Our Ethical Web of Beliefs

Last winter, I saw over the tweeter that Lawrence Torcello published a new paper. Paywalled. So I asked him for a copy, using the hashtag #CanIHazPDF:

He sent me a copy in a matter of days. We exchanged a bit. I asked him for a Q&A. Here it is. Trigger warning: my questions (after “[W]“) can make no sense, and Lawrence’s responses (following “[L]“) can make you think.

[W] Let’s start with Clifford’s first thought experiment:

A shipowner was about to send to sea an emigrant-ship. He knew that she was old, and not overwell built at the first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often had needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him that possibly she was not seaworthy. These doubts preyed upon his mind, and made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly overhauled and refitted, even though this should put him to great expense. Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely through so many voyages and weathered so many storms that it was idle to suppose she would not come safely home from this trip also. He would put his trust in Providence, which could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere. He would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors. In such ways he acquired a sincere and comfortable conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched her departure with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance-money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.

He concludes that it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. I am not sure I’d go as far as Clifford, but I feel there’s something right about the argument in your abstract: [W]e are morally responsible for our beliefs because (a) each belief that we form creates the cognitive circumstances for related beliefs to follow, and (b) we inevitably influence each other through those beliefs.

[L] I don’t endorse Clifford’s final position, which I think is too strong, but I do propose that our beliefs carry a moral hazard. The premises I interpret to undergird Clifford’s argument are enough to support the conclusion that our beliefs have morally consequential implications. Put most simply, our beliefs may lead to harmful consequences for other morally relevant beings that we ourselves may, or may not, be insulated from.

I agree with my fellow philosopher Peter Singer on what it means to be morally relevant, and to act ethically. Any sort of being that is minimally sentient—capable of suffering—is morally relevant. Beings who are capable of suffering have an interest (in not suffering) that from an ethical point of view deserves to be taken seriously. This is not to say that all minimally sentient beings need to be treated equally, but it does imply that acting ethically involves extending equal consideration of interests to all morally relevant creatures.

[W] Thus according to your stance, there is a relationship between morality and knowledge. Does it mean the whole fact/value dichotomy collapses, and that our knowledge establishes both epistemic and moral constraints?

[L] I don’t claim the fact/value dichotomy collapses, but, I do think that our knowledge, and epistemic limitations on our knowledge, can establish moral constraints. Consistent with Clifford’s arguments, our beliefs and our means for gathering evidence in support of our beliefs, carry moral implications. I agree that what we can reasonably claim to know ought to inform our judgments and behaviors—including our ethical decisions. And, yes, our ethical judgments also determine what restrictions we place on gathering information about the natural world (e.g. some human experiments that might be extremely useful in gaining medically relevant information are ethically unjustifiable). All of this follows from first making the decision to care about living an ethical life. However this is a value based decision. To reference an observation made by the early 20th century philosopher G.E. Moore, it remains an “open question” whether or not it is good to embrace such values.

I don’t think we need to overcome the fact/value distinction to get on with ethical decision making. We just have to value living an ethical life. One might respond that the reason we ought to value ethics is based on the fact that human beings need to cooperate with each other in order to survive. Very well, but first we must value survival. Once we commit to living a philosophical life, that is to say, a life in which we accept that beliefs and behaviors should be justifiable (to others as well as ourselves), we have already made an ethical commitment. Still, one must value living a philosophical life to begin with—no one is morally compelled by facts to do so.

[W] Still, Clifford’s argument seems to imply that we can derive an epistemic norm (or at least a meta-norm) out of facts from our cognitive and social reality. If we take the ethics of belief seriously, why shouldn’t we conclude that what we know transfers into what we should do?

[L] To be sure, what we know, or think we know, does inform what we do. It doesn’t follow from this that the fact/value distinction has been overcome. In some ways what we don’t know is equally–if not more–important for ethics than what we know. The epistemological limits of my ability to reasonably justify my actions to others constrains my ethical options. And yet, we can get very far, ethically speaking, just by figuring out what behaviors we can’t justify while equally considering the interests of others. Notice I am using the word justify rather than convince. Not every ethically relevant being is capable of being convinced or will be convinced by normative reasoning. The difficulty of the is/ought distinction is that it raises a challenge for anyone wishing to arrive at a final indisputable normative claim about ethics, that every rational entity qua rational entity is compelled to accept, premised on some natural fact about the world. Aristotle pointed out, over two millennia ago, that it is a mistake to expect ethics to function as a precise science. I agree.

Any claim to overcome the fact/value distinction, in my opinion, is fraught because (1) we can’t have certainty with regard to facts—which is not to say that facts don’t exist, and (2) we can at best inductively infer a moral implication of a perceived fact about the world, but we cannot deduce moral facts from natural facts—because it always remains logically possible for us to be wrong. At the most basic level such inferences would violate the rules of logic. (3) We only care about any of this, if we do, because of our prior valuation of truth and morality.

I suspect that some “lukewarmer” types would like to use Hume’s legitimate caution to bolster their own arguments against ethical calls to address climate change. They are out of luck: For one thing ethics, like science, can provide useful guidance independent of certainty. Not every decision with clear benefits to human health and survival needs to pass strict meta-ethical scrutiny to be of reasonable utility (Hume would agree).

One benefit of recognizing fallibility is that it keeps us from being dogmatic both in terms of facts and values, which to my mind is of great assistance to the self-correcting projects of science and philosophy.

[W] Speaking of which, you say: The scientific process does err, it should be emphasized, but it also self-corrects over time (Merton, 1942, 1973). Again, it is this process of progressive self-correction that relies upon robust genuinely skeptical methodologies. Those who challenge the view that science is necessarily self-correcting, in doing so, can even play a role in the long-term trend of scientific critique and self-correction (Ioannidis, 2012). A nifty way to turn the auditing business on its head: whatever is reliably converging toward truth could in the end be called science.

[L] I think of science as an ongoing process that involves, regardless of the field, a rigorous methodologically skeptical approach to understanding the natural world. The exact methodology used in science differs depending on the field, but the long term process is ultimately one of criticism and scrutiny. It involves the collection of data, the running of experiments, the examination of peer-review, and the open analysis of published results by one’s colleagues, who then, in many cases, test conclusions further through their own research. At each turn scientific hypotheses and findings are subject to skeptical refutation. Science advances, in this way, through organized efforts to disprove conclusions. The process is one that guards against the individual biases of researchers and their social circumstances. This means that by virtue of the process, there will always be errors and false starts. Those errors are not evidence that the process is flawed but signs that the skepticism inherent to the scientific process is working.

Science is self-correcting precisely because of its philosophical foundation in skepticism, which is always toxic for dogmatism. Any one scientist can be sloppy, mistaken — just an all-around poor scientist. This is why the modern scientific process is, and needs to be, a communal effort that involves researchers from different fields all over the world. Something like climate change is first and foremost described and understood by scientists working in climatology, but researchers in fields such as biology (for instance) can provide confirmation of climatological findings through the impacts they detect in their own field. This is how the global community of scientific researchers from various domains converge upon evidence that supports a larger theory, which then adds to our collective human understanding of nature.

[W] So we’re all in one big boat together, both in our values and our beliefs.

[L] We seem to be stuck together, endorsing different values, embracing different beliefs. This isn’t a bad thing, if we are reasonable, we can find ways to work together socially and politically in the context of physical and logical reality. This is why the fact of scientific consensus, by the way, is so important for the layperson to recognize and understand. When a scientific consensus exists it is a signal that a finding has been as thoroughly vetted as human beings know how to vet a finding. Science is a powerful philosophical enterprise. Furthermore, those that critique the scientific process itself, and philosophers of science have been doing this constructively for a long time, contribute to the process by checking the epistemic foundations and logical planks of the scientific structure in order to refine the process. Even those who are politically motivated and ideologically driven to criticize the findings of climate science contribute, insofar as they are able to raise legitimate questions that need to be clarified to the public. Nevertheless, in my experience the latter critics have not made much of a contribution to science other than to provide a lively contrast for comparison to the virtues of actual science.

[W] I must share with you this talk that I found while looking if The Worldwide Web of Beliefs was already taken. I found it very moving. Climate change is mentioned at 16:30:

 

[L] Thanks for sharing this interesting talk. The reality of morally pluralistic groups of people, who may hold beliefs that are equally valid compared to, but incommensurable with, the beliefs of other cultural groups, is one of the things that makes deriving “an ought from an is” so tricky.

Relatedly, the major question that drives my work in moral and political philosophy (independently of climate change ethics) is how we might recognize moral/value pluralism while avoiding ethical relativism.

By the way, the most basic lesson of Clifford is that we cannot avoid the moral implications of our beliefs. Our epistemic beliefs don’t form, or exist, in a moral vacuum.

[W] Can our candid readers haz a copy of your paper?

[L] I’ve added a preprint version to my WordPress page for anyone unable to access the published version. I, of course, am happy to email a copy to anyone that asks.

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About Willard

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154 Responses to Our Ethical Web of Beliefs

  1. W – thanks for the Q&A and for prompting the pre-print availability.

    John Mashey should be thrilled. He’s been pushing the term ‘pseudoskeptic’ for years 🙂

  2. Willard says:

    Most welcome, ONeill.

    As you well know, I prefer contrarian. To each his own.

    Except ClimateBall ™ – that word needs to spread in all the Interwebz.

  3. I use ‘pseudoskeptic’ for the more ignorant types, such as those who write crazy articles for WUWT. I reserve ‘contrarian’ for the academics who should know better but prefer to go against the consensus—Spencer, Christy and Lindzen being prime examples.

  4. angech says:

    “He concludes that it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”
    And yet we cannot function without acting as if we have belief in many things in our lives.
    We have all been burnt in early relationships.
    If we drive on the road we have to believe that other people will react rationally when in truth they don’t.
    So we all have what I would call limited beliefs for want of a better word.
    That is we act as if things/people we need to function in our lives will always act in the “right” way.

    “our beliefs carry a moral hazard.”
    seen everywhere in life where people hurt each other but excuse their behavior on the basis of their belief
    “acting ethically involves extending equal consideration of interests to all morally relevant creatures.”
    There has to be a hierarchy of ethics or a greater good imperative but justifying it this way immediately diminishes the whole notion of ethics.
    A web indeed.
    Thanks Willard and ATTP.

  5. Roger Jones says:

    I would also endorse Phillip Kitcher’s Science in a Democratic Society for good discussions on values in science that complements the above discussion.

  6. angech says:

    “Even those who are politically motivated and ideologically driven to criticize the findings of climate science contribute, insofar as they are able to raise legitimate questions that need to be clarified to the public.”
    Condescension from on high.
    How about those who are skeptical and those who are scientific?
    How about those who feel that morally and ethically denying people CO2 power is going to cause them suffering , starvation and death.
    Why slander people with being political or ideological when people who support the findings of climate science are also driven by politics and ideology.
    Most people at this site would admit to being skeptics in life *except for their belief in climate science, being skeptical is a very good trait. In my mind it does not marry very well with politics or ideology.

  7. Willard, thank you for putting this together.

    Prof. Torcello, thank you for — among other things you’ve done — demonstrating that it’s possible to understand Willard. I particularly enjoyed this comment:

    To be sure, what we know, or think we know, does inform what we do. It doesn’t follow from this that the fact/value distinction has been overcome. In some ways what we don’t know is equally–if not more–important for ethics than what we know.

    Not only do I think it’s ethically important to be honest with ourselves *and* others about the strength (or weakness as the case may be) of the truth value for some given fact (or thing-called-fact), I often consider an argument about some complex topic *more* credible when it includes caveats about the imperfect and/or incomplete nature of information upon which it is based.

    Popular discourse, especially in politics, leads me to believe that many — if not most — people don’t share my aversion to statements which have the quality of nearly absolute certainty. And thus we read things like, “The science is settled” because that is seen as a compelling construction. Assuming that is an effective way to persuade someone to make a morally correct decision, I wonder if you could comment on the ethics of doing so when the person making the argument knows the supporting information to be less than settled.

    I would answer that it generally isn’t ethical. In the case of AGW, I might be able to argue that it is ethical, but I wouldn’t like it.

  8. angech,

    In the spirit of fairness, how about I invoke the no rhetorical question rule which has so often been imposed upon me from on high at Lucia’s and ask you to answer them first. I promise to give my answers once you’ve done so.

  9. angech,

    Even those who are politically motivated and ideologically driven to criticize the findings of climate science contribute, insofar as they are able to raise legitimate questions that need to be clarified to the public

    Seems to me that there certainly are people who satisfy this description.Do you disagree?

  10. angech asked “How about those who feel that morally and ethically denying people CO2 power is going to cause them suffering , starvation and death.”

    They should make a moral and ethical argument that the benefits of CO2 power for today outweigh the damages to future generations that result from the concomitant climate change. What they shouldn’t do is adapt their view of the science to suit their argument such that the benefits of CO2 now are artificially amplified with respect to the damage to future generations (e.g. only accepting evidence for low climate sensitivity and disregarding evidence that it may be high). This is not rocket science.

    The point is that you first need to avoid fooling yourself.

  11. angech wrote “Most people at this site would admit to being skeptics in life *except for their belief in climate science, being skeptical is a very good trait.”

    Actually, no. I suspect that most of us hold the view of the science that we do because we have looked into the evidence and formed an opinion. If we largely accept the mainstream scientific view, perhaps that is because the evidence is fairly solid. How many of us support Peter Wadhams views, for example? How many of us *only* look at paleoclimate estimates of ECS and completely ignore the model based estimates and observational estimates that are substantially lower? If you want to support your assertion, how about providing some evidence for it?

    BTW I wouldn’t describe myself as a “skeptic”, I am more a follower of Hume’s maxim that “A wise man apportions his beliefs to the evidence.”, which isn’t the same thing.

  12. Steven Mosher says:

    ‘These findings are consistent with my formulation of Clifford’s second premise (P2) that our beliefs (including ideological and value beliefs) exert a social influence in ways that are not easily predictable. The driving assumption here is that given our social nature, our reliance on community life, and our tendency toward group identifications, our beliefs are bound to be socially impactful. Indeed, our examination of the first premise (P1) and of the role that group affiliation plays in affecting our cognitive styles provides further support for the social nature of our beliefs taken up in the second premise. It is, therefore, morally hazardous to hold epistemically unwarranted beliefs (including value, metaphysical, or religious beliefs, which stand outside the realm of empirical support). The ethics of belief (and its implications for inquiry), especially in the context of the research cited above, suggests a level of increased epistemic and ethical responsibility, especially for those with greater access to the public sphere and influence over their fellow citizens.”

    agreed.

    http://www.planetextinction.com/planet_extinction_permafrost.htm

    http://guymcpherson.com/

  13. On angech’s question of the morality of denying power to those who need it ‘now’ (and hence justifying CO2 that [I assume he does not contest] will do them harm in the ‘future’), this might be an argument if only:
    – there was no alternative to fossil fuels ‘now’, and
    – the ‘future’ wasn’t coming towards us faster than we imagined.

    Balancing the ‘harm’ expected in the near term versus that in the far term is not necessarily disengenous (except when the like of Matt Ridley are spinning the science).

    And let’s not deny that it is a rocky transition to a zero carbon energy world, and one way or another, people will get hurt; we left it late enough to make that unavoidable.

    We made that choice a while ago, because inaction is also a moral choice, as of course the shipowner should know.

  14. Willard says:

    Labeling and whataboutism are not that interesting, guys.

    Unless you ask about speedoskepticism. Then I plunge.

  15. Angech says:

    Dikran, the damages to the future generations and the world from fossil fuel use are small compared to the damage done by a burgeoning population and forest destruction.
    A nuclear war poses far more risk and far more destruction and is a consequence of one of the alternative fuel models.
    The trouble with the model to fix it, population control and we know best is that you you put Einstein in charge but Trump or Putin or Kim ends up running it.
    Best to relax and go with the flow.
    The spike in human knowledge with 7 billion people and connectivity is not sustainable but will hopefully throw up enough knowledge for the future that some smart cookies in the future will fix it.
    I don’t mind wind power or solar power like some skeptics but I see them as part of an overall scheme that necessarily will involve fossil fuels for the next 3 generations.
    People who oppose their use are shooting themselves in the foot.
    Use them all and try to reduce fossil fuel use is a good maxim.
    When it comes to the benefits of CO2 now it is good that you recognise they exist and that you display a skeptical nature as to just how good they are .
    The term skeptical has two meanings, the normal scientific meaning and the pejorative climate science meaning.
    It is a shame that you only see the latter and hate it so much that you cannot accept the normal meaning I used, for you should surely embrace being skeptical and not give that knee jerk reaction.
    Hume was a skeptic.

  16. Steve Mosher if the videos are a response to what I wrote, I am not sure of your point.

  17. Angech, you seem to have dodged the substantive point I made and have gone on a bit of a rant.

    “The term skeptical has two meanings, the normal scientific meaning and the pejorative climate science meaning.”

    It has more meanings than that, it can also mean a school of philosophy (e.g. Hume) and it can also mean inherently unwilling to readily accept established ideas (which is not the normal scientific meaning).

    “It is a shame that you only see the latter and hate it so much that you cannot accept the normal meaning I used, for you should surely embrace being skeptical and not give that knee jerk reaction.”

    yawn, no, I was actually using skeptic in the sense of “not readily accepting established ideas”, I very obviously didn’t mean the climate science meaning as I was referring to myself. Neither of us are mind readers; I find Hanlon’s razor useful and try and apply it every now and then, it helps discussions to remain civil and productive.

    “Hume was a skeptic.”

    Yes, but that is a different meaning of “skeptic”. The point I was making about Hume’s maxim, when taken literally, is that we should not be skeptics, but realists and distribute our belief among the candidate hypotheses according to a dispassionate evaluation of the evidence.

    At the end of the day, you made an accusation that you apparently couldn’t support when challenged. Perhaps it is you that needs to do some introspection (or come up with some evidence).

  18. Willard says:

    > I am not sure of your point.

    The point is: but what about Jim, Dikran?

  19. > the damages to the future generations and the world from fossil fuel use are small compared to the damage done by a burgeoning population and forest destruction.

    Citation needed.

  20. angech said on September 8, 2016 at 5:50 am,

    “How about those who feel that morally and ethically denying people CO2 power is going to cause them suffering , starvation and death.”

    Word of warning: If you and others like you want to get into this game of pointing the finger and screaming “Murderer!” or “You promote sickness and suffering!” on whether it’s a good or bad idea for humanity to continue without end to dig up fossil fuels and burn them anywhere close to as fast as humanity can, then you will lose this game. Says who? Says legitimate mathematical science taken in the aggregate.

    There is much to say in reply to your comment above, its content said by many before you. And I already gave much in reply in prior comment threads in past ATTP articles. Rather than repeat myself, here’s just a sample in just one thread from past ATTP articles:

    Numbers of people dying from air pollution
    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/things-i-thought-were-obvious/#comment-42796
    (This addresses the fact that millions die each year that otherwise would not have died in said year – that’s every single year, and so add then up for the long run. Now think of the many tens of millions each year that get sick but do not actually go all the way to actually dying. Now add all that up. Lots of suffering and death.)

    Explanation as to why we need action now
    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/things-i-thought-were-obvious/#comment-43670

    To see more, start with this quote below from the second link above, and then go with all the links I give to relevant articles that cite some of such science in all the relevant and linked comments I give in that ATTP thread (follow all the links, and skip through that which covers other topics even in the same comment):

    “…in
    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/things-i-thought-were-obvious/#comment-42565
    and in other comments such as my first one
    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/things-i-thought-were-obvious/#comment-41767
    documented that humanity desperately does need new laws to (1) reduce the ever increasing nontrivial probability that human civilization itself will experience a catastrophe because of too much global warming caused by presently projected fossil fuel burning and (2) reduce the number of deaths and sickness caused by present fossil fuel burning – 7 million deaths per year worldwide and counting – and the associated health care costs worldwide. Realistically, these conditions (1) and (2) can happen only if humanity has new laws.”

  21. Willard says:

    > Hume was a skeptic.

    Which is why a bunch of contrarians calling themselves “skeptic” looks silly.

    Hume was sceptical that we could *deduce* causal relationships from our observations.

    Contrast this with the constant requests by contrarians that we prove this or that causality. Or that we provide evidence of future catastrophes. Think about it. Evidence about the future. As if scientists had a Delorean.

    The nearest skepticism contrarians show is the methodological one. Descartes was skeptic too, or at least he played one on TV.

    Contrarianism is a Closet Cartesian Category.

    Somehow, the anglosphere might find that less sexy.

  22. dikranmarsupial says:

    Willard The point was “How many of us *only* look at paleoclimate estimates of ECS and completely ignore the model based estimates and observational estimates that are substantially lower?” I don’t think that is true of Hansen, sure I think his view of ECS is at the high end, but just because he thinks that a runaway greenhouse is possible (with input from calthrates, which is an important point) doesn’t mean he is completely ignoring model based estimates of ECS. Also angech was referring to “Most people at this site”, which doesn’t include Hansen as far as I am aware. My point was that people at this site are not as unskeptical of climate science as angech asserted, views on Wadhams demonstrates that, the discussion of ECS seems pertty much consistent with the IPCC likely range, which implies a fairly balanced approach.

  23. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    Evidence about the future. As if scientists had a Delorean.

    Any decent scientist with a Delorean would be too busy helping Mr Spock to save the whales to bother providing future-evidence for contrarians-of-the-present.

    Contrarians-of-the-future will be genetically engineered to survive solely on a diet of circular arguments, and thus will not request any evidence at all.

  24. Windchaser says:

    Most people at this site would admit to being skeptics in life *except for their belief in climate science, being skeptical is a very good trait.

    I’m a skeptic, yeah. But climate change “skepticism” is not normal skepticism. It ain’t skepticism at all.

    Real skepticism is looking at all sides of the story. You look for the strengths and weaknesses of each argument, and you make your best judgment about which one is strongest, and how strong that is. Uncertainty is fine here, and you need to be honest about what we know and what we don’t know, and how this affects the big picture.

    In contrast, climate change “skepticism” takes a biased and one-sided view. It ignores a century’s worth of science and evidence.

    Most “skeptics” I meet don’t understand how greenhouse gases work, nor the models. Their criticisms of the science are almost always strawmen, and where there’s genuine scientific uncertainty, they incorrectly interpret that to mean that things will be more favorable. Or they only focus on the uncertainties that tell them what they want to hear.

    In many ways, it reminds me of arguing with creationists. They don’t understand how evolution works, and nearly everything they say demonstrates that. But they’re confident it’s wrong.

    True, genuine skepticism is what you see in the scientific literature overall. Good and bad scenarios are both presented fairly.

  25. Willard says:

    > The point was […]

    I was referring to the rhetorical point, Dikran.

    The subgame “but what about Jim” is a part of what we could call a quantifier game. Someone says “we are all morally responsible for the epistemic warrant of our beliefs,” which is of the form All X are P. An instanciation move would be to pick an element of X.

    You can extend this move with whataboutism, by asking a question about the membership of any individual you please, e.g. what about Jim? The magic of what about questions is that you don’t even have to show that your favorite scapegoat is a member of the relevant class or any commitment regarding P itself.

    This explains how showing videos of Jim works as an argument.

    Every form of peddling uses that kind of instanciation technique.

    Just imagine when angech will notice Lawrence’s sentence about sloppy scientists…

  26. anoilman says:

    I’m often surprised deniers don’t just say “I don’t care if millions die.” I can’t (and generally wont) argue with their feelings.

    I think that they recognize that position will lose in the log run. (The corporate paymasters do recognize this fact.) So, they are compelled to argue and quibble over anything they can. The purpose is to reframe communication to a different story line.

    Here’s the campaign documents to support pipelines in Canada, it should give you an idea about how well orchestrated this kind of PR campaign really is.
    http://www.desmog.ca/2014/11/17/edelman-transcanada-astroturf-documents-expose-oil-industry-s-broader-attack-public-interest

    Personally, I wonder what the ‘Dark Parts’ of the internet are that they call upon for help, and how often they do it.

  27. Steven Mosher says:

    [Snip. -W] He relies on Clifford. He could have also cited
    scripture Mathew 5;28.

  28. Steven Mosher says:

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27267-are-you-deluded-the-strange-things-we-believe/

    I think I will just suspend belief.

    What is the moral hazard in suspending judgment?

  29. izen says:

    @-“What is the moral hazard in suspending judgment?”

    Extreme.
    You abrogate your ability to be considered morally relevant.

  30. Willard says:

    > [Lawrence] relies on Clifford.

    To illustrate his point.

    As a model for his argument.

    Not to go as far as Clifford himself.

    Etc.

  31. Willard says:

    > I think I will just suspend belief.

    That rings a bell:

    Epoché (ἐποχή epokhē, “suspension) is an ancient Greek term which, in its philosophical usage, describes the theoretical moment where all judgments about the existence of the external world, and consequently all action in the world, are suspended. […] This concept was developed by the Greek skeptics and plays an implicit role in skeptical thought, as in René Descartes’ epistemic principle of methodic doubt. The term was popularized in philosophy by Edmund Husserl.

  32. izen says:

    Some of the worlds leading shipowners heard that doubts had been suggested that possibly their ships were not seaworthy. 97% of the shipwrights agreed that their ships were unseaworthy, even their own company shipwrights agreed. These doubts preyed upon them, and made them unhappy; they thought that perhaps they might be thoroughly controled and regulated, even though this should put them to great expense. Before the ships sailed, however, they succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. They moved funds covertly to scientists and politicians to point out that the ships had gone safely through so many voyages and weathered so many storms that it was idle to suppose they would not come safely home from all future trips also. they would put their trust in Heartland,the GWPF and Republicans which could hardly fail to raise ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors. In such ways they acquired a sincere and comfortable public perception that their vessels were thoroughly safe and seaworthy; Or at least enough doubt to obtain plausible deniability. They watched continued departures with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the eager consumers of their services; and they got their insurance-money when ships went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.

    Is a economic enitity a moral agent?
    https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/558/08-205/opinion.html

  33. Steven Mosher says:

    “Epoché (ἐποχή epokhē, “suspension) is an ancient Greek term which, in its philosophical usage, describes the theoretical moment where all judgments about the existence of the external world, and consequently all action in the world, are suspended. […] This concept was developed by the Greek skeptics and plays an implicit role in skeptical thought, as in René Descartes’ epistemic principle of methodic doubt. The term was popularized in philosophy by Edmund Husserl.”

    hehe.

    and dont forget Phyrro

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ataraxia

    being unhappy is a moral hazard

  34. Steven Mosher says:

    “Not to go as far as Clifford himself.”

    is there a moral hazard in taking it to Clifford’s level.
    or on what basis does he stop short of clifford
    does he have an ethical obligation to keep others from believing as clifford does?

  35. Willard says:

    > is there […] or on what basis […]

    You go first, Mosh.

  36. Steven Mosher says:

    “Extreme.
    You abrogate your ability to be considered morally relevant.”

    If emprically I determine that suspending judgement, lead to Ataraxia–tranquillity and peace–
    am I not obligated to be happy? or since your beliefs have social implications, as he argues, are you not obligated, to leave me be in peace? I want my safe space.

  37. Steven Mosher says:

    “He concludes that it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”

    Neither you nor Dr. T want to take it that far. I would think the burden is on you to explain the
    basis for that. Given that if Clifford is correct, it is wrong to disagree with him. or is your belief that he takes it too far warranted?

    Comes the question to you… as you have taken a stand.

    you and Dr. T want to stop short of that. That would imply that there are either people certain people who are exempted, or certain beliefs that are “harmless”. I believe the number of stars is even. I dont think an argument about what it means to be sufficient is very interesting. That is I dont think that is your basis for stopping short.

  38. anoilman,

    I’m often surprised deniers don’t just say “I don’t care if millions die.”

    Perhaps that’s because there are only a few hundred thousand bald eagles for windmills to kill, and we can already count the mangled bodies. AGW is only a *hypothetical* killer of *any* species.

    Hard data for the win, again.

  39. Willard says:

    > Given that if Clifford is correct, it is wrong to disagree with him.

    Why is Clifford correct, again?

  40. Steven Mosher says:

    [Enough spam racehorsing for the day, Mosh. Come back tomorrow. -W]

  41. Steven Mosher,

    am I not obligated to be happy? or since your beliefs have social implications, as he argues, are you not obligated, to leave me be in peace? I want my safe space.

    I hadn’t ever thought of it that way in this context, but what is war if not creating dead people to enhance one’s own sense of security?

    All roads really do lead to me going to live in a cave and holding my breath.

  42. Willard says:

    Perhaps I should add that one of the reasons why Clifford goes too far is because, fallibilism. Warranted beliefs ought to be enough for knowledge domains where being wrong matters.

    This also indicates why “but Jim” is a red herring.

  43. Brandon,
    I see you’ve had that discussion with Tiny too.

  44. Anders,

    Why am I not surprised. I got the feeling it’s his main escape hatch. If it’s convenient for you to provide a linky to yours, I’d be interested to read it.

  45. Here’s one, but I have a feeling I may also have had a similar discussion on Bishop-Hill.

  46. Clifford is not as harsh as the quotes make him seem. Further on in “The Ethics of Belief” he writes:

    “The beliefs about right and wrong … and the beliefs about physical nature … never suffer from investigation; they can take care of themselves, without being propped up by “acts of faith,” the clamour of paid advocates, or the suppression of contrary evidence. Moreover there are many cases in which it is our duty to act upon probabilities, although the evidence is not such as to justify present belief; because it is precisely by such action, and by observation of its fruits, that evidence is got which may justify future belief. So that we have no reason to fear lest a habit of conscientious inquiry should paralyse the actions of our daily life.”

    He also goes on at length about inference; that our experience is limited and even then the fire that burned us yesterday is NOT the fire we see today – yet despite this we can believe that today’s fire will burn us, despite the fact it is not the same fire (and readily admit our memory may be faulty too). In the same vein he accepts an assumption of uniformity in nature; that “what we do not know is like what we know.” Immediately explaing:

    “Are we then bound to believe that nature is absolutely and universally uniform?Certainly not; we have no right to believe anything of this kind. The rule only tells us that in forming beliefs which go beyond our experience, we may make the assumption that nature is practically uniform so far as we are concerned. Within the range of human action and verification, we may form, by help of this assumption, actual beliefs; beyond it, only those hypotheses which serve for the more accurate asking of questions.”

  47. Willard says:

    > Clifford is not as harsh as the quotes make him seem.

    While it is true that Clifford softened his own conclusion a bit later, he still remains the strict father-figure of belief ethics:

    It is not clear that Clifford’s considered position is really as extreme as these principles make it sound. In the later part of his essay Clifford puts forward a view about what it is for evidence to be “sufficient” that suggests a much more moderate stance. Still, the story about the shipowner together with the sternly-worded Principle turned Clifford into the iconic representative of a strict “Evidentialist” position in the ethics of belief—the position, roughly, that we are obliged to form beliefs always and only on the basis of sufficient evidence that is in our possession.

    Evidentialism has problem with warrants that are not evidenciary, and with action paradoxes, such as the possibility that you’re 50-50 between two moves but you can’t responsibly allow yourself to decide by a toin coss. Which leads me to my own beef: his principle lacks context. While every decision has consequences, not all consequences are equal. We can think of an infinite (which, in philosophy, means at least 17) number of trivia where our opinions’ moral impact looks homeopathic.

    Where there seems to be merit in Clifford’s idea is the potentiality, for each and every item in all our web of beliefs, to have a real impact in our life and those of otters.

    All this is quite intuitive, which is why I said in the interview, “I am not sure I’d go as far as Clifford, but I feel there’s something right […]”

    Let’s hope this sustains the burden of my commitment so far regarding Clifford.

  48. anoilman says:

    brandonrgates: So… not millions of eagles or people? Thank goodness! 🙂 I do find it entertaining that deniers will pick up some sort of environmental mantel to justify global warming. They’ll do anything to gum up the works I guess. (I think I said that didn’t I?)

    You should know that bird strikes are a solved problem;
    http://www.detect-inc.com/avian.html

    You can shut off or simply reduce turbine output to prevent bird strikes. (A 20% reduction in output takes strikes down 90% or so.) This is an active field of study to better understand and adapt. IMO we’ve probably passed the worst of it. The earliest wind farms would have been placed in areas of maximum wind. i.e. raptor hunting grounds.

    Avian Radar works, and when you compare that to the sad sad state of oil industry, I’d say we’re better off;
    https://www.ualberta.ca/news-and-events/newsarticles/2013/july/taking-another-look-at-tailings-ponds-ducks-and-cannons

    (For anyone that doesn’t know, Syncrude argued that cannons don’t keep birds out of tailing ponds, so they aren’t responsible if the birds die.)
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/syncrude-to-pay-3m-penalty-for-duck-deaths-1.906420

  49. John Mashey says:

    Pseudoskepticism is of course a long-established term, more than century-old, and for modern application see Psuedoskpetics Are Not Skeptics. Morton’s Demon is a ~good avatar.

  50. Anders,

    I’m sure we’ve both had this discussion everywhere. It’s the logical extension of #AlGoreIsFat. In the language of this thread, this bit should be sufficient:

    TinyCO2 says:
    April 12, 2015 at 10:54 am

    Me? I really don’t care if the scientists reduce their CO2 or not but I will use their behaviour (and that of other activists) to justify my position. Ta for making it easy.

    Now … mind the pea:

    Tiny: There are tried and tested way to improve the credibility of uncertain information, almost all of which climate science has ignored.

    Me: More handwaving. Blaming the messenger with vague and sweeping assertions does not absolve you from choosing to ignore the message.

    Tiny: But that’s the whole point, I don’t want or need absolution. It’s you that has a problem. Sure, in 30 years time maybe we will all have a problem but I’m prepared to wait and see. Apparently you’re prepared to do that too, since you won’t take step ahead of sceptics.

    Carbon footprints: they’re the new d!ck measuring, only inverted.

    FWIW, here is the substance of my very first response to him:

    [… H]hundreds of millions of warmunists not showing up for work for the rest of their lives to “save” the planet wouldn’t be much better for the economy than the alarmist strawman scenario of taking away everyone’s fossil energy without suitable replacements would be. […] If dragging you kicking and screaming out of the Carbon Age by political force is what it takes, so be it. Same for anti-fission zealots of any political alignment or ideology.

    When all else fails, Might Makes Right. I think Hugo First leave-me-alone libertarians make a strategic error when they don’t own the self-justification to impose their wills upon otters.

  51. The devil can cite scripture.

    In the Appendix on Scientific Literacy Torcello writes:

    Perceived tension between the information deficit and cultural cognition models may stem from the fact that participants in the most relevant study (Kahan et al., 2012) who reject climate consensus could more accurately demonstrate knowledge of what climate scientists believe. In point of fact, however, this type of demonstration is not necessarily an appropriate
    measure of scientific literacy. (Holbrook & Rannikmae, 2009) It may merely be a measure of familiarity with general concepts that one can name and identify, without an informed grasp of how those concepts developed. These are the concepts that Kahan and his colleagues’ subjects believe scientists get wrong, and that those subjects suppose themselves to understand correctly.

    A more robust measure of scientific literacy involves the ability to articulate what is methodologically entailed in scientific consensus and how that epistemological process measures up against other attempts to understand the natural world. Scientific literacy should be reflected in a person’s ability to understand the scientific process, to articulate why it has a place of epistemic privilege, and to incorporate such understanding into their own belief formation in a way that they can identify and account for. (Holbrook & Rannikmae, 2009)

    I found this to be an apt explanation. If all one reads is WUWT one will be quite familiar with the ‘claims’ of climate scientists — but one won’t ever learn much science.

  52. angech says:

    Willard “Just imagine when angech will notice Lawrence’s sentence about sloppy scientists”. Huh.
    I am a contrarian at all things initially, just try asking me for a loan or favor. However when the immediacy of the request is over I give due consideration to the request and if it is justifiable and I have the capacity o help I will try to do so. That is where my skepticism kicks in. I think AGW is still at the immediacy stage and people who have acquiesced too quickly are not willing to look into the details in case they have fooled themselves.

    KeefeAndAmanda says: September 8, 2016 at 3:18 pm legitimate mathematical science taken in the aggregate says pointing the finger and screaming “Murderer!” or “You promote sickness and suffering!” when you dig up fossil fuels and burn them anywhere close to as fast as humanity can is the way to win the game?
    Not playing that game or any game like it KAA.
    Ethically and morally wrong one would think. I was pointing out that blame and catastrophising can be a two edged sword to those who start it.

    Izen says: September 8, 2016 at 8:12 pm
    Needs reworking,
    “Some of the worlds leading shipowners heard that doubts had been suggested that possibly their ships were not seaworthy. 97% of the shipwrights agreed that their ships were seaworthy and their own company shipwrights agreed. These doubts troubled them not one jot and they got their insurance-money when ships went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.”
    The moral imperatives in being a whistle blower or denying the consensus and loosing one’s job have no part in this scenario.

  53. angech – can you explain how there is a moral imperative to deny the consensus?

  54. angech – you should actually research the topics under discussion. Willard leads off in the OP with a thought experiment from Clifford — but Clifford had another thought experiment that Willard was too sly to mention.

    There was once an island in which some of the inhabitants professed a religion teaching neither the doctrine of original sin nor that of eternal punishment. A suspicion got abroad that the professors of this religion had made use of unfair means to get their doctrines taught to children. They were accused of wresting the laws of their country in such a way as to remove children from the care of their natural and legal guardians; and even of stealing them away and keeping them concealed from their friends and relations. A certain number of men formed themselves into a society for the purpose of agitating the public about this matter. They published grave accusations against individual citizens of the highest position and character, and did all in their power to injure these citizens in their exercise of their professions. So great was the noise they made, that a Commission was appointed to investigate the facts; but after the Commission had carefully inquired into all the evidence that could be got, it appeared that the accused were innocent. Not only had they been accused on insufficient evidence, but the evidence of their innocence was such as the agitators might easily have obtained, if they had attempted a fair inquiry. After these disclosures the inhabitants of that country looked upon the members of the agitating society, not only as persons whose judgment was to be distrusted, but also as no longer to be counted honourable men. For although they had sincerely and conscientiously believed in the charges they had made, yet they had no right to believe on such evidence as was before them. Their sincere convictions, instead of being honestly earned by patient inquiring, were stolen by listening to the voice of prejudice and passion.

    Clifford wrote 140 years ago. Still, otters might see parallels.

  55. anoilman,

    Thanks for the bird strike mitigation linkies. I did (and do) take the position that eagles for windmills would be a good trade *if* it came to that, but I’d much rather it didn’t.

  56. anoilman says:

    brandonrgates: Taking out top predators in a food chain causes rather delirious effects for the eco-system. Killing off wolves wrecked the natural habitat, killed beavers.. bears, etc.;
    http://www.yellowstonepark.com/wolf-reintroduction-changes-ecosystem/

    Naturally given the stupidity of that kind of wanton destruction of an ecosystem its the first port of call for oil and gas. When faced with facts figures, numbers and scientists, all saying that territory is needed for Caribou to survive. The government sacked the scientists, replaced them with oil executives, and authorized a wolf cull.
    http://www.desmogblog.com/unethical-oil-why-canada-killing-wolves-and-muzzling-scientists-protect-tar-sands-interests
    http://www.desmog.ca/2015/04/08/wolves-scapegoated-while-alberta-sells-off-endangered-caribou-habitat

    And its not working;
    http://www.desmog.ca/2016/08/03/half-measures-aren-t-enough-save-canada-s-caribou

  57. anoilman,

    Taking out top predators in a food chain causes rather delirious effects for the eco-system.

    No dispute … I imagine that if windmills took out all the raptor species, things would get quite unbalanced. However, because there is such a focus on bald eagles — which focus I believe has more to do with their iconic status than their place in the food chain (and therefore such great campaign fodder) — I was making the point that protecting a keystone species like corals is a higher priority. Hence, eagles for windmills; good trade *IF* — Providence forbid — it came down to that.

    I’m absolutely not saying we should be blasé about windmills killing eagles or any other avian species for that matter. I did also want to strongly stress the point that windmills look to be the least of our feathered friends’ problems:

    For purposes of this exercise, cats are people too. I doubt cats take too many eagles, and it’s plausible that windmills are eagles’ largest unnatural hazard. Something that annoys the heck out of me is how often the estimated mortality rate (~100/yr in the US) isn’t actually specified, and further how often is not compared against something like number of breeding pairs

    Chart and Table of Bald Eagle Breeding Pairs in Lower 48 States

    Between the early 1980’s and 2000, most States conducted annual bald eagle surveys. Since then, many states recognized that annual surveys were no longer necessary. That is why you will not see annual data after 2000.

    Somewhere in all this is an object lesson in rational, moral, decision making apropos the actual subject of this thread. But as I’m so busy trying to “prove” my own argument, I’ll be darned if I can put words to it at the moment. 🙂

  58. Erratum: … estimated mortality rate (~100/yr in the US) …

    Those are the figures for *golden* eagles, and only for California. I find it ever ridiculous that I cannot ask teh Goggle a straight question about stuff like this and have it give me a straight answer.

  59. izen says:

    @-” I find it ever ridiculous that I cannot ask teh Goggle a straight question about stuff like this and have it give me a straight answer.”

    The purpose of Google is to provide you with links to the most profitable advertising sources. Any resemblance to a straight answer is just a fortunate side effect.

  60. BBD says:

    Oh izen, how can you say such terrible things?

    * * *

    Technical footnote on misrepresentations of Hansen here.

  61. Willard wrote “I was referring to the rhetorical point, Dikran.”

    Sorry, I don’t really follow the tags used to discuss ClimateBall, and try and keep to the substance (I assumed there was some) of the discussion.

  62. Willard “This explains how showing videos of Jim works as an argument.”

    Alternatively, there could be a substantive point, e.g. that we are not sufficiently skeptical about Hansen’s views on climate change, which would be a valid point if some evidence of that were provided. I think the fact that we don’t seem to spend much time discussing Hansen here is a pretty good indication that we are generally rather more moderate than Hansen (and hence have some skepticism of his position. Unfortunately it has become rather common on blogs to express everything in a rather opaque, cryptic or terse manner (such as just giving a couple of videos without further comment) that doesn’t actually do a very good job of communicating the intended meaning. The only way to find out if there was a substantive point or whether it is just rhetoric is to ask, if there was no relevant substantive point, it is usually apparent in the answer. I think it makes for a more productive discussion if the benefit of the doubt is given (Golden rule/Hanlon’s razor), but I think that even works from a rhetorical perspective as ones position is weakened by not being able to come up with the substantive position when asked. However I realise that not everybody shares my view on this.

  63. angech wrote “Most people at this site would admit to being skeptics in life *except for their belief in climate science, being skeptical is a very good trait.”

    Angech, are you going to provide some evidence to support this (rather insulting) assertion, or are you going to withdraw it?

    I have already pointed out that the commenters here seem to be fairly mainstream on ECS here, and don’t agree with Wadhams on Arctic sea ice, which suggests that you are wrong and that “most people at this site” are likely as much skeptics (in a scientific sense) about climate change as on other topic. The ball is in your court, if you can’t provide evidence to support your assertion and won’t withdraw it either (but carry on posting) then that suggests that you are not applying the skepticism that you espouse to yourself.

  64. Willard says:

    > Alternatively, there could be a substantive point, e.g. that we are not sufficiently skeptical about Hansen’s views on climate change, which would be a valid point if some evidence of that were provided.

    This would not explain the Clifford quote that precedes the video.

    Substantiveness is not enough to check if we’re discussing Jim’s views in the light of the topic of the post. It also doesn’t suffice to distinguish two questions: one related to how you justify your own opinions of Jim, and one related to how you imagine Jim justifies his own. In both case, you could check if and how Clifford’s thesis applies.

    One important implication of Clifford’s thesis is that one tries not fool oneself. This doesn’t imply one’s always right. Therefore, another implication of Clifford’s thesis is that people may reasonably disagree. The evidential basis and the expertise to evaluate it may vary.

    ***

    > I think that even works from a rhetorical perspective as ones position is weakened by not being able to come up with the substantive position when asked.

    This rhetorical stance is almost an invitation for peddling everywhere, all the time. The doctor is in – challenge him on anything, he’ll respond. If he doesn’t, that shows how weak he is.

    Answering “but why do you believe so?” needs to end somewhere. Opening yourself to challenge on every possible topic we could derive from a discussion creates an infinite amount of commitments. Every thread becomes an excuse to inject this or that hot potato, and in the end all threads turn into the same tired ClimateBall slugfest, even if powered by substantiveness.

    The need to meet challenges ends where our own commitments stop.

    That we don’t justify what we believe all the time doesn’t imply that what we believe is unjustified.

  65. verytallguy says:

    Brandon

    Chart and Table of Bald Eagle Breeding Pairs in Lower 48 States

    Off topic, but it is great to see what looks like really positive news for the species – unless there is some subtelty I’ve misunderstood.

  66. Willard, agreed, but if you treat everything as rhetoric, then you run the risk of occasionally missing the substance. Neither strategy taken to its extreme is likely to be optimal and some judgement is inevitably required. This was one where I felt it worth asking once as I could see how a substantive point could potentially be made.

  67. > I think that even works from a rhetorical perspective as ones position is weakened by not being able to come up with the substantive position when asked.

    The purpose of the climate “debate” is to keep on debating and not doing. If mitigation sceptics had a coherent position, the “debate” would quickly come to an end with an assessment of how well that position is supported by the evidence.

  68. Chubbs says:

    In this case though, the shipowner is sailing with the emigrants and ignoring with the chief engineer.

  69. “The purpose of the climate “debate” is to keep on debating and not doing.”

    That is the purpose of climate “debate”, but it isn’t necessarily the purpose of climate discussion. Steven Mosher is a member of the BEST team, if just keeping the debate going was their aim, then they have a strange way of going about it. I might not like or agree with everything that Steve says, but I think he has done enough for me to assume that he isn’t just engaging in rhetoric for the sake of it (at least not all the time ;o)

    “If mitigation sceptics had a coherent position, the “debate” would quickly come to an end with an assessment of how well that position is supported by the evidence.”

    That seems to me to be an argument for probing the substance, rather than the form, of the argument as much as possible ;o)

  70. angech says:

    oneillsinwisconsin says: angech – can you explain how there is a moral imperative to deny the consensus?
    The consensus is actually a number of different consensi aggregated together for discussion. When one tries to discuss one part of it and finds an inconsistency the argument shifts to one of the others.
    ATTP has done a fine job trying to establish a consensus position but it is still cannot be enumerated clearly.
    The aspects that cause trouble are a clear range of attributable warming, the benefits attached to it or demerits and what percentage and type of scientists hold that consensus.
    Individually many of the different consensus positions are internally consistent but they disagree with each other.
    The moral imperative to stick with the herd and not to be seen to be out of synch leads to people agreeing to a consensus without admitting the individual blemishes, a sensible move really.
    “another implication of Clifford’s thesis is that people may reasonably disagree.”
    No consensus there.

  71. angech says:

    dikranmarsupial says:
    “angech wrote “Most people at this site would admit to being skeptics in life *except for their belief in climate science, being skeptical is a very good trait.” Angech, are you going to provide some evidence to support this (rather insulting) assertion, or are you going to withdraw it?”
    Thinking,
    If “most people at this site” are likely as much skeptics (in a scientific sense) about climate change as on other topic”
    then I do not think you should find the comment insulting, I would be proud that you are skeptical in the general and scientific sense.
    If, having skeptically considered the evidence most people at this site continue to believe in climate science, which they do, then my comment that implies they have not done due diligence [applied skepticism] is wrong for those most people.
    But look at my problem, since I believe strongly that there are a number of problems with climate science such that I have lost faith in the way it is presented [skepticism] I am unable to see how such belief can survive properly applied skepticism.
    My comment applies my belief system ” they have not done due diligence [applied skepticism]” or they would share my values.
    As you say that suggests that I am not applying the skepticism that I espouse to myself.
    Since I cannot “see” that, I think that my assertion remains correct from my viewpoint and apologize to anyone who finds it insulting. I certainly had no intent of insulting anyone with that comment.

  72. It appears that angech has no evidence to support his assertion, other than that we disagree with him, so it must be us that is wrong due to a lack of “due dilligence”, and won’t withdraw the assertion. It is hard to think of a better demonstration of a total absence of self-skepticism.

    “As you say that suggests that I am not applying the skepticism that I espouse to myself.
    Since I cannot “see” that, I think that my assertion remains correct …”

    Do you not see the irony there? ;o)

  73. ATTP has done a fine job trying to establish a consensus position but it is still cannot be enumerated clearly.

    Well, it can.

  74. VTG,

    Off topic, but it is great to see what looks like really positive news for the species – unless there is some subtelty I’ve misunderstood.

    I’ve made a number of side arguments about how I might value one species’ utility to humanity over the other, but I don’t think there’s any hidden subtlety in the bald eagle recovery statistics I presented — I think it’s real, and encouraging. In fact, the IUPC moved bald and golden eagles from endangered classifications to least concern several years ago. This surprises me, if you had asked me a week ago whether eagles were threatened or endangered according some IUPC-like standard and I answered without checking, my answer would have been “yes”.

    I think the reasons why I previously had that misconception are topical to the discussion of the ethics of belief. My riff about not being able to get straight answers out of Google is not really Google’s fault (though Izen’s response gave me a good chuckle), it’s that Google’s search results are only as good as the information people put onto web servers for Google to crawl, collate (and yes, run through AdSense and God knows what other algorithms).

    A lot of the information is bad. I mean, objectively bad. Not just that there are conflicting data and opinions about eagles (and in particular, eagles vs. windmills) but out and out poor information. A lot of what I see are very strong conclusions based on thin evidence, or supported by numbers not suited to purpose. This is not helped by the fact … no, information from reading what I consider credible sources … that figuring out windmills’ impact on eagles (and other avian species) is *legitimately* difficult work, and therefore resource intensive. The academic ‘we’ need strong justification to devote those energies, and there is much competition for academic attention. As well, there are significant motives to distract and/or detract academic attention.

    Thus, the Internet is crap, and best used with strong mental filters and an ample supply of toilet paper. A good rule of thumb is to simply ignore anything I write.

    Kidding. Mostly.

    My experience with windmills and eagles is a type for my experiences with Gore Bull Warming. I have several times previously argued elsewhere that (C)AGW/CC warrants extraordinary scrutiny and scepticism, not just for the amount of bullsh!t there is to wade through, but because of the reasons so much crap infuses the so-called ‘debate’. Hopefully we all know my partisan allegiances on the matter (shut up and mitigate already), but for purposes of this rant, I’m not going to spare either side the rod for their contributions to the sewage. And lest anyone think I see myself spotless, let them know they are wrong. Less spotted than most? I can cop to that hubris too.

    This does not make me objective, it only perhaps make me *seem* objective, which I fancy as one of my dark arts. The ugly logical truth I cannot dodge is that I’m lost in information overload, 99.9999% of which I don’t have the expertise to properly vet.

    I know next to nothing, yet I believe and lobby quite strenuously. Not a day goes by that Clifford doesn’t ask me whether I have the time for it.

  75. Willard says:

    > if you treat everything as rhetoric, then you run the risk of occasionally missing the substance. Neither strategy taken to its extreme is likely to be optimal and some judgement is inevitably required. This was one where I felt it worth asking once as I could see how a substantive point could potentially be made.

    One way to see where a ClimateBall ™ player is going is to recognize the head fake. The rhetorical level thus helps navigate through the epistemic level. (I assume here that the lines or arguments are knowledge claims.) Otherwise, it’s hard to we see that a challenge burdens us beyond our commitments.

    The inverse also holds: looking at the epistemic level matters to make sure the rhetorical level is alright. It would be hard to evaluate the relevance of a claim simply by looking at the rhetorical level. Head fakes are head fakes because they break the chain of epistemic challenges and commitments.

    In other words, to follow a line of argument, one needs to follow both what is said and what is being done. For instance, a claim comes in response to another one. Hence the purpose of Jim’s video can be indicated by its argumentative function.

    I say “indicated” because we can always ask for clarification. OTOH, asking for clarification without managing commitments properly is asking for trouble. After all, that’s how angech peddles many of his stuff.

  76. Willard “The rhetorical level thus helps navigate through the epistemic level. (I assume here that the lines or arguments are knowledge claims.)” “Head fakes” “our commitments” “epistemic challenges” ” indicated by its argumentative function.”

    Your reader may not have the same background as you and a (different technical vocabulary) that may leave them unable to be confident they understand what you are saying.

    I should point out than angech has not successfully peddled much on this thread because he has had to admit that he has no evidence for his assertion other than his inabilty to understand how anyone could disagree with him.

  77. “In other words, to follow a line of argument, one needs to follow both what is said and what is being done”

    I think my point (at least an element of it) is that we (human beings) are generally not particularly good at working out what is “being done” in online discussions, and I suspect our cognitive biases are likely to show up much more in that than they are in our comprehension of what is actually said. Asking for clarification of what is said seems to me to be a good way of gaining insight into what is “being done” as well as clarifying the substance of the argument. If “what is being done” is truth seeking discussion of climate then the answer will be a productive step forward in that discussion, if it what is being done is “ClimateBall” then the answer (as angech’s above) generally shows that further discussion is unnecessary (and indeed pointless).

  78. dikranmarsupial,

    I should point out than angech has not successfully peddled much on this thread because he has had to admit that he has no evidence for his assertion other than his inabilty to understand how anyone could disagree with him.

    It’s your opinion that he’s not successfully peddled anything on this thread, and I don’t necessarily disagree. However, there are many unknowns. Firstly, we don’t really know angech. We have a model of him based having read many of his words on a page. We also don’t know anything about who reads his words here, but does not comment on them. This is not an exhaustive list, only illustrative.

    When we assert such things publicly as angech’s (in)abilities, we create public commitments to prove propositions that we cannot. One might call that peddling.

  79. Willard says:

    Dikran,

    Were we limited to a truth seeking discussion, I could dismiss your counterfactual about the reader’s background as speculative. The concern still has rhetorical merit – the Audience matters quite a bit. Therefore I’ll take it as a challenge to clarify what I mean by “head fake,” “our commitments,” and “epistemic challenges”.

    1. A challenge is a request to substantiate a claim. It can take the form of your are you going to provide some evidence to support this assertion, or are you going to withdraw it?. An epistemic challenge is a challenge that targets a knowledge claim. My own favorite lines are “citation needed” and “show me.”

    I don’t think angech’s barb was meant as a knowledge claim, so the challenge is ill posed. I would contend that it is more than ill-posed: it opens the door to any kind of ad hominem peddling. From your challenge can follow a racehorse of “what about” questions about AT’s collective allegiances.

    2. A head fake could refer to any rhetorical move whereby a ClimateBall ™ attacker shifts the topic while attracting the defender to a ground that lies outside the defender’s commitments. That the gambit “you’re all a bunch of X anyway” is incorrect, wrong, invalid or what not is more than compensated by the bait and switch that could occur. (Many Denizens have learned the hard way not to pull that one against me, e.g. here.)

    Which goes on to show that any ClimateBall player who focuses on substantiveness and truth seeking discussion can be easily abused. I disagree about the scope of your we (human beings) are generally not particularly good at working out what is “being done” in online discussions. My own experience is that, in general, contrarians are way better at managing pragmatic stances than scientists. This may be related to Haidt’s results that show how conservatives are better attoned to their own morality, and the possibility that our cognition has an ethical impact. I have no strong opinion on that.

    3. A commitment is an argumentative responsibility whereby a claimant needs to be accountable for his claims. If you push this to its limits, you get to Clifford’s evidentialism – the idea that everything you believe must be based on evidence. Jean Goodwin has a very good case study on commitment management:

    Key to any successful debate is managing the basic responsibilities: who is obligated to defend what. If responsibilities aren’t limited, a debate e.g. over some immediate political issue can easily devolve back into a debate on how we know anything at all–philosophically interesting, perhaps, but far from the original topic. And if the responsibilities aren’t clearly defined, participants can find the debate slipping from one issue to another in what may be an unproductive fashion.

    https://scientistscitizens.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/debate-in-the-blogosphere-a-small-case-study/

    You have no idea how many scientists entered the Auditor’s corrida oblivious to the fact that they were the bull being chased down. They usually start all cocky, mocking small pokes. As the dance progresses, they become overloaded with commitments they simply can’t manage. Then they say something too fast, they lose face, everybody lulz sotto vocce. The scientist disappears.

    A bit like the famous Eyes Wide Shut masked ball scene, but without the exultory sacrifice.

    ***

    Your point regarding cognitive biases is an important one regarding Clifford’s thesis – the fact that each and every individual is subject to self-deception. (This may have been the point of Mosphit’s link to an article discussion that very topic.) If we can all fool ourselves, then Clifford’s thesis implies everything an individual believes could very well be morally wrong. A softer thesis would shift that responsibility toward collective efforts. Not only are we stuck with one another on this big boat that is the Earth, but we’re all in a way responsible for one another. We could of course weaken this thesis furthermore.

    Only the last point pertains to the “substantive” issue raised by the interview.

  80. izen says:

    @-Chubbs
    “In this case though, the shipowner is sailing with the emigrants and ignoring with the chief engineer.”

    What form of personhood has made that choice?
    Perhaps the emergent intentionality of an economic system has a different sense, or measure of self-preservation than a biological individual.
    Or at least a different moral relevancy given that suffering for exxon may not be the same as suffering for a biological ethical agent.

  81. Willard says:

    > When we assert such things publicly as angech’s (in)abilities, we create public commitments to prove propositions that we cannot. One might call that peddling.

    As I understand it, peddling happens when a ClimateBall ™ player plays visitor.

    Trying to prove that angech has peddled nothing in the thread would be as hard as proving negative existentials in general. It is way easier to refute the claim. So here is a short list, out of his last comment alone: ownership over the “skeptic” label; “insult” we should feel on labeling; “due diligence” regarding AGW; the clash between his own evidence base to disbelieve “climate science” and those of his opponent; the backtrack to “my assertion remains correct from my viewpoint.”

    Trying to peddle so much in so many words may explain why his comments look more like scattershots than paragraphs. Only the clash between his and them’s evidence base may be of relevance to our actual topic. To that effect, notice how angech presumes his own due diligence. Challenging that may not be optimal. Wonder how? Try me.

    Judging the efficacy of angech’s comments by their “substance” alone would be a mistake.

  82. verytallguy says:

    Blimey Brandon, I’m not sure my interjection was worth such a response, I’m humbled.

    I shall beware of tilting raptors at windmills in future!

  83. VTG … I’m …. humbled by your humility … thank you. What can I say other than I was feeling a passion this morning.

    I might have to wrestle you for the titular role in this production of Man of La Mancha.

  84. As I understand it, peddling happens when a ClimateBall ™ player plays visitor.

    That’s got to be a recent understanding — I’m sure you’ve thrown the peddling card on Denizens in their home court. I’d call foul … but ClimateBall. Oh, and look at what you just made me do.

    Only the clash between his and them’s evidence base should be relevant to our actual topic.

    Wait … there’s an actual topic?

    Judging the efficacy of angech’s comments by their “substance” alone would be a mistake.

    🙂

    Thank you, Willard.

  85. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Willard, in how much of a very real sense does the cat actually sit on the mat?

  86. BBD says:

    @ Vinny

    Willard, in how much of a very real sense does the cat actually sit on the mat?

    When you can smell the cat’s bottom, you know it is sitting on the mat.

  87. Willard says:

    > I’m sure you’ve thrown the peddling card on Denizens in their home court.

    Possible. The first usage was for BarryW, here.

    I’d like to find another metaphor that would fit the ClimateBall theme.

  88. BBD says:

    Keepie uppie?

  89. Willard says:

    “The cat sits on the mat” is true if and only if the cat sits on the mat, Vinny.

    “You make no sense!” and “TL;DR” or “you’re splitting hair” always make for an interesting double bind.

  90. Possible. The first usage was for BarryW, here.

    Willard | August 28, 2015 at 2:10 pm |
    Why should I answer loaded questions that help you peddle in your CAGW meme, Danny?

    There are three or four others, two from this year alone. An older one was directed at BarryW on Judy’s turf.

    I’d like to find another metaphor that would fit the ClimateBall theme.

    Penalty calls are always good. Association or American football, mayyybe rugby. Uh, water polo? Real polo?

    Why are there no field sports played on tricycles?

  91. Willard says:

    Fair enough – “playing visitor” is too strong.

    OTOH, look at the exchange:

    [W] Not at all. It’s a disciplinary matrix of implicit of explicit commitments which has an epistemic and even a cognitive impact on researchers. And by “researchers” we must include more than professionals, but auditors, denizens, etc.

    [B] Must we include MSM as part of etc? http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2015/0828/An-emerging-challenge-to-science-s-credibility

    Pick an open ended list, inject anything remotely relevant, burden your opponent with a silly greenline test.

  92. It’s fairly clear that Willard believes ‘peddling’ requires an instanciation from the general to the speciffic – especially to bring up a repetitive personal agenda/theme. It would be helpful though if a search of either the Contrarian Matrix or ClimateBall gave us a hit 🙂

    ****************************************
    Willard: September 8, 2014 at 11:38 pm
    > Willard promised to do so a while ago but never got around to it.

    I actually did, Vinny:

    Basically, it’s using someone else’s claim to peddle your own pet topic, e.g. alarmism. It’s like running with someone else’s squirrel.

    Peddling ain’t that bad, as long as it does not turn into a food fight. And when it does, a pox in all the houses.

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/the-road-to-hell/#comment-28117

    An older instance:

    That’s a peddling trick, AT. You mention someone S and Foxgoose feels anything that involves S is relevant or something. And now that Foxgoose has the feet on the door, he can raise any concerns he wants about your person.

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/years-of-living-dangerously/#comment-19412

    Hope this helps,
    **********************************************************

    Elsewhere in the thread he differentiates between derailing and peddling.

  93. Willard says:

    Interestingly, the oldest occurence seems to be from Don Don himself:

    What other science tries to sell an alleged massive consensus using toothpaste peddling tactics? The pause is killing your cause. You need to step up your game.

    I miss Don Don. Let’s hope teh Donald won’t need him for much longer.

  94. Willard – I would argue that Don is using ‘peddling’ in its standard selling/sales usage – not as reference to a ClimateBall tactic. That he uses it in a climate context notwithstanding. When he says, “toothpaste peddling tactics” I think it’s clear he means ‘toothpaste selling tactics’.

    If only a climate context were needed, then Keith Kloor Is Judith Curry Peddling Disinformation dates back to 9, Nov, 2011.

  95. I always took it as street peddlers selling patent medicines myself. Ye Olde Snake Oil and all that yadda. From there it’s an easy step to three-card Monte sharps and shell game (pea/thimble) hustlers.

    Re: Consensus evangelism, I would say the main reason climate science is … unique … in that respect is because of the global policy implications. Contrarians would not have attacked it in force to begin with if it were some backwater “science” nobody cares about … like astronomy.

    My attitude is, duh, of course it got political and got the social and political sciences involved. How would something of such import NOT gone there?

  96. Willard,

    Pick an open ended list, inject anything remotely relevant, burden your opponent with a silly greenline test.

    Ah. It’s not science, but it’s important.

  97. Willard,

    >the damages to the future generations and the world from fossil fuel use are small compared to the damage done by a burgeoning population and forest destruction.

    Citation needed.

    Could be a transmogrification error. This is the most recent I’ve seen making the rounds along these lines, courtesy of Nature: The ravages of guns, nets and bulldozers:

    There is a growing tendency for media reports about threats to biodiversity to focus on climate change. Here we report an analysis of threat information gathered for more than 8,000 species. These data revealed a contrasting picture. We found that by far the biggest drivers of biodiversity decline are overexploitation (the harvesting of species from the wild at rates that cannot be compensated for by reproduction or regrowth) and agriculture (the production of food, fodder, fibre and fuel crops; livestock farming; aquaculture; and the cultivation of trees).

    […]

    Of all the plant, amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal species that have gone extinct since ad 1500, 75% were harmed by overexploitation or agricultural activity or both (often in combination with the introduction of invasive alien species7). Climate change will become an increasingly dominant problem in the biodiversity crisis3. But human development and population growth mean that the impacts of overexploitation and agricultural expansion will also increase.

    […]

    Crucially, ensuring that overexploitation and agricultural activities today do not compromise ecosystems tomorrow will help to ameliorate the challenges presented by impending climate change. Healthy ecosystems are better repositories for carbon. They are also more likely to provide the physical connectivity and genetic diversity needed to enable species to adapt to the large shifts in climate expected later this century10.

    Conservationists, weary of tackling herculean, long-standing problems, could be forgiven for being drawn to newer ones. Nonetheless, we appeal to all concerned with the sustainability of life on Earth to take stock of the current balance of threats — and refocus their efforts on the enemies of old.

    Ref. 3 may quantify “increasingly dominant”: Foden, W. B. et al. PLoS ONE 8, e65427 (2013).

  98. Brandon – isn’t this exactly the “imminence” problem that Hansen talks about (see BBD’s link above)?

    Imminence.Recently a smart young person told me that she tends to discount global warming as a concern, because of prior assertions that we only had 5 years or 10 years before disastrous consequences — and her observation that not much has changed in the past 5 years.

    That exposes another communications problem. Scientists did not expect sea level rise of meters or “a different planet” in 5 or 10 or 20 years. In 2005 (AGU meeting) I noted that we needed to get on a different global emissions path, with decreasing emissions, within 10 years — not because dramatic climate change would occur in 10 years, but because otherwise we will build into the climate system future changes that will be out of our control.

    Climate effects are occurring already and are generally consistent with expectations. The perceptive person should notice that the climate dice are now loaded. However, changes so far a A frequently cited alternative, use of observed climate change of the past century, does not yield a useful constraint because the net climate forcing is unknown (assumed aerosol forcing can be described best as an educated guess) and inferred sensitivity also depend on uncertain transient ocean mixing. are small compared with what will happen if we are so foolish as to continue down the path of extracting and burning every fossil fuel we can find.”

    We should not forget other threats to deal with climate change, but saying effects now are small – hence they will remain small, seems a rather naive assumption. It also meshes right in with his “Jumping the Gun” message in the same essay.

  99. oneillsinwisconsin,

    isn’t this exactly the “imminence” problem that Hansen talks about (see BBD’s link above)?

    Good question. The commonality is a false sense of security in the present. Hansen’s argument is about delaying efforts due (implicitly) to things not being dramatic now. Maxwell et al. are making an argument about misallocation of present effort because too many eyes are looking forward, not enough eyes on now.

    So similar but not exact, even though the outcome tends to lack of present action leading to greater future damages in both arguments.

    We should not forget other threats to deal with climate change, but saying effects now are small – hence they will remain small, seems a rather naive assumption.

    I agree … and that’s NOT my reading of Maxwell but IS how I’ve been seeing it argued.

  100. Willard says:

    > Of all the plant, amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal species that have gone extinct since ad 1500, 75% were harmed by overexploitation or agricultural activity or both (often in combination with the introduction of invasive alien species7).

    Thanks for the cite, BG.

    Overexploitation and agriculture may more in common with AGW than the claim I was challenging presumes: the damages to the future generations and the world from fossil fuel use are small compared to the damage done by a burgeoning population and forest destruction.

    Fossil fuel seems to appear on both sides of the dilemma.

  101. dikranmarsupial says:

    WIllard ” Therefore I’ll take it as a challenge to clarify what I mean by “head fake,” ”

    That is an example of judging what is “being done” incorrectly. There was no challenge, simply a request to use less jargon so that I could be more confident I had understood your intended meaning. As it happened I looked up “head fake” (that one was fairly easy as it turned out not to be a technical term)/

  102. dikranmarsupial says:

    “I could dismiss your counterfactual about the reader’s background as speculative.”

    I don’t have to speculate about my background. ;o)

  103. verytallguy says:

    Brandon,

    Why are there no field sports played on tricycles?

    I raise you tricycle polo

  104. Willard says:

    > That is an example of judging what is “being done” incorrectly. There was no challenge, simply a request […]

    A simple request usually starts with something like “please clarify,” not “your reader may not have the same background.” The request came with a justification up front, a justification that supports the idea that rhetoric is not just a dirty word. If I don’t satisfy that request, I could be letting down all these hypothetical readers.

    I took upon me to meet that “reader’s challenge.” Just like interpreting Moshpit’s videos as arguments, interpreting that request as a challenge looks perfectly legitimate to me. While I don’t need to commit to a possible debate about the fine distinction between a request and a challenge, I will recall that the two notions don’t operate at the same level: a request is a speech act, while a challenge serves an argumentative function.

    After the fulfilment of a requests or challenges comes an acknowledgment, not “but it wasn’t a challenge, but a request,” usually more so in case of simple requests.

  105. Willard says:

    > I don’t have to speculate about my background.

    Are you suggesting you’re my only reader?

  106. dikranmarsupial says:

    There were no hypothetical readers, just a request made in an slightly idiomatic/eliptical manner (as it happens illustrating the point that determining intentions in online discussions is not straightforward, especially if the background of the reader is not taken into account).

    “The request came with a justification up front, a justification that supports the idea that rhetoric is not just a dirty word.”

    I don’t know where that comes from. Again, I think you are reading rather more into what I have said than is actually there. Rhetoric has a number of meanings, “the art or study of using language effectively and persuasively.” sounds like a good idea (depending on what you want to be persuasive about), or at least being able to avoid using language in a way that prevents us from being persuasive, “Language that is elaborate, pretentious, insincere, or intellectually vacuous:” I am rather less keen on. I would have thought that most of us would agree on that and there is no need for anyone to justify it.

  107. dikranmarsupial says:

    “Are you suggesting you’re my only reader?”

    No, as that is self-evidently incorrect it is unlikely to be what I meant. As I said it was an idiomatic/eliptical way of hinting that *I* was finding you difficult to understand because of your insistance on using jargon terms, rather than plain English.

  108. Caveat: May contain ill-informed opinion:

    “He [Clifford] concludes that it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”

    I think the thing that is missing here is that belief is continuous rather than binary (believe or don’t believe with nothing in the middle). As Hume wrote “A wise man apportions his beliefs to the evidence.”, which I take to mean that we shouldn’t rule anything in/out that is not a logical certainty/impossibility and that we should retain all feasible hypotheses, but have a different level of belief in each according to its support from evidence/reasoning (I am assuming that Clifford is not speaking of just observational/experimental evidence). So the thing that is “wrong” is in being biased, i.e. having a degree of belief that is not consistent with the strength of the evidence.

    “[W]e are morally responsible for our beliefs because (a) each belief that we form creates the cognitive circumstances for related beliefs to follow, and (b) we inevitably influence each other through those beliefs.”

    I think this is a useful way of looking at it, especially (b).

    “whatever is reliably converging toward truth could in the end be called science.”

    I think that would be to broad a definition of science for me. If someone’s strategy was to rummage through a notional “bag of hypotheses” and chose the hypothesis that best suited they prior beliefs/desires/program and stuck with it until it was definitively shown to be wrong and then went back to the “bag of hypotheses” to find the next most attractive hypotheses, then that would be asymptotically converging towards the truth, but I wouldn’t regard that as science, which for me has to be actively truth seeking, rather than passively willing to accept the truth. Of course this is plausibly the way some scientists go about their research, but “science is what scientists do” isn’t an appealing definition of science for me either.

    “For one thing ethics, like science, can provide useful guidance independent of certainty. Not every decision with clear benefits to human health and survival needs to pass strict meta-ethical scrutiny to be of reasonable utility (Hume would agree).”

    Me too!

    “One benefit of recognizing fallibility is that it keeps us from being dogmatic both in terms of facts and values, which to my mind is of great assistance to the self-correcting projects of science and philosophy.”

    I like this point very much. GEP Box wrote “statisticians, like artists, have the bad habit of falling in love with their models”, I rather doubt that scientists or philosophers are any different.

  109. Willard says:

    > There were no hypothetical readers, just a request made in an slightly idiomatic/eliptical manner (as it happens illustrating the point that determining intentions in online discussions is not straightforward, especially if the background of the reader is not taken into account).

    No intention needs to be determined to see that *again* appealing to the “background of the reader” reinforces the idea that it was used as an argument in the first place. One does not simply make “just a request” by making an argument. It *is* legitimate to feel challenged by an argument.

    And yet again, no acknowledgement that the request has been fufilled – by chance I wrote my comment for “the reader” and not for you.

    ***

    > I don’t know where that comes from.

    Yet you repeat that you’re not keen on rhetoric as “language that is elaborate, pretentious, insincere, or intellectually vacuous.”

    It comes from your overall dismissiveness of what you purports doesn’t contain any substantiveness, e.g.:

    I don’t really follow the tags used to discuss ClimateBall, and try and keep to the substance (I assumed there was some) of the discussion.

    If also comes from your self-portrayal as a truth seeker:

    If “what is being done” is truth seeking discussion of climate then the answer will be a productive step forward in that discussion, if it what is being done is “ClimateBall” then the answer (as angech’s above) generally shows that further discussion is unnecessary (and indeed pointless).

    It also comes from dodging a point using smileys:

    I don’t have to speculate about my background. ;o)

    All this while sealioning angech.

    You’re playing ClimateBall, Dikran, whether you intend it or not. Playing the Very Serious guy doesn’t immunize yourself against it.

  110. Willard says:

    > I think the thing that is missing here is that belief is continuous rather than binary (believe or don’t believe with nothing in the middle).

    I agree – one can have an opinion without having a “strong opinion” on something. Not all beliefs play a role in crucial evidence-based decisions.

    It may be important to consider that Clifford survived a shipwreck.

  111. Willard wrote “Yet you repeat that you’re not keen on rhetoric as “language that is elaborate, pretentious, insincere, or intellectually vacuous.”

    You seem to have missed the fact that I also explicitly said that rhetoric in the sense of “the art or study of using language effectively and persuasively.” (which is the sense you seem interested in) is a good thing, and instead fixated on my dislike of rhetoric in the sense of “language that is elaborate, pretentious, insincere, or intellectually vacuous.” (why would anybody like that?). As I said, judging intentions in online discussions is difficult, but ignoring the evidence that suggests your judgement was wrong is perhaps not such a good thing.

  112. “You’re playing ClimateBall, Dikran, whether you intend it or not.”

    Yes, of course, a lot of interactions on climate blogs are inevitably going to be ClimateBall. I have found the best strategy for me is stick to the science (of course being only human, I don’t always stick to that). However that doesn’t mean that any discussion of climate is necessarily ClimateBall, even where there is a disagreement, it depends on the attitude of the participants. Doesn’t happen very often though, I’ll happily admit that.

    “Playing the Very Serious guy doesn’t immunize yourself against it.”

    you obviously are unaware of my moustache ;o})

  113. Dikran writes:”I think the thing that is missing here is that belief is continuous rather than binary ”

    I quoted Clifford upthread which would seem to provide precisely that continuum:
    Moreover there are many cases in which it is our duty to act upon probabilities, although the evidence is not such as to justify present belief;

    If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If a belief is held that inspires no action or inaction, is it relevant? Belief is binary, the need to act is not.

    Willard’s response was that Clifford lacks context; though W. then refined that to a desire for a hierarchy of belief – consequence pairs (triplets?). Clifford does touch on consequences in “Ethics of Belief” by stating that a belief should not be judged on its accidental consequences. I’m leaning towards thinking that W’s context concern is irrelevant to the morality of holding a belief and that ranking non-trivial beliefs is likely a fool’s game; i.e., we cannot foresee the consequences of any given belief.

  114. angech says:

    “If we did not have a sea lion here commentating would it pay to invent him or someone like him.”
    I feel that ATTP blog discussion is good because he allows some dissenting voices here.
    This shows the growing maturity in the blog.
    Blogs that allow some range of opinion are more satisfying to read, more thought provoking and more fun to occasionally try to get involved in.
    Not everyone here agrees but I think that in doing so there is a wider range of viewers attracted to the blog.
    Willard is a little to deep for me which frustrates me as I am usually quite well at home with English. Dikran my comment was an observation which was true from my viewpoint and carried no insult implied or overt or intended.

  115. Willard says:

    > I quoted Clifford upthread which would seem to provide precisely that continuum: […]

    That continuum refers to what is believed. We can believe propositions, i.e. things that are true or false, but also things that may be in between, like the belief that there’s 1 chance out of 4 of getting two heads after tossing two coins. If B(p) expresses the belief function, it’s p that is in a continuum in Clifford’s model, not B. My own point concerns the belief function itself. Belief intensity varies: it goes from deeply entrenched beliefs to sport bets. Stereotypes offer a range of intensity, from everyday racism to outright bigotry.

    If we accept Clifford’s thesis, then we need to accept that human beings are morally wrong. We all have biases. Our cognition has a cultural dimension.

    ***

    > [C]ontext […] is irrelevant to the morality of holding a belief and that ranking non-trivial beliefs is likely a fool’s game; i.e., we cannot foresee the consequences of any given belief.

    Clifford’s argument wouldn’t work if beliefs had no consequence. It works by assuming that all beliefs can have potential consequences that morally matter. As I read it, Clifford’s thesis implies that there’s no such thing as a non-trivial belief.

    While the idea that any belief carries a moral potential may have merit on holist ground (I am referring to our web of beliefs), there are clear cases where our beliefs carry little hazard. I believe that the PK Subban trade was wrong. I’m even willing to argue my case with everyone willing to listen to my 5 minutes’ rant on it. My rant provides all the evidence basis I need, even if I may never know if it’s sufficient or not. It even recurses my will to find evidence for it. I don’t think I need to worry about the moral implications of that belief – I certainly don’t dismiss the fact that Shea Weber is a hell of a hockey player. I shall continue to root for my own team. Perhaps not in October. I still need to shake it off.

    ***

    Our predicament hasn’t afforded us with a God’s eye view from which we can judge the sufficiency of our evidence basis. In other words, Clifford’s begging an important question, which James elegantly underlines:

    When the Cliffords tell us how sinful it is to be Christians on such ‘insufficient evidence,’ insufficiency is really the last thing they have in mind. For them the evidence is absolutely sufficient, only it makes the other way. They believe so completely in an anti-christian order of the universe that there is no living option: Christianity is a dead hypothesis from the start.

    When I was speaking of context, I had in mind both the intensity and the pragmatic relevance of a belief. My point about the God’s eye view allows me to introduce the notion of perspective. We need to distinguish between external and internal views of belief systems. Externalism only works when we go beyond the individual. Clifford evaluates the beliefs of individuals from a transcendantal viewpoint. This doesn’t work for me.

  116. angech wrote “Dikran my comment was an observation which was true from my viewpoint and carried no insult implied or overt or intended.”

    The observation in question was from angech’s previous comment:

    “… Why slander people with being political or ideological when people who support the findings of climate science are also driven by politics and ideology.
    Most people at this site would admit to being skeptics in life *except for their belief in climate science, being skeptical is a very good trait. In my mind it does not marry very well with politics or ideology.”

    Note that it is “slander” when it is suggested that climate skeptics are politically or ideologically motivated, but there is no insult intended or implied when a similar suggestion is made about “most people at this site” (and climate scientists). This seems somewhat inconsistent to me (as completely lacking in evidence).

  117. izen says:

    @-“we cannot foresee the consequences of any given belief.”

    But we can observe the consequences of actions and examine whether belief was a factor in motivating those choices.

    Now that religious beliefs can be held by corporations the context of moral relevancy has expanded.
    I am unsure whether accepting corporate personhood is surrendering to relativism or tolerance of plurality.
    Or just pragmatic.

  118. Willard says:

    > Dikran my comment was an observation which was true from my viewpoint and carried no insult implied or overt or intended.

    Truth may not have a viewpoint, angech. The best you could argue is that it’s justified. Moreover, you don’t get to decide if something you say is overtly insulting or not. Dikran has every reason to find it insulting: it’s crap. It’s more than crap: it’s being peddled using more crap. When I say that you’re peddling crap, you can consider it as an observation with no insult implied, overt or intended if you please.

    I’ll have more trust in your command of English when you’ll write paragraphs.

    Thank you for your concerns, and please stop playing the ref.

  119. Willard – “there are clear cases where our beliefs carry little hazard. ” — I did say non-trivial beliefs. I also posited that a belief that inspires no action or inaction is irrelevant. This would be more or less in agreement with Clifford’s “Nor is that truly a belief at all which has not some influence upon the actions of him who holds it ….. No real belief, however trifling and fragmentary it may seem, is ever truly insignificant…

    In the example of a sports bet I would ask first, is this bet the result of a belief in knowing the outcome or is it an action not spurred by belief, but perhaps simply a desire for entertainment? I.e., not all actions are spurred by belief. If the former, then we have to ask, is the belief based on sufficient evidence and/or is the action it inspires acceptable?

    Clifford in the “Ethics of Belief” is laying out a groundwork for the valid formation of beliefs. When you write, “Not only are we believing propositions, i.e. things that are true or false, but things that may be true or false. ” you have left Clifford behind. He does not agree that we can believe things that *may* be true or false. We can acknowledge that a proposition *may* be true or false, but our duty then is to suspend belief until we have sufficient evidence to believe.

    As for, “Clifford’s argument wouldn’t work if beliefs never had no consequence.” I will pretend to know what you meant here and if I gave reason to believe otherwise, then it was poor wording on my part. My reading of Clifford is that the morality of the belief is not a direct reflection of the morality of the action(s) it spurs which in turn are not direct reflections of the consequences of the action(s). The beliefs/actions relationships may be one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-one. Yet, a belief can still be adjudged independent of the actions and independent of the consequences. This is the whole point of the alternative ending to the shipowner thought experiment. The consequences change, but the morality of the belief does not. It is in this sense that the morality of the belief is independent of the consequences. Not that beliefs have no consequences.

    Unfortunately he died just a couple of years after “The Ethics of Belief.” Perhaps he would have elaborated if given more time.

  120. Willard says:

    > I did say non-trivial beliefs. I also posited that a belief that inspires no action or inaction is irrelevant. This would be more or less in agreement with Clifford’s “Nor is that truly a belief at all which has not some influence upon the actions of him who holds it ….. No real belief, however trifling and fragmentary it may seem, is ever truly insignificant…”

    I find it hard not to see a true Scotsman fallacy:

    (1) All beliefs have moral impact.
    (2) If a credence has no moral impact, it’s not a true belief.

    This interpretation *defines* belief as something that morally matters, and thus weakens Clifford’s thesis quite a lot. One way to make the thesis relevant to argumentative settings would be to say: one does not simply justify a conclusion by appealing to one’s own beliefs. Under that interpretation, saying “AGW is false because I believe so” would be infelicitous.

    (Compare and contrast with angech’s new perspectivism.)

    Just like there are other contexts than argumentative ones, there are other roles for beliefs than playing an evidentiary role. My belief that trading PK Subban is wrong inspires me to rant about it. You can’t dismiss it as irrelevant.

    ***

    > [A] belief can still be adjudged independent of the actions and independent of the consequences.

    Only if the adjudicators have access to an X-ray machine to get into everyone’s mind and a Rulebook where we can check if the entertained belief is sufficiently justified within the belief bearer. We don’t have such machine. We have many rulebooks, and most of them rely on social norms.

    To repeat for a third time, Clifford’s thesis runs against the evidence we have is that we all have biases and that our cognition develops along our cultural identity. Applying Clifford’s thesis to Clifford’s thesis itself, I’d say it’s insufficiently justified on empirical grounds, and thus morally wrong. Having to choose between the idea that all humans are morally wrong and another ethics, I’ll go for the latter.

  121. Willard writes: “It may be important to consider that Clifford survived a shipwreck.”

    And judging by this from “The Ethics of Belief” one might assume Clifford had not reached a state of forgiveness 🙂

    If Ohm’s Law were suddenly lost and forgotten by all men, while the question and method of solution remained, the result could be rediscovered in an hour. But the result by itself, if known to a people who could not comprehend the value of the question or the means of solving it, would be like a watch in the hands of a savage who could not wind it up, or an iron steamship worked by Spanish engineers.

  122. Willard says:

    > or an iron steamship worked by Spanish engineers.

    Seems that even Clifford knows how peddling works.

  123. Willard – “To repeat for a third time, Clifford’s thesis runs against the evidence we have is that we all have biases and that our cognition develops along our cultural identity.

    “No simplicity of mind, no obscurity of station, can escape the universal duty of questioning all that we believe.”

    “We all suffer severely enough from the maintenance and support of false beliefs …”

    ??? Clifford specifically accepts all of this. He writes at length about it. It is our duty to question everything. Clifford was specifically criticizing religious belief — a belief that is almost completely due to cultural identity. Of tradition in general he wrote:

    “What shall we say of that authority, more venerable and august than any individual witness, the time-honoured tradition of the human race? An atmosphere of beliefs and conceptions has been formed by the labours and struggles of our forefathers, which enables us to breathe amid the various and complex circumstances of our life. It is around and about us and within us; we cannot think except in the forms and processes of thought which it supplies. Is it possible to doubt and to test it? and if possible, is it right?

    We shall find reason to answer that it is not only possible and right, but our bounden duty; that the main purpose of the tradition itself is to supply us with the means of asking questions, of testing and inquiring into things; that if we misuse it, and take it as a collection of cut-and-dried statements to be accepted without further inquiry, we are not only injuring ourselves here, but, by refusing to do our part towards the building up of the fabric which shall be inherited by our children, we are tending to cut off ourselves and our race from the human line.”

    Clifford’s thesis is *based* on the premise that we all have individual and cultural biases – that’s why we should always be careful in forming and and constantly re-examining our beliefs.

  124. Willard says:

    > It is our duty to question everything.

    And what’s Clifford’s evidence basis for that radical belief? Thought experiments.

    I don’t find that sufficient. Do you?

  125. I don’t know, Willard, where would physics be without thought experiments?

  126. izen says:

    @-“I don’t find that sufficient. Do you?”

    No.
    But his further point – “We all suffer severely enough from the maintenance and support of false beliefs …” would seem to have copious historical backing.
    Knowledge deficit and Motivated reasoning have a bigger role in past moral hazard than skepticism. Ignorance and dogmatism have caused more harm to the innocent than adaption driven by skepticism.
    Clifford may right that there is an ethical failing in holding an unjustified belief even when that has no consequence.
    When it does, (Hobby Lobby?) then the question of moral agency can become a little less concerned with whether it throws light on the fact/value problem.

  127. No idea, BG. I don’t think Galileo was calling his “evidence.” That the notion of evidence came later may be prejudicial to that counterfactual. What I know is that Church-Turing thesis rests on more solid evidence than Clifford’s.

    Ian Hacking holds that the emergence of the notion of probability came late because before Pascal & al, we did not have a concept of evidence. Or something along these lines. I’d need to check, but am on my tablet.

    Does this make my comment morally wrong?

    ***

    The short of it is that adjudicators are institutions or collectives and that Clifford’s thesis applies to the individual level. Even as a moral imperative his evidentialism seems problematic.

    The best offer I have for now is the proposition to extend his thesis to the social sphere. We’re all in it together. Our duty of due diligence should be proportional to our capabilities.

  128. izen says:

    @-“We’re all in it together. Our duty of due diligence should be proportional to our capabilities.”

    The doubts and means of dismissing them may have been common to many, but the ship-owner had the capability to act.
    What we should do may be secondary to who can.

  129. Willard says:

    >“We all suffer severely enough from the maintenance and support of false beliefs …” would seem to have copious historical backing.

    Even sufficiently justified beliefs can be wrong. The history of science is a graveyard of falsified beliefs that at one time were thought sufficiently justified. This argues for fallibilism, not Clifford’s thesis.

    Since history is what humans did, blaming them for having made history only recycles the myth of the original sin into ethics.

    ***

    Here would be one way to justify deontology:

    DANIEL KAHNEMAN: The benefit that people get from taking a deontological position is that they look more trustworthy. Let’s look at the other side of this. If I take a consequentialist position, it means that you can’t trust me because, under some circumstances, I might decide to break the rule in my interaction with you. I was puzzled when I was looking at this. What is the essence of what is going on here? Is it deontology or trustworthiness? It doesn’t seem to be the same to say we are wired to like people who take a deontological position, or we are wired to like people who are trustworthy. Which of these two is it?

    MOLLY CROCKETT: What the work suggests is that we infer how trustworthy someone is going to be by observing the kinds of judgments and decisions that they make. If I’m interacting with you, I can’t get inside your head. I don’t know what your utility function looks like. But I can infer what that utility function is by the things that you say and do.

    This is one of the most important things that we do as humans. I’ve become increasingly interested in how we build mental models of other people’s preferences and beliefs and how we make inferences about what those are, based on observables. We infer how trustworthy someone is going to be based on their condemnation of wrongdoing and their advocating a hard-and-fast morality over one that’s more flexible.

    https://www.edge.org/conversation/molly_crockett-daniel_kahneman-deontology-or-trustworthiness

    Good ol’ rhetoric to save Kantianism. Great times.

  130. Willard writes: “Clifford’s thesis runs against the evidence we have is that we all have biases and that our cognition develops along our cultural identity”

    And then writes “And what’s Clifford’s evidence basis for that radical belief? [that it is our duty to question everything] Thought experiments.”

    I would suggest his evidence is that we all have biases and that our cognition develops along our cultural identity. Exactly the point you were raising and mistakenly applying to Clifford.

    He goes much further than thought experiments. He compares the beliefs of religion (Islam, Christianity and Buddhism) much as Thomas Paine did in An Examination of the Prophecies.

    If there were only he [Christ], and no other, with such claims! But there is Mohammed with his testimony; we cannot choose but listen to them both. The Prophet tells us that there is one God, and that we shall live for ever in joy or misery, according as we believe in the Prophet or not. The Buddha says that there is no God, and that we shall be annihilated by and by if we are good enough. Both cannot be infallibly inspired; one or other must have been the victim of a delusion, and thought he knew that which he really did not know. Who shall dare to say which? and how can we justify ourselves in believing that the other was not also deluded?

    Tradition, cultural norms, religion – they all bear the same scrutiny:

    The rule which should guide us in such cases is simple and obvious enough: that the aggregate testimony of our neighbours is subject to the same conditions as the testimony of any one of them. Namely, we have no right to believe a thing true because everybody says so unless there are good grounds for believing that some one person at least has the means of knowing what is true, and is speaking the truth so far as he knows it.

  131. Willard says:

    > I would suggest his evidence is that we all have biases and that our cognition develops along our cultural identity. Exactly the point you were raising and mistakenly applying to Clifford.

    Your “mistakenly” begs the question at hand. I claim that from Clifford’s thesis and what we know about human cognition follow that every single human being that ever lived and will ever live on this planet is morally wrong. You claim that this argues for each and everyone’s duty to always seek sufficient evidence.

    What’s missing from your inference is the jump from is to ought. Mine has one: Clifford’s thesis itself.

  132. Willard,

    Does this make this comment morally wrong?

    You signaled doubt in the correctness of your argument, pending further review. That tells your audience to not accept your *implied* belief with any degree of confidence. Thus you are *arguably* absolved from any moral questions arising out of whatever otters choose to believe on the basis of your comment.

    I won’t say that your comment is not morally wrong, only that any *putative* moral wrongness on your part is plausibly deniable. I let the reader decide, just as you have done.

    I’m off to read about Church-Turing with the intent to return to the question of thought experiments and hypothesis formation.

  133. Willard says:

    > You signaled doubt in the correctness of your argument, pending further review. That tells your audience to not accept your *implied* belief with any degree of confidence.

    A Cliffordian would not care less about such signalling, unless such signalling would provide good grounds for believing what I say. How to establish such good grounds may have been left as an exercise to readers. You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s good grounds all the way down!”

    I wonder what Clifford would say of teh Internetz.

  134. Willard says:

    > What we should do may be secondary to who can.

    Indeed, and our actual ship builders, sellers, owners, and regulators are not individuals.

    Just like the AGW is a we-problem, the maintenance of our mutual web of beliefs is a we-duty too.

  135. Willard,

    A Cliffordian would not care less about such signalling, unless such signalling would provide good grounds for believing what I say.

    I didn’t say anything about whether a Cliffordian would care about signalling. I find that conversations are much more civil and constructive when one party does not insist on redirecting it to the actual topic. I was only going out of my way to offer you some sympathetic advice based on my long experience on other blogs about how otters might be more receptive to your message when you don’t have any *hard evidence*, but no, you just had to go and get all pedantic and hair-splitting on me about which philosopher said what, when and in which context. How can anyone be expected to learn anything with you playing Thinking Cop all the time?

    Just my point of view. These observations are not intended to imply any insult.

    You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s good grounds all the way down!”

    Here’s teh Wikipedia on Church-Turing:

    Informal usage in proofs

    Proofs in computability theory often invoke[44] the Church–Turing thesis in an informal way to establish the computability of functions while avoiding the (often very long) details which would be involved in a rigorous, formal proof. To establish that a function is computable by Turing machine, it is usually considered sufficient to give an informal English description of how the function can be effectively computed, and then conclude “by the Church–Turing thesis” that the function is Turing computable (equivalently, partial recursive).

    … and I thought, “My God, it’s Turings all the way down!”

    Anyway, who needs rigorous, formal proofs when we have near-axiomatic sufficiency? Especially when we can say, “This looks like the thing, so it is the thing”?

    I *may* need to read harder.

    I wonder what Clifford would say of teh Internetz.

    We can’t know of course but something along the lines of “a den of sloth and iniquity” comes to mind.

  136. Willard,

    Just like the AGW is a we-problem, the maintenance of our mutual web of beliefs is a we-duty too.

    I wonder what Betteridge would think of this crap:

    Wikipedia and academic peer review
    Wikipedia as a recognised medium for scholarly publication?

    Abstract

    Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to engage in a thought experiment, exploring the use of Wikipedia or similar content-malleable systems for the review and dissemination of academic knowledge.
    Design/methodology/approach – By looking at other sources, the paper considers the current state of the academic peer-review process, discusses Wikipedia and reflects on dynamic content creation and management applications currently in use in academia. Findings – The traditional peer review process must be updated to match the rapid creation and diffusion of knowledge that characterises the 21st century. The Wikipedia concept is a potential model for more rapid and reliable dissemination of scholarly knowledge. The implications of such a concept would have a dramatic effect on the academic community.
    Originality/value – This paper promotes a radical idea for changing the methods by which academic knowledge is both constructed and disseminated.
    Keywords Peer review, Knowledge creation, Publications, Online operations
    Paper type Research paper

    Introduction

    Imagine that we are designing a restaurant. This restaurant will serve steak. Because we are going to be serving steak, we will have steak knives for the customers. Because the customers will have steak knives, they might stab each other. Therefore, we conclude, we need to put each table into separate metal cages, to prevent the possibility of people stabbing each other… I do not accept the spin that Wikipedia “allows anyone to write anything” just because we do not metaphysically prevent it by putting authors in cages (Jimmy Wales, board member and chairman emeritus, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 April 2006).

    Knowledge is not produced solely in university settings; rather, production has many different venues, including government laboratories, industries and think-tanks (Gibbons et al., 1994). Despite the variety in domains of knowledge production, peer-reviewed journals remain the standard for dissemination of information by individuals working in university environments. Stevan Harnad (1999) describes peer review as a quality control and certification process made necessary by the scale of knowledge being developed in today’s academic environment. Without a review process, discerning the reliability and validity of new work would become an arduous task. According to Sense about Science (2005, p. 6), “Peer review is an essential dividing line for judging what is scientific and what is speculation and opinion”. In 2004 there were approximately 20,000 peer-reviewed journals throughout the international academic community. Together these journals published 1.5 million articles annually (Kandziora, 2004).

    Sub-question: Does Betteridge apply to sub-headlines?

    Further down is some meat:

    Economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek (1945) contradicted the notion of scientific knowledge as the sum of all understanding asserting that every individual is in control of certain information that is beneficial in multiple domains. If we take into account Hayek’s thoughts regarding information and remember the speed and accuracy by which Wikipedia can right a wrong or a malignant posting, it is soon apparent that this editing system not only has the potential for efficiency but effectiveness.

    Now the nail in the coffin:

    Discussion

    Adoption of a Wikipedia or wiki-based open-source, content-malleable system as the standard for knowledge creation and distribution would create a fundamentally new archetype for academia. This model would effectively move the peer-review forum out from behind closed doors into the public arena, allowing the entire internet community to participate in the vetting and debate of new ideas. Today’s academics publish to a small audience of like-minded individuals, namely, other scholars, with the means and ability to access either a print edition of a journal or a database at a public or university library (Harding and Taylor, 2002). By transporting knowledge into the public arena academia effectively promotes participation by anyone who wishes to collaborate, contribute or offer insight, regardless of geographic boundaries or academic pedigree.

    An added bonus is that as academic research gets better because it’s been open-sourced to people willing to do it with no training and for no financial compensation, Wikipedia itself gets better because it considers academic research to be a reliable source. What a wonderfully recursive positive crap feedback amplification this is.

    It’s no wonder Establishment Science loathes Blog Science so much.

  137. Willard writes:

    1)Your “mistakenly” begs the question at hand.
    2)I claim that from Clifford’s thesis and what we know about human cognition follow that every single human being that ever lived and will ever live on this planet is morally wrong.
    3)You claim that this argues for each and everyone’s duty to always seek sufficient evidence.
    What’s missing from your inference is the jump from is to ought. Mine has one: Clifford’s thesis itself.

    [1]The question at hand was: what evidence did Clifford have that we should question everything? Thought experiments? You had already provided the answer – though you used it *mistakenly* to attack Clifford’s position. Perhaps it wasn’t mistaken – perhaps you provided the refutation to your own argument intentionally. So be it. In either case it is not begging the question – it is answering it. And as I pointed out he used more than thought experiments.

    [2]No, I think you’ve leaped a little too far. You have gone from moral beliefs to some general category. I do not know what ‘morally wrong’ means in your sentence divorced from belief. Are you saying we’re all sinners? Clifford would agree. So would I. But that merely warrants a “Thank you Capt Obvious” This does not imply that simply holding an immoral belief makes one an immoral person. Clifford would reserve that ground for those that make a habit of it.

    [3]’You will have to spell this out more clearly. You seem to be saying Clifford can’t be correct because Clifford says we’re all wrong. The something missing is not missing. Clifford is fairly clear on where he derives his goals. I did quote this upthread:

    We shall find reason to answer that it is not only possible and right, but our bounden duty; that the main purpose of the tradition itself is to supply us with the means of asking questions, of testing and inquiring into things; that if we misuse it, and take it as a collection of cut-and-dried statements to be accepted without further inquiry, we are not only injuring ourselves here, but, by refusing to do our part towards the building up of the fabric which shall be inherited by our children, we are tending to cut off ourselves and our race from the human line.

    If one reads Clifford’s Seeing and Thinking, one can find a bit more insight on his teleology. And he was a fan of Darwin. Though one could also argue that holding a belief obligates one to the consequences.

  138. angech says:

    Willard
    “He concludes that it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. The premises I interpret to undergird Clifford’s argument are enough to support the conclusion that our beliefs have morally consequential implications”
    The first statement negates the second, surely?
    “I claim that from Clifford’s thesis and what we know about human cognition follow that every single human being that ever lived and will ever live on this planet is morally wrong”.
    That French mathematician who went a bit funny had a very sad concept. That we are all convicts chained together in life and watching everyone else die until finally it is our own death.
    Laplace?.
    Anyway if one accepts the futility of life our concept of morals as anything other than behavior patterns imposed on us by our culture and our necessity to survive could indicate that morally wrong in your claim is a morally wrong concept?
    Thank you for your advice on my writing.

  139. izen says:

    @-“Anyway if one accepts the futility of life … ”

    Futility is a invented opinion, not derivable from direct observation. You do not ‘accept’ it, it is a moral choice to adopt that view.
    Probably influenced by the ennui of the French intelligentsia in the early 20thC.

    The take-away from Clifford and Torcello is that beliefs influence actions, actions have consequences and therefore there is a moral hazard in adopting beliefs. So we have a duty to skepticaly examine our beliefs if we want to be seen as ethical agents.

    It is possible that moral culpability scales with the power to act with consequence for others. exxon may be a bigger sinner in promulgating the belief that AGW is subject to scientific doubt and therefore responses to the consequences are unwarranted, than a blog poster who has been recruited to that belief. Unless you adopt a binary attitude to sin.

  140. Willard says:

    > I pointed out he used more than thought experiments.

    Clifford’s simplistic analysis of religions don’t substantiate his thesis, but the (1) in that list:

    (0) Beliefs sustain action.
    (1) Beliefs are fallible.
    (2) Actions have moral consequences.
    (3) It is our duty to seek sufficient evidence before holding a belief.
    (4) Believing upon insufficient evidence is always morally wrong.

    There’s at least one premise missing to articulate Clifford’s argument. I’ll let you find it out. You won’t need to read something else from Clifford than his Ethics of Belief.

    There are also in-between missing steps to make the whole inferential. The most important one is between (2) and (3): the jump from a fact to a universal maxim.

    There’s a reason why we call (4) a thesis.

    ***

    > You have gone from moral beliefs to some general category.

    There’s no such thing as a non-moral belief in Clifford’s ontology. Any belief that leads to an action can haz consequences.

    I bought a washing machine the other day with my spouse. That decision wasn’t based on the duty to seek sufficient evidence. It was based on the resources we had at the time. Moreover, it was a collective decision. So we bought the god damn extended warranty. It’s not my decision alone – sometimes, you need to compromise.

    Clifford’s thesis implies *every* single compromise may very well be morally wrong. When I’m telling you that Clifford is taking a God’s eye point of view, it’s barely a metaphor.

  141. Willard says:

    > So we have a duty to skepticaly examine our beliefs if we want to be seen as ethical agents.

    Deontologists may have a better chance by starting to negotiate moral attitudes with something like this than to draw an illusory line in the sand by adding “sufficient evidence,” two concepts that are known to be tough sells and that carry two very different cognitive loads.

    ***

    > Probably influenced by the ennui of the French intelligentsia in the early 20thC.

    The mid 20th was gloomier than the early 20th. To take one father-figure:

    Gabriel Honoré Marcel (French: [ɡa.bʁi.jɛl ɔ.nɔ.ʁe maʁ.sɛl]; 7 December 1889 – 8 October 1973) was a French philosopher, playwright, music critic and leading Christian existentialist. The author of over a dozen books and at least thirty plays, Marcel’s work focused on the modern individual’s struggle in a technologically dehumanizing society. Though often regarded as the first French existentialist, he dissociated himself from figures such as Jean-Paul Sartre, preferring the term ‘Philosophy of Existence’ to define his own thought. The Mystery of Being is a well-known two-volume work authored by Marcel.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriel_Marcel

    Wonderful bunch of writers. Full of love and light.

    Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas & sic transit gloria mundi.

  142. Willard, you wrote: “I claim that from Clifford’s thesis and what we know about human cognition follow that every single human being that ever lived and will ever live on this planet is morally wrong.

    I read this as: From Clifford’s thesis it follows that every *human being* is morally wrong.

    This is the leap I feel is unwarranted. You’ve gone from Clifford’s thesis – on moral beliefs – to a different category, moral human beings. Nowhere is it clear or shown that this leap is justified.

    I could accept: From Clifford’s thesis it follows that every human being (probably) holds morally wrong beliefs.

  143. Willard says:

    > I read this as: From Clifford’s thesis it follows that every *human being* is morally wrong.

    I offered you two premises, O’Neill: (1) Clifford’s thesis and (2) what we know about human cognition. From these two premises follow that every single human being that ever lived and will ever live on this planet is morally wrong. This conclusion comes straightforwardly from the claim that it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence, and the fact that humans are conditioned to believe stuff upon insufficient evidence and act upon insufficent evidence all the time.

    This adaptation of the myth of the original sin justifies Clifford’s maxim of paying due diligence to our beliefs. To get to that maxim, one needs to add that acting morally is a Good Thing. (We also need to assume at least another thing, which I still let you try to find out. Disclosure: I’m using something like it in my argument too.) That acting morally is a good Thing is substantiated by all the tropes showing that the fabric of society collapses when we don’t try to act morally. Or something along those lines. This ringtone is hard to summarize.

    ***

    Your “moral human beings” category *still* ignores that buying a washing machine *does* involve beliefs, that for Clifford *any* belief that leads to consequential action *is* moral, and thus my example *is* relevant. You can’t deny that Clifford’s argument bathes in a pathos that looks fishy as soon as you transpose it in a mundane decision like the act of buying a washing machine.

    What I offered so far is just an incredibility argument. I can strengthen that argument with a more potent one. It’s a bit more formal, but it could be a KO argument. Let’s see if I can spell it out succinctly.

    According to Clifford, one must believe something if and only if one has sufficient evidence for that belief. How do you *know* if you have sufficient evidence for that belief? To know that you have sufficient evidence for a belief, you must hold the justified, true belief that you have sufficient evidence. But then you’d be hard pressed to justify your belief in sufficient evidence with your belief in sufficient evidence: it would be sufficient evidence all the way down.

    In other words, Clifford’s maxim either leads to an infinite search for sufficient evidence or needs to be bootstrapped from outside the belief system of the agent. I choose the latter when I suggest that we externalize Clifford’s requirement. The warrant of sufficient evidence for serious cases like Clifford had in mind comes from our mutual web of beliefs.

    This doesn’t solve Clifford’s conflation between individual and collective decisions. This doesn’t clarify the nebulous concept of sufficient evidence. I’d rather stop here for now, to make sure we agree about the two premises on which my incredibility argument rests.

    Beware that I declare that it’s an incredibility argument because I want to test if you would exploit it, like angech did with sealioning. Behind my incredulity argument hides another one. I’ve already offered you a glimpse of it.

  144. Willard – Unless once accepts a moral analogue of the ”one drop rule’ your premise is not straightforward. Repetition of this claim does not sway me. If it is straighforward, then demonstrate.

    Regarding infinite search: you are ignoring much of what Clifford wrote. As I said much earlier, he is not as harsh as you or Prof. Torcello posit. It is *not* necessary to hold *any* beliefs. Holding a belief is a voluntary act. One can choose to suspend belief and act on probabilities. This is the point of Clifford’s statement – in almost direct reply to your argument – “then one does not have time to believe.”

    In your washing machine episode, what belief did you hold that was immoral?

  145. Willard says:

    > If it is straighforward, then demonstrate.

    I just did, O’Neill, many times:

    [Clifford’s thesis] It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence

    [Human predicament] Humans are conditioned to believe stuff upon insufficient evidence and act upon insufficent evidence all the time

    [Clifford transposition of the Original Since] Every single human being that ever lived and will ever live on this planet is morally wrong.

    The conclusion simply puts the two premises together. If you’re swayed by Clifford’s argument, try to formulate it yourself for a change. A Cliffordian would have done days ago.

  146. Willard says:

    > Regarding infinite search: […] Holding a belief is a voluntary act. One can choose to suspend belief and act on probabilities. This is the point of Clifford’s statement – in almost direct reply to your argument – “then one does not have time to believe.”

    You’re conflating the scope of two arguments: the infinite regress argument targets the “great principles” that have acquired “practical certainty,” while the mundane argument targets our “duty to act upon probabilities.” They are the two separate questions that Clifford dispenses himself in one short paragraph.

    The criteria by which sufficiency of evidence gets decided should be among the “great principles” to which Clifford refers. They thus are among beliefs “which guide our actions in dealing with men” or “in dealing with inanimate bodies.” He justifies them with the laconic: they can take care of themselves. He justifies the wise men’s adoption of them with: [they] have stood out more and more clearly in proportion to the care and honesty with which they were tested.

    Using Clifford’s maxim is thus not something that is being argued rationally: it’s something that already has stood the test of time. How? By applying the maxim, of course. Sometimes, applying a maxim just works. As a bonus, the maxim takes care of itself. Isn’t that just great? You apply principles you are justified to believe because they work. Among them are a set of rules according to which you shan’t believe something upon insufficient evidence, you shan’t suppress evidence, and you shallst always find evidence for your belief. You shall also believe that principle, because it just works and takes care of itself.

    The problem with this construction should be obvious: applying Clifford’s maxim would get stuck if every time I use it I’d need to gather sufficient evidence for it. The maxim can’t apply to itself in an action-based setting. I can’t really test it, for if it could break, it may not have passed the test of time. I therefore need to assume with “practical certainty” that it will work because it worked before, and never failed.

  147. Willard says:

    > In your washing machine episode, what belief did you hold that was immoral?

    Take your pick: my belief that we should buy it, my spouse’s belief that we should by it; our mutual belief that we should buy it. There are many other beliefs that could be invoked: the price we should pay, the trust we put upon the vendor’s sale pitch, etc. Beliefs is the propositional attitude that refers to this kind of mind states, not probability.

    Our decision can only be described as “acting on probabilities” in a very loose sense. I can assure you that no calculation has been involved in our decision to buy the washing machine. There may have been one for the extended warranty, but it was a very rough guestimate: 4 years for 100$ is about two bucks per month, about the price in socks that my previous washing machine was eating. I’m sure my spouse did not take any of this into consideration. And as I already told: this decision was a compromise, the kind of action that breaks Clifford’s apparatus.

    Clifford’s argument fails if we accept that what he refers as principles and probabilities are also beliefs. The notion of belief is the main weakness in Clifford’s construction. There’s no propositional attitude attached to “acting on probabilities”: does it mean that acting on probabilities carry no moral hazard?

    (This question is crucial for his shipwreck thought experiment.)

    As far as I can see, Clifford is trying to bridge morality with knowledge, by analyzing knowledge as a justified belief. He then replaces a truth condition with an evidential condition because of fallibilism, and demotes knowledge to the status of belief. Since justified true belief may not even suffice to analyze knowledge, there’s no reason to expect that knowledge could be analyzed as justified and sufficiently evidenced belief. This too high a price to pay to dispense ourselves of the beliefs that help us do things in the world.

    To Clifford’s “one does not have time to believe,” I respond “belief is just what we need when we can’t afford to know.”

  148. I said that unless one accepts a ‘one drop rule’ then it is not straight forward. You have not shown otherwise. You simply don’t want to say you accept a one drop rule. Furthermore, you then attribute this to Clifford’s thesis.

    To hold a belief on insufficient evidence is wrong. Beliefs have moral consequences.

    John holds 100 beliefs. One of them is based on insufficient evidence. *That* belief is morally wrong. Not the other 99 beliefs. And John? Only by a ‘one drop rule.’ I don’t buy the one drop rule. I’ve asked numerous times for you to show something *other* than a one drop rule. I don’t see a one drop rule in Clifford either.

    Your ‘original sin’ line of argument is also incorrect. Nowhere is it shown or known that an infant even has the capacity for belief. The age at which humans have the ability ‘to believe’ is AFAIK unknown.

    At this point, what could have been interesting, is just boring.

  149. oneillsinwisconsin,

    I don’t see a one drop rule in Clifford either.

    Near as I can tell, it’s implicit. Not only do beliefs have consequences, they have origins.

    At this point, what could have been interesting, is just boring.

    Here I was thinking it was just beginning to get interesting.

  150. Willard says:

    > I said that unless one accepts a ‘one drop rule’ then it is not straight forward.

    All I need to hold is that humans are conditioned to believe stuff upon insufficient evidence and act upon insufficent evidence all the time. Not “all the time” as in “each and every second of our lives,” I mean every day many, many times a day. Cognitive bias is a human predicament that helps us alleviate a cognitive workload which otherwise would imped daily decisions such as buying a washing machine. We use ready-made beliefs to eat, work, think, and even argue. Nobody takes the time to abide by any version of sapere aude for every single belief entertained. Clifford’s “acting on probability” is pure special pleading – a probability does not even refer to a propositional attitude, for Brentano’s sake!

    If every day everyone holds insufficiently based beliefs and that it is *wrong* to do so, what does it tell you about the people’s ethics? The only reading I can think of for blocking that argument by some “one drop rule” is to suppose that our ethics is only evaluated “in action,” i.e. while the belief is activated. People would then not be wrong – they’d be wrong only at the moment they believe something insufficiently evidenced. That’s just silly, and shows you’ve just found an excuse to bypass *every single argument* I’ve taken *hours* to write.

    Meanwhile, you haven’t even bothered to formulate Clifford’s argument. Do you really think that going on textual tangents will compensate? I’ve asked you three times to tell me about uniformity: the property Clifford invokes to project over objects and people a regularity that generalizes beliefs. If you don’t believe in the “one-drop rule” (without ever telling me why, heck without even telling me what it’s supposed to mean in our discussion), then why would you accept uniformity?

  151. Willard says:

    > Your ‘original sin’ line of argument is also incorrect. Nowhere is it shown or known that an infant even has the capacity for belief. The age at which humans have the ability ‘to believe’ is AFAIK unknown.

    As if I was hinting at the fact that infants were wrong the minute they were born. For what it’s worth, we have evidence that 2-years-old detect false beliefs [1]. Some research pushes so far as 15 months [2]. Many researchers assume that infants are born (yes, born) with belief-formation systems [3]. Cliffordians owe us an explanation as to how we should live our lives by setting our belief system aside and use probabilities instead.

    I don’t need any of that crap. All I need is to assume that most of the beliefs human beings are insufficiently evidenced. That’s why we can appreciate a fine dinner without knowing food chemistry. That’s why Clifford’s shipwreck thought experiment featuring denial is so natural.

    Even if we accept Clifford’s duty of inquiry, it won’t help us solve denial: once the fly is inside the bottle, it needs help from its environment. We are morally binded to everyone, including contrarians. We all are in it together.

    Speaking of the original sin, humans are not stuck with it at birth, but since the Fall. Revise your theology, or better yet read Blake’s Paradise Lost: you’ll learn that eating the apple caused the sky to move. (And then there was astrophysics, I guess.) If you could also distinguish theology from religion, as Clifford fails to do, that’d be great.

    Speaking of the original sin was just an allusion to our human predicament, to Clifford’s God’s eye point of view and his high expectations father ethics. Referring to the human predicament also hints at the fact that Clifford’s notion of uniformity may deserve due diligence.

    Tell me about boring.

    [1]: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20106714
    [2]: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3357322/
    [3]: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2930901/ (V. Box 1)

  152. Willard,

    The only reading I can think of for blocking that argument by some “one drop rule” is to suppose that our ethics is only evaluated “in action,” i.e. while the belief is activated.

    Pretty much where I am as well.

    People would then not be wrong – they’d be wrong only at the moment they believe something insufficiently evidenced.

    Yup.

    That’s just silly, and shows you’ve just found an excuse to bypass *every single argument* I’ve taken *hours* to write.

    I’m pretty sure you’ve spotted it, but regardless, we might blame Clifford for that …

    Nor is it that truly a belief at all which has not some influence upon the actions of him who holds it. He who truly believes that which prompts him to an action has looked upon the action to lust after it, he has committed it already in his heart. If a belief is not realized immediately in open deeds, it is stored up for the guidance of the future. It goes to make a part of that aggregate of beliefs which is the link between sensation and action at every moment of all our lives, and which is so organized and compacted together that no part of it can be isolated from the rest, but every new addition modifies the structure of the whole. No real belief, however trifling and fragmentary it may seem, is ever truly insignificant; it prepares us to receive more of its like, confirms those which resembled it before, and weakens others; and so gradually it lays a stealthy train in our inmost thoughts, which may someday explode into overt action, and leave its stamp upon our character for ever.

    … and/or we might thank Clifford for helping to explain how it happens.

    Dawkins, not Darwin.

    ***

    Might have been better for Clifford to have run with this one:

    The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them; for then it must sink back into savagery.

    I think Feynman knew something about self-seduction.

  153. anoilman says:

    brandrgates: I just wanted to add one more tid bit to our earlier discussion. Anytime someone wags a finger at renewables they are really just trying to deflect attention from fossil fuels. If its a denier its invariably cherry picked and you’re probably looking at pictures or articles about the same dead eagle.

    In Canada we have gassed farmers with boiling bitumen. Ethical Oil? Fracking carries a heavy risk of a myriad of problems with leaks, gassing farmers, land values, and a host of other problems for land owners. Coal, has serious risks with coal dust related deaths, and increasing breathing disorders.

    In this era efforts to implement renewables are occurring in a time when we all (I do mean ALL) have a lot of regulation and interest around to keep things clean and do the job right. Case in point, all of China’s new power plants use Western environmental gear to clean up their emissions. Will there be issues with renewables? Yes sir. There will. But its never going to hit the kind of issues coal and oil have brought us.

    And how come no one talks about steam? It had a far bigger impact on society, and we shoved them out of the way for cars. We put all those steam workers out of work without a second thought. In the UK that was like 10% of the population at its peak.

  154. anoilman,

    If its a denier its invariably cherry picked and you’re probably looking at pictures or articles about the same dead eagle.

    In the context of the topic of this article, my response is that we all cherry pick.

    In the context of the real world and what I think we should do, I 100% agree with you.

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