I am trying to apply the loose set of meta-criteria that I have developed for evaluating metaphysical research programmes to Sean Kelly’s ALL THINGS SHINING (ATS) project and to its successor project THE PROPER DIGNITY OF HUMAN BEING (PDHB), as they are expressed on the ALL THINGS SHINING blog.
One of these criteria that seems particularly appropriate is having a place for testability (and a corresponding fallibilism). One should be able to examine a research programme, its theses and predictions, from the point of view of its confrontation with experience and with other hypotheses that seem confirmed in one way or another (experience, well-established theses, commonly shared principles, etc.).
A second criterion that seems heuristically appropriate is that of the generic. As we saw in the previous post, a minimal, generic language is one that is as free as possible from particularistic predicates, formulations and assumptions that limit its interpretation to specific places and times, customs and creeds, rather than allowing it to be universal.
In his post on « How do you make a decision » Sean Kelly puts forth a radical polytheist maxim:
« To make a decision, to make a genuine decision, is to be moved within to an understanding of yourself that is unshakeable and true”.
Now this is a very interesting vocabulary, particularly coming from someone who is aiming for a minimal perspective and language.While the term “unshakeable” may pass muster, with the understanding that it is hyperbole, the reinforcement brought by “true” is not just hyperbolic but excessive, because it implies some sort of infallibility. Bringing together the two predicates seems to unduly stabilise the « understanding », prescribing a response of absolute tenacity. and of (at least provisional) closure.
But are all our life decisions « given » in the modality of certainty? Are we not increasingly coming to see our previously « unshakeable » understandings as hypotheses? Obviously we need to hold firm to some things, but such tenacity is relative, as we remain open to future experiences and to future transformations of our understanding.
Unless one re-weakens this strong maxim by reading “true” as “true to”, or faithful, there is a cognitive component that may reflect a prejudice, an obsession, an emotionally or ideologically driven commitment rather than a validated apprehension.
A new understanding can be wrong or harmful, and our tenacity in remaining faithful to it can prove inappropriate or even catastrophic in the long run.
So there can be no implicit or explicit claim to infallibility, and such language is not fully generic in that it allows for only one modality (certainty) and for only one attitude or form of commitment (absolute tenacity).
In his succeeding post Kelly tries to come to terms with these problems, but I find that his analysis only complicates the picture, adding epicycles whose main function seems to be as protective measures to maintain unshakeability and truth as « ontological » properties, given that they fail to be plausible at the ontic level. That is to say, we are no longer supposed to feel validly grateful for our understandings, as some of them may prove to be false, inadequate, or harmful. Kelly now invites us to be grateful for our meta-capacity of « standing openness », an ability to accept the possible transformations of our first order understandings
For those who have been following my discussions of other philosophical projects on this blog, it should be no surprise that I am in favour of the hypothesis of this meta-capacity, which corresponds to my criteria of pluralism and diachronicity. However, I do not think it can serve to entrench the description of an understanding as « unshakeable » and « true » by way of a meta-validation.