Intelligent Design

Quote of the Day

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I have had some harsh words for several of the materialists who deny infallible knowledge of self-evident truths such as A=A.   Turns out I am in pretty good company.

An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

 

39 Replies to “Quote of the Day

  1. 1
    RexTugwell says:

    “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
    G.K. Chesterton (of course)

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: Mr. Arrington, being in law, I think you may get a good chuckle (and perhaps a tear too) out of this:

    Dear Oprah,
    I’m writing to you because you’re obviously, like, the smartest woman in America and I am confused about Kim Davis. You know, that woman down in Kentucky who might be the first Christian ever imprisoned in American history for following their faith.
    In between reading Eckhart Tolle’s latest I’ve been following a lot of the debate and coverage of her story, and it’s left me even more confused than I was before I first heard about it. Although I admit since I’m a product of our government schools I am easily befuddled (a new word I learned today).
    Since I know of no greater champion for womankind than yourself, I’m hoping you might be able to answer at least a few of these questions for me (and I even used spell-check to correct any typos/errors):
    I am confused which “law” this woman disobeyed when I can’t find anything in either the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Code or Kentucky state law that says homosexuals are allowed to obtain marriage licenses.
    I am confused how a woman can be kept in jail indefinitely without a trial when she didn’t violate any law on the books that anyone can cite anywhere.
    I am confused how one Kentucky clerk threatens the rule of law but unelected judges who rewrite the Constitution from the bench don’t.
    I am confused how a divorced Kentucky clerk doesn’t have integrity to stand for marriage but rich elitists like Hillary Clinton – who is paid more for one speech than most Americans make in a year – get to play class warfare.
    I am confused why someone who isn’t perfect can’t uphold a standard when the people accusing her of imperfection are imperfect themselves.
    I am confused why cities can declare themselves “sanctuaries” for illegal aliens but one county can’t be a “sanctuary” for lawful marriage.
    I am confused why illegal aliens who openly protest our immigration laws in public aren’t in jail, but this woman is and we know of no “law” she’s actually violated.
    I am confused how Planned Parenthood officials caught red-handed on camera violating federal laws forbidding the peddling of dead baby parts for profit aren’t in jail, but this Kentucky woman is.
    I am confused why a president and an attorney general who refused to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional weren’t in jail for violating “the law,” but this county clerk is when the Constitution doesn’t allow courts to make law.
    I am confused why some people are mocking a woman for not behaving as a Christian before she became one.
    I am confused why a county clerk must resign if she doesn’t want to enforce “laws” she disagrees with, but a president doesn’t.
    I am confused why Carly Fiorina would call for this Kentucky clerk to resign for not enforcing pretend laws she doesn’t agree with, but she won’t demand a president resign for not enforcing actual laws he doesn’t agree with. Including the ones which even bear his name, like all the times he refused to implement “Obamacare.”
    Oprah, since you know our magnificent president personally I’m sure you can get answers to these questions. I’m sure there are simple explanations here that I probably just haven’t had the time between the kids’ soccer practices to get from watching Rachel Maddow. Like so many others I’m at a bit of a loss now that Jon Stewart is no longer on the air, so I’m turning to you for help.
    However, I know you’re very busy so if you don’t get back to me by tomorrow I’ll send this over to those brilliant ladies on “The View.”
    Sincerely,
    Call Me Caitlyn
    http://www.washingtontimes.com.....kim-davis/

  3. 3
    Silver Asiatic says:

    BA

    materialists … deny infallible knowledge of self-evident truths such as A=A

    Good quotes by Lewis and Chesterton that followed.

    I’ve had to slow down my participation here for the reason quoted above. At some point, we run the risk of lowering ourselves to the level of our opponents. In other words, these are not worthy opponents and we might actually hurt ourselves by dignifying their mentality with continual responses.

    That’s the way I see it, at least. When I wondered “how bad can it get” and I then notice equivocations and denials about self-evident truths, of the sort you mention, Barry — I realize it gets very bad.

    It’s not harsh words. We can call them Nazis, idiots, mental-retards, moral abominations, animalistic, dirt-worshippers, child-rapists, satanic … anything you can think of and it really doesn’t matter.

    We’re just arguing with hyper-inflated Ego. Nothing penetrates it.

    I admire you guys who can do this day after day — trying to bring the precious light of truth into the dark abyss of the materialist idiot-world.

    I really don’t think they deserve this kind of effort. If I had the temperment and interest I’d just “go Joe” on them all, (or “go Mapou” for that matter).

    Arguments about A=A should be fairly short and end with mockery and banishment from civilized society.

    I discovered that my own mentality was diminished as a result of trying to argue with all of these defective intelligences. I’m just not cut out for that.

  4. 4
    Silver Asiatic says:

    woman down in Kentucky who might be the first Christian ever imprisoned in American history for following their faith

    Pro-lifers had been long before. Even anti-slavery could say that.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    SA yeah I know but remember “Call Me Caitlyn” wrote the letter 🙂

  6. 6
    Learned Hand says:

    Who doesn’t want to be infallible? It would be great to not have to question the things we believe. And making fun of people who encourage you to ask questions is an easy way of shutting down those troublesome conversations. Actually reasoning through the problem is, in comparison, harder and less fun. Is it any surprise that BA makes fun rather than engaging with the problem?

    What we’re really talking about here are whether things like “A=A” are proven concepts or axioms that we just assume are true. I think most people take the latter approach, stymied by the obvious impossibility of a human being logically proving themselves to be infallible. BA and SB, though, want to take the infallibility route. Not totally infallible, to be sure. Just infallible in an infallibly, if imprecisely, defined area of “self-evident truths.” What’s a SET? Well, they can’t quite say, but you’re insane if you disagree with whatever the answer is. (And they’ll disagree that they can’t determine the set of SETs. So what’s the greatest value of n such that n+n=2n is no longer a SET? No answers to that one yet, just insults.)

    Credit to SB for at least trying to engage with the problem. His suggested reasons for why it’s rational to believe in his own infallibility, though, assumed infallibility. That’s a bit cheesy, to use what I very much doubt is a technical logic term.

    I don’t know how someone could prove that they are infallible, such that they could infallibly perceive both (a) that something is a SET and (b) that the SET is true. At least, not without just assuming their infallibility for the purposes of the argument, or taking it on faith.

    I don’t think BA knows, either. Working through the problem would be very hard. Insulting people is very easy, and more fun, and accomplishes the underlying goal of establishing us versus them. They are insane, stupid, liar dumb people, don’t you know. And while we’re all focused on that, no one is making him question his infallibility.

  7. 7
    Barry Arrington says:

    LH,

    You would do well to learn the last line of Lewis’ aphorism. You are embarrassing yourself.

  8. 8
    StephenB says:

    Learned Hand

    Insulting people is very easy, and more fun, and accomplishes the underlying goal of establishing us versus them. They are insane, stupid, liar dumb people, don’t you know.

    I will leave it to our readers.

    [a] What would you say about someone who is not absolutely certain that a whole pie weighs more than any one of its slices? (He will not know until he weighs them, but even then he can’t be sure).

    [b] What would you say about someone who claims that being absolutely certain is not the same thing has having no doubts? (So that he can say that he is both absolutely certain and not absolutely certain)

    [c] What would you say about someone who claims that he is absolutely certain that he cannot be absolutely certain of anything? (As if the contradiction was not obvious to any rational person)

  9. 9
    Mung says:

    LH: Who doesn’t want to be infallible?

    Me. I don’t want to be infallible. It’s already bad enough arguing with morons over the things I currently know. If I was infallible it would be intolerable.

  10. 10
    Seversky says:

    Perhaps Caitlyn, being so confused about the law, should have sought legal opinion, for example:

    No Refuge in Scripture or In Law: Why Kim Davis Must Do Her Job, Resign, or Remain In Jail

    Yes, I know that Davis will counter with the argument that she is being compelled to obey and enforce an unjust law. And the response is simple: No, she is not. No one is compelling her to remain in office. Her salary is paid by the taxpayers, and the taxpayers are entitled to what is lawfully theirs — marriage licenses and a functioning clerk’s office. She should perform her official duties or get out of the way.

    And if her biblical case is weak, her so-called religious liberty claim is non-existent. The First Amendment to the Constitution is the source of the American commitment to religious freedom. Historically, this provision has been used to vindicate the rights of religious minorities where they have been targeted for oppression by the state. Thus Jehovah’s Witnesses were exempted from saluting the flag, the Amish were exempted from compulsory school-attendance laws, and the followers of Santeria were protected from discriminatory treatment in the practice of their faith.

    The free-exercise clause, in other words, was never intended nor interpreted to protect the free-exercise rights of elected office-holders. Indeed, the very proposition is a logical absurdity. Why? Just think about it. By virtue of their elected office, public officials are charged with the duty of executing faithfully the laws of the United States. Their responsibility is to the state and the state’s laws. It is not their job to pick and choose which laws they will and will not enforce based on their privately-held beliefs. Once again, where they cannot discharge their public duties, their obligation is to resign.

    As for the Biblical basis of her objection to same-sex marriage, I can give you a list of Old Testament injunctions and prohibitions that I’m sure she – and all the other good Christians here who are outraged by the idea of SSM – quite happily ignore all their lives. So you can quote Scripture all you like but singling out gays smacks of prejudice and bigotry.

    In fact, what Kim Davis would clearly like to do is impose her particular interpretation of Christianity on the rest of us, regardless of the First Amendment.

  11. 11
    Learned Hand says:

    BA,

    I don’t think it’s embarrassing to question one’s own beliefs. I think it’s important, and much more honorable than simply insisting on my own perfection. You seem to disagree… but still can’t explain how you, as a fallible being, can confirm your own infallibility. Just lots of insults when anyone questions it. I think that’s an answer in and of itself.

    SB,

    Yes, you have left it to your readers. You’ve explained very honestly what you want the answers to be. But as to how you know them infallibly, or how you know yourself to be infallible? As hollow a position as Barry’s.

    Guys, most people resolve this conundrum by deciding that axioms can’t be, and needn’t be, taken as absolute proven truths. They’re axioms. This appears to be a difficult thing for you to accept because you want your infallibility, built on the backs of these assertions, to continue into much grander assertions: abortion is always wrong, for example. Questioning your infallibility here implicitly challenges those beliefs.

    But the answer to “is this true” should never be, “yes, because I want it to be.” How do you know? How do you know that you’re infallible?

  12. 12
    Barry Arrington says:

    I don’t think it’s embarrassing to question one’s own beliefs.

    It is if you question your belief that A=A. That is just stupid. And stupidity is embarrassing.

    I think it’s important, and much more honorable than simply insisting on my own perfection.

    It is not humble to question whether we can know A=A. It is stupid. Don’t confuse humility with stupidity.

    but still can’t explain how you, as a fallible being, can confirm your own infallibility.

    Straw man. I am not confirming my own infallibility. I am confirming the infallibility of the claim that A=A. Predictively, you scoff. Kocher again:

    It has become common for people who routinely engage in chronic psychotic levels of denial to consider themselves as being mental powerhouses, and to be considered by others as being mental powerhouses, because no one can break through their irrationality. This is often supported by a self-referencing congratulatory inner voice which says, “(guffaw) He REALLY didn’t have an answer for that one!” And they are correct. He didn’t have an answer.

    You are right. I don’t have an answer to your objection that A must always equal A. And I never will. But your psychotic level of denial does not make it any less true.

    Just lots of insults when anyone questions it. I think that’s an answer in and of itself.

    Yes, I do use harsh language, because I have not given up on you. I know you can do better, and I am doing my best to shame you into better conduct.

    Guys, most people resolve this conundrum by deciding that axioms can’t be, and needn’t be, taken as absolute proven truths.

    No, LH, as a matter of fact no one, including you, believes that A=A can ever be false. And when you say you cannot be certain of that, you are simply lying, because you are in fact certain. That is why you try to have it both ways be saying “not doubting” means something different from “absolutely certain.”

    This appears to be a difficult thing for you to accept

    Yes, SB and I do not accept that logically impossible assertions such as “A=A is false” can ever be true. We don’t accept square circles either.

    because you want your infallibility, built on the backs of these assertions, to continue into much grander assertions: abortion is always wrong, for example.

    And you want everything to be grey, because you fear that if you admit even for a moment that not everything is grey, you will also have to admit that killing little boys and girls, chopping them into piece and selling the pieces like so much meat is unspeakably evil. And you refuse to admit any such thing.

    If we are correct, reason is possible and we live in a rational and intelligible universe. If you are correct, reason is not possible, absurd and incoherent propositions may be true, and therefore we do not live in a rational and intelligible universe.

    But the answer to “is this true” should never be, “yes, because I want it to be.” How do you know? How do you know that you’re infallible?

    Again, your rhetorical device is transparent and unseemly. Everyone sees what you are trying to do. You are trying to equate certainty about infallible truth with arrogance and uncertainty about infallible truth as humility. Just exactly the opposite is true. There are infallible self-evident truths, and I bow to them and accept them and the limits those truths place on the exertion of my autonomous will. You arrogantly assert there are no infallibly certain limits on your autonomous will and then pretend you are merely being humble. That sound you just heard is the needle on the irony meter breaking the stop.

  13. 13
    Learned Hand says:

    I am not confirming my own infallibility. I am confirming the infallibility of the claim that A=A.

    Up in the post above, you’re complaining about people who “deny infallible knowledge of self-evident truths such as A=A.” The infallibility of the concept itself is separate from your “infallible knowledge” of the concept. And since you’re a person, not an abstract concept, you can only access the concept through your own knowledge.

    I can’t reconcile “I am not confirming my own infallibility” with your condemnation of those who “deny infallible knowledge.” Since your knowledge of a thing is not the thing itself, how is asserting that you have infallible knowledge of something not asserting your “own infallibility”?

    There are infallible self-evident truths, and I bow to them and accept them and the limits those truths place on the exertion of my autonomous will.

    If you can’t infallibly determine what is and what isn’t a self-evident truth, it doesn’t matter whether it exists or not. And we know you identify 2+2=4 as a SET. So for what value of n is n+n=2n not a SET? It should be easy to figure out: n=2 falls within the set of SETs, just increment it until n+n=2n is no longer a SET. The answer should be infallible, right?

    The rest of your comment is more wall-building, with not a substantive thought or argument to be found. How do you know you’re infallible? Do you formally refuse to question it, or just decline to do so in practice?

  14. 14
    bFast says:

    Ok, so this silliness is starting to intrigue me. The other side seems quite certain that if they give on any stupidly obvious point, they’ll loose the entire debate. Why? Is it possible to believe that A=A and believe that natural forces alone are responsible for all that is? It has been said that Christians must check their brains at the door, it would appear however that it is the atheists, those who are certain that God=not, that must check their brains at the door. God=not, of this I am certain, but A=A, maybe not.

  15. 15
    Learned Hand says:

    “The other side seems quite certain that if they give on any stupidly obvious point, they’ll loose the entire debate.”

    That’s something that seems true from my perspective as well. BA and SB cannot admit that their belief in the principle could be flawed. I think it’s partly due to the wall they’ve built–doing so would be admitting that the stupid liar insane guy was right about something. So they’re stuck having to maintain their own infallibility.

    (BA says he’s not claiming to be infallible. This is where he would scream “LIAR” if he were watching himself argue, from an objective platform–he’s clearly and openly claimed his own knowledge is infallible, many times.)

    I don’t deny that A is always A in my experience, and I can’t think of any counter-examples. But I also can’t think of any reason why my experience should equate to infallible certainty, when people make mistakes (or speak from limited perspectives) all the time. And as much as BA and SB shout and rattle the saber… they don’t seem to have anything upon which to rest their faith in their own flawless perceptions other than their refusal to accept the alternative.

    God=not, of this I am certain, but A=A, maybe not.

    I’m not religious, but I’m not certain that “God=not.” I can only speak for myself.

    I assume that you are religious. Is it theoretically possible for God to deceive someone such that they cannot pierce the deception? If so, how can you (or any believer) be logically, perfectly certain of any factual assertion?

  16. 16
    Barry Arrington says:

    LH

    BA and SB cannot admit that their belief in the principle [i.e., A=A] could be flawed.

    Of course we could admit that if we were willing to give up on rationality and reason itself, as you are. But we are not. The irony is that you are attempting to use the tools of rationality and reason to prove that rationality and reason are impossible.

  17. 17
    bFast says:

    Learned Hand, “BA says he’s not claiming to be infallible. This is where he would scream “LIAR” if he were watching himself argue, from an objective platform–he’s clearly and openly claimed his own knowledge is infallible, many times.”

    This is a confusing statement. For the statement to be true, one must conclude that having any infallible knowledge makes one infallible in all respects. I personally see myself as fallible, but am quite content to argue with BA that A=A. Must I lower myself to either say “I think, therefore I might be” or to claim infallibility?

  18. 18
    Barry Arrington says:

    bFast @ 17.

    Learned Hand desperately needs to convince himself that no one can have infallible knowledge about anything, especially matters of good and evil. Otherwise, he would not be able to do whatever the hell he wants to do, including asserting that it is not evil to kill little boys and girls, chop their tiny bodies into pieces, and sell the pieces like meat in the market.

    The stench of his ethical world is just this side of unbearable. Think of his high jinks in this thread as his attempt to spray philosophical Febreze in an attempt to cover the noisome odor.

  19. 19
    bFast says:

    BA, I don’t quite read Learned Hand that way. I think he suffers from an overdone sense of humility, or a falses humility. A=A has nothing to do with morality, yet somehow being confident that A=A is, well, cocky — proud.

    Descartes, with “Cogito ergo sum”, did a great job of establishing that the only thing we can be certain of is our own existence. Of course he is right. (After all, we all spend a significant amount of time each night creating a fantasy world where the only part of that world that exists is “I”).

    Yet Descartes recognized that “Cognito ergo sum” was an absolute conversation stopper. I think that you have done a great job of defining the simplest step beyond cognito with A=A.

    Interesting Learned Hand’s commitment to knowing nothing but “I think” is, in a way, the proudest possible position to take. I think, I am, I don’t know if you think, therefore I can dismiss you. Hmmm.

    Side note: the verification question right now is: [] x one = 1.

  20. 20
    Learned Hand says:

    For the statement to be true, one must conclude that having any infallible knowledge makes one infallible in all respects.

    I don’t follow. I don’t think that BA has claimed to be infallible in all respects, only that he has some beliefs that are infallible. To take that position he must think he has an infallible ability to determine whether his belief in something is fallible (otherwise he could never know whether belief A is fallible or not, and would therefore have to admit it’s open to question). But I don’t think he’s claimed other than his belief in a limited set of propositions, and his ability to discern what those propositions are, is infallible.

    So what would require total infallibility?

    I personally see myself as fallible, but am quite content to [agree] with BA that A=A.

    (I assume you meant “agree” rather than “argue,” let me know if I’m wrong.)

    Your wording opens up a lot of potential confusion. Do you mean that A=A is always true in your experience, or that you see no particular reason to doubt it, or that you don’t doubt it in practice, or that you are content to assume it as a necessary predicate, or that you think it’s absolutely, infallibly established as true in all cases? I think among us, we only disagree as to that last proposition. I don’t think someone with a limited perspective can ever know that something is infallibly true in all cases, when we cannot access or even imagine all cases. And again, there’s an actual example of why not, which is the failure of pre-QM thinkers to realize that something can be a wave and a particle, or that something can move between two points without crossing intervening space.

    Must I lower myself to either say “I think, therefore I might be” or to claim infallibility?

    No, I think you’re justified in saying, “I think, therefore I am.” And you’re justified in saying, “A=A.” They’re axioms, we assert them and assume they’re true all the time. The question isn’t whether we can assert it, or even rely on it. The question is, can we know infallibly that it’s true in all cases, when we ourselves are fallible and unable to perceive all possible cases?

    “I think therefore I am” is probably the cleanest possible axiom, at least in my opinion—it’s truly self-referential. But it’s nowhere near enough. BA needs infallibility to extend to “abortion is wrong” in order to justify both (a) his refusal to scrutinize the belief and (b) his contempt for those who disagree with him. So the one principle isn’t enough, and we need an infallible perimeter to discern which things BA can know without any possible uncertainty. How is that perimeter drawn? The answer is, “Shut up, you liar.” How do we know whether a belief is inside it? The answer is, “Shut up, you liar.” How does a fallible being know that their belief is infallible? You can guess the answer!

  21. 21
    Barry Arrington says:

    LH:

    his contempt for those who disagree with him

    I do admit that I have nothing but contempt for those who assert that it is not evil to kill little boys and girls, chop their tiny bodies into pieces, and sell the pieces like meat in the market. You’ve got me there.

  22. 22
    Learned Hand says:

    BA, I don’t quite read Learned Hand that way. I think he suffers from an overdone sense of humility, or a falses humility.

    I’ve never in my life been accused of humility, false, overdone, or otherwise! Thanks, I think. Don’t forget, though, I’m ferociously intelligent, notoriously handsome, and adamantly moral in addition to being extremely humble.

    A=A has nothing to do with morality, yet somehow being confident that A=A is, well, cocky — proud.

    There’s an important distinction here! Being confident that A=A is not the question. I’m confident that the sun will rise tomorrow. But can I be absolutely, infallibly certain that it’s so?

    We’re not discussing BA’s confidence. We’re discussing his infallibility. I agree that he’s confident, to a fault. I just don’t think that he’s infallible.

    Descartes, with “Cogito ergo sum”, did a great job of establishing that the only thing we can be certain of is our own existence. Of course he is right.

    It sounds like you’re agreeing with me here, but I suspect you won’t when pressed. Does this mean that we can’t be logically certain that “A=A,” or that abortion is wrong?

    As for cogito ergo sum, as I said above, it’s the hardest axiom for me to be uncertain about. It certainly seems self-referential in a way no other axiom is. But I still assert that my perception of it can be no more infallible than I am myself, and that all of my perceptions and thoughts are susceptible to error. I can’t think of any way in which this axiom couldn’t be absolutely, perfectly true. But how do I know absolutely that that’s not because of a limitation of my intelligence, experience, or consciousness?

    I think, I am, I don’t know if you think, therefore I can dismiss you. Hmmm.

    This isn’t my position at all. I believe BA thinks, I believe he’s as human and as conscious and as flawed as I am. I can only guess at what he thinks, though, because he substitutes insults for explanations. It’s the easy way out, and it’s productive if what you want to do is build a wall rather than an argument.

  23. 23
    bFast says:

    Learned Hand, “I don’t think that BA has claimed to be infallible in all respects, only that he has some beliefs that are infallible. To take that position he must think he has an infallible ability to determine whether his belief in something is fallible.”

    Oi. “To take that position he must think he has an infallible ability to determine whether his belief in something is fallible.” There remains a HUGE difference in having the ability to determine that some beliefs (such as A=A) is infallible, not necessarily that all of his beliefs (such as the price of oil will go up this month) is infallible. If BA were declaring as infallible something that were audacious to claim, well, you may have a point. However, it is your position that is audacious.

    BA has sufficient self-confidence to recognize certain basic things to be true. This is not a declaration of his infallibility, nor is it a declaration of his ability even to accurately define the line between what he can know for sure is true, and what he can’t — only that some stuff is way the heck over the line.

    Learned Hand, “BA needs infallibility to extend to “abortion is wrong” in order to justify both (a) his refusal to scrutinize the belief and (b) his contempt for those who disagree with him.”

    Wow! Huge leap! Is it possible to believe that abortion is not wrong, and still recognize that A=A. Can we get past the silliness of basic philosophy, and show the real flaws in the other person’s argument — rather than declaring the other person wrong before a case has been made?

  24. 24
    Learned Hand says:

    BA has sufficient self-confidence to recognize certain basic things to be true. This is not a declaration of his infallibility, nor is it a declaration of his ability even to accurately define the line between what he can know for sure is true, and what he can’t — only that some stuff is way the heck over the line.

    What would KF say if we suggested that “self-confidence” is sufficient warrant for epistemological certainty?

    BA doesn’t say that he operates as if certain things are true, or that certain things certainly seem true, or that there’s no good reason to say that certain things are false. He claims that there are truths that are absolutely, perfectly, unquestionably certain in all possible cases, and that he can in some way distinguish those truths from other truths about which people could be mistaken. Both of those are claims of infallibility.

    Here’s why:

    I know some things about which I could not possibly be mistaken. That’s a paraphrase of BA’s point (I’m sure he’ll correct and insult me if I’m wrong.) How is that not an assertion of infallibility? Whether or not the truth itself is absolute, we’re looking at BA’s perception and knowledge of it. His claim isn’t just that the truth exists, but that he cannot be mistaken about it. I don’t see how a claim that error is impossible can be separated from a claim of infallibility, even if only on that question.

    I can tell when I’m dealing with a truth about which I could not possibly be mistaken. This is the necessary corollary. Because if he can’t discriminate between the questions about which he’s infallible and all other questions, he can’t ever know that he can’t be mistaken. It’s a separate and necessary assertion of infallibility. Even if he agrees that a gray area is possible (and he’s denied it before), he still has to be able to say, “This particular question is one about which I cannot be mistaken” to be able to say separately, “And here is the infallible answer to that question.”

    [It is] possible to believe that abortion is not wrong, and still recognize that A=A. Can we get past the silliness of basic philosophy, and show the real flaws in the other person’s argument — rather than declaring the other person wrong before a case has been made?

    (I assume you meant to assert “it is” rather than ask, “is it”. Let me know if I’m wrong.)

    I agree! I think it is possible to say both “abortion is not wrong” and “A=A.” Both statements are potentially flawed, but nevertheless it’s possible to take both positions honestly.

    BA disagrees. My understanding is that he says someone cannot honestly, sanely assert that abortion isn’t wrong. He asserts it with the same strength that he asserts that A=A. These are known, inerrant truths, and his belief in them is infallible. Not only are there no flaws in his position, according to him, but there cannot be any because it’s a self-evident, perfect truth about which he cannot be mistaken. To doubt him is to be insane, stupid, dishonest, or all three. Do you take his position to be something other than that?

  25. 25
    bFast says:

    (I assume you meant to assert “it is” rather than ask, “is it”. Let me know if I’m wrong.)
    Actually, “Is it” was correct, but the sentence should have ended with a question mark.

    Learned Hand, as I was waiting for a response I was wondering why you choose such a silly position to debate from. The only reason I can find is that the real issue, abortion, cannot be defended by you using reason. You cannot use reason to defend your position on abortion, so you attack reason. This, Learned Hand, is an unreasonable position.

  26. 26
    Learned Hand says:

    Thanks for the correction. I don’t think it changes anything. I’d say yes, it’s possible to say that abortion isn’t wrong and that A=A; BA would say that it’s impossible for a sane, intelligent person to think that abortion isn’t wrong.

    The only reason I can find is that the real issue, abortion, cannot be defended by you using reason. You cannot use reason to defend your position on abortion, so you attack reason. This, Learned Hand, is an unreasonable position.

    I don’t think so, but then, I wouldn’t, would I? Abortion is easy enough to defend from my perspective: I don’t think that fetuses are persons. I think they become persons slowly, and I can’t draw a sharp line at which that transition occurs. I think it’s appropriate as a matter of policy to create such a line, and that it should be drawn conservatively. I think viability is a pretty good place to draw that line. Not perfect, but I don’t know of a better one. (I think we need a line somewhere, rather than just banning abortion totally, because pregnant women are persons, whose autonomy deserves to be protected.)

    That’s not an argument, just a statement of my beliefs. I don’t expect it to persuade anyone. It makes assumptions, particularly that fetuses aren’t persons, that are religiously unacceptable to many people (presumably including BA). I don’t think those principles are amenable to arguments anyway; I think most of us arrive at them by virtue of our background and culture, rather than by sifting through arguments.

    But because the dichotomy here is one of basic principles–whether a fetus is a person, for example–I don’t feel any particular difficulty in defending my position. It’s self-consistent and consistent with my values.

    I’m not arguing here because I need to defend abortion. I’m not concerned with what people here think about abortion. I’m interested in the way the people here communicate with one another. I’m especially interested in BA’s angry refusal to consider that he may not be infallible. Frankly, I’m a little bemused that I’m being called an idiot and a liar for doubting that a person is infallible.

    Also, I find these conversations very useful. They help me develop my own ideas–I’d never considered these questions in such depth before BA confidently asserted that he could discern unquestionable self-evident truths, then spectacularly failed to do so when asked.

  27. 27
    Learned Hand says:

    Oh, and bFast, you call my position silly–but do we really disagree? Above you said that cogito ergo sum was the only thing about which we can be certain. Do you still believe that?

  28. 28
    bFast says:

    Oh, and bFast, you call my position silly–but do we really disagree? Absolutely we do. I approach discussion in a manner that is much more risky than you do. I approach discussion in a way that allows discussion, and allows me to be found wrong and change my mind. I would therefore never choose to argue against the position that A=A.

    “Above you said that cogito ergo sum was the only thing about which we can be certain.” In a truly philosophical sense, sure. However, if this dialog is merely a dream, if the universe around me is merely the figment of my fantasy life, then life truly is meaningless. It is all meaningless and stupid.

    When I step out of this philosophical hole, I discover that there are a couple of firm foundations, namely mathematics and logic. (One could make a fairly good case that these are one and the same, but it would be a waste of a good resource.) The next foundation, slightly less firm, but still useful, is data. You will rarely find me question the validity of reasonably established data.

    On abortion, “That’s not an argument, just a statement of my beliefs.” Do you subject your beliefs to logic, to reason? I do.

    You said, “particularly that fetuses aren’t persons, that are religiously unacceptable to many people” Is it your contention that the pro-life position is purely a religious position, not a position supported by sound reason?

  29. 29
    Learned Hand says:

    You say we disagree, but I’m having a hard time figuring out where!

    I approach discussion in a way that allows discussion, and allows me to be found wrong and change my mind.

    I agree. When I fail to do this—and we all fail to do this from time to time—it’s an error, and should be acknowledged as such. What am I arguing here if not that error is possible, and thus that we can change our minds?

    BA’s position seems to be that error is impossible on some questions, and that he cannot, will not ever change his mind. Moreover, that it’s impossible for anyone to actually disagree with him. That’s problematic enough, but the constant stream of insults and invective also pulls against this principle. Once you’ve called someone an idiot and a liar for disagreeing with you, how can you change your mind about whether they’re wrong or not? That’s what the wall metaphor is all about: those insults are a bulwark against changing one’s own mind.

    I would therefore never choose to argue against the position that A=A.

    Ah, but whether you would choose to argue against it is not the question. Is it possible to argue against the position that we infallibly know A=A? Notice that not only am I not asking whether you’d choose to argue against the position that A=A, I’m not even asking whether A=A. I’m asking whether our knowledge of the proposition is, or can be, infallible.

    I choose not to argue against lots of things without holding myself to be infallible. I choose not to argue against the position that the sun will rise tomorrow—but my belief in that proposition is not infallible. (Here, “infallible” means both that I can misconstrue the evidence available to me and that my perspective, being limited, may make relevant evidence unavailable to me.)

    When I step out of this philosophical hole, I discover that there are a couple of firm foundations, namely mathematics and logic. (One could make a fairly good case that these are one and the same, but it would be a waste of a good resource.) The next foundation, slightly less firm, but still useful, is data. You will rarely find me question the validity of reasonably established data.

    Again, I agree with this. I do math, and don’t question whether 2+2=4. I go to work, and don’t question whether A=A. When the philosophical questions come up, though, I have to admit that these are axioms. I assume them because they work, and because I cannot imagine how they could be false. But our inability to imagine something isn’t even in the same ballpark as establishing our infallibility on the question.

    And again—whether it’s prudent to question something is neither here nor there. Rather I’m investigating whether a person can infallibly reach any conclusions (or any conclusions other than cogito ergo sum), and if the answer is yes, whether a person can infallibly determine which conclusions those are. It sounds like you and I agree that the answer is no, carving out only cogito ergo sum.

    So where do we disagree?

    On abortion, “That’s not an argument, just a statement of my beliefs.” Do you subject your beliefs to logic, to reason? I do.

    Yes, to the best of my abilities. I don’t doubt that the same is true of you. If we start from different principles, then we’ll arrive at different positions, even if we agree on all the questions of reason and logic.

    You said, “particularly that fetuses aren’t persons, that are religiously unacceptable to many people” Is it your contention that the pro-life position is purely a religious position, not a position supported by sound reason?

    Nope. I think the pro-life position is reasonable given the starting belief that a fetus is a person. And I think a logical case can be made for that position, although I do not personally find it persuasive. I’m not pro-choice because I think pro-life people are insane or dumb or wicked. I just disagree with their reasoning, and partly because I think people can reasonably disagree, I’m not comfortable taking the decision out of the hands of the women I believe are most affected by it.

  30. 30
    bFast says:

    Lets see if we can find a little common ground here.

    1, you believe that if a fetus is a person, then abortion is wrong? I would agree that if a fetus is not a person, then abortion is none of my business.

    2, do you believe that “wrong” is a relative term, that extensively torturing a person is more wrong than stealing a penny most normally is?

  31. 31
    Learned Hand says:

    bFast,

    I love common ground!

    1 – yes, with qualifications. I don’t know if you meant “abortion is wrong” as an absolute, but I couldn’t agree to an absolute proposition here. For example, if the life of the mother is at stake and/or the fetus is not viable, I’d say abortion might not be wrong, depending on the circumstances.

    2 – yes.

  32. 32
    StephenB says:

    LH

    Yes, you have left it to your readers. You’ve explained very honestly what you want the answers to be.

    These are your positions. I want the readers to evaluate them:

    [a] You are not absolutely certain that a whole pie weighs more than any one of its slices?

    [b] You claim that having absolute certainty is different from having no doubts.

    [c] You are absolutely certain that you cannot be absolutely certain of anything?

    If I have misrepresented your positions or, as you put it, “explained what I want them to be,” tell me why you think that is the case.

  33. 33
    bFast says:

    Learned Hand,

    I certainly would agree that “abortion is wrong” is too strong of an absolute. I absolutely agree that when the mother’s life is in peril, she has the right to defend herself, even if it costs the life of her child. The sad dilemma is that when this rare event happens, the choice usually is to save the mother, or loose both.

    Notice that my logic for a pre-born “person”, the right of self defence, is exactly the same as it would be for a born person. If the pre-born is a “person”, this is a reasonable standard, would you agree?

  34. 34
    Learned Hand says:

    [a] You are not absolutely certain that a whole pie weighs more than any one of its slices?

    I have explained at length that I cannot be absolutely certain of anything, given that my own perceptions and thoughts are subject to error. Would I ever, in the real world, thing that a pie could weigh less than its slices? No! But I can’t say as a matter of perfect logical certainty that my understanding of the concept is infallible, because I have no way to guarantee my own infallibility.

    And, I think, neither do you. You tried to support the notion once, but you had to assume your own infallibility to do it. So now we’re back to, “Look at this simplistic version of what the dumb idiot liar says! He’s such a dumb idiot liar!” It seems to occupy the same space in which you might otherwise put an argument, but it’s not an argument. It’s a tactic to avoid having to present an argument.

    How do you ascertain your own infallibility?

    [b] You claim that having absolute certainty is different from having no doubts.

    No, and this is a sloppy paraphrase. I think you can follow the logic better than this. My position is that to be absolutely certain is to have no doubts, but to be free of doubts is not to be absolutely certain. In other words, A precludes B—but that doesn’t mean that the absence of B guarantees A.

    I don’t know how philosophers would define “doubt,” and I know other people define it differently. It doesn’t matter, it’s just quibbling over definitions. If we define doubts one way, then having no doubt means absolute certainty, if we define it another, you can not doubt and still not have absolute certainty. The actual concept we’re considering is whether absolute infallible certainty is possible.

    [c] You are absolutely certain that you cannot be absolutely certain of anything?

    Nope. My perspective is limited. There could be a some method I can’t currently perceive that would enable me to be absolutely certain of something.

  35. 35
    Barry Arrington says:

    LH:

    It doesn’t matter, it’s just quibbling over definitions . . .you can not doubt and still not have absolute certainty

    Now LH resorts to the Humpty Dumpty Gambit to cover his folly. Natch.

  36. 36
    Mung says:

    LH: There could be a some method I can’t currently perceive that would enable me to be absolutely certain of something.

    But you also can’t be absolutely certain you did not already come across just such a method and reject it in a fit of pique.

  37. 37
    StephenB says:

    SB: You are not absolutely certain that a whole pie weighs more than any one of its slices?

    LH

    I have explained at length that I cannot be absolutely certain of anything, given that my own perceptions and thoughts are subject to error.

    If you can’t be absolutely certain about anything, then you can’t be absolutely certain that your perceptions and thoughts are subject to error, can you? You just refuted your own claim.

    Would I ever, in the real world, thing that a pie could weigh less than its slices? No! But I can’t say as a matter of perfect logical certainty that my understanding of the concept is infallible, because I have no way to guarantee my own infallibility.

    Another contradiction. You are infallibly certain that you cannot be infallibly certain of anything. Remarkable!

    And, I think, neither do you.

    You tried to support the notion once, but you had to assume your own infallibility to do it.

    You didn’t understand what I said. Your response was irrational.

    So now we’re back to, “Look at this simplistic version of what the dumb idiot liar says! He’s such a dumb idiot liar!” It seems to occupy the same space in which you might otherwise put an argument, but it’s not an argument. It’s a tactic to avoid having to present an argument.

    Anyone who doesn’t know with absolute certainty that a whole pizza weighs more than one of its slices is either an idiot or a liar. There is no question about it.

    How do you ascertain your own infallibility?

    I have already answered that question in three ways. Among other things, an infallible standard of truth is necessary to detect error. Your response was irrational. Indeed, you also claim to be able to detect error since you say that you are “subject to error.” Are you infallibly certain about that? If not, then you don’t really know that you are subject to error after all and have contradicted yourself. If so, then you are infallibly certain about something and have contradicted your claim that you cannot be certain about anything. Given your philosophy, you cannot avoid contradicting yourself at every turn.

    SB: You claim that having absolute certainty is different from having no doubts.

    No, and this is a sloppy paraphrase.

    It isn’t sloppy at all. It is an accurate account of your stated philosophy. I am just expressing it in terms that the reader can understand.

    My position is that to be absolutely certain is to have no doubts, but to be free of doubts is not to be absolutely certain.

    And you are manifestly wrong.

    In other words, A precludes B—but that doesn’t mean that the absence of B guarantees A.

    Incorrect and irrational. The absence of any doubt is synonymous with the presence of absolute certainty. The presence of absolute certainty is synonymous with the absence of any doubt. You are trying to have it both ways.

    I don’t know how philosophers would define “doubt,” and I know other people define it differently.

    Everyone knows what “doubt” means. All you have to do is consult a dictionary:

    Doubt

    “a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of something.”

    Thus, to have no doubts is to have no uncertainty. To be absolutely certain, which is to have no uncertainty, is to have no doubts.

    It doesn’t matter, it’s just quibbling over definitions.

    There is only one definition for the word “doubt,” and I have provided it. If you think there is another definition, I will be happy to entertain it.

    Provide your alternative definition for “doubt” right here……..

    SB: You are absolutely certain that you cannot be absolutely certain of anything?

    Nope. My perspective is limited. There could be a some method I can’t currently perceive that would enable me to be absolutely certain of something.

    That statement is completely irrational. If you are not absolutely certain that you cannot be absolutely certain about anything, then you are allowing for the possibility that you can be absolutely certain about some things. Yet you have ruled out that possibility, so that means that you are claiming that you are absolutely certain that you cannot be absolutely certain about anything. Indeed, you began this interaction with that very claim:

    I have explained at length that I cannot be absolutely certain of anything,

    Here you are again asserting the very thing that you now want to temporarily disassociate yourself from, at least until the heat is off, at which time you will revert back and start all over again.

    If you will permit it, I can help you become a rational person. However, you have to want to be rational. I don’t believe that you do.

    The truth is, Barry and I would love to help those who have fallen into irrationality. We don’t want to insult or hurt people. We want to help people. However, as is often the case, those who are most in need of remedial education are the least willing to accept it.

  38. 38
    bFast says:

    “[a] You are not absolutely certain that a whole pie weighs more than any one of its slices?”
    Hmmm, if we make the pie with a lighter than air spot (more easily achieved under water), then by separating the pie so that one piece has enough of the negative weight segment to become negative weight. The other piece will be heavier than the whole pie was. Just sayin.

    Now, if the question referred to mass, rather than weight, it’d be a bit harder.

  39. 39
    Learned Hand says:

    Mung,

    But you also can’t be absolutely certain you did not already come across just such a method and reject it in a fit of pique.

    That’s true. Can you point out where any method has been proposed at all?

    SB,

    If you can’t be absolutely certain about anything, then you can’t be absolutely certain that your perceptions and thoughts are subject to error, can you? You just refuted your own claim.

    ZING! Debate over guys, SB just nailed it. Except… no, I don’t think that I absolutely can’t be absolutely certain. As I said in #34, maybe I could be absolutely certain. Maybe there’s some method for establishing infallibility that never occurred to me. Can you teach me what it is? No one else seems to have anything on offer other than invective. Which is all you offered when you responded to the same point later in your own commend. Did you think asking the same “gotcha” question twice would make it twice as effective? You have my answer.

    There is only one definition for the word “doubt,” . . . Provide your alternative definition for “doubt” right here……..

    There are multiple definitions even in the dictionary you copied that from; you had to skip over several of them to arrive at the one you copied, and chose not to copy the ones that follow it. It’s like you’re allergic to the idea that someone could see things differently from you—you recoil from it at every opportunity.

    I explained my thinking in the prior comment, and again here. One can lack doubt without denying the possibility of doubt, and thus without being absolutely certain. I don’t doubt that the sun will rise tomorrow, but I admit it’s possible to doubt that rationally and that we can’t be absolutely certain. I don’t care if you freak out about the definition; it’s the underlying concepts that matter.

    If you are not absolutely certain that you cannot be absolutely certain about anything, then you are allowing for the possibility that you can be absolutely certain about some things. Yet you have ruled out that possibility, so that means that you are claiming that you are absolutely certain that you cannot be absolutely certain about anything.

    Yes, I’ll allow for the possibility that I could be absolutely certain about some things. I don’t see how, and I can’t even imagine how a fallible being with a limited perspective could ever be infallibly certain of anything. But my inability to imagine such a scenario doesn’t mean that such a scenario can’t exist—so it’s possible that I could be wrong. Same reasoning I’ve applied everywhere else. You’re hunting for an inconsistency that doesn’t seem to be there.

    When I say, “I have explained at length that I cannot be absolutely certain of anything,” I don’t mean that I can never, under any circumstances, be certain. I mean that I can’t see any way for a person to be infallibly, perfectly certain given the limitations of human perspective and reasoning. But as my own perspective and reasoning is limited, I could be wrong. I just don’t bother to write all that every single time, because I presume we’re having a discussion about ideas rather than trying to manufacture “gotcha” moments.

    If you will permit it, I can help you become a rational person.

    Great! How do you know that you are infallible? Your prior attempt to explain this assumed infallibility—can you do it without that circularity? This comment would have been a great chance to do it… but instead you fell back on the standard BA/SB line of argument: preening about your own high standards of perfect reasoning without answering any questions about them.

    How do you know which of your notions are infallible, SB? And how do you support that infallibility? This is your chance to explain! And if you can’t… well, you’re not going to reconsider these beliefs, so time to build that wall up. Haul out some more rhetoric about “you don’t want to be rational” and build it high and strong, so that no doubt may breach it.

    But SB, how do you know you’re infallible? Why can’t you answer that question?

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