This week read and comment on (1) an essay by Dr. Lex Crane and (2) a response from me.
From the Santa Barbara Free Press
Rev. Dr. John Alexie “Lex” Crane died on August 7, 2015 at the age of 93. Lex was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on January 14, 1922 to John A. and Minnie E. Crane. He graduated from the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 1939, and served in the U.S. army in the South Pacific and Europe from 1942 to 1945. He was severely wounded during the Battle of the Bulge. He went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1949 and a Master of Arts in Creative Writing in 1950 from Johns Hopkins University; a Master of Divinity from Starr King School for the Ministry in 1951; and a Master of Arts in Social Psychology from the University of California in 1971. . . .
Lex was a good friend. Below is a link to one of his papers.
by Lex Crane
Certainty is easily accessible
impossible to achieve.
This paradoxical circumstance has nurtured demonic forces in human life, which, in turn, have found expression in violence, destruction, and death on a massive scale. The forces are within us and in our institutions. They must be transcended if we are to ensure the survival of our own species, as well as that of countless others.
Easily accessible certainty is rooted in need; the unreachable is based on knowledge of reallity. Thus there is subjective certainty on one hand; and objective cer-tainty on the other. Since subjective certainty emerges in response to need, it is always available in the amount required. (Wheelis 81) The deeper the need, the more intense the certainty that develops. All humans have a need for some degree of certainty in order to feel secure in a contingent existence.
“It’s not what we don’t know that hurts us, it’s what we know that ain’t so” – Will Rogers
Anecdote a) In my first year at VIU I was a psychology student taking the required statistics class taught by Kim Iles. Kim was an engaging teacher, that much I knew, but the subject, like most things mathematical in nature, never clicked. Unfortunately for me, Kim was the type to pick people in class whether their hands were raised or not, just to check if they were listening. When they got it right, he might toss them a little chocolate bar. When they were bullshitting or guessing, they suffered an acute public shaming. It was always one or the other. I knew I was not even close to sweet chocolaty understanding, so each time he scanned the room I sunk in my seat and looked away. Bless the guy, he usually spared me. But one day my time came and indeed I couldn’t make an educated enough guess to show an even faint grasp. I gave the only answer I knew: “I don’t know”. He threw me a full-sized Snickers bar and said “Good answer.” I rejoiced.
I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic until he gave us a brief aside on how IDK is always a good answer to any question you genuinely don’t know, how so many problems in the world are attributed to people pretending they know something they don’t. This is the lesson that stuck with me most in that class, which I ended up technically failing (but given the minimally passing grade anyway on account of being smart in “other ways”). The next year I found philosophy, the only place not knowing seemed to work.
Anecdote b) I later had a boyfriend who was a devout Christian. I was so in love but couldn’t reconcile his faith. “If you don’t believe in anything then you’ll never move forward” he’d say. “I’d rather be suspended in doubt than deluded” I’d say back. Our fundamental issue was not so much whether God exists, but the irreconcilable difference of me believing the assumption of doubt is healthy and that beliefs should be true, and him believing that doubt is paralyzing and beliefs should make you feel good.
Anecdote c) My latest ex, a politically opinionated atheist, accused me of being too dogmatic with my belief in doubt. He wanted me to take a side on issues. I’d rather not pretend I know something about which I only have or can only have partial knowledge. He’d rather fill in the gaps with whatever logical fallacies he can get away with. I’d rather not, and I’d rather he not.
I know that doubt is a virtue. When we doubt our mind is open to other possibilities which are more likely to be correct. I know that when I am feeling insecure or not comfortable about being unsure, I’ll make more assumptions and thus an ass out of myself. I know that being caught in false claims of knowledge makes us less credible to our peers over time and that being around know-it-alls is fucking exhausting. I am pretty sure I’d rather be in doubt than be wrong and find out later, or even be living a blissfully ignorant but less optimal timeline.
But only one out of these three examples led to a happy ending. So, to what extent is doubt a virtue? About what sorts of things? Am I denying myself happiness or progress by trapping myself in suspended disbelief about things that I can never know anyway? Are there certain situations where faking it until you make it, or believing for the sake of it, is the way to go?
I just don’t know.
Jennifer Gardy takes a bizarre trip to the edge of perception, as she attempts to make sense of our senses.
Suppose you and your spouse pack up the car and leave for a vacation. On your way out of the driveway, you have the following conversation:
Spouse: Did you remember to turn the stove off after breakfast?
Spouse: You know you forgot to turn it off the other day. If we leave it on over our vacation, our house will burn down.
You: You’re right. I’d better go back and check.
Epistemically speaking, what happened in this scenario? One plausible analysis is as follows. Under ordinary circumstances, you know claims like ‘my stove is turned off’. But it would make little sense to go back to the house to verify something that you already knew to be the case, and so in cases like this where the cost of being mistaken rises significantly, your knowledge is lost. This, in a nutshell, is the claimed insight of pragmatic encroachment.
‘Pragmatic encroachment’ denotes a range of views united in claiming that the conditions under which true belief counts as knowledge include at least some pragmatic conditions. In other words, practical considerations are “encroaching” upon the territory traditionally occupied by truth-directed conditions on knowledge. What you know or are justified in believing may depend on the existential import of such beliefs.
“But there is an irreconcilable conflict between the epistemologies of science and religion—in what constitutes knowledge and how to obtain knowledge. Choosing between the epistemologies can be addressed only by passing judgment on what each has accomplished. Science has produced technology, religion has not.”