« Pensions sums | Main | Robot wars »

February 19, 2005



At the time of our first Euro referendum, it was the sane, sensible chaps (Heath, Woy) who lied to us, safe in the knowledge that they were right in their views, and the bloody fools (Enoch, Wedgie) who correctly warned us of what we were letting ourselves in for. Is that the sort of thing you mean?


The other such ideological pose is "sincerity" or "authenticity," where we attempt to claim authority on the basis that we "genuinely" care more about the subject, or that our experiences allow us to know more about it.

Random passing thought (naturally not to be taken seriously either): Say modernity culminates in two dominant philosophic strands - Existentialism and Marxism (by which I mean materialist historicism, without any Left connotation).

Is then "authenticity" the Existential virtue (this is true) and "credibility" the Marxist virtue (this needs to be proven)? Then consider the extreme political manifestations we've seen of each strand: Nazism was the rule of the resolved, the authentic; Communism was the rule of the knowledgeable, the credible.


"This is the true democratic, scientific ethos – defer to no-one and nothing but the evidence."

But of course, what counts as evidence (and how to understand it) is too often the very root of ideological conflict.

Andrew M

Your heart is in the right place, but your view on appeals to authority, both in this post and its predecessor, is too simple. No individual can be in a position to evaluate the kinds of non-testimonial evidence that you allow as acceptable on any but a tiny handful of the very many questions on which he or she needs to have an opinion. This is true not only of the laity, but also, and particularly, of scientists. Biologists routinely rely on scientific claims made in other branches of science, and indeed in other parts of biology, that they have neither the time nor the energy nor the competence to evaluate in the way that you recommend. They believe claims because they have made estimates of the authority (i.e., the probability of being correct) of those who make the claims. And these estimates can be quite rationally based: someone's track record for honesty and being right, their education, their standing among peers, the venue for their claim--these are all relevant considerations when properly weighed.

The role of testimony in science is a major theme in the most important book on general philosophy of science for a decade or so, Philip Kitcher's The Advancement of Science. I recommend it highly.

Robert Schwartz

Please, don't take what I wrote, the wrong way. I was not referring to you personally, but to the calculation embeded in the following statement, to wit:

" To buy an annuity paying £20,000, index-linked at 2.5 per cent, for 4935 years would cost around £670,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000 trillion."

Which struck me as being a bit exagerated, perhaps for comic effect.

At any rate I did mean to offend. My appologies.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad