[lit-ideas] Re: Rationality: Popper vs. Grice

  • From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 9 Feb 2015 19:47:36 +0100

Well, actually I thought that Popper of the Open Society had a point there.
Various parts of the rationalist system can be defended in rational terms
but the system as a whole cannot be defended in its own terms without
circularity. We can (perhaps) explain to someone that such and such opinion
or action is rational and its opposite irrational but finally there comes a
point when we are asked asked: "Why be rational ?" At this point, it is
difficult to see how the question be answered except by saying "Because it
is rational to be rational " which is circular or else by invoking a
personal or cultural commitment to rationalism which is in itself not
rational. If the later Popper found a solution to this conundrum I would
like to know what it was.


On Mon, Feb 9, 2015 at 2:31 PM, Redacted sender Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx for
DMARC <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

> We are discussing Popper's idea that rationality cannot be self-justifying;
>  a view that did not trouble Grice. Perhaps what both had in common is the
> idea  that rationality (as we know it) evolved from a 'pre-rational' state.
> We are dating this and that. Can we speak of an early Popper and, to echo
> Geary, 'a late Grice'?
> In a message dated 2/9/2015 5:56:10 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,
> donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes in "The Worlds of Sir Karl Popper" in
> reply to  a
> query by O. K."
> "Is it "early"? Maybe or maybe not: OSE was published,  iirc, c.1945, ten
> years after LdF - i.e. some ten years after P's most noted  "early" work.
> But
> OSE might yet be termed "early" given the length of Popper's  publishing
> career: Popper's 'Obj Knowl' was published c.1970 and TSAIB was  published
> c.1977, and the 3 volume 'Postscript' to LdF (though based on O.S.  from
> the
> late 50s) was only finally published in 1982. And there have been  several
> books since then, such as "The Myth of the Framework", though these are
> usually based on writings that are not recent to their publication."
> This of course should NOT be confusing. Recall that Grice's first book was
> posthumous ("as opposed to pre-humous", as Geary humoristically  recalls).
> McEvoy:
> "Afair, I did not claim that OSE was an early  work but merely that certain
> points - like the above - do not belong to Popper's  "mature" philosophy.
> (But more on this below: for Popper's revision does not  amount to an
> outright repudiation of what is written in OSE). Publication dates  are
> not always
> the most reliable guide to classifying the time-periods in which  thinking
> developed: on the point raised above, afaik, Popper revised his OSE
> approach
> to rationalism in the light of William Bartley's criticism. This  revision
> occurred in the 1960s."
> In the case of Grice, his revision occurred in 1979, when he was invited to
>  give the John Locke lectures at Oxford on "rationality". He said to
> himself:  "What should I lecture these pompous Oxonians on?" (To give the
> John
> Locke  Lectures you have NOT to belong to Oxford, as Grice then didn't).
> So, he
>  recalled that two years ago he had given the Kant lectures on rationality
> at  Stanford, and hoped those pompous Oxonians wouldn't notice. They
> didn't.
> McEvoy:
> "The nub of Bartley's elaborate criticism is that it does  not matter so
> much whether adopting a rational attitude is a product of a  rational or
> non-rational process or 'commitment', or even an irrational  'commitment':
> what
> matters is that adopting a rational attitude (or the rational  attitude so
> adopted) can be defended on rational grounds - rather than merely on
> non-rational or irrational ones."
> Or 'pre-rational' ones. If pre-posthumous is otiose, 'pre-rational' is not.
>  For rationality originates from the same psychological attitudes that
> originate,  say, 'akrasia', which is irrational and comes in two varieties.
> Grice: "Most philosophers focus on practical akrasia: "This is what I
> should rationally do; but I won't do it". My favourite topic of akrasia is
> theoretical akrasia: "This is the truth of the matter, but I'll reject
> it".
> McEvoy:
> "A most important point is that this defence does not depend  on justifying
> 'rationalism', in the traditional way of philosophy, but it is  sufficient
> if 'rationalism' itself withstands rational criticism. If rationalism  can
> be so defended, then it is "comprehensive" in that it owes no debt to
> non-rationalism or irrationalism in terms of its defence."
> Which may leave unanswered the question that rationality owes a BIG debt to
>  pre-rationality. E.g. monkeys, Chomsky says, are 'irrational' (hence the
> famous  adage, "Socrates is a man; therefore rational"). But monkeys and
> Man
> share TOO  MANY THINGS to deny that man's rationality is NOT based on a
> pre-rational basis  that we find in monkeys ("and other animals", as
> Durrell
> would add -- he lived  in a zoo, as Ritchie may recall).
> McEvoy:
> "In some ways Bartley's pov is implicit in Popper's early work where  that
> early work accounts for the rationality of science not in terms of the
> 'rational production' of scientific theories (in contrast to inductive
> accounts
> which pretend to do so) but in the application of a rational/critical
> methods to  testing theories (irrespective of whether their production is,
> or is
> not, part  of a 'rational' process). In this light, Popper's position in
> might seem  surprising - as it might seem to fail to keep apart the issues
> of the production  of a 'rational attitude' and issues of whether a
> 'rational attitude' is itself  rationally defensible (paralleling the
> distinction
> between issues as to whether  the production of scientific theories is
> 'rational' and issues as to whether  such theories are rationally
> defensible)."
> Well, here is where Grice's mixed metaphor of entrenchment may play a role.
>  Or self-entrenchment, rather. Rationality originates in pre-rational
> behaviour, and this is the context of the genesis. And Rationality gets
> self-entrenched or self-justified -- By what means: by what Grice calls the
> Bootstrap principle, or how to pull yourself rationality by your own
> bootstraps.
> McEvoy:
> "Perhaps Popper was being too generous in OSE in conceding a kind of
> priority to the non-rational or the irrational: but there is more to it,
> for
> there is a core of important truth to the concessions made in OSE - namely,
> that  reason cannot be used to compel anyone to adopt an attitude of
> reasonableness."
> Perhaps he was too influenced by Plato, as Grice never was. Recall that for
>  Plato, it is the non-rational part of the soul (there are three of them)
> that  MOVES the man. Grice's approach to rationality is more Aristotelian
> in
> nature,  and while 'akrasia' was a topic that fascinated Aristotle, he knew
> the way out  of it!
> McEvoy: "Popper's concessions were not part of a philosophy hung-up on
> trying to compel the unreasonable to be reasonable - rather he was
> indicating
> why, rationally speaking, they are a lost cause. OSE was after all part of
> Popper's "war work" and he takes a clear line - as the title indicates -
> between  the friends and the enemies of the OS: the book is addressed to
> its
> friends and  potential friends and does not seek to convert its enemies
> (though it of course  had a powerful effect on many one-time enemies of
> the OS)."
> This is what perhaps makes Popper a Continental philosopher, since his
> audience included enemies to the OS. Meanwhile, an "Anglo-American" (or
> Allies)
>  philosopher was just fighting the war as a Royal navy captain.
> McEvoy:
> "Another aspect of Popper's OSE treatment is that he is  against forms of
> 'rationalism' that are excessive, both because they are false  and also
> likely self-defeating - for example, he makes clear that his form of
> 'rationalism' is not based on the assumption that people are entirely or
> mostly
> 'rational' or that 'rationalism' is an easy attitude to practice. In this
> he is
> advocating a 'rationalism' that withstands rational criticism - and
> opposing
> forms of 'rationalism' (or pseudo-rationalism) that do not withstand
> rational  criticism."
> Perhaps this is best summed up in Grice's title for the John Locke
> lectures: "ASPECTS of reason -- and reasoning". Surely we don't demand the
> same
> criteria for rational moral behaviour as we demand of rational 'alethic'
> behaviour. Different psychological attitudes are involved. And rational
> moral
> behaviour may end up being 'ceteris paribus', 'defeasible', and, let's say,
> more  problematic. (Grice is refuting views by Philippa Foot, which Grice
> saw
> as a too  naturalistic approach to morality).
> McEvoy:
> "So whether the OSE is "early" or not, in Popper's  "mature" philosophy
> Bartley's criticism is acknowledged and there is no needless  concession
> that
> there is a priority of irrationalism or non-rationalism in terms  of the
> defence of rationalism."
> Perhaps the keyword should be commitment. Grice never used the phrase --
> less so 'rational commitment'. He would at most give a nod to what Quine
> had
> said about ONTOLOGICAL commitment -- what is rationally justifiable to
> count as  'existing': his example: "Pegasus flies." An irrational thing to
> say,
> as Dodds  ("The Greeks and the Irrational") would agree.
> Cheers,
> Speranza
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