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Rules For The Rules For The Rules…
December 9, 2008, 5:16 pm
Filed under: Epistemology

Suppose you tell me how to do something by listing a set of rules or maxims.  OK.  

 

But don’t think for a minute that you’ve fully formalized how to do it.  Personal  (i.e. non-rule/maxim based) judgments will still be needed.

 

Why?  Because you’ll still need to show me how to rightly apply the rules or maxims.  

 

How can you do this? Maybe you’ll tell me how to do this by listing another set of rules or maxims.  OK.

 

But then you’ll need to show me how to rightly apply these rules or maxims.  And on and on it goes.

 

 

We can be shown how to do something.  I can show you how to clean a toilet.  If you don’t believe that, come on over to my apartment and I’ll put you to work.  

But I can’t actually bring before my mind (and act on the basis of) an infinite regression of rules explaining rules.  

So my ability to show you how to do something (and your ability to learn) is not solely a matter of giving you (and you memorizing) formal rules/maxims.  For otherwise I wouldn’t be able to teach you and you wouldn’t be able to learn.  

But I can teach you and you can learn.

So we know for sure that beneath every system of rules lies personal (non-rule/maxim based) intelligence.  Our actions can’t be fully captured by a system of rules.

That we moderns usually don’t notice this is a sign of our superstitious devotion to ‘objective reason’.

 

 

Show me how to pick out science from non-science (or even pseudo-science).  Can you do it?

If the preceding argument is correct, then you won’t be able to produce a  set of rules that doesn’t, in the final analysis, depend on personal judgement. 

Which is NOT to say that there are no rules or maxims or ‘rules-of-thumb’.  What it means is that, in the final analysis, personal judgment can’t be eliminated.

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