[lit-ideas] Re: Valid-Some Thoughts

  • From: wokshevs@xxxxxx
  • To: jlm@xxxxxxxxxxxx, John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 2 Jan 2008 19:15:50 -0330

More replies to John McC's philosophically mistaken views --------------->

Quoting John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>:

> My thanks to Walter for persevering in a most gracious and thoughtful
> manner. Concerning specifics of what he has written here I offer only the
> following,

----------------> My thanks to John for his kind words.  I am pleased to offer
my views and I thank John for his own perseverance. May the new year bring
enlightenment to all .... (esp. John. :)

John quotes me:

> >  We understand John's criticisms here only because we make, and cannot but
> > make, the epistemic
> > distinctions I refer to.


> That we do make these distinctions is undeniable. That we cannot but make
> them is debatable. Richard Rorty argues, in a manner that I find persuasive,
> that some, at least, are more trouble than they are worth.

---------> Rorty is woefully confused on a number of epistemological points,
esp. those pertaining to moral theory. Putnam and Habermas have clearly exposed
the errors in their respective writings. 

Back to John:

> Walter writes,

> >  "Scientific method" is yet another "thingie."

> The scientific method I have in mind is a bit more sophisticated than the
> cartoon to which Walter refers. I have noted before that I think of this
> issue in terms I learned from reading Chomsky.
> Scientific method as taught in schools can be described as a Discovery
> procedure: Take a body of data, apply the procedure, the output is Truth.
>  Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the history of science knows that
> this description is far from what scientists actually do.

-----------------> Agreed.

Back to John:

> As taught in somewhat more advanced schools scientific method can be
> described as a Decision procedure: Take a body of data and a theory, apply
> the procedure, the output is a decision that the theory is Right or Wrong.
> Anyone who has actually done science or has a slightly more advanced
> knowledge of the history of science knows that this description is also far
> from what scientists actually do.

------> I certainly hope so.

Back to John:

> The way in which I, following Chomsky, think about scientific method can be
> described as an Evaluation procedure: Take a body of data and at least two
> theories, apply the procedure, the output is a judgment that, given the data
> in question, one theory is superior to the others. This judgment is always
> tentative, since what scientists actually do is engage in activities that
> generate new data and new theories that may either reverse the original
> judgment or provide a better account--where better means accounting in
> greater detail for new as well as old data. In other words, the question is
> no longer True or False, Right or Wrong, but, instead, Better or Worse, in
> terms of Fit, i.e., how well competing theories fit the data with which the
> scientist is working. What counts as better or worse fit is, of course, a
> continually debated issue, in which the nature of available data, types of
> measurements used and precision of theoretical claims are all in play.

---------> Be it far from me to call a theory "true" or false." But I have no
qualms about calling a theory "wrong." Kuhn offers a number of suitable

Back to John:

> Given this characterization, it makes no sense, for example, to argue
> whether a theory is an example of Truth or Belief. There is no way of
> knowing that. All we can say is that Theory A appears to offer a better fit
> with the evidence at hand than Theory B.

-----> When it comes to theories, I'm willing to go eclectic. I  subscribe to a
variety of different criteria of assessment given the purposes at hand:
parsimony, predictive value, correspondence, deductive cogency, elegance
(Einstein spoke of the "beauty" of a theory). I'm willing to be quite
promiscuous on criteria here. But I'm not clear on the relevance of all this to
the issues we were originally discussing. Neither theory change nor theory
choice contradicts any of the transcendental concepts and principles necessary
for inquiry and argument. If they did, we would have neither justifiable
"change" nor "choice." (As Popper put it, I paraphrase from memory,: Kuhn is
describing scientists who have been inadequately trained.)

Back to John:

> As a practical matter the need to regard Theory A as beyond reasonable doubt
> and thus grounds for action frequently arises. 

-------------------> John loses me here. First, no empirical theory is "beyond
reasonable doubt." The empirical realm is one of contingency, not conceptual
necessity. (Only philosophy can establish the latter in its quest for the
transcendentally universal and necessary.) If a claim or hypothesis
were indeed "beyond reasonable doubt," we wouldn't need an empirical theory to
account for the phenomenon in question.  Oder?

Regarding the matter of an empirical
theory providing "grounds of action," this is surely a category mistake.
Empirical theories do not, and cannot, provide justifiable grounds of action on
their own. Normative principles are required for such justifiedness and the
realm of contingent fact possesses no resources for this purpose. (Rawls being
hopelessly mistaken on this.)

Back to John:

> Evaluations may be the best
> that science offers, but decisions have to be made. Who gets to make them?
> Here power enters the equation.

---------> Cogent inquiry, pursued in whatever specific discipline, arrives at
decisions and evaluations on strictly epistemic grounds. Power in itself has no
necessary epistemic worth. (It can at times luck into justifiable claims, of
course. But I wouldn't bet my Volvo on its epistemic worthiness.) 

Moreover, does John wish us to believe that his views, evaluations and
as expressed in our discourse here are grounded in power relations? We should
avoid performative self-contradictions whenever we can.

Back to John:

> I can, at the end of the day, offer no better description of the position of
> which I am persuaded than Hamilton's words in Federalist No. 1,
> "Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate
> of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not
> connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be
> wished than seriously to be expected. The plan offered to our deliberations
> affects too many particular interests, innovates upon too many local
> institutions, not to involve in its discussion a variety of objects foreign
> to its merits, and of views, passions and prejudices little favorable to the
> discovery of truth."

-----------> Oy! It's enough to make you believe Plato was right! Hamilton would
have benefitted greatly from a bit of reflection upon Habermas's distinction
between strategic and communicative action. (Did Hamilton read any Kant? If
not, why not? Surely it is the responsibility of a politician to apprise
herself of the central texts within the tradition of the discourse informing
her vocation.)

What does George W read, anyway??

> Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2008.
> John

-------------> S novom godum! Kalinka, kalinka, kalinka, moya! C#


> -- 
> John McCreery
> The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
> Tel. +81-45-314-9324
> http://www.wordworks.jp/

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