Does criticism need to be valid?

From Josh:

Critical Rationalism from how I understand it supposes that justificationsim is merely assumed and can’t justify itself–therefore is irrational. I agree with this presumption; justificationism lead me to a path of skepticism.

Critical Rationalism assumes fallibilism or falsificationism which can itself be falsified. This leaves the premise of Critical Rationalism as rational to believe (or up for criticism). Critical Rationalism sounded great at the onset, but I just recently discovered one problem with it:

problem 1:
Say I have an idea open for criticism (open to be falsified) then someone offers me criticism. How am I to determine whether the criticism is valid or invalid criticism? Does the criticism itself then become open to criticism? Isn’t this the equivalent of the problem of regression–but for CR instead of TR? What is to stop an endless chain of criticisms to criticisms?

problem 2:
This leads me to believe that criticisms do not bring us closer to the truth, but bring two persons’ opinions closer together (if they decide to revise their beliefs). What’s to stop a criticism of an idea from being a false criticism and taking people further from the truth?

This was submitted as a comment on the criticism page of this blog. I decided to post the comment here instead of there as it might get more attention and a better response.

About Matt

My full name is Matt Dioguardi. I have been interested in critical rationalism for about 10 years. I am the administrator of this blog, if you have an questions or problems please let me know.
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5 Responses to Does criticism need to be valid?

  1. Lee Kelly says:

    1. The infinite regress inherent in justificationism is caused by the demand for justification. That is, the view that it is irrational to hold any position which has not been justified, including this position itself. However, there is no infinite regress for critical rationalism. Although every criticism is, in its turn, open to criticism, there is no demand that every position actually be criticised. We may tentatively halt any regress while still holding everything open to criticism.

    2. There are no guarantees that we will get closer to the truth. We are fallible. Despite our best efforts, we may actually be getting further away. To deny this possibility would be foolish, since it would suppose some infallible way of recognising when we are getting closer to the truth. Anyone who pretends to offer such guarantees is selling snakeoil. We may, objectively, actually be getting closer to the truth, but, subjectively, there can be no confirmation.

  2. Anonymous says:

    So, in response to Lee’s comment, why is it worth criticising (or even being open to criticism) rather than simply sticking with what one has?

    Presumably there is also no evidence that the probability of getting closer to the truth will be higher if one adopts a critical approach (or is open to criticism)… since, after all, ‘there can be no confirmation’ of such a claim…

  3. Lee Kelly says:

    If you’re looking for some kind of subjective assurance, then it doesn’t matter. Adapt in response to criticism or stick with what one has: neither is guaranteed to be right or wrong. There is no reason, in this sense, to be a rationalist rather than a dogmatist, but it doesn’t follow that the choice is arbitrary with regard to what is really the case.

    The conjecture at the heart of rationality is that, in fact, rationality is generally superior to dogmatism. Error is ubiquitous, but our attempts to correct it are normally successful. While we may often just replace one mistaken hypothesis with another, successor hypotheses are usually better explanations, closer to the truth, and more useful than their predecessors.

    This view is, of course, open to criticism.

    The growth of knowledge is not about eliminating doubt. It’s not possible to measure the probability of error, since errors may hide in the premises of any calculation. If we should try to measure the probability that our measure of probability is mistaken, then we invite and infinite regress. Ultimately, the probability of being wrong is incalculable.

  4. Z says:

    1. Let’s say I have a theory as a starting point. Let’s say the theory says the US economy won’t rise more than 7% in 2012.
    2. Let’s say I want to criticise that theory: for example the US economy will rise by 10% in 2012 BECAUSE gold pieces are going to fall from the sky or BECAUSE every major US company will rise by 40% and this will affect the economy.

    Whatever. It doesn’t really matter what the theory or the criticism is. What is important is that the form of stating a theory and then criticising it is usually the following:

    1. X
    2. notX because of Y

    So whenever you criticise a theory X you do it on the basis of Y. In other words you justify notX on the basis of Y. Or if this is not a justification then why should anyone accept the criticism notX?
    In general: how can you reason without sound arguments?

  5. Lee Kelly says:


    A sound argument is just a valid argument with true premises–justification is irrelevant. Propositions can be true and arguments can be valid without either being justified. Indeed, a valid argument with justified premises can’t do anything that a sound argument doesn’t do already. Therefore, even if justification were possible, then it would be superfluous.

    When we criticise, we aim at sound arguments. We intend our premises to be true and our arguments to be valid. However, we’re fallible. It’s always possible that our premises are false and our arguments invalid. Any argument marshaled against this possibility is itself another potential source of error. Incredulity and conviction are no insurance, but they may blind us to our mistakes.

    This does not mean we should constantly question the soundness of our own arguments. At any point, we may judge that an argument is sound, but we do so tentatively. After all, its premises may be false or we may have erred in our reasoning. Error are like lost car keys–you search the entire house until you’re just sure they can’t be there and then hear a jingling in your backpocket.

    When we offer criticism, nobody is obliged to accept it. Each person has to judge for themselves whether the argument is sound. Throwing justification into the mix changes nothing, since each person would then just need to judge whether the argument is in fact justified. There is never any logical compulsion to accept criticism, even if, per impossibile, it were justified.

    Back to your question: why should we accept any criticism if nothing is justified? The answer is because we are seeking truth rather than justification. If we tentatively judge a critic’s argument to be sound, i.e. a valid argument with true premises, what more do you want?

    Perhaps you want subjective assurance that you have made the right decision. You don’t want such judgements to be temporary, but to settle them for once and for all, to put them behind you. Maybe you want a firm foundation, beyond question or doubt, to build upon. If you can’t have this, then what’s the point? I can’t provide the goods here. This isn’t the problem I intend to solve; I think its solution is both impossible and, on reflection, undesirable.

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