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Wednesday, July 3 - 10:15amSanction this postReply
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Ayn Rand has the best moral philosophy ever invented. Karl Popper has the most important breakthrough in epistemology. Most Objectivists seem to think that Popper and Rand are incompatible, and Popper is an enemy of reason. They have not understood him. These lists are intended to help explain my motivation for integrating Rand and Popper, and also to help highlight many similarities they already have.

Points Popperian epistemology and Objectivist epistemology have in common. In Popperian epistemology I include additions and improvements by David Deutsch and myself:

- opposition to subjectivism and relativism
- fallibilism
- says that objective knowledge is attainable (in practice by fallible humans)
- realism: says reality is objective
- connected to reality: we have to observe reality, keep our ideas connected to reality
- asserts there is objective truth
- attention to context ("problem situation" or sometimes "problem" is the common Popperian term meaning context. E.g. a Popperian will ask "What is the problem this is addressing?" and be asking about context.)
- pro-science
- opposition to positivism
- opposition to the language analysis school of philosophy
- say that most professional philosophers are rather crap
- opposition to both skeptical and authoritarian schools of epistemology
- keeps our concepts "open-end[ed]" (ITOE). That means: possible to improve in the future as we learn more.
- says that there are objective moral truths
- does not seek a "frozen, arrested state of knowledge" (ITOE)
- written clearly and understandably, unlike much philosophy
- says epistemology is useful and valuable to real people; it matters to life; it's practical
- you can't force an idea on someone. they can choose to accept it or not
- you can't implant an idea in someone. you can't pour it in, stick it in with surgery, make them absorb it, etc. they get to think, interpret, choose.
- free will
- people are not born with some unchangeable nature and innate ideas. we can be self-made men. we can learn, change, improve, progress
- emphasis on active use of one's mind, active learning
- no inherent conflicts due to objective truth
- understanding of unconscious and inexplicit ideas
- if two ideas contradict, at least one is false
- integration of epistemology with morality, politics, and more
- rejection of authority
- full rejection of idealism, solipsism
- strong emphasis on clarity
- rejection of limits on human minds
- reject probabilistic approaches to epistemology
- looks at man as rational and capable
- value of critical thinking including self-criticism


Strengths of Objectivist epistemology:
- stolen concept
- package deal
- check your premises
- ideas about integrating all one's knowledge and removing all contradictions
- measurement omission and concept formation ideas both worthwhile, though flawed
- good criticisms of many opponents of reason
- good understanding of essentials vs non-essentials, e.g. for definitions
- idea about automating some thinking
- good explanation of what objectivity is
- Judge, and be prepared to be judged


Strengths of Popperian epistemology:
- evolution creates knowledge
- conjectures and refutations method
- piecemeal, incremental method. value of every little improvement
- identification of, and solution to, justificationism
- addresses induction
- conjectural, fallible, objective knowledge
- idea that we progress from misconception to better misconception
- myth of the framework
- value of culture clash
- emphasis on bold highly-criticizable claims, sticking your neck out to learn more
- no shame in mistakes
- value of criticism. criticism is a gift
- understanding of rationality as being about error correction
- unimportance of starting points. you can start anywhere, improve from there
- criticism of definitions
- criticism of foundations, bases
- criticism of essentialism
- criticism of manifest truth (and self-evidence, obviousness, etc)
- static and dynamic memes
- structural epistemology
- coercion and common preferences
- understanding of conflict and symmetry
- applications to parenting, education, relationships
- understanding of tradition
- explanation of value of external criticism (if everyone has some blind spots, but some people have different blind spots then each other, then it's productive to share criticism with each other. a little like comparative advantage)
- emphasis on critical method, criticism (ideas stand unless refuted)
- let our ideas die in our stead


Some of you are now wondering about details. I know. But it's so much! Let's do it like this: if you are interested in one of the topics, ask about it and I can elaborate. If you would preference a reference to existing material on the topic, that's fine too.



Post 1

Wednesday, July 3 - 4:07pmSanction this postReply
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Elliot,

I appreciate your interest and am curious as to your inside knowledge. I have a 3-part question/request:

1) Can you show if Popper ever fully realized that the falsification of a universal positive proposition is a necessary truth? In other words, if a black swan is found, then the proposition "All swans are white" is falsified, but more than that, it is absolutely falsified (which is a form of absolute knowledge/absolute certainty)? Even if you can't, please discuss.

2) Can you offer something to redeem Popper of seemingly damning quotes such as:

In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable: and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.
... which preemptively denies the possibility of axiomatic concepts (i.e., the possibility of statements that speak about reality, but are not, themselves, falsifiable).

And ...
"If realism is true, if we are animals trying to adjust ourselves to our environment, then our knowledge can be only the trial-and-error affair which I have depicted. If realism is true, our belief in the reality of the world, and in physical laws, cannot be demonstrable, or shown to be certain or 'reasonable' by any valid reasoning. In other words, if realism is right, we cannot expect or hope to have more than conjectural knowledge."
... which preemptively denies the possibility of arriving at a necessary truth about the world.

3) Can you respond to a philosophical "hit-piece" I did on Popper a while back (while forgiving me for being perhaps too brash about it)?

Ed




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Wednesday, July 3 - 7:47pmSanction this postReply
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Popper is by no means perfect. The important thing is the best interpretations (that we can think of) of his best ideas. The comment below about "animals" is a good example. I do not agree with his attitude to animals in general, and I'm uncomfortable with this statement. However, everything he said about animals (not much) can be removed from his epistemology without damaging the important parts.

Popper made some bad statements about epistemology, and some worse ones about politics. I don't think this should get in the way of learning from him. That said, I agree with Popper's main points below.

1) Can you show if Popper ever fully realized that the falsification of a universal positive proposition is a necessary truth? In other words, if a black swan is found, then the proposition "All swans are white" is falsified, but more than that, it is absolutely falsified (which is a form of absolute knowledge/absolute certainty)? Even if you can't, please discuss.


No, Popper denied this. The claim that we have found a black swan is fallible, as is our understanding of its implications.

Fallibility is not a problem in general. We can act on, live with, and use fallible knowledge. However, it does start to contradict you a lot when you start saying things like "absolute certainty".

Rand struggled with this too. Atlas Shrugged:

"Do not say that you're afraid to trust your mind because you know so little. Are you safer in surrendering to mystics and discarding the little that you know? Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life. Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority. Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience—that your mind is fallible, but becoming mindless will not make you infallible—that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error. In place of your dream of an omniscient automaton, accept the fact that any knowledge man acquires is acquired by his own will and effort, and that that is his distinction in the universe, that is his nature, his morality, his glory.

"Discard that unlimited license to evil which consists of claiming that man is imperfect. By what standard do you damn him when you claim it? Accept the fact that in the realm of morality nothing less than perfection will do. But perfection is not to be gauged by mystic commandments to practice the impossible [...]


Here Rand accepts fallibility and only rejects misuses of claiming man is "imperfect" to license evil. Man's imperfection is not an excuse for any evil -- agreed.

Rand has just acknowledged that man and his ideas and achievements are fallible. But then she decides to call it "perfection". Which must mean some sort of contextual, achievable perfection -- not the sort of infallible, omniscient perfection Popper rejects and Rand acknowledges as impossible.

It's the same when Rand talks about "certainty" which is really "contextual certainty" which is open to criticism, arguments, improvement, changing our mind, etc... (Only in new contexts, but every time anyone thinks of anything, the context has changed at least a little. So that's fine.)



2) Can you offer something to redeem Popper of seemingly damning quotes such as:

In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable: and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.

... which preemptively denies the possibility of axiomatic concepts (i.e., the possibility of statements that speak about reality, but are not, themselves, falsifiable).


Any statement which speaks about reality is potentially falsifiable (open to the possibility of criticism using empirical evidence) because, if it speaks about reality, then it runs the risk of being contradicted by reality.

Popper does deny axiomatic concepts, meaning infallible statements. Statements that you couldn't even try to argue with, potentially criticize, question, or improve on. All ideas should be open to the possibility of critical questioning and progress.

There is a big difference between open to refutation and refuted. What's wrong with keeping things open to the potential that, if someone has a new idea, we could learn better in the future?



"If realism is true, if we are animals trying to adjust ourselves to our environment, then our knowledge can be only the trial-and-error affair which I have depicted. If realism is true, our belief in the reality of the world, and in physical laws, cannot be demonstrable, or shown to be certain or 'reasonable' by any valid reasoning. In other words, if realism is right, we cannot expect or hope to have more than conjectural knowledge."


... which preemptively denies the possibility of arriving at a necessary truth about the world.


Conjectural knowledge (or trial-and-error knowledge) is Popper's term for fallible knowledge. It's objective, effective, connected to reality, etc, but not infallible. We improve it by identifying and correcting errors, so our knowledge makes progress.

We cannot establish our ideas are infallibly correct, or even that they are good or reasonable. Such claims (that some idea is good) never have authority. Rather, we accept them as long as we don't find any errors with them.

I think this is different than Objectivism, but correct. Well, sort of different. The following passage in ITOE could be read as something kind of like a defense of this Popperian position (and I think that is the correct reading).

One of Rand's themes here, in my words, is that fallibility doesn't invalidate knowledge.

The extent of today’s confusion about the nature of man’s conceptual faculty, is eloquently demonstrated by the following : it is precisely the “open-end” character of concepts, the essence of their cognitive function, that modern philosophers cite in their attempts to demonstrate that concepts have no cognitive validity. “When can we claim that we know what a concept stands for?” they clamor—and offer, as an example of man’s predicament, the fact that one may believe all swans to be white, then discover the existence of a black swan and thus find one’s concept invalidated.

This view implies the unadmitted presupposition that concepts are not a cognitive device of man’s type of consciousness, but a repository of closed, out-of-context omniscience —and that concepts refer, not to the existents of the external world, but to the frozen, arrested state of knowledge inside any given consciousness at any given moment. On such a premise, every advance of knowledge is a setback, a demonstration of man’s ignorance. For example, the savages knew that man possesses a head, a torso, two legs and two arms; when the scientists of the Renaissance began to dissect corpses and discovered the nature of man’s internal organs, they invalidated the savages’ concept “man”; when modern scientists discovered that man possesses internal glands, they invalidated the Renaissance concept “man,” etc.

Like a spoiled, disillusioned child, who had expected predigested capsules of automatic knowledge, a logical positivist stamps his foot at reality and cries that context, integration, mental effort and first-hand inquiry are too much to expect of him, that he rejects so demanding a method of cognition, and that he will manufacture his own “constructs” from now on. (This amounts, in effect, to the declaration: “Since the intrinsic has failed us, the subjective is our only alternative.”) The joke is on his listeners: it is this exponent of a primordial mystic’s craving for an effortless, rigid, automatic omniscience that modern men take for an advocate of a free-flowing, dynamic, progressive science.


One of the things that stands out to me in discussions like this is that all today's Objectivists seem (to me) more at odds with Popper than Rand's own writing is.

(Point 3 saved for later.)

I'll close with one more relevant ITOE quote:

Man is neither infallible nor omniscient; if he were, a discipline such as epistemology—the theory of knowledge—would not be necessary nor possible: his knowledge would be automatic, unquestionable and total. But such is not man’s nature. Man is a being of volitional consciousness: beyond the level of percepts—a level inadequate to the cognitive requirements of his survival—man has to acquire knowledge by his own effort, which he may exercise or not, and by a process of reason, which he may apply correctly or not. Nature gives him no automatic guarantee of his mental efficacy; he is capable of error, of evasion, of psychological distortion. He needs a method of cognition, which he himself has to discover: he must discover how to use his rational faculty, how to validate his conclusions, how to distinguish truth from falsehood, how to set the criteria of what he may accept as knowledge. Two questions are involved in his every conclusion, conviction, decision, choice or claim: What do I know?—and: How do I know it?




Post 3

Wednesday, July 3 - 8:12pmSanction this postReply
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http://rebirthofreason.com/Forum/ObjectivismQ&A/0397.shtml

Basically he's trying to refute a particular reading of Popper's first major epistemology book (Logic of Scientific Discovery). Trying to argue with LScD and ignoring Popper's later (overall, better) books is a pretty typical tactic of critics.

If he was right, it would not matter much. The thing he's attacking we might call a "formal" reading of Popper, which is more along the lines of laying out a strict logical system. Popper's best ideas are, however, best viewed as philosophical explanations and arguments, not logical system building.

However, he's wrong. Quoting David Gordon, quoted at RoR:

A falsification criterion fairs no better. If p is falsifiable, then (p and q) is falsifiable. Once more, not-p should be falsifiable if p is, though Karl Popper has implausibly denied this.


Consider the p, "No cats exist." This is falsifiable because one cat would refute it. However, the negation is "At least one cat exists." This negated version is not falsifiable -- there are no observations you could make which would refute it. Maybe there is a cat somewhere you didn't look yet. (Falsifiable, here, means possible to criticize using empirical evidence. The negated version is philosophically criticizable, which is different.)

This is why Popper denied it. The argument I give is something Popper wrote, but in my words from memory. Gordon should read Popper more carefully, figure out what his arguments are, and address them, rather than just calling Popper's conclusion "implausible" and appearing not to be familiar with the argument for it.


Most of the discussion is actually an attack on Vienna verificationists. Popper criticized, not supported, them. Shrug.

One more thing. In the original article, Gordon writes, "Because of Karl Popper's great influence on contemporary economic methodology, however, I think it advisable to make a few remarks about his variant of positivism."

This is just wrong. Popper's epistemology is not a variant of positivism. It's strongly at odds with positivism.



Post 4

Thursday, July 4 - 9:12pmSanction this postReply
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Elliot,
The claim that we have found a black swan is fallible, as is our understanding of its implications.

Fallibility is not a problem in general. We can act on, live with, and use fallible knowledge. However, it does start to contradict you a lot when you start saying things like "absolute certainty".


Taking the last first, you have a point about the phrase "absolute certainty." It can get people -- people who play fast and loose with words -- in trouble. I often sound like I play fast and loose with words. So it's no surprise that you would be led to believe that I contradicted myself by using the phrase. I agree with you (and Rand) that certainty is always contextual, but that is because knowledge -- the proper foundation of certainty -- is contextual (as well as relational). Because of that, there is space for the term "absolute" but it is more revealing to refer to it as "contextually absolute."


An example would be that Canada is north of Mexico. The geographical relation of Canada to Mexico -- the contextual relation of Canada to Mexico -- is something which can be known by man with (contextually) absolute certainty. Do you disagree? Do you think that there is a possibility that perhaps Canada is not north of Mexico? Do you have any concrete or even imaginable leads which might indicate that the proposition Canada is north of Mexico is or even can be false?

... that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error. ...
This is one of my favorite Rand quotes. It's merely bold conjecture on my part, but I'd say it is in my top-10 Rand quotes of all time.


:-)
... Here Rand accepts fallibility ...
But there is a context for the fallibility. The fallibility is not absolute fallibility -- such as is true of the phrase: fallible knowledge -- but instead it is a fallibility associated with the statistics associated with the experiential process of certain human individuals attempting to reason from evidence.


Any statement which speaks about reality is potentially falsifiable (open to the possibility of criticism using empirical evidence) because, if it speaks about reality, then it runs the risk of being contradicted by reality.

Popper does deny axiomatic concepts, meaning infallible statements. Statements that you couldn't even try to argue with, potentially criticize, question, or improve on. All ideas should be open to the possibility of critical questioning and progress.

There is a big difference between open to refutation and refuted. What's wrong with keeping things open to the potential that, if someone has a new idea, we could learn better in the future?


But keeping the context of the axiomatic concept, maintaining that 'it is good to keep an open mind' (being open to "possibility") is akin to championing the arbitrary (which should be a specific fallacy with the name: the Fallacy of Championing the Arbitrary.) For instance, if you take an axiomatic concept such as "Existence exists" and, in relation to that concept, you then add: "But you have to keep an open mind.", then what is it that you are really arguing for?


An existence that doesn't exist?
An existence that might not exist?
Etc.

It is difficult to ascertain the merit of such a way of thinking. Would you agree with that?

I like your Rand quote about Rand's conceptualism (concepts as tools of knowledge, rather than being knowledge themselves), but do not yet see your point about how it might relate to Popper.

You finished with:
... man has to acquire knowledge by his own effort, which he may exercise or not, and by a process of reason, which he may apply correctly or not. Nature gives him no automatic guarantee of his mental efficacy; he is capable of error, of evasion, of psychological distortion. He needs a method of cognition, which he himself has to discover: he must discover how to use his rational faculty, how to validate his conclusions, how to distinguish truth from falsehood, how to set the criteria of what he may accept as knowledge. ...
Another one of my "faves." But, again, you seem to be reading Rand with a slant. This would make you think the quote is supportive of Popper but I think you will agree when I say that Popper did not believe that propositions could be conclusively validated -- i.e., absolutely true. When Rand says man can validate conclusions, she was inferring that propositions could be conclusively validated.

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 7/04, 9:26pm)




Post 5

Thursday, July 4 - 9:42pmSanction this postReply
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Elliot,

However, he's wrong. Quoting David Gordon, quoted at RoR:
A falsification criterion fairs no better. If p is falsifiable, then (p and q) is falsifiable. Once more, not-p should be falsifiable if p is, though Karl Popper has implausibly denied this.
Consider the p, "No cats exist." This is falsifiable because one cat would refute it. However, the negation is "At least one cat exists." This negated version is not falsifiable -- there are no observations you could make which would refute it. Maybe there is a cat somewhere you didn't look yet. (Falsifiable, here, means possible to criticize using empirical evidence. The negated version is philosophically criticizable, which is different.)
I agree that the universal negative "No cats exist." is falsifiable (because a cat could get discovered by man), but do not yet accept your distinction between things which can be empirically criticized and things which can be philosophically criticized. It almost seems like you accept the logical-empirical dichotomy. Is that true?

Ed

p.s., Do you know, in an absolute sense, whether you accept the logical-empirical dichotomy or not?




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Thursday, July 4 - 10:13pmSanction this postReply
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The reason for my first ITOE quote was it makes the point that fallibility doesn't invalidate knowledge. The second ITOE quote emphasizes fallibility.

Your post contains what I regard as chronic ambiguity about fallibilism. I see the same thing throughout Peikoff. (And some in Rand, but less.)

I think the cause of this, in general, is that Objectivism is addressing itself to a particular problem situation (context). There are certain problems it regards as important and focusses on addressing, such as skepticism and relativism. There are certain opponents Objectivism wants to answer, like Kant, Hegel and Marx. A lot of the terminology, phrasing, and emphasis is selected to be especially good at these purposes.

But there are other purposes, like being clear about fallibilism, which it's less well suited for.

I think that what Objectivists call "certainty" or "conclusive", a Popperian calls "fallible, conjectural knowledge". Same thing, but different emphasis.

I don't mean to minimize disagreement. I don't think it's purely a matter of slant. There is also some disagreement (especially about induction and self-evident axioms, but also some more subtle disagreements). But a significant amount of what looks like strong disagreement isn't.

One thing I would question is: why use the term "certainty"? It sounds infallible. Then Objectivism qualifies it so that it's not. I don't think it's very good terminology. (Same with "absolute".)

Now let's look at some examples which I regard as ambiguous regarding fallibility:

An example would be that Canada is north of Mexico. The geographical relation of Canada to Mexico -- the contextual relation of Canada to Mexico -- is something which can be known by man with (contextually) absolute certainty. Do you disagree? Do you think that there is a possibility that perhaps Canada is not north of Mexico? Do you have any concrete or even imaginable leads which might indicate that the proposition Canada is north of Mexico is or even can be false?

I consider Canada being to the north of Mexico fallible knowledge. On the one hand, I think you may be agreeing with me because I know that omniscient infallibility is not the Objectivist standard by which "(contextual absolute certainty" is judged. But I'm not so sure whether you really agree with me or not. You ask whether there is a "possibility" that Canada is not north of Mexico. Are you asking whether there is a possibility our knowledge of geographic contains errors? Yes there is such a possibility because it is fallible. That is what fallible means.

I have no leads on criticizing Canada being north of Mexico. But I won't close my mind to the possibility that I or someone else will come up with something. I don't expect it and I don't worry about it, but I don't declare it impossible. Many things that people thought were totally ridiculous have later turned out to be true. Sometimes it happens.

The fallibility is not absolute fallibility -- such as is true of the phrase: fallible knowledge -- but instead it is a fallibility associated with the statistics associated with the experiential process of certain human individuals attempting to reason from evidence.


I'm not quite sure what this means but it sounds like it might be a partial rejection of fallibility.

I think you will agree when I say that Popper did not believe that propositions could be conclusively validated -- i.e., absolutely true.

Does "absolutely true" contradict fallibility, or not? If it does, I disagree with it. If it does not, why do you think Popper would reject it? If "absolutely true" is compatible with fallibility, then how does it differ from Popper?

But keeping the context of the axiomatic concept, maintaining that 'it is good to keep an open mind' (being open to "possibility") is akin to championing the arbitrary (which should be a specific fallacy with the name: the Fallacy of Championing the Arbitrary.)

OK last point. I think your concept of an "open mind" is different than mine and Popper's. Keeping an open mind doesn't mean hesitating in any way. It is compatible with acting on your knowledge. It merely means you never say, "Disagreement is impossible. If anyone tries to criticize this I will ignore them, since I already know they must be wrong in advance, it doesn't even matter what they say." That would be closed minded, and we're saying don't do that.



Post 7

Thursday, July 4 - 10:23pmSanction this postReply
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I agree that the universal negative "No cats exist." is falsifiable (because a cat could get discovered by man), but do not yet accept your distinction between things which can be empirically criticized and things which can be philosophically criticized. It almost seems like you accept the logical-empirical dichotomy. Is that true?

The distinction isn't really for you to accept or not accept. It's Popper's terminology. If you want to read Popper's statements and understand what he meant, you have to bear in mind this distinction.

He (usually) uses the term "falsifiable" to mean empirically criticizable. The terms "criticizable" or "refutable" can be used to speak of the possibility of any type of falsification/criticism/refutation.

I'm not a huge fan of this in general (I don't often find it useful), but it's worth bearing in mind his motivation. He wanted to come up with some concept of science which disqualified "scientific Marxism" as well as Adler and Freud. The "scientific" status Marxism is something worth criticizing! I think he did OK.

(So the point of the terminology is that if it's not "falsifiable" -- empirically criticizable -- then it's not part of science. So his "falsifiable" terminology is convenient for discussing his definition of science.)

Do you know, in an absolute sense, whether you accept the logical-empirical dichotomy or not?

You might have to clarify what you mean by that. For example, does "absolute" here mean "fallible"? Or is it compatible with fallibilism, but means something else too? (What?) Or is it incompatible with fallibilism?

I'll try to answer though: I do not accept a strong gap between philosophy and science, abstract thinking and empirical thinking, is and ought. Let me know if that's not what you wanted.

Popper doesn't either. He defines "science" according to such a gap. But that's not so fundamental. He's not attacking philosophy or separating thinking from reality or anything like that. He's just trying to argue about what gets to be called "science" or not, because of abuses of the term.
(Edited by Elliot Temple on 7/04, 10:24pm)




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Post 8

Friday, July 5 - 8:39amSanction this postReply
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Pardon me for interrupting this very nice dance. 

Now let's look at some examples which I regard as ambiguous regarding fallibility:
An example would be that Canada is north of Mexico. The geographical relation of Canada to Mexico -- the contextual relation of Canada to Mexico -- is something which can be known by man with (contextually) absolute certainty. Do you disagree? Do you think that there is a possibility that perhaps Canada is not north of Mexico? Do you have any concrete or even imaginable leads which might indicate that the proposition Canada is north of Mexico is or even can be false?
I consider Canada being to the north of Mexico fallible knowledge. On the one hand, I think you may be agreeing with me because I know that omniscient infallibility is not the Objectivist standard by which "(contextual absolute certainty" is judged. But I'm not so sure whether you really agree with me or not. You ask whether there is a "possibility" that Canada is not north of Mexico. Are you asking whether there is a possibility our knowledge of geographic contains errors? Yes there is such a possibility because it is fallible. That is what fallible means.




In Elliott Temple's interview with Davd Deutsch on The Beginning of Inifinity here  the point is made that ultimately what counts is workability.  (Granted, also, is Ayn Rand's warning quip that what one considers "practical" depends on what one intends to practice.) 
But people who try to look beneath those foundations, without having a problem, basically because they're looking for an ultimate foundation, aren't going to find one. You can only improve knowledge in the context of having a problem. You can't just wish to know something deeper than you already know, just for the sake of it. And you never reach the absolute foundation, or anywhere near an absolute foundation.


One social difficulty that I experience is that these discussions about "abstract" ideas come from people with a lack of practical experience in the substantive field.  (In another post, I noted all of the non-parents with ideas on parenting, who even ignored their own experiences as the children of parents.) 


In this case, having learned to navigate for aviation, I know for a fact that "north" is a variable that changes over time and place.  North from here is not north from there.  North from here today is not north from here tomorrow.  Little adjustments on my compass mean making the next airport or not.  It is really much better to land at an airport.  Moreover, we know about continental drift.  We also know that the magnetic poles have shifted greatly.  Nutation means that Earth's spin wobbles over time.  That spin actually defines "north" as "up" to us.  And, you two both must be aware of the fact that our orbit around the sun, the sun's track through the Galaxy, and our galaxy's orientation to its neighbors in "space" all make "up" and "down" very relative and very changeable.



I claim that "Canada is north of Mexico" is an analytic truth, like all bachelors are unmarried.  It is just a convention of symbols - internally consistent, indeed - but empirically arbitrary and fundamentally - in Deutsch's sense - convenient.  (And as an Objectivist, I also know that analytic truths are empirically verifiable. Ed is in Houston.  If he finds Polaris and starts walking toward it.  He will reach Canada in about 80 days.)

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 7/05, 8:55am)




Post 9

Friday, July 5 - 10:08amSanction this postReply
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I know David and I can tell you he does not advocate any kind of workability (or convenience or practicality) criterion of knowledge. I don't either.

However, knowledge is workable, practical and convenient.



Post 10

Saturday, July 6 - 7:02amSanction this postReply
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Elliot, thanks for the response.
You ask whether there is a "possibility" that Canada is not north of Mexico. Are you asking whether there is a possibility our knowledge of geographic contains errors? Yes there is such a possibility because it is fallible. That is what fallible means.

I have no leads on criticizing Canada being north of Mexico. But I won't close my mind to the possibility that I or someone else will come up with something. I don't expect it and I don't worry about it, but I don't declare it impossible. Many things that people thought were totally ridiculous have later turned out to be true. Sometimes it happens.
I wasn't really asking whether there is a possibility that our body of knowledge of geography contains errors. When the earth was thought flat, our accepted and shared beliefs contained errors (e.g., that the earth is flat) -- but knowledge is not merely accepted and shared belief. If knowledge was merely accepted and shared belief, then it would be important not to declare anything impossible, it would be important not to think that anything is totally ridiculous -- because it might later turn out to be true.

Objectivists consider knowledge to be something more than just accepted and shared belief, like the kind of belief people shared back when they thought the earth was flat.

The fallibility is not absolute fallibility -- such as is true of the phrase: fallible knowledge -- but instead it is a fallibility associated with the statistics associated with the experiential process of certain human individuals attempting to reason from evidence.
I'm not quite sure what this means but it sounds like it might be a partial rejection of fallibility.

It's like the notion of general skepticism. General skepticism is a kind of absolute skepticism, to differentiate it from specific skepticism, which is merely relative to the specific proposal of a claim. Let's say that someone, a speaker on a soapbox, claims the world is flat, and that an onlooker, onlooker #1, says that we have to keep a general skepticism about knowledge -- so we must not disregard the possibility that the world is flat (because we must not disregard anything). That's general skepticism. If you follow where it eventually leads, it leads to solipsism.

But let's say there was another onlooker, onlooker #2, and he reacted differently upon hearing the speaker claim the world is flat. Onlooker #2 says that we can disregard the possibility that the world is flat, but not based on anything arbitrary -- such as an abstract, absolute epistemological rule that humans shouldn't ever disregard anything -- but because specific reasoning from specific evidence tells us to disregard the possibility that the world is flat. For instance, let's say you travelled around the world.

If the world was flat you couldn't travel around the world, you would merely fall off when you reach the edge. Because of this, you may start out with specific skepticism regarding whether the world is flat, or not -- until you integrate evidence on the matter (e.g., as when you travel around the world). If you do successfully travel around the world then you can mentally file the idea "the world is flat" into a mental file folder you have entitled "Impossibilities" or perhaps as "Things that can never turn out to be true." If instead, you say that it is right or good to keep yourself open to the possibility that the world is flat (even after travelling around the world), then you are practicing general skepticism. It goes like this:

--------------------
1) The premise that 'nobody can be sure or certain of anything' is something about which you can be sure or certain.
2) Therefore, when knowledge is discovered, it should be doubted (at least a little).
3) Doubting knowledge (at least a little) is good because it recognizes man's fallibility as a knower, which is a general (i.e., inescapable; absolute) fallibility -- rather than being a specific fallibility related to specific methods of specific persons reasoning from specific evidence (e.g., traveling around the world).
4) Premise (3) above is true because of premise (1) combined with premise (2).
--------------------

I think your concept of an "open mind" is different than mine and Popper's. ... It merely means you never say, "Disagreement is impossible. If anyone tries to criticize this I will ignore them, since I already know they must be wrong in advance, it doesn't even matter what they say." That would be closed minded, and we're saying don't do that.
I agree with the spirit of open communication you are describing, where you refrain from stating that human disagreement is impossible (and that, therefore, ignoring criticism would be good). Humans have a lot to learn from each other. Beyond that, there is a lot of value we get by interacting with other humans. The closed minded spirit you outline above would preemptively shut out a lot of that value, because you would only interact and trade values with people who are 'carbon-copies' of you.

Rand's slant on the issue is to shift focus onto whether a mind is active or not, instead of merely being open or closed -- it is to view the mind as a tool, rather than a state (or the use of the mind as an action, rather than a state). An active mind is a mind that closes off some possibilities in the process of discovering some possibilities. Every update in knowledge involves discarding some ambiguity about what is possible or impossible. In contrast, use of the terms "open" and "closed" mindedness accidentally assumes that thinking is a state that you get into, rather than being an action you perform.

It's wrong -- a category mistake -- to talk about a mind being open or closed.

Ed




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Post 11

Saturday, July 6 - 7:21amSanction this postReply
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Mike,

I'm in broad agreement with you (sanction), which is usually as good as it gets between us.

:-)

However, I don't think relations change so much as contexts do. For instance, if the earth's magnetic pole inverted, one critic may say that Canada is no longer north of Mexico -- because the "new north" would be in the southern hemisphere of the earth. They would berate and lambast others for claiming some kind of a godforsaken, unshakable knowledge regarding the relation of Canada to Mexico. But if you change the poles you change the context, just as if in the middle of a race or a game you deviously moved the goal line.

I tend to think that such relations are 100% natural and therefore pretty incorrigible and immutable, if viewed appropriately (i.e., in context).

Ed




Post 12

Saturday, July 6 - 7:58amSanction this postReply
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Quid pro quo on the Red Check...  But if Objectivism is not to become Contextualism, we must still find and apply the correct standards.  On a wall here, I have a map of The Earth at Night which I turned "upside down".  A friend of a friend gave me a map of the Earth as seen from the inside out.  That all seems amusingly arbitrary -- and we know that it is.  But how?  How do we objectively identify the correct context?


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_periodic_tables

Of all the many horoscopes available online, I suppose that this is perhaps the most reliable, if you trust the LA Times.
http://www.latimes.com/features/horoscopes/

What is the difference between those?  Why is a horoscope irrational mysticism, but the several alternative periodic tables are valid representations?  Remember: above, in #9, Elliot Temple says that workability is not a criterion, though that which is true is also practical.  That only begs our most basic question: How do we know what is true?

I believe that reality is integrated. What is true here leads to what is true there. We have limited knowledge. We can err. Reality remains complete and entire in its fabric. As we understand any one truth, we can use that as a tool to discover other truths.

I also believe that we have a serious limitation in our languages.  Wittgenstein gave his first opus a nice Latin name, then (I believe) wrote it all in German.  Other languages offer other opportunities.  German has only four  cases: nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative.  More cases are more helpful: locative, vocative, ablative.  Speaking of ablative, Hungarian has over a dozen cases, the usual six or seven, plus inessive, adessive, progressive, regressive ...  In Hungarian, you always know where something is going.

We make up new words for new concepts.  But the old words then get mushy in their meanings. I had a hard time deciding to write "What is true here leads to what is true there."  What is true envelopes other truths and is contained in other truths.  What is true implies other truths. Truth is universal. Truth is independent of time. 

We can say the same thing many ways, but then argue the specific wording.  I mean, is "universal" the same as "independent of time"?  And what about context?

See, it is complicated.  And I believe that a significant - literally: "making a sign" - problem in these discussions is the limited nature of our media.  300 pages is not enough.  And a book needs to be animated. 


From Star Trek Enterprise, "Cold Front", Crewman Daniels, a time traveler from
1000 years in the future, shows Captain Archer a map of the events that
challenge them in the 22nd century.

... and yet we made shoes for horses, and eventually, rails for steam engine vehicles,
and then those rails carried the Space Shuttle from the Vehicle Assembly Building
to the launch pad. For most of that time, we had only the crudest idea of what iron
"is".

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 7/06, 8:08am)




Post 13

Saturday, July 6 - 9:37amSanction this postReply
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Ed,

I don't know why you're accusing me of having some kind of social or popularity theory of knowledge. No Popperian would dream of such a thing. To approach this from one angle: a well known Popperian point is that books can contain knowledge. Even if everyone who knew it dies, the book could still be in some buried library, with the knowledge. Also, for example, the eyes of animals contain knowledge of optics; even if no people understand optics.

Regarding "general skepticism": I think you must agree that we have "general non-omniscience" (which Popperians would more typically call "general fallibility". but it's the same thing).

General fallibility doesn't mean you can't reject an idiot on a soapbox. It means you should never consider your ideas omniscient and shut off all possible ways for them to improve (thus making them frozen forever). You're certainly welcome to shut down (not be willing to pursue) certain bad avenues (like the idiot on the soapbox). But there would still be other avenues open. For example maybe your respected friend comes to you and says he listened to the guy on the soapbox and it turned out to have a lot of good points and it's actually worth your time. And you ask him what a few good points were, and he tells you, and you agree they sound promising. So you go back and end up listening. So there was a way open for you to learn this stuff (even from that particular guy in that venue, though that detail isn't important). In general there should be many possible paths by which you could end up learning anything. But there's so many paths you'll choose not to pursue most of them. As long as that doesn't get you into a frozen state, it's basically ok (there's always an issue of how to do it well, but the big point is not to get stuck and sabotage progress, which would only make sense if you were omniscient).

So, onlooker 2 is doing great. He's thinking of a criticism of an idea and then rejecting it. It's refuted. Great. Unless someone has something new to say, e.g. an answer to his criticism, then the matter is closed. And he need not ask this particular soapbox speaker whether he has anything new to say (that'd be a waste of time, in my estimate). There only need be some possible ways he might hear something new still open, e.g. if someone writes a book on the topic and it's good enough to actually get kinda popular, then he might hear about it and read a review so he can better judge for himself. (And if the review is says the right things to convince him -- e.g. contains an answer to the traveling around the world argument, and promises the book has even more good points -- he'll read the book.) So not all paths to progress on the topic are closed off, should someone ever make a breakthrough.

mental file folder you have entitled "Impossibilities" or perhaps as "Things that can never turn out to be true."


You chose your terminology to really make it sound like that mental file folder is omniscient. Why do you insist on doing that, when I believe you agree that it's not omniscient? (Stuff like this is why few Popperians respect Objectivist epistemology, btw. But they are mistaken and should learn to see past these surface disputes.)

If instead, you say that it is right or good to keep yourself open to the possibility that the world is flat (even after travelling around the world), then you are practicing general skepticism.

It goes like this: I am not omniscient. Every single idea of mine could contain an error. Some don't contain any error, but I don't have omniscient knowledge of which ones those are. And I can't guess it 100% reliably: there will be some cases that really surprise me. Therefore, I must always keep open some possibilities for error correction. I don't want to ever freeze an error forever.

I believe this is fully compatible with Objectivism (and Popperianism). And understanding non-omniscience is not skepticism.

None of this does anything to prevent getting and having knowledge, and acting on that knowledge. Just because our knowledge is fallible doesn't mean we shouldn't use it, and doesn't mean it's not knowledge. Omniscience is not the standard of knowledge or the standard for using ideas.

It's wrong -- a category mistake -- to talk about a mind being open or closed.

It's a metaphor which means (in my way of speaking) something like the spirit of open communication you agreed with (plus not just communication, the same stuff applies to thinking internally). It's just terminology. And it's not meant to disagree that thinking is active -- which is a point Popper strongly emphasized.

I've never heard of anyone ever being told "don't close your mind" and getting the idea that thinking is a passive process. I can imagine how that could happen though -- they think there is a valve that lets the water (ideas) in, or not (maybe one valve for each particular topic), which can be left in an open or closed state.

So maybe there is room for some terminological improvement. I think that's a tricky issue. Saying to think actively could be misunderstood as allowing for some ideas to be frozen, and the active thinking could never go back to it, just reconsider some ideas and move forward. There is a lot of irrational closed mindedness in the world and I think we need some terms to speak against it directly.

ANyway, no Popperian would ever make the mistake you're concerned about. Anyone who makes it is no Popperian.

Regarding thinking being active, Peikoff gives a metaphor that you can't use surgery to stick ideas into a mind. Objectivism says something like "you can't force a mind" (I forget if that's an exact quote). You can't make people learn, you can't force ideas on them, they have to (actively) think to understand and take in the ideas you're offering, their participation is needed.

Popper says very similar stuff. He has two metaphors, like the surgery one. Minds are not buckets, you can't pour in ideas like water. And minds are not sponges, they don't absorb ideas like water. Instead his position is that learning is an active process requiring the participation of the learner.

An active mind is a mind that closes off some possibilities in the process of discovering some possibilities. Every update in knowledge involves discarding some ambiguity about what is possible or impossible.

This reads to me as ambiguous again. I think a neutral reader might come away thinking it says some possibilities are closed off once and for all. But that's not what you mean, is it?



Post 14

Saturday, July 6 - 10:04amSanction this postReply
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Mike,
... we must still find and apply the correct standards.  On a wall here, I have a map of The Earth at Night which I turned "upside down".  A friend of a friend gave me a map of the Earth as seen from the inside out.  That all seems amusingly arbitrary -- and we know that it is.  But how?  How do we objectively identify the correct context?
The answer -- which you may already intuitively "know" -- is to utilize biocentrism, a kind of discriminative prejudice which relates all knowledge back to man (a "species-ism"). Everything, everywhere can be prejudged as to how it relates to man. In such a way, man is made to be the measure of all things, but it's really about how all things relate back to man. It's why Rand said hers is a philosophy discovered and built for the purpose of that particular species of being, mankind, to live well, here on earth.

So, in the case of the Earth at Night, it's actually okay to turn it upside down -- because when man views the entire earth like that, he does so from outer-space (where it's natural and normal to be "upside down" in relation to the planet). But the map of the Earth seen from the inside out is not the correct context (though it may have some practical "use") -- because it's never the case, in relation to man, that reality is inside out. So in one case it's fine, and in the other, it's not -- using man as the rubric by which to judge or evaluate the context.

Imagine, in your mind's eye, a philosophy built for a creature other than man -- some weird, outer-space, green 'alienoid.' Using the rape example from another current Popper thread, it might be that under the normal course of this alienoid's life, it turns out that the forceful sexual penetration of one alienoid by another is beneficial. Let's say it counter-intuitively produces dignity in the victim alienoid, and a sense of moral pride in the aggressor -- leaving both victim and violator better off psychologically.

In such a case, in some far-off, topsy-turvy place where there were these imaginary beings whose life was much different from the life of man -- the same actions would lead to opposite results. Man is different and rape can't be good for man -- and rape should be judged by whether it is good for man (because all things, everywhere, should be judged by whether they are good for man) -- but in the context of weird, green, alienoids with such an inverted psychology, it would be something good.

Ed




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Post 15

Saturday, July 6 - 11:30amSanction this postReply
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Elliot,
I don't know why you're accusing me of having some kind of social or popularity theory of knowledge. No Popperian would dream of such a thing.
It's too early to accuse you of such things. Like the robot "Number 5" from the 1986 movie, Short Circuit, I ... "need more input!" But an advance has been made in this arena when you say that "No Popperian would dream of such a thing." -- which is akin to the "No True Scotsman would ..." bromide (hereafter, simply: NTS). NTS is actually not a fallacy, but many highly-intelligent people seem to think it is. It is an appeal to a necessary truth.

Regarding "general skepticism": I think you must agree that we have "general non-omniscience"
Yes, but non-omniscience is categorically different from skepticism. The 2 concepts are orthogonal in that there is no necessary relation between them. For instance, omniscience is about whether we know everything (so non-omniscience is about whether we don't know everything), but skepticism is whether we doubt anything (and general skepticism is whether we doubt everything). Here are the permutations:

1) a general skeptic doubts everything
2) a specific skeptic doubts things based on an objective standard (i.e., doubts things about which it would be logical to have doubt in the first place)
3) an omniscient knows everything (or thinks he knows everything)
4) a general non-omniscient thinks he doesn't know everything that there is to know -- but may think he unshakably knows what he knows (however small a piece of the entire puzzle of reality that portion of knowledge happens to be)

So, you can be both (2) and (4) at the same time and without qualification, but you cannot necessarily be both (1) and (4) at the same time (not without further qualification). The need for qualification shows that there is not a direct relation between the scale of doubt and the scale of omniscience. If there was a direct relation, then a complete absence of doubt would be equivalent to omniscience. It turns out that there are 2 kinds of things being measured. Doubt is an action (subject to various prescriptive moral judgments: e.g.,  "You should doubt politicians") -- and omniscience is a state (entirely descriptive; not prescriptive in the least).

General fallibility doesn't mean you can't reject an idiot on a soapbox.
Yes it does.

You're certainly welcome to shut down (not be willing to pursue) certain bad avenues (like the idiot on the soapbox).
But how can something really be known to be bad, if the knowledge of its badness is "fallible knowledge" (a certain species of knowledge which might turn out to be false).

As long as that doesn't get you into a frozen state, it's basically ok (there's always an issue of how to do it well, but the big point is not to get stuck and sabotage progress, which would only make sense if you were omniscient).
But there is another way for it to make sense -- one which doesn't appeal to omniscience like that. Take things we both agree are true, for example. Take 2 + 2 = 4. The guy on the soapbox is claiming that the answer is 5 and that we need to be open to the possibility that he's right and we've all been wrong. At that moment, I grab your sleeve in desperation and, sobbing, I admit to you that I'm stuck in a frozen state of knowledge wherein "2 + 2" can only ever be equal to "4." You try to console me on the matter but without any progress.

I am stuck in a frozen state of knowledge about math which I cannot free myself from, and it will limit how it is that I go about interacting with the world (I will be stuck being "logical" when dealing with the world; instead of being free to practice an "alternative" way of thinking). In such a case, I won't claim omniscience, but simultaneously will not ever budge regarding a few things. The open question is whether it might be good for a creature who requires knowledge to live well, to not ever budge regarding a few things.

So, onlooker 2 is doing great. He's thinking of a criticism of an idea and then rejecting it. It's refuted. Great. Unless someone has something new to say, e.g. an answer to his criticism, then the matter is closed.
Okay, but this is an appeal to a social theory of knowledge, where popular interests dictate whether matters are open to debate or not.

You chose your terminology to really make it sound like that mental file folder is omniscient. Why do you insist on doing that, when I believe you agree that it's not omniscient?
General omniscience is impossible. [ ... thinking ... ] Even specific (read: "limited") omniscience may turn out to be impossible. I will have to research that burning question some more before commenting further on that. But another thing that is impossible is contradiction. A contradiction is a sign of a thinking error -- rather than something which could ever be true of the world. This is sort of like keeping an eye out for fallible thought processes: when they lead to contradiction, error was made and you need to scrap some of your previous thinking (which is sometimes painful).

So, in the case of travel, a flat world is an idea that directly contradicts the experiential process of travelling around the world. Being a "performatory contradiction" -- i.e., something which cannot be the case, because of the results or outcome of your behavior -- it is proper to place the concepts of a flat world into a file folder entitled: "Impossibilities." It's just a way of being logical when dealing with the world (and that is all that it is).

It goes like this: I am not omniscient. Every single idea of mine could contain an error. Some don't contain any error, but I don't have omniscient knowledge of which ones those are. And I can't guess it 100% reliably ...
But you can't get yourself into the position to say that some of your ideas don't contain any error -- not when you start with general (i.e., inescapable; absolute) fallibility. So it makes no sense for you to type the phrase "Some don't contain any error,"

Just because our knowledge is fallible doesn't mean we shouldn't use it, and doesn't mean it's not knowledge. Omniscience is not the standard of knowledge or the standard for using ideas.
Okay, but you are engaging in the fallacy of equivalence, wherein some necessary truth (i.e., infallible knowledge) is taken to be the same as omniscience. But those 2 things are not the same. Omniscience is without limit or scope, but necessary truth often, if not always, has a definable scope of application/evaluation -- a limited context wherein it applies absolutely.

ANyway, no Popperian would ever make the mistake you're concerned about. Anyone who makes it is no Popperian.
There's NTS again (which I think is good and shows agreement between us).

An active mind is a mind that closes off some possibilities in the process of discovering some possibilities. Every update in knowledge involves discarding some ambiguity about what is possible or impossible.

This reads to me as ambiguous again. I think a neutral reader might come away thinking it says some possibilities are closed off once and for all. But that's not what you mean, is it?




Yes, that's what I mean. Let's say you were determining whether an apple was red or green, but you wanted to be really sure about it -- so you utilized calibrated instruments to verify what the naked eye was telling you. Your naked eye was telling you that the apple is red and this was verified by the instruments (i.e., light reflected from the surface of the apple had a wavelength of 650nm, plus or minus 5% error). Because your error margin does not contain any "green"-length wavelengths (~510nm), you know not only that the apple is red, but also that it is not green. The possibility that the apple is green is closed off once and for all.

Take an easier example. You want to experience your 21st birthday in one of two ways: you either want to stay in bed all day (not even getting up even to wash your face) or you want to party like it is 1999. You wake, and for just a second you pause -- wondering which option to pick. But then you get up and get yourself ready to party like an animal. By adopting one possibility over the other, you have closed off the alternative once and for all.

After getting up and brushing your teeth, etc., it is no longer possible for you to exercise the first option. Every choice for something, is a choice against certain other things. Every knowledge of something, is a closing off of possibility (once and for all) of other things.

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 7/06, 12:59pm)




Post 16

Saturday, July 6 - 11:41amSanction this postReply
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Here's an even-easier one:

Imagined scenario
--------------------------------------------------------------------
Ed: I have in my hands (behind my back) a ball and a cube. Asking yes/no questions, determine which of the 2 objects is currently in my left hand.

Elliot: Is the object in your left hand round?

Ed: No.

Elliot: Okay, I'm ready to tell you -- without any further empirical investigation into the matter -- which of the 2 objects is in your left hand.

Ed (surprised): But wait a minute! Aren't you going to ask whether the object is shaped like a square; with sides and edges and corners and whatnot??

Elliot: No. In determining whether it was round or not, I closed off, once and for all, whether it was square or not. An answer given to either question, automatically answers the other question.

Ed: How is that?

Elliot: Because there is no such thing as a 'round square', which is a contradiction. There is no such thing as a contradiction. If thinking ever leads you to a contradiction, then it is not reality that is wrong: it is your thinking that is wrong. In knowing that the object will be either round or square, and knowing that it cannot be both at the same time, I used integration to go beyond my direct experience (or my direct questioning) to successfully discover what was true of the world.

Ed: Cool!
--------------------------------------------------------------------

:-)

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 7/06, 11:51am)




Post 17

Saturday, July 6 - 11:46amSanction this postReply
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Michael:

How do we objectively identify the correct context?

By identifying a context. By definition, that is the correct context (as opposed to The One True Context.) It is done all the time. For example, there are both right handed and left handed coordinate systems; neither are 'the one true coordinate system' ... or origin, or orientation, or scale. But they are all computationally equivalent, and once we correctly identify the context we are using, are rationally convertible to any other context, using objective rules that we aren't free to make up on the fly; analytical geometric truth was waiting for us to discover it, and is unphased if we get it wrong or try to make it up and prove the supremacy of consciousness over reality. And if, in some future we are actually able to bend space and time, then it will be as a result of following the waiting to be discovered rules of this same universe, not creating them from whole cloth. As in Bacon's observation about commanding the universe only by obeying it.

And all the while we organize our parochial coordinate systems and maps and models of reality, the stars are unphased in their positions, orientations, and paths.

regards,
Fred





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Saturday, July 6 - 12:05pmSanction this postReply
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The science of uncertainty analysis is well embraced and understood; it categorizes our total uncertainty into components, such as bias, precision, repeat-ability, and so on.

And in spite of the fact that our uncertainty about how gravity accomplishes its effect is absolutley 100% uncertain -- we have no idea, are all guessing, our uncertainty about its effects are sufficiently contained that there are 12 sets of footprints on the Moon from 40+ years ago, and devices driving around the surface of Mars as we speak, making yet more measurements. Uncertainty is not an excuse not to choose, to act, to weigh in on. Else, uncertainty itself would 'freeze' mankind.

But the areas of applicability of uncertainty analysis, however, are not all equally fertile ground, equally subject to such analysis.

Recognizing that there is uncertainty in all of our measurements/models of some domains becomes a bridge too far when we seriously allow that to generalize about our concepts of 'rape' ... as well as, in this political context, freedom.

I've no uncertainty about what 'rape' is, or may become in the future. None. And in this political context, same with freedom.

If such intransigent beliefs keep me out of some cul de sacs of thought, then that would be another day ending in 'y' and of no major concern.

regards,
Fred









Post 19

Saturday, July 6 - 12:20pmSanction this postReply
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Regarding NTS (no true scotsman) -- what I mean is that when people say certain things I can easily tell they don't have much clue about Popper. And I can give rational arguments on the matter -- e.g. pointing out some major Popper passages they are contradicting. I can also argue they are wrong, not just non-Popperian (e.g. by using the good arguments in those Popper passages they are contradicting).

It's like when people say Atlas Shrugged advocated communism, you know they didn't get the point. (As always, this is fallible. But so what? Infallibility is not the standard of knowing something.)

I don't consider any of this an "appeal to a necessary truth". (Which sounds infallibilist or authoritarian to me.)

Regarding skepticism. Skepticism denies knowledge is possible. How? By demanding an impossible standard be met for anything to qualify as knowledge. (Or sometimes, perhaps, demanding only a low standard but having an even lower opinion of man.) Objectivism and Critical Rationalism both say that infallibility is not the standard of knowledge. You don't need an idea to be infallible for it to qualify as knowledge. And fallible, non-omniscient knowledge is achievable. So skepticism is wrong.

How is knowledge achievable? Long story. Objectivism's answer includes induction. Popper's answer includes a critical method, evolution, and no induction. There is a substantial disagreement there but I think we should set it aside for now and stick with these other topics we've been discussing.

But how can something really be known to be bad, if the knowledge of its badness is "fallible knowledge" (a certain species of knowledge which might turn out to be false).

Because infallibility is not the standard of knowledge. This is a major Objectivist point. (It's also a Popperian point, but Popper didn't have any equally good short phrase for it. Rand said it better when you want a short version.)

http://www.peikoff.com/opar/certainty.htm

Peikoff uses the term "omniscience" where Popper would say "infallibilism". But they are the same thing. Omniscience refers to perfection without any possibility whatever of error (or progress or improvement), which is what infallibilism means. Omniscience and infallibility both mean having the final, perfect, frozen truth.

("Absolute" in the piece means no compromises, contradictions or exceptions, not infallibility, btw.)

I think this is our main point of disagreement. Take the idiot on the soapbox. You claim general fallibility means you can't reject him. But why not? General fallibility means: all our ideas are fallible. So what? That doesn't stop some of them from being knowledge, because infallibility is not the standard of knowledge. So some are knowledge, and our knowledge may tell us the guy on the soapbox is an idiot who isn't worth our time.

2+2=4 is the same thing. I would, compatible with Objectivism, say that is knowledge (to the proper standard of knowledge, not an impossible standard of frozen perfection). But it is contextual knowledge. In the future new insights into math may improve our understanding of some of the basics. So it's not frozen, improvement may be possible.

Then you say "not ever budge". Well, are you open to reconsidering about addition if and when, for example, there is a new book out which 80% which a bunch of Objectivists say is a big breakthrough in basic math? Are you open to budging and learning something new, in some possible circumstances like that, or not? If you would refuse to listen no matter what, that is frozen. If you can imagine possible paths to progress, it's fine.

Put another way, if someone asks you the question, "What would it take to change your mind?" then, well, do you have any answer? If your answer is "nothing; my mind is frozen" that is bad. If you can give an answer -- even if what it would take would be very hard to achieve -- then you are ok.

Okay, but this is an appeal to a social theory of knowledge, where popular interests dictate whether matters are open to debate or not.


No. Those are just examples. You just need some path to progress. It can be your own individual thoughts. It can be your own choice of research directions, ignoring what's popular. Maybe if you went to a desert island and thought by yourself for the rest of your life, for some reason you would get really interested in math and come up with a new way of looking as old math ideas yourself, make progress about addition yourself. If that path is open, fine. There's no particular need to see what ideas are popular (it's just useful, not required).

it is proper to place the concepts of a flat world into a file folder entitle: "Impossibilities."


But maybe the world is flat and its your ideas about travel are wrong. I have no reason to think that, I don't suggest it to you, but it's not impossible that some future discovery will be along those lines.

Even specific (read: "limited") omniscience may turn out to be impossible.


So fundamentally you are unsure about fallibility. You think maybe some limited amount of infallibility may be possible. That is not Objectivism's position. It's not a Popper/Objectivism incompatibility.

Okay, but you are engaging in the fallacy of equivalence, wherein some necessary truth (i.e., infallible knowledge) is taken to be the same as omniscience. But those 2 things are not the same. Omniscience is without limit or scope, but necessary truth often, if not always, has a definable scope of application/evaluation -- a limited context wherein it applies absolutely.


Infallible omniscience is required to infallibly know which ideas you have are necessary truths. Even if you have one, how are you to identify it as such? Only fallibly. Many historical examples testify to the possibility of human error in identifying necessary truths. (This, btw, has been known since the presocratics. It is a point made by Xenophanes and repeated by Popper.)

This reads to me as ambiguous again. I think a neutral reader might come away thinking it says some possibilities are closed off once and for all. But that's not what you mean, is it?

Yes, that's what I mean.


And you give an example where you treat error margins as infallible. You treat error as possible up to a certain known amount, but no greater error than that is possible. I don't think this is actually Objectivism's position. I think Objectivist epistemology is aware that in a future context we might make an even better color measuring machine and find out it's red after all. That possibility was not closed off once and for all; it could happen. (Similarly we might discover the margin of error on the old machine was actually higher than we thought in certain circumstances, and some old measurements done with it would have to be reevaluated.)

The next example with the birthday is very different. For closing off possibilities, I was talking about ideas. Yes actions sometimes close off other actions, and that's fine. One only needs knowledge to act (thus closing off many other actions), not infallibility. I agree.

There is no such thing as a contradiction. If thinking ever leads you to a contradiction, then it is not reality that is wrong: it is your thinking that is wrong.


Contradictions that we consider are always, strictly speaking, between two of our ideas. And either one (or both) could be wrong. It's our ideas about reality, our interpretation of reality, our knowledge of reality, which we know some theory contradicts. Whether the theory also contradicts reality depends on whether our understanding of reality was correct or not in this case. (History is full of examples of people having false ideas about reality.) The point is, whenever there is a contradiction it -- as a starting point -- can go either way. Either side of the contradiction could be the mistaken side. To take sides we'll have to consider the content of the contradicting ideas and judge their merits, not just say one's source is reality and that source has authority and wins in all contradictions. (Reality itself does always win, but any given person's ideas about reality do not necessarily always win and are not a valid infallible authority.)



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