[YESNO] What is the standard view about how to judge ideas? ("Check Your Understanding" question)

12 views
Skip to first unread message

Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum

unread,
Jan 27, 2020, 11:13:03 PM1/27/20
to fallibl...@googlegroups.com
*Yes or No Philosophy*, part 17, "Check Your Understanding":

> What is the standard view about how to judge ideas? What's wrong with it?

The standard view is that inconclusive arguments have "weight", and, in the absence of conclusive arguments, the combined "weight" of the arguments bearing on an idea represents the degree to which a rational person would be justified in believing that idea. The way the combining is supposed to work is that arguments in favor of an idea increase the degree of justification, while arguments against the idea decrease it.

One problem with this view is that it doesn't make sense. For one thing, no one has ever explained how to determine whether a given inconclusive argument is *in favor of* a given idea.

Elliot Temple

unread,
Jan 28, 2020, 2:32:01 AM1/28/20
to FIGG
Why do people think they can judge inconclusive arguments and assign them appropriate weights, choosing both whether it’s positive or negative as well as the size?

What are some examples they might give and what’s wrong with those?

Also there are infinitely many inconclusive arguments on any subject *that they know of* (or easily could if they cared to think about the matter, e.g. an argument involving N aliens or gods can vary from N=1 to positive infinity). When they calculate weights, they look at a tiny, selective subset of the arguments they know of. I think they have no philosophical method for how that subset is selected: what should be included or excluded?

Elliot Temple
www.fallibleideas.com

Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum

unread,
Jan 28, 2020, 9:39:39 PM1/28/20
to fallibl...@googlegroups.com
On Mon, Jan 27, 2020 at 11:30:56PM -0800, Elliot Temple wrote:

> Why do people think they can judge inconclusive arguments and assign them appropriate weights, choosing both whether it’s positive or negative as well as the size?

Here's a partial answer.

The acceptance of justificationism is facilitated by traditions of imprecise thinking and second-handedness. Both traditions are self-perpetuating in that they try to prevent you from doing what it would take to break their replication cycle, i.e., think more precisely or think for yourself.

Maybe justificationism persists because it is less threatening to staticity than CR-derived epistemologies, while still seeming workable to people. They think, "OK, so the details of the standard view [a.k.a. justificationism] haven't been fully worked out, and maybe it doesn't work theoretically. But so what? Everyone else does it, and it works fine in practice. Nothing's perfect, so we've just got to carry on with what we've got."

Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum

unread,
Jan 28, 2020, 10:00:47 PM1/28/20
to fallibl...@googlegroups.com
On Mon, Jan 27, 2020 at 11:30:56PM -0800, Elliot Temple wrote:

> What are some examples people might give [of judging inconclusive arguments and assigning them appropriate weights, choosing both whether it’s positive or negative as well as the size] and what’s wrong with those?

People usually don't give numeric ranges for argument weights, but they may talk about the amount of weight in words, e.g. using the kind of scale Peikoff came up with (I think they were words such as "likely", "probable", "unlikely", etc.). One problem with this is that there's no way to combine those fuzzy weights to get a meaningful total.

People talk about the *sign* of an argument's weight in terms of whether the argument supports or undermines the idea in question. For example, the idea that the sun has risen every day for the last million years (or whatever) might be said to support the idea that the sun will rise tomorrow. One problem with this is that no one has ever explained what it means for one idea to support another idea.

Someone might try to define "support" more precisely by saying that idea Y supports idea X just when P(X|Y) > P(X) (that is, when knowing that Y is the case makes X more likely than X would be if you didn't know whether or not Y was the case). However, this kind of probabilistic justification suffers from a regress problem, as explained in http://curi.us/1594-regress-problems .

Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum

unread,
Jan 28, 2020, 10:02:41 PM1/28/20
to fallibl...@googlegroups.com

On Mon, Jan 27, 2020 at 11:30:56PM -0800, Elliot Temple wrote:

> ... there are infinitely many inconclusive arguments on any subject *that they know of* (or easily could if they cared to think about the matter, e.g. an argument involving N aliens or gods can vary from N=1 to positive infinity). When they calculate weights, they look at a tiny, selective subset of the arguments they know of. I think they have no philosophical method for how that subset is selected: what should be included or excluded?

I agree. Since there are an infinite number of inconclusive arguments in favor of any idea, and since each inconclusive argument has non-zero weight, the amount of support for every idea is actually *infinite*. So how are they comparing amounts of support? The whole thing is nonsense.

Elliot Temple

unread,
Jan 29, 2020, 7:38:03 PM1/29/20
to FIGG
> Maybe justificationism persists because it is less threatening to staticity than CR-derived epistemologies, while still seeming workable to people. They think, "OK, so the details of the standard view [a.k.a. justificationism] haven't been fully worked out, and maybe it doesn't work theoretically. But so what? Everyone else does it, and it works fine in practice. Nothing's perfect, so we've just got to carry on with what we've got.”

The imprecision and arbitrariness of justificationism makes it more compatible with social status judgments. It’s easier to fit justificationist conclusions to whatever the social situation wants. Precise, rational thought clearly clashes with social reality.

Elliot Temple
www.fallibleideas.com

Elliot Temple

unread,
Jan 29, 2020, 8:14:43 PM1/29/20
to FIGG
Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages