Where to draw the line: how Platonism haunts our discourse and the search for exorcism

by slimboyfat 168 Replies latest jw friends

  • OneGenTwoGroups

    If I watched, for the first time, a lion jump on a kudu. No one would have to tell me that the lion might be dangerous. No words would need to be conveyed, no discourse, no language. I would know that the lion is a dangerous predator, and wouldn't need the words to describe it to act accordingly.

    Now if I were to relay this fact to another human that has never seen a lion, language would be a big help.

  • nicolaou

    You airqouted the word "know" Slim', why did you do that?

    Genuine question.

  • slimboyfat

    I think the reason I did that is because I'm not entirely sure what it means to know something. It's an extremely complicated thing to explain such a simple statement: I know Obama is the president of the United States.

    I read an absolutely fascinating book called What is This Thing Called Knowledge?


    And it's a much harder question to answer than you might think. Traditionally philosophers have defined knowledge as "justified true belief". In other words for a belief to count as knowledge it is not good enough for it simply to be "true". Your reason for believing it to be true must be justified, because you can hold "true" beliefs for spurious reasons. Can such be called knowledge? But since justifications are approximations or tentative or involve plain luck, is there really any justified true belief? Is there any knowledge?

    Have you heard of the Gettier problem? Basically it calls into question the neat idea of knowledge as justified true belief. It makes it hard to say "I know".


  • cofty

    I'm still struggling to understand.

    I get the point about Platonic Essentialism. We use labels for things that are convenient but imperfect and open to exceptions.

    I keep that in mind in some contexts but unless I am conversing with a pedant who is determined to find fault I don't give it a second thought.

    Serious question - Why should I? What practical difference would it make?

  • slimboyfat

    In a sense your question is deeply ironic and I think it's worth underlining that first. Essentially(!) you are defending a realist notion of truth on pragmatic grounds. I just love that.

    I could double up on the irony and defend a pragmatic view of truth on realist grounds. I could say that a pragmatic view of truth may not be very useful in everyday life. However it happens to be true, therefore we should pursue it whether we find it helpful or not.

    But I won't be so absurd.

    A good reason (there may be others) for accepting that all labels are tentative is because history shows that essentialism is the breeding ground of various sorts prejudices, intolerance and injustice. Eugenicists taught that race is a fixed category and that different races are essentially different. Mysogynists think that woman is a fixed category. Simons de Bauvoir on the other hand declared that a woman is not born she is made. Society defines all these things by how it is structured and how we talk about them. And they change over time, as Foucault showed with madness. At one time mad people were believed to have insight. Then they were believed to be evil and locked up. Now we treat it as a medical condition. The same phenomenon constructed in various ways.

    We don't know what it is about how society is currently structured that will be subject to revision. Everything is tentative. That doesn't mean we can't believe in things or hold to certain perspectives we find useful. It just means we should be open to the possibility of revision.

  • cofty
    At one time mad people were believed to have insight. Then they were believed to be evil and locked up. Now we treat it as a medical condition. The same phenomenon constructed in various ways

    Not the same thing at all.

    Somebody who claims to hear voices telling them to strangle women has a medical condition. They are not possessed by evil spirits nor do they have an interesting unique perspective on reality. They have disfunction in their brain chemistry.

  • slimboyfat

    Medicine is the dominant discourse surrounding madness at the moment.

  • cofty
    Sorry opting out of this before I get bad tempered. I tried.
  • Mephis

    Reminds me of my Structuralism 101 course at university. Everything is relative, the act of reading changes meaning, etc etc. Fun stuff to play with, but real world application remains in that one is identifying inhibiting factors to information transmission rather than absolute limits.

    So yes, one can find an arbitrary line for the first human, but there will be a point on the continuum where you can say "this is distinctive to the other" based on the differences. A t-rex is not a chicken after all. There's always room for further refinement and further knowledge, and there's always a good case not to overly stress differences which are little more than cosmetic or just extend the range in variation.

  • slimboyfat
    Cofty you are constructing our conversation in a way as to make it appear that I am not a serious person arguing for a sensible point of view. You frame your withdrawal in terms of patience and frustration rather than lack of willingness to grapple with new or difficult ideas.

    You honestly believe that it is an objective statement of reality when you say:

    They have disfunction in their brain chemistry.

    You don't appreciate that this view of psychological phenomena is highly culturally conditional and contingent. But calling into question such self-evident categories of thought is offensive to an essentialist, to the point of anger and disgust. In previous eras racists and mysogynists felt disgust and incredulity toward idiots making stupid arguments about equality. Anyone doing so must be a joker, stupid, or insensitive to how the world really is. Well how the world "really is" today may not be how the world "really is" tomorrow. History should teach us some humility. Of all the current taken-for-granted orientations on the world, the chemical imbalance theory of psychiatry seems an oddly vulnerable site to dig in the trench.


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