The following is a comment made on the criticism page in early December. Via error, I only just posted it recently. I’m forwarding it here for comment. Frank Burton is the writer, he is the executive director for The Circle of Reason.
I have a suggested clarification of the mission of CR and of this blog, e.g., about the statement you make in the “What is CR?” page — which notes, compares, and judges between the relative social merit of three epistemological “big three traditions”, where you said: “One, dogmatism. Decide that you are privy to ultimate truth and then just follow that truth no matter what. Does such an attitude contribute to fanaticism? Perhaps. Two, pessimism. Decide that truth is impossible, relative, random, meaningless. Just do whatever you want because nothing matters anyway. Does such an attitude contribute to random violence? Perhaps. Three, critical rationalism, the truth is out there, but no one has a monopoly on it, so let’s work together to try and get a little closer to it. Does such an attitude contribute to progress and mutual respect? More than likely.”
My suggestion is that any implication that these 3 traditions are mutually exclusive ones — wherein different people have chosen to embrace only one tradition within every aspect of their life — is untrue, and should be avoided. In fact, most of us embrace each tradition in one or another aspect of our thought or behavior.
For example, even a dogmatic theocrat exerts sufficient critical rationalism to live — he accepts reality to the point that he won’t blithely step in front of a moving bus; he denies falsifiable assumptions to the point that he won’t wait for the bus to stop for him elsewhere than at the bus stop; and he masters his emotions to the point that he won’t insist on riding the bus for free no matter how much he desires it. So even the “dogmatist” still accepts that in some spheres of his existence, “What is, is; what is not, is not; and what is or is not, is paramount.”
Conversely, even skeptics or atheists will sometimes (or even often, if we look at the “red meat” of the most popular New Atheist writers) broach their criticisms of religious ideas or faith using not just factual, but scathing, emotive language (i.e., ad hominem invective) to win their argument, even when the use of such invective means their “win” isn’t achieved fully rationally, but by evoking emotional irrationality — a sadly pyrrhic victory. Also, many “rational” environmentalists will buy a new Chevy Volt or Tesla — ignoring the reality that buying any “new” (recently manufactured) automobile is much worse for the environment than buying any used car. And Ayn Rand, the self-proclaimed paragon of critical rationality, died from denying the existence of tobacco addiction and the predictive validity of statistical epidemiology.
My contention is that few of us consistently behave guided by only one particular epistemological tradition. We are rationalists that thunder; we are irrationalists who come in out of the rain. I think such human inconsistency in our driving motivations is one of Bartley’s own motivations in seeking to see Popper’s CR applied to all spheres of human thought and behavior, not just to the sciences.
Hence, in my view, Critical Rationalism isn’t a paradisal, “Undiscovered Country” that some of us should for the first time visit. Its the warm, “Home Sweet Home” where all of us already live — but must communally commit to consistently do so. And Irrationalism isn’t a foreboding, “No Man’s Land” into which only the foolhardy journey. Its our own dark, “cellar door” that we’ve all failed to consistently keep locked shut.
Thus, the fight against an irrational world will depend not only on familiarity with the importance of CR, but also on the importance of familiarity with CR.
My 2 cents worth.
Frank H. Burton
Exec. Director, The Circle of Reason