Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Having spent countless hours arguing politics with others, and being told that I'm critical of "how" they speak or how they frame their arguments, I find that, as usual, some bright light has already explained my view in ways that I can't. That whacky Spinoza nails it for me:

Besides, suggesting difficulties is not the same as producing reasons. That we do many things in the world from conjecture is true, but that our redactions are based on conjecture is false. In practical life we are compelled to follow what is most probable; in speculative thought we are compelled to follow truth. A man would perish of hunger and thirst, if he refused to eat or drink, till he had obtained positive proof that food and drink would be good for him. But in philosophic reflection this is not so. On the contrary, we must take care not to admit as true anything, which is only probable. For when one falsity has been let in, infinite others follow.

6 comments:

Mister Parker said...

Which of course reminds me of Woody Allen's "Love and Death":

Russian gentleman: So who is to say what is moral?
Sonja: Morality is subjective.
Russian gentleman: Subjectivity is objective.
Sonja: Moral notions imply attributes to substances which exist only in relational duality.
Russian gentleman: Not as an essential extension of ontological existence.
Sonja: Can we not talk about sex so much?

The Jestaplero said...

So, in this scenario you would be Spinoza "in philosophic reflection" and I would be the guy having a burger and a shake?

See, this is why I always use my perempts to kick all the philosophers off my juries. Circumstantial evidence? They probably couldn't convict if the crime happened before their eyes and was videotaped by Mother Teresa.

But let me bring this back to the Booosch administration: I agree with you that there is strong, direct evidence that there were no WMD and that the invasion was planned and executed horribly. And I agree that the case that the admin knew there were no WMD but knowingly lied us into war anyway is less strong and mostly circumstantial at this point.

But I strongly disagree with you that the former is just as bad as the latter so the inquiry can just stop there.

There is no denying that there would be enormous political and possibly criminal consequences - far beyond what have already been paid - if the latter was proven.

See, I'm less interested in settling on an argument I can more easily win than finding out what really happened. It's important to me, personally, but I think it's critically important to the country.

I say there is more than enough circumstantial evidence the admin knowingly lied us into this disastrous, ruinous war to trigger a full-scale Congressional and special-prosecutor investigation.

This country has got to learn once and for all that countries that invade and occupy nations that pose no threat to them are rogue nations. They are criminal governments. They're on the axis of evil.

Unfortunately, that's where we are right now. It wasn't always so, and we can get off the axis again. But only if we really figure out how we got here and publicly hold accountable those who did it.

I'm afraid with your approach we'll just sort of slink off, letting the real perpetrators off the hook, and this country will never learn the lesson of the Iraq tragedy, and we'll be doomed to repeat it, sooner than you'd expect.

bigglesby said...

You haven't been the only person where this comes up a lot, but it clearly has between us during Iraq War talk. So it's good that you're here commenting.

So, in this scenario you would be Spinoza "in philosophic reflection" and I would be the guy having a burger and a shake?

No, I would just be the guy worried that "when one falsity has been let in, infinite others follow."

And worried that later, others would assert what they presumed to be true when it wasn't proved or then-provable.

But I strongly disagree with you that the former is just as bad as the latter so the inquiry can just stop there.

I may not have been very clear here: I don't think that the former is just as bad as the latter.

The latter is much, much, much worse.

I've always argued that the former is bad enough. And that it muddies the arguments to assert more egregious probabilities when the proven wrongs are so indefensible and contemptible.

To borrow the criminal trial comparisons, why have your witness assert the things that are *probably* true, but that open themselves up to debate, when the witness can testify to facts that are irrefutable. Cannot even be questioned! Corroborated by fifteen other witness. When that testimony should result in life without parole without establishing those other supposed facts.

I suspect in that case, you'd tailor your questions, and counsel your witness during prep, in an effort to keep the testimony to the most irrefutable stuff imaginable.

And I think you either misunderstood my criticisms during our set-tos, or mischaracterize them now. It wasn't ever that you found probable cause, or wanted an investigation, or wanted to get to the bottom of something. I think a fair review of my criticism to many people, including to you in some e-mail exchanges, has been a criticism that something was asserted as fact and as proved, when it hadn't yet been. I think that doesn't have anything to do with whether we find out what really happened; my criticism is that it impedes finding out what really happened. It doesn't persuade.

If someone can reasonably say "I can imagine a different reason why he/she/it did that," then I would say that heeding Spinoza is a more efficient way of getting to the truth. Saying "it looks that way to me, but I'll keep at it because I don't have enough yet to really *assert* that" has always been, in my book, more persuasive. And ultimately more convincing.

I'm afraid with your approach we'll just sort of slink off, letting the real perpetrators off the hook, and this country will never learn the lesson of the Iraq tragedy, and we'll be doomed to repeat it, sooner than you'd expect.

But my reference to Spinoza is actually about avoiding this. In matters where we won't perish by adhering to a rigid intellectual rigour, why not insist on it down the line to ensure that nobody doubts the result, and that no falsity has followed?

The Jestaplero said...

I agree with all your major points here. Just a sideline comment:

To borrow the criminal trial comparisons, why have your witness assert the things that are *probably* true, but that open themselves up to debate, when the witness can testify to facts that are irrefutable. Cannot even be questioned! Corroborated by fifteen other witness. When that testimony should result in life without parole without establishing those other supposed facts.

I suspect in that case, you'd tailor your questions, and counsel your witness during prep, in an effort to keep the testimony to the most irrefutable stuff imaginable.


Just so you know how I do it at trial:

The witnesses aren't allowed to speculate anyway, so they never testify about "probables". They just say what they claim happened, and the jury either finds them credible and credits their testimony, or not.

But I don't stop there. I throw all the circumstantial evidence I can find at the jury, too.

Give you an example: at a robbery trial recently, I had a detective go out to the crime scene and observe what I had seen there, that the place, where the victims claimed they were led to by the defendants and then robbed at night, was exactly mid-way between the two closest overheard streetlights.

I had the detective testify to that; direct evidence.

In summation, I argued to the jury that this was relevant because it makes sense the robbers would lead their victims to the darkest place on the block to rob them to avoid being seen by others.

Is this proof of anything? By itself, absolutely not. I offered it only because I felt it supported the argument that my witnesses were telling the truth. It's like direct evidence offered to be applied circumstantially.

That's how I approach the Iraq problem. Is it proof that the admin knew there were no WMD that they sent in a very light force without the resources to collect and contain stockpiles of weaponry? By itself, of course not.

But offered as circumstantial evidence, in a chain of consistent evidence, it lends support to the central premise. And in any event, I'm not saying it's proof beyond a reasonable doubt - I'm just looking for an indictment. I want a full-blown investigation to get the facts out.

Also, in criminaland, we almost always have a top count with many lesser includes.

If my Robbery 1 (rob with a gun) is supported by weaker evidence than my Robbery 3 (simple theft by force) I'm still going to argue for top count.

bigglesby said...

Your explanation of your proof at criminal trials brings me back to the subtle point on which we always get hung up -- I would object to your statement that an article or witness had "proved" something, and suggest that you say "leaves little doubt" or "strongly suggests" or -- I now submit -- "leaves no room for reasonable doubt."

You would shoot back [I paraphrase, and offer what I understand to be your view] that as advocate for a position, you are prefer to state more unequivocally what you believe.

It seems to me that blog posts and discussions frequently mix up the role of advocate and juror. Advocate does have to state without equivocation and, where he believes there is no reasonable doubt, not create an impression of any doubt.

When I listen to jurors, I think I like to hear them say that there may be doubt, but that they've been convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.

They leave open the SPinozian position that, while they fear the falsity, it's time for lunch. . . .

Mister Parker said...

"Love and Death":

Boris: You're a tyrant, and a dictator, and you start wars!

Napoleon: Why is he reciting my credits?