[lit-ideas] The retreat to commitment

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  • Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2015 12:37:42 -0500

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": "afaik,  
revised his OSE approach to rationalism in the light of William Bartley's  
criticism. This revision occurred in the 1960s. 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. A 
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. 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 OSE 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). ... 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."
One of the fascinating things about W. W. Bartley, III's The retreat to  
commitment, is that it diverges slightly with his dissertation under Popper on 
 the bounds of reason. Bartley had been previously educated under White and 
Quine  at Harvard and, unlike H. P. G., he attended not Oxford, but 
Cambridge: Gonville  and Caius (*) to be more specific.
Another fascinating thing about "The retreat to commitment" is that for the 
 second edition, W. W. Bartley, a good Protestant, protested against his 
critics,  and, to their satisfaction, added six appendices. The one point 
raised by McEvoy  above I believe W. W. Bartley, III, addresses in connection 
with Bartley's  detailed critique of Post, who had specialised in liar 
paradoxes. Some excerpts  in ps. 

(*) Geary played inferentially with Gonville and Caius.
Bartley attended Gonville and Caius
Therefore, Bartley attended Gonville.
("But this is anti-Cantabrigensis." (**))
W. W. Bartley, III, writes: 
"Post [who also studied under Quine] contends that my position — that all  
positions, including my own, are open to criticism — produces semantical  
paradox, and generates an uncriticizable statement."
"What is involved is not an antinomy but what Post, following Quine, calls  
a "veridical paradox" -- Geary prefers "horizontal". 
"Post's "uncriticizable" statement is, after all, criticizable."
"Post concentrates on one particular element of my discussion to which I  
myself happened to give some importance — namely, the claim that "Everything 
is  open to criticism"".
Cfr. "What if everything is a mispresumption?" Geary, "Confessions [Kindle  
"The argument revolves around my contention, set forth in this book, that  
all positions are open to criticism — including the position that all 
positions  are open to criticism."
Take the following two claims: 
A: All positions are open to criticism. 
B: A is open to criticism. 
Bartley: "Since B is implied by A, any criticism of B will constitute a  
criticism of A, and thus show that A is open to criticism."
"Assuming that a criticism of B argues that B is *false*, we may argue: if  
B is false, A is false."
"But an argument showing A to be false (and thus criticizing it) shows B to 
 be true."
"Thus, if B is false, B is true."
"Any attempt to criticize B demonstrates B."

"Thus B is uncriticizable, and A is false. And hence, so Post would  
contend, my position is refuted."

But Bartley goes on: it ain't. 
"Even if someone did make an article of faith or dogma out of (B), there is 
 virtually nothing he could do with it."
"B has insufficient content to be used to justify other claims."
"Post claims that pancritical rationalism rests on this principle."

A: Every rational, noninferential statement is criticizable and has  
survived criticism. 
From A, there immediately follows, as Post argues: 
B: Every rational noninferential statement is criticizable. 
All this can be formalised. Post suggests that "T5X" stand for 
"S is a potential criticizer of X."
Thus X will be criticizable just in case 

stands for 
'X is rational and non-inferential in the present problem- context K'. 
Thus B becomes: 
(X) (RX -^ {3S)PSX). 
Since B itself is supposed to be criticizable, there follows: 
C. {3S)PSB. 
To elicit a paradox from these, Post needs 2 additional premises: 
1. (S) {PSC -^ PSB) 
2. (S) {PSB -^ -PSC). 
"Post introduces 1 & 2 as if they were just two additional premises,  and 
neglects to mention the quite extraordinary role they play."
"For these premises, taken together, prove that PSC -^ —PSC; or — C ^  C."
"And thus C is always proved, no matter what A, B, and C may happen to  be."
"Thus the two premises are themselves a recipe for paradox."
"The first premise means that every potential criticizer of C is a  
potential criticizer of B."
"The second premise, on the other hand, means that no potential criticizer  
of B is a potential criticizer of C."
"If a statement S were specified which, if accepted, would count as a  
criticism of B, then that would also show the truth of C, and thus could not  
count against C."
"That is, any criticism of the statement that B is criticizable would be a  
criticism of B; and any criticism of B would provide an example of, and 
hence  confirm, the criticizability of B — i.e., C, the statement that B is  
But from premises (1) and (2) together, there follows: 
(3) -{3S)PSC. 
That is, C is allegedly NOT criticizable. 
"If we assume that C is rational and noninferential, however, it follows  
that B is false."
"And thus — so Post argues — pancritical rationalism is refuted."
"The claim that all rational statements can be criticized is incorrect, for 
 the claim that this claim can be criticized itself cannot be criticized."
"Post goes on to argue that C, although uncriticizable, is demonstrably  
true; that B, which is criticizable, is self-referentially consistent but  
"Post adds that any given statement X is a rational statement if and only  
if a rational man is entitled to 
accept it — that is, if and only if X is  "rationally acceptable"".
Hence A could presumably be rewritten: 
A1 : Every noninferential statement that a rational man is entitled to  
accept is criticizable and has survived criticism. 

Presumably A could also be rewritten, as Post interprets it, as follows: 
Every rationally acceptable noninferential statement is criticizable and  
has survived criticism. and that A, which is also criticizable, is invalid 
and  self-referentially inconsistent. 
B could be restored to validity, and A to self-referential consistency,  
only by withdrawing the claim that C is rational. 
"But in that case A would be incomplete, contrary to the comprehensive aims 
 and claims of pancritical rationalism."
"This leads Post to his "Goedelian theorem" that all reason theories in a  
certain class that includes my own (and also Popper's)^'' are either  
self-referentially inconsistent or inherently incomplete." 
"Post demands that any criticizable statement must meet certain other  
requirements. Post has wishes to construe criticizability not as semantic but  
only as "partly semantic""
Take Post's statement A: 
A. Every rational, noninferential statement is criticizable and has  
survived criticism. 
"Post means this as a report of my remark that a position may be held  
rationally without needing justification — provided that it can be and is held  
open to criticism and survives severe examination."
That is, 
A': Every position which is held open to criticism and survives 
severe examination may be held rationally
"And there is no need to go into the question of its justification."

"A and A' are, however, very different."

"Even if we allow my position to be interpreted by his statement, Post's A  
reverses and crucially alters A'." 
"Post's B does not follow from my A'"
"Nor does a reversed version of B follow from A'".
"Thus someone who holds A' need not hold B'."
B': Every criticizable statement is rational and noninferential. 

"Nor does Post's C follow from my A'" 

"Thus Post's alleged paradox, as originally constructed, does not  capture 
pancritical rationalism."
Post's reformulated the first premise, Al, to read as  follows: 
Consider a person P, a context K, a time t, and an attitude, belief, or  
position X (expressible or not) which is problematic (or up for possible  
revision) for P in K at t. Then P holds X rationally in K at ? only if: P holds 
X open to criticism at ^, and (so far as P can then tell or guess) X has at 
t so  far survived criticism. 
From Al there follows Bl: 
Bl:  P holds X rationally at t only if P holds X open to criticism at  t. 
We then also obtain CI : 
CI. There is a (potential) criticism of Bl, which might someday be produced 
 and be seen to be successful. 
"Go through a similar line of argument as before and his alleged refutation 
 of my claim is restored."
"Post's line of argumentation, however, seems to rest on (or at any rate to 
 stem from) the assumption (so far unexamined) that for a statement to be  
criticizable is for it to be possibly false. If I were to accept this  
assumption, I would be forced to maintain that all positions are possibly  
"But this position — that all positions are possibly false — is, so it  
seems to me, obviously false."
W. W. Bartley, III, attended Gonville and Caius, Cambridge. 
Gonville and Caius are often referred to simply as "Caius" which displeases 
 the descendants of Gonville 
There's a long association of Gonville and Caius with first-rate teaching,  
especially due to John Caius, who gave the college the caduceus in its  
The foundation of Gonville and Caius, as the name implicates, was founded  
by Gonville.
When Gonville died, he left, alas, no money. 
In 1557 it was decided that Gonville could be refounded, by Royal  Charter. 
The name "Gonville and Caius" was proposed, unoriginally, by John Caius  
Caius was master of Gonville and Caius from sometime in 1559 until  shortly 
before his death in 1573. 
Unlike Gonville, Caius provided Gonville and Caius with significant  funds.
On top of that, during his time as Master, Caius accepted no payment.
He insisted, however, on several unusual rules. 
Caius insisted that Gonville and Caius admit no scholar who “is  deformed, 
dumb, blind, lame, maimed, mutilated, or suffering from any grave  illness, 
or an invalid, that is sick in a serious measure”.
Caius also built a three-sided court, Caius Court, “lest the air from being 
 confined within a narrow space should become foul”. 
Caius did, however, refound Gonville and Caius as a strong centre  for 
On the re-foundation by Dr Caius, the college was expanded and updated. In  
1565 the building of Caius Court began, and Caius planted an avenue of 
trees in  what is now known, unoriginally, as the Tree Court. 
He was also responsible for the building of the college's three gates,  
symbolising the path of academic life. 
On matriculation, one arrives at the Gate of Humility (near the Porters'  
In the centre of the college one passes through the Gate of Virtue  
And finally, graduating students pass through the Gate of Honour on their  
way to the neighbouring Senate House to receive their degrees. 
The Gate of Honour, at the south side of Caius Court, though the most  
direct way from the Old Courts to the College Library (Cockerell Building), is  
only used for special occasions such as graduation. 
The students of Gonville and Caius commonly refer, apparently with a  
jocular intent, to the fourth gate in the college, between Tree Court and  
Gonville Court, which also gives access to some lavatories, as "The Gate of  
Caius also has one of the largest libraries in Oxbridge, the Cockerell  
Building. It is cited as 'the hottest library in Cambridgeshire.'

Gonville and Caius is one of the most traditional places  in Cambridge. 
Gonville and Caius is one of the few places that still seek to insist  that 
its members attend communal dinners, known as "Hall". 
Consisting of a three-course meal, Hall takes place in two sittings, with  
the second known as "Formal Hall", which must be attended wearing gowns. 
At Formal Hall, the students rise as the fellows proceed in, a gong is  
rung, and a Latin grace or benediction is read.
The boat club is not called the Gonville and Caius Boat Club but simply the 
 Caius Boat Club. It is particularly strong, with the men's 1st VIII 
remaining  unbeaten in a number of seasons. And so on. 
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