Thursday, January 24, 2008

Appeals to authority

This is a sort of follow-up to Is there expertise in philosopy? The Barefoot Bum linked to something I had written on the subject, as well as linking Stephen Law and adding his own commentary.

I don't have a lot to say about this, but I do have disconnected points:

1) When it comes to listening to experts on an empirical subject, what you're doing is broadly similar to trusting the testimony of someone on a more straightforward manner (what did you do last weekend? etc.) It's not obviously problematic.

2) You have to look at the biases of the people involved. Law brings up Biblical scholarship, a case where almost everyone goes into the field a believer and for religious reasons, an obvious case of this.

3) There is a distinction between "philosophers believe this, therefore it's true" and "philosophers believe this, therefore it's reasonable." I've heard the things along the lines of the former from William Lane Craig, but never from an actual philosopher. The latter is what you're likely to hear from an actual philosopher. I tend to disagree, but it's still a distinct claim.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should provide a link to your definition of an actual philosopher.

The Barefoot Bum said...

I think the two cases are not as distinct as you make them out. If we tweak the grammar a little, we get:

(a) Philosophers believe X, therefore X is true

(b) Philosophers believe X, therefore it is reasonable to believe X.

To hold these cases to be distinct, you have to say that believing it's reasonable to believe X is different from believing X. If these are substantively different statements, then it would not be a contradiction to say, it's reasonable to believe X, but I don't believe X. If you'll forgive the esoteric philosophical jargon, such a construction goes thud instead of ding. It's not necessary false, but it seems quite counterintuitive.

Hallq said...

BB-

My gut reaction is that it's sufficient to point out that some philosophers think there's a difference, but that sounds like an appeal to authority, so let me be more precise: if you want to interact with the philosophical community as a whole on this issue, you have to be able to consider the idea that there's a difference, even if there isn't, in order to interact with them fruitfully.

The Barefoot Bum said...

if you want to interact with the philosophical community as a whole on this issue, you have to be able to consider the idea that there's a difference, even if there isn't, in order to interact with them fruitfully.

I appreciate you being straight up about the issue; a lot of philosophers try to bury the same point in quite a lot of bullshit.

But I have to say your stricture sounds exactly like what I have to do to be a Christian.

I'm more than happy being an outsider to the philosophical community, especially when I'm dismissed on the grounds that you mention.

Anonymous said...

Chris, Barefoot Bum's got a point here. There is no point in entertaining the 'idea that there's a difference' if there isn't a difference.

Either clarify what you meant to say or retract it, because, I'll be blunt, that statement makes no sense.

-Katharine

Hallq said...

Katharine: You seem to assume that there's no point in entertaining false things. This is false, especially when it isn't obvious whether something's false, or, if it seems obvious to you, it remains controversial.

Anonymous said...

The barefoot bum and anonymous -Katharine make extremely valid comments. Your post this time is weak in its logic and is definitely not one of the better posts on this usually insightful blog. Bluestocking

Anonymous said...

Chris, I'm going to be even more blunt: This is, fortunately, one of the FEW times in which I have seen your logic utterly fail, but it has.

If you believe there is a point in entertaining false things, what is it? Especially when there is considerable evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, to support it? Are you talking about things which are demonstrably false, or things which someone thinks is false without enough evidence to conclude that it is?

-Katharine