Epistemology In Short

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on Sat, 2013-07-27 23:38

I got asked for my philosophy on one foot. I personally never found Objectivism on one foot that useful. I thought it's too hard to understand if you don't already know what the stuff means. Philosophy is hard enough to communicate in whole books. Some people read Atlas Shrugged and think Rand is a communist or altruist. Some people read Popper and think he's a positivist or inductivist. Huge mistakes are easily possible even with long philosophical statements. I think the best solution involves back and forth communication so that miscommunication mistakes can be fixed along the way and understanding can be built up incrementally. But this requires the right attitudes and methods for talking to be very effective. And that's hard. And if people don't already have the right methods to learn and communicate well, how do you explain it to them? There's a chicken and egg problem that I don't have a great answer to. But anyway, philosophy, really short, I tried, here you go:

There is only one known rational theory of how knowledge is created: evolution. It answers Paley's problem. No one has ever come up with any other answer. Yet most people do not recognize evolution as a key theory in epistemology, and do not recognize that learning is an evolutionary process. They have no refutation of evolution, nor any alternative, and persist with false epistemologies. This includes Objectivism – Ayn Rand choose not to learn much about evolution.

Evolution is about how knowledge can be created from non-knowledge, and also how knowledge is improved. This works by a process of replication with variation and selection. In epistemology, ideas and variants are criticized and the survivors continue on in the process. This process incrementally makes progress, just like biological evolution. Step by step, flaws get eliminated and the knowledge gets better adapted and refined. This correction of errors is crucial to how knowledge is created and improved.

Another advantage of evolutionary processes is that they are resilient to mistakes. Many individual steps can be done badly and a good result still achieved. Biological evolution works even though many animals with advantageous genes die before other animals with inferior genes; there's a large random luck factor which does not ruin the process. This is important because of human fallibility: mistakes are common. We cannot avoid making any mistakes and should instead emphasize using methods that can deal with mistakes well. (Methods which deal with mistakes well are rational; methods which do not are irrational because they entrench mistakes long term.)

A key issue in epistemology is how conflicts of ideas are handled. Trying to resolve these conflicts by authority or by looking at the source of ideas is irrational. It can make mistakes persist long term. A rational approach which can quickly catch and eliminate mistakes is to judge conflicting ideas by their content. How do you judge the content of an idea? You try to find something wrong with it. You should not focus on saying why ideas are good because if they have mistakes you won't find the mistakes that way. However, finding something good about an idea is useful for criticizing other ideas which lack that good feature – it reveals a flaw in those rivals. However, in cases where a good feature of an idea does not lead to any criticism of a rival, it provides no advantage over that rival. This critical approach to evaluating ideas follows the evolutionary method.

This has implications for morality and politics. How people handle conflicts and disagreements are defining issues for their morality and politics. Conflicts of ideas should not be approached by authority and disagreement should not be disregarded. This implies a voluntary system with consent as a major issue. Consent implies agreement; lack of consent implies disagreement. Voluntary action implies agreement; involuntary action implies disagreement.

Political philosophy usually focuses too much on who should rule (or which laws should rule), instead of how to incrementally evolve our political knowledge. It tries to set up the right laws in the first place, instead of a system that is good at improving its laws. Mistakes should be expected. Disagreement should be expected. Everything should be set up to deal with this well. That implies making it easy to change rulers and laws (without violence). Also disagreement and diversity should be tolerated within the law.

Moral philosophy usually makes the same mistake as political philosophy. It focuses too much on deciding-declaring what is moral and immoral. There should be more concern with fallibility, and setting things up for moral knowledge to incrementally evolve. We aren't going to get all the answers right today. We should judge moral ideas more by how much they allow evolution, progress and mistake-correction, rather than by trying ot know whether a particular idea would be ideal forever. Don't try to prophesy the future and do start setting things up so we can adjust well in the unknown future.

Things will go wrong in epistemology, morality and politics. The focus should be on incrementally evolving things to be better over time and setting things up to be resilient to mistakes. It's better to have mistaken ideas today and good mistake-correction setup than to have superior ideas today which are hard to evolve and fragile to error.

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Linz' rule (complete freedom) is dangerous ...

Ed Thompson's picture

... but less dangerous than censorship.

I have not been the victim of any explicit (read: honest) censorship by Objectivist folks, as you mention. I hope that if it is as bad as you say, that it is getting better over time. Only careful attention to detail and wrestling meanings from potentially-ambiguous data will answer this query to my satisfaction (I'm not satisfied easily, when it comes to acquiring "knowledge").

I prefer to dwell on cases where court-like proof is attainable, and can be packaged into a medium of communication which enlightens the world. That leads me to place certain principles--such as freedom or reason or the "market-mechanism" or whatever--above interpersonal disputes. I still care when folks are hurt by others, I will never stop caring about that. But I have a "long horizon" for some reason, maybe naturally (I don't know), which causes me to gaze on bigger pictures and longer timespans than most other humans tend to bother with.

That said, there is one time I apparently got jacked around by some official O-ists--and I did send out a jibber-jab against them--but I "hope past" that event now. I'm not saying I'm all olive-branches, holding an open hand out to anyone--it's a battle-picking heuristic I've picked up over the years. Even if those 3 dudes really do censor the hell out of their message boards, I'm not going to pile on (but believe me, I do understand your frustration ... it DID happen to me, once).


Freedom of Discussion and Debate

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

You're exactly right, Ed! The main way Evil triumphs over Good is via the banning of ideas and people. As you put it: when "censorship has removed the highly rational critics".

But in the Objectivist community of today, Peikoff, Schwartz, and Binswanger are so relentlessly evil and anti-Randian in their "moderating" of all discussion and debate that everyone else who isn't a full cultist relentlessly pats himself on the back when he doesn't censor and excommunicate the critics nearly as much as the three ultra-monsters above. And his sycophantic friends relentlessly pat the guy's back too. Meanwhile, the actual achievement of these "Objectivists" in terms of freedom of speech is usually minimal or nothing. And they have no clue. Sad


Ed Thompson's picture

You talk about careful censorship and excommunication. What's funny is that I have trouble getting online sometimes, and this explains my years-long absence. You make good points. There is some pseudo-intellectual support for bad policies and untrue ideas, but they mostly win by default (because censorship has removed the highly rational critics). In politics, it is more about ad hominem of opponents than good policy or good ideas.


Good vs. Evil

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

This strange anonymous article from several years back is primitive, but still pretty good. Humans naturally progress and ascend. Good and true ideas strongly tend to defeat bad and false ones -- especially in the long run. Still...harmful and evil ideas can still fairly easily win out. People need to intellectually work hard and well most of the time. But the key point here is to create as much freedom of discussion and debate as possible.

The wretched ideas and ideals of Christianity, socialism, and Randroidism intellectually dominate in certain circles. And how do these false and evil ideas maintain themselves? Partially thru genuine intellectual power. But, in the long run, mostly thru the careful censorship and excommunication of philosophical opponents. This attack on freedom of discussion and debate is a kind of ultra-evil which needs to be ruthlessly fought at all cost.

Still Here

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Ed -- Where have you been, and what have you been up to? Cool


Ed Thompson's picture

It is good to see you again.


p.s., Thank you to whoever "helped" me to get myself right-side up. It's hard to think straight when all of the blood is rushing to your head.


Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

The enemy of evolution in epistemology, and all other intellectual endeavors, is censorship and excommunication of dissidents. That's what ARI, Peikoff, Schwartz, and Binswanger do virtually non-stop.

You wrote 9 paragraphs on one foot?

Ed Thompson's picture

I like evolution but you make unsubstantiated claims. You say there is one theory of knowledge and that it is called "evolution." A more substantiated way to address this issue is to talk about how organisms pick-up variances in the stimulus array of their environments utilizing direct (unmediated) perception, and how the special organism which we call "a human" goes beyond perceptual powers of awareness--of sameness and change (which become known when contrasted against each other)--to include a conceptual power of awareness of the world.

But you didn't do that.


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