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« If you think local action focused on adaptation is not the path for promoting engagement with climate-change policymaking at the national level, you are wrong. So wrong. | Main | We are *all* Pakistani Drs/Kentucky Farmers, Part 1: Manny's perspective(s) »

We are *all* Pakistani Drs/Kentucky Farmers, Part 2: Kant's perspective(s)

This is an excerpt from another bit of correspondence with a group of very talented and reflective scholars who are at the beginning of an important research program to explain "disbelief in" human evolution. In addition, because "we may [must] regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future," this post is also a companion to yesterday's, which responded to  Adam Laats' request for less exotic (or less exotic seeming) examples of people using cognitive dualism than furnished us by the Pakistani Dr & the Kentucky Farmer. No doubt it will be the progenitor of "tomorrow's" post too; but you know that will say more about me than it does about the "Big Bang...."

I agree of course that figuring out what people "know" about the rudiments of evolutionary science has to be part of any informative research program here.  But I understand your project to be how to "explain nonacceptance" of or "disbelief in" what is known.

So fine, go ahead and develop valid measures for assessing evolutionary science knowledge. But don't embark on the actual project until you have answered the question the unreflective disregard of which is exactly what has rendered previous “nonacceptance” research programs so utterly unsatifactorywhat is it exactly that is being explained?

Isn't the Pakistani Dr's (or the Kentucky Farmer's or Krista's) "cognitive dualism" just a special instance of the perspectival dualism that Kant understands to be integral to human reason?

In the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and in both the 1st and 2d Critiques, Kant distinguishes two “self” perspectives: the phenomenal one, in which which we regard ourselves and all other human beings, along with everything else in the universe, to be subjects to immutable and determinstic laws of nature; and the “noumenal” one, in which we regard ourselves (and all other human beings) as possessing an autonomous will that prescribes laws for itself independently of nature so conceived.  

No dummy, Kant obviously can see the "contradictory" stances on human autonomy embodied in the perspectives of our "phenomenal" and "nouemenal" (not to be confused w/ the admittedly closely related "Neumenal") selves.

But he is not troubled by it.

The respective “beliefs” about human autonomy associated with the phenomenal and noumenal perspectives are, for him, built-in components of mental routines that enable the 2 things reasoning beings use their reason for: to acquire knowledge of how the world works; and to live a meaningful life within it.

Because there’s no contradiction between these reason-informed activities, there’s no practical—no experienced, no real -- contradiction between the sets of action-enabling mental states associated with  them.

Obviously, Kant's dualism has a very big point of contact with debates about "free will" & "determinism," and the coherence of "compatibilist" solutions, and whatnot.  

But as I read Kant, his dualism implies these debates are ill-formed. The participants in them are engaging the question whether human beings are subject to deterministic natural laws in a manner that abstracts from from what the answer allows reasoning people to do.

That feature of the "determinism-free will" debate renders it "metaphysical" -- not in the sense Kant had in mind but in the sense sense that logical positivist philosophers did when they tried to clear from the field of science entangling conceptualist underbrush that served no purpose except to trip people up as they tried to advance knowledge by ordered and systematic thinking.

I strongly suspect that those who have dedicated their scholarly energy to "solving" the "problem" of "why the presentation of evolution in class frequently does not achieve acceptance of the evolutionary theory" among students who display comprehension of it are mired in exactly that sort of thicket.

Both the Pakistani Dr and Krista "reject" human evolution in converging with other free, reasoning persons on a particular shared account of what makes life meaningful.  They then both turn around and use evolutionary science (including its applicability to human beings because it simply "doesn't work," they both agree, to exempt human speciation from evolutionary dynamics—just as it doesn't work to exempt human beings from natural necessity generally if one is doing science) when they use their reason to be members of science-trained professions, the practice of which is enabled by evolutionary science.

In behaving in this way, they are doing nothing different from what any scientist or any other human being does in adopting Kant's "phenomenal perspective" to know what science knows about the operation of objects in the world while adopting Kant's "nouemanal one" to live meaningful lives as persons who make judgments of value.  

Only a very remarkable, and disturbing, form of selective perception can explain why so many people find the cognitive dualism of the Pakistani Dr or Krista so peculiar and even offensive.  Their reaction suggests a widespread deficit in the form of civic education needed to equip people to  honor their duty as citizens of a liberal democracy (or as subjects in Kant's "Kingdom of Ends") to respect the choices that other free and reasoning individuals make about how to live.

Is it really surprising, then, that those who have committed themselves to "solving" the chimera of Krista's "nonacceptance problem" can't see the very real problem with a conception of science education that tries to change who people are rather than enlarge what they know?


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"Only a very remarkable, and disturbing, form of selective perception can explain why so many people find the cognitive dualism of the Pakistani Dr or Krista so peculiar and even offensive. Their reaction suggests a widespread deficit in the form of civic education needed to equip people to honor their duty as citizens of a liberal democracy (or as subjects in Kant's "Kingdom of Ends") to respect the choices that other free and reasoning individuals make about how to live."

Nonsense. "Civic education that teaches one to respect the choices that other free and reasoning individuals make about how to live" is a statement without limits. There has to be limits. I have no respect for a free and reasoning individual who chooses to engage in genocide to further their own selfish ends. Freedom and reason do not guarantee civility. People who are honoring their duty as citizens of a liberal democracy must feel free to disagree with each other's choices on how to live but assiduously avoid trying to force anyone to change their lifestyle to match their own if that lifestyle is not doing damage to others. That is the true measure of respect, and although I disagree with the cognitive dualism of the Pakistani Dr., I have no intention of taking any steps to force him to think otherwise, and in fact would actively oppose anyone who did. I'm sorry, but Orwellian doublethink is cognitive dualism on steroids, and we have to accept it and deal with it in ourselves and others, but to celebrate and encourage it is downright dangerous to a liberal democracy. It's the s**t that fertilized the growth of every dictator that ever lived.

If the Pakistani Dr. acts like he believes in evolution but talks like he doesn't, then the glass is half full. If the theory of evoluition is valid, then the cultural identity group he is supporting is in long-term trouble. Let that group's ideology adapt or die, don't give it aid or comfort. And yes, that means not trying to change who he is, but to enlarge what he knows.

(ok, I'm swearing off coffee now)

May 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterFrankL


A. Given the liberal & Kantian ground of the argument, I thought it went w/o saying that "how to live" refers to the conception of the good life choose for oneself, & not to one's interference with the adoption of the same by, much less the killing of, others; and that "respect" refers to refrain from interfereing with, & not to admiring etc.

I assume you agree it goes w/o saying that one can't get from the obligation to oppose genocide to the conclusion that we should be imposing on students who might find as much satisfaction in living a life as a science trained-professional the tax of being stigmatized for being at the same time someone who has some moral or cultural or religious identity that in no way interferes with what they do as people who use science for what it is for.

B. I've made basically this point before about the inaptness of the "double think" point but since you raise it again:

First, Orwell was addressing a totalitarian state’s attempt to destroy individuals’ capacity for using free reason. The citizens who are enabled simultaneously to *know* what is known by science & *be* who they are as members of diverse cultural communities are *using their reason freely* to enjoy the two principal benefits of a liberal democratic society.

Second, the idea that what Krista is *doing* with cognitive dualism is believing “2+2 =5″ actually is inconsistent with the premise of “cognitive dualism”: that a belief is what it *does*. Krista *believes* in evolution insofar as she *does* with the relevant form of scientific evidence the things — like being a good veterinarian — that depend on the use of such evidence. Her “disbelief in” evolution is part of a bundle of mental states (desires, emotions, moral appraisals, etc) that are integral to her being a member of a religious community; science has nothing to say about how she should do that!

Things can be determined to be “inconsistent” only with reference to a valid criterion of identity. If cognitive dualism is right, then Krista’s “belief in evolution” and her “disbelief” in it are “inconsistent” only if the *things she is doing* with the complexes of mental states to which each belong are themselves inconsistent. They manifestly are not -- no more so than a scientist's belief that natural laws determine the state of the universe are with his or her belief that it's her moral duty to be a good parent.

Finally, who do you think George Orwell would find to more hostile to liberalism? Krista or those who would make it their business to create conditions of cultural conflict that needlessly force her to *choose* between using her reason to know what science knows or to use it to be who she is as a member of a particular moral community?

May 9, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"Is it really surprising, then, that those who have committed themselves to "solving" the chimera of Krista's "nonacceptance problem" can't see the very real problem with a conception of science education that tries to change who people are rather than enlarge what they know?"

If I might help you out here Dan, this is what you meant to say:

The nourishing environment that liberal democratic culture supplies for science is thus one part of the idea of the Liberal Republic of Science. The reciprocal nourishment that science furnishes the culture of liberal democracy is the other.

But there is a paradox -- Popper’s Revenge--built into the constitution of the Liberal Republic of Science. The absence of a single authoritative institution or system for certifying what is known is intrinsic to the conditions that enable us to know collectively so much more than any one of us could ever discern individually. The multiplication of potential certifiers—in the form of aggregations of people converging through the exercise of reason, and the exchange of reasons, on shared ways of life—is a product of the same cultural pluralism that endows us with the dispositions essential to engaging in science’s signature mode of inquiry.

In such conditions, conflicts among the plural communities of certification (even if rare) are statistically certain to arise. Because they disable the faculty that reasoning individuals use to know what is known to science, such conflicts compromise the capacity of a democratic society to make use of the immense knowledge that science furnishes them for securing its members’ welfare. And because they pit against one another groups whose members share identity-defining affinities, such conflicts infuse the public deliberations of the Open Society with antagonistic meanings inimical to liberal neutrality.

The lazy solution to this problem is to try to mold scientific and other education into changing people's cultural beliefs, so that we are one homogeneous culture with accepted single authorities. But systems governed by managerial programs calibrated to one or another rationalist vision invariably erect barriers of interest and error in the path of scientific inquiry. But even more fundamentally, because they authoritatively certify truth, and thereafter bureaucratically mould social life to it, such systems stifle formation of the individual dispositions and social norms that fuel the engine of scientific discovery.

Instead, overcoming these problems will require a new political science: a science of science communication aimed at equipping democratic societies with the knowledge, with the institutions, and with the mores necessary to sustain a deliberative environment in which culturally diverse citizens reliably converge on the best available understandings of how to achieve their common ends.

May 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

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