[lit-ideas] Re: Valid-Some Thoughts

  • From: "Mike Geary" <atlas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 2 Jan 2008 18:08:07 -0600

Walter O'Sheavey wrote:
---------> 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.

OMG ! -- tell me I didn't read that! Please. Is theere no God left anywhere?

Mike Geary
formerly of the O'Gara clan
somewhere back there
now in Memphis and in shock.


----- Original Message ----- From: <wokshevs@xxxxxx>
To: <jlm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>; "John McCreery" <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
Cc: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Wednesday, January 02, 2008 4:45 PM
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Valid-Some Thoughts


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.

John:

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
examples.

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
decisions
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#

Valodya








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




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