ALL BLOG POSTS AND COMMENTS COPYRIGHT (C) 2003-2014 VOX DAY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRODUCTION WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dissecting the sceptics I

I've been asked in the past to explain how go about breaking down and critically analyzing an argument and how I am able to so readily spot the flaws it contains. Since Delavagus has demonstrated that he is no more able to discuss and defend his views of Pyrrhonism than Sextus Empiricus, albeit without Sextus's excuse of having been dead for 1,802 yearsfound the time to respond to my two questions, his two posts on ancient scepticism will serve as an ideal specimen for this example. I'm not going to do it all at once, however. This will be an ongoing series over the next few weeks in order to keep the argument digestible since most of you have no reason to be familiar with the ancient source material. But I can assure you that it's really not very difficult stuff so long as you look past the fluff of the vocabulary.

The first question I always ask myself is if the argument is primarily factual, logical, or rhetorical in nature. The second question I ask myself is if the author is likely to have any idea what he's talking about or not. And the third question is if I regard the author as being trustworthy or not, or rather, if I believe him to be fundamentally intellectually honest or not. These three questions determine how carefully I read through an argument and whether I presume the author is more likely to make a simple mistake or whether any apparent mistakes are actually intentional attempts to sneak something past the insufficiently careful reader in order to make a flawed argument look convincing.

The fourth question is what is the author trying to prove? This question often can't be answered initially, but I keep it in the back of my mind for future reference. Once I identify the specific point that the author is trying to prove, I can track back from it to see if a) his logic is correct, and b) if that logic is soundly supported. It's important to keep in mind that the actual point that the author is trying to prove is not necessarily the one that he appears to be trying to prove in the title or introduction.

Now, in his post To Know Our Unknowing, Delavagus describes himself thusly: "My name’s Roger Eichorn. I’m a friend of Scott’s, an aspiring fantasy novelist, and a Ph.D. student in philosophy at the University of Chicago. My primary area of specialization is ancient skepticism, particularly the Pyrrhonism of Sextus Empiricus."

So what does this tell us? He's educated, he's inexperienced, he's at least moderately intelligent, he's a wannabee, he's a larval academic, and like most would-be novelists, he's probably got at least a bit of a superiority complex. Moreover, he chooses to frequent a place that we know to be run by a confirmed intellectual snake. We also know, given the subject matter, that there is a textual authority to which his arguments can be compared and held accountable. So, the answers to the three questions are: factual, yes, and no. It's a factual argument written by someone who probably knows what he's talking about and is potentially at least a little intellectually dishonest. And since he's an academic of sorts, we know to look for the word games, in particular the definitional bait-and-switch of which they are so very fond. At this point, I wouldn't go so far as to say that I smell a rat, only that I believe there is a high probability that a rat or two will soon present itself. So, I read the post paying particular attention to any definitional ambiguities or unwarranted leaps of logic.
In this post, I’d like to discuss one of Scott’s favorite themes—human stupidity—in relation to Pyrrhonism. Scott focuses, and for good reason, on the growing scientific (that is, empirical) evidence to the effect that humans are stupid, stupid creatures. Much of this work is cutting-edge stuff, largely because of recent technological advances that have (as Scott likes to say) broken open the ‘black box’ of the human brain. Even so, there’s a sense in which the findings Scott brings to our attention are merely the latest chapter in a long story, a story that goes all the way back to the ancients.

Sextus Empicirus himself based many of his arguments on empirical evidence. Though, of course, his ‘evidence’ was not the sort of thing that would pass muster in a modern scientific context, I believe there’s every reason to think that, were he alive today, Sextus would be at least as fascinated by the growing body of evidence concerning human cognitive shortcomings as Scott is—and moreover, there’s every reason to think that he would have made potent use of this evidence in his skeptical dialectic.

However, Sextus did not think that we require empirical evidence in order to arrive at the conclusion that we’re all idiots. That conclusion, he thought, can be arrived at purely a priori, that is, while lounging in our armchairs and merely thinking through our knowing. Let’s see how this works.

The question is this: What, if anything, do we know? Knowledge is generally taken to be justified true belief.* (This is a twentieth-century formulation, but the thought goes back at least to Plato.) On the one hand, there are beliefs—all sorts of beliefs, many of them batshit crazy. On the other hand, there is the way things actually are (truth). How do we assure ourselves that a belief reflects how things actually are? We do so, the thought goes, by justifying that belief.

* = Those with a philosophical background might at this point protest, “But what of Gettier cases?” I’m going to ignore Gettier here, partly to keep things simple, but also because I think Gettier’s problematization of the standard conception of knowledge fails, that its failure has been demonstrated numerous times, and that epistemologists should just move on already.
Now, far be it from me to argue with the assertion that humans are stupid, stupid creatures. MPAI, after all. That being said, do you spot the first error? We've barely gotten started and already we find a questionable word game being played with "evidence", as well as irrelevant musings on what would fascinate Sextus and an unjustified belief claim concerning how Sextus would have made use of modern scientific evidence. The latter, we will eventually see, is particularly ironic, but at this point it's neither here nor there. Perhaps, like the gentleman with the 190+ IQ, Sextus would instead spend his days looking at pictures of unclad women, repeatedly taking IQ tests, and writing jokes. We don't know, and more to the point, we don't care. But what this very usefully tells us is that Delavagus is not a rigorous thinker and he is liable to going off on irrelevant tangents and making groundless assertions concerning things he can't possibly know.

Of course, the second error is not only readily observable, but is the very sort of error towards which we anticipated he would be inclined. He practically highlights it for us, as he writes "Knowledge is generally taken to be justified true belief." Weasel words such as "generally", "basically", and "pretty much" are always red flags, particularly when they precede something as important as the definition of an argument's foundation or central subject. So is "justified true belief" really what knowledge is? Let's turn to the dictionary.

Knowledge
Origin: 1250–1300; Middle English knouleche

1. acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition: knowledge of many things.
2. familiarity or conversance, as with a particular subject or branch of learning: A knowledge of accounting was necessary for the job.
3. acquaintance or familiarity gained by sight, experience, or report: a knowledge of human nature.
4. the fact or state of knowing; the perception of fact or truth; clear and certain mental apprehension.
5. awareness, as of a fact or circumstance: He had knowledge of her good fortune.
6. something that is or may be known; information: He sought knowledge of her activities.
7. the body of truths or facts accumulated in the course of time.
8. the sum of what is known: Knowledge of the true situation is limited.
9. sexual intercourse.

As should be clear, Delavagus's definition of knowledge isn't a valid one in common usage, but instead represents a different concept altogether. His statement is provably incorrect, as knowledge is quite clearly NOT "generally taken to be justified true belief". I tend to doubt Sextus Empiricus is considered to have logically proven that Man cannot have sex, even if, as per Tucker Max, the average philosophy student at the University of Chicago has about as much experience of sexual intercourse as he does with riding unicorns. But the important thing is that Pyrrhonism, or more properly, Delavagus's argument in defense of Pyrrhonism, has no more connection to the other eight definitions of "knowledge" than it does to sex. This tenth definition would be fine, of course, (perhaps it could be termed "knowledge in the philosophical sense"), so long as Delavagus subsequently avoids attempting to switch from "justified true belief" to any of the nine definitions provided by the dictionary. He hasn't done so yet, but due to his attempt to pass off his own definition as a general one, we now know to be on guard for the likely switch to come.

As for his dismissal of Gettier, who showed that there are instances of justified true belief that are not knowledge and therefore it is not correct to attempt equating knowledge with justified true belief, Delavagus's handwaving and appeal to the authority of his own opinion only underlines his previously identified lack of intellectual precision. But since he doesn't attempt to deal with it, we have no need to do so either other than to point out that he readily admits to ignoring this known objection to a key foundation of his argument.


Subsequent sections
Dissecting the skeptics II
Dissecting the skeptics III
Dissecting the skeptics IV
Dissecting the skeptics V
Dissecting the skeptics VI
Dissecting the skeptics VII
Dissecting the skeptics VIII


Related
Exposing the False Skeptic
The "Skeptic" Confesses

Labels:

63 Comments:

Anonymous Idle Spectator April 26, 2012 5:28 AM  

Too many big words.

Anonymous FrankNorman April 26, 2012 6:09 AM  

Hopping between different meanings of a word is a common tactic in dishonest debate.
Sometimes the person is not aware he or she is doing this.

Blogger Vox April 26, 2012 6:14 AM  

Sometimes the person is not aware he or she is doing this.

True, but there is no way Delavagus doesn't know. He even signaled his awareness by preceding his definition with the weasel word "generally".

Anonymous artie April 26, 2012 6:28 AM  

From my grandma: Most intelligence is used to cover up how stupid one is.

Probably the smartest person I ever knew. She was a housewife with 9 children.

Anonymous Rantor April 26, 2012 6:30 AM  

When writing a draft I will sometimes use weasel words to indicate uncertainty. When I rewrite I do my best to get rid of them all ... Unless I am truly uncertain.

As you pointed out, in this philosophers case the use of weasel words seems designed to provide a plausible escape from his own argument. Further, to state a 'general' definition, that is not even in the dictionary, seems dishonest. But he ties it to Plato... Sure enough that is Plato's definition ( according to Wikipedia). Hmmm.

I guess I am now uncertain as to whether he was really being a weasel, or if addressing other philosophers he was just using the Platonic definition as he indicated. .

Blogger Vox April 26, 2012 6:36 AM  

I guess I am now uncertain as to whether he was really being a weasel, or if addressing other philosophers he was just using the Platonic definition as he indicated.

First, he's not addressing other philosophers, by his own stated intention. He's addressing a general audience which does not define knowledge that way. Second, there is absolutely nothing wrong with his Platonic definition, so long as he subsequently limits the application of his argument to that definition. I leave it to you to consider what the chances of that are.

Anonymous Cornucopia April 26, 2012 6:50 AM  

If comments on your prior post are any indication, it's probable that Delavagus has left the building permanently, so I might as well quote one comment by him from TPB in this post that reading your post here brings back to mind. I hope he will excuse me (if he does return) for having done so.


(1) It is a fact so common as hardly to require mentioning (or, at least, one would think so!) that philosophical elucidations of concepts, or simply the philosophical employment of certain words, are often such that it is not sufficient to gain clarity regarding them simply to look up the words in the dictionary. This is either (a) taken to be a virtue of philosophical use, since the philosophical elucidation is meant to get at something deeper than any particular empirical use of the word, or (b) it’s a function of the necessity of a philosopher stipulating a particular philosophical use in order to clarify its place within his or her work (which is also taken to be a virtue, as it promotes internal clarity).

As Quine famously wrote regarding the appeal to the definition of the words to explain the ‘analyticity’ of the statement that ‘all bachelors are unmarried men’: “Who defined it thus, and when? Are we to appeal to the nearest dictionary, and accept the lexicographer’s formulation as law? Clearly this would be to be put the cart before the horse. The lexicographer is an empirical scientist, whose business is the recording of antecedent facts… Certainly the ‘definition’ which is the lexicographer’s report of an observed synonymy cannot be taken as the ground of the synonymy.”

So much for a defense of my own (merely partial) explication of my own philosophical elucidation of ‘certainty.’ More generally speaking, it is frequently the case that words have multiple meanings, both as codified in the dictionary and, even more so, in the whirl of life. ‘Certainty,’ in fact, has more than two definitions: consulting the OED, I count seven. Given that living language is always running ahead of the lexicographers, how many more meanings must it be capable of in actual use! Thus, for several reasons, it is (a) not a criticism of the use of a word, esp. when spoken in a philosophical register (but even when it’s used ‘commonly’), that it fails to line up perfectly with one or another dictionary definition, and (b) it is always incumbent upon us, if we are actually concerned with understanding one another, to ask ourselves what the other person means by his or her use of a word, where this ‘meaning’ may not be susceptible to being pinned down by consulting a dictionary.


I think this is pretty good justification for not relying on dictionary definitions if you want to avoid ambiguity in any philosophical discussion. To a great extent, it's better to "roll your own" by defining terms when you're really interested in covering a topic with any degree of precision. Of course, you're free to lament use of terms like "pretty much" or "generally," but cutting to the chase, what really is your objection to "justified true belief" as a definition for knowledge, particularly when the "justified" qualification does seem to have a bit of precedent within epistemology? What is knowledge, as it pertains to this discussion, discounting meanings like the Biblical "to know" (lol!), if not "justified true belief"?

Blogger Vox April 26, 2012 7:25 AM  

I think this is pretty good justification for not relying on dictionary definitions if you want to avoid ambiguity in any philosophical discussion. To a great extent, it's better to "roll your own" by defining terms when you're really interested in covering a topic with any degree of precision

Absolutely, so long as the conclusions produced remain strictly limited to the topic under discussion. While I prefer to stick to dictionary definitions when I am presenting arguments for the sake of comprehensibility whenever possible, I have no objection to someone else rolling their own clearly defined terms.

cutting to the chase, what really is your objection to "justified true belief" as a definition for knowledge, particularly when the "justified" qualification does seem to have a bit of precedent within epistemology?

This will become abundantly clear over the course of the dissection, but it should already be obvious given my references to the bait-and-switch. While Delavagus's case in defense of scepticism is only being made in support of one definition of knowledge, (we'll set aside for now the question of whether that case is correct or not), that scepticism is then incorrectly utilized in arguments made against other definitions of knowledge, and even worse, against pragmatic courses of action.

What is knowledge, as it pertains to this discussion, discounting meanings like the Biblical "to know" (lol!), if not "justified true belief"?

That depends upon the scope of the discussion, of course. Thus far, we have no need to object to the Platonic definition provided.

Blogger Joe A. April 26, 2012 7:26 AM  

Don't giggle like a school girl at biblical terms. It's weird.

Anonymous Mr Green Man April 26, 2012 7:51 AM  

The "Justified True Belief" definition has the form of a magic incantation or totem for the larval academic. I remember being in the group of poor theory and hardware graduate students, there to be enlightened by the AI department on how computing "would really be". Sure, we could make a practical algorithm run fast, but had we applied *evolutionary principles* to make the whole thing build itself?

In the first lecture, before diving into the meaty matter of a state space enumeration and perusal with a search plus a heuristic, as if he's some sort of Athenian debater, the AI prof starts with, "What is knowledge?"

Being from the poor school of relevant experience, one of the hardware students dared venture: bits we have to get between processing units.

Like a chorus of those let in on the great fraternal secrets, all the AI larvals recited in unison, "Justified True Belief!"

Then they went on to explain that it would be far better to just let algorithms evolve than try to make them fast to begin with, followed by some similar dodge where they glossed over the part where the algorithms didn't evolve fast enough because we must not have been true enough believers.

Anonymous VryeDenker April 26, 2012 7:51 AM  

Vox, this is definitely off-topic, so delete if you feel like it, but I foudn this classic Dilbert cartoon from 1992 that you might find amusing (regarding Keynesian economics no less).

Blogger Markku April 26, 2012 8:00 AM  

I have heard the "justified true belief" definition many times from Greg Koukl, so it probably is the current definition in philosophy. Both qualifiers are necessary:

-If you thought that your wife was cheating you because the voices in your head told you so, and it in fact turned out that she did, did you know it? Arguably not. The belief was true but not justified. Or, if I said "I know that the toss of the coin will be heads" and it is heads, was my statement true assuming the coin wasn't rigged? No. Again, my belief was true but not justified.

-If the suspect seemed like the killer beyond reasonable doubt, but actually the evidence pointed to him because of an incredibly unlikely coincidence and he wasn't the killer after all, did you know that he was the killer? Obviously not. The belief was justified but not true.

Anonymous Cornucopia April 26, 2012 8:06 AM  


Like a chorus of those let in on the great fraternal secrets, all the AI larvals recited in unison, "Justified True Belief!"

Then they went on to explain that it would be far better to just let algorithms evolve than try to make them fast to begin with, followed by some similar dodge where they glossed over the part where the algorithms didn't evolve fast enough because we must not have been true enough believers.


Probably the first thing that has to be cleared is the distinction between "true belief" and "true believer." The phrase "true believer" has a couple interpretations which are entirely opposed to knowledge. In fact, the term seems to usually represent totally unjustified belief. For the sake of this discussion, I think "justified true belief" should be parsed as "justified belief of things that are true," unless I'm missing something.

Blogger Vox April 26, 2012 8:11 AM  

Probably the first thing that has to be cleared is the distinction between "true belief" and "true believer."

I doubt that will be necessary since I don't see the latter phrase entering into this at all. But yes, I think your parsing is correct, although you could even take it a bit further if you wanted: "correctly justified belief of things that are true".

Anonymous Cornucopia April 26, 2012 8:26 AM  

But yes, I think your parsing is correct, although you could even take it a bit further if you wanted: "correctly justified belief of things that are true".

Yes, with the caveat that the skeptical position is that we may never know whether belief is correctly justified. The correctness part is just what the Agrippan trilemma suggests might be impossible. Adding "correctly" to the definition risks saying that we may have no real knowledge at all.

Anonymous Mr Green Man April 26, 2012 8:29 AM  

The problem with definitions: punnery is next to cleanliness.

Anonymous VD April 26, 2012 8:30 AM  

Adding "correctly" to the definition risks saying that we may have no real knowledge at all.

Not at all! (wags finger) Remember, we still have sex and the other eight definitions of knowledge. The fact that we may have no true knowledge in the philosophical sense shouldn't trouble anyone but a philosopher and underlines the impotence and irrelevance of scepticism.

Anonymous Cornucopia April 26, 2012 8:36 AM  

We also have the Peritrope (that we know that we do not know), which may in the end turn out to the be only thing we will ever know. Just a little depressing!

Blogger Markku April 26, 2012 8:45 AM  

We also have the Peritrope (that we know that we do not know)

Some philosophical machinery has to be in place for that sentence to even make sense. And the same machinery will lead to certain other simple truths like "A proposition cannot be true and false at the same time and in the same way". Now we have at least two things we know, which disproves the first of them.

I would state a reasonable definition of scepticism this way: "The number of statements that an intellectually dishonest asshole couldn't possibly gainsay is vanishingly small".

Anonymous Joshua_D April 26, 2012 8:53 AM  

Thanks for these posts, Vox.

Blogger Markku April 26, 2012 8:56 AM  

What I should have said was "definition of reasonable scepticism".

Blogger W.LindsayWheeler April 26, 2012 9:05 AM  

I commend your list of questions when you approach a writing by somebody. I would recommend also that you discern the race of the writer at hand. Race has a lot to do with things. The race of a person affects how he perceives things. The same goes for gender as well.

With the name of Sextus, even though he wrote in Greek and grew up in Greek areas, was probably of Roman/Latin blood. Romans are notoriously known as "anti-metaphysical". They weren't a metaphysical people. Sextus is not a Plato. I always look for the race of the individual. Even Germans are not metaphysical. They have problems with the metaphysical world.

Anonymous Anonymous April 26, 2012 10:05 AM  

Who is trying to B.S. whom? Maybe the correct word is IMPRESS.

Anonymous FrankNorman April 26, 2012 10:08 AM  

Vox April 26, 2012 6:14 AM

Sometimes the person is not aware he or she is doing this.

True, but there is no way Delavagus doesn't know. He even signaled his awareness by preceding his definition with the weasel word "generally".


The real test, in my experience, is how the person reacts when the muddling of different concepts under one word is pointed out. Some of them will admit they made a mistake, some will bluster, and some will pretend not to understand what you are talking about.

And then there are those people who actually don't grasp the difference. They are really unable to distinguish between different concepts, if the same word is used for both.

Blogger Markku April 26, 2012 10:22 AM  

From Wikipedia:

They disputed the possibility of attaining truth by sensory apprehension, reason, or the two combined, and thence inferred the need for total suspension of judgment (epoché) on things. According to them, even the statement that nothing can be known is dogmatic. They thus attempted to make their skepticism universal, and to escape the reproach of basing it upon a fresh dogmatism.

Since they cannot be sure that nothing can be known, then the religious fanatic who wants to convert or behead them could be right and know it too. They cannot judge him, for the same reason that they can't judge any other view. So, the sceptic obviously should be beheaded since one side votes for off with his head and the other side for meh.

Anonymous FrankNorman April 26, 2012 10:25 AM  

Even Germans are not metaphysical. They have problems with the metaphysical world.

Good engineers, though.

Anonymous hmi April 26, 2012 10:29 AM  

" there is absolutely nothing wrong with his Platonic definition, so long as he subsequently limits the application of his argument to that definition. "

A small, but not irrelevant, point: there are any number of Platonic discussions of knowledge; there is no "official" Platonic definition of knowledge, and certainly nothing that could be summed in a sentence. Plato virtually never spoke in his own name (7th letter possibly aside), so the best you could ever say is that some character in a dialogue upheld this or that point of view. You will then be stuck with comparing the various views of the various characters in the various dialogues and somehow coming to a unitary statement. Is Plato's idea of knowledge one that possibly seems to come out of the Meno? The Republic? Sophist? Theatetus? [And we haven't even yet gotten to the issue of the handful of Greek words for various sorts of knowledge, by ambiguous use of which Socrates regularly trips up other characters' arguments].

In short, any sentence that begins with, "Plato said," or "Plato defined X as ...," is to be regarded with the highest suspicion.

Blogger Patrick Kelly April 26, 2012 10:50 AM  

I love reading these threads, but I could never really participate. I'm definitely too short for this ride, mostly on the written verbal side. Something about having to write it down keeps me constantly second guessing myself and endlessly editing.

I much prefer a face to face beat-down from someone like Vox. My education and enlightenment often require many iterations of an exchange for me to get up to speed and communicate whatever beliefs or knowledge I want to express at the time. Plus the right combination of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine seem to temporarily boost my IQ and attention span before collapsing back into cranial dark matter.

Blogger Markku April 26, 2012 11:06 AM  

As for Gettier, intuitively the correct way around it seems to me to be defining knowledge as "true belief, justified in such a way that the justification logically follows from the truth".

Anonymous glacierman April 26, 2012 11:13 AM  

Knowledge as a definition is missing the spiritual dimension.

Just read "Heaven is for Real" by Todd Burpo, and in it is an account where Colton has a heaven encounter and comes back to reveal information (knowledge) about him having met and really missing his sister. The thing was that he had never been told by his mother and father that he had another sister as she had been miscarried 2 years before his birth. As Colton was only 4, that knowledge was inappropriate to share with him yet.

There is knowledge which is "spirit" given, much the same as prophecy and the "spirit of wisdom" and the "spirit of knowledge".

But that just confuses the intellects as there is no scientific metric for that!

Anonymous The One April 26, 2012 11:53 AM  

Cornupia seems to know what he is talking about, but then at the last minute not being able to resist throwing a lol at the bible has me worried.

Anonymous Mr. Nightstick April 26, 2012 12:02 PM  

As with most sophistry isn't it better just to refute it thus and be done with it?

Anonymous Suomynona April 26, 2012 12:39 PM  

Leftist concepts always attempt to twist, deny or redefine the obvious, normal, and natural. From what I've gathered from their blather, the intellectuals at Bakker's consider skepticism as the highest form of wisdom. Not knowing is the highest form of knowing. Unsurprisingly, this concept sounds very familiar. It is the philosophical equivalent of communism - where everyone is equally miserable - every skeptic is equally ignorant and wise, comrade.

They hate even competition of thought.

Anonymous NorthernHamlet April 26, 2012 1:13 PM  

VD,

Insightful post. In many comments and posts, your argumentative strategies are often below the surface but noticeable upon searching. However, it's enjoyable to listen to a seasoned chess player describe his game. You should consider writing a book length work on argumentative style and rhetoric.

Anonymous bigtimephilosopher April 26, 2012 2:12 PM  

So your major contention is that he used a philosophical definition instead of a common one in a debate about philosophical ideas? That's weak. Besides that you seem to spend most of your time speculating on the character of the man and working yourself up into a righteous contempt.

Why don't you just read the argument and point out the flaws you see in a clear and easily understood manner?

Anonymous 204 April 26, 2012 4:45 PM  

I have had doubts about Gettier too. His belief that the guy with the coin in the pocket is Him is not necessarily justified. All he knew was that the one with the coin would get the promotion, after that, the assumption that it must have been him simply because he had a coin is questionable. It has been a while since I read it though.

Anonymous artie April 26, 2012 5:05 PM  

It's telling that the sceptics are not sceptic at scepticism.

Deep down they all yearn for the big void and thus deny both the material (live) and metaphysical (after live, death) world. It's the thing both Chesterton and Lewis hated the most about Buddhism.

All arguments are best answered with: 'How would you know?'

Anonymous Cornucopia April 26, 2012 5:48 PM  


We also have the Peritrope (that we know that we do not know)

Some philosophical machinery has to be in place for that sentence to even make sense. And the same machinery will lead to certain other simple truths like "A proposition cannot be true and false at the same time and in the same way". Now we have at least two things we know, which disproves the first of them.


I hate to admit it, but I think I misstated the peritrope anyway. It's that "we don't know that we don't know," which is a much weaker statement. I started thinking after I wrote that just what we can be sure that we know, and all of them are phenomenological, like Descartes' "I think, therefore I am." I also know that I am hungry, or tired or angry or in love...etc.

Anonymous Suomynona April 26, 2012 6:13 PM  

Perhaps, like the gentleman with the 190+ IQ,

Imagine IQ tests in the Leftist Utopia of the future - every question has the same answer: (d) It is not possible to know for certain.

Soon after the test your nail-biting anticipation mercifully ends when you are informed that your IQ score is 1,000! Well done, comrade. Now, go dig a hole over there.

Anonymous JCclimber April 26, 2012 6:57 PM  

Vox, appreciate your breakdown of the requisite thought process. I usually start with the third one, given my high degree of people-reading, and drill down from there.

But as I get older, I despise academics more and more. My IQ is middling (145-150) compared to some of the people I've met in my life. However, I've found that all the successful geniuses have one thing in common: when they need to, they can communicate even the more difficult concepts clearly, without resorting to "academic" language.

In fact, that is my first "tell" that someone is probably used to batting above their IQ, is when they start playing little games with the language.

I think that is why some people regard your articles with a very cynical eye, because their past experience is that someone writing with your style is using facility with language to obscure the true foundations of their position and slide some big ones under that camouflage.

Perhaps I was best served because I began reading your articles before 9/11, so I got used to your style when it was obvious there would be no incentive for your slip one over.

OpenID delavagus April 26, 2012 8:20 PM  

[POST 1]

Let's see what this post comes down to...

First, there's a bunch of weird and (as far as I can see) baseless assumptions about me: "... he's inexperienced... he's a wannabee, he's a larval academic, and like most would-be novelists, he's probably got at least a bit of a superiority complex."

'Inexperienced'? Where does THAT come from?

A 'wannabe'? A wannabe WHAT?

What the hell is a 'larval academic'? Is that just a colorfully derogatory term for 'graduate student'? If so... nice. Real nice.

A 'superiority complex'? First of all, that's rich, coming from the Super Intelligence! More to the point: I've known a great many 'would-be novelists' over the years, and I've never noticed that 'superiority complexes' were common among them.

Next, we get bizarre and misplaced criticisms of my introductory remarks. If we're speaking strictly, Dwight-Shrut-style, then of course it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to talk about 'what Sextus would do were he alive today.' Even so, the idea behind this sort of thought-experiment is a familiar and, I would think, unobjectionable one. I suppose in order to meet the standards of 'intellectual rigor' that 'the Voice of God' seems to require of informal blog posts, we'd have to make the point more like this:

"Were a contemporary analogue of Sextus Empiricus to set about writing a volume similar in theme, approach, and argumentative form to Sextus's Outlines of Pyrrhonism, then that person would no doubt make use of the findings of current scientific research."

This, I think, is indisputable. Sextus's texts positively BRIM with empirical (and pseudo-empirical) claims (the Ten Tropes especially). Montaigne's Pyrrhonistic "The Apology for Raymond Sebond" does the same, only updated for the sixteenth century. It's perfectly reasonable to suppose that a modern-day Pyrrhonian would make use of the science of today. In fact, I'm proof of that.

But no, no, not so, proclaimeth Vox! No: these informal introductory remarks are in fact "irrelevant musings on what would fascinate Sextus" and represent "an unjustified belief claim concerning how Sextus would have made use of modern scientific evidence." Indeed, these informal introductory remarks demonstrate that I'm "not a rigorous thinker" and that I'm "liable to [go] off on irrelevant tangents" and to "make groundless assertions concerning things [I] can't possibly know."

This, I remind you, are the condemnations of a man who, moments before, claimed -- without any grounds whatsoever -- that I'm "inexperienced" and "a wannabe" and "probably have a superiority complex"! Given this glaring fact, along with (a) the fact that the tangent is NOT irrelevant (since we have EVERY reason to think that a modern-day Pyrrhonian -- i.e., 'Sextus were he alive today' -- would make use of scientific evidence, given that he does so in the Outlines and that later Pyrrhonians also make use of empirical findings), and (b) the fact that these are simply informal introductory remarks that do virtually no argumentative work, I think we have to conclude that it's Vox himself who is prone to "irrelevant tangents" and "groundless assertions."

OpenID delavagus April 26, 2012 8:20 PM  

[POST 2 - final post]

Next, Vox objects to my using THE standard philosophical definition of 'knowledge' in defining 'knowledge'! Thank you, cornucopia, for posting my earlier comment regarding the philosophical use of terms; it saves me the trouble of having to explain myself to Vox all over again.

But then Vox lands a body blow by chiding my 'weasly' use of the word 'generally.' Ouch! Yikes! What sloppy thinking!

But wait, no! In fact, the blow misses the mark! 'Generally' is not, in this case, a 'weasel word': it's a *qualification*. Knowledge is, among philosophers, generally taken to be justified true belief; that is, most philosophers define it that way. By including 'generally,' I signal that some do not. Some argue, for instance, that knowledge is simply 'justified belief' (i.e., that knowledge needn't entail truth). Sure, I could have explained all of this in my post, but doing so would have been an unnecessary distraction.

Finally, Vox tries to land one more punch, and it's a doozy: "As for his dismissal of Gettier, who showed that there are instances of justified true belief that are not knowledge and therefore it is not correct to attempt equating knowledge with justified true belief, Delavagus's handwaving and appeal to the authority of his own opinion only underlines his previously identified lack of intellectual precision. But since he doesn't attempt to deal with it, we have no need to do so either other than to point out that he readily admits to ignoring this known objection to a key foundation of his argument."

But oh no! -- Vox misses the mark yet again! It may have been better to omit the footnote. After all, only philosophers are going to care about whether or not I bring up Gettier cases, and I didn't write the post with philosophers in mind. But still, I knew some philosophers would read it -- hence the footnote.

In said footnote, I issue what's commonly referred to as a 'promissory note': I state a claim that, for reasons of space or relevancy (or in this case, both), I do not defend, but which I would have to defend were a certain kind of objection raised. This is not "handwaving." This is not a symptom of a "lack of intellectual precision." It's simply a promissory note, one that can be cashed in by anyone who wants to know why I think Gettier cases are ignorable.

So, summing up, what does this post amount to?

(1) Groundless assertions about me personally.

(2) Strange and overly fussy clucking over my introductory remarks.

(3) A number of utterly unjustified conclusions about my lack of 'intellectual rigor' drawn on the basis of (2).

(4) A misplaced and ultimately pointless objection to using, in a philosophical context, the philosophical definition of 'knowledge.'

(5) A toothless objection to a footnote that is clearly intended merely as a gesture to any trained philosophers who might read the post.

In short: Little and less.

Anonymous pdimov April 26, 2012 8:35 PM  

Knowledge is justified true belief.

Suppose we have a justified belief that all swans are white. All swans are indeed white. Knowledge! A black swan is born in a place where nobody can observe it. No longer knowledge! The black swan dies, still unobserved, and no other black swan is ever born. Knowledge again!

OpenID delavagus April 26, 2012 8:48 PM  

@pdimov

Good! Your example nicely illustrates one of the fundamental challenges facing any attempt to justify (i.e, bridge the gap between 'belief' and 'truth') empirical propositions. Inductive justifications, it seems, can never yield 'knowledge' in this sense -- we can never KNOW that the claims are true, since we're not omniscient.

Anonymous Anonymous April 26, 2012 8:57 PM  

I guess it would matter how well the belief that "all swans are white" is justified. Just saying, "i've never seen one that wasn't white", isn't very strong justification.
Newton, for example, was very justified in believing in his physical theories. It turns out that those theories were mistaken in certain instances, but I think it would be wrong to conclude that Newton has no knowledge.

Anonymous Anonymous April 26, 2012 9:10 PM  

@Author: In a dictionary you don't get real definitions. All you can find there is how a word is USED. If this hasn't been clear to you I'm sorry to tell you that your not as smart as you think.

Nothing more to say...not my niveau.

Anonymous Toby Temple April 26, 2012 10:02 PM  

'Inexperienced'? Where does THAT come from?

Could be writing novels. You are, by your own admission, an aspiring fantasy novelists


A 'wannabe'? A wannabe WHAT?

wannabe fantasy novelist.


What the hell is a 'larval academic'? Is that just a colorfully derogatory term for 'graduate student'? If so... nice. Real nice.

Vox is not "nice". What did you expect?

Anonymous Toby Temple April 26, 2012 10:37 PM  

THEN
Knowledge is generally taken to be justified true belief.* (This is a twentieth-century formulation, but the thought goes back at least to Plato.)

NOW
Knowledge is, among philosophers, generally taken to be justified true belief;

And the dancing begins!

Anonymous Outlaw X April 26, 2012 11:25 PM  

I appeal to authority at times, Vox. I appeal to Chesterton as a philosopher because it is true and easily followed for me. That may not be the definition of "Authority" in which you speak? So now I shall bite my tongue.

Anonymous physphilmusic April 27, 2012 12:41 AM  

"A toothless objection to a footnote that is clearly intended merely as a gesture to any trained philosophers who might read the post."

"I’m going to ignore Gettier here, partly to keep things simple, but also because I think Gettier’s problematization of the standard conception of knowledge fails, that its failure has been demonstrated numerous times, and that epistemologists should just move on already."


This is ridiculous. Your dismissal of Gettier problems as having been demonstrated to fail "numerous times" is clearly no more than hand-waving. Just because, you know, the epistemologists at UChicago happen to all agree that "epistemologists should just move on", doesn't mean that the rest of the philosophical community agrees. In fact most introduction to epistemology course/textbook presenting the JTB account of knowledge for the first time will immediately follow it up with Gettier's paper, and the responses to it, such as Nozick's, which deletes the "justified" condition and adds two new ones.

From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Since the initial philosophical description in 1963 of Gettier cases, the project of responding to them (so as to understand what it is to know that p) has often been central to the practice of analytic epistemology. Partly this recurrent centrality has been due to epistemologists’ taking the opportunity to think in detail about the nature of justification — about what justification is like in itself, and about how it is constitutively related to knowledge...
...The issues involved are complex and subtle. No analysis has received general assent from epistemologists, and the methodological questions remain puzzling. Debate therefore continues. There is uncertainty as to whether Gettier cases — and thereby knowledge — can ever be fully understood. There is also uncertainty as to whether the Gettier challenge can be dissolved. Have we fully understood the challenge itself? What exactly is Gettier’s legacy? As epistemologists continue to ponder these questions, it is not wholly clear where their efforts will lead us. Conceptual possibilities still abound."

Anonymous Noah B. April 27, 2012 12:50 AM  

It would be interesting to know the position of Bakker's followers with regard to AGW. My hunch is that they are convinced that this is a dire, man made problem and that the only thing that will save us are new taxes.

Anonymous FrankNorman April 27, 2012 1:24 AM  

Imagine IQ tests in the Leftist Utopia of the future - every question has the same answer: (d) It is not possible to know for certain.


No, comrade, the correct answer is always Whatever The Party Says It Is.

Anonymous Razoraid April 27, 2012 2:50 AM  

Dam it Vox. When I read your posts it's a must to turn off the radio and other distracting appliances. Yours is the only blog I are difficulty comprehending. And I'm still not sure without a second, or thrice do over. Oops, I'm now exposed! ;p)

Anonymous VD April 27, 2012 3:10 AM  

This, I think, is indisputable.

That's absolutely hilarious! You claim to be "a modern-day Pyrrhonian" and a skeptic, and yet you claim it is "indisputable" how a man dead for 18 centuries would behave if he was alive today! It reminds me of the science fiction story where Mozart is brought forward through time, is cured of what ails him, but instead of writing great music, ends up ODing like a rock star. Not only do you not know, you can't possibly know, regardless of which of the ten definitions of knowledge we use.

This, I remind you, are the condemnations of a man who, moments before, claimed -- without any grounds whatsoever -- that I'm "inexperienced" and "a wannabe" and "probably have a superiority complex"!... I think we have to conclude that it's Vox himself who is prone to "irrelevant tangents" and "groundless assertions."

Without any grounds? Seriously? You're a wannabee PhD and a wannabee novelist. You're in college, you have very little experience of the real world. We see you larval academics here all the time and it's very amusing how you desperately want to show everyone that you're wearing big boy pants now. And yes, what Sextus would or would not do if he were alive today is absolutely and utterly irrelevant to the defense of Pyrrhonism.... your logic in the crazy attempt to pull a childish "I know you are but what am I" absolutely fails here. Now you're just embarrassing yourself.

In fact, the blow misses the mark! 'Generally' is not, in this case, a 'weasel word': it's a *qualification*. Knowledge is, among philosophers, generally taken to be justified true belief; that is, most philosophers define it that way. By including 'generally,' I signal that some do not.

Oh, you really dug yourself in deep here! You're trying to claim that philosophers define it that way, but you are not, by your own admission, writing for philosophers. "I didn't write the post with philosophers in mind." Furthermore, you had already claimed that "humans are stupid, stupid creatures" and "we are all idiots".

I don't doubt that you MEANT to use "THE standard philosophical definition of 'knowledge'", but you failed to make it clear that you were doing that. You're just careless and sloppy in your writing, just as you're being careless in your reading, otherwise you would not claim that I object to the philosophical definition. I do not, as I made perfectly clear in my critique. You can certainly define 'knowledge' however you like, but as is going to become clear very soon, this will have major implications for the scope of your arguments and conclusions.

Anonymous VD April 27, 2012 3:13 AM  

Now let's look at your conclusions:

(1) Groundless assertions about me personally.

Provably false. The assertions are all not only true, but entirely provable. And yes, 'larval academic' is the phrase we use for those pursuing PhDs. The established academics around these parts are much less insecure and prone to overreliance on jargon than the larvals.

(2) Strange and overly fussy clucking over my introductory remarks.

Totally subjective. I thought the introductory remarks were bizarre and irrelevant, except in that it usefully gave us more evidence of your lack of precision.

(3) A number of utterly unjustified conclusions about my lack of 'intellectual rigor' drawn on the basis of (2).

False. Your attempted defense of your remarks shows your lack of intellectual rigor is even worse than it appeared from the remarks.

(4) A misplaced and ultimately pointless objection to using, in a philosophical context, the philosophical definition of 'knowledge.'

False. It's not an objection at all. It's an identification of a probable baiting for the anticipated switch to come.

(5) A toothless objection to a footnote that is clearly intended merely as a gesture to any trained philosophers who might read the post.

False. Regardless of how it was intended, it is a gesture called 'handwaving'. You admittedly didn't even attempt to deal with a known legitimate problem it poses for your argument. That's up to you, but it clearly weakens your argument.

Blogger Vox April 27, 2012 3:23 AM  

So your major contention is that he used a philosophical definition instead of a common one in a debate about philosophical ideas? That's weak. Besides that you seem to spend most of your time speculating on the character of the man and working yourself up into a righteous contempt.

Yes, that is the most important part of this part of his argument. Do you not understand what a "bait-and-switch" is or how this might be relevant to his argument? There's no reason to be contemptuous of the man or his argument yet. I'm not merely critiquing his argument, I'm showing those who requested it how I go about critiquing arguments in general. Understanding an author's intellectual character helps greatly in critiquing his arguments.

Why don't you just read the argument and point out the flaws you see in a clear and easily understood manner?

Because I am doing more than providing a simple critique here. Furthermore, due to the way Delavagus is inclined to produce torrents of excuses and justifications in attempting to defend those flaws, (which is perfectly fine, I should note), it's necessary to dissect and explain them completely, not merely point them out.

Anonymous Razoraid April 27, 2012 3:28 AM  

The heavy artillery has been thoroughly brought-en! Someone needs to fold their Jump To Conclusions mat up and put it back in the attic.

Blogger Markku April 27, 2012 4:06 AM  

Can someone point to the exact location of delavagus' initial challenge? What he seems to be defending now is his personal, unique philosophy, loosely based on an historical philosophy. I want to see if this was initially the case, or if this is a bait-and-switch.

Blogger Vox April 27, 2012 5:20 AM  

It's a bit of a mess. You'd have to search through three - I think - of the recent posts at Bakker's place, although not the most recent one. In those posts, Delavagus first referred to the two guest posts he had previously made there. I don't think there has been any bait-and-switch, though, only a little understandable confusion.

OpenID delavagus April 28, 2012 12:41 AM  

Somehow, I remain an optimist about people in general. It's only for this reason that I'm genuinely SHOCKED that anyone could take this (and the subsequent) 'dissection' seriously. It's weak, weak stuff. I mean, really. As a teacher, if I'd assigned my two posts as reading and asked students to develop critical comments, Vox would so far have earned a C-, maybe even a D+. (And yes, bring on the mocking of academics and academia! Christ, people, it's just a way of illustrating my point! Fuck but you guys are predictable!)

Given everything I've seen, Vox, you are at best an average intelligence. I think you're a sharp guy. And I'm sure you're knowledgeable in some, perhaps many, areas, but your unbounded arrogance makes you think you can jump into any arena and win whatever kind of match is taking place there. It's... well, it's somehow simultaneously comical, depressing, AND infuriating.

I've done my best to deal honestly and genuinely with you, Vox, but you're clearly deluded -- not to mention a staggeringly (staggeringly!) inept reader of texts. It might seem that I'm name-calling, and perhaps I am, but I think I've made my case, both here and on the 'Mail-Vox' page (or whatever), in which you first 'dissected' my arguments (then claimed not to have addressed my posts at all -- how convenient!).

Here's one example of many stinking loads of crap Vox has laid in my lap. (How can anyone take this stuff seriously?) He calls me 'inexperienced.' I'm not quite sure what that means (talk about 'imprecision!'), but all right. I say: 'That's a groundless assertion.'

This is clearly true: after all, Vox knows next to nothing about me. He has no idea what the limits of my experience are. When I call him on this, he responds: "Provably false. The assertions are all not only true, but entirely provable."

Well, sure, I guess it's 'provable' that (e.g.) I'm inexperienced, in the sense that it is the sort of claim that is susceptible to being proven true or false (once we know what 'inexperienced' is supposed to mean). But notice how he stuffs 'true' in between 'Provably false' and 'entirely provable'! Okay, so the claims are susceptible to being proven -- but that doesn't mean they're true! In fact, as they stand, they're obviously groundless.

Vox seems to have a formula in mind here: "someone currently in a degree program = inexperienced." But come on, people, this is a load of crap -- a sweeping generalization, to put it mildly. It may -- and I stress MAY (I think not, but it may) -- function more or less well as a rule of thumb, but there's simply no way you can jump from 'in a degree program' to 'it's true that he's inexperienced' without further ado. It's obviously bullshit, yes? (By which I mean: EVEN IF it's generally true, there are going to be many, many exceptions.) To put the point another way: Even if he's RIGHT, he doesn't KNOW that he's right. He couldn't possibly know it.

Come on, people! Use your heads!

Again, this is just one of a great many examples (and perhaps not a very important one) of how full of shit Vox is.

And with that, I bid you all ado. I hope you someday manage to find your way out of Vox's toxic shadow -- and I'm speaking to you as well, Vox. Get out of your own way, why dontcha?!

Anonymous VD April 28, 2012 2:22 AM  

It's only for this reason that I'm genuinely SHOCKED that anyone could take this (and the subsequent) 'dissection' seriously. It's weak, weak stuff. I mean, really. As a teacher, if I'd assigned my two posts as reading and asked students to develop critical comments, Vox would so far have earned a C-, maybe even a D+. (And yes, bring on the mocking of academics and academia! Christ, people, it's just a way of illustrating my point! Fuck but you guys are predictable!)

That's because you're a pedestrian larval academic with a superiority complex. You STILL don't realize that you're in well over your head here, your argument is doomed, and, well, you're the one who wrote this piece, so you should understand where it is headed already. It appears you do, since you're clearly panicking, little college boy.....

DON'T LOOK AT THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN!

Blogger Markku April 28, 2012 4:02 PM  

This is clearly true: after all, Vox knows next to nothing about me. He has no idea what the limits of my experience are. When I call him on this, he responds: "Provably false. The assertions are all not only true, but entirely provable."

The correct response to "provably false" (or "demonstrably false") is "ok, prove it" (or demonstrate it). They are not the same as just "false". In this case, you could have asked Vox to prove the grounding for "inexperienced" and he would have either had to withdraw the claim, or prove it.

Anonymous David of One December 22, 2013 5:21 PM  

More for those interested:

http://www.artofmanliness.com/tag/rhetoric/

Post a Comment

NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. Anonymous comments will be deleted.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts