THE EPISTEMOLOGICAL BATTLESPACEMarc Shulman
at American Future posted on
an essay by French philosopher André Glucksmann
entitled "Separating Truth and Belief
". An excerpt:"Civilised discourse analyses and defines scientific truths, historic truths and matters of fact relating to knowledge, not to faith. And it does this irrespective of race or confession. We may believe these facts are profane or undignified, yet they remain distinct from religious truths. Our planet is not in the grips of a clash of civilisations or cultures. It is the battleground of a decisive struggle between two ways of thinking. There are those who declare that there are no facts, but only interpretations - so many acts of faith. These either tend toward fanaticism ('I am the truth') or they fall into nihilism ('nothing is true, nothing is false'). Opposing them are those who advocate free discussion with a view to distinguishing between true and false, those for whom political and scientific matters – or simple judgement – can be settled on the basis of worldly facts, independently of arbitrary pre-established opinions."
This is no trite point.
Modes of thinking are not merely individual matters. They are also organizational and cultural patterns for categorizing information, precluding or favoring particular perspectives, selecting rule-sets for the sequencing and prioritizing data points. Mass acceptance of a particular epistemogical method has deep implications for the evolution of a society. Fatalism, irrationality and mysticism do not leave legacies comparable to that of empircism, logic and the scientific method. The former are a cognitive narcotic, the latter is a tool kit.
Irrational schools of thought, regardless of whether their origin is secular or religious are profoundly seductive because they offer the mind a " free lunch". They permit or even enshrine common logical fallacies such as special pleading
, begging the question
or appeal to authority
as virtues. They are also, by their rarefied narrowness and lack of identifiable, quantifiable and reliable " yardstick" to self-critically evaluate, tailor made to create the kind of individual who Eric Hoffer
called The True Believer
:"Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know. One often obtains a clue to a person's nature by discovering the reasons for his or her imperviousness to certain impressions. ...A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self."
The epistemological method that becomes the dominant mode of thought in a given society determines its attitude on all great questions - from peace and war to prosperity and what it considers to be "good". Political conflicts over intellectual shams like " intelligent design
" matter because they are questions of the legitimacy or falsehood of a particular cognitive method.
Opting for the good feeling of deus ex machina today is apt to bring ruin tomorrow.