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More on reason

Reason, I suppose, is the ability to form reliable judgements about the world and what we should do. As such, it involves a great many things:

  1. Perceptiveness with regard to the world around us and our own states (pleased, regretful or whatnot).
  2. The ability to notice similarities and differences, and what things go together and don't go together.
  3. Memory.
  4. The ability to apply appropriate concepts that summarize the results of the foregoing: that is, to recognize things for what they are.
  5. The ability to use those concepts appropriately to draw reliable inferences.
  6. The ability to adjust the foregoing in response to problems and events.

If you lack any of those things, you're not going to be reasonable.

What strikes me when it's all laid out like that is how inexact and dependent a thing reason is. On the first point, for example, you don't normally---and often can't---demonstrate a perception. It would be a perceptive clod indeed who knows what a clod he is, and then (of course) he wouldn't be a clod at all. He'd be Socrates. To pick another example, the ability to apply the right concepts and recognize things for what they are (point 4) depends very much on the tradition that formed one's way of looking at things, and therefore on personal histories, chance connections, accepted social authorities, and the like.

People try to avoid recognizing the pervasive softness of reason by picking some part of it, like formal logic or idealized scientific method, calling it the whole, and saying that everything else is personal opinion. That can't work, though, since if you take that view most factual propositions become personal opinion. Confidence in scientific findings, for example, depends on confidence in those who propound them, and on the myriad investigators on whom those propounding them rely. That's obviously a matter of social authority, of treating some people rather than others as worthy of reliance. Social authority, though, isn't determined by formal logic or running a scientific test. It can always be misplaced, manipulated, or simply in error for any of the reasons anyone can be in error.

Comments

"you can't demonstrate a perception."

Neuroscientists can and do.

"Confidence in scientific findings, for example, depends on confidence in those who propound them, and on the myriad investigators on whom those propounding them rely."

Yes, reputation of the individual or institution bestows a certain credibility for those not willing or able to analyze scientific findings themselves, but scientists have one distinguishing feature that sets them apart from priests, for instance. They draw conclusions that are based on experiments that can be repeated by other disinterested third parties. And much scientific experiment is just that.

A scientists social authority is exactly determined by formal logic and running tests.

"Neuroscientists can and do [demonstrate a perception]."

Bob seems to me a crank, he seems to you a sensible guy. Neuroscientists demonstrate that one or the other of us is right?

"[S]cientists have one distinguishing feature that sets them apart from priests, for instance. They draw conclusions that are based on experiments that can be repeated by other disinterested third parties."

So if the word "scientist" is applied to someone, by a journalist say, then that shows that what he says is based on nothing whatever except experiments that can be repeated by other disinterested third parties? And priests never look into anything and give reasons for conclusions that other people can check out?

"A scientists social authority is exactly determined by formal logic and running tests."

"Society" analyzes him and what he says through formal logic, and runs tests, and that determines how much authority is there?

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Hearing Bob's voice is a perception. Determining whether Bob is a crank or not is to draw a conclusion. Making inferences based upon the results of repeatable experiments can be considered science as long as the experiment can be repeated. Some priests do science.

You are the one who brought up the term "society." Quibble over its meaning with yourself. Ultimately a scientist's authority rests solely on the truth or falsity of his theories as you well know. The resulting scientific reputation of the individual or institution bestows a certain credibility for those not willing or able to analyze scientific findings themselves. But I repeat myself.

That some people and institution carry more authority with the populace than others is an obvious fact. Among educated people scientists carry far more authority than theologians since scientists limit themselves to research into those things that are amenable to understanding by the application of reason.

As for the "ideal", that is an intellectual abstraction physically located in the logical processing areas of the brains of those who have been educated to its various meanings. Its value as a concept in understanding anything worthwhile is dependent on how it is used.

The point regarding perception was that all knowledge of factual matters and therefore all demonstration of such things depends on perception. We don't demonstrate perception, we have it or not. For example, if we're measuring the speed of light, and we want to find out what the reading is, we look at the dial or whatever. We don't normally demonstrate what we see when we do so based on something other than what we see when we do so.

With that in mind I will change "can't demonstrate a perception" to "don't normally---and often can't---demonstrate a perception." "Bob is a crank" is more likely to be a perception than a conclusion based on repeatable experiments and the like. In many cases it really can't be demonstrated. Nonetheless we rely on such points in deciding what to accept as knowledge.

It's obviously false that a scientist's authority rests solely on the truth or falsity of his theories. If that were true then the guy with more authority would always be right in every dispute.

"Bestows a certain credibility for those not willing or able to analyze scientific findings themselves."

Who are those people who rely only on scientific findings they analyze themselves ab initio? No such person has ever existed. Everybody without exception relies on extremely fuzzy considerations in forming beliefs about what is true. We can't escape that situation so we must think about how to deal with it.

"Scientists limit themselves to research into those things that are amenable to understanding by the application of reason."

Sounds like a clearly false sociological theory about people called scientists. Such people doubtless do all sorts of things. It's not even true as an account of scientific ideals. How, in general, can scientists know in advance whether a problem can be solved?

Also, does the information operator enjoy even more authority among educated people than the scientist? She truly limits herself to research into things that are amenable to understanding by the application of reason (i.e., whether a phone number is available and if so what it is).

"As for the 'ideal', that is an intellectual abstraction physically located in the logical processing areas of the brains ..."

So in saying stuff about how science works you've just been giving me a tour of the physical structure of your brain? That would explain a lot.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

"With that in mind I will change "can't demonstrate a perception" to "don't normally---and often can't---demonstrate a perception." "Bob is a crank" is more likely to be a perception than a conclusion based on repeatable experiments and the like. In many cases it really can't be demonstrated. Nonetheless we rely on such points in deciding what to accept as knowledge."

Even if you so broadly define perception to be "general belief or intuition about something" you are still wrong. Quite often an analysis of why we have an intuitive feeling about someone reveals that our subconscious mind has been at work, perhaps picking up clues via that person's body language that indicate falsehood's or insincerities.

"It's obviously false that a scientist's authority rests solely on the truth or falsity of his theories. If that were true then the guy with more authority would always be right in every dispute."

What nonsense you write. A scientists's authority in his area of expertise rests on the truth of his theories. No one claims that his authority is universal or indivisible. One doesn't go to an orthopedist if one requires brain surgery nor would one use a brain surgeon when designing a bridge.

"Who are those people who rely only on scientific findings they analyze themselves ab initio? No such person has ever existed."

I beg to differ. In science the definition of reasoning ab initio is considered to include all proven theorems that have preceded the work at hand.

"How, in general, can scientists know in advance whether a problem can be solved?"

By intuition! There may very well be some sort of subconscious logic at work here as well. Professors often steer their grad students towards problems that they think are worthwhile exploring. And of course there are many examples of scientists spending years of fruitless research into certain things.

"Also, does the information operator enjoy even more authority among educated people than the scientist? She truly limits herself to research into things that are amenable to understanding by the application of reason (i.e., whether a phone number is available and if so what it is)."

She certainly does. Just as I trust my local mechanic in matters of car repair far more than I would a Nobel prize winner in biology at the local university. You err yet again in thinking that authority is universal and indivisible.

"So in saying stuff about how science works you've just been giving me a tour of the physical structure of your brain? That would explain a lot."

Come now, descending to ad hominem attacks is a sign of desperation by those that are losing the argument, ie. that scientific authority is based on more than other entirely arbitrary social authorities since scientific theorems can be objectively proven.

Burke's essay On Taste has some good, relevant points about the relatinship of perception, imagination, and reason.

I'll read it. (For anyone interested, it's available here.)

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Reading the eminently sensible Edmund Burke one could almost believe that he was a Scotsman rather than an Irishman. No friend of metaphysics he.