Sunday, April 01, 2007

Thick epistemology

There are some exciting developments in epistemology coming from the US. Not only can we thank them for the clarity of Rumsfeldian epistemology, but we can also look forward to the exploration of 'thick' epistemological notions (e.g. trust, gullibility) alongside the conventional 'thin' stuff (e.g. justification, knowledge). See here for a call for papers on 'Thick epistemology'.

But perhaps the most useful piece of recent epistemological work is the identification of the quality of 'truthiness': that feeling that some view is right, although (or perhaps because) it is backed by absolutely no justification or logic. The origination of the term is disputed, but its usefulness (or indeed its prevalence) is not.

Hot on its heels ought to be an investigation of the related phenomenon that conflates sincerity with truth. I've too often heard politicians or other public leaders attempt to win an argument by stressing that they do, really, honestly, believe what they are saying. Well, that's all very interesting. I now know you aren't lying to me. (Or do I? Are you sincere in your protestations of sincerity?) But just because you really believe that, for example, there are shed-loads of awful weapons stashed somewhere in a country far away has nothing to do with whether they are in fact there! I don't care whether you really believe it. I care if it's true.


stc said...

Lionel Trilling's classic _Sincerity and Authenticity_ (?1977?) is interesting on the historical changes in the concept of sincerity -- a mainly literary-historical argument on moral thought but an engaging read nonetheless!

Choppa said...

So, where do "gut feeling" and "intuition" differ from "deictic" proof and (say) "cogito, ergo sum"?

And are we after "absolute" truth, or "probably sufficient" truth? Is it a worthwhile goal for humanity to strive for a society in which truthiness is an asymptote to truth? Can we quantify "probably sufficient"?

And just how fundamental to truth value is consensus? Is there any truth value without consensus? Is there any privileged kind of consensus in that case? In the struggle between conflicting consensuses (ends), what weapons (means) have the most clout? (eg Galileo's or the Inquisition's?)

What use is technical logic, no matter how sophisticated, if the axioms it works from are crap?

It's indisputable that authenticity lends clout to rhetoric, but just how much anti-clout (fact/logic, authority, charisma, eloquence - FACE) is required to neutralize it? Are authenticity and FACE in tandem an unbeatable combination?