Saturday, February 12, 2005

Quotable Quote

“If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.” – Bertrand Russell, Roads to Freedom


Blogger Max Goss said...

I don't have a copy of Roads to Freedom. Do you know if Russell meant what he said to be normative (epistemically) or just descriptive?

February 17, 2005 at 8:48 PM  
Blogger Max Goss said...

I should add that, while the latter is obviously true, I shall be pleased that Russell was enough of an Aristotelian to accept the former. But I don't know the context of his claim.

February 17, 2005 at 8:50 PM  
Blogger Peter Wizenberg said...

I believe Russell meant it to be descriptive.

Quine points out that we tend to incorporate new beliefs into our "web of beliefs" in such a way as to cause the fewest perturbations to our belief system.

February 17, 2005 at 8:55 PM  
Blogger Max Goss said...

Dang. I was hoping Russell would back up my own view. Of course, he was so in the habit of changing his mind that he probably does adopt the Aristotelian position somewhere! In Quine's thought, on the other hand, the descriptive and epistemically normative claims do merge -- both are captured by your statement of his view, as I expect you know. But the naturalizing project at the bottom of this view is not, in my view, philosophically satisfying. Any thoughts?

February 19, 2005 at 10:05 PM  
Blogger Peter Wizenberg said...

I have a lot of sympathy for the Deweyan/Quinean/Rortian/Putnamian pragmatic contention that our conceptual compartmentalizations are ultimately untenable; that along with the dissolution of the analytic/synthetic dichotomy and the fact/convention dichotomy, the fact/value dichotomy also ultimatley collapses and we are left, at bottom, with the pragmatic 'praxis' of coping with the universe.

As far as naturalizing all the way down, I suspect Quine may be right when he says that, "Philosophy of science is philosophy enough". I'm doubtful that any Archimedian point or 'God's eye view' of the Universe is conceptually coherent.

Whether any of this is ultimately satisfying is itself problematic; on the one hand we want our theories to cohere with our intuitions; yet theories which necessarily 'perfectly' mesh with all of our intuitions would be a theoretical excrescence. And theories which violently conflict with our intuitions would be rejected out of hand. We're left with a sort of Rawlsian reflective equilibrium where we continually make adjustments between our intutions and our theories; all this is akin to minimizing perturbations in our web of belief.

Quine argues that ultimately the rock-bottom,(actually he's antifoundationalist, so there is no 'rock-bottom') is all pragmatic...and I tend to agree.

February 19, 2005 at 10:58 PM  
Blogger Peter Wizenberg said...

I should hasten to add that a theory that meshes perfectly with our intutions AND makes testable successful nonobvious predictions, is not a theoretical excresence, and in virtue of its capacity for nonobvious predictive success, should not be jettisoned.

February 19, 2005 at 11:06 PM  

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