Saturday, March 09, 2019

The Scholar's Stage: Marx, Beliefs, Natural Causes (And Signalling Theory)

This post addresses what I regard as one of he most important philosophical issues lying submerged in the background beneath (in the background and beneath!) much of our on-going cultural/philosophical disagreement. (Yeesh what a sentence...) In particular: questions about the efficient (or mechanistic) causes of belief--in particular their nonrational social causes.
   A pretty ordinary view--tarted up a bit by philosophers--goes like this: some of our beliefs have roughly rational causes and some have irrational ones. There are some things that I believe because they are true and/or supported by good evidence. On one common version of this view, these beliefs are adopted freely. And we can add (but can also not do so): in accordance with laws of freedom. But we all agree that many of our beliefs are caused by nonrational causes. E.g. self-interest, jealousy, monkey-see-monkey-do-ish-ness, fear, undue deference to authority, and so on. Sellars puts it like this: some of our beliefs are generated "in the space of reasons;" others "in the space of causes."
   Much of the cultural left denies this ordinary view--sometimes more consciously and sometimes less, sometimes more explicitly and sometimes less. Over there it's fairly common to see all actions--including acts of believing--as the products of roughly mechanical causes, especially social ones. And without any additional fancy footwork that means: non-rational.
   This bit is independent of the bit in the linked post about signaling theory.
   Anyway, by the end of the post, the author seems to embrace such a view. But that's an error. First, the view is unproven. Second, the arguments for it aren't even particularly strong. Third, it seems to generate self-refutation problems: if everything I say and believe is the product of nonrational causes, then so is my belief/assertion that all beliefs and assertions are the products of nonrational causes...
   My own view is that self-refutation arguments have to be treated a lot more carefully than they're normally treated. I don't think they're automatic trumps. But they do signal trouble, and they do have to be dealt with.
   Incidentally, this kind of problem ends up arising, among other places, for the "strong program/programme in the sociology of "knowledge" (more accurately: the sociology of belief).
   Anyway, as it stands this kind of nonrational causalism about beliefs and utterances is unproven, and certainly ought not be accepted. So it's too bad that they author seems to fall into it. In fact, many of our beliefs are brought about by the very facts that make them true. And it's clear that valid evidence also commonly influences belief-acquisition. And those facts take a big chunk out of the case for pervasive non-rationalism about the causes of beliefs. Though the devil's in the details, unsurprisingly. (One thing advocates of the view in question seem not to recognize: all it takes is some influence by the facts and the evidence to give us the raw material we need to output rational beliefs...if we process that material correctly.)
   Anyway--that bit aside, there's an interesting post on the other end of the link, and I say it's worth reading.
(h/t, again, to Lorenzo's essay for the link.)


Blogger Lorenzo said...

Thanks. More awareness of T.Greer's excellent blog is good.

7:39 PM  

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