What and How We Know
Darrell Huff (Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc: Oct 28, 1993; orig. 1954), 142 pages.
There is terror in numbers," writes Darrell Huff in How to Lie with Statistics. And nowhere does this terror translate to blind acceptance of authority more than in the slippery world of averages, correlations, graphs, and trends. Huff sought to break through "the daze that follows the collision of statistics with the human mind" with this slim volume, first published in 1954. The book remains relevant as a wake-up call for people unaccustomed to examining the endless flow of numbers pouring from Wall Street, Madison Avenue, and everywhere else someone has an axe to grind, a point to prove, or a product to sell. "The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify," warns Huff. Although many of the examples used in the book are charmingly dated, the cautions are timeless. Statistics are rife with opportunities for misuse, from "gee-whiz graphs" that add nonexistent drama to trends, to "results" detached from their method and meaning, to statistics' ultimate bugaboo — faulty cause-and-effect reasoning. Huff's tone is tolerant and amused, but no-nonsense. Like a lecturing father, he expects you to learn something useful from the book, and start applying it every day. Never be a sucker again, he cries! "Even if you can't find a source of demonstrable bias, allow yourself some degree of skepticism about the results as long as there is a possibility of bias somewhere. There always is." Read How to Lie with Statistics. Whether you encounter statistics at work, at school, or in advertising, you'll remember its simple lessons. Don't be terrorized by numbers, Huff implores. "The fact is that, despite its mathematical base, statistics is as much an art as it is a science." ~ Therese Littleton
Trent Dougherty, ed. (Oxford University Press: Sep 15, 2011), 320 pages.
Few concepts have been considered as essential to the theory of knowledge and rational belief as that of evidence. The simplest theory which accounts for this is evidentialism, the view that epistemic justification for belief--the kind of justification typically taken to be required for knowledge — is determined solely by considerations pertaining to one's evidence. In this ground-breaking book, leading epistemologists from across the spectrum challenge and refine evidentialism, sometimes suggesting that it needs to be expanded in quite surprising directions. Following this, the twin pillars of contemporary evidentialism — Earl Conee and Richard Feldman--respond to each essay. This engaging debate covers a vast number of issues, and will illuminate and inform.
"Agnosticism and Christianity" in Essays Upon Some Controverted Questions (1892), pp. 350-1, 351-2.
The people who call themselves "Agnostics" have been charged with doing so because they have not the courage to declare themselves "Infidels." It has been insinuated that they have adopted a new name in order to escape the unpleasantness which attaches to their proper denomination. To this wholly erroneous imputation, I have replied by showing that the term "Agnostic" did, as a matter of fact, arise in a manner which negatives it; and my statement has not been, and can not be, refuted. Moreover, speaking for myself, and without impugning the right of any other person to use the term in another sense, I further say that Agnosticism is not properly described as a "negative" creed, nor indeed as a creed of any kind, except in so far as it expresses absolute faith in the validity of a principle, which is as much ethical as intellectual. This principle may be stated in various ways, but they all amount to this: that it is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what Agnosticism asserts; and, in my opinion, it is all that is essential to Agnosticism. That which Agnostics deny and repudiate, as immoral, is the contrary doctrine, that there are propositions which men ought to believe, without logically satisfactory evidence; and that reprobation ought to attach to the profession of disbelief in such inadequately supported propositions. The justification of the Agnostic principle lies in the success which follows upon its application, whether in the field of natural, or in that of civil, history; and in the fact that, so far as these topics are concerned, no sane man thinks of denying its validity.
J. Budziszewski (Ignatius Press; Rev Exp edition: February 15, 2011), 300 pages.
In this new revised edition of his groundbreaking work, Professor J. Budziszewski questions the modern assumption that moral truths are unknowable. With clear and logical arguments he rehabilitates the natural law tradition and restores confidence in a moral code based upon human nature. What We Can't Not Know explains the rational foundation of what we all really know to be right and wrong and shows how that foundation has been kicked out from under western society. Having gone through stages of atheism and nihilism in his own search for truth, Budziszewski understands the philosophical and personal roots of moral relativism. With wisdom born of both experience and rigorous intellectual inquiry, he offers a firm foothold to those who are attempting either to understand or to defend the reasonableness of traditional morality. While natural law bridges the chasms that can be caused by religious and philosophical differences, Budziszewski believes that natural law theory has entered a new phase, in which theology will again have pride of place. While religious belief might appear to hamper the search for common ground, Budziszewski demonstrates that it is not an obstacle, but a pathway to apprehending universal norms of behavior. ~ Book Description
Denis Frayssinous, trans. by John Benjamin Jones, Chapter One in A Defence of Christianity (Gilbert & Rivington: December 1835), pp. 33-62.
Frayssinous, a French academic and preacher of the highest stature under Louis XVIII, begins his defense of Christianity with an ode to truth. Along with happiness, it is our greatest need and longing. But not only are we "made for truth", we are, accordingly, equipped with faculties to discover it. Against skepticism, Frayssinous advances a particularist epistemology, arguing that some beliefs arise in us in such a way that they serve as anchor points by which we can considerably extend our knowledge. These moorings are marked by several qualities, namely: "perspicuity, antiquity, universality, and immutability". For example, propositions that are immutable "resist ignorance, prejudice, and passion". We can no more make it so that "there should be effects without causes, than to appoint that for the future men should live without food". Our abilities to discern these basic truths "serve us as guides and torches". "We are compelled to admit the existence of primary truths, felt and perceived as soon as announced, incapable of proof, because they themselves are the proof of every thing, primary in their existence, they precede the experienced use of reason, as the seed precedes the plant." Conceding that his principles for establishing such truths avails only a meager handful of knowledge, Fraysinnous argues that by these lights much can be inferred. "If then the chain of our reasonings are suspended on any one of these primary and immutable principles; if they are united together like the links of that chain, the last held by the one preceding, until they reach the fixed point which sustains the whole, then will the very last consequence be inseparably united to its principle." Finally, Frayssinous addresses the inevitable objection that, if these faculties are so wonderfully veracious, why then the persistence of such disagreement and so many erroneous beliefs. He continues his abbreviated response here in his second discourse, "On the Causes of Our Errors". Disposed as I am to well-qualified particularism, Frayssinous' brief but artful defense is a welcome alternative to his less epistemically sanguine countrymen, such as Foucalt and Derrida. ~ Afterall
Denis Frayssinous, trans. by John Benjamin Jones, Chapter Two in A Defence of Christianity (Gilbert & Rivington: December 1835), pp. 63-88.
Truth is as much the first want as it is the first good of mankind: yes, truth in religion, which by giving us high and pure ideas of the Divinity, teaches us that our homage ought to be worthy of it; truth in morality, which without rigour, as without weak indulgence, traces out to men in all situations their respective duties; truth in policy, which by rendering authority more just, and subjects more submissive, protects governments from the passions of the multitude, and the multitude from the tyranny of governments; truth in our tribunals, which makes vice afraid, reassures and comforts the innocent, and conduces to the triumph of justice; truth in education, which by rendering conduct accordant with doctrine, makes teachers to be the models, as well as the masters of infancy and youth; truth in literature and in the arts, which preserves them from the contagion of bad taste, from false ornaments, and from false thoughts; truth in the commerce of life, which by banishing fraud and imposture, warrants the common safety; truth in every thing, truth before every thing, this is that which the whole human race from its inmost soul is ever seeking, so thoroughly convinced are all men that truth is useful and falsehood hurtful.
The Niomachean Ethics of Aristotle, trans. Robert William Browne (George Bell and Sons: 1889), pp. 252-4.
Now he that sees, perceives that he sees; and he that hears, that he hears; and he that walks, that he walks; and in every other case, in the same manner, there is some faculty which perceives that we are energizing; so that we perceive that we are perceiving, and understand that we are understanding. But this is the same as saying that we perceive or understand that we exist; for existence was defined to be perceiving, or understanding. Now, to perceive that one is alive, is of the number of those things which are pleasant in themselves: for life is a good by nature: and to perceive the good which is inherent in one's self is pleasant. But life is eligible, and particularly to the good, because existence is to them good and pleasant; for by the consciousness of that which is absolutely a good, they are pleased.
Understanding Religious Conviction (University of Notre Dame Press: 1975), p. 118.
There is, however, a form of the fallibility principle which is both significant and acceptable. It holds that even one's most cherished and tenaciously held convictions might be false and are in principle always subject to rejection, reformulation, improvement, or reformation.
Roderick M. Chisholm in The Foundations of Knowing (University of Minnesota: 1982), pp. 61ff.
1"The problem of the criterion" seems to me to be one of the most important and one of the most difficult of all the problems of philosophy. I am tempted to say that one has not begun to philosophize until one has faced this problem and has recognized how unappealing, in the end, each of the possible solutions is. I have chosen this problem as my topic for the Aquinas Lecture because what first set me to thinking about it (and I remain obsessed by it) were two treatises of twentieth century scholastic philosophy. I refer first to P. Coffey's two-volume work, Epistemology or the Theory of Knowledge, published in 1917.1 This led me in turn to the treatises of Coffey's great teacher, Cardinal D. J. Mercier: Critériologie générale our théorie générale de la certitude.2 ¶ Mercier and, following him, Coffey set the problem correctly, I think, and have seen what is necessary for its solution. But I shall not discuss their views in detail. I shall formulate the problem; then note what, according to Mercier, is necessary if we are to solve the problem; then sketch my own solution; and, finally, note the limitations of my approach to the problem.
James S. Spiegel (Moody Publishers: Feb 2010), 144 pages.
The new atheists are on the warpath. They come armed with arguments to show that belief in God is absurd and dangerous. In the name of societal progress, they promote purging the world of all religious practice. And they claim that people of faith are mentally ill. Some of the new atheists openly declare their hatred for the Judeo-Christian God. Christian apologists have been quick to respond to the new atheists’ arguments. But there is another dimension to the issue which begs to be addressed — the root causes of atheism. Where do atheists come from? How did such folks as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens become such ardent atheists? If we are to believe them, their flight from faith resulted from a dispassionate review of the evidence. Not enough rational grounds for belief in God, they tell us. But is this the whole story? Could it be that their opposition to religious faith has more to do with passion than reason? What if, in the end, evidence has little to do with how atheists arrive at their anti-faith? That is precisely the claim in this book. Atheism is not at all a consequence of intellectual doubts. These are mere symptoms of the root cause—moral rebellion. For the atheist, the missing ingredient is not evidence but obedience. The psalmist declares, “The fool says in his heart there is no God” (Ps. 14:1), and in the book of Romans, Paul makes it clear that lack of evidence is not the atheist’s problem. The Making of an Atheist confirms these biblical truths and describes the moral and psychological dynamics involved in the abandonment of faith. ~ Product Description
Gregg A. Ten Elshof (Eerdmans: June 2009), 160 pages.
Think you’ve ever deceived yourself? Then this book is for you. Think you’ve never deceived yourself? Then this book is really for you. "Socrates famously asserted that the unexamined life is not worth living. But Gregg Ten Elshof shows us that we make all sorts of little deals with ourselves every day in order to stave off examination and remain happily self-deceived. Most provocatively, he suggests this is not all bad! While naming its temptations, Ten Elshof also offers a "strange celebration" of self-deception as a gracious gift. In the tradition of Dallas Willard, I Told Me So is a wonderful example of philosophy serving spiritual discipline. A marvelous, accessible and, above all, wise book.” ~ James K. A. Smith • “In this wise, well-crafted work Ten Elshof helps us to identify, evaluate, and respond to our own self-deceptive strategies, as he probes — with occasional self-deprecation and unavoidable humor — the bottomless mysteries of the human heart. His reflections on interpersonal self-deception and "groupthink" are especially helpful. To tell me the truth, I’m glad I read this book. You will be too — I promise.” ~ David Naugle • “Ten Elshof’s discussions are erudite, biblical, searching, and laced with soul-restoring wisdom. All of this together means that this book is solidly pastoral. What it brings to us is appropriate to individuals, but it especially belongs in the context of small groups and local congregations.” ~ Dallas Willard
"No Stone Will Be Left" in The Way to Love (Random House: 1995), pp. 61-6
Think of a flabby person covered with layers of fat. That is what your mind can become — flabby, covered with layers of fat till it becomes too dull and lazy to think, to observe, to explore, to discover. It loses its alertness, its aliveness, its flexibility and goes to sleep. Look around you and you will see almost everyone with minds like that: dull, asleep, protected by layers of fat, not wanting to be disturbed or questioned into wakefulness. ¶ What are these layers? Every belief that you hold, every conclusion you have reached about persons and things, every habit and every attachment. In your formative years you should have been helped to scrape off these layers and liberate your mind. Instead your society, your culture, which put these layers on your mind in the first place, has educated you to not even notice them, to go to sleep and let other people — the experts: your politicians, your cultural and religious leaders — do your thinking for you. So you are weighed down with the load of unexamined, unquestioned authority and tradition.
Dr. Trevor in Evenings with the Skeptics: Free Discussion on Free thinkers, pp. 34-5.
I come lastly to a third type of intellect, in which Twofold Truth presents itself in a moderate and altogether commendable shape; in which the disparity is not so much antagonistic as complementary, and the result of its functions is not disunion and hostility so much as a broad comprehensive solidarity. For our purpose we may call intellects of this class 'dual-sighted' or 'two- eyed.' ... This 'double-sighted man' is by no means the synonym of the nickname common in Puritan history, 'Mr. Facing-both-ways.' It rather implies the possession of faculties which enable the observer to see every object in the solid, substantial manner, in the full relief, and with the true perspective that pertain essentially to all double vision. It is the instinctive power and tendency to discern a specific object or a given truth not merely as it is in itself or in one of its prima facie aspects, but in its completeness as a whole and relatively to all its surroundings. We see this quality in the artist who simultaneously with the perception of an object also sees all its different phases as well as its relations to surrounding objects; or again in the general who apprehends by a single glance of his mental vision all the characteristics, bad as well as good, of a given position or military movement. So the philosophers I speak of catch every truth or doctrine, not in its simple and uniform, but in its complex biform or multiform aspect. They are men to whom every affirmation suggests, if only as a possibility, a negative; who intuitively meet every dogmatic pronouncement with an objection, just as a painter infers shadow from light. These are the men who in my judgment have rendered the best service to the progress of knowledge by their comprehensive vision, their cautious Skeptical attitude, their fearless criticism. ...
William James, in The Will to Believe and Other Essays (Longmans, Green, and Co.: 1921), pp.1-31.
In the recently published Life by Leslie Stephen of his brother, Fitz-James, there is an account of a school to which the latter went when he was a boy. The teacher, a certain Mr. Guest, used to converse with his pupils in this wise: " Gurney, what is the difference between justification and sanctification? — Stephen, prove the omnipotence of God!" etc. In the midst of our Harvard freethinking and indifference we are prone to imagine that here at your good old orthodox College conversation continues to be somewhat upon this order; and to show you that we at Harvard have not lost all interest in these vital subjects, I have brought with me tonight something like a sermon on justification by faith to read to you, — I mean an essay in justification of faith, a defence of our right to adopt a believing attitude in religious matters, in spite of the fact that our merely logical intellect may not have been coerced. 'The Will to Believe,' accordingly, is the title of my paper.
John Greco (Oxford University Press, USA : September 22, 2008), 624 pages.
In the history of philosophical thought, few themes loom as large as skepticism. Skepticism has been the most visible and important part of debates about knowledge. Skepticism at its most basic questions our cognitive achievements, challenges our ability to obtain reliable knowledge; casting doubt on our attempts to seek and understand the truth about everything from ethics, to other minds, religious belief, and even the underlying structure of matter and reality. Since Descartes, the defense of knowledge against skepticism has been one of the primary tasks not just of epistemology but philosophy itself. The Oxford Handbook of Skepticism features twenty-six newly commissioned chapters by top figures in the field. Part One contains articles explaining important kinds of skeptical reasoning. Part Two focuses on responses to skeptical arguments. Part Three concentrates on important contemporary issues revolving around skepticism. As the first volume of its kind, the articles make significant contributions to the debate on skepticism. ~ Product Description
Robert Burton (St. Martin's Press: Feb 5, 2008), 272 pages.
You recognize when you know something for certain, right? You "know" the sky is blue, or that the traffic light had turned green, or where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001 — you know these things, well, because you just do. In On Being Certain, neurologist Robert Burton challenges the notions of how we think about what we know. He shows that the feeling of certainty we have when we "know" something comes from sources beyond our control and knowledge. In fact, certainty is a mental sensation, rather than evidence of fact. Because this "feeling of knowing" seems like confirmation of knowledge, we tend to think of it as a product of reason. But an increasing body of evidence suggests that feelings such as certainty stem from primitive areas of the brain, and are independent of active, conscious reflection and reasoning. The feeling of knowing happens to us; we cannot make it happen. Bringing together cutting edge neuroscience, experimental data, and fascinating anecdotes, Robert Burton explores the inconsistent and sometimes paradoxical relationship between our thoughts and what we actually know. Provocative and groundbreaking, On Being Certain, will challenge what you know (or think you know) about the mind, knowledge, and reason. ~ Product Description
Susana Nuccetelli and Gary Seay, eds. (Oxford University Press: January 2008), 340 pages.
These thirteen original essays, whose authors include some of the world's leading philosophers, examine themes from the work of the Cambridge philosopher G. E. Moore (1873-1958), and demonstrate his considerable continuing influence on philosophical debate. Part I bears on epistemological topics, such as skepticism about the external world, the significance of common sense, and theories of perception. Part II is devoted to themes in ethics, such as Moore's open question argument, his non-naturalism, utilitarianism, and his notion of organic unities. ~ Product Description • "A welcome addition to the re-evaluation of Moore's philosophical legacy. The book as a whole is well-organized; the authors cover a wide range of topics related to Moore's work in epistemology and ethics. The well written essays are timely and the authors demonstrate the contemporary relevance of Moore's work by showing how his views illuminate current disputes. This book will be useful to experts in the field and is accessible to those who are new comers to Moore's work." ~ William Tolhurst, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
Deane-Peter Baker, ed. (Cambridge University Press: Jul 2007), 248 pages.
Few thinkers have had as much impact on contemporary philosophy as has Alvin Plantinga. The work of this quintessential analytic philosopher has in many respects set the tone for the debate in the fields of modal metaphysics and epistemology and he is arguably the most important philosopher of religion of our time. In this volume, a distinguished team of today's leading philosophers address the central aspects of Plantinga's philosophy - his views on natural theology; his responses to the problem of evil; his contributions to the field of modal metaphysics; the controversial evolutionary argument against naturalism; his model of epistemic warrant and his view of epistemic defeat; and his recent work on mind-body dualism. Also included is an appendix containing Plantinga's often referred to, but previously unpublished, lecture notes entitled 'Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments', with a substantial preface to the appendix written by Plantinga specifically for this volume. ~ Product Description