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Fri Mar 6, 2015, 10:14 AM

 

Are there any Pyrrhonian skeptics in the group?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrrhonism

Whereas academic skepticism claims that "Nothing can be known, not even this", Pyrrhonian skeptics withhold any assent with regard to non-evident propositions and remain in a state of perpetual inquiry. They disputed the possibility of attaining truth by sensory apprehension, reason, or the two combined, and thence inferred the need for total suspension of judgment (epoché) on things. A Pyrrhonist tries to make the arguments of both sides as strong as possible. Then he asks himself if there is any reason to prefer one side to the other. And if not, he suspends belief in either side.

This is the philosophy I'm now following, in my ongoing efforts to combat what I see as the pernicious effects of belief in my worldview.

I use a generic definition of belief, in order to separate the act of belief from the proposition being believed.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/belief/

Contemporary analytic philosophers of mind generally use the term “belief” to refer to the attitude we have, roughly, whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true. To believe something, in this sense, needn't involve actively reflecting on it: Of the vast number of things ordinary adults believe, only a few can be at the fore of the mind at any single time. Nor does the term “belief”, in standard philosophical usage, imply any uncertainty or any extended reflection about the matter in question (as it sometimes does in ordinary English usage). Many of the things we believe, in the relevant sense, are quite mundane: that we have heads, that it's the 21st century, that a coffee mug is on the desk. Forming beliefs is thus one of the most basic and important features of the mind, and the concept of belief plays a crucial role in both philosophy of mind and epistemology.

In this sense both evident belief-propositions like "Electricity comes out of wall sockets" share belief-quality with non-evident propositions such as "Christ died for my sins." When see in this way, beliefs may be considered as the assumptions on which people base their worldviews and value systems.

In essence, Pyrrhonian skepticism is a position of agnosticism on issues of belief. I tend to believe obvious propositions based on immediate personal sensory evidence far more than non-obvious ones that are based on logic or hearsay.

This leads to some interesting conclusions about the nature, possibility and trustworthiness of abstract knowledge. It also leads to a steep reduction in psychological turmoil, since there is no longer a requirement to defend any particular proposition. This leads to a state of ataraxia or lucid tranquility, similar to what the Buddhists call "equanimity".

This philosophical stance has proven very useful in terms of reducing the amount of belief-driven conflict I find myself in with others.

Is anyone else investigating such a stance?

Regarding the purpose and operation of beliefs in the human mind, I speculate that the associated neural/mental process flow might operate something like this:

» Perceptions provide the primary data input to the organism;
» Perceptions trigger unconscious emotional responses that mediate those perceptions, transforming their raw sensory data into mental activity;
» Beliefs then frame the emotions, giving the emotional activity a defined ideational structure, aka meaning;
» The structure allows us then to apply reason to those beliefs, and thus to the original perceptual data that they frame.

From this point of view, the ability to form beliefs is a prerequisite for reason, because without the belief there is no abstract but well-formed mental structure against which to apply reason. It also implies that much (most) of what we consider rational thought amounts to post-hoc explanation for the emotion/belief structure that was triggered unconsciously by the incoming data (this is in agreement with recent findings in neuropsychology.)

It also speaks to the finding that it is difficult or impossible to alter an entrenched belief by presenting the believer with opposing facts or logic.

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Response to GliderGuider (Original post)


Response to GliderGuider (Original post)

Mon Mar 9, 2015, 06:24 AM

2. I guess that would be a "no". Too bad, it could probably enhance your neuroplasticity...

 

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Response to GliderGuider (Original post)

Thu Mar 12, 2015, 06:30 PM

3. What I figure that I *know* is true is a subset of what I *believe* is true.

That is, if I accept the definition (and I do): "Contemporary analytic philosophers of mind generally use the term “belief” to refer to the attitude we have, roughly, whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true."

After all, the phrase "whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true" indicates the broadest subjective judgement state that the writer can encompass. When I say that I know that something is true, in every case I can explain why I claim to know it. This isn't so regarding my totally wide ranging beliefs. So, to *my* perception and to *my* usage of words, I distinguish between knowing and believing.

Knowing is more complex than believing, believing is more generic in form. There are different kinds of knowing whereas there's no differentiation of kind in the idea "whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true". That definition is an undifferentiated answer to the question: "true or false". The question "how do you know" invites an unbounded infinity of answers.





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Response to delrem (Reply #3)

Thu Mar 12, 2015, 06:42 PM

4. To a first approximation, all knowledge is based on belief.

 

How do we know what we know? Often it's simply because someone in whom we have reposed trust has told us so, whether directly or indirectly. As you say, "the question "how do you know" invites an unbounded infinity of answers" - which, if you dig deep enough, all turn out to be based on fundamentally unproveable beliefs - like "there is an external, objective universe that is separate from me."

Which doesn't mean that such belief-based "knowledge" is useless - far from it, it's all we have. But we shouldn't forget that if one of those fundamental beliefs turns out to be erroneous, the rest of the edifice collapses. So how high up the pyramid of knowledge do the beliefs extend? For most of us, I would claim that they go all the way to the tip.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #4)

Thu Mar 12, 2015, 07:47 PM

5. What pyramid, that you claim others are scaling "all the way to the tip"?

That statement doesn't make much sense to me, considering the distance between it and the original question regarding the nature of belief.

eta: You attributed to me some idea about "belief-based "knowledge"".
Nothing that I wrote substantiates such a notion.
I distinguished a particular from a general such that, and I was clear that this was according as my usage of the terminology, what I know is true is also what I believe is true, but not everything that I might believe is true is what I can say that I know is true.

Nothing in that locution suggests that I would "base" my judgements regarding what I know is true, simply on the basis that I "believe it to true". That's a gross misreading.

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Response to delrem (Reply #5)

Fri Mar 13, 2015, 08:14 AM

6. Sorry, I was unclear. I'm not talking about scaling a pyramid of knowledge

 

I'm talking about the pyramid of knowledge that we each build for ourselves over our lifetime. That pyramid seems to be founded on a base of belief, starting with fundamental beliefs - first in our own existence, then in the existence of a world external to our selves. I claim that these are basic pieces of knowledge are fundamentally unprovable.

The knowledge pyramid is built up from there - through experience (e.g. that touching fire is painful), language (the belief in the meaning of symbols), and the belief that those linguistic symbols more-or-less accurately map our internal and external worlds. From there over time people seem to elaborate their knowledge-pyramids with ever increasing sophistication and abstraction, finally arriving at a peak consisting of extremely abstract concepts - perhaps advanced mathematics, perhaps history and social theory etc.

I claim that each of the bricks from which we build our pyramid depends for its existence on the bricks beneath it, going all the way down to the fundamental ones - I exist, the universe exists, and the two are different. If the supporting layers are removed, the layers above collapse from lack of support.

I further claim that most of what we take to be knowledge is simply belief in what we have been told by various authority figures, from parents and friends to college professors. The exception to this rule may be things that we experience directly through our senses, such as the example that touching fire being painful. Anything outside of our direct experience relies in some measure on our ability to believe in order for us to accept it as true.

Most of us accept the existence of the self as being "knowledge" because we perceive it directly, but it doesn't take much research to find schools of thought claiming that various aspects of the perceived self are constructed illusions, depending on pure belief for their existence.

This is my own epistemological perspective, I wasn't intending to impute it to you or anyone else.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #6)

Fri Mar 13, 2015, 05:55 PM

7. Well, that's an elaborate belief system that you describe!

You believe in a whole slew of generalizations about how other people think - most of it disparaging.

It doesn't read like philosophy, to me.

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Response to delrem (Reply #7)

Fri Mar 13, 2015, 06:02 PM

8. No, I'm simply saying that most of what we call "knowledge" seems to be belief.

 

Whether it's "actually" knowledge or belief doesn't really matter except to epistemologists, and maybe not even to all of them. There's nothing disparaging about the idea - I'm just trying to get a better insight into how the mind functions, so I can watch my own at work. I actually think the operation of belief systems is deeply fascinating. Most of our beliefs are unconscious, and there's certainly nothing negative about that - it's just the way we are.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #8)

Sat Mar 14, 2015, 10:35 AM

9. "I'm just trying to get a better insight into how the mind functions,

so I can watch my own at work"

Yet I don't read that intent in your statements to this DU group.
I'll examine the discussion.

You begin with two quotes, the first from wiki that explains what a "Pyrrhonist" is, followed by your assertion that you became such a "Pyrrhonist" in order to combat what you claim to be "pernicious effects of belief in my worldview". You don't mention that your becoming a so-called "Pyrrhonist" is itself based on an entire structure of belief. The second quote is from the Stanford site and gives a truncated explanation of what "belief" is according as most "contemporary analytic philosophers of mind".

This is the bedrock that, you say, leads you to some "interesting conclusions" about the nature of knowledge, conclusions which you then laud for having a personal psychological effect on you, that in fact led you to experience a psychological state that you claim is similar to that achieved by a disciplined Buddhist monk. You claim that this wonderful mental state follows "since there is no longer a requirement to defend any particular proposition". I assume that you include propositions such as "This leads to a state of ataraxia or lucid tranquility, similar to what the Buddhists call "equanimity"".

I responded in a simple way, asserting that I distinguish 'belief' as defined by the Stanford article from knowledge: belief being general, knowledge being particular. I made it clear that my response depended entirely on *my* definition/understanding of the language that I was using, and was *my* distinction -- I made no claim to any wider acceptance whatsoever.

You responded with several assertions about what "we know", "Often it's simply because someone in whom we have reposed trust has told us so". That statement has no bearing on how I responded to your original post. That statement makes a generalization about how "we", in general, think, and use words like "know". You then make a general claim that all knowledge (according as everyone proceeds and according as everyone uses the term 'know') is based simply on believing, saying something about "belief based knowledge".

I responded by telling you that your account, your response, makes no sense to me.

You responded by elaborating further on how "we" think, about "the pyramid of knowledge that we each build for ourselves over our lifetime", continuing with claim after claim about how "we" think. (Interestingly, you are now free to apply your one personal dictum to these generalities, that for you, as a self-proclaimed Pyrrhonian skeptic, "there is no longer a requirement to defend any particular proposition".) You conclude by stating "This is my own epistemological perspective, I wasn't intending to impute it to you or anyone else.", a statement that's flatly contradicted by your omnipresent use of the term "we".

I responded by pointing this out: "You believe in a whole slew of generalizations about how other people think"

Now your final response:
"I'm simply saying that most of what we call "knowledge" seems to be belief."
However, if that was all you had said we'd be in total agreement, since I responded to your OP by saying that I distinguish knowledge as being a particular case of belief (as 'belief' is above defined).
But now you go on: "Whether it's "actually" knowledge or belief doesn't really matter except to epistemologists". Have you already forgotten your assertion "This is my own epistemological perspective"?
If it doesn't really matter, why did you post your OP on the subject?
"I'm just trying to get a better insight into how the mind functions, so I can watch my own at work"
But you aren't watching your own mind at work. You start by making claims about how you attained to a state of Buddhist equanimity and you proceed to make claim after claim about how others think, precluding yourself from having to defend your claims, and concluding with assertions that the question doesn't really matter.










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Response to delrem (Reply #9)

Sat Mar 14, 2015, 12:02 PM

10. As you say,

 

"You start by making claims about how you attained to a state of Buddhist equanimity and you proceed to make claim after claim about how others think, precluding yourself from having to defend your claims, and concluding with assertions that the question doesn't really matter."

That's an accurate summary of how my thinking evolved over the conversation.

I tend not to "defend my claims" these days, preferring open-ended exploration instead. In this case, my exploration supports the growing realization that the way I think nowadays is probably not conducive to typical on-line discussions, given that such discussions are generally predicated on the defense of claims. I've seen a tendency for conversations to gravitate towards "Mutually Assured Defensiveness" since the days of Usenet in the early 90s. That position is neither productive nor interesting to me any more, and why my participation in discussions like you seem to be asking for may feel unsatisfactory.

Regarding whether my worldview amounts to a philosophy or not, it draws from the schools of skepticism, epistemological solipsism, stoicism and idealism.

Regarding my generalizations about how people think, I plead guilty as charged. I do in fact look for universalities in the way human minds work. My interest in this stems from recent findings in neuroscience about how people hold beliefs, along with a healthy dose of evolutionary psychology.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #10)

Sat Mar 14, 2015, 04:03 PM

11. huh? It's your OP.

Of course you figure that statement is on a par with "the biblical story of Noah is literally true", so I can see why you're confused.

Thanks for the wiki links. I'd never have known what all those big words meant without them...

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Response to delrem (Reply #11)

Sat Mar 14, 2015, 04:31 PM

12. A lot of of people don't know the philosophical definition of idealism

 

Or that it's related to skepticism, or that both of them tie into solipsism. All those terms have colloquial meanings that can lead the conversation off into the weeds if they're not clarified. That was the reason for the links - not for condescension but for clarity.

Well, thanks for the chat.

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