Re: virus: Being and Time

Eric Boyd (
Thu, 11 Mar 1999 14:08:51 -0500


Reed Konsler <> writes: <<

Totally. But you should think about what it means to be a "Devil's Advocate". Ask David. Do you really BELIEVE the arguments you forward, or are you providing a counterpoint for the purpose of exposition? I would hope that, in the end, a "Devil's Advocate" would be willing to bow out at the last moment. But, then, I'm a sap who likes it when the good guys win. I take your point, though.

Well, I'm not sure that I really understand what "BELIEVE" means, but if you mean do I think the ideas I am presenting here reflect the ideas I act on, or consider true / useful, then yes, I believe them. (I am not playing devil's advocate, and although I wouldn't put it past you, I don't think you are either) If you mean, do these ideas form a part of my identity (such that I'd be profoundly different without them), then no. Believe is such a broad term.

I think bowing out of a devil's advocate position would depend on what one had hoped to accomplish with it. I can see several situations in which it might be useful to continue playing, even after the other person has withdrawn.

>"Reason is a disciplined way of thinking, one of it's purposes is to
>provide justification for belief in the conclusion of the argument[s]

But now it's confusing enough that you have to read it a few times. It depends upon the resolution of your analysis.

Well crappppppppy. :-). Perhaps I can phrase it better:

Maybe not. I've tried a few rephrasings, but none of them are noticably better and still contain the modification I argued for.

Just don't claim to be more rigorous than you really are, hmm?

I purposly left open other purposes of reason. I'm sure there are many I'm not thinking of.

>However, as I said earlier, this is only one half of reason; the
>half being the "falsificationist" or rational critism component,
>is used exactly opposite to the above:

Could you expand on that?

Sure. Usually, reason is used to support beliefs. Numerous examples exist; the two arguments for atheism I referenced the other day are good examples. However, the flip side of the reason coin is denial, which one can often see at work in editorials to newspapers, for instance. The author has identified some theory which s/he disagrees with, and proceeds to refute it. For example, the recient post to virus as regards the effectiveness of religious belief or prayer in healing was a falsificationist argument, designed to weaken belief (remove support) from the contention that religious belief has healing properties.

A noticable and important property of such arguments is that they do *not* advance lines of arguement supporting the negation (no studies were sited which showed a negative impact of religious belief), rather the lines of argument are directed at dissolving the argument in favour of the theory (studies which show the effectiveness of religious belief are brought into question and shown to be invalid).

Most often, these argument styles are used in conjunction; the author both supports her theory *and* shows how competing theories are unsupported. If evidence exists, sometimes an author even attempts to argue that the competing theories are false, this latter act (proving a negative) is a justificational act.

To give an example:

Suppose I want to argue for the existence of the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

I can accomplish this in three ways:

(1) Direct justification: an argument supporting Her Pinknesses existence. Last time I did my laundry, several of my socks came out pinkish with holes in them. This proves the Divine intervention of The Galloping Goddess.

(2) dismantling (falsification) of counter arguments: let say somebody has argued that the IPU can't exist, since her attributes (invisible AND pink) contradict each other. I can use a falsification argument, (noting that while she is invisible to regular mortals, she has on occasion revealed herself to certain prophets, whence she is seen to be pink, and thus she is both invisible AND pink, and her existence is thus totally possible) to show how that individual is wrong in their thinking about her existence. The individuals argument that the IPU does not exist is now less supported then before, although they may have yet more lines of evidence which support the IPU's non-existence which I have not refuted.

(3) Justify the negative of the negative: Suppose I can show that the non-existence of the IPU is *impossible*, or *inconceivable*[1]. I honestly don't know how do to that.[2] However, it would show that the competing theories are false, and incidently, it would be an indirectly proof of the existence of the IPU, since existence is boolean. For a better example of this type of situation, consider the various theistic arguments against atheism (the negative of the negative).


[1] Is this word meaningless? Can it *ever* be the case that something is inconceivable?

[2] There is probably a theistic argument which can be adapted. How about the ontological argument?