The Discussion (Part II) - The Refutation

Continuing on with the conversation I documented below ... here is the refutation I provided:

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I want to answer two points in your testimonial - your pragmatic approach to belief in the reliability of senses, and the question of measuring leaps of faith. I will respond to these in reverse order, because you clearly appeal to the former in supporting the latter.


On measuring “leaps”:

In your testimonial you make the claim “your leap however is considerably wider than mine.” There are two points worth mentioning here. First, such a claim implies a standard by which you are evaluating our leaps; a ruler, if you will, by which you measure my leap and your leap, and come to the conclusion that mine is wider. Your appeal to this ruler also shows up in your criticisms of my beliefs - criticisms such as “I am not forced to accept things like virgin birth, miracle performance, raising the dead and resurrection from the dead ...”, implying that it is somehow unreasonable for me to hold to such beliefs.

Second - and this is crucial to understand - your claim implies that the ruler that you are using is the ruler both you and I should be using. The implication of your claim therefore moves from descriptive to prescriptive, which immediately changes the nature of our discussion. No longer are we merely making opposing claims about simple facts; we are now debating the nature of reality itself; what is real, what counts as evidence, how we know things, etc.

Let me pause here for a moment because I suspect you might be tempted to say that you and I (and everyone else) are in fact all using the same ruler. I sense a hint of this in your claim that “we all, whether we will admit it or not, arrange our perceptions in like manner”. You seem to feel that everyone has the same toolkit, and that we all rely upon it in exactly the same way. Whether true or not, we must not lose sight of the distinction between merely trusting one’s senses, and appealing to that trust as the ruler by which we measure everything else. Let me make it clear that while you may do the latter, and while you may feel that others do, we don’t all do the same thing.

Back to the ruler. The prescriptive nature of implying that we should all be using the same ruler presents us with a real problem that needs solving. Why should we all measure our leaps against your ruler? What’s wrong with my ruler? What makes your more fit to the task? Are you able to demonstrate that your ruler is more appropriate?

After all, if there is no reason to choose your ruler over mine, then any claim that my leap is wider than yours is totally meaningless in an objective sense. What you are left with in the end is mere opinion.

So let’s see what you have offered by way of reason ...


On pragmatism as justification:

Before digging into your reason for trusting your senses, I think it is worthwhile to point out the circular nature of that justification, if for no other reason than to head off any future complaints against me when I appeal to the Bible as a reason for believing what I do.

In answering my question as to why you trust your senses, you appeal to your own experiences, as well as reports of others’ experiences. You no doubt would agree that it is through your senses that you experience things, including those “reports of others’ experiences”. You are therefore making use of the very thing under suspicion in order to allay that suspicion. Now, if it were the case that the general reliability of our senses is “fundamentally true”, then obviously we would all have to assume their reliability in order to test their reliability. That is the nature of arguing for one’s ultimate philosophical commitments; one must employ them while arguing for them. If one was able to argue without employing them, then they aren’t ultimate (or “fundamental”) at all. So despite the circular nature of this appeal to your senses, it is reasonable if and only if it is true.

So what is the reason you appeal to your senses? In short, your reply boils down to pragmatism. You give a number of different examples, and then summarize as follows:

“The point here is obvious; If we are to survive, we must trust and pay attention to our senses and what they have to say.”

Why do you trust that your senses are reliable? Survival. Now at face value, that certainly seems like an admirable goal to pursue. I think it is fair to say that most of us pursue that goal every day, and I also think it is safe to say that trusting our senses helps us achieve that goal. But what if your goal is something else? What if your goal is to become a popular author, and a belief in Extraterrestrials allows you to accomplish that? Or what if your goal is to eliminate anyone different than you, and a belief that they aren’t human beings allows you to accomplish that goal? Does that mean that any of the aforementioned beliefs are true? Not necessarily. There is no logical correlation between a belief providing you the means to accomplish a goal, and that belief being true. Add to this the fact that there are often multiple beliefs that allow us to achieve the same goal, and those beliefs can actually contradict one another, it should be obvious that pragmatism isn’t a valid arbiter of truth.

See, when I asked you for a reason as to why you trusted your senses, I wasn’t asking for a reason in the sense of a motivation; I was asking for a logical justification. If mere motivation were all that was required as a reason, then I wouldn’t expect to hear any complaints against those who believe in God and the Bible (or prayer, which was the original topic), as belief in these things no doubt gives people the wherewithal to accomplish a variety of goals (whether we agree with them or not).

Pragmatism is not logical justification, and so no reason has been given as to why we should all adopt your ruler (a trust in empiricism via our senses in combination with analytical constructs such as mathematics and logic) as a foundational test for reality and truth. Instead what we are left with is ... you guessed it ... opinion. Merely a belief that has yet to be justified.


On the next step:

The problem with simply sharing opinions is that one never moves from belief to knowledge; one never moves from claiming something is so to being able to demonstrate that what one says is actually true. So I will ask again only worded a bit differently this time around - what is it about your foundational presuppositions that gives you the warrant to speak with such force about your beliefs when, if your foundational presuppositions are truly representative of all that is available, your beliefs are nothing more than mere opinion?

1 comment:

danielj said...

Touche!

I've been waiting for this and all I can say is "Bravo!"