A philosophical turn of mind

In a closed facebook group on analytic philosophy, someone asked a question along these lines: "How do you primarily criticize other people's reasoning?"

Here's the reply I gave. Continue reading….

 

Last 5 posts by David Byron

Comments

  1. LTMG says

    Pithy, quotable, teachable. All very useful for one not formally trained in polemics. STEM and business education, while excellent for solving problems, has clear limitations.

  2. Hoare says

    meme

    "Religion ends and philosophy begins, just as alchemy ends and chemistry begins, and astrology ends and astronomy begins."
    – Richard Dawkins (1941-)

  3. Jonathan says

    To be fair, Richard Dawkins is about as far from a respected authority on religion or philosophy as one can get.

    He's more like a mildly sophisticated troll on such matters.

  4. Mercury says

    Well, there is broad formula for doing science (the scientific method: the ultimate troubleshooting heuristic!) and to the extent that the issue at hand is quantifiable, testable and falsifiable it would behoove Person P to be able to defend his thesis along these lines if he wants to be taken seriously and not be subjected to withering criticism (by me anyway).

    You’re in an honest, good faith debate with P when he is willing to identify the conditions under which his thesis would be incorrect or invalid. It’s hard to find actual scientists willing to do that these days let alone anyone else. I’m not much of a Philosophy buff but I believe this is Karl Popper territory.

    Anyway, I don’t take issue with any particular point in your non-exhaustive list but I think your approach is a bit too lawyerly. Like the tax code it has so many ifs, ands & buts that under such a schema I suspect Person P could be technically compliant and completely full of shit at the same time.

  5. Tom says

    @Mercury the notion that there is a broad formula for doing science, that there is any such thing as a or the scientific method, is a philosophical assertion, and one that is by no means as obvious as you seem to presume.

  6. Jonathan says

    @Tom,

    The notion … that there is any such thing as a or the scientific method, is a philosophical assertion, and one that is by no means as obvious as you seem to presume.

    Could you elaborate?

  7. Mercury says

    @Tom:

    Of course. And the technology behind the machine you’re tapping into was developed by post-structuralist philosophy majors.

    You sound like the philosopher in ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’ who (for an encore) proved that white is black and black is white and then got himself killed at the next zebra crossing.

    Sorry, I think I’ll leave that bait on the hook.

  8. En Passant says

    What are some other ways you approach the task of evaluating another's reasoning?

    You're wrong, but if I explain why, I'll have to kill you. Because Hitler. Besides, I'm having too much fun wit' yo mama. Did they teach you that crap at the Saint Teresa College of Dishwashing or did you just make it up?

    But it meets with only varying degrees of success.

  9. says

    …there is broad formula for doing science (the scientific method: the ultimate troubleshooting heuristic!) and to the extent that the issue at hand is quantifiable, testable and falsifiable it would behoove Person P to be able to defend his thesis along these lines

    So many issues and assertions that are meaningful (important) are not quantifiable or not empirically falsifiable. For example: "To the extent that the issue at hand is quantifiable, testable, and falsifiable, it would behoove person P to be able to defend his thesis along these lines".

  10. Craig says

    @Mercury: "Sorry, I think I’ll leave that bait on the hook."

    If you even understood Tom's point, your response failed to make that fact clear. The thing is, Tom is actually correct.

  11. Tom says

    @Jonathan and @Mercury
    I don't mean to say that distrusting notions of scientific method is any reason to suppose that science doesn't work, or that science doesn't produce truth, or lead us to truth, or lead us closer to truth, or something like that. I'm being deliberately vague about the rest of this point since, on the one hand, these too are topics of current philosophical debate, but also because my remaining point stands no matter your or my thoughts on, for example, whether a scientific theory has to be true to be good, or broader questions of realism and anti-realism in science.

    The point is this – there is no one scientific method, and there is certainly not one that people are taught. Requiring Popperian falsifiability, or some of the other criteria you allude to, for something to qualify as science or as scientific would require us to provide an explanation of why most existing science is, in fact, unsound.

    You could look at this page for some better expressed thoughts along the same lines as mine, and with plenty of reading available that is pointedly not post-structuralist or any other stupid Continental fancies. I might have moved van Fraassen up the list, but that perhaps represents my intellectual biases. http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/notabene/scientific-method.html

  12. Mercury says

    @David

    I’m pretty confident in my assertion that those who have a firm grasp on the science underlying what they are trying to achieve (when possible) generally have a leg up on those who don’t. Further I am pretty confident that this assertion is itself testable and measureable…but I’m willing to be proven wrong on any particular example. 

  13. Mercury says

    @Tom

    No there is not one “scientific method” engraved in stone but it’s pretty easy to tell if one method is more or less scientific than the other. Transparency, testability and letting reality speak for itself is the general idea.

    Requiring falsifiability doesn’t demand an explanation of why most existing science is, in fact, unsound, it demands the acknowledgement/description of a set of hypothetical or undiscovered conditions that would make the theory unsound.

  14. Tom says

    @Mercury
    Unfortunately I don't have time to fully expand my views, but I'd point out that on the one hand "it's pretty easy to tell if one method is more or less scientific than the other" is controversial, and I by no means agree.

    I'd also want to explore why you think falsifiability or testability are as obvious requirements as you seem to believe. I can, trivially, describe a set of hypothetical or undiscovered conditions that would make any theory unsound. If nothing else, the negation of the theory is a "set of hypothetical or undiscovered conditions that would make the theory unsound."

    So while I see the appeal of simple stories like "Scientific theories should be testable", I doubt that these are in any meaningful sense useful as descriptions of what actually does occur in the practice of science. They are covering myths, the convenient stories we tell ourselves to reassure ourselves that we really are as in control of the world as we'd like to be.

  15. says

    @David
    I’m pretty confident in my assertion that those who have a firm grasp on the science underlying what they are trying to achieve (when possible) generally have a leg up on those who don’t.

    @Mercury
    Yes, you are. But that contributes little. Besides, "having a leg up" is itself neither always quantifiable nor always verifiable.

    But feel free to disregard my hesitation over your cavalier dismissal of the analytic philosophy of science; similar to Tom, I'm under the dubious sway of Lambert and van Fraassen. ;)

  16. Mark - Lord of the Albino Squirrels says

    "The scientific method" is most excellent at finding facts and answers. Thus you have:

    Deep Thought: "42!"

    But perhaps science fails when you used to criticize – is "scientifically good" a scientifically valid phrase? – or to examine an invisible concept such as reason or meaning.

    Deep Thought: "Exactly! So once you know what the question actually is, you'll know what the answer means."

    Here, P (me) is addressing the depiction of logic and philosophy in fiction. P seems to believe this is either entertaining or relevant to the domain of criticizing reason. Do these domains match? Probably not.
    With that singular diagnostic question P's reasoning appears tenuous at best – so I'd say it's a good diagnostic question.

    My somewhat lame point with all of the above is to suggest the addition of humor to "generosity, skepticism, curiosity, and hope."

  17. Mercury says

    Question: is that closed Facebook group on analytic philosophy closed to keep people out or to keep people in?

    Even science rarely if ever delivers perfect knowledge or truth all the time. You got me.

    Instead of making any further attempts to define the best approaches to future or outstanding inquiry and reasoning I will simply point to the historical track record of human achievements made by utilizing scientific methods (variously but not too widely defined) vs. those achieved by voodoo, coin flips, praying, committees, rhyming, entrail augury or any other method. The closest contender is probably luck.

    Perhaps what sets science apart from philosophy or anything else is an attempt to subordinate subjectivity to objectivity as much as is humanly possible. In most cases I think that's the way to go but your mileage may vary. Be careful at those zebra crossings.

  18. Tom says

    You seem to be of the opinion that holding views of science which don't have as dogmatically simple views of the scientific method or the like as you do also require me to either think that science isn't effective, or something similar.

    You'll nowhere find in my posts here anything to suggest that I do not think that science is the best form of inquiry if affecting the empirical world in some way is your aim. You act as if it's inconceivable that someone might disagree with your views on scientific method whilst simultaneously sharing your views on the primacy of science as a method of inquiry.

    To make myself crystal clear, if asking empirical questions, science is absolutely the best way to answer them. That said, I don't think that for an answer to be a good one it has to be true. I also don't think that the phrase "the scientific method" is almost ever useful, and certainly not in this context.

  19. Tom says

    Hm, I should probably proof-read. My tone is overly combative in that reply – I do not mean any offense, or especially for my choice of specific words to overshadow the broader point.

  20. says

    You'll nowhere find in my posts here anything to suggest that I do not think that science is the best form of inquiry if affecting the empirical world in some way is your aim. You act as if it's inconceivable that someone might disagree with your views on scientific method whilst simultaneously sharing your views on the primacy of science as a method of inquiry.

    This.

  21. jdgalt says

    Those are good questions to start with. Those who are ready for the full version should check out LessWrong.com.

  22. mud man says

    science is the best form of inquiry if affecting the empirical world in some way is your aim

    … unless your empirical world has Humans in it …

  23. Manatee says

    I don't see Hitler in there anywhere.

    I'll fix that for you:

    Does P compare P's opponents to Hitler? If so, is the subject of the discussion Austrian art schools?

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