Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Touchstone's Subjective Objective in Being Objectively Subjective

The nice thing about asking T-Stone questions is that before I ask them I already know both the manner in which he will respond (obliquely, at best) as well as the fact that he would never pause to consider the reason why I asked the questions I did. As such, T-Stone is actually quite easy to "lead" to a specific area, which was the reason I asked the questions I did.

For instance, I originally asked:
How is it possible for you to even determine that you have a filter that needs corrected in the first place?
T-Stone responded:
If you are asking how can I determine *for certain* that I have such a filter, I can't.

But he then said:

Contradictory accounts of the same event suggest that a) either we weren't witnessing the same event in the first place, or b) one or more (or all) of us has an interpretation of the event that is at odds with what actually happened.

Given the choices of a) and b), b) seems more plausible (emphasis added).


The problem with this is that in order to determine plausibility in any meaningful way, you have to know what things ought to be normal. In other words, for T-Stone to say that b) is more plausible than a), he must know that reality more closely corresponds to b) than to a). In saying which is more “plausible”, T-Stone is smuggling in an objectivist claim.

Similarly, T-Stone continued:

A unified reality with various amounts of distortion in the perceptions of observers would explain the contradictions more naturally than some sort of "personal universes" or "multiple histories" view that maintains the perfection of the observer's perception, and instead messes with the underlying reality to resolve the contradictions (emphasis added).


T-Stone says that accepting his view is “more natural” than other views. This is therefore an objectivist claim. Likewise, he argues that these opposing views “[mess] with the underlying reality to resolve the contradictions.” But in order for T-Stone to know that these view “mess” with this “underlying reality” he is first required to know what the underlying reality is. Again, while claiming to be subjective, he’s engaging in objectivist claims.

This is most obvious in his answer to my question, “You are assuming that you have a subjective filter. Why? Because 'everyone' does?" In response, he says:

Simply because this assumption has proven the most effective for me as a model of the real world (emphasis added).


This statement simply cannot be made subjectively. There is no “subjective” way to determine that an assumption has proven effective, nor that it models “the real world” unless you know what the real world is. T-Stone’s argument requires him to have objective knowledge of the universe in order for him to make his subjective claim.

Naturally, T-Stone may simply reply, “It is only my subjective opinion that it would be more natural to believe what I do, or that it would model the real world accurately, etc.” But note A) T-Stone does not speak as if this is his mere opinion; he speaks using objectivist language while saying we ought to read it as if he applies a subjectivist disclaimer before he says it (but that subjectivist disclaimer refutes his very argument, which is why he never explicitly states it!); and B) if it really is just his subjective appeal all the way down, T-Stone’s denial of objective reality is based on a position of pure fideism. It is T-Stone’s belief that this is the case. There is no underlying basis for his position other than T-Stone’s bare faith. This is, indeed, the very definition of blind faith. He merely believes because he wants to believe, not because there is any reason for him to believe.

T-Stone also said:

I don't know for certain that Abraham Lincoln will not show up on my door tomorrow.


This is the silly sort of thing that T-Stone is reduced to stating because of how hard he must grasp at subjectivity. The fact of the matter is that he does know “for certain” that Abraham Lincoln will not show up at his door tomorrow. He only says he doesn’t know this “for certain” because if he said those two magic words, he’d be committing himself to an objectivist position.

But even not saying those two magic words, T-Stone has still committed himself to an objectivist position, for he has said that reality is objectively such that it he cannot be certain that Abraham Lincoln won’t show up at his porch tomorrow. In saying that he cannot rule out the possibility, he is saying that it is objectively the case that Honest Abe could possibly do this; and he can only know that Abe could possibly do this if he is making an objective statement about reality. Of course, T-Stone hasn’t considered this because he doesn’t really believe it. His subjectivity claims are merely to avoid having to argue for his position (remember, he only has bare fideism—and irrationalism—for his position).

To be fair to T-Stone, he did get close to the truth here:
But I have no experience available to me, no precedent, for the re-appearance of a long dead American President. I can't be certain that it can't or won't happen, but I have no empirical basis to suggest that it will.


I remind T-Stone that I originally asked him:
Is it reasonable for you to couch all your truth claims in subjectivist language, or is it instead reasonable to assert dogmatically that reality is what you think it is because you have no reason to think otherwise?


While I disagree with T-Stone’s empiricism in his above quote, I point out that the existence of it ought to lead T-Stone to an objective position rather than a position of subjective doubt. It is unreasonable to doubt everything. Again, my original post on radical skepticism dealt with this.

T-Stone finishes:
Hey, why am I answering all these questions you offer, when you won't answer the few that I've put to you?


Firstly, how am I supposed to know the inner workings of an irrational mind in or to answer the question of why you do anything? :-P Secondly, I have answered your relevant questions. Thirdly, if you’re referring to the definitions of subjective and objective (as is implied by your previous comments), it’s not like I’ve never provided a definition for them. Look at almost any one of my interactions with Dawson for examples of this. I don’t see a need to continually repeat myself simply because you don’t read.

But if you insist, a basic definition is easy. Objective truth is truth that is dependent upon the object; subjective truth is dependent upon the subject. Objective truth is true regardless of what the subject thinks, dreams, imagines, believes, etc because it is based on the ontology of the object. Subjective truth can never leave the subject. It is confined to each individual subject. Therefore, it is impossible for a subjective truth to be true for more than one subject (even if two subjects hold the same proposition, it is not really the same proposition for the first subject’s proposition is only true for the first subject, etc.).

10 comments:

  1. This is exactly the kind of defense we need in our postmodern times. Thanks for your clear logical thought.

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  2. Peter, you are so wise. I love seeing you be the puppet master, leading those morons around by the strings.

    If only you could drive legally, you'd be the total package.

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  3. hostus twinkius5/16/2007 4:34 PM

    Another idiot anonymous who can't deal with the substance of arguments. Way to go champ, you're late for home ec.

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  4. Twinkies Suck. All squishy and moist, just like T-bloggers arguments.

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  5. hostus twinkius5/16/2007 5:00 PM

    Suit yourself, but how about refuting some of those squishy arguments and show us how stupid they are?

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  6. Peter,


    The problem with this is that in order to determine plausibility in any meaningful way, you have

    to know what things ought to be normal. In other words, for T-Stone to say that b) is more

    plausible than a), he must know that reality more closely corresponds to b) than to a). In

    saying which is more “plausible”, T-Stone is smuggling in an objectivist claim.


    That's incorrect. I don't need any such knowledge to decide which one is more plausible. First,

    I can even allow for the sake of argument that such a choice between two possibilitties might be

    completely *arbitrary*. If so, I have simply adopted one of the hypotheses wihtout any claim to

    some transcendent knowledge of the phases spaces for a) or b). Given that, what's the problem.

    Peter says "YOu can't do that!"???

    In practice, the choice isn't arbitrary, any more than our experience is. From the time we are

    less than a year old, humans develop cognitive integration skills, patterns of perception that

    enable us to function. I have 6 month old twins, and they are just now starting to show that

    they are beginning to adopt the idea of the persistence of objects -- the idea that when I have

    a red ball in my hand and I show it to them, then put it behind my back, the ball still exists,

    even though they can't perceive it. My twin sons have no formal justification for believing the

    ball exists when it out of sight, any more than I have epistemic justification for believing the

    sun will come up in the morning. Yet, in flagrant defiance of the "absolute laws of logic", we

    both make headway in life with those beliefs.

    So, when I look at two options, one that supposes a "multiple universe" model, over a unified

    reality, the unified reality is more plausible to me simply based on my experience; that's how I

    have developed to see the world since I learned to see, as a unified reality, and thus the

    "unified reality, differing perceptions" option is more parsimonious, more plausible based on my

    experience. That doesn't require that I have any objective, ultimate knowledge about the way the

    system is or could be. I just need to be able to assess what is more consistent with my

    experience. Which means that I'm not supposing or relying on "objectivist claims" anywhere in

    making that choice.

    T-Stone says that accepting his view is “more natural” than other views. This is therefore an

    objectivist claim. Likewise, he argues that these opposing views “[mess] with the underlying

    reality to resolve the contradictions.” But in order for T-Stone to know that these view “mess”

    with this “underlying reality” he is first required to know what the underlying reality is.

    Again, while claiming to be subjective, he’s engaging in objectivist claims.


    NO, see above. No such knowledge is needed, or indeed even available. "More natural" is just a

    reference to the parsomony of one view with respect to another, based on my experience.


    This statement simply cannot be made subjectively. There is no “subjective” way to determine

    that an assumption has proven effective, nor that it models “the real world” unless you know

    what the real world is. T-Stone’s argument requires him to have objective knowledge of the

    universe in order for him to make his subjective claim.


    All I have to do is make *any* statement subjectively is to state it. My claim might be

    completely erroneous, imaginary, or arbitrary, at odds with the objective reality, but that

    doesn't somehow prevent me or anyone from making such claims. As you have it here, we are in the

    absurd position of having to have transcendent, ultimate knowledge about the real world in order

    to declare our perceptions of it.

    Naturally, T-Stone may simply reply, “It is only my subjective opinion that it would be more

    natural to believe what I do, or that it would model the real world accurately, etc.” But note

    A) T-Stone does not speak as if this is his mere opinion; he speaks using objectivist language

    while saying we ought to read it as if he applies a subjectivist disclaimer before he says it

    (but that subjectivist disclaimer refutes his very argument, which is why he never explicitly

    states it!); and B) if it really is just his subjective appeal all the way down, T-Stone’s

    denial of objective reality is based on a position of pure fideism. It is T-Stone’s belief that

    this is the case. There is no underlying basis for his position other than T-Stone’s bare faith.

    This is, indeed, the very definition of blind faith. He merely believes because he wants to

    believe, not because there is any reason for him to believe.


    Did you read the response I gave you earlier that had EVERY SINGLE SENTENCE prefixed with an

    explicit qualification about the subjective nature of my (and all man's) claims? It's tedious to

    have to supply that for any statement, so we don't. If we understand that anything we claim is

    coming from a *subject*, we understand that implies subjectivity in the claim, given that the

    subject is an observer of the object with fallible/incomplete observational and interpretive

    abilities. It's "built-in" to every thing you say, Peter. You're just not aware, apparently.

    So when I speak confidently about my belief that the sun will come up in the morning, I have a

    set of epistemic constraints that are unavoidable, no matter how "certain" I am. I have no

    trouble saying I'm perfectly *certain* that the sun will come up tomorrow in the east, but

    that's just an expression of functional certainty. I'm as certain as I can be, given my

    epistemological limitations. Since those limitations are categorical, we typically can leave

    them out as implicit, assumed. It relieves tedium and pedantry in communications.

    This is the silly sort of thing that T-Stone is reduced to stating because of how hard he must grasp at subjectivity. The fact of the matter is that he does know “for certain” that Abraham Lincoln will not show up at his door tomorrow. He only says he doesn’t know this “for certain” because if he said those two magic words, he’d be committing himself to an objectivist position.

    How do I know this "for certain", Peter. Show your work. What is the proof for this? If what you say is correct in a reliable way, it should be demonstrable. As a corollary, you might also venture an answer to the question of whether you are *certain* the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning. Are you similarly *objectively* certain of this as an unassailable fact? How do you establish your certainty?


    But even not saying those two magic words, T-Stone has still committed himself to an objectivist position, for he has said that reality is objectively such that it he cannot be certain that Abraham Lincoln won’t show up at his porch tomorrow. In saying that he cannot rule out the possibility, he is saying that it is objectively the case that Honest Abe could possibly do this; and he can only know that Abe could possibly do this if he is making an objective statement about reality. Of course, T-Stone hasn’t considered this because he doesn’t really believe it. His subjectivity claims are merely to avoid having to argue for his position (remember, he only has bare fideism—and irrationalism—for his position).


    I find it odd that a Christian who believes in the resurrection would declare that a body cannot possibly be brought back to life. As I said previously, I don't have any empirical support for dead Presidents showing up my door, so I regard that as an (exceedingly) remote possibility, certainly more remote than the chances of my getting into a car accident (which I have empirical support for).

    But, most importantly, you've made a huge error in going from a negation of certainty about a proposition to an affirmative certainty about the negation of the proposition. That is, I can hold both of these statements in harmony:

    1) I do not know for certain that Abraham Lincoln will not show up on my door tomorrow.
    2) I do not know for certain that it is possible that Abraham Lincoln will show up on my door tomorrow.

    Whoops, you are thinking that 1) here necessarily implies knowledge about it's possibility. Wrong. When I deny that I know something, I'm not affirm that I know it's negation. In a great many cases, we just don't know either way. (I'm sure Jim From Old Truth caught this gaffe as he was appreciating your tour de force here, but was just going easy on you!)

    While I disagree with T-Stone’s empiricism in his above quote, I point out that the existence of it ought to lead T-Stone to an objective position rather than a position of subjective doubt. It is unreasonable to doubt everything. Again, my original post on radical skepticism dealt with this.

    Empiricism only leads to approximations (hopefully better and better approximations) of the real world. It is a tool for improving and structuring our model of the real world, but is not capable of making the "transcendent leap" to pure objectivity, simply because no matter how much experience and observation we pile on, we are still stuck as observers (subjects) with interpretive frameworks. We can rightly say we are being "objective" in relying on our empirical data; but that just speaks to our efforts at approximation. Perhaps it would be more precise and less confusing to you if one said "toward objective" in those contexts.

    But if you insist, a basic definition is easy. Objective truth is truth that is dependent upon the object; subjective truth is dependent upon the subject. Objective truth is true regardless of what the subject thinks, dreams, imagines, believes, etc because it is based on the ontology of the object. Subjective truth can never leave the subject. It is confined to each individual subject. Therefore, it is impossible for a subjective truth to be true for more than one subject (even if two subjects hold the same proposition, it is not really the same proposition for the first subject’s proposition is only true for the first subject, etc.).

    I haven't been asking for a definition, but all the while have been asking for a *proof* that establishes your objectivity. If you claim you have objective knowledge -- that you are not a subject (observer) in the system, but transcendent, outside of the constraints of perception -- how do you establish this. I think this is quite a difficult thing to establish, and frankly don't think you can do it. Further, I have the subjective belief that you know you can't do it either. I just ask because I'm truly interested in how you would establish your objectivity, and to point out for anyone paying attention that this is something you must avoid (for reasons which should be apparent).

    No definitions needed just now, but how about giving us your proof for your claims of objective knowledge. How is it that you among us are not an observer, a subject in the system?

    -Touchstone

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  7. C.S. Peirce has a useful definition of "the real" that can help clarify the notion of objective truth:

    I define the real as that which holds its characters on such a tenure that it makes not the slightest difference what any man or men may have thought them to be, or ever will have thought them to be, here using thought to include, imagining, opining, and willing (as long as forcible means are not used); but the real thing's characters will remain absolutely untouched.

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  8. I can even allow for the sake of argument that such a choice between two possibilitties might be completely *arbitrary*. If so, I have simply adopted one of the hypotheses wihtout any claim to some transcendent knowledge of the phases spaces for a) or b). Given that, what's the problem. Peter says "YOu can't do that!"???

    Unless you are taking for granted a framework of hypothesis formation, you would agree that arbitrary adoption of one possibility over another would not be rational, right? You would agree that rational belief (here in an epistemological rather than a religious sense) is belief that one has a reason for holding, or (if you are a foundationalist) belief of a sort that one can hold properly without reasons (basic, foundational beliefs), right?

    So, when I look at two options, one that supposes a "multiple universe" model, over a unified reality, the unified reality is more plausible to me simply based on my experience;

    Do you take it that beliefs that are more plausible to you are generally more likely to be objectively true (or "real" in the Peircian sense) than their denials, or is their objective truth, or its likelihood, irrelevant to their subjective plausibility? If plausibility and objective truth are linked in some way, please explain in what way.

    that's how I have developed to see the world since I learned to see, as a unified reality, and thus the "unified reality, differing perceptions" option is more parsimonious, more plausible based on my experience.

    Do you take it that your experience (the experience that on your own account informed and perhaps determined your cognitive development) is connected in some way with reality? Do you think that your parsimony heuristic gets you in touch with objective reality or truth better than its converse? Or is it just the way you happen to think based on your experience? If somebody working in your field did research applying the converse of the parsimony heuristic (let's call it CPH for short) to assess their results, would your objection be that the CPH is less likely to yield objectively true results, or would it merely be that the CPH is contrary to your experience?

    I just need to be able to assess what is more consistent with my experience. Which means that I'm not supposing or relying on "objectivist claims" anywhere in making that choice.

    Do you mean mere logical consistency with your experience, or do you mean something stronger? If something stronger (such as coherentism), please explain. As far as mere logical consistency with your experience goes, it seems to me that there is an infinte raft of possibilities that are logically consistent with anyone's experience. Suppose that your experience comprises only observations of the material world and inferences from those observations; logically, the inference "matter and its motions are all there is" is no more consistent with your experience than its denial. Naturalism may seem more plausible based on your experience, but not as a matter of logic. So I'm asking for an account of your notion of consistency.

    MSvF

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  9. MSvF,

    Unless you are taking for granted a framework of hypothesis formation, you would agree that arbitrary adoption of one possibility over another would not be rational, right? You would agree that rational belief (here in an epistemological rather than a religious sense) is belief that one has a reason for holding, or (if you are a foundationalist) belief of a sort that one can hold properly without reasons (basic, foundational beliefs), right?

    Right. Thoroughly irrational, if it is a random choice. Which was why I offered this: even if it is completely irrational, it leads to consequences, and experience.

    Do you take it that beliefs that are more plausible to you are generally more likely to be objectively true (or "real" in the Peircian sense) than their denials, or is their objective truth, or its likelihood, irrelevant to their subjective plausibility? If plausibility and objective truth are linked in some way, please explain in what way.

    I believe that my assessments of plausibility, as in this example of differing accounts of a (possibly) single event, are informed by by experience, and the logic that arises from that experience. So, it's an axiom that my experience reflects a reality around me (in the Peircian sense you offered), that my sense of subject/object relationships are necessary conditions for me to live and function as a human being.

    So to the extent I can tie the plausibility of options to my experience (which I accept axiomatically if I choose to live), then yes, I expect those assessments to outperform their denials (or available alternatives) in approximating Peircian truth.

    Do you take it that your experience (the experience that on your own account informed and perhaps determined your cognitive development) is connected in some way with reality?

    I think it's the *only* way to take it, if I am choosing to live my life. I don't believe it's initially a conscious choice, but is a cognitive function that is akin to "visual integration", if you are aware of that process in kids from birth to 4 or 5 months old. Maybe we call this "conceptual integration"... it isn't purposely chosen any more than a baby choose to work on visual integration.

    Do you think that your parsimony heuristic gets you in touch with objective reality or truth better than its converse?

    Yes.

    Or is it just the way you happen to think based on your experience? If somebody working in your field did research applying the converse of the parsimony heuristic (let's call it CPH for short) to assess their results, would your objection be that the CPH is less likely to yield objectively true results, or would it merely be that the CPH is contrary to your experience?

    I'm not sure those objections are exclusive. I suspect they are not. In any case, the CPH is manifestly -- definitionally -- contrary to my experience, so yes on that.

    As for CPH, I'm not clear how it would be applied. Maybe you can give me an example. In the scenario we've been talking about, does CPH mean that I assess what is most plausible based on my experience, and then choose the opposite?

    That can't be what you're suggesting.
    Do you mean mere logical consistency with your experience, or do you mean something stronger? If something stronger (such as coherentism), please explain. As far as mere logical consistency with your experience goes, it seems to me that there is an infinte raft of possibilities that are logically consistent with anyone's experience. Suppose that your experience comprises only observations of the material world and inferences from those observations; logically, the inference "matter and its motions are all there is" is no more consistent with your experience than its denial. Naturalism may seem more plausible based on your experience, but not as a matter of logic. So I'm asking for an account of your notion of consistency.

    I'm not asserting "something stronger"; logic proceeds from experience, and while everyone has a unique set of data points as their experience, the symmetry of the physical world (based on its physical laws) provides the consistency that we associate with "universality" of logic: one rock plus one rock in my hand makes two rocks, for me and some other guy on the other side of the planet, or the universe....

    I'm aware of the number of "consistent" options. Consistency with my experience narrows things down, but not so much that my choices are obvious or trivial. I don't have any trouble saying that naturalism or "not-naturalism" are both logically consistent with my experience, at least in strictly empirical terms (there are intuitive and non-reasoning inputs that can and do shape my decisions as well). So consistency isn't the fine-grained selector for me, if that's what you're asking. In the case of the the "multiple universes" example above, I'd say that was inconsistent with my experience, and thus outside the perimeter, but I also realize that is just one, contrived and extreme scenario.

    -Touchstone

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