Socrates Cafe Louisville Message Board › A Personal Discourse and Essay on Criticism and Critical Thinking

A Personal Discourse and Essay on Criticism and Critical Thinking

A former member
Post #: 1
Part 1 of 3

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
Friedrich Nietzsche
German philosopher (1844 - 1900)

“Frustration is implicit in any attempt to express the deepest self.”
Patricia Hampl

Perhaps a short introduction is in order.

First and foremost, I am not an orator. I find writing much more effective to collect and organize my thoughts, so after my first exposure to this group and some of the ensuing contention I decided to avail myself of the available online resources, specifically the message board, to address the group with a few observations and food for thought.

If I had to describe myself, I would consider myself a self-styled contrarian, critic, dissident and skeptic. Most of my life has been spent at odds with a toxic culture that all too often seems to not only defy logic, but willfully violates reason in the most obscene and vulgar manners imaginable or even possible, and does so at every available opportunity.

Philosophy has long been of interest to me, but like most people caught up in the mundane, day-to-day chores and tasks of life, I was far too busy to study it extensively on any serious level. That was until a little over three years ago when my position was relocated to Mexico and I found myself counted among the multitude of other unfortunate, unemployed American citizens.

I spent two years in this situation and took advantage of my spare time by treating it as a Sabbatical. I read, studied, educated myself and reconciled many, if not most, of my core beliefs. One of the things I learned is that both criticism and critical thinking are not only key components, but also requirements of any serious philosophical endeavor.

What this self analysis required from me was not only the ability, but the willingness to challenge, distance myself from, objectively examine and reconcile my beliefs according to logic, reason and at times in the light of evidence to the contrary of deeply held core convictions. To say this was a difficult process is an understatement.

The fact is that the human mind is a veritable jungle, rife with pitfalls such as cognitive bias and distortions, and landmines such as logical fallacies that must be recognized as such for what they are and avoided because they are literal traps that arise from faulty logic and reasoning. The vast majority of these are well documented and known.

It became my task to educate myself regarding the nature of these obstacles since philosophy is ultimately about one single solitary purpose to me. It is not only the quest for knowledge, since that can come from education, but wisdom and ultimately truth, internal and external. Whatever individual, personal or universal truths there are to be discovered or recovered from the sands of time.

I say that last part deliberately and specifically because it underscores an important point. George Santayana observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The Life of Reason (1905-1906); Volume I, Reason in Common

The history of human experience is rife with examples of human atrocities and tragedy, yet we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over, time and again, as many of those lessons are forgotten or lost when denialists, minimalists and revisionists erase or rewrite them to advance some agenda or another, which makes preservation of our history of critical and vital importance, but perhaps that’s another topic for another time.

The other night, I believe it was Jeff who mentioned “wisdom” at one point. I define wisdom as the understanding that comes with perseverance. I’ll give an example. I’ve worked with some extremely educated and highly intelligent professionals. At one point during my career I was straddled with a young inexperienced engineer. The next thing I knew he started proposing breaking down and replacing equipment en masse.

When I inquired about his rationale and what reason he was proposing such a drastic and expensive overhaul, he cited erroneous data he’d collected based on a theory that simply didn't apply to our application. He had the credentials, education and knew the theory, but didn’t understand the application, which in turn caused him to apply the wrong theory.

Education and knowledge are like tools in a toolbox. The more you have on hand, the better equipped you are, but it is experience and perseverance that allows someone to understand the nature, correctly identify the application and apply the right “tool”, theory or whatever in the correct manner in order to address any given issue.

I gained many new insights and perspectives during those two years, and eventually conditions improved enough to allow me to return to full time work, but it was a one year contract consulting position so now I’m back in the same boat.

Needless to say I was excited at the prospect of being introduced to a group of like-minded individuals after reviewing the group’s description on one of it’s affiliate sites, the “Louisville Coalition of Reason”, where it stated “Socrates Cafe Louisville is simply people getting together to ask philosophical questions with the purpose of getting a better understanding of the topic, philosophical inquiry, and realizing our own preconceptions.”

Considering the realization and reconciliation of many of my own former preconceived misconceptions with the “facts of life” as it were, I was in high hopes of being able to openly share as many of my new insights as possible with a group of other critical and philosophical freethinkers and skeptics.

At this point, I have to admit that my elation quickly turned to dismay as I not only witnessed one logical fallacy after another trotted out and openly asserted during my initial encounter and exposure to the group discussion, but was equally distressed as the vast majority went virtually unchallenged.
A former member
Post #: 2
Part 2 of 3

This is a short list of some of the major ones I managed to make mental note of.

· Argument from ignorance (appeal to ignorance, argumentum ad ignorantiam) – assuming that a claim is true (or false) because it has not been proven false (true) or cannot be proven false (true)
· Begging the question (petitio principii) – where the conclusion of an argument is implicitly or explicitly assumed in one of the premises.
· False attribution – an advocate appeals to an irrelevant, unqualified, unidentified, biased or fabricated source in support of an argument.
· Kettle logic – using multiple inconsistent arguments to defend a position
· Mind projection fallacy – when one considers the way he sees the world as the way the world really is.
· Onus probandi – from Latin "onus probandi incumbit ei qui dicit, non ei qui negat" the burden of proof is on the person who makes the claim, not on the person who denies (or questions the claim). It is a particular case of the "argumentum ad ignorantiam" fallacy, here the burden is shifted on the person defending against the assertion.
· Reification (hypostatization) – a fallacy of ambiguity, when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete, real event or physical entity. In other words, it is the error of treating as a "real thing" something that is not a real thing, but merely an idea.
· Appeal to emotion – where an argument is made due to the manipulation of emotions, rather than the use of valid reasoning.
o Wishful thinking – a specific type of appeal to emotion where a decision is made according to what might be pleasing to imagine, rather than according to evidence or reason
· Argument to moderation (false compromise, middle ground, fallacy of the mean) – assuming that the compromise between two positions is always correct.
· Argumentum ad populum (appeal to belief, appeal to the majority, appeal to the people) – where a proposition is claimed to be true or good solely because many people believe it to be so
· Fallacy of many questions (complex question, fallacy of presupposition, loaded question, plurium interrogationum) – someone asks a question that presupposes something that has not been proven or accepted by all the people involved. This fallacy is often used rhetorically, so the questions limit direct replies to those that serve the questioner's agenda.
· Emotional reasoning – Experiencing reality as a reflection of emotions, e.g. "I feel it, therefore it must be true."
· Magical thinking - Expectation of certain outcomes based on performance of unrelated acts or utterances. (See also wishful thinking.

The last two are actually considered “Cognitive Distortions”, but this brought us to the last part of the group’s online description. “Participating in a Socrates Cafe is a great way to sharpen your intellect, get a better understanding of your own beliefs, and learn more about how other people think. Discussions are typically spirited but respectful of one another's points of view.” Which was suggested as the topic of next week’s discussion, “Respecting the Viewpoints of Others”.

“Points of View” or “Viewpoints”, what we’re really discussing are “opinions”, and yes, just about everyone has at least one on any given subject. They are so cheap and easy to come by that they are freely distributed and handed out from bully pulpits across the world on a weekly basis enough to be virtually useless.

So what truly matters? The question becomes, what is the basis of our opinions? Is it based on actual experience and information or baseless conjecture and unfounded speculation? Should we value supposition over educated, experienced, informed decision-making?

I am a firm believer in self-determinism and the individual right to self-determination so when considering the assertions, opinions and positions of others or the decisions they make based on those same assertions and opinions, especially in cases and matters where they either directly or indirectly impact or influence me in some way, am I to disregard their basis?

What is the point of leading a life based, directed or even influenced by the supposition of others? I don’t base the decisions in my life on baseless conjecture and unfounded speculation and I don’t find the proposition of being led around by the nose-ring of supposition to hold any great appeal, value, or necessarily worth living.

There seems to be a common, yet persistent, pervasive and prevalent attitude and misconception that any challenge to clarify an assertion, defend a position or qualify a statement is perceived as a personal attack. This is simply not the case.

A personal attack would consist of employing some other illegitimate form of argument or logical fallacy such as an “Ad hominem” argument to attack and discredit the person rather than the flaws of their particular argument, assertion, position or statement for the express purpose of drawing attention away from the argument’s merits. It is simply a disingenuous form of misdirection.

Unfortunately, this is a fairly common tactic for the unscrupulous to use in order to defend faulty logic or flawed reasoning from legitimate criticism. Criticism, critical thinking and skepticism are the mind’s only natural defenses.

It is only when these natural defenses are circumvented through logical fallacy or willingly surrendered through personal trust that we become vulnerable to foolishness, nonsense and all manner of mental mischief, roguery and even thievery to the point of depriving us of those things that are naturally ours to begin with and are true.

If one is deprived through legerdemain or sophistry of the ability to challenge, criticize, inquire, question or scrutinize any given subject, they are effectively disarmed and robbed of their only means of mental self-defense and psychological self-preservation.

In other words, if our trust is misplaced, we can be easily deceived and manipulated to the point that mental acuity is lost, cognitive bias and confusion set in and cognitive dissonance runs rampant as the mind sinks into a morass of mental ambiguity unable to discern the truth or distinguish it from a lie.
A former member
Post #: 3
Part 3 of 3

Criticism, critical thinking and skepticism then become the mechanisms and vehicles by which we distinguish fact from fiction, fantasy from reality and sense from nonsense. I would likewise question whether the charge of “disrespect” is leveled evenhandedly or selectively applied to those challenges to our core beliefs and convictions we are hardest pressed to defend?

Would a pedophile professing pederasty be equally respected? How about a misogynist espousing sexism, or what of the criminal who would shift the blame for his crimes to the victim for not taking proper precautions from their predatory instincts and effectively faulting the victim for “tempting” them to prey upon others by simply providing them the opportunity?

I seriously doubt any of these would be met with any measurable degree of respect, or would at best pose a significant challenge to most, but when it comes to popular beliefs, it is as equally unpopular to challenge them as it is a challenge to defend them. Hence the “Argument to Moderation” fallacy is selectively applied. I submit that this is simply an illegitimate form of censorship in order to quell legitimate criticism.

The majority of times I have run afoul of this perception were when popular opinions were challenged, criticized or questioned. The person making the assertion was unable to adequately defend their position and the only available avenue of escape out of an uncomfortable situation is to censure and silence the challenger with a charge of political incorrectness.

Nietzsche observed, “To predict the behavior of ordinary people in advance, you only have to assume that they will always try to escape a disagreeable situation with the smallest possible expenditure of intelligence.” So this in combination with the “Ad hominem” becomes one of the two most prevalent defense mechanisms.

Sam Harris credited Christopher Hitchens for “distilling, in a single phrase, a principle of discourse that could well arrest our slide toward the abyss: ‘what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence’.”

This is actually from the Latin “quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur”, or “what is asserted without reason may be denied without reason”. So until some actual evidence can be provided, I will continue to challenge, dismiss, question and reject the “Emotional Reasoning” and “Magical Thinking” distortions along with the “Wishful Thinking” fallacies of the “god arguments” and assertions that not only “Begs the Question” (“Is there a god?” a fallacy in and of itself), but simultaneously asserts an affirmative response without a shred of evidence (a dual fallacy), as would any serious critical thinking skeptic worth their salt.

Perhaps these arguments might be appropriate for a theological discussion, but certainly not for any serious philosophical one of any merit. This is an easily overlooked distinction, but upon careful consideration and in light of the weight of evidence to the contrary, such assertions become absurd.

So should we then deprive the ridiculous and leave it barren and bereft of the ridicule it desires and so rightly deserves? On the surface, this might appear to be an Ad hominem argument, but it is not, so long as it is reserved for the subject of the assertion (god) and not the individual making the assertion.

In retrospect I realize this is an informal group for public discussion, but considering the origin of the name from which it draws inspiration, the fact of its purported purpose “philosophical inquiry, and realizing our own preconceptions”, as well as it’s affiliation with other reason-based groups and association with skeptic organizations, it is not unreasonable to expect challenges to irrational arguments and assertions.

So which shall it be? Critical thinking flies men to the moon. Magical thinking flies men into buildings, and before leveling the charge of “Black and White Thinking” or “False Dilemma”, it is incumbent to show some other missed option. Otherwise, this is reduced to another false “Argument to moderation”.

I am firmly and thoroughly convinced that there are logical crossroads and rational impasses where distinctions and decisions must be made and mutually exclusive concepts must be reconciled as either true or false as I have found no legitimate “middle ground”.

And so, my challenge to this group would be for it to clearly delineate, define and distinguish itself as either a legitimate philosophical organization that requires free and open inquiry into assertions and precepts, or a social club where alienation is something to be feared resulting in legitimate criticism being censored, quelled and suppressed.

My interests are in practical and rational problem solving. I neither possess the luxury of time enough to waste entertaining the erroneous ”emotional reasoning” and “magical thinking” distortions of the uneducated, nor the flawed “wishful thinking” fallacies of the uninitiated, unless they are capable of educating themselves.

Nor am I interested in wasting time with the willfully ignorant that refuse to educate themselves, proudly proclaiming “Don’t confuse me with facts! My mind is made up!” thinking they are the gatekeepers of truth by which all others must pass (of course, without a shred of evidence), or the mental masturbation of yet another pseudo-intellectual mutual admiration society stoking and stroking its ego.

And, yes, this consists of personal opinion, but I am more than willing to back up anything I have failed to support with logic and reason with evidence and facts instead. As Voltaire stated, “To hold a pen is to be at war.” I have identified the enemy of humanity and it consists of the unholy trinity of fear, ignorance and superstition. Unfortunately for us it is an exponentially multiplying legion.
Frank L.
user 9615384
Louisville, KY
Post #: 11
Yo, Mike, Pleased to meet you (here...we've met before at LAAF meetings)!

I share your stated personal aversion to logically fallacious arguments and thinking (and I personally reject logically fallacious arguments and thinking when I recognize that I am being confronted by them), but as a freethinker I do respect everybody else's right -- yea DUTY to THEMSELVES -- to reject MY (or any others') perspectives if mine (or others') do not make good sense to THEM, in favor of whatever DOES make the most genuine good sense to THEM (since that is just exactly what I do for my own self).

In short, I AM the arbiter of what passes for fallacy-free, soundly-premised argument, FOR ME! But I do NOT try to be the arbiter of what passes as fallacy-free, soundly-premised arguments for others, I respect that they retain the right -- yea DUTY -- to do that for their own selves regardless of whether I agree with their assessment or not.

What that means is that when I see/hear/read someone making what I judge to be a logically fallacious (or perhaps logically valid but UNsoundly-premised) argument, I will candidly share with them (IF THEY SEEM INTERESTED) why I am not persuaded by their argument, but I do not interrupt them and try to argue with them clean to the ground about it, they are free to reject my judgment in favor of making their own mistakes on the issue. I can sleep just fine at night if my perspectives are rejected by another (because I am a freethinker who respects other people's making their own mistakes).

Is that how you are? Or do you feel like you simply HAVE to wrestle them clean to the ground and make them holler "uncle," and RIGHT NOW?

I ask because I can't tell for sure from what you wrote which approach to trying to influence people's thinking you prefer to take -- "beat" it into 'em and right now, or sew a seed or three and then give those seeds time to germinate in their cognitive garden.

At any rate, be aware that a group of people who are interested in philosophy is NOT at ALL necessarily the same as a group of "like-minded" people! The variety of different philosophies embraced by people today is astonishing!

I try to keep in mind the advice my very first university philosophy professor (UL's emeritus professor of philosophy, Charles Breslin) said to us over 40 years ago on our very last day of his class:

"Remember, there is NO certainly correct philosophy; there ARE however some surely wrong ones."

There are two remember-worthy things in that:

1. Not all philosophies are "created equal" (some badly lack merit, some have abundant merit); and

2. No philosophy (that would include mine, and also yours) is certainly correct.

Food for thought at least (I hope you will agree). -- Frank
A former member
Post #: 5
Hey, Frank! Good to see you again!

So what I hear you saying is "Don't confuse me with facts! My mind's made up!" Would that be a correct read on the summation of your argument?

I operate on a couple guiding principles as well.

Don't pee down my leg and attempt to convince me its raining, and don't blow smoke up my backside and try to convince me its sunshine.

So were there any specific points of my article you wanted to debate, substantive facts to discuss or was this just a "drive-by" introduction?
Frank L.
user 9615384
Louisville, KY
Post #: 12
No, that is not even close to a correct read on what I was saying.

But that's OK, Mike, perhaps others here will read me better.

By the way, I wasn't positing an argument, I was just sharing my perspectives (as they seemed to my feeble, admittedly fallible mind to relate to your perspectives which you had just posted here) for whatever large or teensy value my perspectives therein might have for you or other interested parties here.

I applaud you for operating on whatever guiding principles make the most genuine good sense to you and/or which (presumably) produce the most desirable results you find your particular modus operandi to produce (I do the same thing for my own self, though my guiding principles are really only just a tad different from yours). Good luck with yours!
A former member
Post #: 6
Frank, thank you for sharing your opinion, but I think I already covered that particular topic. If you would care to elaborate on what part of my premise you take exception to and on what basis, I would be more than willing to listen, but bristling with antagonism at my rejection of over-simplified, over-stated verbiage without citing any particular basis proves nothing and solves even less. This seems to me nothing more than excessive, unsubstantiated chest-thumping.


Oh, and "perhaps others here will read me better".

· Argumentum ad populum (appeal to belief, appeal to the majority, appeal to the people) – where a proposition is claimed to be true or good solely because many people believe it to be so
Frank L.
user 9615384
Louisville, KY
Post #: 13

We seem to no longer be in the same conversation, Mike.

If we have had a failure to communicate, no problem, I happily accept the entire blame (and I leave the record of our effort for others to judge), you are off the hook.
A former member
Post #: 7
Off what hook? Was that your intention? Freudian slip?
Group Organizer
Louisville, KY
Post #: 153
Hey Mike. I appreciate your willingness to challenge the group in terms of the principles of formal logic. However, I think that you've defined philosophy much too narrowly. You've quoted Nietzsche a couple of times - I'd ask you to read one of his books in the light of formal logic. I think that it will show you that he, and lots (and lots!) of other philosophers don't make arguments that are reducible to logical proofs. If you agree with me, then do we ignore these philosophers? Do we take their books out of the philosophy section and move them to the "creative writing" section? Maybe we can conclude that our ways of thinking and of understanding (and, consequently, our philosophy) are deeply rich and profoundly amazing. Or should that be richly deep and amazingly profound? Richly profound? Amazingly deep?

--Your amazingly amazing host.
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