General Philosophy Questions

Topic Summary: A place to post somewhat random questions about philosophy.

Goal: To engage more with CF by using problems and questions that in mind and pertinent to a current interest. ET wrote somewhere about asking a thousand questions. He also has talked about persistence being more important that starting point. I’m hoping this topic will be a place for me and other posters to try putting more questions and confusions out there. I think a factor limiting my engagement has been getting stuck with figuring out which topics are the best one’s to post particular questions or ideas about philosophy. That stuckness mostly comes from my personal lack of organization but maybe others are having similar problems and this topic can be a place for random (less organized) philosophy problems.

CF relevance: A lot of the questions are directly related to Popper, Rand, Goldratt, and Elliot Temple. Many others are indirectly related.

Do you want unbounded criticism? (A criticism is a reason that an idea decisively fails at a goal. Criticism can be about anything relevant to goal success, including methods, meta, context or tangents. If you think a line of discussion isn’t worth focusing attention on, that is a disagreement with the person who posted it, which can be discussed.) Yes

CONTEXT: I was reading about skepticism and trying to think of criticisms.

Is the following a valid argument against skepticism?
If you are doubting everything then you also have to doubt your theory about doubting everything. Generalizing skepticism to include itself makes the theory contradict itself.

Is that argument an example of a self-refuting theory?

Is recognizing that skepticism can be applied to itself an example of finding a logical implication of a theory?

Is it relevant that there are more meta-levels of doubt that can be applied against skepticism? For example, you can doubt everything and then you can doubt that you doubt everything and then you can doubt your doubt about doubting everything, etc. Does the issue of meta-levels of doubt mean that skepticism also has an infinite regress problem?

Btw, I’m happy with yes/no answers to yes/no questions.

I don’t think being doubtful of everything means that everything is disbelieved.

It’s not like the idea “nothing is true” which is an assertion of a truth and so self-contradictory.

If someone did generally doubt everything as a skeptic, then yes they’d hold the skepticism itself in doubt. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they decide it’s false, just that they question it and might decide it’s false.

But I don’t really think anyone is a total skeptic, I’m not sure how someone could function at all like that. I’d always expect it to be something more specific (e.g. skeptical of new ideas, skeptical of new people, skeptical of new technology).

Do you have a specific situation or example of skepticism?

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Define “skepticism” before trying to refute it.

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Thank you for the reply. It helped me think through this stuff a lot more. As did ET’s reply.

The context is that I was reading about the ancient philosophical school of skepticism. I was thinking of the variant of skepticism that denies the possibility of knowledge.

I think I agree. Doubt is more a matter of uncertainty but I used the word as a stand-in for denying knowledge, which isn’t right. In the proper sense, being doubtful of things is more like recognizing fallibility than denying that you can know anything.

I think I see the difference there. “Doubt” or “doubting” is vague or ambiguous while “nothing is true” is an absolute categorical statement where all the words mearnings are very clear. And “nothing is true” has a clear self-reference because “nothing” excludes all statements, which excludes “nothing is true”.

That way of putting it sounds like fallibilism which I agree with. Are the variants of skepticism that question (instead of deny) the possibility of knowledge basically similar to fallibilism in that way? Is the main difference between those variants of skepticism and fallibilism that the skepticism variants don’t include an explanation of how we can have knowledge even while doubting/questioning everything?

Total skepticism is the idea that I was thinking about how to criticize. I agree that no one could function as a total skeptic. You just couldn’t do anything and couldn’t live. Are those kinds of problems enough to be good criticism of skepticism? For me, it seems better to have logical-type criticism. That kind of criticism seems more clear because it seems overwhelming to try to think through how being a total skeptic prevents someone from functioning.

I wasn’t really thinking of a specific example. I was thinking about some of the abstract arguments that have been made for skepticism.

This is helpful. I didn’t get very clear or explicit about what problem I was trying to solve. I was kinda vaguely thinking of the arguments that deny the possibility of knowledge but I don’t think I realized that when I wrote the questions in the post. The stuff I was reading was identifying knowledge with infallible, justified knowledge and the skeptical arguments were criticizing it for being groundless or lacking foundations. I think fallibilism has a different concept of what knowledge is than what the skeptics I was reading about were criticizing. But I was wondering how to criticize skepticism on its own terms.

I looked at this page to get an idea for what definition of skepticism I was trying to talk about.

To be clear, my previous reply was based on the way you used skepticism in your original post (i.e. talking about doubt).

It seems like you wouldn’t want to just plug in the new definition to your original post (or at least that you should be clear if you do want to). Do you want to reframe your original post with your new definition?

That make sense. I think you had a good interpretation of what I said there. And good points/questions about the issues with what I said.

I tried reframing the post below. I think I did somewhat just plug the new definition into the same format but I also think it changes the meaning in the way that I want. I didn’t have this exactly in mind with the original post but its more in the spirit of the question that I wanted to know about.

Is the following a valid argument against total skepticism, as in denying the possibility of knowledge?

If you are denying that you can know anything then you also have to deny that you can know about your theory which denies knowing anything. In that way, generalizing total skepticism to include itself makes the theory contradict itself.

Is that argument an example of a self-refuting theory?

Is recognizing that total skepticism can be applied to itself an example of finding a logical implication of a theory?

Is it relevant that there are more meta-levels of denial of knowledge that can be applied against total skepticism? For example, you can deny that you know anything and then you have to deny that you deny that you know anything and then you have to deny that you deny that you deny that you can know anything, etc. Does the issue of meta-levels of doubt mean that total skepticism also has an infinite regress problem?

I think I started wondering about the meta-levels because each level seems to reverse the meaning of statement. Sort of like how a double negative is a positive and a triple negative is back to a negative and a quadruple negative is back to a positive.

Conjecture and Refutations p. 47

"The theory of inborn ideas is absurd, I think; but every organism has inborn reactions or responses; and among them, responses adapted to impending events. These responses we may describe as ‘expectations’ without implying that these ‘expectations’ are conscious. The new-born baby ‘expects’, in this sense, to be fed (and, one could even argue, to be protected and loved). In view of the close relation between expectation and knowledge we may even speak in quite a reasonable sense of ‘inborn knowledge’. This ‘knowledge’ is not, however, valid a priori; an inborn expectation, no matter how strong and specific, may be mistaken. (The newborn child may be abandoned, and starve.)”

Why does Popper want to make a distinction between inborn ideas and inborn reactions or responses? Is he trying to emphasize that he’s not saying we come to into the world lots advanced ideas about stuff like geometry and language? And, is he trying to make that distinction because he doesn’t want readers to mistake him for saying something similar to what Plato said about having the world of forms ideas within us at birth?

From the Critical Fallibilism perspective, does the distinction between ideas and reactions or responses matter much? Can reactions and responses be thought of as types of ideas or the result of some types of ideas? Would the CF perspective be that any information in a person’s mind counts as an idea?

Define “knowledge” too.

I don’t really have a succinct definition of knowledge. At this point in my understanding I have a few unintegrated ideas about what constitutes knowledge but I’m relying mostly on common-sense intuition for my working/living definition of knowledge.

My conception of knowledge is mostly derived from you, Deutsch, and Popper. Knowledge is ideas, or information, that is useful in practice and persists over time. My definition for knowledge is close to my definition for well-adapted replicators. It’s information that outcompetes variants (other information) vying to occupy the same niche. In the case of people, knowledge is ideas that persist because they solve some set of problems or achieve some goals, where other variants achieve fewer goals (a subset). And the persistence of knowledge over times comes from its capacity to correct errors that might lead to its demise, which comes from its correspondence to reality. My common-sense notion of the knowledge is that its stuff that you can remember that makes you more capable and powerful.

Then you don’t have a succinct understanding of what skepticism is (since you defined skepticism in terms of knowledge), so you shouldn’t attempt a succinct refutation of skepticism.

That makes sense. I didn’t consider that aspect of the problem. It’s overreaching to attempt to refute skepticism with a succint argument when I don’t have my basic terms defined. I wasn’t too clear about what the goal of my post was either. Maybe more thought about goals and context when figuring what to ask about would help there.

Also, I can hardly define any words from memory. Word meanings and recollection is largely a bunch of loose associations and synomyms for me. How to define words/terms is something that I have wanted to study but I mostly forgot about the topic. I vaguely remember some ARI lectures that discussed defining words in terms of essential characteristics or something. I also hope to do a little study of the structure of lexical definitions at some point.

So, its not productive to think of this as an excercise in philosophical refutation. If I’m reading about a topic like skepticism and want to try thinking critically, maybe it would make sense to try asking more basic questions about the meaning of terms and questions to figure out what a small concept or idea is about.

Instead of succint refutation, I could try getting more ideas about skepticism in my head and see what smaller problems come up that. Like, more focus on little important details.