[lit-ideas] Re: The Educational Value of Slips of the Whatever

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2009 10:04:36 +0000 (GMT)

Richard doesn’t really address the point that the history of ideas shows 
clearly that ideas that have apparently “won” are often later to “lose”. This 
shows that apparent winning is _at best_ a fallible assessment of what is 
currently deemed valid: conversely, _validity_ in its true, objective sense is 
not shown by apparent winning. 

More philosophically fundamental is P’s point that “winning” or the degree of 
acceptance of an argument are [historical] _facts_, and from these facts we 
cannot _deduce_ the _validity_ of what argument is “winning”. We may guess, one 
way or another, but we cannot _deduce_. This is enough to show there is a 
logical gap between “winning” and “validity”.

When assessing “validity” we look for critical grounds, for what actually 
‘supports’ (non-inductively, of course) the argument or theory under 
consideration. The answer is that whether an argument is genuinely valid is 
always a guess of some sort. Even if some of these guesses seem incontestable, 
the history of ideas is littered with the supposedly incontestable that was 
then overturned, and, perhaps more important philosophically, logically these 
guesses cannot be demonstrated – even deduction itself, surely that most sound 
of guesses, cannot be deduced deductively without the argument being fatally 

In truth we may often accept an argument _because it is valid_, but it would be 
wrong to conclude that because we accept it the argument therefore is valid.

>Donal provides the last words of every happy lawyer:

as they burnt him at the stake it was clear his argument had won

>How does a lawyer ever improve or even seek to improve his arguments if he can 
>always "argue" that his argument "had won," even as his innocent client is 
>being led to the gallows or stake? What private criteria of evaluation is 
>Donal claiming as the universal >measure of the quality of >an argument?

This is a side-track into lawyer-dom on which I'll only comment briefly. In law 
what argument _legally_ “won” is usually measured by the decision of the court 
etc. Whether that argument morally, or intellectually, or rationally “won” is 
left open by this. Law is a special case where “case closed” is often the rule 
because of the need for finality in litigation – but in understanding the world 
the “case closed” attitude is not only unnecessary it is intellectually and 
indeed morally wrong.


>Perhaps valid arguments may be proposed for questions like "Is it better to 
>get up early or late in the morning?" Popper, I assume, however, is more 
>interested in questions of fact like "Is the universe expanding?" And for that 
>there are good and less good arguments, but no "valid" arguments. The validity 
>of arguments about facts can only be judged by Laplace's >Demon or a similarly 
>omniscient entity.

P would agree, I think, with this last sentence provided we understand “judged” 
to mean “conclusively judged”. But we can, and do, make provisional judgments 
about such facts. Even whether "Is it better to get up early or late in the 
morning?". This question too, insofar as we treat it as a question fact, cannot 
be conclusively but only provisionally judged. Even where there are only "good 
and less good arguments" [getting-up-early being a case in point; science in 
general and metaphysics in particular being even more crucial cases] we may 
still speak of validity, and even make judgments as to validity, albeit in a 
non-conclusive sense.


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