Monday, February 13, 2006

Heating a Red Porsche

In his latest contribution, "Hard Truths vs. Hard Liqour, Ernie offers some but not all of the clarifications I was looking for, as well as proposing a couple of principles that we might agree on.

First, the clarification:

Alan is right that my manifesto is not quite the same as an "epistemological framework." To be precise, it is more a creedal statement designed to constrain the space of valid ethical, epistemological, ontological, and anthropological belief systems. But aren't you glad I didn't call it that at first? :-)

Actually, that would have been (and is now) a helpful clarification. I inferred that Ernie was using his manifesto as a constraint on "believable" belief systems, but I appreciate his making that explicit. However, this still does not address my confusion over how he proceeds from this constrained set of belief systems to the much narrower set of belief systems that could be labeled "Orthodox Christianity". Going back to "Absolut Beliefs", Ernie said:

However, to Alan's question, this does mean that if I found either:

  1. ) a belief system disjoint from Christianity that better expressed my principles, or
  2. ) principles with greater explanatory power than mine

On the basis of the first option, I infer that Ernie considers Christianity to be the best expression of his principles. Whether that is true or not, I fail to see how he can justify belief in Christianity on the basis of these principles alone. For instance, if Ernie discovered some kind of convincing proof that Jesus was not a real person and that the stories of his life were complete fabrications, it seems to me that the stories would still express Ernie's principles just as well as they do now, despite being false. Similarly, perhaps I could write some new stories about, say, a flying spaghetti monster that were an even better expression of Ernie's principles. Would Ernie then change his beliefs to align with these fabricated stories? I hope not.

For that matter, it is unclear to me why Ernie feels that he must identify some "larger" belief system that expresses his principles. Why, for instance, can he not just start with those beliefs that he has decided are foundational to him and apply them more directly?

This is nothing different from what I have been trying to say in my last several posts on this subject, and it appears I have not yet been sufficiently clear. Ernie gets "the sense that [I am] specifically concerned about whether the Bible is Honest and Reliable." As my examples above show, that is a concern, but the more important question I have here is how Ernie gets from his principles to Christianity without any other "inputs". If he does have other inputs, then those other inputs should provide further possibilities for causing him to reject orthodox Christianity, beyond the two he has admitted.

Is the horse dead yet?

Moving on, Ernie suggests that we need to develop a common epistemology, but quickly throws in a little detour:

To start with, I think we need a set of axiomatic "first principles" we agree on as being true. Intriguingly, Alan has said that he consider my manifesto "nice", and that if people believed those things "the world would be a better place than it is today." However, he has stopped short of saying that he considers those statements "true." Was that a deliberate withholding, or a mere oversight?

Just to be clear, I did not use the word "nice" to describe his manifesto, which is not to say that I would not. He is emphasizing "nice" vs. "true". Since I said I was not sure what everything there was intended to mean, he can hardly fault me for not affirming its truth, and it was (for that reason) a deliberate withholding. Also, the manifesto contains several value-laden statements, e.g., "The best human act... the next best...", and statements like those, whether or not I agree, are not statements that I would label "true".

Finally, regarding Ernie's proposed axioms:

  1. Truth exists
  2. Belief in Truth is Good

I agree with those.

After some elaboration, he says:

I suspect that Alan agrees with the sentiment, but may object to my use of "virtue" and "vice." Yet, I have no idea how to state that principle without the use of value-laden terms. Perhaps he can rephrase me for a change?

The words do not bother me. As far as I can tell, there are reasonable definitions and uses of those terms that do not presuppose anything to which I would object. Such is the case here.

The title of this post, by the way, is just a nonsense phrase related to the abuse of expired members of genus Equus. Now I'll wait for the flood of visitors searching for car maintenance tips.


Blair said...

I admit it. I read the whole post hoping to read about Porsches. But really, now I am only a bit older.


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