Okay… So maybe the Agent got me too…

by rsbakker

[This is just a follow-up arising out of an email exchange with Terrence… I always, always, adore the feeling of having seen through some kind of semantic tangle, but not quite so much when I realize I’m the one wearing the dunce cap! But given the rarity of clarity on TPB of late, I feel compelled to post it.]


I thank you for all this Terence, and I sincerely hope I haven’t come across as an ingrate, since you are without any doubt doing me a huge favour – particularly now that I’ve decided to pull it all together into a book. It strikes me now that you actually have a different understanding of pluralism than I had originally thought. I’m quite willing to adduce broad generalizations, accepting that their scope cuts against their accuracy. In fact, I feel out and out trapped by a number of these cartoons (I’ve never been locked in a single theoretical outlook for so long in my life). So I tend to pose these, asking for people to show me a way out.

My problem, however, is actually the classical philosophical one: since the cartoon ‘theoretical incompetence’ applies to all theoretical cognition, it has the effect of undermining all theoretical attempts to overcome it. I simply rehearse the laundry list of biases that various researchers have isolated, and ask how the theoretical claim challenging the theoretical incompetence thesis can claim any immunity to them. They cannot.

So as a result I’m stranded with the thesis that operates in numerous ways as if it were apodictic: nothing nonscientific can shake it. But because I myself cannot make an apodictic commitment, because I am, ultimately committed to pluralism, I refuse to acknowledge it as such.

But if it walks and talks like duck… Your question really amounts to, What does your pluralism matter, Scott, if it strands you with claims that function universally, even if you don’t commit to them as such?

It’s a damn good question, and it touches on something I am very uneasy with. But yet, the question remains: What philosophical speculation trumps cognitive psychological fact? I’m tossed right back into the same ceteris paribus turmoil: All things being equal, scientific theoretical claims are generally more reliable than philosophical theoretical claims.

The fact that BBT predicts precisely these kinds of cognitive quandaries simply makes the situation more miserable!

So taken in the worst way, you could say I’m nothing more than a wannabe pluralist. In a more charitable light, I’m a kind of ‘bottleneck pluralist,’ committed to the suspicion of simplification that drives pluralism, yet trapped by the way the cognitive difference (the fact that all claims are not equal) has the pragmatic consequence of elbowing everyone else out of the room when pertaining to claims that quantify over all cognition.

Since this is basically what you’re saying, I concede. But I would dearly love to hear how you’ve managed to find your way out of my quandary!