Street Epistemology Update

Dave Harding posted on a recent Magnabosco filmed SE session. (Update in the sense that I posted on these earlier examples 3 years or so ago.) These are rough notes in preparation for a dialogue.

SE = Street Epistemology
SM = Socratic (Questioning) Methodology

Interesting that David concludes this subject actually questions him back, as I noted too. Anyway, my rough notes:

Selective – one young passer by, who happened to chose “the God of Israel as the one true God” as a confident belief. Selection is no coincidence. (And this is a very naive subject – by definition – still in school and too busy for interaction with any wider ideas, on her own admission later.)

Where she is right now is because of her Christian church upbringing. Aware of this late middle / early high school. I want to follow what’s true. Looking for truth. Needs a firm foundation. (Seeking notice, not justifying that it is or even saying what it is.)

(Still not said what is believed or any reasoning why – just the wish / seeking.) Just claiming 100% belief, but recognise even that leaves her with questions to wrestle with. Confidence nevertheless remains 100%. (That’s what I’d call faith. Proceeding “as if” true, despite open mind to modification – metaphorically true in Peterson/Harris terms)

(Ought to be prompting some questions of what 100% belief means – given still questions. Switches to opposite, though, non-belief?)

Actual truth is independent of her confidence. Check. Confidence in belief doesn’t discount the possibility of being false. (ie she doesn’t doubt this false possibility, even though she doesn’t doubt this belief. Not willing to lower her confidence, even though open to doubt. Mentions “proofs” – so we need to ask. (We already have “faith” on the table, but now we have “proof” – problematic I’d say – but she introduced the term, guessing that’s what Anthony meant by justification / reasons I’d say.)

Main proof. It’s about changing you – whatever religion it is. (OK. I don’t hear any proof?) The personal experience of change. (She – and Anthony – should be exploring the nature of that “experience” and change?)

(Switch straight to alternate case of someone else’s experience of a different religion? Her example too close, he suggests Hindu Vishnu hypothetical?)

Main, but not sole “proof”. Faith? How is that different to maintaining 100% confidence despite acknowledging the risk of falsehood.

Not necessary to know everything, so why drop level of confidence on incomplete proof.

(Actually think the problem here is limits in the skill of the facilitator / questioner.)

Recalling “drills” of what she’s been taught – but yes, she is saying faith and belief are synonymous (my point earlier) hence his questioning is not actually analysing (separating) anything.

Accepting evidence exists on trust, without first hand experience of it.

Circled a bunch. Yes, not actually settled on much.

Objective – truth. Questions are best method for test whether is belief is true – no argument. The analytical part, but is not the creative / constructive seeking part?

There is a season. More questions, always. Leave to think about.

(Yes she would be good at the SE method. And yes she will probably continue to be thoughtful in her beliefs)

This was a pretty benign encounter – thoughtfully increasing thoughtfulness. Still see basic limitations to SM / SE process to naive questioning side.

(His one-sided post-summary of her “honesty” …. hmmm.
See steelmanning by contrast.)

Overall, however, much better than the bad-faith examples I’d reviewed before.

David naturally links his own conclusion to the MoQ.

Encouraging intellectual thought like this is moral
according to the Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ).

Sure is moral, though should not be encouraged to the exclusion of intuition and action. And, that’s true according to many a perennial philosophy, including Pirsig’s MoQ.

And if the objective is simply to get someone to start their own internal conversation with questioning – it’s all good. In this specific example, the line of questions seemed a little “random” – switches of subject at points when obvious sequential questions had arisen – still encourages questioning, but maybe less “productive” as time-limited discourse. Leaves me with two fears. One, no evidence that the Q&A changed Anthony’s thinking anywhere? Two, as well as “thinking” she clearly took away some “assumptions” about what she thought she was getting from Anthony – that were probably misleading guesses, I’m guessing – dialogue really needs to happen over extended multiple human encounters. (Need some Rappaport / Steelman cycles in there.)

But as I say to “initiate” thinking – all good. Epistemology 101. (ie This is primarily about testing epistemology rather than creation or synthesis of the causal taxonomies / ontologies required or implied. Anthony implied several times the “basket” of reasons would have some logical / causal hierarchies / and dependency networks / heterarchies – so I know he understands this. Even in a 45 minute engaged and lively encounter, the only real “content” achieved is the questioning thought.)


[Post Note: and here Julian Baggini on the problem with Plato and the fact that after getting us to first-base, the Socratic Method is more of a hindrance than a virtue. Another aspect of “easy but ultimately wrong.]

[Post Note: Compare and contrast, as well as joining some dots. We see from earlier “SE/SM” examples, linked in the intro, that one of the credible philosophical drivers here is Peter Boghossian (not to be confused with Paul Boghossian). If his Wikipedia bio is to be believed he makes a virtue out of Socratic Pedagogy. So we part company at first-base – interestingly, dealing with educating prisoners (yet another level of interrupt!) – so OK for Edu101 – first-base as I say. Anyway, the dots – (Peter) Boghossian is also behind this PC Bias in Social Science Research project – a variant on Sokal. Not sure Socrates can handle the levels of irony needed here.]

[Post Note: I have a lot of time for Jonathan McLatchie’s “apologetics” but I’m not keen on Cameron Bertuzzi’s level of arguments. However this dialogue covers much of the ground I already have. As I say, SE is OK as a means of using doubt to get someone to think about the basis of their implicit beliefs. But in my experience of examples I’ve seen and debated, there remains a sense of bad-faith: bad-faith in the idea that asking someone a deep question “on the street” is likely to meet with a deeply thought through response; and bad-faith that the SE practitioners do really have too naive a view of where that leads, and a presumption that doubt and thought will inevitably lead to atheism because “scientistic” (objective, numerical) evidence will somehow always prevail. As the dialogue suggests there are many other “evidential” bases of belief that the dogmatic atheists also need to think about. One point from Bertuzzi is the “dead scepticism” (see Russell) challenge – the ultimate limitation of the Socratic method in fact – it is always possible to undermine “belief” by the interminable sceptical whataboutery – even physics has questionable metaphysical foundations. It’s all about the nature of evidence for belief. Anyway – the point of Bertuzzi dialogue here is working up strategies for responding to SE but ultimately even that will fail if made explicit because …. game theory. Enough. Don’t take it too seriously, SE is dead already.]

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