Re: virus: Faith, Logic and Purpose

David McFadzean (
Mon, 03 Nov 1997 16:14:19 -0700

At 02:51 AM 11/4/97 +0100, Reed Konsler wrote:
>>Date: Sun, 02 Nov 1997 15:05:20 -0700
>>From: David McFadzean <>
>>Even if one's goals and intentions are subjective,
>>the test of whether or not a given belief is consistent with
>>them is not.
>Agreeed. Are there non-subjective goals and intentions?

I'm not sure. What do you mean by "subjective" in this context?

>I didn't see anything in the definition of reasonable
>that said anything about consistency being a prerequisite.

True, but it should be obvious why you might want to
avoid goals that are inconsistent with each other.

>>If a belief is inconsistent with one's goals I think
>>it is safe to say that it is intrinsically unrationalizable.
>But to the extent that goals are subjectively determined,
>does that mean that some statements can be rational to
>one person but unrational (and unrationalizable)
>to another? Are you saying that reason is in the
>eye of the beholder?

Partially, yes. The rationality of a belief depends on
a given context. If I am to judge the rationality of
one of your beliefs, for example, I have to first somehow
infer your context. A belief may be rational within your
own context, but irrational in the context I infer if I
make a mistake. The reason it is only partially context-
sensitive is because some beliefs like the standard
inference rules of logic are required if we don't want
to stretch the definition of "rational" too far.

>>However, even if it
>>was a good analogy, so what? Mathematicians didn't give
>>up on mathematics, did they? And no-one has found another
>>way to find true theorems (Penrose notwithstanding).
>Don't try to shift the burden of proof. I'm not arguing that
>our hack attempts to make sense of things should be abandoned
>because they aren't complete. My position is that you cannot
>recommend that people live without faith becuase that is
>impossible, to wit: all belief systems are systems based in
>faith. In accepting faith we need not lower our respect for

Using your definition of faith, I have to agree. But that
doesn't mean I agree with your definition of faith.

>science (or mathematics)'s a non-zero sum game. This
>is not a "David: Pro-Reason / Reed: Con-Reason" debate.
>It is a "David: Con-Faith / Reed: Pro-Faith" debate. You are
>confusing the two becuase you are entertaining a flase dichotomy.

I thought we covered this already. Faith is unrational.
A belief based on faith may be reasonable. A rational belief
may be unreasonable. Where is the false dichotomy?

>>Rationalization is only a fraud if you falsely claim that you
>>arrived a belief through conscious reasoning when you did not.
>>I'm talking about after the fact justification of a belief.
>How does this relate to the process of making a hypothesis and
>(after the fact) assembling the evidence to justify of refute it?

I don't see anything wrong with that sort of rationalization.
(Sounds like science.)

>>>Are there rational beliefs which were not once unrational?
>>Yes, it is possible to arrive at a belief through conscious reasoning.
>Do you really think that people work that way? What makes people

I didn't say all people work that way all the time. I said it was
possible. I also think some people work that way some of the time.

>uncomfortable about "the Prisoner's Dillema"? How can I differentiate
>beliefs that were derived from conscious reasoning from those which
>were once unrational and then rationalized? Do beliefs have a history...
>that is, if a belief is rational does it matter what it's origin was?


>If I were more belligerent, I'd accuse you of refusing to answer questions
>that you know will lead to the demise of your position...

OK, I will answer your questions as soon as you tell us the nature of truth. :)

>How about this:
>Is it possible for two individuals, both beginning with true premises and
>following valid inferences to arrive at diametrically opposing logical
>conclusions about the same question?

If the relevant parts of their respective contexts are identical, then
no. Otherwise, yes.

>>A person is rational to the extent that they are willing to
>>change their beliefs based on rational arguments. I doubt anyone
>>is completely rational given our genetic heritage and all, but
>>many people aspire to be.
>Is it more honest to admit that there are some beliefs that cannot
>be changed or to insist that you will be able to change ANY belief
>based on a rational argument? If you BELIEVE that you are a

Nobody said that any belief can be changed by a rational argument.

>rational person, does that help you to be more rational or does
>it only help you to convince other people of your logical nature?

I imagine it has both effects but I fail to see the relevance.

>>Fair enough. First do you concede their is a correlation between
>>irrational beliefs and unreasonable beliefs?
>Why on Earth would I concede that? :-) Seriously though, the
>task is to prove that there exists some correlation between the
>"rational value" of a belief and it's "reasonable value". Stating
>it in the negative doesn't confuse me. The world is full of
>unreasonable rational beliefs and poor decisions based on them.
>War, Tradgedy of the Commons, etc...

If I can get you to agree that there is a correlation between
irrational beliefs and unreasonable beliefs, then that is the
first step to demonstrating that there is a correlation between
rational beliefs and reasonable beliefs.

>>>Could you define "context" for purposes of this discussion?
>>How about "all beliefs held to be true"? Does that work?
>Sure. If reason is a method for deriving new beliefs from
>the old ones, such that they are consistent with the context...
>from whence come the initial beliefs in which this inductive
>ladder begins?

Strawman. I'm arguing that beliefs should be rationalizable,
not rational.

>>I mean something assumed to be true for the sake of a particular
>>argument. But I don't think any assumptions are beyond criticism.
>>If one is called into question, then it must be justified through
>>another argument.
>Sounds like we're begging for an infinite regress here.

No, it is mutually dependence, not infinite regress.

>>If you are suggesting that all assumptions are ultimately unjustified
>>then I agree and have said as much in the recent past. But given that
>>is the unescapable case, we must discard the useless justificationist
>>paradigm and replace it with the more useful coherence criterion.
>Oh! I like that! "coherence criterion" :-)

I'm not making this up. :)

>>Looking at two contradictory statements:
>>1. Most fossils are at least one million years old.
>>2. All fossils are less than 10,000 years old.
>>Neither can be ultimately justified, but one is more coherent with
>>the body of accepted true statements.
>>Agree or disagree?
>Who's body of accepted true statements? If you are arguing that
>conclusions dervied from science are consistent with other scientific
>conclusions...well, isn't that tautological? All scientific conclusions
>begin from (more or less) the same axioms.

Everyone except maybe a few insane people. Those who believe
statement #2 above (the creationists) have a less consistent
belief system then those who believe #1.

>Let me ask you this question: what is the difference between a
>subjective axiom and an axiom of faith. Can I convince you that
>you don't exist through a rational argument? Doesn't Dennett?
>What is the outcome?

I don't understand your question.

But maybe this will help you understand where I'm coming from:

In my view, to claim that I have faith that X is true is the
same as saying I believe X and I don't need a good reason to
believe X. I don't care if X is really true. I don't know why
I believe X and I don't care what you or anybody else thinks.

To demonstrate my point I will now declare that I have faith
that faith is a sin. Your move, Reed. :-)

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Church of Virus