Fallibility: Not Philosobabble!by jason on Mar. 01, 2012, under Art & Culture, Biblical Inerrancy, Christian Self-Righteous Arrogance, Clarity, Conservatism vs. Liberalism, Critical Thinking, Economics, Faith, God & Bible, History, Language, Logic, Reason, Science, That's Life!
I came across this quote from Elliot Temple:
[S]ome people take fallibility as…a very simple and inescapable fact, with little meaning to real life. It applies to everything, you can’t beat it in an argument, but all it means is don’t say things like “guarantee”, “certain truth”, “prove”, etc…
This is not how Deutsch and Popper think of fallibility. They are not so interested in it as a logical point that can win arguments, and which must be accepted but has minimal meaning. They are more interest in what we might call the “spirit of fallibility” (like “spirit of the law” vs “letter of the law”) — the fallibilist *attitude*. They think fallibility is more than a logical principle, but it’s also an important idea with broad applicability far beyond the small, pretty indisputable part of it…They care about it because fallibility (understood correctly) is a deep philosophical idea with lots of value, use, reach, breadth, etc…
For example fallibility has connections to liberalism: tyranny is a bad idea because Kings are fallible so we need error correction not authority.
When they say this kind of thing, they do not merely mean “Kings, like everyone, could possibly make mistakes”. They mean more like, “Kings, like everyone, commonly make mistakes. People are fallible in the sense not just that errors are possible but that errors happen all the time.”
Anon3 and I argued about fallability a while back in the context of what it means to “know” something. Anon3 argued that the “Justified True Belief” (JTB) model of knowledge is correct, even in the face of fallibility. Anon3 recognizes that justified belief might not, in the end, be true – but he still thinks the right way to go about knowing things is to justify them and believe in their truth based on such justification.
Sometimes justification explicitly rests on faith, as in many religious claims. But even when there isn’t an explicit appeal to faith, at base there is always an element of faith involved in justification. That’s why Christians like the JTB model: they use it to claim that *everyone* must have faith in something in order to know anything - and along with that they can pose the implied question, “So why not just choose to have faith in God?” That is also one of the reasons many find traditional/academic philosophy so irrelevant – it ultimately boils down to having faith about things we don’t really know and aren’t relevant in the real world.
The rival to the JTB concept of knowledge is Popper’s conjecture and refutation concept. Those who are unfamiliar with it can read this, http://philosophyfaculty.ucsd.edu/faculty/rarneson/Courses/popperphil1.pdf though be warned, it’s not light reading. The short-short version is that instead of trying to justify beliefs, Popper suggests that we take whatever beliefs we have (and can think of) and try to eliminate errors.
I think Elliot’s focus on the “spirit” of fallibility is an important component of critical thinking and in differentiating the JTB concept from conjecture and refutation. It places the focus squarely on finding and correcting the errors in our thinking, rather than on trying to justify our current beliefs. This can be a difficult mindset to adopt, since we all like to be “proven” right rather than wrong. Nevertheless, it seems to me to be the correct, more useful model of knowledge and it doesn’t require faith.