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The argumentative theory of reason (and public intellectuals)

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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16 December 2018 04:40
 
Speakpigeon - 13 December 2018 10:06 AM

I’m not sure yet how this fits with the argumentative view of the human mind but here is my take on the relation between intuition and reasoning. I see what you call here the reasoning system as something more functional. I think it’s the system in charge of the linguistic communication between human beings. We already communicate through intuitive signs but the semantics of our intuitive system is very limited and not capable of evolving very fast compared to our reasoning system. However, as I see it, our reasoning system is entirely operated by our intuitive system. Broadly, our reasoning system works like a linguistic simulation running on a fundamentally intuitive computer. This gives the brain a novel access to abstract thinking and to the possibility of exchanging abstract ideas with other people. This also means there isn’t really two systems. Rather, it’s a novel functionality that was probably there long before we got to learn how to use it. I also see all the intelligence of the brain as located in the intuitive system since there is in fact just this one system. Language is then used by our intuitive system to work out abstract ideas and produce reasoning. This is probably somewhat cumbersome, which would explain why we’re not very good at it. However, this kind of reasoning, although “stupid”, is very useful somewhat like writing things on a piece of paper is useful even though it’s not the piece of paper or even the writing on it which is doing the actually reasoning.
In relation to the argumentative theory, I think the reason that people spend most of their brain power on justifying their beliefs is that the function of that is to circulate ideas through the population. Any actual abstract reasoning is done now by the community rather than by any one individual, although on occasion it may seem that the best theories are produced by bright individuals, this is misleading. Aristotle, Descartes, Newton, Darwin or Einstein only got to think their bright ideas because they were connected to other human beings and in a position to take advantage of existing ideas. Like Newton himself said, standing on the shoulders of giants, or some such. So, people not so much argue to justify their own beliefs than they try to present them in a fashion that will facilitate their communication to other people, a kind of proselytising, overall for the good of us all because it is necessary in terms of overall efficiency. Basically, arguing your own ideas is to make a gift to the community. Alternatively, you could see it as akin to an effort to spread your genes through the gene pool. Either way, it’s how life works. Nothing bad. It’s just one strategy that works.
Sorry if it’s a bit mashed but I’m a bit short on time.
Thanks.
EB

A couple of thoughts….

This also means there isn’t really two systems.

I think “system” is used in cognitive science functionally, not ontologically.  There are two “systems” because cognitively we are either slow and deliberate or fast and automatic, though ultimately it is the same mind doing the thinking in both cases.  With this in mind, I agree with what you say about linguistic capabilities, reasoning, and intuition merging together in the final analysis.  At times I think even Kahneman is not so clear about that.

I think the reason that people spend most of their brain power on justifying their beliefs is that the function of that is to circulate ideas through the population…

This is actually part of the argumentative theory of reason spelled out by Sperber and Mercier; I just didn’t spell it out here, but perhaps I should have.  And I think you are spot on regarding its ultimately social nature.  They, if I recall, are not quite so specific on that point, though I think it is implied in their argument for the persuasive function acting as the selection pressure for its adaptation and current use.

Other than that I think I agree with what you say here. 

 

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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16 December 2018 04:51
 
Poldano - 16 December 2018 12:54 AM

It is possible to use argumentation to get closer to truth. The process may involve agents other than the arguers. Other agents with a different set of biases can evaluate the arguments in a less biased manner, and choose to deprecate arguers and arguments that are deficient.

The critique of public intellectuals is valid, insofar as public intellectuals brand themselves in the “marketplace of ideas” by the content of their ideas, and seek to market them to those with compatible biases. Those who do not associate themselves with particular sound-bite-worthy opinions will be less marketable, but more likely to be trustworthy in their opinions.

I think the emotional attachment to the group identity associated with particular biases in opinions is a more powerful force in the maintenance of biases than either intuition or reason.

I’m not that opposed to modularity. Any arbitrarily complex network (such as neural dynamics) becomes more tractable if it can be modularized. The dangers of modularity arise mainly from inadequately decomposing the modules involved in the network. In the case of the referenced work, the modules referred to by “intuition” and “reason” are insufficient by themselves to explain biases, or either faulty or adequate decision-making processes. As I said above, “emotion” is a module that is clearly involved, as are the modular concepts “sense of group identity” and “fear of group exclusion”.

Thanks, and I think the emboldened part is particularly apt.  It may even be that the biases of intuition and reason had (and have) as their selection pressure social bonding, one based first in emotional rappor.  Mercier and Sperber think of reason’s argumentative function along socially adaptive lines, and you might be right here to flesh that idea out further into a mechanism of bonding more primal than linguistic communication and its role in argument (though in the end the two are probably inextricably linked, as Speakpigeon indicates).  Intuitively I find your point convincing.

I’m not opposed to modularity either in a loose sense—in a functional sense.  But evolutionary psychologists go too far to my mind when they argue that modules entirely separate from one another evolved to solve adaptive problems.  Like our immune system, I think it is pretty clear that “mind” is a general-purpose problem solver and that the “modularity” comes after the fact in the cultural evolution of solving specific problems.  For perceptual cognition, this might be somewhat different; it might be more anatomically modular prior to higher functions.  But strict modularity in higher functions like “cheater detection” and “mate selection” strikes me as an evolutionary non-starter.

[ Edited: 16 December 2018 06:34 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
Speakpigeon
 
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16 December 2018 09:38
 
Poldano - 16 December 2018 12:54 AM

It is possible to use argumentation to get closer to truth. The process may involve agents other than the arguers. Other agents with a different set of biases can evaluate the arguments in a less biased manner, and choose to deprecate arguers and arguments that are deficient.

Individuals are the producers of original views and ideas somewhat like individual ants are sent to scout around the anthill to find food. Individuals are closer to the ground, so to speak. But each has very limited brain power, both in terms of brute capacity and runtime. The airing of their views by individuals allows new ideas to emerge and be tested by the community, which can gather much more brainpower and runtime. Everyone wins. The challenge for the individual is to get a hearing. The community tries to organise itself to be able to sort new ideas as efficiently as possible. Debate within a small group of people provides a first level of screening. The relevant facts and the logic are assessed, and this without pestering the entire human population with something which is often worthless. Ideas will move through individuals and groups. Some will bubble up and become more publicly visible, which in turn will allow the so-called intellectuals to pick and choose which ideas deserve the royal treatment.
Whether people get closer to the truth through such a cumbersome process is anyone guess. However, groups with the better ideas will prosper. Say, Western Europe against the Soviet Bloc. China is now actively importing Western ideas, although only those they think are good. Ok, that’s a bit simplistic, but it’s the broad idea.
Getting closer to the truth may not be good enough. Science may get us closer to the truth but it also allowed us the get global warming on its way. Getting closer to the truth can effectively be selected by nature and preserved (because nature knows the truth, so to speak). However, if the truth is somehow too big for the environment, nature stops selecting for truth and just stops the experiment. So, the good time for airing your views as to what an effective solution to global warming may be seems to be now.

Poldano - 16 December 2018 12:54 AM

I think the emotional attachment to the group identity associated with particular biases in opinions is a more powerful force in the maintenance of biases than either intuition or reason.

Groups will have their biases, but there are different groups with different biases, like there are different individuals with different biases. What matters is that there should be a debate so as to get a chance to improve the ideas of all those involved. Emotions are also what gets people together. Let’s the Trump supporters sort out their ideas among themselves as long as you make sure that they also air their views more publicly and get to hear what other people think. Nature might well succeed in sorting out the mess, you never know.
Intuition is biased in that it works only from whatever expertise you have assimilated, and you may have assimilated the wrong kind of expertise. A musicians will produce music without having to reason constantly as to what to do next. So, intuition should be seen as very efficient, but only if the musician received a good training as intuition won’t elect by itself to reject bad expertise. It needs experience to tell it when its expertise is bad and when re-training becomes necessary. And it certainly seems intuition is easily overruled by emotion.
The biases of reason is the same as those of intuition: garbage in, garbage out. And as good reasoning seems to require somehow more effort from the brain, it is used with extreme moderation.
Also, it seems reasoning is always motivated by emotion.
So, rather than see all these functional systems as necessarily contradicting each other, we can see them as complementary. It may even be the case that we somehow learn to tweak the contribution of each for the benefit of all.

Poldano - 16 December 2018 12:54 AM

I’m not that opposed to modularity. Any arbitrarily complex network (such as neural dynamics) becomes more tractable if it can be modularized. The dangers of modularity arise mainly from inadequately decomposing the modules involved in the network. In the case of the referenced work, the modules referred to by “intuition” and “reason” are insufficient by themselves to explain biases, or either faulty or adequate decision-making processes. As I said above, “emotion” is a module that is clearly involved, as are the modular concepts “sense of group identity” and “fear of group exclusion”.

I think intuition comes with a specific emotion telling you to pay attention. You do or you don’t, but it’s there. I can look at the same logical formula and each time experience the same intuition telling me it’s a logical truth. And I can’t possibly deny it. I could act as if it wasn’t there but I can’t deny it. If I had to take a life-saving decision based on it, I would, even if the world was telling me my intuition is wrong (and it’s not).
I guess all these functional systems have to be integrated into one organ. It would be very ineffective to have different parts of your brain working independently, each one producing its own injunction to act to the central command. If I want to, I can certainly control what I will type now on my keyboard, say, “£”, but if I had consciously to check everything I do before I do it, I would long be dead.
EB

[ Edited: 16 December 2018 09:45 by Speakpigeon]
 
burt
 
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burt
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16 December 2018 10:14
 

As an aside, I’ve been told that the ancient Persians had a method for deciding questions of importance. They would get together in a group and argue it out until a decision was reached. Then a week or so later they would get together again, get drunk, and argue it out again. If they reached the same decision both times that was it.

That aside, this is an interesting thread for me, touches on one of my prime interests. Anybody who is interested send me a pm with an e-mail address and I’ll forward a copy of an unpublished paper I’ve written on this, starting off from a critique of the Mercier & Sperber book.

 
Poldano
 
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18 December 2018 22:50
 

I probably should read the Mercier & Sperber book before reading a critique of it.

Unfortunately, from the comments about it here, it is likely to be something of bother.

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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20 December 2018 13:27
 
Poldano - 18 December 2018 10:50 PM

I probably should read the Mercier & Sperber book before reading a critique of it.

Unfortunately, from the comments about it here, it is likely to be something of bother.

There’s an article on the core argument: “Why do humans reason?  Arguments for an argumentative theory.” (Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 34, 2011).  If you can’t get a copy and want one, PM me with an email and I’ll send it.

 
Gone
 
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05 January 2019 02:06
 

I’ve only just stumbled upon this forum and more particularly this tread. On an admittedly cursory reading I find no mention of Arthur Koestler’s ‘The Ghost in The Machine’, Am I to assume this implies a dismissal of it’s central thesis of unbalanced human brain development within a short evolutionary time-span or something else ? Anyhow, it will take me some time to absorb even the terminology used in parts of this thread, To my ill educated autodidacts brain it appears some are attempting to prove a case when direct evidence is at this point in time still lost in pre-history despite the efforts of evolutionary psychology.
I appreciate however the distinction being drawn between ‘public intellectuals’ in the pre and post internet age but have yet to encounter a widely accepted definition of ‘intellectuals’ other than knowing to some degree I’m not and never will be one despite a life-long struggle to adhere to rationality in the face of group-think and superstition. (Still to be powerful forces at work in the world today,)

“Broadly, our reasoning system works like a linguistic simulation running on a fundamentally intuitive computer.” Anal_lyticPhilosopher (?) is an intriguing proposition if we ask the simple question, ‘Is the validity of a reasoning system determined on the basis of survival’ ? I’m reminded of Ayn Rand ( I know, wash my mouth out with soap and water for mentioning her in this hallowed hall) .
In a somewhat abstracted overview of Rand’s epistemology Ronald E Merrill in his “The Ideas of Ayn Rand”(Publ’Open Court 1991) writes:-
      “To abbreviate Rand’s view, the problem may be stated as follows. Is there such a thing as a ‘correct’ definition for some particular concept? The most commonly held modern view is that there is not; a definition is an arbitrary convenience. This ’nominalist/conceptualist; or Humpty-Dumpty school of thought holds that definitions need only be consistently maintained during a particular discussion. Just as Americans drive on the right side of the road, and British on the left, a concept such as ‘bird’ may be defined as a feathered animal, or as an egg-laying animal. As long as everyone who is using the definition (or road) agrees to accept a particular procedure, the exact procedure chosen is of no importance.
    Opposed to this is the ‘realist’ school of thought, in it’s pure Platonic or diluted Aristotelian variants, which hold that there is only one correct definition of a given concept. What, though, could give this ‘essence’ of the concept it’s special validity? The ‘essence’ is real in this view - it actually exists, as a Platonic form or some such entity.
    Rand rejects both these approaches. As she describes is, the nominalist regards definitions as arbitrary; there is no ‘essence’ of a concept. The realist postulates the actual existence of the essence; essence is metaphysical. For Rand, definitions are not arbitrary - there is an essence- but the essence is not metaphysical but epistemological. Though concepts are in the mind, they are not arbitrary because they reflect reality, which is objective.
  Now why should any of this matter? Rand’s answer would be that philosophy is practical. The nominalist view assumes that thinking is a matter of detached, abstract debate. It is a game, and the only requirement for the rules is that they be self-consistent and agreed to by all players.
  But for Rand, thinking is man’s means of survival, and its rules are absolutely critical. I you pick the wrong way to define a concept, it may not just be ‘Well, that’s an interesting way to look at the subject” it could kill you.

“But in arguing for established belief—especially when it is presumed that argument establishes belief—not changing one’s mind is what is precisely what would be expected because in argument the foundation of belief is assumed and defended, not explored and challenged. “Anal_lyticPhilosopher (?) So much of the endless frustration induced via web forums can be explained thus. I’d like to believe that’s not my modus operandi but have to confess to not remembering many instances of having had fundamental parts of my ‘philosophy’ changed via web discussions.
Later we read also from Anal_lyticPhilosophe “For my part, everything I post here is an experiment in being free from the grips of an idea.  I write them out in order to be no longer possessed by them; to be able to consider them as an object, as something found, not created.  Sometimes something gets sacrificed, sometimes not” How I wish I could say that of myself more often.

[ Edited: 05 January 2019 03:22 by Gone]
 
 
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