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Saturday, July 6 - 11:15amSanction this postReply
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Let's take a look at Objectivist epistemology with a few words missing.

Objectivism says knowledge means X knowledge. They are the same thing. This is as against non-knowledge (skepticism). This is a package deal which packages together X and knowledge.

Objectivism says X is when your idea has W, Y and Z. W, Y and Z are the requirements of X.

Critical Rationalism (a name for Popperian epistemology which I'll use here) says that that W, Y and Z are requirements of knowledge, and leaves out X.

W means that no contradictions are allowed. No compromises. Not even a little. That is a requirement of knowledge. As a critical rationalist would say, one flaw or criticism is decisive.

Y means that knowledge is related to what question, problem or situation you're interested in. What is knowledge in one situation might not be very helpful in a different future situation where you know more. But it still is knowledge for that first situation; it's not invalidated.

Put another way, knowledge always address some kind of question (which critical rationalism calls a "problem") of some sort. Knowledge is, among other things, ideas with some purpose. If idea A answers question B, it will still answer it even once people are way more interested in question C. It's still knowledge, that doesn't change as you learn a better question than B and a better answer to the new question. A still answers B.

However, one must be careful. The old idea, A, still answers B, but it is invalidated in an important sense. It might be a really bad idea to use now, it might lead you to disaster; it may well be false. For example, Peikoff gives the example of blood types. First people learned about A, B and O blood types. Later they learned about positive and negative (A positive, B negative, etc). The A, B and O blood types idea is still knowledge -- it has value, it addresses the original situation well -- but if you say "these two people both have blood type A, a transfusion is safe" you'd be wrong. So the old idea still has merit, knowledge, partial truth, but it's also false. It was the best idea to use in the original situation, but should not be used now; now it's refuted for further use.

Objectivism says omniscience is not the standard of knowledge. Critical rationalism agrees. Just because an idea lacks omniscience is no reason to attack it, reject it, be agnostic, hesitate, etc... So the blood type idea wasn't omniscient, it didn't predict and address all future developments in the field, it was limited. But that doesn't disqualify it as knowledge.

Z means the idea has no rivals (currently, in this situation; the future is fluid). The current state of evidence and argument says Z is right, and nothing else is reasonable. Z addresses the question/problem/situation. No other (known) idea would. The only rational thing to do is accept Z (and be willing to use Z, act on Z, etc). There's no rational alternatives in this situation.

What words did I leave out? X = certain, certainty. W is "absolute". Y is context, contextual. Z is "conclusive".

Apart from the issue of the package deal where "certainty" is packaged in but doesn't add any value, what do you think? If you disagree, why/where? If you agree, what do you think contradicts critical rationalism?




Post 1

Saturday, July 6 - 12:26pmSanction this postReply
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Picture a bar chart with three vertical bars, and in this case, of about equal height. And there is a kind of watermark in the form of an arrow with heads at both ends that is horizontal. It appear to indicate a flow from one side to the other - both ways.

The first bar represents psychological certainty, more of a feeling state than anything else. The second bar represents the source of the psychological certainty. It could be either logical certainty, a product of thinking, usually based upon experience, or it could be defensiveness, emotionality, or some other internal process that is non-rational yet purports to support an idea. The last bar is an aspect of reality. It represents the true facts without regard to what is going on in anyone's mind.

That first bar is going to power us, like gasoline in a car. It makes motivation, our motive power, possible. What we want is for that psychological certainty to not let us drive ourselves into a tree. The second bar represents either smart steering as we power down the road, or closing our eyes while stepping on the gas. We want our certainty that it is safe to drive at a high speed in the direction we are going to be right. Not enough in the first bar? Then we aren't going to anywhere, like a car without gas. If that second bar is made of logical processes, we are more likely to be safe in our drive.

The arrow that indicates some kind of flow both ways is about this being an iterative process and the effect of having psychological certainty will effect the source by which we attain future certainty, and the knowledge we have of reality effects using our logic to gain still more knowledge. It's a process - a cycle.

We must have some psychological certainty to act - it is a necessity. To attain what Elliot referred to as "Z - the current state of the evidence..." that which is rational about this thing being examined is one possible source represented in that middle bar. But the person might have made a logical error, or given way to some emotional appeal that runs counter to logic. That is another way that the middle bar could achieve the height needed to provide the psychological certainty's bar's height. But here the little bar-chart image isn't very good, because if instead of reasoning about reality, the person has chosen to be illogical, the psychological certainty might be there, but misplaced. This is how we work. We can achieve some degree of certainty with logic, despite our ability to be irrational. It is psychological certainty, because that is what we need to energize us, but it is about knowledge, because it is reality that we are acting in.

So, does "certainty" add any value? Yes, it is critical to knowing, and to acting. I know that my explanation leans heavily on the psychological aspect of certainty, but that is its purpose to us as humans. But if there were not epistemological certainty possible, it wouldn't work. Being fallible doesn't mean we can't be right. Being right is the direction and the goal we want. Having more certainty is a result of being right.



Post 2

Saturday, July 6 - 12:35pmSanction this postReply
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Why can't we be energized by reason, the quest for knowledge, the understanding that better knowledge will better help us achieve our values, and stuff like that? Still not seeing the value of "certainty".

Also, what about the other issues?



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Post 3

Saturday, July 6 - 2:07pmSanction this postReply
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Elliot,

We can have positive emotions about reason, and we can find the quest for knowledge to be enjoyable - there are lots of ways that things-we-value can reward us with positive emotional experiences. But to take an action requires some confidence in our understanding of what will happen when we act.

Here is an example: I enjoy long-distance sailing. When I design changes for a boat that is otherwise unsuitable for that task, and then plan how I'll navigate, and estimate the capability of the various pieces of equipment to do their job, and that I know what I need to know to take a small boat across an ocean, these are all things that require confidence. With the confidence, I can take the actions and enjoy them. Without enough confidence I could want to take off, but be too frightened or insecure to do so or at least to enjoy it.

We have to watch infants almost constantly because they don't know that actions can have harsh consequences. Once they have learned that, they need confidence that is adequate to a particular action. Certainty is a measure of that confidence. It is framed as an idea.

Confidence and certainty aren't exactly the same, because I can have a high level of certainty in an idea that will never require that I act upon it, or depend upon it. But if circumstances change, and I have to act, then I'll need for that certainty to translate into confidence. And confidence, say built up over repeated actions, can give me certainty in the idea that I'm right/capable in that context.

Self-esteem is a form of generalized confidence and certainty. It is the experience of one's self as capable of dealing with what reality deals out to you (a feeling, and in advance of what will happen) and it is the experience of ones self as worthy of success and happiness (an emotional experience of the idea that one is morally worthy of good things).
-----------

You asked about the other issues. Like the W and Y in your prior post? W is reason and logic and our means to knowledge - yes. I'm not sure I'd agree that a tiny flaw would be "decisive". And Y, context, is the most often source of honest errors in reasoning, in my opinion. Rand was very strong advocate of reason and paid careful attention to context.
------------

I really think you should reread Fred's posts. I have the feeling that you might be put off by something in his style of writing. But unless you are "frozen" in your current ideas, or have subconsciously decided that at least in this area you are 'omniscent' or 'infallible' you might want to think some more about what he has said. The heart of his argument is coming from his question where he asks if the idea that we can't be certain is somehow granted an exemption from the idea that we can't be certain, i.e., how can we be certain that we can't be certain?



Post 4

Saturday, July 6 - 10:46pmSanction this postReply
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I'm not sure I'd agree that a tiny flaw would be "decisive".


I think every flaw involves some kind of contradiction, and these should never be ignored as indecisive or, you might say, uncertain.

I think if a flaw isn't a big deal, demonstrate that but addressing it. If it's not a big deal, then it shouldn't be so hard to deal with. If you don't deal with it, then how do you really know it's small?



Post 5

Sunday, July 7 - 8:00amSanction this postReply
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Elliott, I have been to your website and read much of what you have written here on RoR. You write well and your ideas are compelling.  As I said, I found Popper and Wittgenstein as a result of Wittgenstein's Poker.  I read Tracticus, The Open Society, and Scientific Inquiry.  As a previously committed Objectivist, I found Popper acceptable (within limits) and Wittgenstein to be nonsense with some isolated insights.

Wittgenstein's Poker is relevant here - and to me (see my review on my blog) - because it is a perfect example of the failure of academic epistemology.  None of the 20 people who thought they saw W attack P with a poker, or saw them dueling with hot pokers, or saw nothing at all involving any pokers, referred back to an abstract theory of knowledge -- no matter how well they argued them in their work.  All of them reported exactly what they thought they saw. 

My interest in this is practical: people are in prison because of wrongful eyewitness testimony.  Perception and memory are not passive records.  See the classic PBS Frontline, What Jennifer Saw. After he was finally released from prison on the basis of DNA evidence, Ronald Cotton joined Jennifer Thompson on behalf of the Innocence Project to warn against accepting eyewitness testimony without corroborating evidence. 

This morning, I made coffee for my wife and myself. I made no mistake in identifying the two different roasts, the two different coffee makers, the two different cups, and serviing them to the correct people in the proper order.  No one was revealed to really be an octopus.

When you can bridge the everyday working of common sense with the everyday failure of common sense, please let us know.  In the meantime, W, X, Y, and Z, are just ways for you to avoid the fact that generally speaking, very few of the octopuses who patronize the best restaurants are served Maxwell House.  Short of that, though, as I said, you write well and give me (at least) a lot to think about.




Post 6

Sunday, July 7 - 8:32amSanction this postReply
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Thanks Michael.

Perception and memory are not passive records.


Yes indeed! I strongly agree here (as do Popper, Szasz, Deutsch).

I agree with you that Wittgenstein is a poor thinker. (I don't even want to call him a "philosopher".) By the way, he got fired from a teaching job for hitting the children too brutally.



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Post 7

Sunday, July 7 - 10:42amSanction this postReply
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Steve:

I really think you should reread Fred's posts. I have the feeling that you might be put off by something in his style of writing. But unless you are "frozen" in your current ideas, or have subconsciously decided that at least in this area you are 'omniscent' or 'infallible' you might want to think some more about what he has said. The heart of his argument is coming from his question where he asks if the idea that we can't be certain is somehow granted an exemption from the idea that we can't be certain, i.e., how can we be certain that we can't be certain?

Thank you Steve. I've really enjoyed Eliot's contributions here. Maybe he hasn't recognized the can of beer next to my keyboard yet. Tone is hard to read in this medium.

I've had a theme here for years, a bias. If I could sum it up, it is a bias to see the world as pluralities, not singularities. Economies: not 'the economy.' Societies, not "S"ociety. I truly loath monopolies of all kinds, especially with guns.

But that includes ideas about ideas. There are domains of ideas; not 'the domain' of ideas. Dragging 'the truth' from one domain and impressing it on all domains is ... what we do. Why, I have no idea.

And in Eliot's example, indeed. I think he regards the question as loutish, or impolite because of some perceived tone in my non-existing style of writing, but the question remains, and it appears, I am guessing, in the form of a stealth criticism, but if [all?] rational ideas are open to reform, refinement, and error correction(or else they are omniscient and infallible, then does that apply to the idea that [all?] rational ideas are open to reform, refinement, and error correction(or else they are omniscient and infallible?

Is it possible that there are ideas within domains of ideas of which we can without consequence or harm be 'certain', or... are we certain that no such ideas or domains exist?

And if so, then how can we be certain about that? Isn't that itself an example of 'frozen thinking?' Or, is it the One True Truth, of which we can be certain?

That might be an uncomfortable observation. I can't help that, I didn't manufacture it from whole cloth. It emerged, self-birthed, from the original assertion. I merely helped the delivery, in my inartful way.

regards,
Fred







Post 8

Sunday, July 7 - 11:01amSanction this postReply
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Eliot:

I tried to emphasize where my question is coming from in that last post; my bias regarding pluralities, etc.

I highlighted the word 'all' as it is only implied by your original assertion.

If I were to substitute 'most' or 'many' or 'some' for 'all', I would have no criticism at all of the statement, and I would perhaps be its greatest cheerleader. But the intent of my 'rape' example was to suggest that the implied 'all' is in question...and was a little surprised to find that example controversial in the least. I honestly don't think you or anybody here is confused about the issue of 'rape' in the least, because that is absurd.

But if you do mean 'all', then, well, that circular firing squad shows up, and I can't help that.

regards,
Fred



Post 9

Sunday, July 7 - 11:08amSanction this postReply
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but if [all?] rational ideas are open to reform, refinement, and error correction(or else they are omniscient and infallible, then does that apply to the idea that [all?] rational ideas are open to reform, refinement, and error correction(or else they are omniscient and infallible?

Yes.

Is it possible that there are ideas within domains of ideas of which we can without consequence or harm be 'certain', or... are we certain that no such ideas or domains exist?

I think infallibilism is always bad, no exceptions.

Am I infallibly certain of that? No. But that's according to both Objectivism and Critical Rationalism, that is not a proper question. That's not the standard of having knowledge. You don't have to be infallibly certain to have knowledge, believe it, accept it, act on it, use it, etc

And if so, then how can we be certain about that? Isn't that itself an example of 'frozen thinking?' Or, is it the One True Truth, of which we can be certain?

It's a mistake to try to demand that the ideas of one epistemology meet the standards of another.



Post 10

Wednesday, July 10 - 4:38pmSanction this postReply
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Temple: "It's a mistake to try to demand that the ideas of one epistemology meet the standards of another."


Wowsers, Chief!  Are you saying that theories are not comensurable?  I mean, if I assert phlogiston theory, can it only be addressed (and falsified) within phlogiston theory?

And how would that work for common Sun Sign Astrology, which always has an explanation for every anomaly?




Post 11

Thursday, July 11 - 5:07pmSanction this postReply
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I'm saying that when the big idea of one epistemology is to criticize and reject some (not all) premises, criteria, and other ideas from another epistemology – and replace them with what it says are better ideas – then to say the new theory fails by the old criteria it's rejecting is a mistake and a poor way to approach it. It's missing the point and not answering the criticisms nor addressing the new theory on its own terms.
(Edited by Elliot Temple on 7/11, 5:08pm)




Post 12

Thursday, July 11 - 9:11pmSanction this postReply
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Elliot,

It's a mistake to try to demand that the ideas of one epistemology meet the standards of another.
Okay, but how relevant is that when, for example, you are seeking the truth? For instance, it is not a mistake to try to demand that the ideas of an epistemology meet the standards of human knowing. Here's a concrete case:

Mystic
God talks to me and he is telling me that you should give me money.

Interlocuter
But epistemology is the science of knowing and it asks and answers the 5-word question: "How do you know that?" Realizing the final end or aim of epistemology (the 5-word question) -- the objective aim of epistemology -- I can demonstrate with the combination of fact and logic that you are wrong in making the conjecture that you know God is talking to you.

Mystic
But I'm prepared to disbelieve my own eyes and to distrust logic, willfully opting instead to listen to this voice in my head.

Interlocuter
The notion that the question "How do you know that?" can be answered with a simple "Because I subjectively want to believe that human knowledge is nothing other than my personal, divine revelations (and whatever revelations others claim, too)" is absurd.

Mystic
Like I told you, I'm willing to be absurd. I'm even willing to contradict myself if I have to.

Interlocuter
Then you are not being commensurate with an epistemology -- a science of knowing -- but are instead opting to try to live outside of an epistemology. You are trying to live without ever having to produce a noncontradictory answer to the 5-word question. Your answer doesn't answer the question without contradiction. Your "epistemology" doesn't meet the fundamental, objective standards that would be relevant to any science of knowing.
Ed




Post 13

Friday, July 12 - 9:46pmSanction this postReply
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it is not a mistake to try to demand that the ideas of an epistemology meet the standards of human knowing

But what about when the debate is about what the standards of human knowing are? Just assuming the stuff being debated isn't going to work very well.



Post 14

Saturday, July 13 - 12:53pmSanction this postReply
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Elliot,

Ayn Rand discovered the standards of human knowing (borrowing heavily from Aristotle). You start with stuff you see. That's needed to get the ball rolling. You have to see some stuff. Without some kind of perception of the world, there is no such thing as human knowledge. Then, after seeing a bunch of stuff, you start to remember things. Having a memory allows you to form crude, animal-like (non-logical) associations between the various types or kinds of stuff you see. Then, after seeing and remembering some things, you take things a step further -- and you start to develop ideas. If you become good at thinking, you will form objective concepts about the entities of the world.

You can't undercut or short-circuit this process in any way, and that is because of the kind of creature that you are.

Ed




Post 15

Saturday, July 13 - 1:38pmSanction this postReply
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Having a memory gives you mental content to compare and contrast. From there you reach concepts. Then you APPLY your concepts and this is where most people err because they weren't rigorous during concept-formation. When people are comfortable with concept-formation, THEN I'm willing to teach them propositions but not before then.



Post 16

Tuesday, July 16 - 8:26amSanction this postReply
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Ed wrote: "You start with stuff you see. ...  You have to see some stuff. ... you start to remember things. ... you take things a step further -- and you start to develop ideas. If you become good at thinking, you will form objective concepts about the entities of the world. You can't undercut ...  because of the kind of creature that you are."

Michael Philip wrote: "Having a memory gives you mental content ... From there you reach concepts. Then you APPLY your concepts and this is where most people err because they weren't rigorous during concept-formation. When people are comfortable with concept-formation, THEN I'm willing to teach them propositions but not before then.
 You you you really mean "I" as do "most people" and "people."





 




Post 17

Wednesday, July 17 - 6:14pmSanction this postReply
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Michael M.,

You you you really mean "I" as do "most people" and "people."
I was trying to be normative there. I thought it'd be fine, even good, to use a "you" when being normative. Disagree?

:-)

Ed




Post 18

Thursday, July 18 - 7:06amSanction this postReply
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Ed, you have absolutely no idea how most people think. 

This came up on MSK's "Objectivist Living." 

"The Weirdest People in the World: How representative are experimental findings from American university students? What do we really know about human psychology?"
Joseph Henrich,
Steven J. Heine, Ara Norenzayan
The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2010 Jun;33(2-3):61-83
Available from the principle author here:
http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~henrich/pdfs/Weird_People_BBS_final02.pdf

 
From the Abstract: "Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world's top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. ...  The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. ... "

"...  visual perception, ...  spatial reasoning, ...  inferential induction ...  "

The upshot is that most studies are conducted on undergraduates in and around university psychology departments, and sometimes include the young children of such subjects. And these are, indeed, objective, statistically valid studies.  All you offer is what you suppose is going on in your own head. 

In an RoR archived discussion on how to raise children - in which only two actual parents commented - I repeated this story.
Our daughter was not yet one year old, barely walking and only beginning to vocalize intelligently.  I served dinner and she was about to touch the hot food.  "Whoa!" my wife and I both yelled.  She looked and saw the steam held her palm toward it and said "Bo!"  Fine... A day or so later, I was carrying her around the yard and at the fence, she held her palm to a barb and said, "Bo."  I think that offers a Popperian falsification to about half of ITOE.
Realize that by that time, she had spent nearly a year with people who speak a certain way, in houses of a certain configuration, in a neighborhood of a specific geography, amid colors, sounds, and more, to all of which she adapted her thinking processes. 

I did not come to parenthood as a teenager.  I was 30.  I had read Ayn Rand over and over. I relied on  How to Raise a Brighter Child a book recommended in The Objectivist Newsletter.  Often, what I observed was not what was predicted. Ayn Rand never had children.  Have you?




Post 19

Thursday, July 18 - 6:03pmSanction this postReply
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Mike,

Our issues aren't joined and I suspect it is because we define human knowledge differently -- me more strict, and you loosely. To recap, I stated that there are 4 processes going on when humans arrive at knowledge:

1) perception
2) memory
3) association
4) conceptualization

And I stated that you can't skip one of these 4 processes and still arrive at human knowledge. Now, you say I have no idea how most people think -- but I am not talking about how most people think; I'm talking about how to arrive at knowledge. Take rain dancers, for instance. They think that their dancing invokes rain. Is their thinking right? No. If there were 6 billion of them thinking that their dancing invokes rain, would their sheer numbers make their thinking right? No. What floats around inside their heads is not knowledge (under my strict sense of the term).

When I said I'm being normative, I was not referring to statistics (as in 'statistical norms'), I was referring to how it is that people should think -- if, and only if, their goal is to attain knowledge.

Ed

Afterthought: It's funny that we are having this conversation on an Objectivist forum. I would have never predicted that.




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