Friday, February 22, 2008

Apparently my last post on our opinions was a little negative. After doing some reading it can be difficult not to be pessimistic about our chances of holding reasonable views. Tyler Cowen sums it up

You are wrong so, so, so often. That is, or rather should be, the central lesson of epistemology. It is a lesson which hardly anybody ever learns. And you don't need the fancy philosophical machinery to get there. That is why the rest of epistemology is so often so fruitless.

But it's a mistake to be overly fatalistic about how we develop our views, some people do better than others, so we should just try to do better.

  • Try not to see issues in terms of black and white, but get used to thinking in terms of varying degrees of probability. 1 and 0 are not real life probabilities.
  • Forget about some Platonic ideal of "the truth". I'm no relativist, but even if we happen to hold perfectly true beliefs we don't know which ones they are. Instead we can start from our current set of views and be flexible. We need some rules which offer guidance for moving our views in a better direction. Rules should be some combination of reported evidence, relevant authority and wherever possible some sort of expert consensus (these rules deserve more consideration, but not now).
  • Try to recognise the difference between ingrained intuitive beliefs and reasoned out view and try to make explicit (to ourselves) how we balance these when they conflict. We can't escape from the fact much of our knowledge is local and not easily articulated, and we should celebrate this knowledge. But if we find good reasons to believe they are false we must be willing to tackle our attachment to them.
  • Confirmation bias is both powerful and insidious. There is no excuse for not taking it seriously.
  • Truth is not the only value. Many of our beliefs simply make our lives easier; we should just deal with this.
  • We should accept that there are beliefs that we should hold that we have no hope of ever understanding. Markets aggregate information in ways we can never understand and they help illuminate reality. There are many other examples of this. Which institutions are these? How do we know which ones to trust?

Anyway, I'm not happy with this. But I'm also sick of staring at it. So here it is.


Trevor Black said...

The `Epic Post' rears its head...

demanding an Epic Response.

Option 1

1) Don't try understand.
2) Always succeed.
3) Know what to expect

Option 2

1) Don't expect to understand everything.
2) Expect to fail often.
3) Go boldly

Stuart said...