How to Defend Your Ideology Against All Comers

Anytime someone raises a devastating objection to your position, which has never been defeased, call it a "tired old chestnut" and tell the person they should look "in the literature."

This comes up sometimes in a more personal form: Someone will say to me, "Gene, I can't believe your are bringing up that objection. Don't you even remember how you used to answer it?"

Well, yes, I do. And the reason I don't hold that position any longer is that I came to understand that answer -- the same one you are about to give me -- was woefully inadequate to meet the objection, was, in fact, typically a way of dodging it or defining it away rather than meeting it. And I realize what enabled me to blind myself to those answers' inadequacy was my desire to sustain my belief system as it was, since I had become comfortable with it.


  1. Well in those situations wouldn't it make sense to advance the conversation along by answering the answer in advance, so people aren't wasting time re-hashing arguments?

  2. Well, Daniel, if one had unlimited time for blog conversations, and thought that it would make a bit of difference to put that answer out -- generally it wouldn't -- then it might. But very often the correct way to save time in these matters is this.

  3. Funny, considering that anytime anyone's reply to you contains the word "falsifiability", your automatic response is to say that the "tired" old idea is refuted "in the literature", which, inevitably, you never manage to be able to put into your own words.

  4. "you never manage to be able to put into your own words."

    Silas man, shootin' down that crap be so easy that people are gonna start thinking you my sock puppet that I created just to make my critics out to be fools.

  5. Ah, I bet you meant "never manage to be able to put into your won words and publish in a peer-reviewed journal."


  6. Most people don't need to write a full article to disarm one minor confusion on the part of their interlocutors.

    I mean, assuming they have a deep understanding of the issues, of course.

  7. Hah! Now you're saying I've written TOO MUCH on the subject, rather than nothing on the subject! Wonderful!

    And contending that falsification is such a trivial idea one ought to be able to refute it with a quip or two! Despite the fact Popper took several books setting it out. What a dolt he must have been.

    It's time to stop now, Silas.

  8. Are you even trying to be rhetorically charitous? My point is that your responses *in internet exchanges* simply refer to the literature, without being able to articulate its argument, and relevance, with the appropriate level of detail for an internet exchange; and that this "savant" level of skill is indicative of poor, compartmentalized understanding, quite similar in form to the very people you're criticizing.

    See? Nothing in there about any of your works being both too short and too long.

    I haven't said anthing so far about your journal articles. (though I'm almost certain they don't convey your ideas as well as this.)

  9. Gene, you don't enhance your case by describing Popper as a "dolt". He was appreciated by many scientists, both the locals who befrieded him in NZ and others such as Einstein, Medawar, Eccles and Monod who took philosophy seriously and substantially agreed with him. You need to understand Popper's work in relation to the "turns" that he took, conjectural, objective, social and metaphysical.

    It also helps to describe him as a conjectural apriorist rather than a falsificationist, if you want his position in a nutshell.

    Rafe Champion

  10. Rafe, that was sarcasm! Go back and look at the context. Silas was complaining that I couldn't refute Popper in a sentence or two on a blog. I was making a sarcastic rejoinder: Oh, I'm dumb because I couldn't refute Popper in a sentence or two, but it took him several books to describe his ideas, i.e., if I'm dumb for not being able to nail him in a blog post, think how dumb he must have been to take books to describe his system.

    Popper was no dolt, and I would never describe him as one.

  11. Sorry Gene! You find me in the midst of charting the extent to which the exegisis of Popper in philosophy texts has gone past the point of writing him off as a naive falsifcationist (using invalid arguments and simple-minded misreading of his ideas). The the post-2000 pattern in many if not all survey texts on epistemology is to leave him out altogether, fixing on the justification of belief as the overwhelming central issue as though Popper had never offered an alternative approach.

    Some of this you can find on the CR blog.

  12. By the way, Rafe, in the philosophy of science programme at LSE, Popper and Hempel were presented as the two great figures of mid-20th-century philosophy of science. Both wrong, but still very good attempts!

    That is still my view of Popper: brilliant try, but came up a goal short of moving on.

  13. "My point is that your responses *in internet exchanges* simply refer to the literature,"

    Some of which I wrote.

    "without being able to articulate its argument, and relevance, with the appropriate level of detail for an internet exchange..."

    Not everything can be explained in an Internet exchange. Sometimes it's best just to say, "Go read this."

    Knowing when that is is indicative of a very good level of understanding.

  14. Silas, nice write-up on bitcoin.

    But not any shorter than two of the falsification pieces I posted links to!


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