Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Truth and the debate on truth between Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson

Sam Harris reports that Jordan Peterson was the person his current audience most wanted him to podcast just because the latter was the only person who spoke of religion in a way that they (largely atheists) could make sense of. The pair started their discussion by agreeing their common ground on the issue of freedom of speech, the Canadian human rights commissions being kangaroo courts and the perniciousness of embedding social constructivist theories of human identity in the law.  Sam Harris then turned to identifying what he thinks is their important disagreement:  a disagreement over the nature of truth. Jordan Peterson distinguishes religious/spiritual/moral truth from scientific truth, claiming that this distinction is licensed by pragmatism, and Sam Harris rejects that distinction. The conversation went on a very long time without resolution and raised two possibilities: either one or the other  was confused about truth or that there was a deeper disagreement about truth than they had managed to bring to light. Quite well known philosophical theory throws a light on this question.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Reasonable radical disagreement

Some people believe that anyone who disagrees with them is either evil or stupid. Such people deny that it is possible for there to be reasonable disagreement. Many people would reject that but believe than anyone who disagrees radically with them is either evil or stupid. Such people deny that it is possible for there to be reasonable radical disagreement. This last position appears to be held by significant portions of Trump, Clinton, Brexit and Remain supporters. All of these people are wrong. Here is why:

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Motte and Bailey Doctrines

One of the difficulties of getting people to behave better epistemically is that, whilst intellectual dishonesty is wrong, it is difficult to convict people of intellectual wrongs. As David Stove showed in his wonderful paper ‘What is Wrong with Our Thoughts?’ (The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies Chapter 7 here), there are indefinitely many ways of cheating intellectually and for most there is no simple way to put one’s finger on how the cheat is effected. There is just the hard work of describing the species in detail.

Some time ago I wrote a paper entitled The Vacuity of Postmodernist Methodology (here or here or here) in which I described and named a number such cheats that I detected in postmodernism. One of these I named the Motte and Bailey Doctrine. There has recently been a flurry of use of this concept to analyse ethical, political and religious positions (e.g. here, here,)  so I am taking the opportunity to have a look at it again.

VW cheating like Obama

Nothing annoys the plunderers more than when the producers try to get away with the tricks that they have reserved to themselves. I pointed out one such instance some time ago (Penzions and Politicians and we have another one before us in the VW scandal.

No fortune of birth.

Suppose you are born with valuable talents or to wealthy parents. What is added if we say that your talents or wealth are a fortune of birth? I say, nothing! This is merely a misleading way of repeating that you were born with good possessions. It is misleading because it seeks to insinuate what requires proof and in fact, as I shall now show, cannot be proved.

Oppressing smokers for fun and profit

According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine (,
Tripling tobacco tax globally would cut smoking by a third, and prevent  200 million premature deaths this century from lung cancer and other diseases.
This should, of course, be instituted immediately. It is almost the perfect public policy: self-interest dressed up as sanctimony. Not only will we make the lives of non-smokers better at the expense of smokers, but we can do so whilst telling smokers we are doing it for their own good!

Political speech crime

In an article at The conversation Professor Torcello has proposed that ‘an organised campaign funding misinformation ought to be considered criminally negligent’. I am wholly in agreement with him. I cannot think of a political party whose campaign can be characterised as anything other than an organized campaign funding misinformation and I would be delighted if we could bang them all up in chokey for it and be rid of them. Sorry, what’s that? He wasn’t talking about politicians? Well what was he talking about then?