Thursday, January 23, 2014

Self-Detonating Counter-UPB Arguments

Stef wants to show that someone who claims "UPB is wrong" by using logic and evidence, commits a performative contradiction by doing so. The norms of argument provide the basis for UPB. These norms include (there are more):
* I value truth above falsehood, clarity above obfuscation.
* Truth is objective.
* I will correct others when I see they've made a mistake, and accept corrections from them when I have.

Godel proved that logic has limits, but no one can use logic to prove that logic is useless. So, a logical syllogism that concluded, "therefore logic can prove nothing," is a performative contradiction. There may or may not be a logical error in the argument, but if it uses a method of proof that it explicitly rejects, that is a problem.

If I somehow learn something I believe to be true, but the implications of this truth include the idea that I cannot or should not communicate it to someone, or it is meaningless or pointless for me to do so, can it really be true? (Hoppe's argumentation ethics and Habermas and Apel's discourse ethics have taken similar approaches.) This paradox invites us to conclude that the proposition must actually be false, no matter how much the proposition may tempt us to believe it. If we can only communicate an idea by becoming a hypocrite, there's something wrong with that idea.  

If I explicitly reject the norms of argument, I can still speak the truth. If I decline to self-identify as a member of the fair-debate speech community, can all my claims be dismissed? No. Only those statements that contradict my current actions.

This allows Stef to evade the "is/ought" problem without solving it. Here's what I mean. Someone says "UPB is wrong." According to Stef, that person has opted in, has demonstrated their willingness to debate and committed to the norms of debate. So any further debate can make use of those norms, and if that person contradicts the norms of debate, that is a performative contradiction and we should reject the claim. 

So what Stef would really like to do is have UPB logically follow from the norms of debate. Everything in his book would then just be a derivation and explanation of those norms and their corollaries and implications. Unfortunately, the book is not organized in a way that makes it easy to see where he is going or whether he gets there.

There are of course questions about this, even the more "mainstream" versions are controversial. Stef is not very explicit in his arguments or clear in his explanations. To attack this idea, you can argue that the specific norms do not follow from the activity of debate, or that we have no grounds to universalize them, that we could ignore them as soon as we stop debating, something like that.

And UPB is more than logic. It is logic, evidence, universality, the coma test, the "2 guys in a room" test and all that other stuff. How can we get a performative contradiction from that? I can think of two possibilities: either it really all can be derived from Stef's premises using logic, or Stef has added something that he must support with argument. Maybe I can get universality from pure logic, and the coma test is a corollary of universality. What about the 2 guys in a room?

This works for the scientific method and aesthetically preferred actions (APAs), but does it work for Stef's target, ethics? Could someone truthfully say (see Noesis, "I accept the norms of argument, and the principles of UPB, but I believe all actions are morally right, no violation of UPB is possible," without contradicting norms of debate?

This is all stuff I don't understand yet, still many questions in my mind.

How do we know that the coma test and 2 guys in a room test work? Do they depend on anything other than universality?
Given universality, if a proposition fails the tests it is false. If it passes, how do we know it is true? What does it really mean for a moral proposition to be true or false?

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