Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Would you recognize it if one of your beliefs was wrong? How? - You keep using that word 5

We've looked at how Metaphysics, Logic, and Ethics, support a proper 'theory of knowledge for justified belief', but what does it take to realize that what you believe is right, is actually wrong? For instance, we noted that it was once acceptable behavior in turbulent times for leading Romans to publish lists of people to be rounded up and killed for the good of the state (proscribed), whereas today those actions would not (we hope) be looked upon as examples of upstanding civic mindedness - why not?

Because they didn't know any better?

What do you mean by 'know'? Did they just lack the facts? If we could zoom a modern Civics textbook back in time to them, with key lines underlined and the a) b) c) quizzes marked with the answers which clearly demonstrate that killing selected people in the streets was unjustified and 'wrong' - do you think that would change their minds? And maybe history too? But of course, we don't need a time machine to test and debunk this theory of knowledge, as we only have to look at the current practices of any school district that's been utilizing the immediately refuted '1619 Project', to teach their students 'history' with. It didn't matter at all to those schools that its 'facts' have been refuted, they actively disregarded and excused the textbook as 'narrative history', and continued on with teaching it.

No, 'facts' do very little to change the beliefs of those who want to believe, what they want to believe.

Why not?
As Aristotle pointed out in his Nicomachean Ethics, Socrates was wrong in thinking that ignorance makes one wicked, or that knowledge makes one virtuous - knowing is important but it's not enough, you also have to be in the habit of doing what you know to be right and true. Knowing 'the answers' doesn't make a person virtuous, any more than being ignorant of the right answer could make one depraved and evil. Believing isn't guided primarily by facts, but by what we are in the habit of acting upon, and anyone who's attempted to 'fact check' the beliefs of someone on the other side of the political aisle, has very likely seen that firsthand (and perhaps ignored it in themselves).

Those who're able to meaningfully recognize that the knowledge they've habitually acted upon as a 'justified belief', is wrong, are able to do so because they are already in the habit of cross-checking the facts they now know, with what is inarguably real and true, in order to see where their knowledge, understanding, and behavior, may need to be altered in light of that new information. They do so because they at least implicitly understand that failing to do so, would lead them or their people into living within an illusion of unjustifiable beliefs, falsehoods, and chaos, which would be at odds with what is real and true, and so of value to their lives.

In an irony that Plato would surely enjoy, modern 'philosophers' who use the term and branch of 'Epistemology' that was devised to deny and justify (!) our inability to know what is real and true, do so while knowing that their system has produced those ideologies of 'justified belief' that've darkened the modern world with illusions that most people are unwilling to acknowledge amidst their lives today. And of course they do so, confident that any 'fact checking' will reference only those facts that support the opinions that they've certified as being acceptable, and that by making themselves captive to those same beliefs, and safe in the knowledge that those they've taught to accept those facts and opinions in the educational systems that they dominate, will applaud them as being knowledgeable and correct.

What that means for you and me, is that if you'd like to be justifiably confident that your beliefs will help you to live a life worth living, then you first need to take the modernists at their word and ignore their literally ignorant advice, and look instead to the premoderns who actually cared about establishing what is real and true (Metaphysics), and about demonstrating how to soundly argue the merits of any claims about that (Logic), and understood that it was important to identify what if anything should be done in light of that (Ethics). Philosophers before the modern era did so, because unlike the modernist, they thought that wisdom was important, and valuable, in the pursuit of a life worth living.

Caring about what is true is the path to liberty and the pursuit of happiness
But getting back to answering our opening question, for a person to change what they believe and behave by, they first need to understand and believe that when we mistakenly believe something that is actually false, to be true, it is a consequential problem that truly matters to their life and ability to live it well, and to be in the habit of correcting themselves because of that. Those who don't believe that, are in the habit of dealing with errors and falsehoods, only when they present problems that interfere with their immediate plans and actions, and once those problems are 'resolved' into being out of sight, they are also out of mind.

Those who believe that gaps and errors in their understanding are consequential to their life and ability to live it well, are inclined by that towards developing those habits of mind across time that become 'second nature' to their character, which we recognize as the mark of a virtuous person - AKA: One who is up to the challenges of living a life worth living. For them, errors and falsehoods once discovered, can no longer be tolerated, no matter what comforting norms might have grown up around them, and it's those kinds of people who are able to come to see - no matter what popular opinion might say against them - that:
  • ... issuing proscriptions of people to be killed for the 'greater good', is an intolerable wrong;
  • ... that enslaving fellow human beings, is an intolerable wrong;
  • ... that an action that would be unjust to do to some, is 'somehow' just when done to others because of irrelevancies of race, creed, etc., is an intolerable wrong,
, and not coincidentally, it is that habit of mind of continually referencing back to what is timelessly true, that enables us to first see inconsistencies in what we had accepted as being solid knowledge, which indicates that it is incomplete or flat out false, which is what makes it possible to discover what is wrong and how to correct it. Those who develop that habit of mind and act in accordance with it, are most likely to live to see happiness within their reach, and - always aware of the role that chance plays in our lives - without also demanding that 'happiness' be guaranteed, before behaving in that way. That's the essence of the line from George Washington's favorite play, Addison's 'Cato', that:
"Tis not in mortals to command success, But we’ll do more, Sempronius; we’ll deserve it."
, meaning that they understand that the ends do not justify the means, and understand instead that our means are intelligent reflections of the ends we aim at, more or less successfully, as our habits of mind guide us in ensuring that both means and ends, fit within what we know, understand, and act upon, because they are real, true, and right; AKA: Integrity.

At the foundation of ethics, are those fundamental virtues that 'fact-check' our behavior and keep us in accordance with first principles of knowledge and behavior, and a child's education should raise them up in those habits of thought and action, in knowledge and story. These habits of mind are what have been known since classical times as the Cardinal Virtues:
  • Prudence - 'the 'Mother of the Cardinal Virtues' - no one who's not prudent can be Just, or Courageous, or Temperate, as all depends upon perceiving and acting effectively upon what is true and good
  • Justice - the habit of consistently rendering to others what is their due, as the rightful response to an earlier absent or wrongful action
  • Courage - acting in the face of adversity to do what is right and just to do
  • Temperance - desiring and acting in accordance with a prudent and just understanding of what is real and true
These virtues are foundational to ethical thinking in all quarters of the Greco/Roman-Judeo/Christian West, these virtues depends upon our seeing and seeking out what is real and true, and responding reasonably in accordance with what is - the thing itself. And central to that ability to understand, make sound judgments, and act to and carry them out appropriately, is the product of metaphysics, logic, and ethics, in thought and action.

These virtues are foundational to the West, which upholds (upheld?) the importance of acting deliberately by choice at the level of the individual, their family, extended friendships, and community, which became a vital component in bringing about what is the truest wealth of the West. The Greco/Roman-Judeo/Christian West is not wealthy because of its resources - or resources taken from others - but because virtue, morality, and trustworthiness, became an expected norm in its communities, which made them as much or more inclined towards celebrating goodness, than power, and from that common sense, wealth and prosperity naturally followed in abundance.

The expectation of trust and accompanying trustworthiness, ushered in the circumstances which Adam Smith observed as the 'natural liberty' of each person, when they were, to the greatest extent possible, able to act as they saw fit without external interference. As Smith observed, those able to make their own decisions in regards to their affairs, on the basis of conditions & needs they had first-hand knowledge of, with little or no fear of being forcibly interfered with by either criminal or civic officials, that produced a market and pricing system that excelled at spreading the most reliable information of the value of products, supplies, and related concerns, throughout society, and it brought about an unheard of explosion of efficiency and prosperity not only for their immediate communities, but to society as a whole.

It's important to note that what was involved in those first stirrings of a Free Market, which they'd produced, involved far more than what the modern field of 'economics' concerns itself with, and is best addressed under the wider scope of Political Economy, which is what two of the last worthwhile Frenchmen, Jean Baptiste Say, and Frederick Bastiat operated within (with apologies to deTocqueville). Although Adam Smith essentially originated the field of Political Economy before them, both Say and Bastiat would make its principles even more clearly understood than Smith had (Thomas Jefferson explicitly recommended Say's clearer and far briefer study of 'Political Economy':
"...John Baptist Say has the merit of producing a very superior work on the subject of Political economy. his arrangement is luminous, ideas clear, style perspicuous, and the whole subject brought within half the volume of Smith’s work. add to this considerable advances in correctness and extension of principles..."
, over that of Adam Smith's).

All of which rests upon, and depends upon, a regard and respect for what is real and true, and without that understanding which Ethics insists upon, Western knowledge and understanding could not have reached as high as it did with Aristotle, and higher with Cicero, and higher still with the Christian era. Without that full foundation, the English Common Law could not have been developed, let alone what followed in our Founders' era with the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the realization of their understanding of a Free Market (which is NOT what libertarians & establishment GOP present as being 'Free Trade'), which are what have made the better aspects of our current world possible.

All of which goes to say, that Epistemologically speaking, where Metaphysics tells us what is, and Logic demonstrates what is arguably true, Ethics extends those into telling us whether or not such and such a conclusion is justifiable, and what should or shouldn't be done about that, and no 'epistemology' worthy of the meaning given to that name, can legitimately be practiced without employing all three. More to the point, undermining either one is an attack upon all three, and upon your ability to act in accordance with what you know to be real and true. Further, eliminating the expectation of the possibility of truth, has the effect of concealing all lies as such - what significance can a lie have, to a people who have no particular regard for what is real and true? - the lie is neatly cloaked in the attire of 'whatever' and 'just my opinion, man', and its corruption spreads with ease.

The Modern cost of Epistemology without Metaphysics, Logic, and Ethics (Narrator: Everything)
At the vague beginnings of modernity, those who saw themselves as 'modern' began moving away from that understanding, perhaps first and most notably with Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote such things as that it would be advisable for a Prince to send in a brutal authority to discipline and even kill troublemakers in a region, and then once having brought them under control, to then make a show of killing that authority who'd been acting on the prince's orders
"...Under this pretence he took Ramiro, and one morning caused him to be executed and left on the piazza at Cesena with the block and a bloody knife at his side. The barbarity of this spectacle caused the people to be at once satisfied and dismayed..."
, to convince the people that he cared about 'justice' for them and so deserved their loyalty. Hobbes put forth a similar notion from a different perspective, that since no one could be trusted to be honest and true, to avoid living lives that were 'nasty, brutish, and short', a prince must be given the power to say what will be accepted as if it were 'right', and to enforce that upon all.

Both of them imagined that such plans somehow could be effective, and therefore would be justified (if you apply Aristotle's 1st rule to the logic preceding the 'therefore', you'll find it to be lacking), and Hobbes's Leviathan was subject to the same contradictions and falsehoods for 'the greater good', as Machiavelli's, so that neither forerunner of 'real politik' could establish a 'justified belief', and so neither could ever truly be either desirable, admirable, or effective. A reasonable understanding of ethics, which enables us to see into the wider context beyond the present moment, would show that no such actions could be justifiable, nor since they ignore the likelihood of unforeseen consequences of committing wrongs, could they be effective - by definition such actions taken in contradiction to what is real and true - and no such shortsighted effort could ever be 'practical' in the end, and could not be because they are wrong in their beginnings.

What the term Epistemology was coined to mean, was being practiced in premodern philosophy long before its modern name was coined. To consider something philosophically, began with what Metaphysics could tell you is, which Logic examined and showed how arguably it could be justified, which led into an ethical understanding which disclosed what should or shouldn't be done about that. Doing so was and is inseparable from practicing the virtues of Prudence (a sound judgement about what is true), Justice (seeing that wrongs are appropriately righted), Courage (prudently applying justice even in adversity), and Temperance (doing what is right, in right measure, neither excessively or neglectfully). Practicing epistemology in a manner that lives up to the meaning assigned to it - distinguishing between justified beliefs, and opinion - is vital to determining whether or not a conclusion is not only the 'right answer', but is ethically justifiable to believe, stand by, and act upon - it doesn't make you infallible or omniscient, but it does help you to behave in a manner that is reasonably in accordance with what is real and true.

Epistemology, according to what its modernist granddaddy, Immanuel Kant, taught, was and remains thoroughly opposed to that premodern meaning which epistemology was coined to give modernism cover from. His, and every modernist system since his radical 'Copernican Revolution', which he conceived of in reaction to David Hume, he fashioned a gimmick (the details of that I'll leave for latter posts) in his 'Critique of Pure Reason', which responds to Hume's skepticism, by accepting his conclusions, and uses them as a pretext for devising a way 'around them',
"... thus rendering the practical extension of pure reason impossible. I must, therefore, abolish knowledge, to make room for belief. The dogmatism of metaphysics, that is, the presumption that it is possible to advance in metaphysics without previous criticism, is the true source of the unbelief (always dogmatic) which militates against morality..."
, which, as he's attempting to use reason to 'fact check' reason, by discarding metaphysics, in order to 'improve' reason (in all his concocted varieties of it), is just about the most dogmatic thing ever stated (at least to that date). At any rate, Kant's convoluted cogitations are what birthed the modernist's '4th branch of philosophy', which rests upon the assertion that what is actually real and true cannot be known, and in our ignorance of what is real and true and how to respond to that, we must instead treat all 'facts' as isolated events which serve only to indicate which of Kant's 'Categorical Imperative's we are to treat as being more relevant to us than reality.

What is a 'Categorical Imperative'? They are statements which Kant and other 'experts' have rationalized - necessarily independent of 'real reality' - as being 'truths' that it is your duty to
"...act in accordance with a maxim of ends that it can be a universal law for everyone to have"
, IOW you are to act as if the ends do justify the means, and which we are expected to abide by in lieu of our inability to observe, judge, and respond to reality (or so he says), and these predigested judgements - made without reference to what is real and true in your context, but which the moderns think should be accepted as if they were 'real and true' - are what you (actually 'they', in the collective sense) are to accept as being your duty to abide by (without, of course, any reference to what is real and true), and so you are to act, not on your own judgement, but by what authorities have told you that you should - quite literally 'like a good German' - no matter what.

"...that most deformed cripple of ideas that has ever existed—the great Kant..."
If that didn't clear things up for you, consider this scenario which Kant actually gave as an example of his ideal that “The Categorical Imperative commands us not to lie”, and you should keep in mind that "Kant subsequently says that a categorical imperative:
declares an action to be objectively necessary of itself without reference to any purpose—that is, even without any further end"
, and by that he means that you must obey it no matter what your own judgment might tell you, meaning that you shouldn't follow it for any benefit it might bring, but in fact you must abide by it even if it would cause you or others real harm, up to and including your and their deaths.

If it's not yet entirely clear how vastly different the modernist's approach is from the premodern one, a scenario that should make matters clearer, is one that Kant gave as an example of his ideal, which is in radical opposition to the premodern view (and I'll bet yours too). So let's take a look at the scenario itself, and then at how differently it might be approached from the premodern, and then the modernist, points of view:
  • Imagine a scenario of whether or not your daughter is at home, and what you should do about that when a murderer comes to your door armed with a knife to kill her with, and demands that you tell him whether or not she is at home.
In the premodern view would consist of something like the following, informed by:
Metaphysics (dealing with what is real and true) would inform you of the truth about whether or not your daughter is in your house, that the person with the knife is a threat, it would also implicitly inform you of who you are as her parent and what your role and responsibility towards her is, what your home and its purpose is, and every other relevant bit of knowledge and understanding.
Logic would tell you that the threat of force invalidates any demand made to you, as well as what other options are available to you, and making an argument that she isn't home, and that he should leave.
Ethics would unify the knowledge of metaphysics and logic with virtue, morality, law, and cultural customs, not to mention common sense, and inform you that you're fully justified in not providing a knife-wielding would-be murderer with any facts or anything else in your possession, and that any means of eliminating that threat, from deception to the use of lethal force, is also fully justified.

And so, as Socrates pointed out 2,500 years ago, anyone threatening violence or is in any other way out of their head, can have no claim whatsoever to any truth, or anything else you might possess, and it would be unjust to give it to them even if it's their own property. Meaning that, especially as their stated intent is to harm your daughter, you are not only justified in refusing their request, it is your responsibility to resist it by any means possible, up to and including blowing the would-be murderer's head clean off if they attempted to force their way in.
In the modernist view:
Epistemology, as the system was formulated by Kant, tells you that you do not in fact have any knowledge of anything that is real and true, the only thing you can know is your duty to follow the rule of the Categorical Imperative, and 'therefore' (a term reduced to be logic in name only) your duty is to tell the armed murderer at the door that your daughter is at home, even though the harm he intends to cause her would be considered 'unethical'.
Yes, Kant actually says that because the 'Categorical Imperative' is to always 'tell the truth' (about the reality that you can never really have knowledge of), and that it's not just that you should tell the murderer at the door that your daughter is home (which to Kant's mind already involves way too much thought and judgement on your part), it is your duty to tell the murderer at the door who is there to kill your daughter, that your daughter is home, no matter what obligations, responsibilities, and standards, that telling such a 'truth' would truly betray.

This should not be surprising, as modernism and all its children in highbrow pretenses, Marxism, pragmatism, post-modernism, wokeness, etc., all tell you that you cannot know what is real and true, and so 'logically' (by ignoring the fundamental rules of logic) you should (again, an ethical term) ignore the meaning of any and all terms and premises in favor of abiding by the Kantian Categorical Imperative to 'tell the truth' - if you cannot know 'the thing itself', then obviously your knowledge is not, should not, and cannot, be integrated or comprehensible, and so your only duty is to obey the rules of experts, and any judgment that'd violate those rules is wrong.

Remember, modern philosophy isn't about helping you to become wise, it's about what & who you should obey.

However many modernist experts have come and gone, and whichever ideological label, from Idealism, to Dialectical Materialism, to Pragmatism, and post-modernism they've operated under, and whichever political death-cult of socialism, communism, Marxism, Maoism, Pro-Regressivism, etc. that've brought in and out of favor, that fundamental 'truth' has remained a constant command - you kant know what's true, don't think for yourself, obey the experts.

You might recall from an earlier post on Fichte's influence in our school systems, that (Fichte was the first to lay out exactly what the meaning and consequences of this new '4th branch of philosophy' actually meant), advised upon reforming education in his 'Addresses to the German people', in order to eliminate the 'problem' of independent thought, and so make students more perfectly obedient to authorities (a message heard and transmitted into America by the likes of Horace Mann). If you ever wondered where the death camps of the fascists and communists came from, there's your answer - those are the ideas which those horrors originated from (and yes, they persist in the design of your current school systems), as does the modernist's reasons for using 'epistemology' to separate metaphysics, logic, and ethics, from your conscious consideration, comprehension, and judgement.

Whatever its claims, Modernist philosophy didn't fix the errors and weaknesses of premodern philosophy, it replaced their honest gaps and errors with deliberate falsehoods and fantasies. Modern Epistemology and the 'philosophy' it supports, makes a mockery of Philosophy - the love of and pursuit of Wisdom cannot be engaged in after first having denied everything in its foundations and goals that makes such a pursuit possible.

Beliefs are justified by what is real and true
What is real and true matters, and distinguishing between what is properly a 'justified belief', and 'opinion', can only be understood by those who care about and respect what is metaphysically true, logically arguable, and ethically understood. Those who deny what is real and true, can only follow rules and flow charts prepared and approved of by one expert or another, to achieve ideological ends which they expect you to have exchanged your ability to reason for (oh hi there 'Critical Thinking'), in order to obey what the experts tell you.

If the meaning ascribed to epistemology in the 1880s is to be taken seriously - as opposed to how the modernist's '4th branch of philosophy' actually presumes and operates - you could not even begin to identify a 'theory of knowledge', without first understanding the metaphysical importance of identifying what is real and true, and the importance of responding to that knowledge ethically, and no belief 'justified' without that understanding can have any real and true value. An understanding of and respect for Justice, is required for determining the proper response to popular ideals, and pursuing what correctives might be warranted, without excess or inappropriate rancor, and you could not justly stand for a justified belief without the courage to say that you've discovered what is popularly supported, is in fact false. The ignorance of or denial of that, is what lays behind the moderns' denial of our ability to perceive reality as it is, and our inability to say what is real and true (what is a woman?), and any 'justified belief' that's justified without that, can only serve to subvert what truly is so.

Outside of the vain pursuits of power, real power begins with a respect for truth, and having the humility to not only recognize the possibility of your being wrong, but the desire to discover that error, to treat people with respect, civility, kindness, and trust, comes naturally only to those who have a love of Truth. In that same soil is sure to be found a sound metaphysics, with a respect for logical reasoning, and an ethics which reflects and insists upon both, in liberty with their fellows in society, under heaven above.

One question worth asking after all of this, is that if philosophy and an epistemology of metaphysics, logic, and ethics is so important, and if the great majority of people have little or no interest in its pursuit, how is such a society to come about, let alone endure? A quick look at history will show us that it is not necessary that everyone be an academic - just as recent history will show how disastrous such an effort is - but a people can still develop a meaningful habit of epistemology in everyday practice, through an education that fundamentally values and transmits "the best that has been thought and said" through its culture's stories, arts, letters, and religion.

For a glimpse at how that once was done, and what had to be trivialized in order to dispense with it, we'll look at Grammar's role in implementing or abandoning an epistemology of metaphysics, logic, and ethics, next.


Astro said...

"This should not be surprising, as modernism and all its children in highbrow pretenses, Marxism, pragmatism, post-modernism, wokeness, etc."

Damn, Van, your ability to conflate opposing ideologies is inhuman.

Van Harvey said...

astroshadow trolled: "Damn, Van, your ability to conflate opposing ideologies is inhuman."

Weak sauce in comparison to your ability to misconstrue whatever you'd rather evade and ignore. That passage isn't conflating any one of those false ideologies, with any of the others, it's simply pointing out that however uniquely each one of those distorts and deforms a person's ideas into the manner that's most pleasing to their adherents, they:

"... all tell you that you cannot know what is real and true, and so 'logically' (by ignoring the fundamental rules of logic) you should (again, an ethical term) ignore the meaning of any and all terms and premises in favor of abiding by the Kantian Categorical Imperative to 'tell the truth' - if you cannot know 'the thing itself', then obviously your knowledge is not, should not, and cannot, be integrated or comprehensible, and so your only duty is to obey the rules of experts, and any judgment that'd violate those rules is wrong.

Remember, modern philosophy isn't about helping you to become wise, it's about what & who you should obey.

Astro said...

"That passage isn't conflating any one of those false ideologies, with any of the others..."

"They all..."

"I'm not conflating things, I'm just saying they do exactly the same things." Are you stupid?

Van Harvey said...

astroshadow trolled: "..."I'm not conflating things, I'm just saying they do exactly the same things." Are you stupid?"

It's a nice demonstration of your professorial skills, to conflate comparison with conflation, but if I compare the fuels that power a Ford, a Chevy, a Harley, and a Rolls Royce, and note that they all run on gas, that's not a conflation of those vehicles. Likewise, my noting that 'highbrow pretenses, Marxism, pragmatism, post-modernism, wokeness, etc', have a common power source of lies, is not conflating their very different attitudes and ideologies, it's just noting the obvious.

Deliberately misconstruing that, however, is far worse than stupidity.

Astro said...

"Cato" is a great play, by the way! Really excellent for exploring America's ideological intersections with history. I had it on my 1649-1920 theatre history syllabus in the spring and got paid to discuss it at my full-time academic position.

Van Harvey said...

'Cato' is an excellent play, but I shudder to think of how you'd draw 'ideological intersections with history' into it... no doubt the fact that 'ideology' wasn't invented until Destutt de Tracy in 1796, wouldn't hinder you in the least. No doubt you'll find whatever your narrative needs.