparent academic pedigree, it would take a weird reading of Plantinga's argument to come away with the idea that it requires reformed epistemology. It may be an argument for reformed epistemology, but the two are independent.

    Indeed, atheists have used arguments of the very same form to argue for things like moral anti-realism: https://files.nyu.edu/ss194/public/sharonstreet/Writing.html

    I guess Sharon Street is a reformed ethicist?

    Did you know Sharon Street teaches at NYU?

    Plantinga is mistaken about what his argument gets him. I'm an agnostic and I think some of Plantinga's argumentation is very, very weird. For example, he treats beliefs as the currency of natural selection, which is about as nativistic as one can get. Nevertheless, both Massimo and the reviewer linked above have completely missed the point of the argument. According to Massimo, "we have plenty of empirical evidence that human cognitive faculties work well enough", which is fine, but Plantinga never disputed that. His claim is that most of our beliefs would be false, not that they would not work "well enough".

    Eamon, it is a little strange to me that you use Hasok Chang as a counterexample to Plantinga since he is about as anti-realist as you can get when it comes scientific practice. I attended a talk of his on scientific measurement in St. Louis and was quite struck by how little he cares about the relationship between science and truth. Science is cool because it works. It has nothing to do with truth and that's perfectly acceptable.

    Again, according to Plantinga, we should expect that evolution would create a cognitive system that could pick up on regularities, but as he notes there are wildly fallacious views that are consistent with the regularities. This just is Hume's problem, or the Grue problem if you'd rather.

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  33. Attlee,

    you may have noticed that I didn't let a couple of your latest comments through. See if you can rephrase them without using words like "stupidity" and phrases like "pulling your head out of your ass" and I'll let them go through. Thanks.

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  34. Josh,

    Of course I did not mean to assert that literally no one at a top 40 institution takes Plantinga's epistemology seriously, writes on the issue, or, in Stone's case, incorporates aspects of it in their own work, in whatever field. Nevertheless, my point remains: Plantinga's epistemology is largely ignored by those who are doing the best work in epistemology.

    As for Chang and epistemic iteration, there are two things I would like to say here.

    First, Chang's idea of epistemic iteration is quite independent of his anti-realism. One can easily adopt epistemic iteration within a broadly realist framework with something like Putnam's 'No Miracles' argument or Quine's indispensability argument regarding the success of the method in constructing successful scientific theories and taking it ontological commitments seriously.

    Second, Chang's scientific anti-realism is an attractive feature. In fact, I would argue, we would do well to adopt it in order to efface ourselves of inflated conceptions of truth, as they inevitably permit unnecessary metaphysical baggage.

    I am entirely with Chang insofar as he is an anti-realist and, with a nuanced Peircean pragmatism, will argue that 'truth' is importantly related to the methodology one might employ to produce hypotheses worthy of holding on the basis of the evidence in light of the empiricist virtues of precision, consistency, prediction & retrodiction, simplicity, etc.

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  35. "I find it pretty amusing that Attlee thinks coherentism and pragmatism require foundationalist underpinnings. Massive failure."

    The only failure here is your inability to recognize that I have explicitly and indefatigably expressed the polar opposite: "I am not asking for foundations in the sense of justified belief. I am asking, rather, how can any belief in the "web of knowledge" be justified without assuming the implicit validity of the belief one uses to justify the specific belief in question? The answer is that coherentism still has, within a given "web", doxastic basicality, that is, a belief that is "first" or "basic", so while it may be said that beliefs can be conditionally "justified" merely by appeal to other beliefs, the first or basic belief is not itself "justified" except in a circular fashion, and so it is arbitrary and accepted on faith. "Properly basic" does not mean a justified belief, it means a belief (e.g. in the "laws of nature") that is groundless and unjustified i.e. one assented to by virtue of mere intuition, blind faith, etc."

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  36. Massimo, how does one rationally justify appeals to "evidence" in defense of the belief that our cognitive faculties are reliable without recourse to the presumption of their reliability? How does one establish the reliability of one's cognitive faculties without presupposing the reliability of the very faculties one seeks to establish the reliability of?

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  37. "In other words, nobody takes reformed epistemology too seriously- and I say this from the inside of academia: Nobody at, say, Carnegie Mellon, Cal Berkeley, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, NYU, Columbia, MIT or Rochester, to name only a few, gives much thought to reformed epistemology."

    As a bare assertion, this is nothing more than an argumentum ad verencundiam.

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  38. so while it may be said that beliefs can be conditionally "justified" merely by appeal to other beliefs, the first or basic belief is not itself "justified" except in a circular fashion,

    Yeah, that's sort of the point of coherentism. You almost get it too, but...

    and so it is arbitrary and accepted on faith.

    No, it's justified / accepted in a circular fashion, with reference to how well it harmonizes with the rest of the web of belief. As you seem to have glancingly understood one comma earlier. This is why calling it first or basic is a misnomer. Some beliefs are stickier than others, but they're still just beliefs and not glowing numinous metaphysical cornerstones endowed with Magickal Properties.

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  39. Massimo, how does one rationally justify appeals to "evidence" in defense of the belief that our cognitive faculties are reliable without recourse to the presumption of their reliability?

    Reformed epistemology is stuck in the Cartesian era, asking us to think of a ladder that will allow us to climb out of our own minds. It's so anachronistic! As Rorty points out in PMN, the best solution to riddles like that is to stop asking them and move on to more interesting ones.

    Seeing this still debated in 2011 is like seeing a wizard wander into a chemical supply company demanding to see their stockpiles of canned phlogiston and vacuum packed homunculi.

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  40. Eamon, just wanted to say your explanation of epistemic iteration was brilliant. The idea is new to me, but it seems like it might bear nicely on the problem of induction in the bargain...

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  41. Attlee,

    Re: 'As a bare assertion, this is nothing more than an argumentum ad verencundiam.'

    I made no appeal to an irrelevant authority. Neither did I argue that *because* Plantinga's epistemology is fantastically unpopular amongst the *relevant* authorities it is false. Rather, I pointed out that *because* it is unpopular amongst the relevant authorities we can be confident that it is for good reason.

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  42. We live in an anticipatory and problem solving universal system, where strategic purposes are served by epistemic iteration.

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  43. "Rather, I pointed out that *because* it is unpopular amongst the relevant authorities we can be confident that it is for good reason"

    Good grief -- could we reasonably suppose that those in authority think as they do for no good reason whatsoever?

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  44. Baron,

    as usual, I have no idea what that means.

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  45. Attlee,

    that would be a most unreasonable assumption.

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  46. Attlee,

    That *would* be a most unreasonable assumption. Are we to suppose that Alvin & his handful of properly basic men have some special insight into the truth of the matter that his epistemic peers do not? Perhaps that Alvin & his merry bunch have it all right is a brute posit assented to by way of pure intuition?

    On a more serious note, thank you for clarifying Plantinga's EAAN. I just wish you would tone down the sloganeering and engage with substantive comments.

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  47. I second Ian's review (for whatever that's worth, coming from a hobbyist like myself). Good stuff, Eamon.

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  48. @Massimo,
    "as usual, I have no idea what that means."

    It means (via Wikipedia) "there is a parallel between iterative and the theory of Natural Selection. Both involve a trial and error process in which the most suitable design advances to the next generation, while less suitable designs perish by the wayside. Subsequent versions of a product should also get progressively better as its producers learn what works and what doesn't in a process of refinement and continuous improvement."

    Sophisticated trial and error. Get it?

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  49. No, I don't get it. It's still gibberish to me.

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  50. I bet you were able to anticipate my response because there is a parallel between iterative (iterative what, btw?) and the theory of Natural Selection.

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  51. Iterative applications of purposive strategic tactics by the individual organism in a social and cultural learning system. That's the what.

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  52. The roles of integration in molecular systems biology
    www.maureenomalley.org/downloads/OMalleySoyer-preprint.pdf

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  53. Massimo: I don't think Baron is speaking gibberish so much as speaking anthropomorphically (albeit, rather coyly) about evolution, connoting some (possibly non-theistic) version of Intelligent Design.

    I suspect that's also why he takes shots at "Dawkinsists" (see above), which I interpret as a reference to people who are more comfortable with the evident blindness of evolutionary processes (as in Dawkins' Blind Watchmaker metaphor) than he is. (Of course, Dawkins' Blind Watchmaker metaphor is also anthropomorphic, but it's a frackin' metaphor!)

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  54. Nice. Of course the paper has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue at hand...

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  55. mufi,

    I know, it's an ongoing joke between us, I like to push his buttons. However, I don't think he is proposing anything like ID, but rather some vague vitalistic notion, of the kind that went out of fashion with Bergson at the very beginning of the 20th century...

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  56. Massimo: I recognize that my use of "ID" above was loose (despite my "non-theistic" descriptor), and that "vitalism" is probably a more accurate label for Baron's pet doctrine. I guess I partly had in mind his recent reference to James A. Shapiro, whose work has attracted favorable attention in recent years from ID advocates (e.g. Dembski and Uncommon Descent). Shapiro's "Third Way" is not ID per se, but apparently something about it provides comfort to creationists.

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  57. Yup, that's why I dislike Shapiro's vocabulary (his technical work is good). It is unnecessarily ambiguous and overly anthropomorphic, and it invites fuzzy thinking a la vitalism or ID.

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  58. Massimo, vitalism, as you'd like to think I'm espousing, goes back to Aristotle. He was, as usual, philosophically insightful in that respect, if wrong about the science.

    Vitalism, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary,[1] is a doctrine that the functions of a living organism are due to a vital principle distinct from biochemical reactions - [2] a doctrine that the processes of life are not explicable by the laws of physics and chemistry alone and that life is in some part self-determining.
    In that sense, adaptive mutation is vitalistic, but not as singularly doctrinaire.
    I could recommend some recent papers and books on biological strategies and motivation, but then I've already done so, haven't I.

    And I pushed your "purpose" button before you pushed mine.

    ReplyDelete
  59. Also, keep up those old red herrings that biological self engineering, et al, is wrong because it gives comfort to creationists. Obviously it does so, because it gives discomfort to the Dawkins, Coyne, Harris, &c, crowd. And evidently to the crowd here as well.

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  60. Baron,

    As you should know very well, I very much enjoy making Dawkins, Harris and Coyne uncomfortable, but only if it is for good reasons, which this one most definitely isn't.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Attlee says,

    ""Oh right, but Plantinga doesn't believe in evolution"

    Finally, Massimo shows not only that he is ignorant of Plantinga's beliefs, but that he is ignorant of his ignorance."

    Why don't you tell us what Plantinga believes. He certainly is no fan of evolution in what I have read.

    Do you think human cognitive faculties are reliable due to supernatural intervention? Isn't this what Plantinga is trying to demonstrate?

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  62. "Why don't you tell us what Plantinga believes. He certainly is no fan of evolution in what I have read"

    Plantinga thinks that evolution is guided and orchestrated by God. Bizarrely, Massimo thinks that Plantinga doesn't believe in evolution.

    ReplyDelete
  63. "No, it's justified / accepted in a circular fashion, with reference to how well it harmonizes with the rest of the web of belief"

    How can any belief be "justified" if we cannot be conclusively certain of it's reliability?

    ReplyDelete
  64. "Are we to suppose that Alvin & his handful of properly basic men have some special insight into the truth of the matter that his epistemic peers do not? Perhaps that Alvin & his merry bunch have it all right is a brute posit assented to by way of pure intuition?"

    On what grounds does epistemic iteration allow for the possibility of a non-circular, non-question begging justification of any belief whatsoever?

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  65. No-one can be (by definition) conclusively certain of reliability. We trust in reliability to be able to act at all. We wouldn't need that trust if we were able, successfully, to act with certainty.
    And in my experience, growing up with Christian missionaries (to China, etc.), most if not all of those who claim to trust in a god have had their recurring doubts.

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  66. "No-one can be (by definition) conclusively certain of reliability. We trust in reliability to be able to act at all. We wouldn't need that trust if we were able, successfully, to act with certainty"

    I could not have said it better myself, had I not already said it myself.

    ReplyDelete
  67. Yes, but then you drew an inane conclusion that reliability cannot be trusted because it isn't certain, right?

    ReplyDelete
  68. How can any belief be "justified" if we cannot be conclusively certain of it's reliability?

    Loosely speaking, under pragmatism a belief is justified if it is useful and under coherentism a belief is justified if it harmonizes with our other beliefs. I think of myself as a "pragherentist" - a blend of both, because they complement each other nicely.

    You're free to embrace unattainably strict foundationalist epistemological standards if you wish but don't delude yourself into thinking that they're inherently part of other frameworks too.

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  69. Attlee,

    Here is a crude response:

    First, read again my comments above: epistemic iteration (or some similar method) explicates an appropriate notion of reliability. Second, let us use a standard disquotational schema for truth:

    DS: 'p' is true if and only if p

    Third, let us consider a standard principle of epistemic justification:

    EJ: S is justified in believing p at t if and only if S’s evidence supports p at t.

    I take EJ to be true analytically, but by ‘evidence supports p’ I take it that, on the evidence, p is more likely to be true than not-p, where not-p is the set of all alternatives to p. It seems clear to me that it is plausible to say that the evidence makes p more likely to be true than not only if it is plausible to say that the evidence tracks the truth of p, or reliably discriminates p from its competitors.

    Essentially, your options for response are limited. DS is uncontroversial enough and you are, at the terminus of your analysis, committed to EJ, so via some variant of the problem of induction you need to reject that epistemic iteration delivers an appropriate notion of reliability.

    We can pragmatically justify inductive methods in the following way (this is not to imply, however, that this is the only, or even best, way):

    Pace Hume we agree that we cannot know a priori if nature is appropriately uniform so as to permit inferential methods. If nature is not, then no rule of inference will work- inductive or otherwise. If nature is, then some rule of inference will work. If some rule(s) of inference will work, then clairvoyance, extispicy, or any other claptrappery under the sun may or may not work. If some rule(s) of inference will work, then induction must work, since if any method works- standard inductive methods or not-, then the success of the method can be exploited inductively. So, e.g., if clairvoyance works, that is, leads to more accurate forecasts than not, then we can exploit clairvoyance inductively. The method via which we would discover the operable rule(s) of inference would be epistemic iteration. In nuce, we have nothing to lose if we reason inductively, but we have a world to gain.

    Thus, reason obliges that we reason inductively.

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  70. P.S. The crude pragmatic justification is not entirely my own; Hans Reichenbach gave a similar one in 'Experience and Prediction' (Ch. 5) and 'The Theory of Probability' (Ch. 11).

    P.P.S.

    Attlee,

    You really should stop shaking your properly basic rattle and engage the best work in epistemology available.

    ReplyDelete
  71. "Plantinga thinks that evolution is guided and orchestrated by God. Bizarrely, Massimo thinks that Plantinga doesn't believe in evolution."

    I don't think most (all) scientists would consider "guided and orchestrated by god" to have any meaning whatsoever. Do you have any idea how a god would do this? Are chemical reactions also "guided and orchestrated by god?"

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  72. Intelligent design creationism, much like reformed epistemology, is a blatant, transparent attempt to take our stated knowledge in some field or other and append the clause "because of God".

    And if you object to that appended clause they raise the argument "ok, then because of what?" as though you were obliged to provide your own benighted magic in lieu of their ignorant peasant voodoo.

    ReplyDelete
  73. Yeah, but if you refer to some universal element of directive strategy, they call you a vitalist.

    ReplyDelete
  74. Baron,

    Your comments (both here & in other posts) regarding teleology in biology bring to mind a C.S. Peirce quote I think appropriately captures my sentiment:

    “Many a man has cherished for years as his hobby some vague shadow of an idea, too meaningless to be positively false."

    ReplyDelete
  75. One or more examples of that vague shadow of an idea that's been around since Whitehead.

    http://edge.org/3rd_culture/kauffman06/kauffman06_index.html

    http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=636

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  76. "Yes, but then you drew an inane conclusion that reliability cannot be trusted because it isn't certain, right?"

    No, I drew the logical conclusion that there is no non-circular, non-question begging way of privileging one logically self-consistent, faith-based conclusion over another, as Plantinga infallibly demonstrates, and as Eamon more or less concedes -- albeit in a unnecessarily convoluted and circuitous way.

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  77. Baron,

    As I pointed out before, I reserve the right to block comments that are offensive or simply irritatingly pedantic, which is why your latest (and several of Attlee's) didn't go through. Admittedly, these are subjective criteria, but it is my blog after all, and I'm concerned with maintaining a minimum level of constructive critical discourse.

    ReplyDelete
  78. There was nothing offensive or pedantic about that comment. You simply allowed a true pedant to insult me, and disallowed me to respond in kind.

    ReplyDelete
  79. Speaking of Pierce and his relation to my vague ideas, I got a lot from him about the proper role of purpose, which is my main subject of concern when it comes to the proper understanding of any philosophy of science.

    From Wikipedia: "Peirce's pragmatism was the first time the scientific method was proposed as an epistemology for philosophical questions.

    A theory that succeeds better than its rivals in predicting and controlling our world is said to be nearer the truth. This is an operational notion of truth used by scientists.

    Peirce extracted the pragmatic model or theory of inquiry from its raw materials in classical logic and refined it in parallel with the early development of symbolic logic to address problems about the nature of scientific reasoning.

    Abduction, deduction, and induction make incomplete sense in isolation from one another but comprise a cycle understandable as a whole insofar as they collaborate toward inquiry's end. In the pragmatic way of thinking in terms of conceivable practical implications, every thing has a purpose, and its purpose is the first thing that we should try to note about it. Abduction hypothesizes an explanation for deduction to clarify into implications to be tested so that induction can evaluate the hypothesis, in the struggle to move from troublesome uncertainty to secure belief. No matter how traditional and needful it is to study the modes of inference in abstraction from one another, inquiry's integrity strongly limits the effective modularity of inquiry's principal components."

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  80. "Loosely speaking, under pragmatism a belief is justified if it is useful and under coherentism a belief is justified if it harmonizes with our other beliefs. I think of myself as a "pragherentist" - a blend of both, because they complement each other nicely."

    What non-circular deductions are available to pragmatists and coherentists in establishing the reliability (or unreliability) of their cognitive faculties? What non-circular basis or justification other than intuition, do pragmatists or coherentists have for thinking that their cognitive faculties are reliable (or unreliable)?

    "You're free to embrace unattainably strict foundationalist epistemological standards if you wish but don't delude yourself into thinking that they're inherently part of other frameworks too"

    It will be interesting to see whether Mr. Walnut Cake can formulate an answer to the above questions without dealing in straw men, and without resorting to the fraud of petitio principii.

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  81. Baron,

    I apologize if you took any insult from my use of the Peirce quote, but I intended it to convey a concise and general criticism of notions of purpose in biology, not of you personally.

    Regarding Peirce's view on purpose in general and its influence on his work, I could care less; I recruited his quote for my own purposes.

    ReplyDelete
  82. I haven't checked this blog in a couple of days,and found the comments both amusing and (often) spot on (particularly Hodo and Eamon).

    "Plantinga thinks that evolution is guided and orchestrated by God. Bizarrely,Massimo thinks that Plantinga doesn't believe in evolution. "

    There is nothing bizarre about Massimo's assessment. A process that is "guided and orchestrated by God" would not evolution,but something else entirely.

    I also wonder about your repeated assertions circular logic... what would make the logic noncircular? If this requires the absence of human (biological) cognition (which is an impossibility for us humans),this sounds like an appeal to the supernatural for the only source of Truth/ aknowledge.

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  83. Eamon, I find the notion of purpose in biology to be essential to biological evolution, and as Peirce and Whitehead, and Kauffman contend, essential in turn to whatever regulates all energetic systems of the universe.
    But what I found insulting was to separate my ideas from theirs as somehow vague, simply, perhaps, because it had pleased Massimo to say so.
    I like honest disagreement. How else would we learn, when learning always changes some aspect of our view of the reliable. I don't much care for dishonest manipulation of ideas to serve an allegedly honest purpose.
    That's not directed at you, and probably will be censored, but it is directed at such as Attlee. Although in his case it's more like self-delusion than dishonesty.
    So if you don't find purpose to belong in the theories of evolution, that's fine with me.
    If you find the concept vague at best, at least recognize that I'm in what some have found to be good company.

    ReplyDelete
  84. Baron,

    My comment was not made to please Massimo;frankly, I could care less whether Massimo agrees with my position on this or any other issue (no offense, Massimo). I really do view questions regarding cosmic or grand design or purpose as being meaningless: they present themselves as neither necessary nor soluble.

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  85. Well, I don't see any of it as a grand design, but rather akin to your sophisticated trial and error process.
    Which you may or may not admit would imply that the participants had an immediate purpose to learn from.
    It gets a bit harder to apply a learning purpose to the allegedly non-living elements of the universe, but it's not impossible to hypothesize as to the possibilities.
    Yeah, I know, you don't see the necessity, and for a long time I didn't either.

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  86. As much as Ive come to enjoy the adjectives you use, Baron (Always looking to use purposive), purpose is a human construct (in the way that you are using the term). Yet you think it is much more than that.

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  87. Purpose is a strategic construct. There are no strategies without a purpose and vice versa.

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  88. "The purpose of strategy is to create a good fit between the characteristics of the organism for which the strategy is fashioned and the environment. The strategic process needs to consider both parts of the equation. This task needs to be carried out in a situation which is uncertain and ambiguous. The higher the uncertainty and the more dynamic the situation, the more problematic is the 'idea' of 'the best strategy'. What seems best today may be far from ideal tomorrow. The key to success becomes the ongoing process of strategic evaluation and action."
    Anonymous

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  89. "S is justified in believing p at t if and only if S’s evidence supports p at t . . . You really should stop shaking your properly basic rattle and engage the best work in epistemology available"

    Now you need to come up with a non-viciously circular proof -- other than intuition, which you reject -- in favor of the reliability of S's evidence. That is -- since you are rejecting the thesis of proper basicality -- you need to show that S knows that her evidence is reliable, or is justified in believing that it is. To do this, you will have to show that the reliability of our cognitive faculties can be demonstrated without presupposing their reliability.

    ReplyDelete
  90. Chess player: that looks like an interesting game.

    Go player: Yeah, it's called Go. The idea is to surround as much area as possible and prevent your opponent from doing the same.

    Chess player: [concerned] But all your pieces look the same. How can you tell which one's the king?

    Go player: There's no king. All the pieces are equal, and you try to surround...

    Chess player: [interrupting] But that's insane. All games have a king. How do you know which is the most important piece? How do you know if you've won or lost?

    Go player: But that's just it - as I said, all the pieces are the same, and it's how you play them that makes them important. Their importance comes from their context.

    Chess player: Pfffft! That's not even a game. How can it be a game if there's no king? Even card players have kings.

    Go player: That's interesting. I'm going to stop talking to you now. Have a nice day.

    ReplyDelete
  91. "That's not directed at you, and probably will be censored, but it is directed at such as Attlee. Although in his case it's more like self-delusion than dishonesty"

    Pardon my curiosity, but what have I said that is self-delusory?

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  92. That the reliability of our cognitive faculties cannot be demonstrated without presupposing their reliability.

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  93. you will have to show that the reliability of our cognitive faculties can be demonstrated without presupposing their reliability

    We have no choice but to rely upon the only cognitive faculties that we actually have. Insofar as they are indeed unreliable, then we must live with that fate (viz. that of being "ill-adapted...out of touch and out of harmony with the world" as per my quote above). However, insofar as we can "survive...flourish, and...achieve our ends" (same quote), then we typically deem that outcome as a kind of vindication; i.e. a demonstration of the fact that at least our faculties (cognitive and otherwise) are reliable enough for that.

    ReplyDelete
  94. Baron,

    How is it otherwise? how is belief in the reliability of one's cognitive faculties not a brute posit?

    ReplyDelete
  95. Because it's from a predictive system that we and all biological forms before us have relied on to survive and evolve.
    And again you seem to equate reliability with the need for certainty. And thus you have posited a necessary fiction that allows you to believe in another and much larger fiction.

    ReplyDelete
  96. Atlee
    Certainty is only found in tautologies. Unless you mean something differently by 'certainty' when you use the word. If you do....what do you mean by 'certainty'?

    ReplyDelete
  97. "Because it's from a predictive system that we and all biological forms before us have relied on to survive and evolve"

    Baron,

    Begging the question will get you everywhere, except out of this debate alive.

    Let R denote the thesis that our cognitive faculties are reliable, and in standard form, your argument looks like this:

    belief in R is justified because it is produced in us by our cognitive faculties

    Whether or not there is beauty in simplicity is beside the point -- you have produced a proof for R that already assumes the truth of R. Where then is the logically sound (non-circular) argument for the conclusion that belief in R is not "properly basic"?

    "And again you seem to equate reliability with the need for certainty. And thus you have posited a necessary fiction that allows you to believe in another and much larger fiction"

    I have argued that there is no way to validate claims to reliability in a non-circular, non-question begging way without landing in an infinite regress of "epistemic iteration." The only way to halt the regress is by affirming the tacit belief that one's cognitive deliverances are *likely* to be veridical -- but this is a mere unjustifiable attestation of faith -- a brute posit. Without recourse to logical fallacies, what could the counter-argument be?

    ReplyDelete
  98. "Chess . . . day"


    Yes, I suspected you were incapable of making a counter-argument. If anyone else is keen to tread where Massimo, Eamon, Baron, and Mr. Walnut Cake have failed, I am simply giddy to entertain you.

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  99. Attlee,
    As Bertrand Russell famously said, "Beware of rational argument - you need only one false premise in order to prove anything you please by logic."
    Ergo, "belief in R is justified because it is produced in us by our cognitive faculties" was your false reading of my premise.

    And claims made for reliability based upon eons of observable experiences are what scientific studies rest on. Unless of course God tells you otherwise, and you filtered that through your similarly reliable human cognitive faculties.

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  100. Baron,

    You presupposed the truth of your conclusion in your premise, as any moron can see. Could there be a starker proof of Russell's dictum?

    "claims made for reliability based upon eons of observable experiences are what scientific studies rest on"

    You fail to show what a logically tenable (non-circular) proof of reliability would even look like -- for science, or for any other body of beliefs. Try again.

    "Unless of course God tells you otherwise, and you filtered that through your similarly reliable human cognitive faculties"

    What would constitute non-circular grounds for supposing this?

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  101. Any other moron could see that I'm not presupposing truth at all, but probability.

    What you on the other hand seem to presuppose (although we've probably been giving you too much credit) is that cognitive functions are not reliable because their predictions are uncertain. Therefor there is no reliable reason not to believe in Gods.
    With the equally valid conclusion there'd also be no such reason to believe in them.

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  102. Attlee
    Certainty only exists in the logical sense.There
    is the meaning that comes from the logical implication that necessarily follows from a given. There is also the everyday usage of the term, which is generally means "an overwhelming amount of evidence". Which meaning are you referring to when you use the word?

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  103. Attlee
    > "I am simply giddy to entertain you."
    Please entertain me by answering my simple question.Do you mean 'certainty' in terms of necessary conclusion from a pre-given assumption(logical meaning)....or common, everyday meaning that is "overwhelming evidence" The first meaning is only about definitions. The second meaning is about descriptions or asserted propositions regarding reality. The first leaves you with meaningless assertions...the second leaves you with probability....which destroys your position.

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  104. Attlee,

    > If anyone else is keen to tread where Massimo, Eamon, Baron, and Mr. Walnut Cake have failed, I am simply giddy to entertain you. <

    First of all, you have not done any such thing. Second, you seem stuck in medieval (or at least pre-Quinian) philosophy with your obsession about foundationalism. Lastly, I don't think I've heard your solution: where on earth (or heaven?) do you get your epistemic certainties?

    ReplyDelete
  105. Anyone who thinks that knowledge of the world is a matter of deductive certainty is free to prove their point by extrapolating, say, the existence and properties of carbon, or the political boundaries of France, using nothing but the axioms of classical logic.

    ReplyDelete
  106. "First of all"

    You can try answering my questions.

    "you have not done any such thing"

    Until you produce a logically sound proof for the reliability of your cognitive faculties, I have.

    "Second, you seem stuck in medieval (or at least pre-Quinian) philosophy with your obsession about foundationalism"

    Anti-foundationalism of the kind I am espousing has it's origins in Sextus Empiricus.

    "Lastly, I don't think I've heard your solution: where on earth (or heaven?) do you get your epistemic certainties?"

    There is no such thing as "epistemic certainties" -- how many times have I said this, and how many times have I been understood?

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  107. "Please entertain me by answering my simple question"

    I mean what both theists and naturalists mean -- yielding justified true beliefs i.e. beliefs that exclude the possibility of being mistaken. Defining certainty in terms of evidence is circular. Probability is relative to evidence which in turn is relative to evidential canons.

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  108. Piantala, Massimo! At least my arrogance is EARNED. Any time you want a post with 100+ comments, just give me a call.

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  109. You certainly have earned something, but not the right to cross that imaginary and arbitrary line that I draw between sharp tongue and insult...

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  110. Attlee
    Your whole position rests upon a concept that has no meaningful application outside of identicality of two words...that have identical meanings. Everyone already knows there is no certainty other than logical certainty. What is your point? So what if there is no certainty? Your position has no implications, inferences, and is boring....because no one cares if there is no certainty.

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  111. Attlee
    Please tell us what significance there is....or what implications can be drawn, or what difference it makes, if nothing can be known with 'certainty'.

    ReplyDelete
  112. "Your position has no implications, inferences, and is boring…."

    If my position is so obvious, boring, etc. why is everyone trying to discredit it?

    "….because no one cares if there is no certainty"

    Try telling that to Massimo, Eamon, Baron, and Mr W.C.

    "Please tell us what significance there is....or what implications can be drawn, or what difference it makes, if nothing can be known with 'certainty"

    I enjoy the sheer cognitive music of my insights as much and as often as my antagonists, but having to repeat myself ad nauseum is making me nauseous.

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  113. Attlee
    Is that your way of saying that there are no implications or importance to the proposition that "nothing is known with certainty"? It doesn't matter, one way or another?

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  114. Attlee,
    We sometimes forget that the problem may be with the arguer rather than with the argument. In your case it seems you have a problem with inductive inference. Aspergers?

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  115. "Any other moron could see that I'm not presupposing truth at all, but probability"

    Probability is relative to evidence which is relative to evidential canons so your "evidence" presupposes the truth of the claim it is trying to support. Try again.



    "What you on the other hand seem to presuppose…"

    I'm not presupposing anything -- least of all the logical faculties of my interlocutors.

    "(although we've probably been giving you too much credit)"

    Don't give me too much credit, or I might start thinking that i'm wrong.

    "…is that cognitive functions are not reliable because their predictions are uncertain. Therefore there is no reliable reason not to believe in Gods"

    We have no way of knowing if our cognitive functions are reliable or unreliable. Reliability is not necessary for belief in God or Gods.

    "With the equally valid conclusion there'd also be no such reason to believe in them"

    I didn't draw this conclusion -- you did. Only an equivocating moron would argue that there is no reason to believe in God -- intuition, will, and preference are all reasons. But I suppose that in the rape of rational discourse that is your comment, you meant to say "good" reason, in which case you are just begging the question (next response, at least try a different logical fallacy -- between Massimo, Eamon, Mr. W.C. and yourself, the resort to petitio principii has become predictably monotonous).

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  116. "Is that your way of saying that there are no implications or importance to the proposition that nothing is known with certainty? It doesn't matter, one way or another?"

    No, it's my way of saying that "there is no non-circular, non-question begging way of privileging one logically self-consistent, faith-based conclusion over another". In other words, there are no non-arbitrary grounds by which to choose between -- on the one hand -- a logically coherent theology which enshrines the Flying Spaghetti Monster as the designer of all life, and -- on the other hand -- evolutionary naturalism.

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  117. Attlee
    Your argument regarding lack of reliability is based upon the proposition that In order to be reliable....it must be certain.So....since you don't seem to believe that the question of "X being or not being certain" has any significance or implication....your whole argument falls apart.
    If you were not trying so hard to say "Nothing is certain....so any belief (in god, or whatever) is as valid as any other" you would likely see the error of your argument.

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  118. "Aspergers?"

    No - pathological narcissism.

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  119. Attlee
    Your position rests soley on refusing to accept evidence unless it is "certain" knowledge. That is a silly argument since certainty is impossible....even unimaginable...outside of logic. If you insist that we cannot know anything unless it is known with certainty..you simply have a different usage of the word "know" than the common usage.

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  120. "Your position rests soley on refusing to accept evidence unless it is "certain" knowledge"

    Nowhere have I argued for or against the acceptance of evidence -- indeed, I have refrained from stating my personal evidential commitments on the grounds that they are absolutely, totally, and categorically irrelevant to my "position". This complaint of yours about refusing to accept evidence on the grounds that it will not amount to "certain knowledge" is not only an irrelevant misrepresentation of my "position", it is an absurdity since it is not something that any one could actually do.

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  121. "Your argument regarding lack of reliability is based upon the proposition that In order to be reliable....it must be certain.So....since you don't seem to believe that the question of "X being or not being certain" has any significance or implication....your whole argument falls apart. If you were not trying so hard to say "Nothing is certain....so any belief (in god, or whatever) is as valid as any other" you would likely see the error of your argument."

    Weak misreadings attain neither understanding nor self-knowledge -- debating Massimo at least confers upon one a certain aura of prestige. My argument says nothing whatsoever about "lack of" reliability -- however, it does say EVERYTHING about lack of knowledge concerning reliability (or unreliability). The question of "X being or not being certain" only has significance if you can offer a justificatory defense of what it could mean to be "certain" without plunging into circularity. A non-circular proof of unreliability is about as forthcoming as one of reliability.

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  122. Attlee
    >"My argument says nothing whatsoever about "lack of" reliability -- however, it does say EVERYTHING about lack of knowledge concerning reliability (or unreliability)."
    For clarification, can you cite something about which there is not a lack of knowledge concerning? ....like you say there is about reliability "or unreliability).

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  123. "can you cite something about which there is not a lack of knowledge concerning?"

    The fabulosity of my hair.

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  124. Attlee
    >"The fabulosity of my hair."
    Is that French for "I give up, you win"?

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  125. No, it's English for "Le secret d'ennuyer est celui de tout dire".

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  126. Attlee...
    > "Le secret d'ennuyer est celui de tout dire".
    Voltaire was not only a bore, but naive as well.

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  127. Voltaire a bore? You can't be serious.

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  128. Baron...
    >"Voltaire a bore? You can't be serious."
    Thanks for the correction...He was just Naive..

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  129. Yes and Candide was just a cockeyed optimist.

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