Thinking outside of the box

Thursday

5:11 pm  | Susanna Rinard (at Harvard) recently uploaded a “penultimate draft” on Academia for a soon-to-be-published essay entitled, Reasoning One’s Way Out of Skepticism. I thought I’d study it next, after finishing Scanlon’s book, since understanding skepticism — in particular, external-world-skepticism (which is what Rinard’s paper is about) — might help shed some light on that last lingering question I had about Scanlon’s thoughts, as I was thinking about “external” and “internal” reasons, and how these might make a “moral difference”.

So, what is external-world-skepticism?

Well, to start, I think that it’s something that is related to Hesiod and Parmenides. But perhaps that’s getting ahead of myself. Basically, it’s this: suppose that there is a box called “the mind.” External-world-skepticism claims that we cannot know anything outside of that box [called “the mind”]. In short, reality — the world — is all in our minds.

How does this relate to Parmenides? In Parmenidean speak, we cannot know “the nothing” (Chaos being “the nothing”). We can only know what’s self-evidently true to us by the light of own understanding — and this is how we should begin all inquiry. In other words, self-evident things can only be experienced inside of the box — and so, we have to start from there. I think that at least this much is said, even according to my interpretation of Parmenides’ poem, “The Way of Discovery.” Of course, on my interpretation, I don’t think that Parmenides actually thinks that all of reality is only what’s in the box. I think that he actually believes that there is a world outside of the box. It’s just that we can’t start from out there, even if we end up out there. In short, what Parmenides is advocating for is a method of inquiry (I suppose like Descartes), and not a conclusion about the reality of the universe.

How does this relate to Hesiod? According to my understanding of things, [Western] modern physics is basically founded upon Hesiod’s genealogy. I do realize that his genealogy is supposed to be “mythological” account — and one of these days, when I have gathered sufficient material, I hope to write a philosophy topic post on how Hesiod’s genealogy is a foundation of Western modern physics. In any case, the point is that external-world-skepticism would undermine Hesiod’s genealogical account, since it implies that we can’t know anything concerning the existence of anything ontologically prior to Zeus/”Mind.” And if we can’t know that anything ontologically prior to the Zeus/”Mind” exists, then we can’t know that Chronos/Time exists, and we can’t know that Ouranos/Space exists, and we can’t know that Gaia/Matter exists, and we can’t know that Nyx-Hemera/Opposites exist, and we can’t know that Erebus-Aether/Numbers exist, and we can’t know that Eros/Gravitational-force exists, and we can’t know that Tartarus/Void exists, and of course we can’t know that the Chaos/Universe exists. In short, if Hesiod’s account is undermined, then we can’t have Western modern physics and I suppose that we really shouldn’t be able to know a lot of the things we think that we do know.

External-world-skepticism would also imply that it’s impossible for Socrates to “know that he knows nothing.” This kind of goes back to Parmenides’ “method” of inquiry, but basically external-world-skepticism would undermine Socrates’ sincerity of purpose in his activity of questioning others.

Finally, there is probably something to do with morality and whether there can be such a thing as the sort of “universal” morality that Scanlon is speaking of  — which, to note, isn’t what I myself consider to be the proper domain of “morality”.

So, this is the basics of the significance that external-world-skepticism has for me. But I think that there might be other important implications — implications that have to do with things like race, god, beauty, justice, morality, just to name a handful.

Now, in Rinard’s draft version, she writes: “In particular, one would end up believing a proposition P while believing that one should not believe P. This combination of beliefs is not rational.” (p.2) I’ve been wondering about what this means. But, presumably, she means something like what I said about how external-world-skepticism relates to Hesiod’s genealogy. But is this really all that she means? Or, does she mean something else? What else could she be meaning?

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8:28 pm  |  Check this out. I think that the “closure principle” that Rinard names on page 5, “If one neither knows nor is justified in believing Q, and one knows that P entails Q, then one neither knows nor is justified in believing P,” looks kind of suspicious. Perhaps this is where the “mistake” sneaks itself into the skeptic’s reasoning.

For one thing, how is it that you know that “P entails Q”? I mean, where did this conditional statement come from? This is the same thing as Descartes slipping in the notion of the Judeo-Christian “God” into his discourse on meditations basically for the sake of expedience and without any proof (and also, without anyone noticing). And without the conditional statement, the conclusion that derives from it doesn’t make much sense either.

But to upset the critic, I think that one could still be justified in believing P even if the conditional statement is actually false, so long as the conditional statement is possibly true.

I think I’ve figured out where the skeptic’s argument goes wrong.

Also interesting: for Descartians, it looks like the conditional statement is the Judeo-Christian God. If this is true, then believing in the conditional statement is what it is to believe in the Judeo-Christian God.

But why the Judeo-Christian God? What does Hesiod’s genealogy and Parmenides’ method have to do with Judaism and/or Christianity? Why can’t you believe in Hesiod and Parmenides — or a conclusion of Euler diagrams, or Euthyphro’s polytheistic view, for that matter — instead of the Judeo-Christian God?

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9:35 pm  |  Rinard gives us this premise: “(*) If an agent does not have in their head the argument for G, is not justified in trusting their apparent memory that they went through an argument for G, and have no independent reason for believing G, then they are not justified in believing G, even if they did in fact go through a good argument for G.” (p.11)

Now, does this mean that people who aren’t consciously aware of what “conditional statements” are and how they work within the framework of logic are not not justified in believing in a Judeo-Christian God (supposing that “an argument for G” could translate into something like, “a reason for believing in the existence of a Judeo-Christian God”) — supposing that they do believe in a Judeo-Christian God? Does this premise also mean that people who aren’t knowledgeable about Euler diagrams and/or Euthyphro’s polytheistic view for that matter, can’t come to the conclusion about a Judeo-Christian God?

Well I’m not sure about all this, but I do think that Rinard’s point with (*) is really just to undermine the skeptic’s conclusion, given that the skeptic’s conclusion is itself the result of complex reasoning that relies on memory of having processed parts of an argument. This results in the conclusion that skepticism is itself essentially irrational.

But now, if complex reasoning is itself a form of a conditional statement, and if the skepticism is itself the product of complex reasoning and therefore a conditional statement, then skepticism is somehow proof of complex reasoning and also proof of the existence of conditional statements. Furthermore, if it’s also true that the conditional statement is Descartes’ Judeo-Christian God, then skepticism is also a proof of the existence of Descartes’ Judeo-Christian God.

And if skepticism is also irrational, and given what I’ve said above, then belief in Descartes’ Judeo-Christian God is also irrational.

Am I getting all of this right?

Also, is it “wrong” or “bad” to be “irrational”? If it is wrong or bad, in what way/sense is it “wrong” or “bad”?

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11:00 pm  | Rinard puts forth a rule called the “anti-denouncement” rule. It says that “it is not rational to believe a proposition P while also believing that it is not rational for one to believe P.” (p.16)

Presumably, “denouncing” here could mean something like “being skeptical of,” or even “doubting.”

However, if I look up the etymological roots for the words “denounce,” “skeptic,” and “doubt,” I get quite different implications about what’s going on.

So let’s examine this:
◊ Denouncing is to shout something down — from its purported position of authority. And so, to denounce is essentially to reduce status.
◊ Being skeptical is to look into something, or to make an inquiry into something. To note, the reason or cause for inquiry is not necessarily specified. Also unspecified, is anything to do with the status.
◊ To doubt is to be split in “two” about a conclusion. Essentially, to doubt is to be in an undecided or inconclusive state. But this state tends to results in hesitation, and possibly further investigation into the matter. But let it also be noted here, that to be in doubt could also mean that actuality has not been achieved yet, and the subject matter is still in a potential condition. In other words, options are still open. Again, there is nothing here that necessarily says anything about status.

While it’s possible for an “anti-denouncement” rule to mean something like an “anti-skeptical” rule or an “anti-doubt” rule, it’s not a necessary conclusion that anti-denouncement is also an anti-skepticism or an anti-doubt. And if “anti-denouncement” doesn’t mean something like “anti-skepticism” or “anti-doubt,” then I don’t see what “anti-denouncement” has to do with skepticism and/or doubt. I also don’t see how making an inquiry into something and/or being in an undecided state is a kind of denouncing.

Furthermore, the details of the “anti-denouncement” rule implies that “irrationality” is something to be denounced. This answers my earlier question about irrationality. But I still don’t understand why irrationality is something to be denounced. If “irrationality” is a kind of “wrongness,” then is “wrongness” something to be denounced? In every case, or just in some cases? And is it “wrongness” that is denounced, or something else that often or always comes paired with “wrongness” that is denounced (eg, pain, death, loss)?

Another thing to note about the “anti-denouncement” rule is that according to that rule, it’s basically “irrational” to be “sensitive”! This would explain why those who don’t want to be “sensitive” wouldn’t want to be “sensitive.” It is something to be denounced, after all.

It is late, and I will continue working on this tomorrow.

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