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Thursday, June 22, 2017

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Bill,

Great post.

A question: How on earth could you know somebody is your moral and intellectual peer? Better, how manny times have you really known that the debaters are such peers?

Next, certainly there's something both to being conciliatory and to being steadfast. Your disagreement with me may be some evidence that I am wrong. It also may be some evidence that when it comes to the given issue you are not my peer. Do we have an algorithm to decide which is when? I don't know of any. I proceed on case by case basis, asking: which is more apparent, that the given argument is sound, or that the opponent knows something relevant which I don't?

Also, being published is in general weak evidence for being right. Even outside philosophy. But especially in philosophy. Check philpapers.org/rec/SKEPEA (emailed from me to you some weeks ago).

Could we not escape this by supposing that the Steadfaster, as you have defined him (or her) is one of those irritating people who simply fail to listen and is in effect not communicating with you in any way, etc. Then s/he is not your 'moral and intellectual peer'.

Good questions, Vlastimil!

This is very tricky. Perhaps the point of your first question is that if I can trust my judgment that Tom is my peer, then I can trust my judgment that my thesis is correct despite Tom's disagreement.

Suppose I judge that Tom is my moral and intellectual equal, but Tom disagrees. I probably won't take his disagreement as a good reason to revise my judgment of him: I will probably conclude that Tom lacks self-confidence or is displaying false modesty. But then I am not being consistently Conciliationist . . . .

Practically speaking, I have no trouble judging people to be my equal morally and intellectually, Lukas Novak for example. But do I KNOW this? Does knowledge require certainty? Whether or not I know it, there is a defeasible presumption in favor of his being my epistemic-moral peer.

What you say in your second paragraph seems basically right. Surely there is no algorithm.

My point about publishing was that a thesis published in a 'good' journal has been carefully thought through by the author as opposed to being casually tossed out, and that publication in a 'good' journal shows that some minimal standards have been satisfied. (I was responding, obliquely, to the quotation from McGrew that you supplied.)

The Happy Ostrich signals his virtue with 's/he'!

The Steadfaster as I have defined him is not a pig-headed SOB. He listens carefully to the other guy, but he trusts (inordinately?) his own judgment and is inclined to doubt the qualifications of his interlocutor before doubting his own judgment. He sincerely thinks he is justified in privileging his own point of view.

But again, Bill,

How many times have you been really justified in believing that the debaters were such peers? My point was to suggest that being so justified may well be rare. The other point that you surmised is a good one, of course.

The linked paper argues convincingly -- to me -- that even being published in a good journal is weak evidence for being right. Though it is stronger evidence for that than being published in a mediocre journal.

The way you've described the Conciliationist view, it seems compatible with Steadfastness. When you first learn that S is your epistemic peer and become aware of his case for an opposing view, you stop, reconsider, and reexamine your position. But then, having done so, if it still seems to you that you're right, you remain steadfast even if you think S also remains robustly rational in maintaining his view. So perhaps you'll want to define Conciliationism as a post-reexamination position instead.

On first reading, I classified myself as a Conciliationist but, with your clarification that includes the Steadfaster not being a “pig-headed SOB”, I’m not sure… So I must be a Conciliationist after all! ;)

If I’m convinced that this guy is my moral and intellectual peer, even so, we couldn’t be, practically speaking, equal in *all* of our moral and intellectual faculties. We may be peers in aggregate but everyone has specific strengths and weaknesses that could serve to make some our disagreement intractable. But I can’t ultimately make decisions based on someone else faculties. As a “convinced” Conciliationist, it seems that I would have to live with the discomfort of unresolvable disagreement in some cases (holding my position a bit more tentatively than I would in the absence of such disagreement) in the hopes that more evidence of some kind will come along and give me peace one way or the other.

One thing I have difficulty with is the Steadfaster *not* being a pig-headed but yet still giving preference to his own position simply because it is his. I tend to think that a person who favors a position *simply* because it is his own would end up, at bottom, an insufferable SOB. If he’s not, if he’s sincerely open to objective truth, I don’t see how the ground for his confidence can ultimately be himself - even if those around him don’t have access to it…

This would be a great question to throw at more intellectual church goers. :)

Hi Bill,

Perhaps we might say that there are several forms that your disagreement with an opponent might take:

a) There may be factors that you have overlooked, or that you have failed to place in their proper context, that the Opponent has rightly considered. In this case it should be possible for you to "stand corrected", and you should make every attempt to do so. This should certainly be the first move a Conciliationist would make -- and I'll say that if the Steadfaster doesn't bother to do this, then he is the one who is intellectually remiss.

b) You may disagree about the facts themselves. Sometimes this can be resolved, sometimes not.

c) You may agree on facts, but disagree about their importance or relevance -- which might be understood as a disagreement about axioms. You both make valid arguments, but accept and reject different premises.

When it comes to c), what can be done? That a peer may hold different axioms may rightly give the Conciliationist pause, as until then it might not have occurred to him that any of his peers would hold different axioms -- but it being in the nature of axioms that they are unprovable, why not, once it's clear that the difference really is at the level of axioms, be Steadfast? After all, as Chesterton said, an open mind is like an open mouth: the purpose of its opening in the first place is to close on something.

Vlastimil writes, >>How many times have you been really justified in believing that the debaters were such peers? My point was to suggest that being so justified may well be rare.<<

This is not really relevant to what I am doing in the main post. I am setting up a problem. As part of the set-up I am just assuming that there are two guys who are equals in rationality, interest in the truth, knowledge of relevant facts, etc.

I am not concerned with the question of how I would justify my belief that my interlocutor is my epistemic-moral peer.

You've got two guys G1 and G2. G1 maintains that some existents are universals. G2 maintains the logical opposite: No existent is a universal.
The question is: does intellectual honesty require that G1 question his view due to G2's disagreement? Does G1 have some sort of obligation to consider what G2 says? Or can G1 justifiably ignore what G2 says.

The sense of this question is not entirely clear. For one thing, it is not clear what sort of normativity is involved. But I think the question is tolerably clear. Suppose G1 says, "That G2 guy is a bloody nominalist! What should I listen to anything he says?" We would agree, wouldn't we, that that there is something wrong with G1's attitude.

Or suppose I say, "I don;t need to refute the other guy; I have proven my thesis to my own sarisfaction." But isn't there something wrong with a satisfaction purchased by ignoring challenges?

Now the puzzle/problem arises at the meta-level where Conciliationism clashes with Steadfastery. If I am consistent in my Conciliationism, must I not question it?

To put it another way: can I be steadfast in my Conciliationism, or does steadfast Conciliationism undermine itself?

Bill, you ask:

Or suppose I say, "I don't need to refute the other guy; I have proven my thesis to my own satisfaction." But isn't there something wrong with a satisfaction purchased by ignoring challenges?

But what about claims that can neither be proven nor refuted, as when there is disagreement about basic assumptions? This happens constantly, and it seems to me that it's where your question really begins to bite. And if the problem isn't about unprovable assumptions or valuations, why can't you either refute or be refuted? (Admittedly, that might take some effort, but it seems you're talking about something more than mere laziness.)

I suppose what I'm saying is that there's a "bottom" to Conciliationism; that in a normative sense one ought to be a Conciliationist up to the point where the disagreement can be seen to rest upon things that can neither be proven nor refuted. Beyond that point you can either pick a side and be Steadfast, or you can declare an agnostic position -- depending on your faith in your axioms. In this way I think the recursive problem you describe falls away.

Is this too simplistic? Am I missing something here? (I suppose that my asking marks me out as a Conciliationist.)

Malcolm,

I suppose we need to get down to cases. What are some example of basic assumptions, propositions that can neither be proven nor refuted?

Bill,

What are some examples of basic assumptions, propositions that can neither be proven nor refuted?

Well, the existence of God, for example. Or of ideal forms. Or objective moral truths. Or that matter cannot produce mind. Etc.

... or, for a particularly clamant example, that equality is more important than liberty.

You say first ‘the Steadfaster takes the fact of disagreement to undermine his prior conviction that his interlocutor is as morally and intellectually capable as he initially thought he was.’ but then later (in a comment) ‘The Steadfaster as I have defined him is not a pig-headed SOB.’ I don’t see how this is consistent.

In any case, conciliationism is merely about checking one’s one work. Often you do this yourself, imagining the objections that a steadfast opponent would bring. It’s a purely practical device. So it’s not a question of the principle being true or false, rather, useful or not.

>>You say first ‘the Steadfaster takes the fact of disagreement to undermine his prior conviction that his interlocutor is as morally and intellectually capable as he initially thought he was.’ but then later (in a comment) ‘The Steadfaster as I have defined him is not a pig-headed SOB.’ I don’t see how this is consistent.<<

Seems consistent to me. Two guys start off respecting each other as peers. They behave civilly toward each other. But then one day the conversation turns away from technical questions in logic and philosophy of language toward questions in political philosophy. One guy, a conservative, insists that liberty trumps material equality; the other guy, a 'progressive,' says it is the other way around.

If the progressive is a Steadfaster, then his tendency is to revise downward his estimation of the conservative. He might think to himself: "This guy isn't as moral as I thought he was." If the progressive is a Concilationist, however, then his tendency will be question to question himself and correctness of his views.

Isn't this a coherent scenario?

Malcolm,

Good. Examples like the ones you have provided are what interest me. More later. I have to do my physical exercise before it gets too hot, like 120!

What I mean is, there are two conflicting principles. The first is to avoid any form of ad hominem, let’s call this ‘opponent blindness’ principle. Look at what is said only, and ignore the opponent, including any credentials. The other is the ‘life is too short’ principle. There are certain clues about the person or their mode of expression that suggests any argument is futile.

For example, I try to be blind to credentials, but sometimes I am forced to take them seriously. This actually happened at work last week. There was a challenge to our approach, which we thought of ignoring, on the ‘life’s too short’ principle, but then I found the guy had been editor of half a dozen journals. We then looked at the journals to see if they were ‘pay to play’ etc., so we took another look. I also avoid opponents who themselves employ ad hominem. So if anyone says ‘Hume sucks’ I ignore them immediately. Indeed, I ignore anyone who uses the word ‘sucks’. Likewise for those who may have a valid point, but are incapable of expressing themselves coherently or systematically. You yourself seem to employ this principle when you say you want to ‘keep the cyberpunks at bay’. You know one when you see one, right? Likewise, avoid ‘Objectivists’ at all costs.

But this is just a heuristic form of steadfastness, to make the best use of the available time. Once we have decided the argument is worth examining, then we examine it, ad argumentum. Here we cannot use the ‘mere fact of disagreement’ to reject a claim. For, having now excluded ad hominem, we are rejecting a claim merely on the basis that it contradicts our claim. That is a form of petitio principii, no?

>> I have to do my physical exercise before it gets too hot, like 120!
48 degrees: too hot. Here in London it is a balmy 22C (~72 F), and just preparing for a barbecue. Do you have AC?

Hi Bill

You characterize and define the terms Conciliationist(‘C’) and Steadfaster (‘S’) in paras. 5 and 6 of your OP. In doing so you use words with moral overtones - necessarily so, as there is surely a moral dimension to the distinction you make between C and S. It seems to me then that S is clearly morally inferior to C.

If my above argument is correct then I don’t believe you can validly require the assumptions as you have set them out in paras. 7 and 8. A further consideration is whether S has revealed himself to be such to person to C or whether C is able to deduce that he is.

I think that moral peers and intellectual peers need separate treatment as do their separate applicability to disagreements which have moral implications and those which do not. At this time of night I’m not up for calculating how many possibly combinations that would require!

Bill,

Right. _If_ your opponent really is your (moral and intellectual) peer you must take his disagreement into consideration. As a result, you should be less confident. How much less? As said, no algorithm here. Proceed on case by case basis, exercising your considered judgement.

But anyway, this post was motivated by your belief that for _any_ substantial philosophical question you do have a disagreeing peer. But do you? For any? What is your justification for that?

Ostrich,

Did you read my comment @ 5:10?

I think you are bringing into the discussion a conflict of a different pair of heuristic procedures.

Your pair: Attend to the argument; forget the man! VERSUS to save time, avoid discussions with persons whose outward demeanor, lack of credentials, etc. suggest that they probably don't have anything worthwhile to contribute.

My pair, unlike yours, presupposes that the interlocutors are peers. The conflict is: take the opponent's disagreement as a reason to re-examine one's position with the possibility of modifying it, rejecting it outright, suspending judgment on the whole question, or perhaps standing fast VERSUS not taking the opponent's disagreement as reason to re-examine one's position, etc.

Conciliationism and Steadfastery strike me as very different overall attitudes toward the life of inquiry especially when it comes to substantive philosophical theses.

These two pairs cut perpendicular to each other. If I have a steadfast attitude toward my opponent, then it follows that I respect his intellectual and moral attributes; I don't dismiss him or think talk with him would be a waste of time. What makes me steadfast is that I do not allow myself to be budged by his disagreement. What I am likely to do is downgrade my assessment of his competence precisely because of his disagreement with me.

So I don't think you or anyone here really understands the conflict pair that concerns me, let alone the paradox that I am bringing attention to.

Vlastimil in an earlier thread supplies the following quotation from Tim McGrew who, I think, counts as a Steadfaster:

This idea seems implicit in the following quotation from Tim McGrew's contribution in the Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy (Zondervan 2016, 126): "Suppose I hold that P is true, and I discover that my respected colleague Dr. X disagrees. Should this discovery shake my confidence in P? In the usual sort of case, I think the answer is that it should not, or at least not much. For in the usual case I have my reasons for believing that P, and I have done my best to judge how the total evidence bears on it. If Dr. X disagrees, that fact itself gives me some reason to doubt that Dr. X is _fully_ informed or _fully_ rational with respect to this particular point. My judgement is defeasible, of course. Perhaps Dr. X will sway me with his complex, multilayered argument, or with the introduction of some new and relevant information of which I was previously unaware. And of course, if I have given the matter no previous consideration and am merely offering my casual opinion, then the case may be quite different. But when I am in possession of arguments and reasons, the mere fact that we have a disagreement generally casts more doubt on the suggestion that Dr. X is my [equally competent] peer than it does on P." (my emphasis)

Vlastimil,

You appear to be disagreeing with McGrew when you write, "_If_ your opponent really is your (moral and intellectual) peer you must take his disagreement into consideration. As a result, you should be less confident."

You seem to be taking a conciliationist line whereas McGrew is standing fast and not allowing his confidence in his thesis to be lessened by the disagreement of his hypothetical colleague, Dr X.

>>But anyway, this post was motivated by your belief that for _any_ substantial philosophical question you do have a disagreeing peer. But do you? For any? What is your justification for that?<<

ANY is a tough hurdle to clear. But if we look at cases my position has some merit. In a separate post!

Bill,

Tim's position, expressed in that quotation, is compatible with concluding eventually that Dr. X, though respected, is NOT Tim's (moral and intellectual) peer after all (Dr. X is not equally competent as Tim is). But IF Tim eventually finds out Dr. X in fact is his peer, it is compatible with shaking Tim's confidence NOT MUCH. So thus far I don't think I disagree with Tim.

Also, I'm not buying any of those general positions that you offered. I am neither pure Conciliationist, nor impure Conciliationist (conciliationist about almost anything except Conciliationism), nor pure Steadfaster, nor impure Steadfaster (steadfast about almost anything except Steadfastism). I am eclectic: no such general rule holds, let's just proceed case by case.

Bill,

So I don't think you or anyone here really understands the conflict pair that concerns me, let alone the paradox that I am bringing attention to.

Let me try to sum it up:

The essence of Conciliationism is that, for the Conciliationist who asserts some proposition P, a qualified peer who insists that ~P will lower the Conciliationist's confidence in P.

Now, being a Conciliationist is an implicit assertion of the proposition I'll call C, to wit: "One should be a Conciliationist". The very existence, however, of a qualified peer who is a Steadfaster is in itself an implicit assertion of ~C -- and therefore, to the consistent Conciliationist, must undermine his confidence in Conciliationism itself!

Is that about right?

Malcolm writes,

>>I suppose what I'm saying is that there's a "bottom" to Conciliationism; that in a normative sense one ought to be a Conciliationist up to the point where the disagreement can be seen to rest upon things that can neither be proven nor refuted.<<

An example you accept is: Socio-economic equality trumps liberty. Liberals agree with this; conservatives do not. A major and bitter disagreement.

You seem to think that this "disagreement can be seen to rest upon things that can neither be proven nor refuted."

So you are maintaining that this disagreement cannot be rationally resolved. Can you prove this, or is this something you can neither prove nor refute.

Bill,

So you are maintaining that this disagreement cannot be rationally resolved. Can you prove this, or is this something you can neither prove nor refute.

I'm not at all sure as to how I would prove that any assertion is in principle unprovable. So as for the meta-proposition (call it R) that the liberty/equality example is not rationally resolvable, I'll have to say that R is something I can neither prove nor refute, although I'm confident enough of its truth that unless you can refute it, I'm inclined to be Steadfast about it.

What's your opinion? Are the examples I gave (God, ideal forms, etc.) rationally resolvable? How would you answer your own question?

Also: did my summary of your position (at 1:01 PM) come close to the mark?

>>The conflict is: take the opponent's disagreement as a reason to re-examine one's position

There lies our difference. I think you mean the mere fact of disagreement, as though the opponent had pressed a button say ‘disagree’ without saying another word. I mean the reason, the logos, that the opponent is putting forward by way of disagreement. It is the second only which is relevant to philosophy.

>>The essence of Conciliationism is that, for the Conciliationist who asserts some proposition P, a qualified peer who insists that ~P will lower the Conciliationist's confidence in P.

Now, being a Conciliationist is an implicit assertion of the proposition I'll call C, to wit: "One should be a Conciliationist". The very existence, however, of a qualified peer who is a Steadfaster is in itself an implicit assertion of ~C -- and therefore, to the consistent Conciliationist, must undermine his confidence in Conciliationism itself!

Is that about right?<<

You got it, Malcolm, except that I would give it a normative twist: 'ought to lower' rather than 'will lower.' And perhaps I should say 'ought initially to lower' since after I examine the other guy's view I may have good reason to stick my my view as originally formulated.

I suppose the main point here is that I should never allow myself to feel so epistemically self-condfident as to simply dismiss the disagreements of qualified others. That would be something like epistemic egotism. On the other hand I ought not be an epistemic pussy cat who wilts in the face of disagreement.

A corollary is that the search of truth is a communal endeavor: I need qualified others to help me with it.

Malcolm asks: >>What's your opinion? Are the examples I gave (God, ideal forms, etc.) rationally resolvable? How would you answer your own question?<<

As for God, his existence can neither be proven nor disproven. The issue is not rationally resolvable. It is reasonable to be a theist and reasonable to be an atheist. There are 'good' arguments on both sides. This is why I have said many times that on this issue and others one has simply to decide what one will believe and how one will live. The decision will of course be informed by one's careful study of both sides of the question. Pragmatic and prudential considerations can come in here.

There are a number of further questions that could be asked. For example, when I say that there are 'good' arguments on both sides, do I mean that for each pro-argument there is an equally good but opposite contra-argument? I needn't say this. I could just say: there are good args on both sides.

If I am told that the cumulative case for theism is stronger than the cumulative case for atheism, or vice versa, then I will ask difficult questions about cumulative case arguments which gives us a meta-issue to dispute.

I tend to hold that most substantive phil. theses are not rationally resolvable by us.

Can you give me a nice clear example of a substantive phil. thesis that has been rationally resolved to the satisfaction of all competent practitoners?

Bill,

Can you give me a nice clear example of a substantive phil. thesis that has been rationally resolved to the satisfaction of all competent practitoners?

Nope, I can't. (But you knew that!)

So, as I said above, my feeling is that at this point you can either pick a side and be Steadfast, or you can declare an agnostic position -- depending on your faith in your axioms. But to declare that one or the other of those choices is in fact the right one would itself, I think, be a thesis that cannot be rationally resolved (though I can't prove that!). Agnosticism is certainly justifiable, but it's awfully lukewarm, whereas Steadfastness in such situations is an act of faith in absence of evidence, which some people seem to find intellectually offensive. So we're back to relying on our intuitions and axioms here as well. What more can be done?

>>whereas Steadfastness in such situations is an act of faith in absence of evidence,<<

I don't think that is quite right. It is not that the atheist, say, does not have evidence for his thesis. Press him, and he is likely to point to the fact of evil as evidence against the ex. of a god having the standard properties. That's pretty good evidence, wouldn't you say? The problem is not lack of evidence, but lack of compelling arguments based on the evidence. It is not difficult to poke holes in the arguments from evil.

In fact, I can argue cogently, though not compellingly, for the existence of God FROM evil!

Some of us want to KNOW the answers to the big questions about God, the soul, and so on. But we have high intellectual standards. When we examine the arguments for and against we come to see that they are not compelling. In fact I don't even need the disagreement of competent others to convince me of this: my intellectual honesty suffices.

Suppose I am right and the Big Questions are unanswerable by us. What explains this? Is finite reason inherently dialectical in Kant's sense? Or perhaps the problem is not finite reason itself but contingently fallen finite reason. Some would say that sin has noetic consequences. The infirmity of reason in us is due to Original Sin.

But then one has to rely on Revelation to know about the prelapsarian state and the lapsus from it to our present effed-up state. But how do we know that a putative revelation is a genuine Revelation?

We are clearly enmired in very deep crapola. Since our reason is infirm (at least when it ventures beyond the bounds of sense) we need Revelation. But how, except by using our infirm reason, can we distinguish as we need to do, between true and false revelations?

Some positivists will say that the Big Questions are senseless. But that too is a non-starter.

Bill,

We are clearly enmired in very deep crapola.

Now there's a proposition for which I think the evidence is overwhelming.

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