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[What’s the use of saying “There’s no evidence” or “Show me some evidence,” if evidence is the result of interpreting the facts using principles that spring from one particular world view. Change the world view and the principles of interpretation change. Change the principles of interpretation and the evidence changes. Good evidence may suddenly appear where previously there was none. Facts may be sacred, but there’s certainly nothing sacred about evidence. As my friend Fred said in one of his emails—and who can doubt it—“the same set of agreed facts can be taken as evidence in support of different interpretations or theories of the overall situation.” Well, a world view is nothing if not a theory of the overall situation, and a theory of the overall situation is very likely to favour some principles of interpretation over others. Not surprisingly, the “evidence” that the facts yield after applying the favoured principles of interpretation tend to confirm the world view that inspired them. So, we have something like a feedback loop.

Is it fair, then, to say that defending one’s world view always involves arguing in a circle?: i.e. saying in effect “My world view, unlike yours, is grounded in evidence!” but never conceding (or even being aware) that one’s world view uses principles to interpret the facts that generate “the evidence” to support it. I think that would be going too far. To make a case for one’s world view is not just an ingenious way of committing the (informal) logical fallacy of assuming in one’s premises and/or by one’s non-demonstrative inferences* the truth of what one’s argument purports to show. (And by “show” we mean demonstrate from principles that command assent from many—though not necessarily all—rational people.) Nevertheless, if we overstate the strength of our case—and it is not uncommon for people to claim that “the evidence” for their world view ought to be coercive for every rationally-minded person—or if we refuse to admit that some of the assumptions and inferences on which it is based are a matter of philosophical opinion on which rational people may legitimately differ, then we may be guilty of a kind of intellectual sleight of hand.]

* According to Bertrand Russell, ‘Outside pure mathematics the important kinds of inference are not logical; they are analogical and inductive.’

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