Against open-mindedness

Now that the liberals control everything, they’re finally getting around to agreeing with my arguments against open-mindedness and for censorship.  Regarding the former, see this new book review at the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews of Jeremy Fantl’s The Limitations of the Open Mind.

In Chapter 2, Fantl begins to make his case for his first key premise:

  1. There are important and standard situations in which you know that a relevant counterargument is misleading whether or not you have spent significant time with the argument, found each step compelling, and been unable to expose a flaw. (xi)

In many cases, Fantl argues, being unable to find a flaw in a compelling counterargument does not defeat your knowledge. Fantl labels this view ‘forward-looking dogmatism’. He argues that such a dogmatism can be rational since often the best explanation of your situation is that your well-supported belief is correct, and a clever individual has simply come up with a sneakily misleading counterargument. (34) Further, rather than being in conflict with intellectual modesty, such a dogmatism actually embodies it, since for many propositions you know, you could easily fail to identify a flaw in a misleading argument to the contrary (‘The Principle of Modesty’). (35) Given the ease at which one may come across an apparently flawless argument to the contrary, actually coming across one does not provide much evidential weight to the contrary. This is why, according to Fantl, your knowledge can survive coming across an apparently flawless counterargument. Fantl’s account explains how we can know that motion exists and that people are bald without being able to diagnose flaws in the compelling arguments to the contrary.

In Chapter 3, Fantl argues that a counterargument being too sophisticated for you is actually a reason why you can dismiss it, and do so without losing your knowledge. The greater your amateurism about some matter, the less surprising it should be to find an apparently flawless counterargument. This has the surprising result that the amateur is often in a more fortunate epistemic position than the expert. The motivation here is the same as in the previous chapter — surprising evidence counts for more than unsurprising evidence, so since the amateur is more likely to come across an apparently flawless counterargument, it counts for less against the amateur’s belief.


9 Responses

  1. That motion exists, some people are bald etc –these propositions are prior to any argument. What we directly perceive is not a proper subject to arguments. Hence there is no need to resort to sophistry of Fantl’s type.

    It is a typical error that physicists make–confuse their models and reality. Objects like this table, this ball, exist in a sense different than electrons exist. Electrons are posited in physics to explain certain phenomena. But objects of our ordinary life, they are not posited entities but directly perceived and hence not subject to arguments.

  2. Now that the liberals control everything, they’re finally getting around to agreeing with my arguments against open-mindedness and for censorship.

    who had the fable about the hen who told the horses to be still “lest we trample each other?”

    liberalism is largely driven by the actions of those seeking worldly power so obviously they want open-mindedness when they are on the fringes, and want censorship when they are in the mainstream.

  3. Perhaps as a physicist I’m disqualified, but it seems like Bedarz Iliachi’s argument would fail applied against optical illusions, dreams, hallucinations, and really any kind of sensory confusion or dysfunction. Or, for that matter, against the fact that individual electrons are in fact observable – and that chairs and balls are what we invoke to explain stubbed toes, our cups not falling to the floor, etc.

  4. Matt,
    That senses are generally reliable does not say that they are infallible.
    Individual electrons may be observable in the sense of physics but not in the sense employed here. All the physicists ever observe are pointer readings and suchlike. Electrons are inferred.

  5. Well, technically, you don’t ever directly see a table. You only ever directly see light.

    Fantl argues that we don’t have to listen to arguments against even propositions which are not backed up by perceptual experience, but are simply “felt” to be obvious. His main application is that conservatives should not be allowed to speak on college campuses because everybody already knows that they are wrong and offensive, and it doesn’t matter if we can’t answer their actual arguments. This is quite a change from the days when Christians were told that we have a sacred duty to be open to any argument against our beliefs.

  6. Well, technically, you don’t ever directly see a table. You only ever directly see light.

    Admittedly off-topic, but this is a materialistic reduction of the verb ‘see’.

  7. I supposed that that we see things “by light”. Of course, we do see light itself, sometimes. But the technical, i,e, the physics usages of common words need to be used in technical contexts. It is possible to disagree with someone who says–Solidity of this table is an illusion. This table is mostly empty space. Such a person is laboring under confusion of technical words misapplied.

  8. When I have to teach students some radiation transport, I first have to convince them that what they see just depends on from what directions light is hitting their eyes. First break their idea of “seeing”, then rebuild it.

    Really, there are two elements of seeing. I have been describing the bare sensory part, from incoming light rays to the signal sent through the optical nerve. Human perception also includes a first-pass cognitive organization, which you and Matt describe differently but may not actually disagree about. For example, the brain automatically takes the two-dimensional data from each eye and the slight difference between the two and interprets a scene of objects living in three-dimensional space. Or we recognize a particular shape as a table. A Kantian modernist will describe this as an active process, the mind imposing structure on the sensory input, while an Aristotelian ancient will describe it passively, the mind being imprinted by the intelligible form “table”.

  9. My point was about confusion created by treating the entities posited in physics (such as photon) as entirely equal to the directly perceived things that are pre-physics (such as light).
    Physicists, understandably, treat their posited entities (that can be said to exist ONLY in their theories) as entirely equivalent to the directly perceived things. Worse, they then regard their posited things are being more real than the directly perceived things. I think this attitude makes for a large degree of confusion and is perhaps responsible for a great deal of atheism too. A lot of young people are rendered unable to provide an intellectual defense of the “wholes” and thus the whole project of instilling pre-modern attitudes is can’t take off in them.

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