Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Aristotle, Bush, Rational Inference, and Richard Carrier

This is an old post that I am bringing up to the present.

Jason in his comment on a previous entry says that Carrier is making a mistake when he claims that our current political dialogue shows that we do a lot of things without making rational inferences. I think Jason is right, and I think I can illustrate his point by explaining one of the great intellectual discoveries that philosophy has ever produced, and that is the Aristotle's distintion between the form and the content of rational arguments.

Consider the following argument:

1. If Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, the we ought to invade Iraq.
2. Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.
3.Therefore, we should invade Iraq.

The argument is valid, and even Michael Moore ought to recognize that if the premises are true the conclusion must be true. Anyone who recognizes that the conclusion follows from the premises performs a rational inference. If we couldn't perform inferences like these, we couldn't have political dialogue at all. An argument is valid just in case, if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. It has nothing to do with whether or not the premises are true, or whether or not we are rational in believing the premises.

Now we can ask whether the premises were true (in 2003), or whether people were rational in believing them. Maybe the people who not only drew this inference but also accepted the premises and hence the conclusion are guilty of various kinds of irrationality, perhaps suffering from Halliburton bias, or Bush bias. And we can ask how rational people really are in the way in which they make their political choices. I happen to think, with Carrier, there's plenty of irrationality in political belief-formation. Nevertheless they do draw inferences. The argument from reason says that if naturalism is true, we will not find people performing rational inferences at all.

5 comments:

Edward T. Babinski said...

On the "logic" behind the Iraq war, there was none. There were fuzzy photos and neo-con fear mongering. (It's all been done before, this actually was a replay.) And lying Iraqi informants. Maybe we should have tortured some of those informants to tell us the truth long before we started torturing insurgents at Abu Grahbi?

We also had UN inspectors on the ground in Iraq, daily satellite photos, and no fly zones before the war. Not to mention the aforementioned informants who might have helped us pinpoint some direct evidence. But no, we had nothing but fear and big stick in our pocket. Oh, and did I mention a gluttonous thirst for oil?

So, in the Iraq war I was behind the Pope: Keep the UN guys monitoring Iraq, keep the no fly zones. Spend money on homeland security, monitoring of terrorist activities with other worldwide agencies, planning a few highly specific retaliatory strikes, and spending other tax dollars on transitioning America's energy needs with "Manhattan project-like" research and development programs that could benefit the world and save far more future lives than any intervention in any particular country would have.

As for those who claim the pre-War UN "Food for Oil" program was netting Sadam millions in under the table money, I recently read that the current level of under the table monetary corruption in Iraq with the American occupation EXCEEDS the prior one under the "Food for Oil" program, and exceeds it by far.

Now that we've spent the bank on interventionist wars, and are in the thick of things, I guess we should keep repeating loudly and with our chins held high that we did it for "democracy" and to give Iraqis the freedom to watch international news broadcasts and MTV, and eat sand while the new government in Iraq has the freedom to rebuild their country and go into debt, and buy arms to defend itself from insurgents, and keep the peace between rival factions, and also support the Koran memorization schools that have replaced the former nationwide secular schools that Saddam had going.

Regime changes are notoriously unpredictable, what a waste of America's tax money and the world's future. All at a time when America had the world's sympathy after 9/11. The Pope was right on this one, I'll give him that.

Victor Reppert said...

Ed: I am pretty unsympathetic to the Iraq war myself. But the point is that even people who accept arguments with false premises still make rational inference, if they see that if the premises are true the conclusion must be true. I gave a valid argument justifying the Iraq war. But validity, of course, does not entail soundness.

Let's try to stay on topic.

J. Hawthorne said...

I think your point here is good. However, and I realize this is a bit off topic, but what can we add to rationality to make a stronger case for getting at truth? Are there intellectual virtues that assit in the process? Certainly your illustration re: Naturalism opens a few doors; for example, rational inference is difficult to make without a unified, enduring self. Further, this self would require various attributes (mind, reason, etc.) to make inferences. Mere-rationality seems like a necessary, but not sufficient condition or at least not a sufficiently satisfying one.

J. Hawthorne said...

Oh and FYI, I opposed Scientific Naturalism in my last post based on a simple argument from the existence of minds. I linked to your post here too. FYI#2, I started your book CS Lewis’ dangerous idea. So far, so good.

Mike D said...

What can we add to rationality? The obvious answer is justified irrationality. History will miss the point of the invasion of Iraq unless it remembers the fear post-9/11. The government feared it would be blamed for failure to prevent a truly surprising and unpredictable methodology. Fear concluded that the next logical event would be a dirty bomb in the US. The "logic" that sold the Iraq war to the public and our allies was irrational fear.