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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dissecting the skeptics IV

As we enter the home stretch and approach the grand conclusion of To Know Our Unknowing, we've now identified seven errors and demonstrated that Delavagus's answer to the question he originally posed is incorrect. And yet, we have not seen a single example of the definitional bait-and-switch that we anticipated from the start. Could it be that Delavagus, however flawed his arguments, is nevertheless more intellectually honest than we originally suspected? Is it possible for him to salvage the conclusions towards which he has been building in such an observably flawed manner?
Where does this leave us? It seems to leave us with the conclusion that, as far as we know, we know nothing.

But that can’t be right, for if we know that we do not know whether we know anything, then we know something.

We’ve run aground on peritropē: self-refutation. I’ll continue the story in a later post…

What I’ve tried to show here is just that, even sitting in our armchairs, reflecting on our epistemic predicament, it’s possible to illuminate for ourselves the cognitive knots in which our thinking entangles itself—to know our unknowing.

We’re all idiots. The more we accept this—the more we become good at not knowing—the more learned we will be.
Building on the false foundation of his fatal seventh error, Delavagus gets off to a questionable start, but since it is essentially the same error, I won't count it as a separate one. It doesn't seem "to leave us with the conclusion that, as far as we know, we know nothing", but rather, to confirm our original opinion that Delavagus should have respected the problem of the criterion and abandoned his definition of knowledge in favor of one of the other nine available options. Still, to his credit, he rightly identifies what I, and many others, view as the intrinsic incoherence and self-refuting nature of skepticism. The fifty-cent word for this is peritropē, which is very important if you are going to demonstrate that you have been taught to regurgitate this information by a professor rather than figuring it out for yourself. Of course, he proceeds to claim that skepticism isn't really self-refuting in the next post that we're critiquing, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

His intentions notwithstanding, what Delavagus actually ended up showing us was the cognitive knots in which his own thinking is entangled, rather than a general epistemic predicament that necessarily affects everyone. To paraphrase Tonto speaking to the Lone Ranger when surrounded by hostile Indians, "who is this 'our', white boy?" And the titular phrase which sounds so very philosophical is shown to be nonsense by the very argument he has produced, as his belief in our "unknowing" is clearly neither true nor justified.

It's not until the final line of his argument that he finally presents us with the long-anticipated bait-and-switch and confirms our suspicions of his intellectual dishonesty. After severely narrowing his definition of knowledge to a specialized philosophical one, repeatedly ignoring objections that he himself admits are at least potentially valid, and relying upon a) spurious non-arguments against self-evident justifications and b) erroneous arguments against external justifications, Delavagus promptly attempts to switch back, without any warning or justification, to make his argument broad and universally applicable by claiming "we're all idiots".

But how can we all be idiots when virtually no one outside of the world of the professional philosopher accepts or utilizes his flawed philosophical definition of knowledge and the definition of idiot - "an utterly foolish or senseless person" - has absolutely nothing to do with ANY definition of knowledge? A lack of knowledge is not synonymous with a lack of sense, after all. We have no choice but to conclude that despite his native intelligence and advanced education, Delavagus is both intellectually incompetent and intellectually dishonest. Not only has he failed to make his case, he hasn't even seriously attempted to make it! In failing to correctly answer the initial question he posed and in failing to even attempt to make a case for his ultimate conclusion, the modern skeptic only manages to demonstrate his own foolishness. What purports to be a reformulation of ancient skepticism turns out to be little more than a projection of the modern skeptic's own lack of sense onto all of humanity.

It's appropriate that he concludes with an absurd, but Socratic-sounding statement on how the less we know, the more learned we become. After all, as I showed in my critique of the so-called Euthyphro Dilemma, Socrates was no slouch as an intellectual snake himself.

I will close my critique of Delavagus's first post with a selection from a quote that he himself provided.

"Blameworthy ignorance thus comes with a lack of self-knowledge of a peculiar kind. To think that you are wiser than you are is similar to enjoying the idea that you are more beautiful or richer – or a better driver, or more genuinely kind – than you are. These images of ourselves mislead us into overly confident claims to knowledge and expertise. I shall refer to this kind f phenomenon as Transferred Ignorance: blameworthy ignorance involves a transition from an inflated self-image to an inflated view of one’s ability to assess matters other than oneself. Even worse, when we, thus encouraged, put forward what we claim to know, we often formulate ideas that figure in our thoughts because we picked them up from others. While we indulge in our overly optimistic self-image, we forget that we do not even comprehend what we say."
- Katja Vogt

Setting aside the legitimacy of my critique or the validity of Delavagus's argument, I think it should be readily apparent that the thoughts I have expressed here were not picked up from anyone else, but are entirely original even if they happen to be identical to those expressed by others before, whereas Delavagus's lack of precision and error-plagued arguments tend to indicate that the thoughts he has expressed in his post were, for the most part, picked up from the professors under whom he is still studying. I therefore leave it up to those who have followed this critical analysis to determine towards whom a charge of blameworthy ignorance and an inability to comprehend what we say can be more aptly applied.


Next section
Dissecting the skeptics V

Previous sections
Dissecting the skeptics I
Dissecting the skeptics II
Dissecting the skeptics III

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35 Comments:

Blogger The Deuce April 29, 2012 9:05 AM  

Wow. It's not every day that you see a guy knowingly and deliberately perform a reductio ad absurdum on his own position and then immediately try to use that as an argument for it! I assume he's working from the assumption that nobody can prove him wrong if he does it to himself first.

Anonymous W. PERLINE April 29, 2012 9:19 AM  

I've been wrong about a lot of political ideas I've embraced, and having corrected them, am wrong about the corrections.

For instance, when I was in my teens, I thought capitalism was the villain and socialism was the best alternative.

Now I read that socialist states are good customers for bankers and bankers (presumably capitalists) have helped them go socialist.

The truth is still elusive.

Anonymous David of One April 29, 2012 9:23 AM  

Spend yourself to prosperity ... know nothing and "the more learned we will be.".

Blogger Vox April 29, 2012 10:06 AM  

Philosophical Keynesianism. No wonder it doesn't work.

Blogger Markku April 29, 2012 10:38 AM  

More like "know nothing, except that Christianity is wrong, and the more learned we will be".

Anonymous Suomynona April 29, 2012 1:03 PM  

The more we accept this—the more we become good at not knowing—the more learned we will be.

This nonsense really is the basis of Delavagus' dissertation? In which case, I have a suggestion for a title - The Emperor's New Clothes. It would be interesting to know what his dissertation committee would have to say about Vox's dissection.

One hopes that similar advancements in other fields are not forthcoming lest we find ourselves sitting in mud huts, digging in the dirt for our daily sustenance. Although, I imagine that thought is not altogether disagreeable to the proponents of know-nothingism, that is, so long as they themselves remain more equal than the rest.

Blogger Vox April 29, 2012 1:21 PM  

It would be interesting to know what his dissertation committee would have to say about Vox's dissection.

Well, we are reliably informed that Delavagus would have given it a C- or D+. So it's at least passing, right? To be fair to the guy, this isn't his dissertation, it's just a pair of posts he wrote at Bakker's place and asked me to read.

Anonymous Suomynona April 29, 2012 1:46 PM  

To be fair to the guy, this isn't his dissertation

My assumption was based on this statement:

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."

As far as Delavagus grading you, it is rather amusing considering the subject matter. No, it's obvious he can't be objective about his intellectual fetish, which is the reason I brought up the committee.

Anonymous Suomynona April 29, 2012 1:53 PM  

After only a very brief look at the University of Chicago website, it becomes apparent that Delavagus and his leftist ideology are right at home. And in other news, water is wet.

Blogger wrf3 April 29, 2012 2:20 PM  

Markku observed: More like "know nothing, except that Christianity is wrong, and the more learned we will be".

Pilate, to Jesus: "What is truth? We both have truth. Is mine the same as yours?"

I may be partially conflating Scripture with "Jesus Christ, Superstar", but the point is still the same. It was ever thus.

Anonymous GHS April 29, 2012 2:44 PM  

Googling peritropē... 4th result, this post.
Is Google in to the joke too?

Anonymous VD April 29, 2012 2:56 PM  

Now that is amusing... give it a week and it will be number one.

Anonymous JN April 29, 2012 3:34 PM  

Already number #1 on Bing.

Anonymous LES April 29, 2012 4:22 PM  

I'm confused. All I want to know is, is Vox and VD the same person on this thread?

Anonymous Suomynona April 29, 2012 4:25 PM  

LES April 29, 2012 4:22 PM

I'm confused. All I want to know is, is Vox and VD the same person on this thread?


It is simply impossible to know for certain. I can only make a guess but it would horribly biased based on my experience.

Blogger Markku April 29, 2012 4:31 PM  

LES: "Vox" is when he can be bothered to sign in, and VD otherwise.

Blogger LP 999/Eliza April 29, 2012 7:31 PM  

Fascinating threads, great reading.

Blogger Display Name April 29, 2012 8:35 PM  

"It is simply impossible to know for certain."

"Simply impossible"? Er... couldn't we just wait for Vox to answer the question?

Anonymous zen0 April 29, 2012 10:02 PM  

Er... couldn't we just wait for Vox to answer the question?

Could be 8 or nine hours from now. Shall we all simply stand at attention?

Anonymous bethyada not signed in April 29, 2012 10:04 PM  

It is simply impossible to know for certain. I can only make a guess but it would horribly biased based on my experience.

Excellent!

Anonymous Toby Temple April 29, 2012 10:06 PM  

Took awhile for me to understand this topic series. Needed to summon the nerd in me..

But reading from Delavagus' post on rsbakker's blog, I just can't understand how he do away with the holes of his arguments by just simply thinking that they don't exist despite knowing they exist.

Anonymous zen0 April 29, 2012 10:50 PM  

But reading from Delavagus' post on rsbakker's blog, I just can't understand how he do away with the holes of his arguments by just simply thinking that they don't exist despite knowing they exist.

He do be a drowning Egyptian.... "in denial".

Blogger The Deuce April 30, 2012 12:36 AM  

I'm confused. All I want to know is, is Vox and VD the same person on this thread?

Yes

Anonymous Toby Temple April 30, 2012 1:16 AM  

"in denial".
isn't denial the first stage towards acceptance? or was it regret?

Anonymous VD April 30, 2012 2:57 AM  

I'm confused. All I want to know is, is Vox and VD the same person on this thread?

Yes. Markku was correct.

Blogger bethyada April 30, 2012 3:03 AM  

I am not certain you have the correct take on justified true belief. You distinguish between justified true belief and self-aware justified true belief. I am inclined to think that justified in the context already carries the concept self aware.

The previous philosophical definition of knowledge was true belief. It was argued that holding true beliefs for illogical reasons did not comprise "knowledge". Such a person happen to have beliefs that are true but these beliefs, while true, are not considered (philosophical) "knowledge".

Introducing the term justified means the person must have some known logical reason for his belief; as such, "justification" carries the idea of "self-aware justification".

Your argument that justified true belief can encompass both self-aware justified true belief and non-self-aware justified true belief does not seem correct as non-self-aware justified true belief is indistinguishable from unjustified true belief (as knowledge). Yet justification was added to distinguish it from unjustified true belief, the latter not being considered (philosophical) knowledge.

Blogger Markku April 30, 2012 3:12 AM  

"Simply impossible"? Er... couldn't we just wait for Vox to answer the question?

No. We could be brains in a vat, or it could be an evil Matrix agent giving us misinformation.

Anonymous VD April 30, 2012 4:04 AM  

Introducing the term justified means the person must have some known logical reason for his belief; as such, "justification" carries the idea of "self-aware justification".

I think you need to re-read what he wrote about externalism. Clearly it would not exist as a concept if justification intrinsically carried the idea of "self-aware justification".

"Finally, some epistemologists endorse ‘externalism,’ according to which (roughly) knowledge does not require that the knowing subject know that she knows. Here’s one way of putting it: as long as a belief was acquired by means of a reliable mechanism (a mechanism that is known to ‘track the truth’), then the belief is justified regardless of the ‘internal’ state of the subject. Externalists will want to argue that I (and other pesky skeptics) are demanding too much, namely, not just that we know x, but that we know that we know x."

Furthermore, that interpretation renders the definition of philosophical knowledge logically invalid. Think about it. The definition states that knowledge is justified true belief, so to know is to possess justified true belief. Since you're attempting to claim that due to the definition of "justified" intrinsically carrying the idea of self-aware justification, now "to know is to know that one's true belief is justified". This means you're arguing for a circular definition, which should suffice to demonstrate its invalidity.

Blogger Vox April 30, 2012 4:23 AM  

I draw your attention to this part here:

"It is not enough to ‘know’ something in the externalist’s sense. Unless we’re in possession of a justification for a belief we hold, then we do not know that we know it, in which case we have no warrant for crowning it Knowledge."

This represents a clear moving of the goalposts. The subject never concerned knowing what we know. The original question was: "what, if anything, do we know?" And as I've already pointed out, it is logically absurd to claim that knowledge can meaningfully be defined in such a recursive manner, let alone MUST be defined in this manner.

Blogger bethyada April 30, 2012 5:21 AM  

I have gone back and read response 3 which adds some clarity to the issue, but I am still not completely certain your defence is sound, even if you are correct here. I concede this may be my misinterpretation as below.

I took self-aware to apply to the justification; ie. the person is aware of what he thinks (belief) and more specifically why he thinks it (justification). I did not take self-aware to mean aware of the validity of the logic behind the justification. Let's call these interpretation A and interpretation B.

You write

What do we know? Those true beliefs that are justified, whether we know they are justified or not. All that matters is that the belief is true and the justification is valid. So, Delavagus is quite clearly wrong and externalism answers the very question that he asked because there is no need for the putative knower to justify his justification in order for him to legitimately possess the justified true belief. This paragraph seems (?) to be assuming interpretation B (justify his justification). Fair enough to sub-define this.

Therefore, whether we know that we know or not, we can and do know, even according to the philosophical definition of knowledge. The infinite regress is avoided. which seems to be assuming definition A (know that we know).

As to Delavagus' comment

Finally, some epistemologists endorse ‘externalism,’ according to which (roughly) knowledge does not require that the knowing subject know that she knows. Ie. A is true but B is not necessary.

Here’s one way of putting it: as long as a belief was acquired by means of a reliable mechanism (a mechanism that is known to ‘track the truth’), then the belief is justified regardless of the ‘internal’ state of the subject. A is true and B is not necessary.

I am not arguing Delavagus is correct in his definitions, but I think that the externalists are probably correct if this definition is reasonably accurate.

Since you're attempting to claim that due to the definition of "justified" intrinsically carrying the idea of self-aware justification, now "to know is to know that one's true belief is justified". This means you're arguing for a circular definition, which should suffice to demonstrate its invalidity.

I think justified already carries the sense self-aware in the sense A, but not B.

Anonymous Cornucopia April 30, 2012 5:22 AM  

I think the "self-aware" part is a red herring. Knowledge doesn't require the direct awareness of truth, or as I have seen it described according to externalism, the direct access to justification. 'Reliable mechanism' is one approach they offer, innate knowledge is another. For instance, how can children know anything if internalism is true, since children have undeveloped cognitive faculties. And there are other forms too. Reliablism seems to be the most popular. I read somewhere that the most extreme externalists even deny the justification requirement, but only for some special cases. I haven't run into any claims (except here) that just believing something constitutes knowledge. I'll admit, it has a certain appeal on some level. It is the truth; you believe it. Why isn't that knowledge? Well, let's try a little thought experiment.
Suppose you believe everything. Does this mean you are all-knowing? You believe that 1+1 is 2 but also 3,4,5,6 and 7. You believe every proposition and also its converse. You believe you are both alive and dead. And so on.

Anonymous Cornucopia April 30, 2012 5:30 AM  

I took self-aware to apply to the justification;

"Aware" is kind of a loaded word. Most of what I've read uses "access" to.

Blogger Vox April 30, 2012 6:26 AM  

I think the "self-aware" part is a red herring. Knowledge doesn't require the direct awareness of truth, or as I have seen it described according to externalism, the direct access to justification.

I concur. But Delavagus is insisting on precisely the opposite. The more one considers the philosophic definition of knowledge, the more it becomes obvious it has to be thrown out as circular, invalid, and useless.

Suppose you believe everything. Does this mean you are all-knowing? You believe that 1+1 is 2 but also 3,4,5,6 and 7. You believe every proposition and also its converse. You believe you are both alive and dead. And so on.

Actually, as you'll eventually see, despite being its converse, this is remarkably close to the actual Pyrrhonist approach, as opposed to Delavagus's description of it. But we'll get into that after I finish my critique of his second post. And in answer to the question, yes, so long as your beliefs are true and justified. Yet another reason to trash the standard philosophical definition.

I think justified already carries the sense self-aware in the sense A, but not B.

That's not enough, by definition. Remember, to know that we know means that we have to possess justified true belief of justified true belief. B is required for Delavagus, and not necessary for the externalists or me. When I was addressing the self-aware aspect of justification, I was referring to B.

Blogger Vox April 30, 2012 6:27 AM  

"Aware" is kind of a loaded word. Most of what I've read uses "access" to.

That's insufficient for Delavagus, although it's fine for the externalists. Remember, to know that we know means that the justification for the true belief has to be both true and justified.

Blogger Vox April 30, 2012 6:29 AM  

I think justified already carries the sense self-aware in the sense A, but not B.

Then we don't disagree. I don't have a problem with the knower being aware of what his justification is, only with that justification having to be true and justified.

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