Home > Uncategorized > Facts, fallacies and echo chambers

Facts, fallacies and echo chambers

from Iconoclast

The above discussion “The new minds of young people will be open to the new empirical evidence.” illustrates the difficulties encountered by heterodox thinkers. Orthodox thinkers share a dogma, or at least a set of a priori assumptions, and usually a methodology. In essence, this makes orthodox thinking an echo chamber where basic ontology is never questioned. When the heterodox argue, as in the economically heterodox here, the argument eventually descends (or ascends?) into metaphysics; into ontology and epistemology. This is both the benefit and drawback of thinking and arguing from any kind of heterodox position.

While we are all drawn here by our rejection of orthodox economics, each of us has a particular perspective. That perspective is drawn from our enculteration and areas of study. That perspective is a kind of filter through which we see and interpret the world. Our only commonality appears to be a rejection of orthodox economics. Thus I suppose, in theory, if we pooled our arguments of disagreement with orthodox economics, searched for commonalities there and then backtracked or “reverse engineered” our way to the implied ontologies and epistemologies of such disagreements with orthodox economics, we might then begin to find common ground.

This, in effect, is what is beginning to happen in the discussion above. After rejecting orthodox economics, which unavoidably involves critiquing and rejecting its patently fallacious ontology, we are faced with the task of constructing a new ontology suitable for modern political economy. It’s not an easy task and there will be many disagreements on perspective as above.

There are two keys in my view. Empiricism is one. “It is a fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation.” [1] The second key is moral philosophy where we must decide on consequentialist or deontological ethics. Taking empiricism seriously must perforce mean a choice for consequentialist ethics. In my view, the choice for deontological ethics violates the empirical requirement for no reliance on pure reason or revelation. Note, I said “in my view”.

At some point, we have to declare for something. I declare for empiricism and consequentialist ethics. I declare for the Correspondence Theory of Truth. From a complex systems perspective, models, truths and facts are human ideational systems about which we intend or claim they have some correspondence with other real systems. (An idea is actually a real system too in one sense, namely that it is instantiated in a brain via chemical and electrical activity or instantiated in media like books and computer chips via information patterns encoding languages.)

“That truth is the correspondence of a representation to its object is, as Kant says, merely the nominal definition of it. Truth belongs exclusively to propositions. A proposition has a subject (or set of subjects) and a predicate. The subject is a sign; the predicate is a sign; and the proposition is a sign that the predicate is a sign of that which the subject is a sign. If it be so, it is true.” – Charles Sanders Peirce

Truth (or falsity) belongs to propositions. “Fact” or “fallacy” belongs to propositions. I think Ken Zimmerman is simply saying that a “fact” is a constructed proposition. A “fallacy” is also a constructed proposition. However, if we are going to talk about facts and fallacies at all, and to argue that they are different and indeed diametrically opposed, then we introduce the notion of their correspondence or non-correspondence with something objectively real outside of human ideas per se and to which ideas may refer. This too is an ideational proposition. Any extended propositional logic is also constructed. In the final analysis, the only support for any of our propositional logic (like the correspondence theory of truth) is empiricism itself. The pragmatist notes that we experience something external and apparently real in a way the mind’s mere ideas and impressions are not. There is a consistency and persistence to this apparently real, objective, external world (consistent laws etc.) which said consistency and persistence is NOT a mirror of the qualia of the mind itself, the ideas and perceptions of which are fickle, inconsistent, given to fabrications, fancies, unconsciousness, sleep and finally death.

Before the fact or fallacy is constructed, something real and external to the mind exists upon which the fact or fallacy is constructed. Relationally this must be so. Neither facts nor fallacies are constructed upon nothing. Before the fact which is correspondent there is and/or was the existent to which it corresponds in some degree. The fact is certainly constructed but it is constructed upon something.


  1. November 12, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    Good to see Iconoclast facing “the task of constructing a new ontology suitable for modern political economy”. I’m with him here on his first three paragraphs, but about the fourth have reservations stemming from my experience as an information scientist, and of raising a diverse family within a larger and even more diverse extended family (with its inevitable share of talents and handicaps).

    Firstly, re his cross-reference to “new minds”, little kids begin by learning from and intuitively learning to understand what their parents etc reveal to them, which though a priori to them is not entirely so to their teachers, and becomes healthily subject to empirical testing in their teens as new friendships reveal disagreements about what they have learned. Francis Bacon likewise started from evidence of a problem, advocating taking things to bits so one can see how they work. Descartes’ began a priori by doubting himself and hence everything, but – like medics knowing nothing of germs – tried to locate “the ghost in the machine” a few hundred years in advance of becoming able to in terms of Shannon’s computer hardware logic and information science. In saying this, I am disagreeing profoundly with what Ikonoclast wrote on July 26th 2019, that the only real science is hard science. That completely devalued our discoveries about the physical encoding and directive function of representation.

    Secondly, on moral philosophy I disagree that we must decide between consequentialist or deontological ethics. We can have bits of both. As kids we need to start with the latter and learn the value or otherwise of its advice by observing the consequences of flouting it. Addressing our Creator, the most sacred part of the Christian ritual begins: “It is right and just, always and everywhere to give you thanks”. A little story I recall with delight is of our neighbour Polly Cartland (mother of the famous romantic novelist Barbara Cartland), who in our penniless days used to give us a ride up to church. When we got back, one of the kids got out of the car, slammed the door and was about to rush off when Mrs Cartland collared him. “Young man”, she told him, “you need to learn that our most important duty is to say thank you”. The consequence of being grateful is to experience and give back happiness, perpetuating the good will. Those who have already found that hardly need to be told about it. Conversely with ingratitude.

    So I too am prepared to “declare for empiricism and consequentialist ethics”, but only allowing that epistemologically adequate evidence may follow rather than precede an ontologically true conclusion: one which “does what it says on the can”.

    When we come to the correspondence theory of truth, as a logician I think this is simply mistaken. Truth or falsity does not belong to propositions, i.e. it is not specific to them. It is a term belonging to the logic with which propositions are judged, and in the logic of reliability (statistical testing) may have probability values in between truth and falsity. I totally agree with Charles’ Peirce’s interpretation, though with its subsequent qualification by Shannon’s work. A physical subject [as located by its appearance] represents itself, whereas a predicate [as such] doesn’t. The two concepts are at different logical levels: a variable and a value predicated of it.

    • November 12, 2019 at 11:06 pm

      If in practice an ontological truth is pragmatic (i.e. doing what it implies rather than interpreting a model), it really doesn’t matter whether it is being discovered afresh, or handed down. I am saying this to refute the argument that because the Bible is ‘religious’ it has nothing relevant to say about economics. I give two examples where it has.

      The first would have provided a better solution to the Great Crash of 2008 than bailing out the banks. In this story an executive was caught with his hand in the till, and made sure he still had some friends by writing down their debts. (Luke 16:1-15).

      The second story gets to the heart of the literal-minded individualist psychology that sees unemployment as a justifiable fact rather than a social problem. An employer, having agreed a fair wage at the beginning of the day, continues to hire the unemployed throughout the day, then rouses the ire of those first hired because he pays even the late comers the fair wage. But why shouldn’t he? They needed the livelihood just as much and it wasn’t their fault others hadn’t employed them. (Matthew 20:1-16).

  2. Craig
    November 12, 2019 at 6:35 pm

    I believe in the wisdom of integration, the integrative nature of the the most unitary concept in human thought, i.e. the natural philosophical concept of grace and in the implications of quantum theory, that is, that the cosmos is actually a unity while apparently also being perceived as a lot of separate things.

    And I’m happy to have it both ways.

  3. Ken Zimmerman
    November 16, 2019 at 2:21 pm

    Iconoclast, I’ve debated this point too much, so I’ll make this short. Everything we humans take as “real” is constructed. Constructed by humans in interactions with one another and with nonhumans. But that construction work in no ways undoes the thing being constructed. If you can have many points of views on a statue, it’s because the statue itself is in three-dimensions and allows you, yes, allows you to move around it. If something supports many viewpoints, it’s just that it’s highly complex, intricately folded, nicely organized, and beautiful, yes, objectively beautiful. Since this work is performed with others (humans and nonhumans) consensus is possible. And consensus makes possible shared objectivity. And shared objectivity is culture. And cultures undergird all human history. And this is the sticky part of human ways. In one culture, the statue may be objectively beautiful for religious celebrations. In another, the statue may be objectively beautiful for commerce. In another culture, the statue may be objectively beautiful for family life. Human cultures, the source of both pain and beauty, or pain or beauty, or beautiful pain, or painful beauty. And none of this work requires philosophy, mathematics, or science. Although humans have used all three in various combinations at times for the work. Fascinating, isn’t Sapiens?

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