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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Mailvox: exposing the false skeptic

R. Scott Bakker asks why I believe his skepticism is nothing more than a pose:
And what is ‘faux’ about my skepticism?
That’s a fair question. I can count seven reasons right off the bat, but it’s hardly a comprehensive list.

1. His skepticism predominantly runs in one direction. This indicates that he isn't actually a skeptic, he is merely using skeptical tactics as a tool in service to his dogma, his very conventional left-liberal dogma. When he talks about the “need” to challenge those who are certain of various things and the danger their certainty presents, he openly demonstrates his anti-skepticism.

2. He does not construct his arguments on the basis of what other people hold to be true. For example, when he has taken exception to what I have written, he does not exclusively utilize my beliefs, convictions, and assumptions, but instead attempts to criticize them on the basis of his own first-order beliefs. Again, he's showing that he is a dogmatist, using dogmatic dialectic, not a skeptic using skeptical dialectic.

3. He makes absolutely no attempt to reach suspension of judgment. Quite the contrary, as a matter of fact, he repeatedly attempts to judge his interlocutors and place himself in an assumed position of superiority vis-a-vis them. I presume this is why he fears to engage in an actual debate, as opposed to his usual sniping and empty posturing.

4. He does not place competing dogmas in opposition to each other, but rather, attempts to change the discussion to a nonsensical one concerning second-order beliefs. He doesn't seem to understand that repeatedly asking “why?” and “but how do you know that you know?” is a childish tactic, not a skeptical one.

5. He observably possess little imperturbability or tranquility. By this metric, even I am far more of a skeptic than he will ever be. I can only think of a few authors who are more sensitive and more prone to getting upset over perceived criticism than The Prince of Wängst. That's how he earned the title in the first place!

6. He assents to many things that are unknown. His confessed faith in science, for example, is profoundly unskeptical.

7. He does not pay any observable heed to nature or the tradition of laws and customs. In fact, he even uses his faux skepticism as an excuse to attack traditional laws and customs as well as those who hold to them.

UPDATE - Cornucopia makes some fascinating admissions concerning the supposed skepticism of the Three Pound Brain gang:
I don’t know of anyone here who has used skepticism in such a way as “we cannot know for sure that water boils at 100 deg.” If that is actually true, nobody here really gives a damn. As far as I now it’s usually limited to categories of moral certainty and things like that, where skepticism may really could have an impact for the better. There’s the Hitler example and the Breivik example. What good might have come if these men had continued to second guess themselves and not convinced themselves they were sure of what they believed?

Maybe you’re generalizing a little too much, in which case I can see why a lot of what’s been said might seem hypocritical. True, a lot of people here are probably to the left of center, which by Phrrhonism standards is probably an off limits opinion. Oh well.
While it may be true that no one there uses skepticism in such a way, all that objection serves to do is prove my point that no one there is a philosophical skeptic. The attempt to limit skepticism to the categories "of moral certainty and things like that" is precisely why I am both mocking the TPB gang for its intellectual incoherence and condemning it for its intellectual dishonesty. There is absolutely no basis in skeptical philosophy for anyone to attempt to limit its scope to the realm of morality; the very idea that “skepticism may really have an impact for the better” on phenomena is itself intrinsically anti-skeptical! Cornucopia is admitting exactly what I accused Scott of doing: utilizing the pretense of skepticism in service of his own dogma.

He brings up two examples, Hitler and Breivik, and asks what good might have come of it if either man had been less sure of himself. Conversely, what if the Wehrmacht generals possessed more certainty, stopped second guessing themselves, and deposed Hitler before the Austrian Anschluss? That would have brought about precisely the same hypothetical good… never mind that preventing World War II and the Holocaust cannot be considered by the skeptic to be an abstract good in the first place. And what if the Norwegian left had been less certain about the good of multiculturalism and not permitted massive third world immigration? That, even more definitely than uncertainty on Breivik's part, would have prevented the slaughter on Utoya island.

Does everyone see what I did there? That is actual skepticism at work. Balancing two ideas that are opposed to each other and thus reaching suspension of judgment. Philosophical skepticism isn’t something that one can simply apply here and there as one wishes to attack someone else’s beliefs. It’s a system, even an agōgē, if we are to believe Delavagus. What Cornucopia and Scott are advocating isn’t merely dogmatic, anti-skeptical, and incoherent, it’s also dishonest and intellectually reprehensible.

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57 Comments:

Anonymous Rantor May 03, 2012 5:30 AM  

I think skeptic magazine should hire you to provide a regular column pointing out when they are truly being skeptical and when they are publishing dogmatic doggerel disguised as skepticism

Blogger Vox May 03, 2012 5:35 AM  

Well, there are two kinds of skeptics, philosophical and methodological. From wikipedia: "Philosophical skepticism is distinguished from methodological skepticism in that philosophical skepticism is an approach that denies the possibility of certainty in knowledge, whereas methodological skepticism is an approach that subjects all knowledge claims to scrutiny with the goal of sorting out true from false claims."

Scott's writings on uncertainty make it clear that he's posing as a philosophical skeptic, but when one actually examines the constraints on philosophical skepticism, it is obvious that he is nothing of the kind. That's why I called him out as a charlatan months ago. Now that I've delved more deeply into the tropes, thanks to Delavagus, I can prove what I previously only suspected.

Anonymous FrankNorman May 03, 2012 7:19 AM  

Rantor May 03, 2012 5:30 AM
I think skeptic magazine should hire you to provide a regular column pointing out when they are truly being skeptical and when they are publishing dogmatic doggerel disguised as skepticism


If they were willing to do something like that...

Anonymous HerewardMW May 03, 2012 7:49 AM  

They're only skeptical about what you believe, not what they believe.

Blogger JD Curtis May 03, 2012 8:10 AM  

Interesting post.

I must look into examining the differences between dogmatic dialectic and skeptical dialectic as I think certain atheists I interact with hold more to the former than the latter..

Blogger Lucas May 03, 2012 8:13 AM  

OT,

Woman in "clergy" comes out as an atheist. Once again, the wisdom of having women in key church places.

Every Thursday people from my church text me saying that there is a service under the leadership of sister whats-her-name.

Every Thursday night I delete messages sent to me from my church and go home.
.........

Anonymous VD May 03, 2012 8:15 AM  

The difference between the two is easy to detect. Ask them if they are willing to exclusively utilize your Christian beliefs, convictions, and assumptions in arguing against them. In other words, do they accept that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead and argue against Christianity on that basis or not?

You will note that I am arguing against the TPBers by utilizing the very skeptical philosophy they claim as their own. Atheists do a little of this, in a very crude way, when they attack the existence of God via His claimed attributes, but that has nothing to do with Christianity per se.

Anonymous TheExpat May 03, 2012 8:17 AM  

I'm skeptical that the TPB crew know what they are talking about.

. . . . .

Oh, who am I kidding. I'm certain that they are full of shit.

Anonymous Cornucopia May 03, 2012 8:32 AM  


Conversely, what if the Wehrmacht generals possessed more certainty, stopped second guessing themselves, and deposed Hitler before the Austrian Anschluss?


That's contingent on the prior certainty of Hitler. Averting the more egregious consequences of unwarranted moral certainty may well take decisive action.


And what if the Norwegian left had been less certain about the good of multiculturalism and not permitted massive third world immigration? That, even more definitely than uncertainty on Breivik's part, would have prevented the slaughter on Utoya island.


This is a better example but still not a good one, since the bad outcome had proximate cause in Breivik's moral certainty. That's why this is a circular argument, as I tried to explain on Scott's blog.

Blogger Nate May 03, 2012 8:34 AM  

Lucas...

I should beat the crap out of you for posting links to writing that bad on this blog.

Blogger Nate May 03, 2012 8:37 AM  

What if Ghandi had been less certain in the effectiveness of passive resistance?

Anonymous VD May 03, 2012 8:44 AM  

That's contingent on the prior certainty of Hitler. Averting the more egregious consequences of unwarranted moral certainty may well take decisive action.

You're absolutely wrong. Hitler didn't decide upon the Final Solution until late 1941; he was far from certain about it. He didn't decide to invade Poland until 1939. The Wehrmacht generals started discussing the need to depose Hitler in 1938, but none of them did anything about it until 1944. The uncertainty of the generals existed prior to the certainty of Hitler concerning the consequences you mentioned.

This is a better example but still not a good one, since the bad outcome had proximate cause in Breivik's moral certainty. That's why this is a circular argument, as I tried to explain on Scott's blog.

And the bad outcome had its root cause in the Norwegian left's moral certainty. The circularity is precisely why you can't make any argument against moral certainty utilizing skeptical principles and why you are supposed to suspend judgment, not pronounce it.

Anonymous Cornucopia May 03, 2012 8:45 AM  


What if Ghandi had been less certain in the effectiveness of passive resistance?


If you like, we can apply some type of "do no harm" principle to methodological skepticism, allowing Ghandi full latitude in any of his innocuous tactics. If anyone here actually cared to approach Bakker and actually ask, he's probably be happy to endorse something similar.

Anonymous VD May 03, 2012 8:56 AM  

If you like, we can apply some type of "do no harm" principle to methodological skepticism, allowing Ghandi full latitude in any of his innocuous tactics.

On what basis? Also, you're forgetting that Scott claims to be a philosophical skeptic, not a methodological one. Methodological skeptics are unconcerned with certainty claims and do not question the possibility of knowledge. Methodological skepticism is a search for certainty.

Anonymous Azimus May 03, 2012 8:57 AM  

Cornucopia May 03, 2012 8:32 AM

[Responding to Werhmacht generals argument:] "That's contingent on the prior certainty of Hitler. Averting the more egregious consequences of unwarranted moral certainty may well take decisive action."


So taking the same historical example in context, the rise of the Nazis and World War 2, we have a single case of moral certainty: Hitler, and millions of cases of moral uncertainty: the Junkers, the Wehrmacht, and the German people. If all examples had been either A) morally certain or B) morally uncertain, there would have been no World War, no Holocaust, etc.

While it's easy to point to Hitler and say "A ha! There is the culprit," it is certainly true that Hitler was not the first autocratic blow-hard to pump up a crowd. It is the moral uncertainty of the Junkers, Wehrmacht and German people (the causes of which are too complex to mention here) that A) existed prior to Hitler and B) allowed Hitler to leverage his moral certainty into such shocking levels of destruction. Ergo, it was the corporate moral uncertainty of Germany that was the greater hazard to humanity.

History bears this out: Brevik, acting alone, killed 80 people. Hitler, acting with Greater Germany, killed millions.

Anonymous VD May 03, 2012 9:01 AM  

If anyone here actually cared to approach Bakker and actually ask, he's probably be happy to endorse something similar.

You do know Bakker took eight months to answer my questions while simultaneously whining that I didn't answer questions I did answer, and he's still ducking the very debate that he claimed I was afraid to have, right? Do you really think the problem is that anyone here is unwilling to ask him questions? He absolutely hates answering th. Try asking him yourself, perhaps he'll be willing to answer you.

Blogger Nate May 03, 2012 9:02 AM  

And it is once again demonstrated that a college degree is totally un-related to actual education.

Anonymous Cornucopia May 03, 2012 9:02 AM  

Your argument seems to map pretty closely to freeing the slaves caused lynching in Jim Crow south. What am I missing?

Anonymous Salt May 03, 2012 9:06 AM  

What if Ghandi had been less certain in the effectiveness of passive resistance?

So much the better that his believed certainty was tested.

It's science.

Blogger Nate May 03, 2012 9:17 AM  

"Your argument seems to map pretty closely to freeing the slaves caused lynching in Jim Crow south. What am I missing?"

Everything.

You appear to be either unwilling or unable to grasp the critical difference between philosophical skepticism and methodological skepticism.

The philosophical Skeptic would never agree to the inherent goodness of freeing slaves.. nor would he agree to accept the inherent goodness of slavery... and would indeed point to historical events related to them and ask the questions.

Anonymous Cornucopia May 03, 2012 9:25 AM  


And the bad outcome had its root cause in the Norwegian left's moral certainty.


I'm no expert in multiculturalism theory, but it's unclear that multiculturalism is based on moral arguments, but rather on sociological arguments. Contrary to anti-multiculturalism hyperbole, it's not about creating amalgam cultures, but rather coexistence which defuses the precursors to mistrust. This doesn't mean that some groups operating under the banner of multiculturalism don't intend to subvert host cultures, but they aren't operating under the aegis of multiculturalism theory. If you want to blame a thing for the failures brought on by those trying to subvert it, well, we're back to how Jim Crow lynching meant ending slavery was bad, aren't we.

What seems beyond contest, however, is that the people who view multiculturalism as a threat do make moral judgments against it and act on them.

Anonymous VD May 03, 2012 9:28 AM  

I'm no expert in multiculturalism theory, but it's unclear that multiculturalism is based on moral arguments, but rather on sociological arguments.

As are the anti-multicultural arguments. That doesn't help your case in the slightest. And anyhow, sociological arguments are rooted in moral arguments; if you're going to claim that multiculturalism and diversity are good, then you are making a moral argument, not a sociological one.

Anonymous VD May 03, 2012 9:33 AM  

First, I again point out that skepticism isn't and cannot be limited to "moral certainty". Second, you really can't see any moral arguments being made concerning multiculturalism? Here is the Wikipedia entry on Canada:

"Multiculturalism (a Just Society) was adopted as the official policy of the Canadian government during the premiership of Pierre Elliot Trudeau in the 1970s and 1980s. Multiculturalism is reflected in the law through the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Broadcasting Act of 1991 asserts the Canadian broadcasting system should reflect the diversity of cultures in the country."

Do you see those words "Just", and "should"? Now, what sort of arguments are based upon those words, Cornucopia?

Blogger W.LindsayWheeler May 03, 2012 9:35 AM  

Actually, what a brilliant takedown of the skeptics. This is truly magnificent.

Blogger Nate May 03, 2012 9:57 AM  

" If you want to blame a thing for the failures brought on by those trying to subvert it, well, we're back to how Jim Crow lynching meant ending slavery was bad, aren't we."

Yes. exactly. We're back to the part you demonstrated you don't understand the position you're attempting to defend.

Anonymous Godfrey May 03, 2012 9:59 AM  

"There is absolutely no basis in skeptical philosophy for anyone to attempt to limit its scope to the realm of morality; the very idea that “skepticism may really have an impact for the better” on phenomena is itself intrinsically anti-skeptical!" Vox

Vox, do you ever tire of shooting fish in a barrel? Or is revealing someone a blind fool still fun?

Anonymous VD May 03, 2012 10:07 AM  

Vox, do you ever tire of shooting fish in a barrel?

I don't know. When you're a superintelligence, it's always shooting fish in a barrel. Do you think anyone would have believed beforehand that I could so easily dismantle the arguments of a pair of academics in their primary areas of expertise on the basis of having read one relevant text the year before?

But it's always interesting to learn something new. I certainly have a much better grasp on Sextus Empiricus than I did last year. I suppose that's what I enjoy about these discussions, it always imprints the knowledge much deeper than merely reading does. And as long as you have a nose for BS and the patience to penetrate the word fog to see what actually lies beneath, you'll find it.

Blogger Nate May 03, 2012 10:12 AM  

"I don't know. When you're a superintelligence, it's always shooting fish in a barrel."

We can continue our discussion about what is... and is not... in the money supply anytime you're ready sugar britches.

Blogger Positive Dennis May 03, 2012 10:31 AM  

It is correct to be skeptical about water Boiling at 100C, it depends on the air pressure.

Anonymous FrankNorman May 03, 2012 10:53 AM  

Anonymous HerewardMW May 03, 2012 7:49 AM

They're only skeptical about what you believe, not what they believe.


That puts it quite well.

Anonymous VD May 03, 2012 10:59 AM  

We can continue our discussion about what is... and is not... in the money supply anytime you're ready sugar britches.

Absolutely. Let me wrap up this and the Existence of Gods, and then let's do it formally.

Blogger Nate May 03, 2012 11:06 AM  

Formally? no video this time? you abandoning the medium of idiots?

Anonymous VD May 03, 2012 11:10 AM  

Formally? no video this time? you abandoning the medium of idiots?

Can't do much in the way of back-and-forth that way. And it's considerably more work for less result.

Anonymous Josh May 03, 2012 11:21 AM  

The gauntlet hath been thrown down...

Anonymous Godfrey May 03, 2012 11:40 AM  

Which man's belief requires more blind faith contrary to the known evidence?

a. The man who believes in the possibility of a God in heaven

b. The man who believes in the possibility of a manmade heaven on earth

Blogger Nate May 03, 2012 11:40 AM  

"The gauntlet hath been thrown down..."

again.

Anonymous Suomynona May 03, 2012 11:59 AM  

Vox, all those fish you've shot full of buckshot are still swimming around, quite oblivious to the fact that they've been killed. This is always the case when dealing with these types. You can't kill what's already dead, as they say.

But it has been amusing for the onlookers - especially seeing Bakker and his gaggle of commies sputtering and choking on their own hypocrisy, proclaiming their certainty in denouncing you as a most awful, terrible monster as you had your way with them - without their consent. This has been an intellectual rape! The rapemeister himself should appreciate at least that aspect of it.

Anonymous Godfrey May 03, 2012 12:00 PM  

Concerning the nature of man, especially in relationship to political power, which man is more the skeptic?

a. The Christian
b. The Progressive

Anonymous The One May 03, 2012 12:01 PM  

Honestly the discussion between Nate and Vox can't be decided by logic, but by actual real life events.

Will still be fine to watch though

Anonymous VD May 03, 2012 12:25 PM  

Vox, all those fish you've shot full of buckshot are still swimming around, quite oblivious to the fact that they've been killed.

Oh, I don't know about that. They're busy spinning their wheels about Toni Morrison and The Avengers now. If they had an argument, they'd bring it in a heartbeat. But they don't. I don't need a formal waving of the white flag any more than an NFL team does. Anyone who has been paying attention know the score.

Anonymous Mr. Nightstick May 03, 2012 12:37 PM  

And as long as you have a nose for BS and the patience to penetrate the word fog to see what actually lies beneath, you'll find it.

What would your life be like if you didn't try to wade through any BS for 2 weeks? Would you die of boredom?

Anonymous VD May 03, 2012 12:44 PM  

What would your life be like if you didn't try to wade through any BS for 2 weeks? Would you die of boredom?

I would enjoy the opportunity. Unfortunately, there is barely anything you can read anywhere that one won't encounter it. The interesting thing about things like this dissection of skepticism is that many arguments are based on nominally skeptical principles without the person presenting the argument being aware of it. So, going right to the source is a useful way of showing the fundamental flaws that underlie those arguments.

And, let's face it, if I don't do it, who will? That's another reason I refused to give Delavagus the summary he requested; I intended to go into the gory details and expose the flaws I knew were there in a way that a mere summary could not.

Anonymous Suomynona May 03, 2012 1:10 PM  

VD May 03, 2012 12:25 PM
They're busy spinning their wheels about Toni Morrison and The Avengers now. If they had an argument, they'd bring it in a heartbeat. But they don't.


So, the commies have moved on since I last looked in on them. I did notice, with some amusement, Bakker's Aphorism of the day II (my mind always registers Assholism of the Day). It's understandable that Bakker would hate patterns - they allow people to arrive at logical, rational conclusions from their observations. Logical conclusions are destructive to his ideology. It is also understandable that he would love habits - they allow people to act without thinking. What else is brainwashing but forcing a habit of thought? What a wonderful world it would be if everyone was brainwashed to the point that everything they thought and did was neatly programmed and predictable - like all habits.

My comment was merely an observation of the fact that even left without a logical counter argument they will not move an inch from their original position. Bakker will continue to hide behind skepticism as he throws rocks at those who are not as equally hypocritical and ridiculous as himself.

Anonymous pdimov May 03, 2012 1:57 PM  

I'm no expert in multiculturalism theory, but it's unclear that multiculturalism is based on moral arguments, but rather on sociological arguments.

As are the anti-multicultural arguments.


Multiculturalism is based on the fact that integration has obviously failed, so something else had to be concocted.

Anti-multiculturalism is based on simple observation.

Anonymous WaterBoy May 03, 2012 2:24 PM  

Suomynona: Vox, all those fish you've shot full of buckshot are still swimming around, quite oblivious to the fact that they've been killed.

I like it! The poor equine had been beaten so badly from the Invasion That Almost/Never Was, its atoms have been dispersed throughout the planet and there is naught left but divots in the ground where it once lay. It can be beaten no further.

Shooting dead fish is a nice replacement.

Anonymous 691 May 03, 2012 3:40 PM  

They claim that philosophical skepticism is a second-order claim. All it does it allow them to make spectacularly wrong first-order claims and then deny their error and evade responsibility by appealing to this second-order claim.

Anonymous Shild May 03, 2012 3:45 PM  

Shooting dead fish is a nice replacement.



That's one of the memes that I'm expecting to catch on at VP after this exchange.

The other is "Skeptic, Doubt Thyself!" (if not I'm using it anyway)

Anonymous bw May 03, 2012 4:08 PM  

Again - they HATE Nature. I've been screeming that through my keyboard around here forever. They hate it. Despise it. Know very little, if anything, about it. It's simply psych, religious word-play. They are the very thing they claim to hate.

"Possibilities". That's the word VD should use in his argument. As he points out, they are not and have never been truly skeptical because they must always defend what they freely chose to believe incorrectly from the outset (what they wished to be true), eliminating from the first certain "Impossibilities" - and thus we are left with their failed personal and world view.
They Hate Nature, and are themselves what they claim to see and hate in others. As VD is pointing out, they are not even remotely close to what they claim themselves to be: can't see it, and don't care. Talk about one's "surety".

Anonymous jm May 03, 2012 8:02 PM  

I've followed along as best I may and really enjoyed the experience. I would extend some hearty congratulations to you, because you just KNOW you've kicked someone's ass when that person ends up providing links to articles about Toni Morrison.

Anonymous JRL May 03, 2012 8:35 PM  

Vox, it was a pleasure reading this post.

But, as troubling as he must find it, it appears Bakker is still "feeling very, very confirmed".

Anonymous Razoraid May 03, 2012 8:59 PM  

Glorious!

Anonymous pdimov May 03, 2012 9:58 PM  

Bakker has spoken:

He doesn’t have the foggiest idea of my position so far, so I’m not sure how I could appear one way or the other. Self-defeating? He doesn’t even understand the traditional counterarguments against skepticism, let alone my mitigated version. For me the question is quite simply what kinds of claims should we commit to in what way. Pragmatic considerations predominate the less scientific those claims become.

I actually have a genuine critic of skepticism lined up for a guest blog in a few weeks time – one of the smartest guys I know, and he disagrees with me on just about everything philosophically. Trust me, you’ll see the difference pretty damn quick. This isn’t to say that Vox can’t master the arguments or the literature – I’m sure he can – only that right now the disjunct between what he thinks he understands and what he actually understands is… well, embarrassing.


This is going to be even more fun than I thought.

Anonymous zen0 May 03, 2012 10:07 PM  

Bakker has spoken:

Ah, yes! The Black Knight defense.

We can all move on now.

Anonymous jm May 03, 2012 10:12 PM  

The Black Knight always triumphs, bruh.

Blogger Markku May 03, 2012 10:24 PM  

It is not Bakker who has so far parted with his limbs, it is merely a commenter over there. So far Bakker himself has taken the Brave Sir Robin approach.

Anonymous Toby Temple May 03, 2012 10:34 PM  

OT
on the upcoming Vox - Nate debate, what is the topic that you guys will be debating about?

Blogger Vox May 04, 2012 6:17 AM  

But, as troubling as he must find it, it appears Bakker is still "feeling very, very confirmed".

"The feeling of certainty is a bloody pathological liar."
- R. Scott Bakker

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