Revisionary Immunity

Posted: December 31, 2013 in General
Tags:

From : http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/PA018.htm

Conclusion and Consequences

It is now apparent that the attempt to find truth which is insulated from the world of contingency and uncertainty by classifying some statements as analytic (and hence necessary and a priori) is a misguided philosophical maneuver. The idea that truths can be divided into two classes namely, empirically significant yet contingent, or trivial yet necessary and that infallibility pertains only to conventions of language is an insupportable dogma. The analytic/synthetic distinction is not lucid or defensible; it has not been adequately explicated, and thus its application lacks justification.

 

In the course of arriving at this conclusion about a pervasive philosophical prejudice we have uncovered many valuable insights of epistemological significance. They bear repeating. Every thinker will grant a preferred status to some of his beliefs or knowledge-claims; such statements in his system of thought are privileged in that they are not allowed to be overthrown by isolated experimentation or simple experience. Within a particular conceptual scheme there will be central paradigms of truth. These will be accepted as immune from revision as long as the conceptual scheme remains unchanged. Little obvious argumentation is offered for these paradigms, but they are not arbitrary or insupportable. These are substantive truths, even though they function somewhat like stipulated truths. These basic convictions or presuppositions are not true in virtue of language, or words, or definitions alone; they have factual content and significance. What a man will deem rational to give up will be relative to his belief system and its central paradigms. Men who are taken to be “rational” will nevertheless differ among themselves on which truths should be presupposed; differences of opinion evidence themselves even with respect to allegedly necessary and “analytic” truths. Conflicts are even possible over the truths of logic. More broadly, different fundamental, central, or basic beliefs will bring with the various standards of reasonableness; another thinker is thought to be “irrational” because his outlook does not square with one’s own basic beliefs or presuppositions. Of the beliefs in one’s system of thought some will be more, some less necessary; some beliefs will be treated as more fixed or entrenched than others, and likewise some beliefs will be given up more easily than others. The statements of one’s system of thought will not be completely determined by empirical procedures, and they will not be tested one by one, in isolation of other statements. When a central conviction or presupposition is altered, it will often be difficult to say whether this represents a change of belief or a change of meaning; at the most basic level in one’s thought meanings and beliefs are not sharply separated.

 

What the above observations amount to is this. Different people will set apart different truths which are to be accepted under any and all circumstances; these statements will be a subset of the whole system of beliefs. Because such statements are centrally located within one’s network of beliefs they will strongly resist revision; within that conceptual system they will be given special treatment. They represent one’s epistemological priorities or what he takes as logically primitive. These principles are employed in making predictions, in judging other claims, in relating various beliefs to one another, etc. One’s system of thought as a corporate whole encounters the tribunal of experience, and recalcitrant or falsifying experience will force revisions somewhere in the system. However there is no set portion of the system which must be revised in response to some set experience; which beliefs will undergo alteration will depend on the presuppositions which are being used – the presuppositions being the very least likely beliefs to be revised. When the presuppositions are abandoned we have, not just a change in attitude toward particular facts, but rather an extensive shift in one’s concepts, standards, or paradigms.

 

Simply given a true statement in some natural language, who can say whether it should rank as immune from revision or not? Nobody can tell just from the isolated statement itself. It all depends on its place in a network of thought, its position in one’s conceptual system. Which statements should be taken as certain and granted revisionary immunity cannot be determined simply by the notations of a language (as has been erroneously thought with respect to “analytic” truths). Which points of truth can be properly taken as the firmly entrenched beliefs of a system of thought? That is like asking which geographical points in a country can be taken as starting points for a trip. The entrenched truths will vary from person to person, relative to one’s manner of life, goals, experience, etc. Any statement can be treated as immune from revision – immune no matter what a person observes (provided appropriate adjustments are made elsewhere in his conceptual system). Deciding which statements among the competing claims should be and properly are immune from revision is one of the most significant and difficult tasks of philosophy; the matter cannot be easily resolved by appeal to a muddled distinction between analytic and synthetic truths.

 

The human epistemological condition, then, is characterized by adherence to presuppositions which resist falsification and yet cannot be characterized as trivial. People have beliefs to which they will cling though everything else fails. Their thoughts and lives are governed by such presuppositional beliefs; whatever is inconsistent with them is to be eliminated. The presuppositions of a system of thought will be the standard of truth and evidence in it. They will reflect a person’s most basic commitments and will affect all areas of his life. Therefore, even though they will be taken as certain (and not simply probable), they will be far from trivial or simply conventional. Indeed, when all of the superficial cosmetic of objective and unemotional academics is stripped away, these presuppositions will be seen as matters of passion and highest personal concern. The meaning of one’s life is usually tied up with his presuppositional beliefs, and consequently they make a difference in all of his concerns, behavior, thoughts, etc. Revisionary immunity here does not imply that such presuppositions are informationally vacuous or insignificant! It is just because these beliefs are granted revisionary immunity that they are significant, substantive, and far reaching in their effects.

 

It should be noted in passing that there are many degrees of revisionary immunity exhibited among the beliefs of one’s system of thought. That is, some beliefs are more, some less, firmly entrenched in our thinking. Each belief governs one’s behavior and reasoning to some extent, but those which are least extensive in their effect and least firmly entrenched will be those which are the first to be revised or repudiated when his system of thought is challenged by counter-evidence. Every new experience and all new knowledge will be fit into our system of thought in such a way that a minimum of intellectual labor and of life-style alteration is necessary. The most firmly entrenched of our beliefs will call for the greatest revisions throughout the system of thought and behavior, and thus they are relinquished last of all. One will require more than usual counter-evidence before he will abandon his presuppositional commitments – if he will abandon them at all (rather than suspecting the alleged “evidence” in some way instead). Furthermore, it should be noted that two people can have the same presupposition and nevertheless develop differing systems of thought on the basis of it; this is because their secondary commitments, experiences, philosophical abilities, training and social influences will be different. Presuppositions have the greatest control over a system of thought, but they are not the only factor in that system’s development. Likewise, people who share presuppositions can respond to counter-evidence in different ways; the desire for simplicity, minimal disturbance, and social acceptability can lead people to seek consistency for their thoughts in different directions.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s