A Few Huemerian Highlights
By Bryan Caplan
In case you haven’t heard, my very favorite philosopher has just released a new introductory philosophy textbook, entitled Knowledge, Reality, and Value. Yes, Mike Huemer has entered the textbook market. And since he’s publishing via Amazon, the price is a rock-bottom $14.99.
I’ll discuss KRV in detail once I finish it. For now, I share a few highlights.
Huemer on the psychological foundations of rational irrationality:
When we are being biased (non-objective), we usually do not notice that we are doing this, nor do we actively decide to do it. It just happens automatically – e.g., we automatically, without even trying, find ourselves thinking of reasons why the person who is “on our side” shouldn’t be blamed for what he did. On the other hand, when a person “on the other side” is accused of wrongdoing, no such excuses occur to us. This is to say that bias is usually unconscious (or only semi-conscious), and unintentional (or only semi-intentional). That is why it requires deliberate monitoring and effort to attain objectivity. You have to stop once in a while to ask yourself how you might be biased. If you don’t, the bias will automatically happen. [italics original; bold-face mine]
Huemer on deserving to win:
Now, you might wonder: “If I do that, then how am I going to win debates?” If you have this concern, you’re thinking incorrectly about intellectual discussion. The purpose of intellectual discussion is promoting truth (for yourself and others). If your view can’t survive when you treat the opposing views fairly, then that pretty much means your view is wrong. As a rational thinker, you want your beliefs to be true, so you should welcome the opportunity to discover if your own current view is wrong; then you can eliminate a mistaken belief and move closer to the truth. If you are afraid to confront the strongest opposing views, represented in the fairest way possible, that means that you suspect that your own beliefs are not up to the challenge, which means you already suspect that your beliefs are false.
Huemer on irrationalism:
If you hear someone attacking the ideals of objectivity or rationality, how should you react? First, I would suggest that if a person attacks rationality/objectivity, this is evidence that some key point of their ideology is false, and that they themselves know or suspect that. (Alternately, it could be that they don’t understand what rationality and objectivity are.) If you were initially sympathetic to their views, you should greatly lower your confidence in those views, and in that person.
Here is an analogy: During the Watergate scandal, after investigators learned that President Nixon had taped all of his conversations in the White House, the investigators ordered Nixon to hand over the tapes, so they could see if Nixon had illegally conspired with the Watergate burglars. Some Nixon supporters were happy to learn of the tapes and were eager for Nixon to turn them over, because they assumed that the tapes would vindicate Nixon and the scandal would end. Nixon, however, fought tooth and nail against turning over the tapes. And that was when many people realized that he was guilty of something serious. If he were innocent, the tapes would vindicate him. The best explanation of his refusing to turn them over was that he knew the tapes would prove his guilt. (Which, of course, is what ultimately happened.)
Huemer solves the financial crisis:
In the wake of the crisis, many people tried to explain why it had all happened. This included people with opposing ideologies. Roughly, there were people with pro-government and people with anti-government ideologies, and both tried to explain the crisis. Can you guess what the two sides said? The pro-government people said the recession happened “because” there wasn’t enough regulation – and they listed regulations that, if they had been in place, would probably have prevented the crisis. The anti-government people said the recession happened “because” there was too much government intervention – and they listed existing government policies that, if they hadn’t been in place, the crisis probably wouldn’t have happened.
Notice that the basic factual claims of both sides are perfectly consistent: It’s perfectly possible that there were some actions the government took such that, if the government hadn’t taken them, the crisis wouldn’t have happened, and also there were some actions the government failed to take such that, if it had taken them, the crisis wouldn’t have happened. It’s perfectly plausible that the crisis could have been averted in more than one way: either by adding certain government interventions, or by removing some other government interventions. Which alternative you focus on depends on your initial ideology.
Both sides took the episode to further support their ideology: “We have too much government” or “We need more government.” These conclusions were supported by their respective causal interpretations: “The recession was caused by government interventions” or “The recession was caused by government failure to intervene.”
Who was right? Assume the facts are as stated (that some additional interventions would have prevented the recession and the repeal of some other interventions would have prevented the recession). In that case, we should either accept both causal claims or reject both causal claims, depending on what we mean by “cause”. If we mean “sole cause”, then we should reject both causal claims (i.e., we should say the recession was not caused either by government intervention or by failure to intervene). If we just mean “factor such that, if it were changed, the effect wouldn’t have happened”, then we should accept both causal claims (the recession was caused by intervention and by failure to intervene).
More coming soon…