Boghossian’s Street Epistemology: Not The Socratic Method
In his Manual for Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian teaches atheists to confront religious believers with questions that he describes as Socratic in style and method. John Loftus reiterated that recently.
I think Socrates would have had a fit.
Here’s why. Method matters in so far as it is a method for accomplishing something in particular. If I were to publish a Brand New 21st-Century Method! you would hardly buy it without asking, method for what? Street Epistemology might have a Socratic style to it, but style in itself is nothing. What counts is what the interaction actually accomplishes. What did Socrates’ method strive to accomplish, and how did he use it?
Socrates’ Purposes and Method
First, Socrates asked questions to discover truth for himself. Considering himself ignorant, he probed for knowledge by asking it of others.
Second, since his “ignorance” was in fact wiser than the wisdom of his contemporaries, he asked questions to help his interlocutors understand the world better. Typically this was related to the knotty problems of virtue.
Third, his method almost always took the conversation to an elenchus, a point at which the person answering Socrates’ questions discovers that he doesn’t know as much as he thought he knew. This is a specific sort of realization. It isn’t, “I see now that I don’t know enough to answer that.” Rather it is, “What I thought I knew looking at it from one angle contradicts what I thought I knew looking from another angle.” It isn’t an elenchus without that discovery of a contradiction.
Following the elenchus the person is left confused about what they thought they knew, but confusion is never the point. Understanding is. Socrates typically leaves the discussion as confused as anyone else. He doesn’t claim to understand, either–but at least he’s on the quest.
I don’t know whether a dialogue must always, necessarily, include both a search for understanding and an elenchus to be classified as Socratic Method. I do know that this was Socrates’ method.
Motivating a Quest for Discovery
If Street Epistemology accomplishes anything related to the above, it’s this: Believers who are unsure of their reasons for faith become aware that they are unsure of their reasons for faith. Something of their personal psychology is unearthed.
This is fine, in fact I support it strongly. Believers in Christ can benefit from being motivated to search out reasons for faith; other religions’ believers might discover their faith really does lack reasons to support it. In other words, it’s fine because it can motivate the person to begin a quest for discovery. Jesus Christ took that approach often. The question here is whether it’s Socratic, though.
I’ve done a lot of organizational assessment and strategic planning in my career. I go into these engagements knowing relatively little about the organization’s business. I ask a lot of questions. When I leave, the people I’m consulting with know more about their business than they did when I arrived. It’s not because I brought knowledge in with me, it’s because I drew it out of them. That’s Socratic in style and in its attempt to discover something new about reality. It doesn’t usually involve any elenchus, though it could.
Street Epistemology’s Non-Socratic Method
Looking at what Boghossian says in his book, though, or at examples of SE on YouTube, I’ve found something very different going on. The typical SE interaction leaves the person at the point of their personal psychology of faith being unveiled. they discover they don’t know or can’t articulate good reasons for why they believe.* And that’s about all. It’s not a discovery about reality in general, but only about the person’s interior belief-psychology.
This may be Socratic in style, but if Socratic Method has anything to do with gaining wisdom or knowledge about reality, then SE isn’t Socratic Method at all.
Further, if there’s any elenchus in SE dialogue (a point where one runs into a logical contradiction in one’s own beliefs), based on what I’ve read and seen it’s something like this: “If I thought I could state my reasons for believing, I see now I have to conclude I’m wrong about that.”
Boghossian says this shows that faith is a poor epistemology (means for acquiring knowledge). On this he is simply mistaken. All it really shows is that some religious believers don’t know or cannot articulate good reasons for their belief.
*Sometimes it’s even more narrowly focused: the believer does not know or cannot articulate reasons to persuade someone else to believe.
Tom, I don’t think you should be disagreeing with the actual practice of what Boghossian does, regardless of his motivations. You mentioned Josh McDowell, who does this same thing. As a result Dustin Lawson, McDowell’s former protege, left the faith. So? You should still do what Josh McDowell does if you think truth will win out. In my forthcoming book which you should read titled, “How To Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist”, one of the most important chapters is “Become an Honest Life-Long Seeker of Truth.” You should advocate the same thing. Here’s a link to info about it.
The very fact that you disagree with what Boghossian actually does leaves me wondering if you think it’s wrong to start the “hapless Christian” on an intellectual journey. If you represent the “party of true reason” you should be happy he does this because truth should win the day. In fact, he might be sending Christian people to read your book(s).
You should pick up more converts from Boghossian’s efforts. You should pick up better informed Christians from his efforts. What am I missing?
What is the main difference between Socrates’ approach and Boghossian’s? Socrates begins with question asking; Boghossian begins with question begging.
For starters, Boghossian, has further developed the faith-as-a-harmful-virus argument, first put forth by Richard Dawkins. For example, in his public lectures and writing, Boghossian has defined faith as “pretending to know what you don’t know,” and also, “belief without evidence.”
There are several things wrong with his definitions. First of all the dictionary doesn’t define faith the way he defines it. For example, faith is not defined as an antonym of reason. Unreason or irrationality are antonyms of reason, not faith. Furthermore, if we flip definitions, the antonyms of faith are doubt and mistrust, not reason.
Here is a full definition of FAITH (Merriam-Webster on-line)
1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty
b (1) : fidelity to one’s promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs
As you can see Boghossian’s homemade definitions aren’t even close. The definitions the Boghossian posits as his main premise in his main argument are definitions that he has made up based on his own personal biases and prejudices. That is blatantly question begging. It hardly something we would expect from someone dispassionately seeking the truth. Socrates was seeking the truth. What is Boghossian seeking?
If John or PB *actually* thought this was true do you think they would be doing it?
Yeah, me neither.
I think your point is that there are certain aspects of Boghossian’s efforts that I’ve said I don’t disagree with, and I shouldn’t disagree with those aspects.
I don’t disagree with that.
Good Tom. Take a good look at the interventions in Boghossians book and SE videoes then, a good look, and tell me they do anything more than what Josh McDowell does (without telling people how to justify their faith).
I just did an intervention (I already know you don’t like that word) on Facebook with John D. Ferrer. What did you think of that?
If nothing else what I did was to dialogue with him. Of course, I don’t think he’s within his epistemic rights to believe, but what does my motivation have to do with your assessment of what I actually did?
What do these interventions do that Josh doesn’t do? Nothing. They do far less. Josh provides more than mere psychological belief-state discovery.
This is not news to me. You’re speaking the obvious. Please read what I’ve written on this.
As for what you posted of your “intervention” with John D. Ferrer, was this supposed to be Boghossian-esque? Socratic? If so then you missed on both counts. Too much strong-arm asserting, not enough question-asking.
You ask, “what does my motivation have to do with your assessment of what I actually did?” For purposes of this post, where the topic has to do whether a certain form of dialogue is Socratic Method or not, your motivation is irrelevant, because the discussion is identifiably non-Socratic for reasons more obvious than that.
If there’s more to this on Facebook, I’m not going to be able to take the time to go there, as this is an extra busy week.
What does the SE say when their subject says “So what?” as it relates to them not knowing this or that? Is there some fact that the SE can reference that would obligate a change of attitude?
The question isn’t hard. It’s simply this: Is what we find on these videos the “Socratic Method”?
So far you have not demonstrated any justification for an assertion that the SE method rises to the occasion. Mutual insight takes the duo of two parties doing some hard philosophical work with one another, and, paying charity’s costly price-tag of investing time in and with the person sitting across from you. The SE Model just doesn’t afford that level of interaction and, hence, it is not up to doing the task which it claims it is seeking to do.
Goals are fine, but if the methodology is all wrong, one has no claim to said goals.
You’ve not demonstrated any evidence to a justified claim of said goals. As Tom notes, pressing a human being to a point of seeing in himself this or that psychological belief state is neither the Socratic method nor the Socratic goal. In effect the premise/conclusion you’re asserting here amounts to a non sequitur.
In a comment still lost in your moderator box I pointed out to someone that he had thus far used many more words than many of the folks in the videos and yet he was still all over the epistemological map – still coming across as confused as to what it is to know correctly what one knows while telling us *how* one knows all of this. Now, is that because he knows something but doesn’t know how he knows it, or, is that because he is confused? Not at all. Does it show that he has NO GOOD REASON for his own PSR’s? Not at all. Rather, that only demonstrates that in that particular example of “59 minutes or less” (and so on) it is the case that more clarification needs to take place, that mutual insight takes the duo of two parties doing some hard philosophical work with one another, and, that paying charity’s costly price-tag of investing time in and with the person sitting across from you isn’t “optional”. The SE Model just doesn’t afford that level of interaction and, hence, it is not up to doing the task which it claims it is seeking to do.
Instead of seeking to discover, the Atheist simply proceeds with his own (seemingly) uncharitable reading of this exchange by TM/TG, when in fact he should have asked for clarification *if* the goal is discovery. The Atheist quotes TM/TG:
TG: Can you know something truly and reliably without knowing how you know it?
TG: Of course.
TM: And I got to say that as an epistemologist
The typical SE method then ensues, and so, rather than discovery, the Atheist proceeds with the most uncharitable read one can possibly come up with of another’s statement and, so, states the following:
“Please, do us all the favor of explaining how anyone can “know something truly and reliably without knowing how they know it.” I mean, if nothing else, if nobody can say you know, how can anyone say how true or reliable it is? Pretty please? And I guess I’ll need to say up front, without employing logical fallacies left and right! If Gilson/McGrew are not too embarrassed to reply at all, then this is gonna be good…..”
The SE method claims that a sentence has “arrived on scene” for which the person who spoke it can have “NO GOOD REASON” to believe, and so on.
Discovery would, on charity, seek clarification by one human being simply asking another human being for a clarification rather than pouring oneself into what seems to be an uncharitable read of someone else’s statement. TM/TG’s obvious theme of correct knowledge amid our own incompletely articulated PSR’s combined with our own blind-spots seems self-explanatory in the context at hand, but, so goes the Non-Charity of the Non-Socratic “method” known these days as the “SE” method.
All of this demonstrates the following point about the SE Model of one human being “interfacing” with another human being:
On charity we find that what may appear, after 20 minutes, or even after an hour, to be confusion in fact is nothing more than a demonstration of the fact that mutual insight takes the duo of two parties doing some hard philosophical work with one another, and, that paying charity’s costly price-tag of investing time in and with the person sitting across from you is not “optional”. The SE Model just doesn’t afford that level of interaction and, hence, it is not up to doing the task which it claims it is seeking to do.
In response to the TM/TG exchange quoted by the Atheist, the Atheist proceeded to claim that even a 12 year old knows “why” they believe something and so he (the Atheist) is just astounded that TM/TG claim that we can believe something and have no idea why or how we believe it. He gives his own example to show that even 12 year olds know WHY they believe something, such as, say, cell phones work and lots and lots of people rely on them, so, as a 12 year old, that is the “why I believe in Physics”, and so on.
The Atheist then fails on your own terms to articulate any good reason for his conclusions about 12 year olds and their beliefs other than lots and lots of people experiencing this or that “X”. That approach is of course his own attempt to stick to his own uncharitable read of the TM/TG exchange, and so we’re just taking here, going along with it here, as he presents it. On your terms there he thus fails to articulate any good philosophical understanding about where that “lands” as it in fact lands on a PSR which the SE would reject, would label as insufficient. Repeatable experiences which lots and lots of people “rely on” can justify Platonism, or Idealism, or what have you – and thus we have a “wide open door out of Atheism” inside of his own psychological belief state, inside of his own thinking.
So what can we conclude given such conflicting ontological directions found so easily within the Atheist’s appeals? Is the Atheist in need of abandoning his own Atheism given “that”? Of course not. Is the Atheist deluded given “that”? Of course not. Is the Atheist, having failed to articulate a robust metaphysical regression there clearly void of reason, clearly believing in his own Atheism despite having NO GOOD REASON to thusly believe – given “that”? Of course not. Not given “that”.
However, on your terms the answer here must be “yes”, and, on the SE’s terms (from what we’ve seen at least), again – “yes”, but on the Socratic terms, the answer is, quite naturally, not at all given the obvious reality that what may appear, after 20 minutes, or even after an hour, to be confusion in fact is nothing more than a demonstration of the fact that mutual insight takes the duo of two parties doing some hard philosophical work with one another, and, that paying charity’s costly price-tag of investing time in and with the person sitting across from you isn’t “optional”. The SE Model just doesn’t afford that level of interaction and, hence, it is not up to doing the task which it claims it is seeking to do.
The premise that advanced, say, “calculus” (or any other topic, any other X) must be FALSE on the grounds that, say, a 14 year old can’t verbally construct the grounds thereof on the street, on the fly, with the SE, in 59 minutes or less, is a silly (as in fallacious) premise, a silly (as in fallacious) way to challenge said teen’s intention to push ahead with “calculus / X” anyway, a silly way to challenge the teen’s intention to go on learning “calculus / X” anyway, much less can such a premise serve to challenge “calculus / X” itself. And so on.
John that is all you’ve managed to show us – that premise/conclusion combo of that 14 year old.
And that has nothing to do with the Socratic philosophy of discovery.
You’ve simply failed to show us anything demonstrable which contradicts our justified conclusion that the SE Method fails to measure up to the Socratic Method, that the SE method in fact moves people further into mutual mis-understanding and away from the worthy goal of mutual insight. I sincerely doubt that you truly believe my ability to take that 14 year old, or you on some topic of which I happen to know “lots more than you”, and tie him or you up into epistemological knots in an hour or less actually amounts to any good reason for that 14 year old, or you, to doubt his X or you your X.
On charity I conclude that you do not believe those silly/fallacious premise/conclusion combos, and, I conclude, on charity, that you’ve merely gotten your presentations here all wrong, that what you are meaning to say here you’ve just not managed to find any coherent way to say and that, given more time for discovery, surely the nature of these videos and of your verbalized PSR’s on said premise/conclusion combos will manage to amount to more than their current anti-intellectual summations.
Now, my charitable offers may end up being wrong in that it may eventually “be the case” that at some point you really have gotten your premise/conclusion combo all wrong, that you are wrong about the SE method, but, on the limited exchanges we’ve had so far I’m not justified in making that call – especially since I’ve not bothered to sit down with you and seek clarification. And, even further, even *if* that one “specific” premise/conclusion of yours does turn out to be all wrong, can I then take the unjustified liberty to just splash some wide brushstrokes across your entire belief system, or, across your entire capacity to reason? On the Socratic principle – of course not.
In online threads it’s always impressive how many back and forth comments it takes *just* to be sure each party’s epistemological constructions are actually referencing the same concept. Question: “By X do you mean so and so?” Reply: “Well, not quite, given that X also entails such and such.” And so on. Mutual insight. Unfortunately it is (it seems to be, at least, from what we have been shown) painfully obvious that the goal of dialogue and mutual insight can’t take place in the SE model as it is, undeniably, missing two ingredients which simply haven’t been demonstrated: the cost of real, and mutual, philosophical work, and, that costly investment of time to do said work. An hour doesn’t make the grade as, again, any platform can be tied into epistemological knots in such an oddly constrained “Model Of Dialogue”. Investing time in one another, particularly in those we disagree with, isn’t easy, and affording charity to all comers is equally difficult. The personal cost of charity towards each other is high, and time consuming, and painful, but only by such means can the ends we hope for begin to actualize.
“Only about”? That’s clearly not correct. If the person has a rendering of reality that includes the conception of a certain God belief; and then they realise they have no good basis for that rendering, then they are more likely to be on their way to a more accurate or confident rendering of reality.
Also, I don’t get scbrownlhrm’s objection. I don’t see any pressure to reach firm conclusions one way or the other from the SE interventions. The videos I have watched have consisted of the SE asking the person to provide a definition of their faith (sometimes not explicitly but it often comes out), the strength of the belief and the basis of it.
I suspect the really sensitive aspect that some theists are peeved with SE is it exposes the wild multitude of definitions of faith and the astonishing amount of doubt that is revealed under the most basic polite questioning.
“They realize they have no good reason”.
Yes, the discovery of our own internal psychological belief states is helpful.
Odd, very odd, that you seem to think we’ve stated otherwise.
Even more odd is that you seem to think that the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs can be affirmed/faulted in such an on-the-fly format, that the Christian has discovered vis-à-vis discovering his own psychological belief state any grounds at all for affirming/faulting the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs.
Now that is odd, perhaps even bizarre. See 1-8 (below) and the casual conversation (below) and the premises / conclusions which can oddly (somehow) flow from that conversation (below) for just how akin you are to the SE in that assumption.
Granted, you’ve stated several times that you feel that *time* is not a big player here. I’ve stated several times that I think time is a big player in the Socratic Model. Well? Which is it? Should we try this on the street, on the fly? Wow! Just think how “meaningfully unfruitful” that would be regarding finding any grounds at all to actually, justifiably, proceed with affirming/faulting the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs.
Regarding time, you mischaracterized our objection elsewhere with this:
Hence we reminded you there, and again here, that on one here is saying that any of that is rude, or that dialoging is a problem.
No one here is saying the SE presses under duress, rather, that premises and conclusions are made, drawn, inferred, based on the results of an insufficient amount of time and on other “disqualifying variables” vis-à-vis a very Non-Socratic Model. See 1-8 below, and, see what we oh-so-obviously can and cannot conclude from the conversation below between the SE and the Passerby on his way to an appointment. Unfortunately for you there is no “pressing” there. Rather, there is merely what our objections have been all along – in the premise / conclusion arena.
We completely agree with the utility of such dialogue. Discovering our own psychological belief states is always helpful. Odd, very odd indeed, that you think we disagree with such.
Another misdirection away from our actual complaint.
Rather, it’s all about premises and conclusions. I’ve said “premise / conclusion” about five or six times so far in these threads on this topic. Do we need more *time* than just a few blurbs to make it a seventh or eighth? You said we don’t need more time (the SE Model’s handful of minutes and handful of a few quick blurbs ought to “suffice” to reach such “ends”) so I take it that you stand by that.
The problem intrinsic to the SE Model vis-à-vis the Atheist here are two fold:
A) That of premises / conclusions being inferred by the SE concerning “evidence” regarding affirming or faulting the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs
B) Those same premises / conclusions which the SE is then asking the person answering their questions to infer about their own beliefs.
Your comments here only affirm this objection with the means afforded by the SE Model as the SE Model finds the SE proceeding to inquire into the metaphysical unpacking “evidence” regarding the affirming/faulting of the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs from the random Passerby and then proceeds down his path of fallacious inferences in that “1 – 8 list” (see below) vis-à-vis the answers he obtains from a model of inquiry demonstrably lacking the necessary means capable of delivering the requested ends, and then the SE asks the person answering their questions to repeat those inferences about their own beliefs based on those same demonstrably lacking means.
Those premise / conclusion “inferences” emerge as follows:
1) what is true/false about reality, and about
2) the PSR’s which currently exist behind any given topic, and about
3) the 5 minute sound bite qualifying as evidence here in 1-8, and about
4) the fact that it’s all being derived from the realization of one’s psychological belief state that the person answering vis-à-vis the format afforded by the SE Model rather than the Socratic Model, and about
5) the SE himself is not required to justify the premises required for his own questions – as in our ability to declare reality intelligible in the first place (and so on, and so on), (very Un-Socratic), and about
6) the time needed in these two threads on this topic is proof that terms and concepts take quite a while to clarify, and the time which the SE Model affords automatically disqualifies the Model’s ability to be Socratic, and, automatically disqualifies the Model’s claim to be able to deliver that which is intellectually satisfying, and about
7) intellectual satisfaction is something the SE expects the SE Model to be able to rightfully deliver on all eight of these counts, not only to him, to the SE, but, also, to the person answering the questions assuming that person answering the questions has a valid belief system, and about
8) the 10, or 20, or 30 minute sound bite qualifying as evidence in all of the above.
Indeed, an inability to articulate well, and cleanly, and robustly, on the fly, in a minute or two, or three, or four, and so on in, you know – the SE thing – really has nothing to do with any of the inferences which the SE himself is making nor with any of the inferences which the SE is asking the person answering to make about those same premises / conclusions regarding his own beliefs.
Whereas, it (the inability to articulate well, five minute sound-bite, and so on, and so on) has everything to do with the acquired verbal skills of the person answering, and with that person’s exposure, and with one’s psychological belief state, and with the afforded time, and, very often, few of us are that well adept at such verbal dancing.
Intellectual satisfaction, should either party fail to experience such, tells us nothing about any of the premises / conclusions in 1 – 8, nor does it tell us anything at all regarding the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs.
SE: Do you believe in biochemistry occurring in food digestion?
Passerby on his way to an appointment: Yes.
Passerby on his way to an appointment: Well, I heard of something called a stomach.
SE: And what is that?
Passerby on his way to an appointment: Well, I don’t know really.
SE: What does it do?
Passerby on his way to an appointment: Well, I don’t’ really know.
SE: It seems like you’re a bit unsure what digestion is, or if the “stomach” is even involved. How about the biochemistry part?
Passerby on his way to an appointment: Well, I’m not really sure, but I heard that a stomach does something in all of that.
SE: You heard about it? Is that enough for you?
Passerby on his way to an appointment: Well, I plan to learn more at some point.
SE: So you’re not really sure about several parts of this?
Passerby on his way to an appointment: Well, I know it exists, but how it all works I can’t say right now.
SE: Are you going to spend your college time and money learning about something that may not even be important in the overall picture of digestion?
Passerby on his way to an appointment: Well, it seems like an important topic, so I thought I might.
“Now, let’s break this down. Do you see how simple, and even a bit confused, and even a bit unintellectually satisfying the 30 year old is when we ask him about his beliefs in biochemistry / food digestion? He answered, “Well, I heard of something called a “stomach”. Now THAT is good evidence that he, within himself, really has no good reason to believe what he believes about food digestion , and, then, THAT is (then) good evidence that his unsophisticated “I know it exists but I don’t know how it all works” is in fact, you know, “a kind of evidence” that, in fact, “it” does NOT exist, and, then, THAT is (then) good evidence that his intention to go to college and CONTINUE his studies of this topic is fueled by cognitive dissonance, because, clearly, he really couldn’t give us a good justification for his belief that “it exists”, and, so, since he can’t do that, and yet still believes in biochemistry and food digestion, then his belief, not being based on reason, must be based on some level of delusion, or on some level of cognitive dissonance. All of this is evidence which sways toward favoring that we’ve been accurate all along about the 30 year old and about the Non-Existence of that particular X. Now, all of this helps us realize some of the falsehoods intrinsically necessary to sustain most 30 year old’s belief in the existence of said X”.
Whereas, the Christian states the following:
In online threads it’s always impressive how many back and forth comments it takes *just* to be sure each party’s epistemological constructions are actually referencing the same concept. Question: “By X do you mean so and so?” Reply: “Well, not quite, given that X also entails such and such.” And so on. Mutual insight. Unfortunately it is (it seems to be, at least, from what we have been shown) painfully obvious that the Socratic goal of dialogue and mutual insight can’t take place in the SE Model as it is, undeniably, missing two ingredients which simply haven’t been demonstrated: the cost of real, and mutual, philosophical work, and, that costly investment of time to do said work. An hour doesn’t make the grade as, again, any platform can be tied into epistemological knots in such an oddly constrained “Model Of Dialogue”. Investing time in one another, particularly in those we disagree with, isn’t easy, and affording charity to all comers is equally difficult. The personal cost of charity towards each other is high, and time consuming, and painful, but only by such means can the ends we hope for begin to actualize.
The two threads on this topic are a lesson in the making, are proof positive that the Socratic Model works, and begins doing its work long, long after the SE Model as already failed. GrahamH and myself have all the time in the world to think through and re-read, and so on, and yet we’re still immersed, “hours” later, in the business of – Question: “By X do you mean so and so?” Reply: “Well, not quite, given that X also entails such and such.”
SE Model No – Socratic Model Yes.
“Hence we reminded you there, and again here, that on one here is saying that any of that is rude, or that dialoging is a problem.”
Hence we reminded you there, and again here, that no one here is saying that any of that is rude, or that dialoging is a problem.
There is no requirement for the “premises and conclusions” to be exhaustively unpacked, and ultimately determined and demonstrated in the course of an intervention. I have seen nothing to indicate that. However I am not an expert on SE. It seems to me that the SE is simply stimulating the process. I have seen nothing that demands a conclusion on their belief of reality.
In any case, not everyone is going to be an expert on the finer points of any higher conventions with the Socratic method (if there are any that are so pompous and inaccessible). It should not be a pre-qualified criteria for people talking with each other. The SE seems perfectly suitable if it is aimed at being accessible to the average person, in comparison to not having those discussions at all. I think you and Tom are splitting gnats hairs on this one.
Well dialoging is going to be a problem if you are saying it can only occur with the onerous conditions of “the cost of real, and mutual, philosophical work, and, that costly investment of time to do said work”. Apart from being ill-defined (surprise!) and completely open ended, that’s certainly impractical and not at all conducive to cultivating greater amounts of dialectic exchanges. I mean seriously, that’s nonsense.
Of course dialogue in the SE Model is practical, and open ended, and conducive to creating exchanges of ideas.
It’s odd, very odd indeed, that you think we disagree.
GrahamH @12, no, I’m not splitting gnat-hairs. SE is being touted as justifiable, by John Loftus among others, based in part on its being a supposed use of Socratic Method. If it’s not really Socratic Method in practice, it cannot be justified as such.
I’m not saying that it’s awful on that basis alone. (Boghossian is bad enough in other ways as it is.) I’m saying that it cannot be justified on a Socratic basis.
And similarly I don’t think scbrownlhrm is saying dialoging can only happen if there is real, mutual, philosophic work invested.
I don’t think it needs to adhere to some severe interpretation of elenctic doctrine to be characterized as socratic. It is not law school or the philosophy department. SE clearly has a socratic character through the nature of its questioning, and its “Socraticness” has obviously been transposed across into an informal and accessible exchange. Your OP hints as much, but objects that it has nothing to do with gaining wisdom about reality.
But in that, I can’t reconcile these two statements you made…
If you don’t know the reasons for your belief, or if they are good, what confidence can you have that they resemble reality? Unlike what you suggest, I see SE addressing this through its questions. Knowledge of reality is clearly in the cross-hairs of the SE.
The man Socrates in action? Hardly.
Wisdom about one’s own internal psychological belief state?
So Socrates sought to find out if a person could “feel unable to answer a question”, and, once he carried them to that feeling, he, the man Socrates, was done.
That’s the Socratic Model.
While we appreciate the SE’s enthusiasm, he’s guilty here of two errors:
1) A false identity claim
2) Similarity of some small contour equals Sameness, and that is why A is B. Trees and the Moon both have bumps, so, Trees are Moons and Moons are Trees.
Whereas, instead, regarding the SE’s superficial means, the following is actually the case:
A lack of intellectual satisfaction, that is to say, should either party there on the street fail to experience intellectual satisfaction, then that lack of that experience tells us nothing about any of the premises / conclusions in 1 – 8 (see comment #10) nor does it tell us anything at all regarding the justified affirmation of / faulting of the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs.
The problem intrinsic to the SE Model is that it gets us to the on-the-fly moment of a feeling of seeing in one’s own interior a discovery of one’s own psychological belief state. As per comment #10’s casual conversation, the SE is essentially trying to (fallaciously) claim that every superficial, on the fly, casual conversation with the random 30 year old about his views regarding the existence of biochemistry / food digestion just is the man Socrates in action.
Rather than doing the hard work of rising to the level of Socrates, the SE, by that fallacious assertion, merely wants us all to pull Socrates down several, several levels. Think about that.
The mental feeling of seeing one’s own psychological belief state has two problems with respect to what the SE is doing with that information:
A) The premises / conclusions being inferred by the SE concerning “a kind of evidence” regarding affirming or faulting the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs.
B) Those same premises / conclusions are then taken by the SE as he asks the person answering their questions to then go and infer the same things about their own beliefs with respect to affirming/faulting the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs.
You keep coming back to what we all agree with in this or that person’s discovery of his own internal psychological belief state and you want to call it “The Socratic Model”.
Earlier you said that with this: “If the person has a rendering of reality that includes the conception of a certain God belief; and then they realize they have no good basis for that rendering, then they are more likely to be on their way to a more accurate or confident rendering of reality….”
Indeed: “They realize they have no good reason…”
Yes, the discovery of our own internal psychological belief states is helpful.
Odd, very odd, that you seem to think we’ve stated otherwise.
And yet we’ve yet to see the SE Model carry us, there on the street, into the necessary means and ends of the full bodied Socratic Model’s means which get us to the ends of the full bodied understanding of the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs.
Show us a video where that happens on the street. You know, the SE and the Passerby on his way to an appointment somewhere else, and that whole thing.
I challenge you do show us that video.
Two odd beliefs you seem to have about the SE Model and a discovery of an internal psychological belief state:
1) It’s very odd that you seem to think that the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs can be affirmed/faulted in such an on-the-fly format.
2) It’s very odd you seem to think that the Christian discovers, by discovering his own psychological belief state, any justified grounds at all for affirming/faulting the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs.
The SE Model is being pushed as Socratic because the SE proceeds to inquire about the metaphysical unpacking of the shape of reality and uses feelings about one’s own internal psychological belief state as “a kind of evidence” regarding the affirming/faulting of the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs as he asks the random Passerby to infer such about his own beliefs. The SE fallaciously claims Socratic ends because he proceeds down his path of fallacious inferences in that “1 – 8 list” (see comment #10) vis-à-vis the answers he obtains from a model of inquiry demonstrably lacking the necessary means capable of delivering the requested ends and then the SE also asks the person answering their questions to repeat those same fallacious inferences about their own beliefs based on those same demonstrably lacking means of getting us to the full bodied ends of the Socratic Model there in the affirming/faulting of the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs.
The statement by the Passerby of “I know it exists but I don’t know how it all works” just does not carry us to the ends of the Socratic Work which the SE is claiming it carries us to.
This is the bottom line, which the SE, and you, seem quite resistant to:
A lack of intellectual satisfaction, that is to say, should either party there on the street fail to experience intellectual satisfaction, then that lack of that experience tells us nothing about any of the premises / conclusions in 1 – 8 (see comment #10) nor does it tell us anything at all regarding the justified affirmation of / faulting of the PSR’s which actually exist for this or that body of beliefs.
This thread has long since left the Passerby on the street behind – we’re talking “hours” of back-and-forth here. Indeed, how long it takes all of us here to clarify and merge terms in this thread is, itself, along with the other thread on this topic, evidence of the demonstrable lack within the means/ends of the SE approach to actually accomplish the Socratic agenda.
BTW, most who describe Socrates affirm that Socrates’ agenda (in today’s terms) surpassed the point of bringing the 30 year old to seeing his own lack of understanding of biochemistry amid food digestion. A point of “mutual confusion” in both parties (mutual / aporia) was not his goal nor is it what the SE is claiming. The more robust ends found more distal to that location are the actual agenda and, as this thread demonstrates, and as the other thread on this topic demonstrates, such ends are not achievable by the SE’s constrained means.
Hence, regarding food digestion, and any X at all, the statement by the Passerby of “I know it exists but I don’t know how it all works” just does not carry us to the ends of the Socratic Work which the SE is claiming it carries us to. No internal contradiction has been revealed, for one thing, but there are many more problems besides that.
A is not B. Similar is not Same. The SE is not doing “the work” which Socrates advocated.
I have some issues with what you wrote but I feel we will not agree and will be pretty fruitless. I don’t want to provoke you into writing another long response if there is nothing further to be gained. But I appreciate what you have already written and thank you for it.
I will only make one final point in case it did not clearly come through previously. I have not said I think the SE is complete and exhaustive example of the Socratic Method. I don’t get the impression SE says that as well. I think John pretty much explained that at 1. And he states clearly that it starts the process, he does not say it completes it.
John has yet to stop equating the two (that I’ve read, he may have elsewhere). Comment #1 doesn’t rise to such clarity. At all. As for the rest, yes, as per #18, it’s just obvious. A is not B. The SE’s work is not Socrates’ work. The SE Model is not the Socratic Model.
Doesn’t this cut both ways though. How many people who don’t believe in God or have any religious beliefs (“the nones”) could defend their faith position. I’m not saying it’s wrong to challenge Christians on their beliefs but I’d bet you dollars to donuts that I’d find a greater percentage people who couldn’t defend their secular worldview than those with Christian beliefs.
Further, though it’s certainly good to know the reason for your beliefs it doesn’t, by itself, determine the validity of one’s position. I get the strong impression that those who advocate SE think that the fact that the find people who can’t defend their faith invalidates Christian thought. That Christianity can be reasonably defended suffices. It doesn’t change its validity that everyone can’t do it.
Actually, it’s worse than that when it comes to the Naturalist’s / Atheist’s own body of truth predicates as even their pro’s can’t break free of absurdity at the end of their own lines – their insolvent chain of metaphysical IOU’s comprised of explanatory termini colliding and diverging amid what sums to fundamental, internal – and hence catastrophic – self-negations.
Socrates would have a rather successful day in dismantling such.
Ah the old “scientism” boogie monster. Such a short flatulent outburst is not enough for me to respond to directly.
Of course, you have a bit of a problem. Theists can’t show how they have a convincing and transparent account of what their supernatural cognitive capacity is and how it operates. They also can’t prove they have disembodied supernatural minds. They also can’t prove the existence of the supernatural, nor supernatural causation.
We are all subscribe to a certain degree methodological naturalism, or else we would all be awash in a sea of incredulity. Some of us just don’t see the need to invoke the supernatural – especially when the evidence of which amounts to five eighths of not much.
Logical lucidity in regression, when forced to be sacrificed for the Naturalist’s presuppositions, “somehow” becomes unimportant, a mere “boogieman”.
The linked essays stand unchallenged.
BillT was right. It’s not a two way street, because the Socratic agenda is found nowhere in the crosshairs.
No, we don’t need to subscribe to methodological naturalism, GrahamH.
Philosophy of mind is not expected to be transparent.
It’s also not expected to be self-defeating, as it is in naturalism.
Regarding #25’s link, spectaclism’s levity offers a little more about those pesky independent grounds for holding that more exists than is dreamed of in the naturalist’s philosophy – you know – all that stuff which naturalism’s means and naturalism’s ends just must eliminate. Literally. Eliminate? But why? Because naturalism, of course.
Again with Feser. Is A-T that poor for choice that he is the singular reference? Anyway, his comments section clarification indicates he is referring to more a severe philosophical naturalism. That’s not me, so I am happy to ignore.
Anyway, when Feser had a rare exchange with another well-known philosopher, Keith Parsons, Feser was wise enough not to try that one on (I was looking forward to it). BTW I thought it was a very good exchange, Parsons was convincing and summed up well why I think A-T best stay in the dark ages (or dusted off every now and then and shown as a historical curiosity).
“A more severe philosophical naturalism….that’s not me…”
Naturalism indeed isn’t the whole show.
Part of, clearly.
All of, absurdity.
You nearly baited me there but I would have gone seriously off topic. Speaking of which…
What happened to your Evidence for God series? I was enjoying that (and learning different perspectives). If it was too ambitious (in terms of intended volume and effort), I can understand. I am sure you have another life away from maintaining the site.
Certainly don’t do anything on my account alone, but I could see some interesting topics on the horizon.
#26 is “off topic”?
I suppose one could take it off topic, as you noted.
But it’s on topic.
Socratic agenda in-play: Not so much.
Thanks for asking about the Evidence series, GrahamH. This is what happened to it. I haven’t gotten fully back on track even yet.
Thanks for not going off topic.
He is the more popular reference, not the only one. Depending on the specific topic, there are other A-T (or A-T-ish) popular references. But unless you have the stomach and the technical know-how and savvyness to dabble in the neo-Scholastic manuals or a penchant for rigorous analytical philosophy (and few have), no, there is not much choice.
Probably the most obvious question then, is why should anyone bother? If it is that inaccessible upon first being exposed to A-T, you have the practical issue of those people gauging if it is worth further effort. Why would anyone choose to investigate further A-T over Caodaism for instance? People have to make practical choices about which of many claims are worth pursuing further.
On top of that you have the Thomist’s usually peeved response that people don’t appreciate this marvellous thing upon meeting it. I don’t think a religion or theology could engineer a more uninviting and unwelcome force field. If A-T is that good (and it may well be), it seriously needs to lift its “marketing and communications”, as it were.
Don’t worry. One can be a Naturalist, but not “really” a Naturalist, as A-T quite easily forced you to so claim.
It’s “accessible enough” to motivate that from you and others.
Given the obvious, accessible, and intellectually uncomfortable alternative, it’s clear why the Naturalist is tempted to “pull back”.
There’s more robust works, but why should we reference them when the simpler works (Feser, Etc.) suffice?
So far you’ve done this:
1) I’m a Naturalist but not really a Naturalist.
3) Stop referencing A. Give me a B instead.
4) “A” forced me into # 1’s equivocation, therefore A must be “silly” or something. How uninviting of you. Yes. It’s all your fault.
5) Naturalism’s self-negating X’s are not relevant to the question of why some Christians don’t reasonably defend one of their X’s on-the-fly, on the street.
6) #5 must be a Boogie-man or something. How uninviting of you.
7) Don’t you guys have something simpler, easier, more accessible than 1-6? How uninviting of you. Yes. It’s all your fault.
As noted in the previous comment, #35, sure, more robust works are out there. But the Christian clearly gets enough traction out of the simpler bodies of works.
“If it is that inaccessible upon first being exposed to A-T, you have the practical issue of those people gauging if it is worth further effort.”
You misunderstood my response (or I did not explained myself very well). I did not say it was inaccessible; I said that there are not many *popular* *contemporary* references. The reason why the neo-Scholastic manuals produced in the first half of the 20th century have a forbidding look to them are as much cultural as intellectual. An analogy: Dante is one of the greatest writers we will ever have, but few can read him today, and the reasons have to do not just with the intrinsic difficulty of Dante’s text, but with culture making cultural artifacts of a bygone era inaccessible.
“Why would anyone choose to investigate further A-T over Caodaism for instance? People have to make practical choices about which of many claims are worth pursuing further.”
Because it is the truth?
Your response is puzzling in other ways. It can be said about *anything* at all, given that we humans are finite creatures and soon our place will know us no more, so we must make choices. There is nothing special about A-T in this regard. Do I embark with Aquinas or join hands with some insufferable hack? Second, if you are to have an informed opinion about it (e.g. whether A-T is relevant or not) you have to grasp it. There is no shortage of people telling me A-T this and that, and yet betray a complete ignorance of it. Third, the choice between pursuing this or that is influenced by many factors, most of them having nothing to do with the this or that, but rather with the person making the choice. To understand why theoretical physicists say the Higgs boson exists you have to keep a veritable theoretical house of cards in your mind involving quantum field theory, gauge theories, Lie group symmetries, the symmetry breaking mechanism, etc. besides the complicated experimental setups designed to test it. Few have the willingness or the aptitude to understand all the technicalities. But of course, such general unwillingness or lack aptitude says nothing about the relevance or worth of knowing whether the Higgs boson exists, and certainly not about whether it is true or not. Fourth, Chesterton defended Aquinas on the basis (among others) that it is the philosophy of common sense. I think this is just right. But in order to say why common sense is right, and in what sense it is right, you have to adduce *arguments* — and this is what A-T is at the end of the day, and why it matters.
There are other prejudices at work in your response, both cultural and philosophical, but I have written too much already as it is.
And, of course, one of the things that might draw you to A-T is that after all these years it’s still relevant and has extraordinary explanatory power. On the other hand, modern philosophy, and the philosophers that practice it, have taken philosophy from a place of great academic and cultural importance and prominence to a place of academic and cultural irrelevance. No one really cares about philosophy any more. Why? Because divorced from the reality and or even acknowledgement of a creator God it’s just so much talk about nothing that is relevant to our lives. Ironically, it’s modern philosophy that has become the discussion about “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” that theology was often and incorrectly accused of being.
It appears to me that many, if not most, of the atheist interlocutors who stop by this site confuse the Socratic Method with obfuscation. They are not the same. Unlike the Socratic Method, obfuscation leads nowhere. You cannot read the dialogues of Plato and conclude that the Socratic Method was not leading anywhere. Both Plato along with his mentor Socrates believed in capital T truth and that the quest for “Truth” was a worthwhile venture.
For example at #23 above, GrahamH wrote:
How is this obfuscation? What is Graham’s alternative? Does he have self-evident or “provable” presuppositions for his world view? (What is his world view?) If he does why is he keeping us in suspense? If he does have proof for his world view it would be game-set-match. So why the obfuscation?
It’s also obfuscation because it is a strawman and a red herring. I can’t think of a single theist, who regularly contributes here, who claims anything approaching proof as a basis for their faith. Is Graham so daft that he has never noticed that? Personally I have no problem with the dictionary definition that faith is “belief without proof.” However, that is not the same as belief without evidence, which is the way Boghossian defines faith.
There are numerous places in the New Testament where various writers appeal to eye witness testimony and evidence. For example, Luke write in his Gospel,
1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (NIV).
Also see, 1 John 1:1-4 and 2 Peter 1:16.
Furthermore, life would be unliveable and society impossible if absolute proof was required for every decision. For example, in criminal court cases the requirement is not absolute proof but proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a big difference. If absolute proof were required hardly anyone in the United States, where there is a presumption of innocence, would ever be convicted of a crime.
Interestingly, the New Testament uses a legal term apologia usually translated “reason” when it talks about defending the faith (1 Peter 3:15) Apologia was the term which in ancient law courts referred to the arguments that a lawyer would give on behalf of a client who was a defendant in either a civil or criminal court case. For example, in Plato’s dialogue, The Apology, (or, Apologia) Socrates who is representing himself in a criminal trial in the Greek city state of Athens, gives an apologia, or a reasoned defense, on behalf of himself before the Athenian court.
What is required to productively use the Socratic Method? I think we need to begin with two things: (1) basic honesty and (2) a willingness to find common ground. If you do not start with those two basic things you end up talking past each other than rather to each other. Personally, I’d rather pursue the latter rather than the former.
“No one really cares about philosophy any more. Why? Because divorced from the reality and or even acknowledgement of a creator God it’s just so much talk about nothing that is relevant to our lives.”
Just like modern art.
From David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God”, on Reason’s impossibly extravagant appetite:
“I suggested above that, in many classical metaphysical traditions, the concept of being is one of power: the power of actuality, the capacity to affect or to be affected. To be is to act. This definition already implies that, in its fullness, being must also be consciousness, because the highest power to act — and hence the most unconditioned and unconstrained reality of being — is rational mind. Absolute being, therefore, must be absolute mind. Or, in simpler terms, the greater the degree of something’s actuality, the greater the degree of its consciousness, and so infinite actuality is necessarily infinite consciousness. That, at least, is one way of trying to describe another essential logical intuition that recurs in various forms throughout the great theistic metaphysical systems. It is the conviction that in God lies at once the deepest truth of mind and the most universal truth of existence, and that for this reason the world can truly be known by us. Whatever else one might call this vision of things, it is most certainly, in a very real sense, a kind of “total rationalism.” Belief in God, properly understood, allows one to see all that exists — both in its own being and in our knowledge of it — as rational. It may be possible to believe in the materialist view of reality, I suppose, and in some kind of mechanical account of consciousness, but it is a belief that precludes any final trust in the power of reason to reflect the objective truths of nature. I happen to think that a coherent materialist model of mind is an impossibility. I think also that the mechanistic picture of nature is self-evidently false, nothing more than an intellectual adherence to a limited empirical method that has been ineptly mistaken for a complete metaphysical description of reality. I believe that nature is rational, that it possesses inherent meaning, that it even exhibits genuine formal and final causes, and that therefore it can be faithfully mirrored in the intentional, abstractive, formal, and final activity of rational consciousness. If I am wrong about all of these things, however, I think it also clear that what lies outside such beliefs is not some alternative rationalism, some other and more rigorous style of logic, some better way of grasping the truth of things, but only an abandonment of firm belief in any kind of reasoning at all. God explains the existence of the universe despite its ontological contingency, which is something that no form of naturalism can do; but God also explains the transparency of the universe to consciousness, despite its apparent difference from consciousness, as well as the coincidence between reason and reality, and the intentional power of the mind, and the reality of truth as a dimension of existence that is at once objective and subjective. Here, just as in the realm of ontology, atheism is simply another name for radical absurdism — which, again, may be a perfectly “correct” view of things, if reason is just a physiological accident after all, and logic an illusion. That is an argument that I shall not revisit just now, however. Instead, I shall simply observe that, if reason’s primordial orientation is indeed toward total intelligibility and perfect truth, then it is essentially a kind of ecstasy of the mind toward an end beyond the limits of nature. It is an impossibly extravagant appetite, a longing that can be sated only by a fullness that can never be reached in the world, but that ceaselessly opens up the world to consciousness. To speak of God, however, as infinite consciousness, which is identical to infinite being, is to say that in Him the ecstasy of mind is also the perfect satiety of achieved knowledge, of perfect wisdom. God is both the knower and the known, infinite intelligence and infinite intelligibility. This is to say that, in Him, rational appetite is perfectly fulfilled, and consciousness perfectly possesses the end it desires. And this, of course, is perfect bliss.”
DBH – His combination of eloquence and content is astounding.