January 19, 2011


On wisdom, ignorance and wishful thinking + a great man


Now for something different, that is in fact a repeat, namely of three lemmas in my Philosophical Dictionary, that I repeat because they are often relevant to what I read, noticing a marked lack (first) or marked surplus (other two) of these three items.

And I end with some links to speeches of a great man and a great speaker.

1. On wisdom, ignorance and wishful thinking

Wisdom: The exercise of right judgment, where the latter may be provisionally characterized as being rational and reasonable; being more probably true than not, if not true outright; and tending to the decrease of especially human suffering where appropriate.

Etymologically, philosophy is the love of wisdom. As defined here, wisdom consists in exercising one's capacity for right judgment, and these terms are chosen to indicate that wisdom (and its lack) has at least two dimensions: A factual dimension and an evaluative dimension. In a factual sense, a judgment to be wise must be adequate, or probably so, and in an evaluative sense a judgment to be wise must be ethical, in furthering or upholding ethical ends.

The basic problem, of course, is: What are the standards of judgment? Someone who is wise in one society, group or civilization may not seem so in another society, group or civilization; someone may have little knowledge and yet use his lack of knowledge wisely (mostly by recognizing and admitting his ignorance); and what is ethical or moral may vary from one group to another, and usually does to some extent, in that different groups define themselves by different ends, and use these ends to measure what are good and bad, for the members of the group.

In the above definition, two general tendencies of what judgments that may be styled wise have been selected: That such judgments at least tend to be probably true - which includes many true answers of the form 'We don't truly know but guess...' - and that such judgments tend to help decrease suffering, especially human suffering, since we are talking about human judgments to human beings.

See also: Philosophy                                  Literature: Lin Yutang

Ignorance: Lack of knowledge.

This is a very powerful force for human good and evil, and the main relevant difference seems to be whether one's ignorance is conscious and honestly admitted or else unconscious or denied.

If one knows one does not know, or knows one does not know everything there is to know about something, or knows that one does not know certainly and definitely and with full precision, one can use his knowledge of one's ignorance to get more and better knowledge.

If one does not know one does not know, or does not wish to know one does not know, or pretends to know where one only believes, one's ignorance is easily dressed up as faith or ideology, and is often used as a political or religious power to produce more ignorance that is dressed up as faith or ideology.

And notice that one may quite certainly know that one is ignorant about something, or indeed carefully ignore the relevant evidence and believe one knows something because one does not know and chooses to neglect, dismiss or avoid whatever is known about it.

"It ain't what a man don't know that makes him a fool, but what he does know that ain't so."
   (Josh Billings)

By contrast, recognized and admitted ignorance about something is a positive source of and reason for finding positive knowledge about it, if one can, and not to believe blindly or wishfully as long as one doesn't have such knowledge (probably).

And man may be an animal that desires to know, according to Aristotle, but most men - quite possibly all - actively desire not to know certain kinds of things, especially such as they disapprove of or disagree with.

See also: Fallibilism, Knowledge, Science, Scepticism, Scientific Knowledge, Stupidity, Wishful thinking                                         Literature: Feyman

Wishful thinking: The inference of conclusions that conform to one's desires because they conform to one's desires: "It is so, because I desire it to be so; it is not so, because I desire it not to be so."

Inference Scheme of Wishful Thinking: I desire it were true, therefore it is true.

This is the fundamental principle of invalid reasoning, and it should be clear why this is so and why no human being spends a day or an hour without some wishful thinking: Because wishful thinking yields what human beings wish, and gives them satisfaction and pleasure, even if this is merely fantasy, and because human beings desire so much to get what they please that merely imagining that things are as they desire to believe they are is a sufficiently strong motive to make them believe what they desire, and to act on that belief.

It is the real basis of each political ideology and each religion. Normally, it goes together with the active refusal to seriously consider the reasoned arguments of (supposed) opponents.

Here is the 19th Century English mathematician Augustus De Morgan (a good friend of Boole) on the subject and its implications:

"My opinion of mankind is founded upon the mournful fact that, so far as I can see, they find within themselves the means of believing in a thousand times as much as there is to believe in, judging by experience."
   (De Morgan)

See also: Fundamental principles of invalid reasoning, Clifford, Happiness, Power, Willing
Literature: Clifford

2. A great man

Incidentally, it just having been MLK-day - Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - here is a link to a full registration of his 1963 speech and of his first meetings with Meet The Press:

He was a great man, morally and intellectually, and these videos may show some of the reasons why that is so: intellect, self control, vision, courage. Also, he was the greatest speaker I have heard.

P.S. Corrections have to wait till later.

As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

6. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7. Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)

Short descriptions:

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
   "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon
     insufficient evidence
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.

    "Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!
     - (Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound") 

    "It was from this time that I developed my way of judging the Chinese by dividing them into two kinds: one humane and one not. "
     - (Jung Chang)


See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources

Maarten Maartensz (M.A. psy, B.A. phi)

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