Saturday, November 20, 2010

Scientific and Moralistic Positivism

How can we know what's True and/or what's Good? Philosophers call this area of inquiry epistemology. There are two untenable theories: positivism and constructivism. Positivists argue that human beings can know timelessly universal scientific and/or moral facts, which correspond to reality. A statement is true if it corresponds to the facts. Correspondence is detemined based on a verification process. Hence, positivists argue that "if X is true, than it's true in all times and all places." And/or, "If X is good, it's good in all times and all places." And of course, we all seek these timelessly universal "True Beliefs," and when we think we've got one, we arduously embrace those "facts." A world of timelessly universal facts is highly coveted, but profoundly naive. The other untenable epistemological theory is called constructivism, which argues that Truth and/or Goodness are manufactured by sociopolitical forces. Hence, our beliefs are are relative to time (historical relativism), or place (cultural relativism). Most constructivists are either historians or sociologists. So are there epistemological theories that avoid both positivism and constructivism?

Most libertarians embrace evolutionary epistemology as proposed by Charles Sanders Peirce and Karl Popper. The basic idea is that our individual and collective beliefs evolve over time based on variation and selection. Hence, they reject the verification process in favor of a falsification process, or "creative destruction." Why? Because we can never know when the verification process is over (the problem of induction). How many experiments must we conduct before our theory is finally verified. Peirce and Popper, therefore argued that, although we cannot know the Truth, we can know what's False. Therefore, when we say "X is true," what we're really saying is that "X hasn't yet been falsified." The goal of human inquiry is to dethrone false theories. Over time, our individual and collective beliefs get closer to the Truth, but never achieve finality. So what are the social implications of evolutionary epistemology?

Scientific and moralistic positivists typically claim unqualified authoritative dominion over others based on what they "know," that is "The Truth" and/or "The Good." Finality: it's over! "I know the Truth or the Good, and you don't. I'm the ultimate authority, therefore, you must submit to that authority and bestow up me, the social privilages that I deserve." Libertarians, resist the temptation to coronate timelessly universal "experts." Expertise is inexorably fallible, but not necessarily socially constructed. Libertarians, therefore, question both scientific and moral authorities. Why? Because they forge monopolies.

Theories and experts become authoritative when they dominate any given market. The sellers of theories profit most when their theories gain monopolistic status, which can be achieved via either persuasion or coercion. Theories become natural monopolies when they explain, predict, or control phenomena better than other competing theory and therefore attract a critical mass of buyers based on emotive and/or rational persuasion. Artificial monopolies attract and maintain buyers not by persuasion (emotion or reason) but by coercion, which usually prevents exposure to falsification. Thus there is a difference between "selling" theories of Truth and Goodness within a competitive market of ideas and "forcing" others to buy those theories. The most efficient way to establish an artificial knowledge monopoly is to deploy the coercive power of government via the criminal justice system, which often protects artificial monopolies. That's how theories become ideologies and scientists and moralists become ideologues: by using their enhanced sociopolitical status as justification for exercising coercive force over non-believers. Both Science and Religion can easily fall into the hands of ideologues.

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