Wednesday, September 05, 2007

First words

Reason and conscience, the powers by which we discern the true and the right, are immortal as their Author. Oppressed for ages, they yet live. Like the central fires of the earth, they can heave up mountains.
      - William Ellery Channing (1836)

Six or seven years ago I wrote a friend of mine,
My own point of view is that I have a conscience that is akin to a commandment tablet. This conscience is the product of natural evolution. Like sight, it is imperfect and varies from individual to individual. Some may be blind; others may be a bit near-sighted. This conscience serves as one component of my power to criticize. (In this I find kinship in the writings of the Common Sense philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, particularly Thomas Reid.)

To put this into the context of Evolutionary Epistemology, I have been drawn in the past decade to pancritical rationalism, the position of the late W. W. Bartley, III, (whom I had a chance to work for, but declined, before I knew better). The idea is "everything is open to criticism."[1] Or in the words of Gerald Radnitzky: "The central regulative principle of critical rationalism is the principle prohibiting the immunization of scientific theories against falsification.... Bartley generalized [this] methodological principle ... into the principle of pancritical rationalism: the principle prohibiting dogmatization of any position. We logically need not—in order to avoid an infinite regress—dogmatize anything, not even this regulative principle."[2] Moreover, Bartley's understanding of criticism goes beyond the falsifiability of Popper to include other criteria such as inelegance and lack of parsimony. My own understanding of criticism includes conscientiousness as another criterion.

A telling sign is one's tolerance of criticism. Authoritarian types purvey nonsense beyond criticism as an act of domination. Contrast this with an approach that not only tolerates criticism, but actively seeks it out, together with the creativity that feeds it with variety.

Three centuries ago Andrzej Wiszowaty wrote the earliest inklings I've found of a popperian approach,
Si quelqu'un dit qu'une chose paroist quelquefois douteuse à l'esprit, et dans un parfait équilibre, et qu'ainsi on ne peut se déterminer. Je répond qu'il faut alors que l'esprit compare les argumens de part et d'autre, pour voir s'ils ne l'emportent point en quelque chose; et qu'alors il faut donner la preference à ce qui paroist le plus vrai; mais que quand les raîsons de douter sont égales, il ne faut point juger comme d'une chose certaine. Il faut de plus remarquer, qu'encore qu'il soit quelquesfois difficile de déterminer ce qui est absolument veritable, il n'est pas neanmoins également difficile de reconnoître en appliquant la Raison saine, ce qui est absolument faux, absurd, et impossible.

      - Andrzej Wiszowaty (1684)[3]

The last sentence translates,
Moreover, note, even though it may be difficult to determine what is absolutely true, nonetheless it's not difficult to recognize, by applying sound reason, what is absolutely false, absurd, and impossible.[4]

With these words, I hope to set a proper tone for what follows in The Solonian Journal. Admittedly it's a bit like "calibrating water clocks with sundials."[5] I love that phrase. I just had to use it.

  1. W. W. Bartley, III (1987) A Refutation of the Alleged Refutation of Comprehensively Critical Rationalism. In: Radnitzky, Gerald, and W. W. Bartley, III, eds. (1987) Evolutionary Epistemology, Rationality, and the Sociology of Knowledge, p. 318.

  2. Gerard Radnitsky (1987) In Defense of Self-Applicable Critical Rationalism. In: Radnitsky and Bartley, (1987) Evolutionary Epistemology, Rationality, and the Sociology of Knowledge, p. 303.

  3. Andrzej Wiszowaty (1684) La Religion Naturelle ou l'Empire de la Raison dans les Controverses. Translated to French by: Charles Le Cène. In: Andreas Wissowatius - Religio Rationalis, p. 94.

  4. Translated from French to English: Casey Bowman (2007)

  5. Daniel J. Boorstin (1985) The Discoverers, p. 31.

  6. Karl R. Popper (1970) On the Theory of the Objective Mind. In: Karl R. Popper (1979) Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach (revised edition), pp. 154-155.

Update (Sep 8, 2007): Today I chanced upon a video that conveys the spirit of critical rationalism. I found it through Salahudin, a writer for In the Name of Towelie!, who adds a critique of his own, thereby exhibiting a spirit of pancritical rationalism. How about that? A real world example!!

Salahudin writes,
While I agree with the author that “respect my beliefs” is often times used as a way to cover yourself from rational criticism - thereby you remain ignorant - but at the same time, isn’t respect a virtue?

I would respond to this question by saying that there are respectful ways of criticizing and disrespectful ways of criticizing. One set of criteria I find useful is that described by Patricia Evans in her books on verbal abuse. The key is to avoid claiming you know how someone else feels and what their experiences have been. Ask them. Don't tell them.

Consider the 3 worlds of Popper,
[T]here are three worlds: the first is the physical world or the world of physical states; the second is the mental world or the world of mental states; and the third is the world of intelligibles, or of ideas in the objective sense; it is the world of possible objects of thought; the world of theories in themselves, and their logical relations; of arguments in themselves; and of problem situations in themselves.

... The three worlds are so related that the first two can interact, and that the last two can interact. Thus the second world, the world of subjective or personal experiences, interacts with each of the other two worlds. The first world and the third world cannot interact, save through the intervention of the second world, the world of subjective or personal experiences.[6]

Respect the human being. Go wild on objective knowledge, which is the content of Popper's World 3, a world that needs to be fully liberated, to my mind.

Here's the video (from Bitbutter)


Salahudin said...

thanks for the trackback! Though, can you point it to instead of to our definitions page?

Casey Bowman said...


bitbutter said...

Thanks for this. I'm glad to have come across your blog!