Monday, August 27, 2012

"I’m Not a Politician" ?! We're all politicians, sometimes ... often.

Faith is believing what you know ain't true. -- Puddinhead Wilson
Everyone’s a politician to some extent. If you need no one’s help to get what you want, then all your problems are technical. This doesn’t mean they are easy or honest. As soon as you need to involve someone else, then you must be political, that is, take into consideration what they want to do that might conflict with your goals. And you’ve got to talk to them so as not to scare them off. You must give up forthrightness for effectiveness. This is politics. And it doesn’t mean that what you are trying to get done is either technically difficult or underhanded.

Situation A: Who gets up in front of a crowd of people at a political rally and says. “I’m am not a politician”? Who believes it? Many political aspirants, it seems, like to say such things. And no one really believes it. And yet lthe audience goes along with what the speaker proposes. The speaker’s lie is politically productive.

Situation B: Suppose that same person had gotten up in front of the same crowd and said, “I’m a politician.” Most in that crowd would think, “Yeah, we know that already,” and boo him or her for saying it out loud. And few would go along with what the speaker would have to say. So it would be stupid to start off a speech saying, “I’m a politician” for this audience. The speaker’s forthrightness is politically unproductive.

Situation C: There is a third possibility. The speaker does not say anything about being a politician. He or she just gets up and says, “I want you to help me get elected so I can do something for you.” Doesn't this seem more honest and direct? Isn’t it better to ask for help without requiring people to first swallow a lie in order to do so? Would it be less productive?

It depends. Are these people who expect some kind of stroking, who demand some kind of emotional bribe to compensate their paying attention? Even more, do these people need to be lied to, placated, flattered, cajoled, made to "feel good" with what they know is less than true? Are they consciously aware that they are involved in a falsehood, a hypocrisy, before they are willing to be productive? It is for the sake of group solidarity, or just a tradition of good manners? A faith that overwhelms all veracity?

What kind of moral upbringing brings people to prefer hypocrisy? What kind of situation evokes this preference?

To examine these issues further, see Productivity, Politics and Hypocrisy in American Public Education

--- EGR

Friday, August 24, 2012

Getting Down to Facts: can we avoid making assumptions?

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Education is not the piling on of learning, information, data, facts, skills, or abilities - that's training or instruction - but is rather making visible what is hidden as a seed” -- Thomas More (1477-1535)
A host of philosophers, scientists and scholars have long trekked after a mirage: presuppositionless knowledge, that is, knowledge not based on any kind of assumption. However, because we humans are limited beings with bounded capacities, constrained in space and time, whatever we believe about what we know rests upon important epistemological presuppositions.

These are not assumptions of the ordinary kinds that we commonly discuss. Rather, they are things we take for granted unless something unusual, even bizarre happens. Examples of epistemological presuppositions are assumptions that our senses, memories and understandings do not majorly mislead us; that they are at the very least, somewhat consistent.

Facts are knowledge. But what is knowledge? Is "knowledge" no more than an honorific title we give to those beliefs we feel meet whatever criteria we are committed to for distinguishing (pronouncing?) what is true from what is false? This could range from a scientific procedure to a reading from a holy book, depending upon what it is we are committed to. (See Knowledge: The Residues of Practical Caution.)

However, these criteria for distinguishing true from false do not necessariy select out pre-existent truth and falsehood so much as they define what is true and what is not, bringing them, so to speak, into existence.

(Some philosophers might say that our "criteria" are supports for "performative acts of recognition".)

To examine these issues further, see Questionable Assumptions in Social Decision Making

--- EGR

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Intellectual Confection Is Not Necessarily Practicable Theory

Any imaginative "theory" can be confected, with few constraints, from the knowledge, purposes or imagination of an interested party. But if it is to contribute to developing a practical theory, a theory-in-use, it needs be constrained by the capacities and situation of its user. Possible practice limits investigation. This is why many scientific disciplines demand some empirical "backup" for a hypothesis striving for the status of theory.

A theory-in-use is an amalgam of an object-theory, which is a rather idealized construction of a theorist, and user-theory, which can be defined by identifying the epistemological requirements of any practitioner employing the object theory. It is generally useless to theorize about what one cannot know. (Of course, trying to determine what one can or cannot know is often difficult and runs the danger of foreclosing on possible avenues to new knowledge.)

The primary use of theory by a practitioner is to rationalize or enhance the outcomes of her undertakings. Certain types of theory can be determined a priori to be practically useless: any object-theory which is non-conformable to user-theory has no primary use.

In practice, however, idiosyncratic "adjustments" are made by the user to the object-theory which make it appear to be usable. Terminology can be bandied about, but this results in little more than poetry -- or ideology -- even from the lips of a recognized scientist: no little temptation in our culture of promotion and hyperbole!

However, the usability of such "adjusted" theory does not indicate anything about the object-theory from which it derived.

To examine these issues further, see Using Theory