More on Hameed’s “Pakistani Dr” — “explaining contradictory beliefs” begs the question

Just because I haven’t been writing about him all the time in this forum doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking about Hameed’s “Pakinstani Dr,” the paradigm case of “dualism” or “knowing disbelief” or whathaveyou.  On the contrary, longish periods of inactivity in this blog can be explained by the days at a time I spend  in bed (except for a 12-mile run @ about 10:30 or 11:00 pm), unable to overcome the sense of anomie I experience as a result of not having a satisfactory account (just a decent provisional one, of course) of what is going on in his head …. But today I’m up — in part b/c Ann Richards was biting my nose (she should learn to feed herself; is that too much to ask?) –& engaged in a bit of email correspondence in which I described the state of my thinking about the “knowing disbelief/dualism” issue this way to a colleague: 

I’m pretty obsessed right now w/ trying to comprehend/identify/test the mechanisms that can generate in people’s minds coexisting states of belief & nonbelief in evolution or climate change. The paradigm case would be Hameed’s Pakistani Dr., who “disbelieves in” evolution “at home” but “believes in” it “at work.”

All the explanations that people are inclined to give– ones involving  “compartmentalization & dissonance avoidance,” insincerity,  “misconstrual,” “divided selves” etc– assume that what’s in need of explanation is the holding of contradictory beliefs.  I think that’s a mistake — or at least begs the question.

The question is how to individuate  the “factual proposition” (or for simplicity, just “fact”) that is the object of the subject’s “belief” or knowledge.

The standard explanations of the Pakistani Dr  all assume that the “fact” is defined exclusively w/ reference to some state of affairs external to or independent of the subject, that is, the individual who “knows” it.  The referent for “human evolution” is “the natural history of human beings as described by evolutionary science.”  So if someone “believes” & “disbelieves” in human evolution, they are manifesting opposed or contradictory intentional states toward the fact of human evolution.

My hunch is that the “fact” that is object of knowledge or belief must in addition be defined in relation to the contribution that knowing or believing it makes to some end or goal of the subject.

Individuals have many goals. More than one can be bundled with a fact defined w/ reference to some external state of affairs.

E.g., the Pakistani Dr, an oncologist, can “know” or “believe in” evolution in order to determine the risk his patient will develop breast cancer; he can also “know” or “believe in” it in order to participate in the sense of identity he experiences as a member of a profession that generates knowledge beneficial to humanity (“stem cell research– brilliant!”)

It turns out that the Pakinstani Dr also “disbelieves in” human evolution,  knows it to be false, in order to be a member of a community that subscribes to an alternative account of the natural history of human beings.

So is there a “contradiction” in his “beliefs”?

Well, luckily for him, the Pakistani Dr’s goal or end of being a member of that community is not incompatible with the goal of doing oncology or being a member of the medical profession (things could surely be otherwise–are, sadly, becoming otherwise in Europe, Hameed shows in his most recent paper).  Thus, for the Pakistani Dr there is no contradiction between his “belief in” & “disbelief in” in evolution when the objects of those mental states are defined jointly by reference to “the natural history of human beings as described by evolutionary science” and by the goals that are promoted by believing/disbeliving in that.

He keeps trying to tell us this: “yes, yes,” they both relate to “Darwin’s theory,” he notes with exasperation, but the “evolution” he “accepts” and the “evolution” he “rejects” are “entirely different things!”  We keep staring back uncomprehendingly…

I think it is important to get straight about this pragmatic-dualist account of the Pakistani Dr’s beliefs — about how it differs from all the ones that assume “contradiction” & try to explain it; about whether it is right; about what to think of the role it plays and can play in socieites that are trying to negotiate “Popper’s Revenge…”

Likely someone somewhere has worked all this out already! I keep asking people for directions; they do helpfully point me down one path or another — & I’m grateful. But no doubt as a result of my own imperfect navigation skills, I still feel very much lost …

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