A Humean Hope

March 24, 2012    By: Jeff G @ 3:39 pm   Category: Life

I will get back to my “Paradigms Lost” series soon enough, but in the mean time I thought I’d share some thoughts from Ken Binmore in his two volume work: Game Theory and the Social Contract:

Nothing … in the ludicrous constitution of Plato’s Republic constrains the philosopher-king and his guardians [from abusing their power].  We are asked instead to believe that their Rationality will suffice to ensure that they follow the Good.  Nowadays … we are equally afflicted with would-be philosopher-kings, who are just as sure of their own virture as Plato was of his…

Corrupt officials are often utterly unconscious of their crimes against the social contract, but they undermine the social contract nevertheless.  We are only too ready to deceive ourselves with stories about why the insider groups to which we belong are entitled to regulate their affairs according to more relaxed versions of the rules than we think should bind outsiders…

But even saintly leaders are human.  Given long enough in power, they finally learn to tell themselves stories which allow them to respond to their incentives, while still remaining convinced of their dedication to the public interest.  (Vol. 2: 273,236)

Binmore meant these thoughts to be applied within the realm of politics and the rules of law.  I, however, hoped that we could make it a little more personal by applying it to epistemology and the rules of belief.  In particular, there are certain rules of belief which none of us dare break outright and openly.  We don’t want to flagrantly contradict well-established evidence or be caught believing “A” and “not-A” at the same time.  We also tend to not make a habit of kicking against the pricks of common knowledge or well-motivated faith.

On the other hand, given enough motivation and time, I suspect that even the most hard-nosed of rationalists/scientists/philosophers will eventually find a way to think themselves to the beliefs that they so badly long to have.  And this, in turn, fills me with hope.

The Need For More Correlation

March 1, 2012    By: Matt W. @ 9:35 pm   Category: Life

In going through N.T. Wright’s Simply Jesus, I was quite interested in his discussion of the two currently competing myths of Jesus. Wright defines myth as a story which we hold to be true or historical which defines our beliefs, values, decisions and character. The stories he noted which were currently in competition were the one from the atheist view that Jesus was not the son of God, and therefore the stories about him are not true, but fiction, and possibly no person named Jesus ever existed, and the one from the theist perspective, where Jesus existed and was the son of God, and so on. Both stories, of course, can be broken up into multiple different versions of the story themselves, with Wright noting the two versions in contention today, that of the “liberal atheist” and the “conservative fundamentalist” have one striking thing in common, which is that they have little to do with the man represented by the current scriptural/historical record. (more…)