Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Faith makes double standards obligatory

I seem to be developing a thread of posts, the last one in this series having been the clash of the plausible.Today, I want to explore further the domain between evidence based reasoning and faith based reasoning.

We all have many beliefs we have never deliberately acquired nor have had the opportunity (yet) to consider. Many of these are tacit beliefs, that we have not yet stated explicitly or linguistically, yet we are guided, sometimes, by them. Others are explicit, stateable, beliefs that we have acquired yet not properly considered. As time, opportunity and circumstance permit or even encourage we can review these.

This can framed as the application of what I call the 4R4R approach. There are two 4R stages, the first is the identification of the belief and the second is the evaluation of it.

The identification 4Rs are recognition, rationalisation, relevancy and ranking. One first has to recognise that one has a belief, even if it is tacit. If it is tacit one has to make it explicit, often circumstances force this when challenged on it, by ourselves, others or a particular situation. I call this, partly for alliterative purposes, "rationalisation" and this is all that is meant here - the requirement to make a tacit belief linguistically stateable hence explicit. Now once you have an explicit, yet unconsidered, belief how relevant is it - to the situation at hand or in general? And there are often other unconsidered beliefs - a backlog of them, so to speak - which ones should one consider, given limited time and abilities - that is they need to be ranked.

On this basis you select a belief you already have for further analysis, the second stage 4Rs. These are review, revise, replace or reject. Any belief can be reviewed - is it plausible given the network of other beliefs one has, what was the status its origin and does that matter, are there any errors in this belief, is this belief necessary and so on. On this basis one can revise a belief if there are errors, find a better belief to replace it with, or see that it is useless and not required and so reject it without replacement.

From an evidence based reasoning perspective all the above should be entirely unproblematic. Of course there are difficulties to apply this to some beliefs - such as cognitive distortions, biases and illusions; residual implicit beliefs - possibly conflicting with the now evaluated belief; financial, political and societal constraints and so on - but these are just part of the challenge of applying the 4R4R approach or any equivalent.

However, from a faith based reasoning perspective there are problems. It is not the case that all beliefs can be so considered, as, sometimes by fiat, some are and must be immune to criticism and evaluation. These are the ones that that particular faith based reasoning depends upon. Yet most, but not all, would recognise that we can be mistaken, at least about some of our beliefs, and that it would therefore be a good idea to be able to examine them and identify such mistakes if they exist. But how can one examine some beliefs and not others? How can one know without examination that there are no errors in a belief. And what are the rules to do so? These would be expressed in another belief - you cannot criticise these beliefs. Can that belief itself be examined? (One can avoid an infinite regress by making such a belief with a self-reference such as "these beliefs, including this one, cannot be criticised"). Still the question remains on what basis should one not examine these beliefs - no evidence can be provided - it is both an act of faith itself and is question begging since it assumes the truth of those beliefs that including that they cannot be dissected.

What we have lost here is a relatively simple, consistent and systematic means of examining any belief, however hard this is to put in practise. What we have instead is a less simple, inconsistent and/or more complex systemic means of handling all these, none of which has any independent justification. The way it works in practice, is that it necessarily endorses double standards, where a lower standard (even if is called a "higher truth") is applicable to some beliefs - they must be accepted and be immune to criticism - whereas all others can be challenged and criticised.

The issue here is that from an evidence based perspective, double standards can lead to or hide errors and mistakes in accepting, revising or rejecting beliefs. It is a factor that needs to be dealt with in order make an honest appraisal and, if this is avoided, it weakens ones ability to make accurate evaluations. There has to be a justified basis for double standards but there is none, all the justifications for double standards are that this not in fact the case, rather there is a single standard being applied, but to a different comparison set to the one that the challenge of double standards was assuming. As to what comparison set is suitable, that can itself be examined.

Any system of thought that necessarily endorses double standards, where the defence of a single standard over a different comparison set cannot be applied, is also necessarily implying that not all errors and mistakes can or should be detected and dealt with. Such a view cannot make concepts such as honesty, fairness, justice and truth primary goals without further inconsistency if not incoherence. Further this applies regardless of one's metaphysics whether a form of realism or idealism, as we are dealing with internal inconsistencies or incoherences within the system of thought.

This is the case here with our examination of faith based reasoning. However for now no judgement is being made only observation of the implications of such types of reasoning. A number of important questions are implied here and need to answered. The next post in this series will examine the relation between belief, knowledge and justification.