[Topics: Assumption, Evidence, Skepticism, Belief]
The Least Assumptions:

Cartesian Skepticism, and Reducing Guesses and Assertions in a Belief Network to the Minimum

 

Portrait of René Descartes after Frans Hals - minimizing assumptions

Portrait of René Descartes (based on the painting by Frans Hals)

Introduction:

I closed the examination of pragmatic ethics in the previous article by saying that this time I would talk about “the one and only assumption I am always willing to make (and the only assumption that you should ever be willing to stand by).” So I’m going to do just that. But before getting to that one assumption, I want to make a few remarks about why it is important to minimize assumptions when forming beliefs.

As René Descartes famously observed, it is always striking how very much of what any given person claims to know (and so believe) rests upon a network of baseless or near-baseless assumptions, assertions, and heuristics so densely matted together that the person fails to realize that there is no actual solidity to its foundation whatsoever. An important feature of this nebulous nest of guesses and half-considered notions is the redundant and overlapping (if occasionally contradicting) nature of its constituent elements. It is just such a nest to which I aim to provide a superior alternative.

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[Topics: Assumption, Evidence, Skepticism, Belief]
The Least Assumptions:

Cartesian Skepticism, and Reducing Guesses and Assertions in a Belief Network to the Minimum

was last modified: March 11th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Contractarian Ethics, Culture, Moral Anti-realism, Morality]
Common Phenomena:

A Brief Introduction to Moral Anti-realist Contractarian Ethics

 

Shelly Kagan - contractarian ethicsBack near the beginning of November, I wrote an article on the is-ought problem and moral anti-realism. In that article, I concluded that the moral anti-realist is free to continue speaking of moral oughts as long as their conception of an ought is something rather like a phenomenologically considered is. Humans without moral realism, I concluded, would still have means for an ethics that is contractarian in nature.

This contractarian ethical system would result from an understanding of morality which is in part functionally objective and entirely intersubjective. If you’re not sure what I mean by ‘functionally objective’ or ‘intersubjective,’ don’t worry; I’ll cover each of them in turn right now.

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[Topics: Contractarian Ethics, Culture, Moral Anti-realism, Morality]
Common Phenomena:

A Brief Introduction to Moral Anti-realist Contractarian Ethics

was last modified: February 11th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Culture, Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, Truth]
Truth and Lies in a Genealogical Sense:

Tracing Friedrich Nietzsche’s Discussion of Truth through his Life (by Considering Two of his Texts)

 

Introduction:

Friedrich Nietzsche’s writing is constantly concerned with tracing the development of ontological and epistemological phenomena as the result of interactions among humans. His conclusions often paint the developments he observes as being rendered inevitable by the nature of human will, knowledge, and consciousness. Because of this fascination with the developmental history of concepts, Nietzsche is always in the mode of thinking which may be termed genealogical.

Indeed, well before his explicit discourse tracing the source of intellectual constructs and moral underpinnings in On the Genealogy of Morality, the early Nietzsche is thinking along the same lines, if not in precisely the same terms, in, for instance, his essay, “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense.” Despite the aforementioned observable inevitability in Nietzsche’s account for the rise and implementation of the concept of truth, Nietzsche is never forgiving or conciliatory toward humanity for its unwillingness to discard their basic assumptions, nor even to acknowledge them as such. This is in spite of Nietzsche’s apparent awareness, as evidenced in Ecce Homo, that he is a singular thinker whose example and legacy will be no small task to parse. Yet the treatment of truth in these texts is not identical.

Whereas in the earlier essay Nietzsche is more interested in the exact method by which truth is constructed, the later work underscores instead the dangers of appealing to truth as the justification for one’s pursuits; meanwhile, both works are concerned with envisioning the sort of person who faces reality without traditional truth as its basis, in the former termed the “intuitive man” and in the latter the “thinkers” (contrasted with adherents to an ascetic ideal).

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[Topics: Culture, Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, Truth]
Truth and Lies in a Genealogical Sense:

Tracing Friedrich Nietzsche’s Discussion of Truth through his Life (by Considering Two of his Texts)

was last modified: April 7th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Logic, Mathematics, Pascal’s Wager, Philosophy of Language]
A Logical Infinite:

The Constrained Probabilistic Definitions of Chance and Infinity in Blaise Pascal’s Famous Wager

 

Introduction:

Blaise Pascal - Pascal's Wager - chance - infinityThe reasons for the lasting impact of Blaise Pascal’s writings, and specifically ‘Pascal’s Wager,’ are not difficult to discern. That piece represents at once the work of a devout Christian and a thoughtful, if self-assured, philosopher (for a work that pits a devout Christian against a thoughtful, if self-assured, philosopher, see my article on C.S. Lewis and James Rachels). In existing as such, Pascal’s Wager seems a seasoned pontification which has stood up to much historical as well as modern criticism of its mathematics and its logic, regardless of how its flaws yield a failure by scope (detailed below).

Despite being famous as an exercise in reason, Pascal’s Wager is a passage grounded on the unstable foundation of chance and built of the inherently unknowable within theology. This text’s utilization of chance is particularly fascinating due to the fact that it shares meaning between an older conception of chance as pure randomness—arising from the potentially providential turning of some wheel of fortune—and a newer conception implemented in probability theory—wherein that same purity of randomness begets a clarity of logic in cases of ever-mounting complexity.

Indeed, despite its having been written by a man supposedly holding to the tenets of fatalism under the umbrella of Jansenism, ‘chance’ is therein nearly conflated with ‘probability,’ as it would later come to be understood. In Blaise Pascal’s Wager, his use of language turns chance itself into a predictable and knowable tool in the application of logic, and in doing so presents a discourse concerning chance which remains relevant to a modern society of dubious piety to the Wager’s ultimate conclusion.

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[Topics: Logic, Mathematics, Pascal’s Wager, Philosophy of Language]
A Logical Infinite:

The Constrained Probabilistic Definitions of Chance and Infinity in Blaise Pascal’s Famous Wager

was last modified: January 25th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Epistemology, Moorean Shift, Skepticism]
Intuition All Alone:

On G.E. Moore’s Tempting but Insufficient Answer to Radical Skepticism

 

Introduction:

Although there are several voices that shine the brightest as philosophers of philosophical skepticism, it is a topic which has captured the attention of a huge number of philosophers throughout time. The so-called challenge of radical skepticism has been raised and allegedly met time and time again. One of the aforementioned notable voices in the past century was G.E. Moore, who advocated what he and others have termed a ‘common sense’ response to radical skepticism (where radical skepticism refers to the position that knowledge—or certainly knowledge of the external world—is impossible).

Formally, Moore’s response proceeds from what is now in certain contexts called a Moorean shift—changing a modus ponens argument’s second premise to create a modus tollens argument which has an opposing conclusion (explained at more length below)—to support what are now in certain contexts called Moorean facts (a notion that is more intuitively knowable to a person than philosophical premises that contradict the notion). Those naming schema ought to tell you how influential these ideas have been. G.E. Moore was a capable and perceptive philosopher, and his work on skepticism was inspirational for Ludwig Wittgenstein (who later tried to formulate a more rigorous account of Moore’s approach in notes which were assembled into a book after Wittgenstein’s death). Now I will point out why G.E. Moore’s confident argument is insufficient for meeting the challenge of radical skepticism.

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[Topics: Epistemology, Moorean Shift, Skepticism]
Intuition All Alone:

On G.E. Moore’s Tempting but Insufficient Answer to Radical Skepticism

was last modified: December 9th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski