[OPE-L:7322] RE: RE: FW: RE: Re: 'De omnibus dubitandum

From: Nicola Taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Mon Jun 03 2002 - 20:56:11 EDT

Hi Howard,
>On the question of "fidelity" -- there is no need for the scare quotes.
The word has a perfectly normal unmedieval meaning in the sense that if
5 and 9 are going to equal 14 you must apply arithmetic's additive rules
Funny you should say that.  An economics professor at Murdoch University
always begins his first class of the semester with an arithmetic
demonstration that 1+1 = 3  
The point being of course, that you *decide* where you want to go, then
apply (faithfully) the appropriate arithmetic rule to get you there.
>Nicky, you pose the question of decision among different coherent
explanations.  This is an immensely difficult problem, of course.  But
how will doubt everything help?  If you doubt everything you doubt all 3
Yes, I doubt all three, including the one I prefer.
>This leads to paralysis, as I explained.  
No, I don’t see that paralysis logically follows (maybe I missed
something?).  How many different approaches to explaining capitalism (or
different aspects of capitalist phenomena) coexist on this list?  I
certainly don’t feel paralysed by the alternatives.  Do you?  On the
contrary, I might feel paralysed with boredom if we all agreed on
>If you do not do that but settle on one, you do this either arbitrarily
or for a reason.  If arbitrarily, then this is no advance on the blind
faith you criticize.  If for a reason this is because you have a reason
for belief and no longer doubt everything.
Again, I don’t understand the connection you are making between
reasoning in favour of a particular approach, theory, model, method,
technique (whatever) and the absence of doubt.  The reasoning process in
deciding between theories surely depends on the criteria used to
evaluate them (because different criteria exist, evaluation cannot
escape doubt).  Doubt is an advance on blind faith to the extent that it
implies openness to other possibilities and willingness to change one’s
mind (i.e. be convinced by the arguments of others).  
Marxists I think are realists on the matter.  We strive for an
explanation that is true in the sense that it corresponds to the way the
world is independent of our explanation.  Who decides on this?  It is
not a "who," but the world that decides -- the test of explanation is
practice.  The trouble is that practice and its results also must be
interpreted.  And who decides how this is done?  There is no escape from
the dilemma.  By honoring the test of practice we hope to narrow the
domain of fallibility, but our fallibility never disappears.  So it is
essential that decisions about common action be made in a fully informed
way, cooperatively.  But cooperative decision does not settle the
matter.  It is still practice that is the test.
All comes back to defining the object of inquiry, doesn’t it?  Since we
are talking about a ‘socially constructed’ world and not a ‘natural
pre-human’ world, I’m not sure (i.e. I doubt) how far you can say that
the world is independent of our explanation of it.  Indeed, the
proposition that practice can change the social world seems reasonable,
to me, only if inhabitants of the world are capable of doubting their
current ideas about it.  Practice changes the social world because it
changes how individuals understand the world, the test changes what is
being tested. 
----- Original Message ----- 
From: Nicola Taylor <mailto:n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au>  
To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu <mailto:n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au> 
Sent: 6/3/2002 2:35:24 AM 
Subject: [OPE-L:7311] FW: RE: Re: 'De omnibus dubitandum
Howard [7309]:
*      But when I look in a mirror to change lanes there is usually no
positive reason to doubt the laws of optics.  
Why not?  Optical illusion is not only possible but a key component of
psychological testing.  The question is: what relation do you suppose
exists between this external law and your *judgement*?  Likely your
judgement is NOT independent of what you have *learned* in a lifetime
about the relationship between yourself, the vehicle, the apparent speed
of other vehicles, laws of optics etc.  Likely also that nobody else’s
experience is exactly the same as yours.  On top of this, confounds must
certainly enter the field if you have had a few drinks or a fight with a
loved one, or you are l! ate to pick up your kids, or even if you are
just playfully thinking about your response to Jerry, or simply by
virtue of the fact that human vision doesn’t actually correspond to laws
of optics.  So, on the problem of changing lanes (as on the problem of
navigation in general) a moment of doubt seems infinitely preferable to
me than blind faith in laws (of any kind).
*      Also, reference to authoritative texts by appeal to their
authority does not develop science.   But applying or extending a theory
rich enough to explain the causal structure of some significant part of
the world, including the social world, may take complex and sustained
argument coherently developed.  Fidelity to background theories we judge
to represent accurately (approximately) relevant causal mechanisms is
not submission to authority.
Again you are talking about judgement really, aren’t you?  So, here’s a
thought experiment.  Let’s say judgement is required as to the accuracy
of any particular explanation of causal structure, yet three people make
three completely different judgements, all backed by sustained coherent
argument for the preferred explanation of underlying social structure.
First, “how” do you decide which of the three has the better
appreciation of the underlying causal ‘laws’?  More importantly, “who”
will decide the criteria for comparative judgement?  I can think of lots
of answers to both questions, each of them open to challenge.!   So, ‘de
omnibus dubitandum’ – at least until someone can show me how and in what
way ‘fidelity’ is actually a better tool. 
----- Original Message ----- 
From: gerald_a_levy <mailto:gerald_a_levy@msn.com>  
To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu <mailto:gerald_a_levy@msn.com> 
Sent: 6/2/2002 9:40:39 AM 
Subject: [OPE-L:7307] Re: 'De omnibus dubitandum
Preface A:  re [7302], you're welcome, Rakesh.
Preface B:  after David Y's plea of "enough of this" in [7299],
I was prepared to let David have the last word in this thread and
let this topic drop.   Since Howard has entered the fray and since 
I think there are important issues to be addressed, I will -- pace 
David -- have more to say now.
Re Howard's [7306]:
[ *Digression* -- if uninterested in sailing, scroll down:
> Since you are off to sea, suppose a boat at sea and no one on 
board knows anything about navigation.  What do you suppose 
the contribution will be of "doubt everything" to getting you to 
land? <
An attitude of "doubt everything" is *exactly* what is needed under 
the conditions you suppose.  Countless boats and lives over the 
years have been lost following a navigational error in which the 
vessels were steered inadvertently -- often under conditions of 
limited visibility -- towards a point that the navigator assumed in 
the presence of incomplete information to be the destination or
refuge  but which turned out to be another location.  The rule 
under these circumstances is never to commit yourself totally
and irreversibly until you *know* where you are (just like you, as
a driver of a car, should *never* change lanes until you *know*
that there isn't a car in the other lane.)   More broadly,
"doubt everything" is an excellent perspective for all phases of
boathandling and outfitting.  At sea one must act as if all 4 of
Murphy's Laws are valid: "contingency seamanship' is required. 
This is a life-and-death question for sailors. - End digression.]
Howard continued:
> <snip, JL>  David is right.  The question is whether the purpose of 
inquiry is to change the world.  We don't act on the basis of doubt.  
Beliefs shape action.  Doubt stimulates inquiry.  We doubt when 
something in or relative to the beliefs we work with surprises us.  
We confront the unexpected in practice.  This generates doubt and 
we inquire to resolve doubt.  But to start out by doubt! ing everything 
is playing with inquiry.  It is the luxury of academics (always doubt
consequence of class position!).  It is doubt abstracted from practice.

In other words, we doubt because we have a positive reason for it, 
not because we follow a formal maxim.  Doubt  must be real, living 
doubt, not just a formal proposition with a question mark at the end.  
It goes without saying also that being alert to surprise in a far
way is critical to success in science and political action.< 
The point that I was trying to make previously is that
was key to Marx's perspective and *should be* key to our own.  This is 
not, as you seem to believe, a judgment which is made in abstraction 
from practice and history.  Quite the opposite.  An understanding of the
history of Marxism tells us it is a vitally important revolutionary
*Accepting authority* has been common practice for many movements that
considered themselves Marxist and *arguing from authority* has probably 
been the primary form in which debates among Marxists have taken place
since Marx.   Whether the authority figure was Marx, Lenin, Trotsky,
or Gonzolo the acceptance of authority has discouraged independent 
thinking and has been a tool that has been used by authoritarian and 
beaureacratic elites  in organizations and institutions.  Indeed, one
argue that, while authoritarianism may not have been the cause of  
Stalinism, it  formed a necessary ideological  and social-conditional
which was  required to keep the ranks and masses in line.  In some
the  'authority figure'  (e.g. Marx, Lenin) had to die first before the
could  re-cast that person's life  in those terms. Thus, following
Lenin's death  -- 
against Lenin's  explicit requests --  statues were commissioned across
USSR and locations were named after him.  And, adding insult to injury, 
invoking his name  horrible atrocities were committed by political
Had a culture of anti-authoritarianism  been prevalent within these
and institutions, it would have  been much harder for beaureacratization
to occur.  
Viewed from this  perspective, the failure of many "Marxists" to embrace

anti-authoritarianism has been a contributing factor to the deaths of
of people in the XXth  Century.   It has also been a contributing factor
to the
cult-like status of many smaller Marxist organizations. Yes, we have
been given 
many, far too many, causes for "real, living doubt". 
A good case could be made for us completely abandoning the term
After all, even Marx didn't consider himself to be a Marxist.  Justin
in fact, recently claimed that "Marxism" was an invention of Bakunin who
used the term in a derogatory way (Rubel however suggests that it begins
himself  used the expressions "scientific socialism" and "critical
As critical socialists, we should reject all authority figures: 'respect
for authority'
is a profoundly reactionary perspective.  We should have NO heroes.  We
should build NO statues.  We should idolize NO one.  We should be the
"followers" of NO one.   
In [7299] David wrote that he found my "comment" from [72l9l] to be
Since David brought the Jesuits into the conversation, let us discuss
practice of the Jesuits.  The allegedly "critical" standpoint of the
Jesuits can
only be comprehended within the context of their *faith*.  That is,
their faith
leads them to accept all in "The Bible" as the Word of God.  The
therefore, from a Jesuitical perspective is not whether the Word of God
correct but how to *interpret* the meaning of the Word of God. In this
Jesuitical  and Talmudic debates are very similar.  They are hermeneutic

debates only.   The Jesuits, let us also recall,  are a part  of the
Catholic hierarchy and are *profoundly*  authoritarian (and have a
history of 
blood-letting in the name of faith, e.g. in the Spanish Inquisition.)
In this sense, 
and in all other senses, I have been putting  forward an ANTI-Jesuitical

perspective:  we should "follow" no one; we should have "faith" in
we should look to the future with our eyes fully open; we should
apologize for
no one (except, where applicable, ourselves);  we should be critical to
all -- 
*especially* those  like Marx whose  perspective we to a great extent
identify with. 
In solidarity, Jerry
--- howard Engelskirchen
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