14 September 2008

Teaching the Controversy

I've been reading excerpts from Sextus Empiricus for my Theory of Knowledge class (sadly I haven't found an online translation to either link to or read more from link here). Short version: People disagree about things, so there's no point in holding to any particular opinion; always withhold judgment. Apart from the obvious rejoinder of "What about withholding judgment about withholding judgment?", I think this is a good approach to thought experiments, or anything which cannot be tested empirically. At the time that it was formulated, thought-experiments were pretty much the norm. There was little, if any, concept of testability.

The problem with the Pyrrhic ideal of withholding judgment is that some things are decidable, if you accept "consistency with physical evidence" as a minimum criterion. Note that consistency does not mean "able to come up with a ridiculously convoluted explanation to accommodate the physical evidence, so convoluted that the explanation itself is inconsistent with other physical evidence." But if we must "teach the controversy," why not begin with Intelligent Falling? After all, put to the exact same "standards" as, say, evolution, gravity also fails. (HT: Exploring Our Matrix) And, of course, no one would be able to refute these arguments in a court of law.

Meanwhile, there's that pesky theory of parentism that nearly everyone seems to take for granted...

Oh, you mean that just because an alternate explanation exists, however ludicrous, does not mean that we should teach it? Blast. There goes my "Alchemical underpinnings of astrology on a flat earth" course.


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