Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Preferential Moment

If the preference for an idea, the liking or disliking, strikes first, and the reasoning that justifies it follows, then learning more about the ingredients and mechanics of preference tells us about belief. And in learning about belief we learn about one of the determinants of what we confer the word “knowledge” upon. For knowledge, in part, is made up from the mix of beliefs that people have. Without a method for analyzing the moment of preference it passes by mostly unnoticed. Generally, when we are questioned about this moment of preference – called assumption, intuition, the given, self-evidence - we shrug because we have to accept its role in belief creation, but there’s not much more to say about it. Additionally, there’s often a discomfort with it because it runs counter to the primacy of reason as the reason we believe. Yet how do reasons which justify an opposite view also gain allegiance? How does a reasoning and conclusion the opposite of ours convince? Its convincingness has to have an alien quality to us because it cannot do to us what it does to our intellectual opponent. To know it in that way – the way the convinced know it – is to have “gone native” and become a convert. Conversion occurs when we transcend reason and have an experience of something as the truth.

This focus on the preferential moment, our liking or disliking, our desires, is unusual. It runs contrary to the main thrust of post-Enlightenment reason and science. But its role in believing the ideas we adopt as our own is, I’m arguing, necessary. If necessary we should know more about it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Whose Truth?

Here's a reply I made here:

I think it's understandable even with a few inside references:

By what means or criterion do we determine the Truth? F. has his approach. I would guess that if you practiced his/Dan Brown’s/the Mahamudra approach then it would look that way. But if you practiced another approach you may find a different Truth or no Truth or some Non-Dual, ineffable, relative/absolute, Truth/Non-Truth. How are these differing Truths to be adjudicated? How do we sort out which is really the Truth? Whose practices, traditions, concepts, experiences are we to trust as providing The Truth?

Even with powerful practices to determine the Truth we still have to convince others through our words and through our persuasiveness to do the practices that we’ve found show the Truth. It’s the interaction with the community of those involved in determining what we know that we must engage regardless of how convinced we are by our Truth, which, of course, we know is The Truth. (This is Wilber’s three strands of any valid knowledge quest, the last strand is the opinion of the relevant community about the proposed piece of knowledge, that’s why his concept of orienting generalizations is important to him, because it determines what is knowledge.)

This view of the inevitable plurality of truths causes me to like, in contrast to Fede, Wilber’s move to a post-metaphysical integral theory in which the leading edge development is both discovering and creating the truth through its life practice on more developed levels. I don’t think that’s what’s really happening, but this incorporation of the role of the person and the human community in the creation of what we know is true captures something important about our postmodern present and so could argue that it is a transcendence and inclusion of a contemporary understanding.

But I also made the point that there is too much made of Truth in spiritual circles. I said that we should care more about ethics and actions. A person who has the Truth may still do bad things and a person without the truth may do good things. What we want is people acting better and talking about how we should act and altering their selves in order to act more ethically.

So a difference between us is how we believe you determine when you have knowledge. For you powerful mystical experiences are the means to Ultimate knowledge. Probably because you’ve had those experiences and were convinced by them. I have not had those experiences. For a different set of reasons than you I promote an emphasis on knowledge as more fundamentally dependent on ethics and the power structure of the institutions that determine knowledge. So when we are at the intellectual level in which we discuss philosophical topics like the character of knowledge, our views start diverging and we reach a point where you cannot give reasons for your choice of one criterion of knowledge over another. That’s when we would inquire into the extra-rational reasons any given person believes in something rather than something else. I advocate and demonstrate a “psychology of belief” in order to examine the nature of our attachment to the belief we find convincing for extra-rational reasons.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Preferential Treatment

An excerpt from what I am writing:

The hidden importance of the statement: “I like it.” Why like it rather than not like it? There is a lot packed into that experience. The quality of one’s experience of something varies widely for people. Beyond the level at which we give reasons for our beliefs, it is this preference which is determining for belief. Nietzsche writes about the importance of taste. Interestingly, this is the level at which most people contemplate the cultural products they experience: movies, books, TV shows, fashion. They say "I liked it" or "I didn’t like it." Very much in touch with their preferences and generally out of touch with their ability to say why they like or dislike. This is useful for maintaining aggregate demand in a consumer society, but bad for the dream of an informed, thinking, democratic public. One of the many ways capitalism and democracy contradict.

Intellectuals focus on their reasons for belief and neglect their affective preferences, yet, it’s contended here, these affective preferences, taste, play an important role in the development of a person’s worldview. So behind the ordinary persons preferences is their whole disposition toward life. One could do an interesting psychodynamic investigation of why a person likes x or y cultural product and similarly, I contend, we can do an interesting psychodynamic investigation of why an intellectual or anybody believes in x and not y when x and y are arationally assumed or felt or seem to be true.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Intellectual Contradictions

We intellectuals have some fun pointing out how the political candidates contradict themselves and are inconsistent in their views. A lot of the humor on The Daily Show uses this and it’s quite funny. But the joke could be on us. Being intellectuals we care about whether someone contradicts themselves. The law of non-contradiction is central to reason and science. But politicians, when they are being politicians, are not trying to be rationally consistent. They are trying to gain power. Contradiction or non-contradiction only matters to them if it affects their success in gaining power. They don’t have to care about contradiction in and of itself like intellectuals do. So we intellectuals think we’ve got them when we show how ridiculously inconsistent politicians are, but we are using an alien criterion – non-contradiction – which is much lower down on their list of important criteria. Now, if Jon Stewart and The Daily Show’s exposure of the blatant contradictions of the politicians becomes a force that affects political outcomes, then politicians would care; not because they’ve contradicted themselves and that’s bad but because it may be detrimental to their chances of gaining power. So we laugh at contradictory politicians and they laugh at us for missing what’s important to getting elected.