Archives for category: Methodology

Yesterday I answered a question on Quora. So far, over a hundred views but only one upvote. I realize that my contributions to civilization are not widely appreciated nor easily marketable.

By refusing to hold a position on something, do you, by default, accept all positions or reject all positions?

…as answered on Quora….

Neither. To suspend judgment on something is to set the default position to “Unknown” or “Undecided.”

There is a word relevant here: Epoché.

Sextus Empiricus, from whom our word “empirical” derives, explained the word like this: “Epoché is a state of the intellect on account of which we neither deny nor affirm anything.”

Now, this sort of generalized withholding of assent is, I think, impossible. It is meaningless, for reasons American pragmatist philosopher C.S. Peirce gave when, while discussing Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy, he argued that we cannot doubt everything at once:

We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophy. These prejudices are not to be dispelled by a maxim, for they are things which it does not occur to us can be questioned. Hence this initial skepticism will be a mere self-deception, and not real doubt; and no one who follows the Cartesian method will ever be satisfied until he has formally recovered all those beliefs which in form he has given up. It is, therefore, as useless a preliminary as going to the North Pole would be in order to get to Constantinople by coming down regularly upon a meridian. A person may, it is true, in the course of his studies, find reason to doubt what he began by believing; but in that case he doubts because he has a positive reason for it, and not on account of the Cartesian maxim. Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.

Ultra-skeptical positions are mere poses. You cannot really “reject all positions.”

And by refusing to judge the facticity or the value of something, you are not “accepting all positions,” for by not taking a position on the issue in question, you have indeed not taken that position, and your having taken a position to not accept the position you are merely assenting to that “meta” level of the issue, not the substantive level.

You see we find ourselves in the realm of the paradox. Even if you aimed to be a Pyrrhonian skeptic, by not taking a position on all positions you have taken one position: that of not taking a position on all other possible positions!

This problem of paradox rears its head if you attempt to “accept all positions,” too — for in taking the meta-position of “accepting all positions” you have rejected the position of rejecting all positions.

Bertrand Russell developed his theory of the Logical Types to handle such paradoxes. They are fun little puzzles, the kind of thing Raymond Smullyan wrote wonderful little books about. But, though not trivial, they are not of great moment, either.

So, what can we conclude?

To withhold judgment on a limited number of matters is not only possible but advisable. For, as Marcus Aurelius said:

“You are not compelled to form any opinion about this matter before you, nor to disturb your peace of mind at all. Things in themselves have no power to extort a verdict from you.”

The question at hand is very much something like an attempt to extort a verdict from you — for, odds are, when someone tells you that by not taking a position on something you really are taking a position, they are trying to trick you into changing your opinion.

Caution!

Now, there is one additional way to look at this that we must cover: action.

We are sometimes asked to form an opinion on a matter relevant to action, let us say, whether war or pacifism be moral. If you, not without reason, withhold your judgment on the matter, you are apt to practically favor the pacifist side as a performative matter. The proponent of war will then accuse you of materially siding against war, and, indeed, siding with his enemy by not resisting the enemy in question.

And there is indeed something to this. But by refusing to settle your opinion and, as a consequence, not get involved, out of indifference or confusion, you will take a position on one side of the practice, but not on the matter of ethics, which was the original question. You could take a very different active position: you could, like Arjuna under the advisement of Krishna, take up battle, performing the action with some emotional distance, recognizing that the war is ghastly and complex but your position in the world is less murky. The decision to behave this way is a decision to bracket out the moral question and risk committing an immoral act. Jean-Paul Sartre called this tragic stance “dirty hands,” I believe. Make of it what you will.

Now I’ve gone and put a spin on an ancient text (Bhagavad-Gita) that I have not read in decades! So my position right now is to stop.

twv

Why did Karl Popper criticize the Marxist’s theory, not the Austrian Schools of Economics?

…as answered on Quora, January 31, 2019:

Probably because Marxists have “a theory of history” and are what Popper called “historicists.” Austrian economists were not.

Indeed, Austrian economists were major opponents of historicism.

Also, Austrian economists were generally liberal, in that they supported decentralized power structures (Wieser being a strange exception). Menger, Böhm-Bawerk, Mises, and Hayek were all proponents, in their different ways, of the “open society,” which Popper saw as the civilizational-level analog to the scientific method. Marxists, on the other hand, scorned such views. Remember how Marx pilloried “bourgeois freedom”? Marx also engaged in a rigid theory of ideology that saw it as a mere expressiom of economic class. That is a world apart from Popperianism and Austrianism.

Now, you may be wondering: but Misesian praxeology, following Menger’s “exact science” method, is not exactly a falsifiable procedure!

True to some degree. And one could mention that Hayek was not a praxeologist, and Hayek was the Austrian School economist that Popper knew best, and from whom Popper learned much. But consult Popper’s views on Darwinism. Evolution by “descent with modification” as directed by “natural selection” has also been attacked for its a priori character. Popper’s defense of this method might give us clues to how he would have thought about the rather a priori nature of the Menger-Mises position of the exact science of the discipline of human action.