[OPE-L:7330] RE: RE: RE: FW: RE: Re: 'De omnibus dubitandum

From: howard Engelskirchen (lhengels@igc.org)
Date: Wed Jun 05 2002 - 01:36:37 EDT

Yes,  you missed something on the question of paralysis as you surmise below.  I sent a message last night before the one you received which the gods of cyberspace expropriated for their own use.  It was a harmless little story about a very funny guy who was my instructor in traffic school in Los Angeles.  Then just now I somehow deleted a retelling of it.  I will try one more time.  
He was from Britain and in LA to become part of "The Industry" (film, etc.).  He had to learn to drive.  He described the process to us.  There was a freeway near his home.  He got on the entrance, but if you did not pretty quickly move to the adjoining lane, you found yourself in the exit lane for the next freeway exit.  Because he doubted everything about his driving  he was never able to move to the adjoining lane.  As a result as often as drove onto the freeway onramp he was deposited off the freeway at the next freeway offramp.  A life metaphor.  A freeway of life metaphor.  Doubt everything makes action impossible and leads to paralysis. 
So this was in response to your earlier post asking "why not?" about doubting the laws of optics.  Of course there are all kinds of life or research circumstances where you would have a positive reason to doubt such laws.  Also I have never claimed, as you suggest below, that the issue is "escaping doubt."  Doubt is a stimulus to inquiry.  I said that success in science and political action depends on acute and far reaching attention to positive reasons for doubt.  What has been challenged is only the proposition that doubt everything is a universal maxim that either we should or do ever actually act on.
---- Original Message -----
From: Nicola Taylor
To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu
Sent: 6/4/2002 2:33:59 AM
Subject: [OPE-L:7322] RE: RE: FW: RE: Re: 'De omnibus dubitandum


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 faithfully. 


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 explanations. 


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 everything.


>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

To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu

Sent: 6/3/2002 2:35:24 AM

Subject: [OPE-L:7311] FW: RE: Re: 'De omnibus dubitandum




Howard [7309]:

Ø      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).



Ø      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 -----

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 the

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 reaching

way is critical to success in science and political action.<


The point that I was trying to make previously is that anti-authoritarianism

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 stance. 

*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, Mao,

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 could

argue that, while authoritarianism may not have been the cause of 

Stalinism, it  formed a necessary ideological  and social-conditional component

which was  required to keep the ranks and masses in line.  In some cases,

the  'authority figure'  (e.g. Marx, Lenin) had to die first before the "followers"

could  re-cast that person's life  in those terms. Thus, following Lenin's death  --

against Lenin's  explicit requests --  statues were commissioned across the

USSR and locations were named after him.  And, adding insult to injury,

invoking his name  horrible atrocities were committed by political opponents. 

Had a culture of anti-authoritarianism  been prevalent within these organizations

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 *MILLIONS*

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 "Marxist".

After all, even Marx didn't consider himself to be a Marxist.  Justin Schwartz,

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 socialism"



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 "jesuitical".

Since David brought the Jesuits into the conversation, let us discuss the

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 question,

therefore, from a Jesuitical perspective is not whether the Word of God is

correct but how to *interpret* the meaning of the Word of God. In this sense,

Jesuitical  and Talmudic debates are very similar.  They are hermeneutic

debates only.   The Jesuits, let us also recall,  are a part  of the Roman

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 nothing;

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

--- lhengels@igc.org

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--- howard Engelskirchen

--- lhengels@igc.org

--- EarthLink: The #1 provider of the Real Internet.


--- howard Engelskirchen
--- lhengels@igc.org
--- EarthLink: The #1 provider of the Real Internet.

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