Saturday, 12 December 2009

The Argument from Haughtiness

Edward Feser has touched on the matter of haughtiness in philosophy [1] and how it may overwhelm rational commitment and truthfulness, such that there is a refusal to admit simple or obvious mistakes; and he has reminded me of something that J.R. Lucas wrote:
“When I started philosophy, Logical Positivism was very much in vogue, and my tutor tried hard to get me to believe the Verification Principle. So I asked him whether it was a tautology, perhaps showing some new meaning being given to ‘proposition’, or ‘meaningful’, so that only some selected instances could be accorded the favour of being thus described. He said No. Was the Verification Principle, then, an empirical proposition, discovered by careful research in which lots and lots of propositions had been examined, and none found to be meaningful except those that were analytic or empirical. He admitted, albeit a trifle reluctantly, that no such research had been carried out. In that case, I concluded triumphantly, the Verification Principle, if it were true, was itself meaningless, hoist by its own petard. He did not think it a very good argument, and told me to try harder to believe.” [2]
Herewith a little sketch of an argument:

I. It goes without saying that I am a very clever and careful analytical philosopher.
II. Very clever and careful analytical philosophers, such as I, do not make or accept obvious mistakes.
III. It goes without saying that I do not make or accept obvious mistakes.
IV. Anyone who does not recognise the obvious truth of (III), which logically follows from the obvious truths of (I) and (II), is making an obvious mistake.
V. Anyone who claims that I have made or accepted an obvious mistake is (a) making an obvious mistake and is (b) not a very clever or careful analytical philosopher. [From II, III, and IV.]
VI. Very clever and careful analytical philosophers, such as I, ought to dismiss as unworthy of consideration the obviously-mistaken claims of not very clever or careful analytical philosophers.
VII. I ought to dismiss as unworthy of consideration any claim made by anyone that I have made or accepted an obvious mistake. [From V and VI.]

[1] Edward Feser, “Rosenberg Responds to his Critics”, Edward Feser (weblog), 10th December 2009; last paragraph. Therein also: “in contemporary academic philosophy, what is grounds for failing an undergraduate paper can be Festschrift material for a professional.”
[2] J.R. Lucas, “A Simple Exposition of Gödel’s Theorem”, A Talk at King’s College, London, October 1996, reproduced online at the website of J.R. Lucas.


dearieme said...

When people brandish the Second Law of Thermodynamics at me, I tend to state that they should be careful, I may know more about it than they do. When they brandish Relativity, I can normally see them off, I find, by mildly enquiring "Special or General?" When they assure me that Quantum Theory explains all of everything, I tend to reply "probably". But Godel I have been saving for retirement, to be attempted just after War and Peace. Unfortunately my copy of W & P has an unreadably small font, so we have an impasse.

Deogolwulf said...

I have heard that War and Peace is unreadable in any size of font, so your impasse might prove nicely insurmountable.

Interestingly, Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems seem to have disappointing consequences for those who hope for a physical theory of everything. (See Stanley Jaki's “A Late Awakening to Gödel in Physics”.)

xlbrl said...

Your sketch of the careful and analytical philosopher works as well for the Crowd. It is not being deceived that annoys us, it is being undeceived.

bgc said...

I've been reading about Godel lately; and was surprised to discover that he was a monotheist who had written a careful 'proof of God'.

I can't yet understand this proof, just as I can't yet understand his incompleteness theorem; and I await their explanation by Edward Feser.

euphemia said...

War and Peace unreadable? Is that a haughty snort at literature in general, or W&P in particular? Either way, for shame, D!

Deogolwulf said...

xlbrl, I think it would work for climate-scientists as well.

Bgc, there are some better expositions than the one to which I linked here. Such expositions are of course needed for those, such as I and almost everyone else, who are not remotely competent in the field of mathematical logic.

Euphemia, at neither. I haven't read W&P, and so cannot judge; I am just repeating some opinions I have heard about its seemingly interminable digressions. I cannot say that I have ever fancied reading it. Dostoevsky's books, on the other hand, I know to be marvellous.

James Higham said...

Now that's rather interesting because I have one coming up today on the tyranny of new philosophical thought [from the C18th].

This post addresses that question.

The Dandy Highwayman said...

Who is J.R. Lewis?

Deogolwulf said...

Ah, Mr Highwayman. Perhaps he is a mixture of C.S. Lewis and J.R. Lucas.

I shall make the change.