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First post. Introduction and invitation.
Posted: 26 January 2008 07:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 61 ]  
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Hello John,

Following is the main piece of my answer to your post of the 24th.

John Brand - 25 January 2008 12:30 AM

Hello, Keith.  A belated welcome to the forum.

I may be one of those theists whom you could engage in a straight and head-on intellectual confrontation.  However, your goal of demonstrating that my beliefs are false and should be abandoned may compromise the objective that I would have in such a confrontation.  My objective would be to convince you that neither theism nor any form of non-theism has any meaning in and of itself.  Rather, what is meaningful is our (un)faith’s extending itself as a means toward nurturing growth in one another.  I think you have begun on the wrong foot in your essay and that this can only lead to your continually being off balance.  Let me begin an explanation.

I find your writing attractive, and it’s good to chat with someone who seems to be well read in philosophy. But starting from your paragraph here and then becoming more apparent as I go forward, there is a feeling of deep disconnect in that your thinking does not appear to incorporate what is for me the most fundamental principle of reason; the law of the excluded middle. To cite the most problematic sentence from your above para.: My reaction to “My objective would be …..” would be to dispense with both theism and all forms of non-theism; as I can’t understand trying to accord further consideration to any proposal that ‘has no meaning in and of itself’.

[quote author=“John Brand”] Your essay Truth begins with a reference to the pioneering work of Karl Popper:  “All of our ancient systems of institutionalized irrationality - and in particular, our theistic religions - are vulnerable to a fatal rational attack from the philosophical position developed by the late Sir Karl Popper. This essay makes that attack.”

In his book Open Society, Popper introduces his objective in terms of an often overlooked summary of all of his work:  “You may be right and I may be wrong, and with a little effort we may get nearer to the truth.”

K: Much as I love Professor Popper my position on this, as on all of his writing, is that he should have gone ahead and taken the final intellectual plunge that he was by his own admission considering when writing LScD. Basically, the one that I outline and argue for in ‘Truth?’ His sentence here would then have been: “You may be right and I may be wrong, and with a little effort we may resolve the issue.” Of possible passing interest, I claim to be able to do that with any sentence written by the good professor which did not have ‘truth’ as its direct subject. I further claim that in all of the many cases in which I have done it the result has been, as here, a shorter and more elegant sentence.

[quote author=“John Brand”] He argues that the birth of philosophy in the west was brought about by the clashing of numerous cultures especially on the periphery of the Persian Empire, for instance in Ionia.

K: General agreement.

[quote author=“John Brand”] In my view, the result of these clashes was not a discrediting of the older religious systems; rather, it was a transformation of the basics of these systems into philosophical discourse.

K: It is right here that we run head-on into the ‘excluded middle’ problem. The religious systems present themselves as sets of proposals about reality. But the defining proposals of any particular religious system can be seen to logically exclude those of all of the others. Trivially, in the context of our subject period, if the main pantheon of gods was being led by one named Zeus, and lived on Mt. Olympus, and was preferentially concerned with the doings of the Greeks; then it could not simultaneously be being led by one named Jove, and live on Mt. Parnassus, and be preferentially concerned with the doings of the Romans. Nor could it be led by Set, or Horus, or Isis, or whoever, and be preferentially concerned with the doings of the Egyptians. I’d be interested to know in what sense you propose that these systems – all of which were being maintained in spite of their being observably silly, and logically exclusive – might have transformed into our first significant cooperative attempt to develop systems that were neither. Basically, what might any of them have contributed to the birth of philosophy, apart from ‘how not to do it’?

[quote author=“John Brand”] For instance, consider the following section from Plutarch’s Isis and Osiris:

The images from [the soul of Osiris] with which the sensible and corporeal is impressed, and the relations, forms, and likenesses which this take upon itself, like impressions of seals in wax [Theaetetus], are not permanently lasting, but disorder and disturbance overtakes them, being driven hither from the upper reaches, and fighting against Horus, whom Isis brings forth, beholden of all, as the image of the perceptible world [Timaeus]. (Plutarch Isis and Osiris.54)

In the bold print I have highlighted where the meaning of the Egyptian myth was transformed by Plato into his philosophy.  The goal of the philosophy, according to his Republic was that a disciple learn to honour the gods and their parents, and to value friendship with one another (Book III).  In the Theaetetus, Socrates argues from the position that the soul is immortal and experiences direct knowledge of the truth.  Using the image of a wax block, Socrates argues that the truth is imprinted only on the soul that is soft and malleable rather than the soul which is hardened.

K: Where to start with all this? First, I am no fan of Plato. I can’t help but like the young Plato, of the Apology and Gorgias. But I think that he was deeply scarred by his great teacher’s death, and Athens’ fall to Sparta. He certainly never forgave democracy for either of these horrors; and his revenge – in writing what is still the world’s most seductive and effective anti-democratic text (The Republic) – was terrible. The full title of the Popper book to which you referred earlier was ‘The Open Society and its Enemies’. The title of the first of its two volumes was ‘Plato’. It’s a superb read. As to Socrates and the block of wax business; this sounds to me very much like one of Plato’s bogus attributions of his own words to his teacher’s lips. I should also remark that if I accept it then – in view of my own position on truth – I must suppose that my ‘soul’ (whatever and wherever this may be) is composed of something like high carbon tool steel. As a crusty old marine oilfield engineer I can’t say that I find this an entirely unappealing thought.

[quote author=“John Brand”] It would follow from this that if one does not honour the faith system of those with whom he engages, he cannot come to experience the truth which Socrates et al experienced.

K: I’m afraid that I just don’t understand the whole concept of ‘honoring faith systems’. If a person tells me something that I can see to be absurd then I extend them the courtesy of informing them of this. I don’t assume that they are too stupid, or that their minds are too badly damaged, to be able to accept the information. The only difference that I can find between proposals like ‘Russell’s teapot’ and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and those that define, say, Scientology or Christianity or Islam is that those of the latter three appear to be held by relatively large numbers of people. This does not seem to me to constitute any kind of justification, as I am aware of their being logically exclusive, and that my species has been in the habit of embracing such systems in large groups throughout its developmental history. In regard to the second point I’m also aware that the large groups have been crashing and burning, in the form of wars, pogroms, famines, genocides and so on. I do not think that these observations are unconnected, and I entirely reject the pusillanimous excuse that they comprise ‘the human condition’. I think that the human condition has been – ever since we hit on our ultimate evolutionary trump card, of dividing reality into mentally manipulatable and communicable units – exactly what we have been choosing to make it. I think that we have been choosing very badly, and that we could do much better by dumping the idea that we have a qualitatively superior knowledge basis [to observation grounded reason] through which it is OK to embrace as knowledge proposals that can be clearly seen to be in opposition to observation grounded reason.

[quote author=“John Brand”] In your discussion with Bruce Burleson, for instance, you may experience the same kind of experience that Bruce has experienced if you fulfill the same kind of submission that he has fulfilled and vice versa you would never experience what he has experienced if you pursued it as a matter of objectivity in and of itself.  You would not have to call your experience the experience of an actual entity or god; however, you would come to understand your experience in terms that might be outlined in the texts of those who did believe in the actual existence of a god.

K: I’m having a hard time wringing any coherent meaning from this. If Bruce believes something, and is disposed to tell me why he believes it, then I will be disposed to listen. If he has ‘submitted’ to something, and is willing to tell me why he submitted to that thing (when he might have submitted to some other thing, or to no thing) then the same offer holds.  I’ve already told him this, and will extend the offer also to you. My only stipulation, as noted in my first brief response to you, is that before we dive into our consideration of which systems of proposals (between the scientific ones that I hold, and the logically exclusive* theistic ones you and/or Bruce have implied that you hold) can be seen to qualify as knowledge, we should agree on some clear decision process for knowledge. Basically, on how/why only some proposals (as opposed to all proposals) can qualify as knowledge. I’m always happy to talk with theists, but not to prolong the fruitless debate of at least our past several thousand years. If we can agree on any basis through which we have at least some possibility of success, then let’s go.

Best regards,

Keith

*There is, admittedly, the well trodden road of watering down, attenuating and generalizing theistic proposals until they can no longer be seen to be in clear logical opposition to science. But I think that this is more accurately called ‘deism’.

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Posted: 26 January 2008 10:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 62 ]  
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Keith, I’ve found your exchange with JB here very interesting, and informative as to some of your positions.  One thing that immediatly jumps out at me is your appeal to excluded middle.  The thing is, excluded middle is not a universal principle—it is a principle of formal (Aristotelian) logic.  The dialogue between Socrates and Diotima in the Symposium points this out, and even relates to your views on truth.  It connects, too, to the classification of philosophers given by Sextus Empiricus: the dogmatists believe they have found truth in their doctrine; the academics deny the existence of truth; the skeptics neither affirm nor deny, but continue seeking.  They are, in Diotima’s words, “those who come between.”  I have to admit that I feel there is far more of value in Plato than you may think (and I am far less of a fan of Popper)—what I have found is that many of the dialogues seem to have the intent of leading a person into recognition through experience of particular states.  For example, in the Greater Hyppias the topic of discussion is Beauty and the dialogue apparently ends with an agreement that this cannot be defined.  But it can also be read as an exercise similar to that of the Madhyamika school of Buddhism, eliminating relative definitions to leave the person in the state where recognition of the actual can appear. 

Returning to excluded middle, while one conclusion from the apparent conflicting claims of different religious traditions is that they are all wrong, another point of view is that they are all human renderings of something beyond that is being described in available terms and language.  I just read a section in the Federalist Papers (#37 by Madison) that applies: “”...it must happen, that however accurately objects may be discriminated in themselves, and however accurately the discrimination may be considered, the definition of them may be renered inacurate by the inaccuracy of the terms in which it is delivered.  And this unavoidable inacuracy must be greater or less according to the complexity and novelty of the objects defined.  When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminious as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful, by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated.”  Here is where the Platonic dialectic comes in, in attempting to find the higher (and eventually non-linguistic and non-conceptual) level from which the unity of the apparently conflicting claims can be grasped (or, in other cases, the wheat can be separated from the chaff).

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Posted: 29 January 2008 12:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 63 ]  
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keith - 26 January 2008 12:16 PM

I’m having a hard time wringing any coherent meaning from this. If Bruce believes something, and is disposed to tell me why he believes it, then I will be disposed to listen. If he has ‘submitted’ to something, and is willing to tell me why he submitted to that thing (when he might have submitted to some other thing, or to no thing) then the same offer holds.  I’ve already told him this, and will extend the offer also to you. My only stipulation, as noted in my first brief response to you, is that before we dive into our consideration of which systems of proposals (between the scientific ones that I hold, and the logically exclusive* theistic ones you and/or Bruce have implied that you hold) can be seen to qualify as knowledge, we should agree on some clear decision process for knowledge. Basically, on how/why only some proposals (as opposed to all proposals) can qualify as knowledge. I’m always happy to talk with theists, but not to prolong the fruitless debate of at least our past several thousand years. If we can agree on any basis through which we have at least some possibility of success, then let’s go.

What I believe is that my theism and your non-theism do not have to be resolved in favor of the one of the other.  Instead, we can offer differing perspectives on data in order to attack one another’s frameworks as I will proceed to do in this response to you.  My attack, to summarize, is aimed at your unstated assumption that perception is not a function of humility and openness to opposing points of view.  Intolerance of theism as evident on this forum is viewed as immaterial to the progress of the non-theistic views. The only option that is considered viable by a number of participants on this forum is that the divergent paradigms be resolved into one framework.  When this does not succeed various sanctions are used to remind those from a divergent paradigm that their views are not welcome.  This amounts to what Popper would call ‘ideological intolerance’ which is an obstacle to the progress of science.

I think we can agree that theism and non-theism are divisions that we impose upon reality (Point #1, Truth?).  We can, also, agree that these divisions are the result of fallible human choice based on human perception and cognition (Point #2).  I am not sure, however, that we can agree ‘that all conflicts between logically exclusive knowledge proposals are resolvable in favor of one or the other’ (Point #3).  The myth which Popper criticizes in his The Myth of the Framework (London: Routledge, 1994) is the following:

A rational and fruitful discussion is impossible unless the participants share a common framework of basic assumptions or, at least, unless they have agreed on such a framework for the purpose of the discussion (Ibid., 34-35)

In order to demonstrate how such a discussion can be possible, Popper looks at the development of the original Greek miracle which resulted from the clash of cultures on the periphery of the Greek civilization (Asia Minor, Sicily, and Southern Italy).  Here the law of the excluded middle led to a division of what can be known and what cannot be known which is similar to your idea that we can see ourselves to be incapable of having any knowledge that we can coherently maintain or propagate as ‘truth’ (Truth?, page 1).

As a result of the clash between the Greek, the Ethiopian and the Thracian cultures, Xenophanes (Asia Minor) criticized the anthropomorphic theologies of his own culture (developed by Hesiod and Homor):

The Ethiops say that their gods are flat-nosed and black,
While the Thracians say that theirs have blue eyes and red hair.
Yet if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw
And could sculpture like men, then the horses would draw their gods
Like horses, and cattle like cattle, and each would then shape
Bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of its own.
(Fragment B15, B16)

Rather than dispensing with the idea of god, Xenophanes concluded,

The gods did not reveal, from the beginning,
All things to us; but in course of time,
Through seeking we may learn, and know things better …
These things are, we conjecture, like the truth.

But as for certain truth, no man has known it,
Nor will he know it; neither of the gods,
Nor yet of all the things of which I speak.
And even if by chance he were to utter
The final truth, he would himself not know it:
For all is but a woven web of guesses. (Fr. B18, 35 and 34)

We can both agree that certain truth cannot be maintained.  However, insisting that a conflict between non-theism and theism be resolved in favor of the one or the other inevitably creates an obstacle to fruitful discussion. Even in subsets of theism (i.e. Islam, Judaism and Christianity) the demand that one religion be chosen over the rest results in conflict.  Whereas, a humble approach to the differences and similarities may result in progress. As a theist from my experience on this particular forum, the biggest obstacle to progress in discussion is due to what Popper calls ideological or religious intolerance ‘usually combined with dogmatism and lack of imagination’ (Ibid., 14)... ‘a theory, even a scientific theory, may become an intellectual fashion, a substitute for religion, an entrenched ideology’ (Ibid., 16).  By ideology he means any ‘non-scientific theory, or creed, or view of the world which proves attractive, and which interests people, including scientists’ (Ibid., 17). Competing theories should be allowed to ‘show their mettle – that is, their explanatory power and their truth content’ (Ibid., 16).

Let me apply this directly to your proposing a final resolution to the problem of knowledge debated in Plato’s Theaetetus

I think that we have been choosing very badly, and that we could do much better by dumping the idea that we have a qualitatively superior knowledge basis [to observation grounded reason] through which it is OK to embrace as knowledge proposals that can be clearly seen to be in opposition to observation grounded reason.

For Socrates ‘true wisdom is to know that you know nothing of the good and the beautiful.’ This is a reference to what has come to be known in the west as ‘external’ or ‘qualitatively objective’ truth.  Your position is very similar to Plato’s except that you do not deal with the humble state of the receptor who realizes that one can know nothing of the ‘good and the beautiful.’ For you, Reason is ‘observation grounded.’  However, for Plato perception is tainted by the appetitive element of the soul.  For the Socratic method of the Theaetetus, for instance, it is not man that is the measure of all things; rather,

… each of us is a measure of existence and of non-existence.  Yet one man may be a thousand times better than another in proportion as different things are and appear to him … a wise man only is a measure (Theaetetus.166, 183)

The task of the man, then, is to ‘become like God, as far as this is possible; and to become like him, is to become holy, just and wise’ (Ibid., 176).  As ‘knowledge is perception’ (Ibid., 151) and perception is dependent upon the degree to which a man is holy, just and wise, all knowledge is incomplete and should continually be subjected to cross-examination.  Socrates ends his conversation with Theaetetus by saying,

… if … you should ever conceive afresh, you will be all the better for the present investigation, and if not , you will be soberer and humbler and gentler to other men, and will be too modest to fancy that you know what you do not know (Ibid. 210).

Because ideological intolerance is an obstacle to science, Popper’s credo or ‘confession of faith, expressed simply, in unphilosophical, ordinary English [is] a faith in peace, in humanity, in tolerance, in modesty, in trying to learn form one’s own mistakes; and in the possibilities of critical discussion’ (The Myth of the Framework, xi)

[ Edited: 29 January 2008 12:38 PM by John Brand]
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Posted: 30 January 2008 03:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 64 ]  
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Burt,

Sorry about the very long delay. Responses should be at least somewhat faster once I get back to the US; in about a week.

burt - 27 January 2008 03:11 AM

Keith, I’ve found your exchange with JB here very interesting, and informative as to some of your positions.  One thing that immediatly jumps out at me is your appeal to excluded middle.  The thing is, excluded middle is not a universal principle—it is a principle of formal (Aristotelian) logic.

We agree that it is not universal. My position (and, all-be-it peripherally, one for which I’m arguing in ‘Truth?’) is that we would be far better off through its becoming more universal. And further, that we could make certain simple changes that would help us move in this direction.

[quote author=“burt”] The dialogue between Socrates and Diotima in the Symposium points this out, and even relates to your views on truth.  It connects, too, to the classification of philosophers given by Sextus Empiricus: the dogmatists believe they have found truth in their doctrine; the academics deny the existence of truth; the skeptics neither affirm nor deny, but continue seeking.  They are, in Diotima’s words, “those who come between.”

Diotima was (if she was anything apart from Plato’s mental construct) a sexual guru. And her lessons were more about ‘beauty’ than ‘truth’. I’ll concede that she does argue pretty explicitly against the excluded middle, but her arguments are aimed to appeal to emotion and tradition, and so don’t seem to me to make much sense. They are mainly about the Greek gods and the interrelationship of their supposed characteristics. I think that we might as soon consider the number of angels that can be got onto the head of a pin. As to Sextus; he was almost as rabid an antitheist for his day as I am for mine, so I hesitate to say anything that would tarnish his luster. But can’t we agree that his definitions may by now be a little out of date?

[quote author=“burt”] I have to admit that I feel there is far more of value in Plato than you may think (and I am far less of a fan of Popper)—what I have found is that many of the dialogues seem to have the intent of leading a person into recognition through experience of particular states.  For example, in the Greater Hyppias the topic of discussion is Beauty and the dialogue apparently ends with an agreement that this cannot be defined.  But it can also be read as an exercise similar to that of the Madhyamika school of Buddhism, eliminating relative definitions to leave the person in the state where recognition of the actual can appear.

As a theist I think that you must love Plato, in the same sense that I, as a rationalist, must love Aristotle. I have relatively little axe to grind with Buddhism (as compared to the Big 3 monotheisms) but am wary of ‘schools’ in any religion. Your reference here to that of the ‘middle way’ ties in well with Platonism, your appreciation of Diotima, and opposition to my own invocation of the excluded middle. The common thread, through all of your references, seems to be defense of tradition and maintenance of the status quo. Most simply; ‘don’t rock the boat’.  If this is what you want then, very deeply, Plato is your man, and the excluded middle is your enemy. The EM principle seems to me to be about nothing more or less than clarity in one’s thought processes. And that – in a world full of war, poverty, ignorance and all of our other so obviously self inflicted sufferings – is inevitably about change. The EM principle is at the heart of mathematics. It is the one that David Hilbert said could no more be taken from a mathematician than use of his fists could be prohibited to a boxer. I’ll concede that ordinary language based thought cannot achieve the clarity and precision of mathematics. But I think that to the extent that it honestly strives to incorporate the EM principle it can come surprisingly close.

[quote author=“burt”] Returning to excluded middle, while one conclusion from the apparent conflicting claims of different religious traditions is that they are all wrong, another point of view is that they are all human renderings of something beyond that is being described in available terms and language.

In some sense, and at some level, we can agree on this. Help me pull their fangs, by dispelling our illusion of possession of an independent basis upon which their proposals can be held as knowledge in spite of being in clear logical opposition to our repeatable observation grounded proposals (first, and chiefly, science); and we’ll have no further argument. As anthropologically interesting myth and allegory (ala Joseph Campbell) I have no problem with any of them. 

[quote author=“burt”] I just read a section in the Federalist Papers (#37 by Madison) that applies: “”...it must happen, that however accurately objects may be discriminated in themselves, and however accurately the discrimination may be considered, the definition of them may be renered inacurate by the inaccuracy of the terms in which it is delivered.  And this unavoidable inacuracy must be greater or less according to the complexity and novelty of the objects defined.  When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminious as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful, by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated.”

Excellent that you’re reading the Federalist Papers, and in particular a Madison essay, as opposed to the many by that seductive would-be Platonic Guardian, Hamilton. I will concede for now your general point: That granted both the existence of a supernatural ruler-of-the-universe Being, and his desire to communicate certain proposals in any of our crude and confusing languages, something of his meaning would likely be lost in the translation. The point would have some relevance and merit if any of his supposed transmittals could at least be seen to meet the highest standards (in terms of clarity, wit, brevity, organization and internal consistency) of our own communications. I’d therefore urge you to take an intellectually honest look at the Bible, or Quran or Torah; and then, in juxtaposition, at a text like Darwin’s Origin of Species’, or Crick and Watson’s report of their discovery the DNA molecule’s structure. I don’t want to know what your heart tells you about the comparison. Your heart, in the absence of reason’s leash on it, would tell you that you can fly like Superman, or should be the ruler of the world. I want to know what your reason tells you. What you can simply, intellectually honestly, see to be the case.

[quote author=“burt”] Here is where the Platonic dialectic comes in, in attempting to find the higher (and eventually non-linguistic and non-conceptual) level from which the unity of the apparently conflicting claims can be grasped (or, in other cases, the wheat can be separated from the chaff).


I’m not too interested in ‘finding the higher level from which the unity of apparently conflicting claims can be grasped’. I’ll admit that, through some kind of emotionally driven mental hocous pocus, this can always be done. And that the result will then always be that we can pat ourselves on the back (as Socrates and Diotima did) and carry on doing things exactly the way we’d been doing them. Stability will be preserved. Personally, I’d rather figure out which proposals can be seen – through some coherent selection procedure – to qualify as knowledge, and move forward with these while rejecting the ones that can’t be so seen. It seems to me that this is how we make progress, and solve our problems, rather than repeating the same old mistakes in an endless cycle of futility. I will therefore leave the Platonic dialectic to you and Leo Strauss. But with the note that it does from the backbone of his system as presented in ‘The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism’. If you know who are now the main proponents of this philosophy in the US it may give you a little shock, and perhaps even the desire to go for a hot shower.

Finally, as to ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’: How exactly will you tell me that you can do this, without the EM principle? Which is just another way of asking my most fundamental question: What – ultimately, and will all bullshit to the side – is your basis for selection of only some proposals, from the pool of all conceivable proposals, as knowledge?

I know that I’ve been hard on you here. But as noted in my answer to John that is, from my strange post-truth position, a mark of respect. I believe that all of our urgent intellectual questions actually can be resolved. So I tend to go in hard for this result, such that we can achieve it and then head to the pub for drink.

All the best,

Keith

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Posted: 30 January 2008 08:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 65 ]  
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keith - 30 January 2008 08:26 AM
burt - 27 January 2008 03:11 AM

Keith, I’ve found your exchange with JB here very interesting, and informative as to some of your positions.  One thing that immediatly jumps out at me is your appeal to excluded middle.  The thing is, excluded middle is not a universal principle—it is a principle of formal (Aristotelian) logic.

We agree that it is not universal. My position (and, all-be-it peripherally, one for which I’m arguing in ‘Truth?’) is that we would be far better off through its becoming more universal. And further, that we could make certain simple changes that would help us move in this direction.

Continuing to wander along this track, I would say that we want to use EM when it is appropriate to do so, and not otherwise.  For example, aridano has posted many times things that in essence boil down to:
The essential nature of Islam is evil.
All Muslims participate in the essential nature of Islam.
Therefore, all Muslims particiapte in evil.
That is a perfectly good syllogism, employs EM, and so on but it is nonsense. 

In addition to the either/or of formal logic, there is the both/and of dialectics and, I would add to this the need for a further neither/nor.  As in my favorite example: Light is neither wave nor particle, we need both the concept of wave and the concept of particle to understand light, and in any specific empirical situation light will manifest as either wave or particle.

keith - 30 January 2008 08:26 AM

[quote author=“burt”] The dialogue between Socrates and Diotima in the Symposium points this out, and even relates to your views on truth.  It connects, too, to the classification of philosophers given by Sextus Empiricus: the dogmatists believe they have found truth in their doctrine; the academics deny the existence of truth; the skeptics neither affirm nor deny, but continue seeking.  They are, in Diotima’s words, “those who come between.”

Diotima was (if she was anything apart from Plato’s mental construct) a sexual guru. And her lessons were more about ‘beauty’ than ‘truth’. I’ll concede that she does argue pretty explicitly against the excluded middle, but her arguments are aimed to appeal to emotion and tradition, and so don’t seem to me to make much sense. They are mainly about the Greek gods and the interrelationship of their supposed characteristics. I think that we might as soon consider the number of angels that can be got onto the head of a pin. As to Sextus; he was almost as rabid an antitheist for his day as I am for mine, so I hesitate to say anything that would tarnish his luster. But can’t we agree that his definitions may by now be a little out of date?

Regardless of Diotima’s tantric skills, I was only making the point about excluded middle here.  But she also indicates the dialectical ascent.  The argument, as I recall it, goes: neither the gods nor the ignorant are seekers of wisdom.  The gods don’t seek it because they already have it, so why seek what one already has (read the dogmatists of Sextus, or any rabid fundamentalist today).  The ignorant don’t seek it because they don’t see any need for it and are content with what they already have (the academics of Sextus).  The only seekers of wisdom (or, seekers of truth) are “those who come between, and one of them is Love.”  This relates to some of the discussions in the posting about Davies claims that in some sense science uses faith, and my attempts there to come up with a description of the faith required in science as a sort of emotional stance toward the world, or a particular form of engagement with the world.  That is not a knock down logical argument, but there is lots of meat on the bones.

At this point something strange happened with the quote system so I’ll finish in the next installment.

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Posted: 30 January 2008 08:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 66 ]  
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keith - 30 January 2008 08:26 AM

[quote author=“burt”] I have to admit that I feel there is far more of value in Plato than you may think (and I am far less of a fan of Popper)—what I have found is that many of the dialogues seem to have the intent of leading a person into recognition through experience of particular states.  For example, in the Greater Hyppias the topic of discussion is Beauty and the dialogue apparently ends with an agreement that this cannot be defined.  But it can also be read as an exercise similar to that of the Madhyamika school of Buddhism, eliminating relative definitions to leave the person in the state where recognition of the actual can appear.

As a theist I think that you must love Plato, in the same sense that I, as a rationalist, must love Aristotle. I have relatively little axe to grind with Buddhism (as compared to the Big 3 monotheisms) but am wary of ‘schools’ in any religion. Your reference here to that of the ‘middle way’ ties in well with Platonism, your appreciation of Diotima, and opposition to my own invocation of the excluded middle. The common thread, through all of your references, seems to be defense of tradition and maintenance of the status quo. Most simply; ‘don’t rock the boat’.  If this is what you want then, very deeply, Plato is your man, and the excluded middle is your enemy. The EM principle seems to me to be about nothing more or less than clarity in one’s thought processes. And that – in a world full of war, poverty, ignorance and all of our other so obviously self inflicted sufferings – is inevitably about change. The EM principle is at the heart of mathematics. It is the one that David Hilbert said could no more be taken from a mathematician than use of his fists could be prohibited to a boxer. I’ll concede that ordinary language based thought cannot achieve the clarity and precision of mathematics. But I think that to the extent that it honestly strives to incorporate the EM principle it can come surprisingly close.

Wow, lots here.  Not too many people who know me would put me in the “don’t rock the boat” category.  On the other hand, I would subscribe to “Don’t be a drunken fool and stand up in the canoe” sort of conservatism.  wink  Not to many theists I know would allow me as one of them, either.  (As far as spiritual paths go, I follow a knowledge path rather than a faith path.)  What seems important to me, if we are to get out of the cycles of madness that seem to infect humanity, is that people develop a deeper understanding of themselves.  Part of this has to do with clarity of thought (and although I prefer Plato, I have tremendous respect for Aristotle as well), but it also has to do with things like intuition and aesthetics.  Jacob Bronowski remarked: “A scientist who is emotionally immature is like a poet who is intellectually backward: both produce work which appeals to others like them, but which is second-rate.” 

As for EM, there are mathematicians who don’t accept it (the Intuitionists).  Personally, I have no problem with it in math, and am perfectly happy with indirect proof.  But clarity of reason has to include a wider clarity of consciousness.  A person might be able to reason with complete accuracy and formal correctness, and still not see the beggar starving outside his front door.

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Posted: 30 January 2008 08:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 67 ]  
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keith - 30 January 2008 08:26 AM

[quote author=“burt”] Returning to excluded middle, while one conclusion from the apparent conflicting claims of different religious traditions is that they are all wrong, another point of view is that they are all human renderings of something beyond that is being described in available terms and language.

In some sense, and at some level, we can agree on this. Help me pull their fangs, by dispelling our illusion of possession of an independent basis upon which their proposals can be held as knowledge in spite of being in clear logical opposition to our repeatable observation grounded proposals (first, and chiefly, science); and we’ll have no further argument. As anthropologically interesting myth and allegory (ala Joseph Campbell) I have no problem with any of them. 

[quote author=“burt”] I just read a section in the Federalist Papers (#37 by Madison) that applies: “”...it must happen, that however accurately objects may be discriminated in themselves, and however accurately the discrimination may be considered, the definition of them may be renered inacurate by the inaccuracy of the terms in which it is delivered.  And this unavoidable inacuracy must be greater or less according to the complexity and novelty of the objects defined.  When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminious as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful, by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated.”

Excellent that you’re reading the Federalist Papers, and in particular a Madison essay, as opposed to the many by that seductive would-be Platonic Guardian, Hamilton. I will concede for now your general point: That granted both the existence of a supernatural ruler-of-the-universe Being, and his desire to communicate certain proposals in any of our crude and confusing languages, something of his meaning would likely be lost in the translation. The point would have some relevance and merit if any of his supposed transmittals could at least be seen to meet the highest standards (in terms of clarity, wit, brevity, organization and internal consistency) of our own communications. I’d therefore urge you to take an intellectually honest look at the Bible, or Quran or Torah; and then, in juxtaposition, at a text like Darwin’s Origin of Species’, or Crick and Watson’s report of their discovery the DNA molecule’s structure. I don’t want to know what your heart tells you about the comparison. Your heart, in the absence of reason’s leash on it, would tell you that you can fly like Superman, or should be the ruler of the world. I want to know what your reason tells you. What you can simply, intellectually honestly, see to be the case.

Well, my interest in those sacred texts isn’t all that great, except for what insights I might glean into human thought and ways of action, and the historical context in which they were produced.  What my heart generally tells me is that the world is a wonderful and marvelous place where I’m grateful to live.

[quote author=“burt”] Here is where the Platonic dialectic comes in, in attempting to find the higher (and eventually non-linguistic and non-conceptual) level from which the unity of the apparently conflicting claims can be grasped (or, in other cases, the wheat can be separated from the chaff).


I’m not too interested in ‘finding the higher level from which the unity of apparently conflicting claims can be grasped’. I’ll admit that, through some kind of emotionally driven mental hocous pocus, this can always be done. And that the result will then always be that we can pat ourselves on the back (as Socrates and Diotima did) and carry on doing things exactly the way we’d been doing them. Stability will be preserved. Personally, I’d rather figure out which proposals can be seen – through some coherent selection procedure – to qualify as knowledge, and move forward with these while rejecting the ones that can’t be so seen. It seems to me that this is how we make progress, and solve our problems, rather than repeating the same old mistakes in an endless cycle of futility. I will therefore leave the Platonic dialectic to you and Leo Strauss. But with the note that it does from the backbone of his system as presented in ‘The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism’. If you know who are now the main proponents of this philosophy in the US it may give you a little shock, and perhaps even the desire to go for a hot shower.

Finally, as to ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’: How exactly will you tell me that you can do this, without the EM principle? Which is just another way of asking my most fundamental question: What – ultimately, and will all bullshit to the side – is your basis for selection of only some proposals, from the pool of all conceivable proposals, as knowledge?

I know that I’ve been hard on you here. But as noted in my answer to John that is, from my strange post-truth position, a mark of respect. I believe that all of our urgent intellectual questions actually can be resolved. So I tend to go in hard for this result, such that we can achieve it and then head to the pub for drink.

All the best,

Keith

You buy the first round!  grin 

Seriously, it seems to me that we can only determine what can effectively be done by trying to grasp the highest level of unity that we can, and then differentiating from that.  I may think that Islam is one of the major obstacles to human betterment in the middle east, but until I can understand also the reason that it appeals to so many, and see with an appreciative eye what are its strengths (and it must have them or it would never have spread as it did) I can’t take really effective action other than blind opposition. 

Two final notes, regarding Plato and effective action: If you do a web search there is an article by Mark Lilla that appeared around September 21, 2001 in the NY Review of Books with the title The Lure of Syracuse.  A book that you would probably enjoy is The Sentimental Agents in the Volyan Empire, by Doris Lessing.  It is a novel describing the adventures of two “agents” trying to do good in a collapsing empire (read the British Empire), where one of them has fallen ill with the “local disease” of Undulant Rhetoric.  One of the sharpest satires I’ve ever read.

Cheers,

Burt

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Posted: 01 February 2008 07:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 68 ]  
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Hello, Keith.  I realize that your question below was directed to Burt.  However, as you are looking for confrontation with the theist mindset, below is and exmple of how I would respond to your question.

keith - 30 January 2008 08:26 AM

I’d … urge you to take an intellectually honest look at the Bible, or Quran or Torah; and then, in juxtaposition, at a text like Darwin’s Origin of Species’, or Crick and Watson’s report of their discovery the DNA molecule’s structure. I don’t want to know what your heart tells you about the comparison. Your heart, in the absence of reason’s leash on it, would tell you that you can fly like Superman, or should be the ruler of the world. I want to know what your reason tells you. What you can simply, intellectually honestly, see to be the case.

Our definitions of reason, of course, differ.  Yours might be called technical reason or post-Hegelian; whereas mine would be defined in the classical sense of reason as an extension of the divine mind. From my vantage point, we both have access to the extension and benefit from that extension though you, obviously, deny the wider definition.  However, using reason and having looked at as well as having discussed with both Jewish and Christian scholars the torah as contained in the Bible, and having both looked at as well as discussed the Qu’ran with Muslim scholars, I am able to juxtapose what I gather from these ancient texts with Darwen et al.  And here is what I come up with in part:

I understand the process of inspiration to be both a divine as well as a human process and widen those who might be inspired to include any and all (wo)men. On this basis, Darwin et al as well as the authors of the texts found in the Bible and the Qu’ran are inspired.  The goal of those who inquire into what might be wrong in a given situation and what would need to change, is to develop programs of behavior which are adapted to the present situation as per the following definition of consciousness:

a process in which information about multiple individual modalities of sensation and perception is combined into a unified multidimensional representation of the state of the system and its environment, and integrated with information about memories and the needs of the organism, generating emotional reactions and programs of behavior to adjust the organism to its environment E. R. John (Foundations of Cognitive Processes (New Jersey, 1977) as quoted in Daniel C. Dennett’s essay Consciousness in The Oxford Companion to The Mind ed. Richard L. Gregory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

Thus, I can agree with Darwin’s conclusion to his Origin of Species:

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. (Chapter 14)

All of the social groupings in the world at the present time as well as in the history of the world, are products of someone’s attempt to [ii]adjust to his/her environment.  Adaptive groups continue while the maladaptive do not.  I think that what we see in terms of world conflict is groups from differing environments clashing in their competition for the present environment.  It makes sense to me that each group should evolve according to known laws of evolution according to the time that this would naturally take.  Just as it does not make sense to expect a guppy to become a shark, it does not make sense to expect a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew to dump his ancient faith in favor of a non-faith.  What makes more sense is to expose the faith to other faiths and to non-faith and allow each of these to evolve within its own framework, as I have argued previously.

[ Edited: 01 February 2008 08:42 PM by John Brand]
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Posted: 02 February 2008 07:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 69 ]  
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Hello John,

As usual, sorry about the long delay.

I’m going to have to split this answer, as it won’t fit as one post.  Bruce; if you’re there, I’m now going to get straight onto yours.

BR to all,

Keith

John Brand - 29 January 2008 05:28 PM
keith - 26 January 2008 12:16 PM

I’m having a hard time wringing any coherent meaning from this. If Bruce believes something, and is disposed to tell me why he believes it, then I will be disposed to listen. If he has ‘submitted’ to something, and is willing to tell me why he submitted to that thing (when he might have submitted to some other thing, or to no thing) then the same offer holds.  I’ve already told him this, and will extend the offer also to you. My only stipulation, as noted in my first brief response to you, is that before we dive into our consideration of which systems of proposals (between the scientific ones that I hold, and the logically exclusive* theistic ones you and/or Bruce have implied that you hold) can be seen to qualify as knowledge, we should agree on some clear decision process for knowledge. Basically, on how/why only some proposals (as opposed to all proposals) can qualify as knowledge. I’m always happy to talk with theists, but not to prolong the fruitless debate of at least our past several thousand years. If we can agree on any basis through which we have at least some possibility of success, then let’s go.

What I believe is that my theism and your non-theism do not have to be resolved in favor of the one of the other.

They don’t have to be, but, as implied several times in my intervening reply to Burt, shouldn’t we honestly strive for this? Wouldn’t it be better to actually settle our disagreement and move forward together, rather than go through another tired old cycle of ‘agreeing to disagree’.

[quote author=“John Brand”] Instead, we can offer differing perspectives on data in order to attack one another’s frameworks as I will proceed to do in this response to you.  My attack, to summarize, is aimed at your unstated assumption that perception is not a function of humility and openness to opposing points of view.

‘Perception’ is, from over here on the post-truth hill, mainly a function of on-demand-repeatable physical observation. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…etc. then I perceive it to be a duck. I’m not sure where or how humility would come into this. I’m not saying that it would be a hinderance; just that it would seem to me to be neutral in the consideration. As for openness to opposing points of view, I seem, to myself, to be an exemplar in this respect. I am wide open to any point of view whatsoever. All I ask is that its proponent be able to provide me with some coherent justification for his holding it.

[quote author=“John Brand”] Intolerance of theism as evident on this forum is viewed as immaterial to the progress of the non-theistic views.

I think that this sentence captures the core of our present disagreement. You seem to me to be conflating our concepts of ‘intolerance’ and ‘intellectual opposition’. I understand intolerance to be unwillingness to listen and honestly consider. I understand intellectual opposition to be the only reasonable response if – after having listened and honestly considered – one believes the other person’s proposals to be wrong.

[quote author=“John Brand”] The only option that is considered viable by a number of participants on this forum is that the divergent paradigms be resolved into one framework.  When this does not succeed various sanctions are used to remind those from a divergent paradigm that their views are not welcome.

Resolving the divergent paradigms – at least up to the basic level that would enable us to abandon our ancient silly games of mutual mass murder and competitive consumption – seems like a good idea to many in this forum. It certainly does to me. But I promise no sanctions, and that your views are welcome. I’m ready to begin the discussion at any time.

[quote author=“John Brand”] This amounts to what Popper would call ‘ideological intolerance’ which is an obstacle to the progress of science.

I think that for ideological intolerance one must have an ideology. I don’t.

[quote author=“John Brand”] I think we can agree that theism and non-theism are divisions that we impose upon reality (Point #1, Truth?).

Well, sort of. But this would seem to be inviting confusion and miscommunication at a couple of levels. First in that ‘divisions’ is used in ‘Truth?’ to denote the basic building blocks (words, numbers, musical notation, etc.) from which we construct our higher level proposals. Second in that we would seem to be ‘multiplying entities beyond necessity’ if we take the negation of a proposal as another and independent proposal. In our present case my negation (that theism is wrong) is merely in reaction to your positive proposal of theism. Or to put it otherwise, my negation is the initial and default position, in that if we were each to drop our proposals then we would end up with no theism. This may be easier to grasp if we consider the negation of a more obviously absurd proposal. If I offer you the negation of Russell’s Teapot (if I tell you that there is definitely not a small green teapot, with a chip out of its spout, on the left hand side and about a third of the way up, in independent orbit around our sun) then will you feel obliged to maintain the positive proposal; to become a believer in, and defender of, Russell’s Teapot? In that we can see ourselves to be capable of generating an infinite number of such absurd proposal negations – and presumably would prefer to avoid the tedium of actually generating all of their positives and pursuing the resultant debates – I would propose that we limit our present consideration to positive proposals. In the case, to your theism.

[quote author=“John Brand”] We can, also, agree that these divisions are the result of fallible human choice based on human perception and cognition (Point #2).  I am not sure, however, that we can agree ‘that all conflicts between logically exclusive knowledge proposals are resolvable in favor of one or the other’ (Point #3).  The myth which Popper criticizes in his The Myth of the Framework (London: Routledge, 1994) is the following:

A rational and fruitful discussion is impossible unless the participants share a common framework of basic assumptions or, at least, unless they have agreed on such a framework for the purpose of the discussion (Ibid., 34-35)

Yes! Yes! If you agree with Popper here then we can dispense with all of this   preamble and cut straight to the chase. The first step of the debate format that I have offered to both you and Bruce is explicitly achievement of a mutually acceptable framework. Or, in my standard terms: Agreement as to a decision process or procedure through which only some proposals can be selected, from the theoretically infinite set of all conceivable proposals, as knowledge. 

[quote author=“John Brand”] In order to demonstrate how such a discussion can be possible, Popper looks at the development of the original Greek miracle which resulted from the clash of cultures on the periphery of the Greek civilization (Asia Minor, Sicily, and Southern Italy).  Here the law of the excluded middle led to a division of what can be known and what cannot be known which is similar to your idea that we can see ourselves to be incapable of having any knowledge that we can coherently maintain or propagate as ‘truth’ (Truth?, page 1).

As a result of the clash between the Greek, the Ethiopian and the Thracian cultures, Xenophanes (Asia Minor) criticized the anthropomorphic theologies of his own culture (developed by Hesiod and Homor):

The Ethiops say that their gods are flat-nosed and black,
While the Thracians say that theirs have blue eyes and red hair.
Yet if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw
And could sculpture like men, then the horses would draw their gods
Like horses, and cattle like cattle, and each would then shape
Bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of its own.
(Fragment B15, B16)

Rather than dispensing with the idea of god, Xenophanes concluded,

The gods did not reveal, from the beginning,
All things to us; but in course of time,
Through seeking we may learn, and know things better …
These things are, we conjecture, like the truth.

But as for certain truth, no man has known it,
Nor will he know it; neither of the gods,
Nor yet of all the things of which I speak.
And even if by chance he were to utter
The final truth, he would himself not know it:
For all is but a woven web of guesses. (Fr. B18, 35 and 34)

This quote, or the upper section of it anyway, has always been one of my favorites. But I think that Xenophanes would have done better with the obvious conclusion: ‘Dispensing with the idea of god’ (or gods).

[quote author=“John Brand”] We can both agree that certain truth cannot be maintained.  However, insisting that a conflict between non-theism and theism be resolved in favor of the one or the other inevitably creates an obstacle to fruitful discussion.

As noted above, I find this position very hard to understand. ‘Fruitful’, for me, would mean getting somewhere. Ideally, actually resolving the point at issue. If we’re not starting out to do that, then I’d as soon go do something else.

[quote author=“John Brand”] Even in subsets of theism (i.e. Islam, Judaism and Christianity) the demand that one religion be chosen over the rest results in conflict.

This is indeed my observation, and perhaps the main reason why I’d like to get rid of all of them.

[quote author=“John Brand”] Whereas, a humble approach to the differences and similarities may result in progress.

I can find no support for this. All of the progress that I can see, over, say, the past 2500 years, seems to be clearly through the displacement of irrational theistic thinking by rational naturalistic thinking.

[quote author=“John Brand”] As a theist from my experience on this particular forum, the biggest obstacle to progress in discussion is due to what Popper calls ideological or religious intolerance ‘usually combined with dogmatism and lack of imagination’ (Ibid., 14)... ‘a theory, even a scientific theory, may become an intellectual fashion, a substitute for religion, an entrenched ideology’ (Ibid., 16).  By ideology he means any ‘non-scientific theory, or creed, or view of the world which proves attractive, and which interests people, including scientists’ (Ibid., 17). Competing theories should be allowed to ‘show their mettle – that is, their explanatory power and their truth content’ (Ibid., 16).

As noted previously, I disagree pretty sharply with my teacher over continued use of the word ‘truth’. But apart from that caveat I agree in general with his above statements.

[quote author=“John Brand”] Let me apply this directly to your proposing a final resolution to the problem of knowledge debated in Plato’s Theaetetus

I think that we have been choosing very badly, and that we could do much better by dumping the idea that we have a qualitatively superior knowledge basis [to observation grounded reason] through which it is OK to embrace as knowledge proposals that can be clearly seen to be in opposition to observation grounded reason.

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Posted: 02 February 2008 07:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 70 ]  
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Part 2 to John’s of the 29th:

[quote author=“John Brand”] Let me apply this directly to your proposing a final resolution to the problem of knowledge debated in Plato’s Theaetetus

I think that we have been choosing very badly, and that we could do much better by dumping the idea that we have a qualitatively superior knowledge basis [to observation grounded reason] through which it is OK to embrace as knowledge proposals that can be clearly seen to be in opposition to observation grounded reason.

For Socrates ‘true wisdom is to know that you know nothing of the good and the beautiful.’ This is a reference to what has come to be known in the west as ‘external’ or ‘qualitatively objective’ truth.  Your position is very similar to Plato’s except that you do not deal with the humble state of the receptor who realizes that one can know nothing of the ‘good and the beautiful.’ For you, Reason is ‘observation grounded.’  However, for Plato perception is tainted by the appetitive element of the soul.

We seem to have here, at last, a case in which you see opposition but I don’t. I’m not entirely sure what Plato meant by ‘appetitive element’, and I’m not much on ‘souls’; but if his general point is that reason isn’t perfect either, then we have no argument. My position has never been that it is; only that we can see it to be the best thing that we’ve got.

[quote author=“John Brand”] For the Socratic method of the Theaetetus, for instance, it is not man that is the measure of all things; rather,

… each of us is a measure of existence and of non-existence.  Yet one man may be a thousand times better than another in proportion as different things are and appear to him … a wise man only is a measure (Theaetetus.166, 183)

I can’t make head or tail of this.

[quote author=“John Brand”] The task of the man, then, is to ‘become like God, as far as this is possible; and to become like him, is to become holy, just and wise’ (Ibid., 176).  As ‘knowledge is perception’ (Ibid., 151) and perception is dependent upon the degree to which a man is holy, just and wise, all knowledge is incomplete and should continually be subjected to cross-examination.  Socrates ends his conversation with Theaetetus by saying,

This seems to make a number of unsupported assumptions about a being whose existence is an unsupported assumption. What more is there to say?

[quote author=“John Brand”] … if … you should ever conceive afresh, you will be all the better for the present investigation, and if not , you will be soberer and humbler and gentler to other men, and will be too modest to fancy that you know what you do not know (Ibid. 210).

Because ideological intolerance is an obstacle to science, Popper’s credo or ‘confession of faith, expressed simply, in unphilosophical, ordinary English [is] a faith in peace, in humanity, in tolerance, in modesty, in trying to learn form one’s own mistakes; and in the possibilities of critical discussion’ (The Myth of the Framework, xi)

No argument with Popper on any of this. But I’m not clear on its relevance to our discussion.

My main offer: To (A) agree with you a selection basis for our mutual acceptance of proposals as knowledge, (B) apply this selection basis to your theistic proposals (subsequent to their clarification to the point of our being able to do this), (C) honestly, publicly, accept your theistic proposals if they qualify through step B, remains open.

Best regards,

Keith

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Posted: 02 February 2008 08:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 71 ]  
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burt - 31 January 2008 01:29 AM
keith - 30 January 2008 08:26 AM
burt - 27 January 2008 03:11 AM

Keith, I’ve found your exchange with JB here very interesting, and informative as to some of your positions.  One thing that immediatly jumps out at me is your appeal to excluded middle.  The thing is, excluded middle is not a universal principle—it is a principle of formal (Aristotelian) logic.

We agree that it is not universal. My position (and, all-be-it peripherally, one for which I’m arguing in ‘Truth?’) is that we would be far better off through its becoming more universal. And further, that we could make certain simple changes that would help us move in this direction.

Continuing to wander along this track, I would say that we want to use EM when it is appropriate to do so, and not otherwise.

Agreed.
Again agreed. But ‘essential nature’?? Do people really still say stuff like this? [quote author=“burt”] In addition to the either/or of formal logic, there is the both/and of dialectics and, I would add to this the need for a further neither/nor.  As in my favorite example: Light is neither wave nor particle, we need both the concept of wave and the concept of particle to understand light, and in any specific empirical situation light will manifest as either wave or particle.
Again agreed. The double slit experiments – and from their springboard the even more exciting ‘non locality’ implications of Bell’s theorem and Alain Aspect’s experimental demonstration of it – have long been among my favorites. The deep point that I take from complementarity and non locality is reason’s willingness to modify even itself if/when this is clearly demanded by our empirical observations. If science had been – as is suggested by the post-modernists and proponents of the Templeton agenda – in some sense ‘just another religion’ then our reaction to the double slits data would have been to stop running the experiments. We would have declared, as an article of faith, that light was either particulate or wavelike, and that the one not chosen was heretical, and inquired no further into the issue. This loops back to Point #6 of ‘Truth?’, and to my assertion – in my last post to JB – that although reason cannot be seen to be perfect, it can be seen to be the best damn thing that we’ve got. But I can’t see any of this as relevant to our theism v non-thesim debate. In the wave v particle case our repeatable physical observations seem to rule out our application of the EM principle. In the theism v non-theism case they seem, to me, to require it. [quote author=“burt”] [quote author=“keith” date=“1201710369”> [quote author=“burt”] The dialogue between Socrates and Diotima in the Symposium points this out, and even relates to your views on truth.  It connects, too, to the classification of philosophers given by Sextus Empiricus: the dogmatists believe they have found truth in their doctrine; the academics deny the existence of truth; the skeptics neither affirm nor deny, but continue seeking.  They are, in Diotima’s words, “those who come between.” Diotima was (if she was anything apart from Plato’s mental construct) a sexual guru. And her lessons were more about ‘beauty’ than ‘truth’. I’ll concede that she does argue pretty explicitly against the excluded middle, but her arguments are aimed to appeal to emotion and tradition, and so don’t seem to me to make much sense. They are mainly about the Greek gods and the interrelationship of their supposed characteristics. I think that we might as soon consider the number of angels that can be got onto the head of a pin. As to Sextus; he was almost as rabid an antitheist for his day as I am for mine, so I hesitate to say anything that would tarnish his luster. But can’t we agree that his definitions may by now be a little out of date? Regardless of Diotima’s tantric skills, I was only making the point about excluded middle here.  But she also indicates the dialectical ascent.  The argument, as I recall it, goes: neither the gods nor the ignorant are seekers of wisdom.  The gods don’t seek it because they already have it, so why seek what one already has (read the dogmatists of Sextus, or any rabid fundamentalist today).  The ignorant don’t seek it because they don’t see any need for it and are content with what they already have (the academics of Sextus).  The only seekers of wisdom (or, seekers of truth) are “those who come between, and one of them is Love.”  This relates to some of the discussions in the posting about Davies claims that in some sense science uses faith, I think that Dr. Davies means well, but that there are some things that he ought to read and consider before assuming the role of spokesman for physics. I’ve just posted to the relevant thread an answer that I wrote to his NYT article shortly after its publication. [quote author=“burt”] and my attempts there to come up with a description of the faith required in science as a sort of emotional stance toward the world, or a particular form of engagement with the world.  That is not a knock down logical argument, but there is lots of meat on the bones. At this point something strange happened with the quote system so I’ll finish in the next installment. K: This is a pretty convenient break point for me too. I’ll finish and post the rest ASAP.
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Posted: 02 February 2008 11:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 72 ]  
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Keith, Your critiques are very helpful to me to have a better understanding of the discussion.

If science had been – as is suggested by the post-modernists and proponents of the Templeton agenda – in some sense ‘just another religion’ then our reaction to the double slits data would have been to stop running the experiments. We would have declared, as an article of faith, that light was either particulate or wavelike, and that the one not chosen was heretical, and inquired no further into the issue. This loops back to Point #6 of ‘Truth?’, and to my assertion in my last post to JB – that although reason cannot be seen to be perfect, it can be seen to be the best damn thing that we’ve got.

When scientists give up on searching, through scientific investigation, for the answer to the unknown, whether it’s reasonably within reach or not, then fill in the blank and leave it at that, how can they still be called ‘scientists’? That has been my view, and for which I took as a similar point from your “we don’t know yet” response to Davies’ motives on the other thread. Faith in a ‘reason’ without having been steered in that direction of inquiry by having fully answered ‘how’ regarding the natural universe, to me, is not reasonable. Perhaps Davies is jumping the gun. Of course, Salt Creek suggested the money motive to which I also suspect may be true. Not for a moment do I believe Bush/Cheney was the victim of faulty intelligence.

Second in that we would seem to be ‘multiplying entities beyond necessity’ if we take the negation of a proposal as another and independent proposal. In our present case my negation (that theism is wrong) is merely in reaction to your positive proposal of theism. Or to put it otherwise, my negation is the initial and default position, in that if we were each to drop our proposals then we would end up with no theism.

This is brilliant. What’s not to grasp?

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Posted: 03 February 2008 05:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 73 ]  
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Second answers installment to Burt’s 3 part post:

burt - 31 January 2008 01:41 AM
keith - 30 January 2008 08:26 AM

[quote author=“burt”] I have to admit that I feel there is far more of value in Plato than you may think (and I am far less of a fan of Popper)—what I have found is that many of the dialogues seem to have the intent of leading a person into recognition through experience of particular states.  For example, in the Greater Hyppias the topic of discussion is Beauty and the dialogue apparently ends with an agreement that this cannot be defined.  But it can also be read as an exercise similar to that of the Madhyamika school of Buddhism, eliminating relative definitions to leave the person in the state where recognition of the actual can appear.

As a theist I think that you must love Plato, in the same sense that I, as a rationalist, must love Aristotle. I have relatively little axe to grind with Buddhism (as compared to the Big 3 monotheisms) but am wary of ‘schools’ in any religion. Your reference here to that of the ‘middle way’ ties in well with Platonism, your appreciation of Diotima, and opposition to my own invocation of the excluded middle. The common thread, through all of your references, seems to be defense of tradition and maintenance of the status quo. Most simply; ‘don’t rock the boat’.  If this is what you want then, very deeply, Plato is your man, and the excluded middle is your enemy. The EM principle seems to me to be about nothing more or less than clarity in one’s thought processes. And that – in a world full of war, poverty, ignorance and all of our other so obviously self inflicted sufferings – is inevitably about change. The EM principle is at the heart of mathematics. It is the one that David Hilbert said could no more be taken from a mathematician than use of his fists could be prohibited to a boxer. I’ll concede that ordinary language based thought cannot achieve the clarity and precision of mathematics. But I think that to the extent that it honestly strives to incorporate the EM principle it can come surprisingly close.

[quote author=“burt”] Wow, lots here.  Not too many people who know me would put me in the “don’t rock the boat” category.  On the other hand, I would subscribe to “Don’t be a drunken fool and stand up in the canoe” sort of conservatism.  wink  Not to many theists I know would allow me as one of them, either.  (As far as spiritual paths go, I follow a knowledge path rather than a faith path.)

This is all excellent. I begin to think that we have no real argument, and that I owe you an apology for having misidentified you as a theist.  red face

[quote author=“burt”]What seems important to me, if we are to get out of the cycles of madness that seem to infect humanity, is that people develop a deeper understanding of themselves.

We agree on the problem, but people developing a deeper understanding of themselves doesn’t strike me as an executable solution. It’s rather general, and contains no action item. What, specifically, do you want people to do? I think that it will become part of the solution at some level, but for now, and to get the ball rolling, let me outline the following dastardly plan:

As many of us as can understand the strange proposal that I am offering in ‘Truth?’ actually give up our use of the concept that we can see (per Point 4) to mean either ‘a redundant knowledge justification’ or ‘an absurd knowledge justification’. We stop passing on the ancient curse (of ‘truth’) to our children. We stop telling them anything about a qualitatively superior kind of knowledge, as which and in terms of which it is OK to embrace clearly irrational proposals as knowledge. We finally start telling them instead exactly the things that we believe, exactly on the basis of our reasons for believing them. No more ‘because I say so’, or ‘because that’s just how the world is’, or crude direct use of our independent justification basis as in ‘because it’s the truth’. If we can’t justify it – as honest, rational, ‘merely human knowledge – then we don’t propagate it. We let it die with us, and let our world become a better place. Most simply, instead of passing our children two separate and potentially opposable epistemological bases for knowledge ((A) that X can be seen to make sense, (B) that X is the truth) we pass them only (A). But a much broader and deeper (A) than most of us would now associate with pure reason. An (A) whose root is still precisely reason’s root: Hard core, read-‘em-and-weap, on-demand-repeatable physical observation. But which then hierarchically shades down through our more subtle understandings of reason (through the entire gestalt of our already established rational knowledge, apparently authoritative texts, one time observations, and even the advice of trusted elders) and eventually brings in the subjective/emotional needs of our ancient mind components (our Carl Sagan ‘horse’ and ‘crocodile). We continue to let all of this stuff count; but at last, with all of it operating on the same epistemological playing field (Truth?’s Point 1)  from which its large differences in relative value and trustworthiness will finally be obvious.

We run interference for our kids; by taking down the intellectual leaders of all of our ancient systems of institutionalized irrationality. By finally looking into these guys’ eyes and asking them quietly to either put their cards on the table, or admit that they have no cards. To either show us at last their coherent justifications for their maintenance of their irrational proposals as knowledge, or else go ahead and own these proposals as the pure desire and fear based ‘thinking’ (ancient mind components snorting and slithering) that we’ve long suspected them to be. As increasing numbers of people ‘come over’ – to our abandonment of ‘truth’ – and as increasing numbers of kids are taught in this new way (helped to develop full mature reason, and encouraged to intellectually dance as free humans, rather than being mind crippled and taught to march as good little Americans, or Muslims, or Capitalists, or whatever the hell) we will start to kick the ass of ‘The Human Condition’. To bring this full circle, we will start ‘to get out of the cycles of madness that seem to infect humanity.’ This, in a nutshell, is my proposal. ‘Truth?’ is its longer and more detailed presentation.


[quote author=“burt”]Part of this has to do with clarity of thought (and although I prefer Plato, I have tremendous respect for Aristotle as well), but it also has to do with things like intuition and aesthetics.  Jacob Bronowski remarked: “A scientist who is emotionally immature is like a poet who is intellectually backward: both produce work which appeals to others like them, but which is second-rate.” 

As for EM, there are mathematicians who don’t accept it (the Intuitionists).  Personally, I have no problem with it in math, and am perfectly happy with indirect proof.  But clarity of reason has to include a wider clarity of consciousness.  A person might be able to reason with complete accuracy and formal correctness, and still not see the beggar starving outside his front door.

No argument with any of this. And yes, David Hilbert did make his ‘boxer’ quote that I referenced in response to the Intuitionists. But I think that Hilbert was indulging in our common habit of exaggerating to make a point. From my understanding the Intuitionists’ actual departures from EM are fairly limited and subtle. 

As to Plato and Aristotle: This is a very fine old debate, and we should perhaps start a thread for it when we (or at least I, in the hope that your situation is better) have a little more time. For now I will again admit that I do like Plato, but often with a feeling of its being against my better judgment. I see him as a very gifted and appealing youth, but then turned by Socrates’ death, Athens’ fall, and perhaps most of all by Critias’ poisonous council into a somewhat dark and conflicted mature man. But there is something appealing even about the darkness; as in the case of a powerful and engaging old charlatan. I think that the writer of the late/final version of The Republic had in some sense already betrayed or abandoned, for the sake of sterile ‘stability’, damn near all of the intellectual and esthetic loves of Socrates’ gifted student. But I certainly couldn’t judge him for it. In summary it’s a sort of love, hate, respect, and ‘you wily old bastard’ relationship that I have with Plato. While with Aristotle its pretty well just love and respect.


Will try to field the last piece soon. But after a quick ‘Hello’ to Goodgray.

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Posted: 03 February 2008 06:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 74 ]  
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Hello Goodgray, and glad to know that you’re still following this thread.  grin

goodgraydrab - 03 February 2008 04:03 AM

Keith, Your critiques are very helpful to me to have a better understanding of the discussion.

If science had been – as is suggested by the post-modernists and proponents of the Templeton agenda – in some sense ‘just another religion’ then our reaction to the double slits data would have been to stop running the experiments. We would have declared, as an article of faith, that light was either particulate or wavelike, and that the one not chosen was heretical, and inquired no further into the issue. This loops back to Point #6 of ‘Truth?’, and to my assertion in my last post to JB – that although reason cannot be seen to be perfect, it can be seen to be the best damn thing that we’ve got.

When scientists give up on searching, through scientific investigation, for the answer to the unknown, whether it’s reasonably within reach or not, then fill in the blank and leave it at that, how can they still be called ‘scientists’? That has been my view, and for which I took as a similar point from your “we don’t know yet” response to Davies’ motives on the other thread. Faith in a ‘reason’ without having been steered in that direction of inquiry by having fully answered ‘how’ regarding the natural universe, to me, is not reasonable. Perhaps Davies is jumping the gun. Of course, Salt Creek suggested the money motive to which I also suspect may be true. Not for a moment do I believe Bush/Cheney was the victim of faulty intelligence.


I think that Davies was/is jumping the gun. But my deeper problem remains with his presumption in speaking, as he does several times in the article, for all physicists. There are a few people (well, maybe just Edward Wilson) who seem to me to have the breadth of education and understanding to speak for science. Dr. Davies strikes me as being a fair way short of this.

As to Bush/Cheney being the victim of faulty intelligence; my understanding is that it was more a case of the intelligence community being victims of a faulty Bush/Cheney. If you read Al Gore’s recent book (which, I’ll concede, is probably not fully objective; but at least he’s very much a political insider, and so presumably has more reliable information on that mess than most of us) you’ll find a tale of the CIA and NSA being instructed several times, post 9/11, to ‘find the link to Iraq’. They kept going back to the Bush team with reports that there just wasn’t one; and kept getting sent away with the admonition that that just wasn’t the right answer. In essence the Bush team treated the intelligence community in pretty much the same way that it has consistently been treating the scientific community. The only positive thing that can be said is that we’ll be rid of them soon. OK, well, at least this particular batch.

All the best,

Keith

Second in that we would seem to be ‘multiplying entities beyond necessity’ if we take the negation of a proposal as another and independent proposal. In our present case my negation (that theism is wrong) is merely in reaction to your positive proposal of theism. Or to put it otherwise, my negation is the initial and default position, in that if we were each to drop our proposals then we would end up with no theism.

This is brilliant. What’s not to grasp?

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Posted: 04 February 2008 06:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 75 ]  
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John Brand - 02 February 2008 12:41 AM

Hello, Keith.  I realize that your question below was directed to Burt.  However, as you are looking for confrontation with the theist mindset, below is and exmple of how I would respond to your question.


Hello John,

I think that I will be speaking for Burt also in noting that you are welcome to join our conversation. You response here was a good one. So I’ve copied and taken it offline, somewhat in the manor of a crocodile taking a drowned antelope back to its den; and I will return with it as soon as circumstances permit.

All the best,

Keith

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