There’s been an interesting conversation at UD over self-evident truths lately. I think I’ve run up against the Uncommon Descent policy on dissent (don’t dissent), and the whole thing has devolved into “we are right” and “they are liars and also dumb.” But the underlying conversation was interesting, and I’d like to get some outside opinions on it. Especially KN, or anyone else with actual training in philosophy. I’m going to number positions for the sake of convenience, so that people with an opinion can react to any that interest them without feeling the need to engage them all. I’d love to hear where I’m wrong.
So as to my position:
- I make mistakes. I know this as certainly as I know anything—certainly enough not to doubt it in practice. This shows that I do not have the ability to perfectly perceive error in my own thinking.
- I cannot therefore be logically, absolutely certain of anything—not even that A=A. Because the faculties I would use to be perfectly, logically certain of that are the same ones that are not perfect.
- I think the trickiest question here is whether I can be certain that “I think, therefore I am.” But even there, is the fact that I cannot imagine any counter-example because it’s perfectly true, or because I have an imperfect and limited mind? I can’t know without a perfect, limitless mind, so I have to say even here, it’s not logically absolutely certain. (But obviously practically certain, and I don’t doubt it in practice.)
Does that make sense?
Now as to StephenB and Barry Arrington’s position.
- I think one major motivator of the “you’re a liar!” style of debate they’ve adopted is community identification. I’ve been thinking of this as building a wall. The point of the conversation is largely, not entirely, to show that “we think like this:” and “they think like that:”, or more pointedly, “look how stupid and ugly they are.” It makes it very easy to avoid questioning beliefs, because we cling particularly to those notions that separate us from them. It identifies and strengthens the community of us by redefining it in opposition to the ugliness and stupidity of them. And once that wall is built, it’s extremely hard to dismantle. Why on earth would you stop and seriously consider something a stupid and dishonest person says? And what would it say about you if you agreed with them? The wall exists to separate.
- This is not to say their positions are dishonest—I think they’re very upfront with their beliefs, and mean what they say.
- I think this is demonstrated particularly by BA’s habit of bailing out of a conversation and posting a new thread that very explicitly says look at how stupid and ugly those people are!
- I think I’m doing the same thing right now. I think that wall-building is wrong, but I don’t know how not to do it—especially as observing that someone else is building a wall is as good as laying a brick in your own.
- I can try to fight back against that by observing that walls exist to keep people in as well as out; the point is largely to have a bulwark against having to reconsider one’s beliefs and identity. So it’s important to ask, “Am I wrong?” Which I’m doing here, and attempting with some success to do in my own head.