FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Incoherence of the Philoveritors

Much of what we believe is poorly-justified or believed in the total absence of evidence, or even in defiance of abundant counterevidence. So many cherished axioms are problematic or outright false—or else vague, inconsistent, or of an otherwise indeterminable truth-value.

And you know what? Generally, this is not a big problem. In most circumstances, the truth is not particularly important. Nailing down more accurate information (when possible) can be a costly distraction. In fact, in many situations, untrue beliefs can even be helpful. Of course, there are also a number of circumstances in which false beliefs are extremely pernicious; the important thing is to identify the sorts of situations in which information quantity and quality is particularly important (as opposed to the overwhelming majority of conditions in which adequacy trumps accuracy).

A second distinction follows: in addition to the situations in which data quality is important, it is also critical to identify circumstances in which critical information is likely to be hard to obtain or utilize, or be otherwise unreliable. Regrettably, there is extensive overlap. For instance, in situations which are opaque, massive in scale or complexity, fluid, or especially, volatile–the informational environment will be difficult, but often crucial. Regrettably, most geopolitical and socio-economic events fall into this sphere.

However, virtually all human decisions are made under uncertainty of varying degrees; the primary objective is to avoid iatrogenesis (harm by the healer) resultant from naïve intervention.

Towards that end, in situations where information is scarce, difficult to use, or otherwise unreliable—it is often easier and more useful to identify critical pieces of information which one does not know (perhaps cannot know), and what is known to be false. While important in its own right, negative epistemology also assists its more precarious positive aspect: with each malformed strategy cast aside, each false narrative exposed, with each mistake learned from, each pitfall avoided, each constraint identified–one becomes increasingly likely to make a good decision in the face of uncertainty, or at the least, minimize harm from error.

Prudence is another critical strategy. In many situations, action is altogether unnecessary—and interventions into fluid, complex and/or volatile systems under the misguided belief that one should “do something” typically render situations much more difficult to predict or control. A heuristic: act decisively, but only when necessary, and be as non-invasive as possible.

Finally, as we explored at the outset there are many situations in which misinformation, disinformation and ignorance are benign—and many others in which they are extremely dangerous. However, it is sometimes possible to shift from the latter situation into the former by reducing or modifying one’s exposure to particular risks (thereby reducing the amount and quality of data which are necessary to achieve an acceptable outcome).

These are the sorts of epistemological investigations with obvious real-world implications. It should be clear that there will be little room for meta-inquiry, as many of these strategies must be indexed to specific problems in particular contexts.

The notion of “truth” as objective, universal, and morally (rather than merely pragmatically, albeit conditionally) obligating—i.e. as the sort of thing which can be clearly delineated and discussed in grandiose terms—while popular among so-called rationalists, is a fundamentalism derived from monotheistic absolutism, and one difficult to empirically defend:

It is unclear whether one can meaningfully speak of “truth” as anything beyond a socio-linguistic function. Even if we posit the existence of some objective reality in which we are all immersed, it is (or should be) obvious that we do not have the ability to perceive, reflect upon or communicate about said reality in a comprehensive or objective fashion. Accordingly, every epistemic act is one of framing and distortion (further refracted and cascaded in social contexts).

And worse still—these processes are largely opaque: we do not have introspective access to most of our mental contents, and the actions resultant from these processes are largely reflexive rather than reflective, invented intuitively and ad hoc to the particular contours of the situations we find ourselves in. Rationalization typically happens after the fact, and our explanations seem to bear little in common with the cognitive processes guiding our actions.

Unfortunately, the prevailing practice of epistemology is far removed from this growing consensus in psychology, sociology, cognitive science and related empirical disciplines. Accordingly, it is useless at best; we must shed antiquated notions of epistemology in order to render the discipline more viable and useful.

In Building on Nietzsche’s Prelude: Reforming Epistemology for the Philosophy of the Future, we offer up a proposal of what a more relevant epistemology might look like, exploring how such a reformulation might affect social conceptions of “knowledge” and “rationality;” we close with an exploration of fundamentalism in relation to rationalism, scientifism, and related ideologies.  Pick up a copy: it just might change the way you think…about thinking.

Musa al-Gharbi is a research fellow with the Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts (SISMEC); he has a M.A. in philosophy from the University of Arizona. His website (www.fiatsophia.org) includes links to follow him on social media or subscribe to his posts. A version of this article was originally published by SISMEC.

More articles by:

Musa al-Gharbi is a cognitive sociologist affiliated with the Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts (SISMEC), where this article was originally published; readers can connect to al-Gharbi’s other work and social media via his website: www.fiatsophia.org

July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail