Re: Evil ? (was: Hypostases (was: Natural Order & Belief)

From: Bruno Marchal <>
Date: Thu, 28 Dec 2006 12:22:38 +0100

Le 27-déc.-06, à 20:11, Jef Allbright a écrit :

> Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
>> Jef Allbright writes:
>>> Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
>>>> But our main criterion for what to believe should be
>>>> what is true, right?
>>> I'm very interested in whether the apparent tautology
>>> is my misunderstanding, his transparent belief, a simple
>>> lack of precision, or something more.
>> Thanks for the compliments about my writing. I meant that what we
>> should believe does not necessarily have to be the same as what is
>> true, but I think that unless there are special circumstances, it
>> ought to be the case.
> I agree within the context you intended. My point was that we can
> never
> be certain of truth, so we should be careful in our speech and thinking
> not to imply that such truth is even available to us for the kind of
> comparisons being discussed here. We can know that some patterns of
> action work better than others, but the only "truth" we can assess is
> always within a specific context.

I think we agree. Those "context" are always "theoretical", with a
large sense for "theory". It could be an explicit theory, like quantum
mechanics, ... or an implicit build in belief like our instinctive
inference that our neighborhood exists or make sense. This last is a
"theory", which according to a more explicit one (Darwin) is a many
millenia relative (and thus contextual) construct.

>> Brent Meeker made a similar point: if someone is dying of a terminal
>> illness, maybe it is better that he believe he has longer to live
>> than the medical evidence suggests, but that would have to be an
>> example of special circumstances.
> There are plenty of examples of self-deception providing benefits
> within
> the scope of the individual, and leading to increasingly effective
> models of "reality for the group. Here's a recent article on this
> topic:
> <
> pagewanted=print

Thanks for this interesting reference. In the context of the theory I
suggest, it is still an open problem if life itself is a "logical
descendant" of a "lie". Actually, although there are evidences to the
contrary, even "appearance of the physical universe" could be a
self-deception. This is a stronger statement than the one I am used to
say, which is that the "primitive" character of the physical laws are
self-deception (but this is only a consequence of taking the
computationalist hypothesis seriously enough and is strictly speaking
out of the present topic.

>>> If he had said something like "our main criterion
>>> for what to believe should be what works, what seems
>>> to work, what passes the tests of time, etc." or had
>>> made a direct reference to Occam's Razor, I would be comfortable
>>> knowing that we're thinking alike on this point. But I've seen this
>>> stumbling block arise so many
>>> times and so many places that I'm very curious to learn
>>> something of its source.
>> The question of what is the truth is a separate one, but one
>> criterion I would add to those you mention above is that it should
>> come from someone able to put aside his own biases and wishes where
>> these might influence his assessment of the evidence.
> I agree, but would point out that by definition, one can not actually
> set aside one's one biases because to do so would require an objective
> view of oneself.

But two observers can agree on some common context, so that some
objective view of oneself can be done (although probably not recognize
as such ...). So a second observer can, in some situation helps a first
one to be less biased.

> Rather, one can be aware that such biases exist in
> general, and implement increasingly effective principles (e.g.
> scientific method) to minimize them.

I agree with this.

>> > > We might never be certain of the truth, so our beliefs should
>> always > > be tentative, but that doesn't mean we should believe
>> whatever we > > fancy.
>> > > Here it's a smaller point, and I agree with the main thrust of
>> the > statement, but it leaves a door open for the possibility that
>> we might > actually be justifiably certain of the truth in *some*
>> case, and I'm > wonder where that open door is intended to lead.
>> I said "might" because there is one case where I am certain of the
>> truth, which is that I am having the present experience.
> Although we all share the illusion of a direct and immediate sense of
> consciousness, on what basis can you claim that it actually is real?

Because we cannot doubt it. It is the real message, imo, of Descartes
"diagonal argument": it is the fixed point of doubt. If we decide to
doubt everything, we will find ourselves, at some stage, doubting we
doubt of everything. The same for relativization: we cannot relativize
everything without an absolute base on which that relativization is
effective. If you want (like David and George) consciousness is our
criteria of "absolute (but not 3-communicable) truth". I don't think we
can genuinely doubt we are conscious, although we can doubt on any
content of that consciousness, but that is different.
We can doubt having been conscious in some past, but we cannot doubt
being conscious here and now, whatever that means.

> Further, how can you claim certainty of the "truth" of subjective
> experience when there is so much experimental and clinical evidence
> that
> self-reported experience consists largely of distortions, gaps, time
> delays and time out of sequence, fabrications and confabulations?

The "truth" here bears on the existence of the experience, and has
nothing to do with anything which could be reported by the experiencer.
If I a complain about some pain, I would take a doctor has incompetent,
mad or inhuman, if after having examine me, he tells me: "you have no
pain". Situation like that did occur with the first know case of pain
in phantom limb.

> I realize that people can acknowledge all that I've just said, but
> still
> claim the validity of their internal experience to be privileged on the
> basis that only they can judge, but then how can they legitimately
> contradict themselves a moment later about factual matters, e.g. when
> the drugs wear off, the probe is removed from their brain, the brain
> tumor is removed, the mob has dispersed, the hypnotist is finished, the
> fight is over, the adrenaline rush has subsided, the pain has stopped,
> the oxytocin flush has declined... What kind of "truth" could this be?
> Of course the subjective self is the only one able to report on
> subjective experience, but how can it *justifiably* claim to be
> infallible?

Ah but I agree with you. The subject cannot *justifiably* claim to be
infallible. Please this has nothing to do with the fact that he is
"infallible". He cannot claim it in a justifiable way of course. Any
doll, zombie, could claim the same thing. To come back on the example
above, the doctor may be right: I did not have pain (t'was just a trick
for not going at school for example). So I cannot "justify" the
infallibility of my report of experience, nor can the doctor justify
the absence of such experiences, but this is different from saying that
conscious experience are infallible as such. (And that is why I
appreciate Theaetetus first approximate definition of
knowledge---albeit debatable as Russell Standish said once---which
consists in defining "to know p" as to "believe p, when p"). For
example Machine X knows the earth is flat in case the machine X
believes (asserts (say)) that the earth is flat, in case the earth is

> To be certain of the truth of something implies being able to see it
> objectively, right? Or does it equally imply no questions asked?

Objectivity leads to doubt (and thus cartesian science). Certainty is
either 100% private and subjective, or a symptom of unnavowable doubt,
or of madness. Well, in some probabilistic context it can have the
weaker meaning of "probability one", but even there it can be shown
that probability one does not always entail "truth". This happens with
lobian machine where the machine can believe that some proposition is
true in all possible worlds, and that there is a least one possible
world, and then that proposition can still be false (and the machine
remains consistent, but get unsound).


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Received on Thu Dec 28 2006 - 06:47:48 PST

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