Re: Can we ever know truth?

From: Brent Meeker <>
Date: Wed, 16 Aug 2006 07:20:08 -0700

Rich Winkel wrote:
> According to Stathis Papaioannou:
>>Given that even in case (c) doctors were completely wrong, the way we test
>>new treatments now is more stringent. However, evidence is still evidence,
>>including evidence of past failures from medical history, which must be
>>included in any risk/benefit analysis. You can criticise someone for making a
>>decision without fair consideration of all the evidence, but you can't
>>criticise him if he does.
> Actually we can and often do. The question is one of insight into
> one's own ignorance. Suppose a child is run over by a car which
> is driven at high speed through a residential neighborhood. The
> question of the driver's guilt isn't determined by his knowledge
> or ignorance that the child was about to run into the street, but
> by his lack of insight and prudent adaptation to his own ignorance
> of same. In this case prudent adaptation = driving at a safe speed.

I don't think that's a good example of "not considering the evidence".
Ignorance is a relative term - he didn't know a child was about to run out in
the street, but he (and most people) know there are children in residential
areas and that they may run out in the street. So we criticise him for not
taking this into account. If he were truly ignorant of these possibilities,
we'd excuse him.

> Medicine is not like astronomy. Given the self-healing properties
> of adaptive systems, doing nothing is often the best course of
> "action." The precautionary principle applies.
> The human mind, especially, is capable of "healing" itself (i.e.
> finding a new stable equilibrium) in most circumstances without the
> aid or hinderance of drugs or lobotomies or electroshock or drilling
> holes in the skull to release demons. Of course it often takes
> time and a change of environment, but what's the alternative? To
> chemically or physically intervene in a self-organizing neural
> system is like trying to program a computer with a soldering iron,
> based on the observation that computer programs run on electricity.
> Ignorance is unavoidable. The question is whether one adapts to one's
> own ignorance so as to do no harm.

But you don't want to be so precautionary that you never risk doing harm,
because then you'd never do good either. You'd never drive in residential areas
at all.

Brent Meeker

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Received on Wed Aug 16 2006 - 10:37:02 PDT

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