Re: virus: Pancritical rationality

David McFadzean (
Fri, 04 Apr 1997 14:16:24 -0700

At 06:20 PM 03/04/97 +0100, Tony Hindle wrote:

> I have included some bits from an article on pancritical
>rationality that I commented on and sent to Dave (he never responded so
>I asumed I wasnt miles away with my thinking).

Oops, sorry about that.

> Dave should still know where the full article is (I cant
>remember, I still have it on disc but dont want to send it all cos its
>loads of disc space and I remember Dave once mentioning that he was
>running out.

>>An axiomatic
>>concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot
>>be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component
>>parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the

>I see, you are refusing to accept any axioms whatsoever. This makes
>sense to me.

Not quite. Axioms can be accepted, and even strongly believed to the
point where you're betting your life on them. But they are always
provisional. That is the difference.

>>The closed nature of the philosophy (objectivism)naturally resulted from
>>its purportedly certain foundations and epistemically certain
> So something that is closed is not open to change no matter what
>new discoveries are made.

That's right. Rand's Objectivism falls into this category, though
David R.'s version of Objectivism apparently does not.

>Perhaps such philosophies do so well because they appeal to a part of
>our psychology that requires certainty. if we stay within this closed
>system then we are on solid ground which has been checked out by minds
>far superior to our own. Provided we dont drift outside of our closed
>system we are safe?

Yes, there is strong psychological appeal. But the illusion of a
solid foundations is still an illusion.

>>Unlike Objectivism, Extropian thought has never claimed to be either
>>complete or closed. On the contrary, embodied in the guiding Principles
>>(version-numbered to help ward off stagnation) we find the imperative to
>>continually self-criticize, reevaluate, and revise.

>this sounds like what I assumed cov was all about.

Quite so. In fact the CoV was strongly influenced by Max More's
presentation on pancritical rationalism at Extro-1.


>>Pancritical Rationalism solves the problem by doing away with the need
>>for induction, replacing it with the falsification of scientific laws in
>>terms of observational statements.

> Can you expand on this please?


Raven #1 is black. (observation)
Raven #2 is black. (observation)
Raven #3 is black. (observation)
Therefore all ravens are black.

Unfortunately the conclusion doesn't follow from the premises,
even if the conclusion is true.

Karl Popper turns it around by making the the conclusion a
provisional assumption:

All ravens are black. (assumption)
Raven #1 is black. (observation)
Raven #2 is black. (observation)
Raven #3 is black. (observation)
So far our assumption stands up.

However if there is ever an observation that contradicts the

Raven #4 is white. (observation)

We can logically conclude that our premise is false.
All ravens are in fact not black.

>>Modern foundationalists have dethroned these and
>>installed beliefs about appearances, or sense-data, as the specially
>>privileged foundations of all justified belief.

>This foundationalism can still be very usefull (essential even?) but our
>mutual assumptions are our (temporary) privaledged foundations.

I suppose foundationalism can be useful but it is not essential.

>When it became generally accepted that even Kant's attempted fusion of
>intellectualism and rationalism into a new form of panrationalism had
>collapsed, many rationalists took refuge in pragmatism or
>instrumentalism. Their inability to justify some of their most basic and
>significant ideas and procedures was no problem, they now said, since
>beliefs in such things as scientific laws or in the existence of other
>minds were not, after all, descriptions of reality. Rather than
>describing the world, such ideas are instruments, tools, or symbols that
>help us find our way around. These beliefs are not justified on a
>factual basis grounded in sense experience, but only only on the basis
>of their utility in making predictions or in classifying the objects of

> Ok this is me actually, instrumentalist.
>I cant see the difference between this and pancritical rationalism.

Pancritical rationalists believe that their beliefs are in fact
descriptions of reality, just not perfect descriptions.

>>(The Open Society, 230) Of course, an
>>assumption accepted without justification in order to start a particular
>>line of argument might later, in the context of a different argument,
>>become the object of justification. Significant results cannot be
>>obtained from argument if we accede to the demand to start with no
>>assumptions, or even to the weaker demand that we start with a very
>>small set of assumptions such as the Kantian "categories" or Rand's
>>"axiomatic concepts". Comprehensive rationalism or panrationalism falls
>>down by being unable to justify itself. The rationalist attitude can be
>>based neither upon argument nor experience, for a rationalist attitude
>>must first be adopted if any argument or experience is to move a person.
>>Only those who have already adopted this attitude will be convinced by
>>arguments in its favor.

> How this makes me think we are all in danger of commiting the
>same fallacy as bible bashers.

Note that is panrationalism that is being critiqued here, not
pancritical rationalism.

>>When PCR replaces authoritarian justification with unbounded criticism,
>>holding all positions to be criticizable, it means (in Bartley's words):
>>"(1) it is not necessary, in criticism, in order to avoid infinite
>>regress, to declare a dogma that could not be criticized (since it was
>>unjustifiable); (2) it is not necessary to mark off a special class of
>>statements, the justifiers, which did the justifying and criticizing but
>>was not open to criticism; (3) there is not a point in all argument, the
>>terms, which is exempted from criticism; (4) the criticizers the
>>statements in terms of which criticism is conducted are themselves open
>>to review."

> This is coreys sig file. the only thing we can be certain
>of is that we can be certain of nothing.

We can be certain of many thing while committing to none. I'm certain
that UFOs are not currently abducting people, but that doesn't mean
I won't change my mind in light of new evidence.

>>"The new framework permits a rationalist to be characterized as one who
>>is willing to entertain any position and holds all his positions,
>>including his most fundamental standards, goals, and decisions, and his
>>basic philosophical position itself, open to criticism; one who protects
>>nothing from criticism by justifying it irrationally; one who never cuts
>>off an argument by resorting to faith or irrational commitment to
>>justify some belief that has been under severe critical fire; one who is
>>committed, attached, addicted, to no position." [118]

>(except pancritical rationalism?)

No, pancritical rationalists commit to nothing whatsoever (not even
pancritical rationalism) in order to stay consistent. When you understand
and accept this, then you are a pancritical rationalist.

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Church of Virus