Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Peter Dorman — Problems with Perspectivism

The criteria for truth have never changed, and they never will: it’s all about reasoning and evidence. (These criteria have been refined over the centuries, but they can still be summed up as reasoning and evidence.) As an old white straight male I am more likely to believe some things than others because of my social position, but that has no bearing on whether what I believe is more or less justified. Or it might in a statistical sense, but you won’t know it aside from the criteria derived from reasoning and evidence whose validity is separate from and above all ideological divisions.
Yes, I realize some peope have ideologies that cause them to reject what I’ve just proposed as unarguable criteria for validity. No, I can’t argue with them, because my arguments are based on reasoning and evidence, so they only work with people who accept these criteria. Most perspectivists, I suspect, are unwilling to go that far—but then they have to distinguish between factors that influence the likelihood of belief, which absolutely include the identities they center on, and those that govern the likelihood of truth, which don’t.
If one is familiar with age old controversies whose history extends for millennia, the claim "my arguments are based on reasoning and evidence," is not as clear as Peter Dorman thinks. At issue are criteria. There are no universally accepted criteria regarding "reasoning and evidence." This is precisely what is at issue. Just the controversies that have raged in economics over methodology and are still raging, except among those who arbitrarily rule out debate because "the issues are settled" should alert him to that.

For example, a common mistake in reasoning is that absence of "evidence" for something is evidence of the absence of that something. Well, it all depends on the definition of evidence, which requires criteria for not only judgment but also what qualifies as evidence.

Without going into the details of the philosophical and logical debates, let's just say that this is not only complicated but also complex because consciousness is reflexive and processes involving consciousness are emergent.

<i>Or it might in a statistical sense, but you won’t know it aside from the criteria derived from reasoning and evidence whose validity is separate from and above all ideological divisions.</I>

This presupposes an epistemological view that assumes the mind is a mirror of reality so there is an overarching universal POV. In philosophy that is called naïve realism. It is called naïve because like all philosophical positions it leads to all as more questions than it answers in a compelling way.

Without absolute criteria, criteria are stipulated. Their justification involves a vicious circle or an infinite regress.

A vicious circle is involved in formalism, where the consistency of a system of conclusions from axioms is taken as proof not only of logical necessity but also existential truth. This is the situation in conventional economics, for example, and involves a vicious circle.

An infinite regress is involved with pragmatism, where future uncertainty about change and reflexivity of consciousness enable feedback and learning and therefore emergence. Absolute truth is never achieved at any point in time. Science is tentative on future knowledge.

Peter Dorman seems to be appealing to the correspondence criterion, the naïve form of which assumes mind reflects reality as mirror image, so to speak. This assumes that "facts" are not theory-laden, that is, ideologically influenced. There are many reasons to doubt this view.

Does a non-musical hear "the same thing" as a musician? As long as the hearing of both is similar they hear the same distribution of signal to noise. Do they hear it the same "music"? No. For example, in the first bar trained musicians recognize key and signature. Non-musicians may not even be aware of key and signature and just enjoy the music "naively" with less "appreciation." Yes, there are books and classes on music appreciation for non-musicians to provide them with the background to listen intelligently. The non-musician may even enjoy the music more than the musician, but the non-musician has no idea of what is going on. 

Similarly, those trained exclusively in science and math see the  world differently from those who are trained exclusively in the arts and humanities. The former view from the prospective of quantity and usefulness. The latter view from the perspective of quality and sentiment.

Naïve realism assumes that the "objective" can be isolated from the "subjective." But objective and subjective are poles of consciousness and consciousness is embedded in matter. Subjective and objective are entangled in brain functioning, so that "reason" and passion" are also entangled.

One of the reasons that there is an intergenerational gap now is the digital divide. Digital native process information differently from non-digital natives, to the degree that some communication is impaired and there may seem to be an invisible wall that has been erected through technology. 

Problems with Perspectivism
Peter Dorman | Professor of Political Economy, The Evergreen State College

1 comment:

jrbarch said...

Science has penetrated further and further into the realm of real but intangible phenomena (using language to try and describe what they have found). The dense and concrete material world has ceased to exist, and what they have found supporting it can only be labelled with the modern word symbol ‘energy’. The meaning supporting this symbol and the significance supporting the meaning are yet to be unveiled. It is entirely possible they may discover, as the perennial wisdom has claimed for millennia, there is but one substance in the universe, expressive of purpose and intent. When they do so, they will have arrived at the divine. Human beings, fighting over the configuration of the material atoms and which particular set of concepts to hold in the little thought-bubble we call mind, are an incredibly small energy component of the whole. Hence humility is always a good policy. This primordial energy is available to the human being, says the teachers of the race (in precepts suited to the broad persona of man) through feeling (sensitivity) – never thought. Mind (they say) is a mirror, which once held concentrated, clear and still, reflects what is above, and acts as a window to what is below. In this context mind is an instrument; the human heart and what it contains, the seer and vision. The universe breathes and pulses, cycles, and everything else along with it.