Sunday, December 30, 2007

Perverse rewards

Dear Public Diary,
Can anything be done about the perverse rewards of academic life in philosophy, where a new way of being wrong is rewarded an old way of being right typically gets no reward (unless it has been forgotten and is being rediscovered by one), and the more subtle an error in the argument for the false conclusion--and hence, the more harmful the argument--the greater the reward?

Perhaps prayer and fasting is the only solution. It should be particularly effective, at least in one's own case. Mea culpa.

p.s. Of course God brings good out of evil. An original error can move the field forward, even towards truth. But that God brings good from evil is no excuse for doing evil.

9 comments:

Douglas said...

The key to avoiding this is to be like me i.e. not clever enough to make subtle mistakes. It's a virtue.(didn't Aristotle say so?)

If you're going to make a mistake, make sure it's a big and stupid one.





Yes, I am kidding. Well, except for my not being terribly clever.

Heath White said...

It would be funny if it weren't so true!

Douglas said...

The real question is; did you make some mistake that prompted this post? If so, you should let me know. I'm not clever enough not to repeat it. ;)

Alexander R Pruss said...

I have recently found problems with two arguments in my PSR book. One of these was an argument I was very proud of, that an Aristotelian causal power account of modality entails S5 and the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR).

I have rescued the latter argument to some extent--it still entails PSR, but the argument now needs an additional technical assumption (viz., that if the PSR holds in every possible world but this one, then it holds in this world). Whether it still entails S5 is something I haven't figured out. Anyway, it's the PSR that I care most about, because of its connection with the cosmological argument.

What's sort of sad is that I've presented the argument in several venues, and never has the mistaken part of the argument been questioned. I think this points out that one is unlikely in conference-type contexts to get good criticisms of the technical points of arguments.

Mike said...

One of these was an argument I was very proud of, that an Aristotelian causal power account of modality entails S5 and the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR).

Alex,

You should write these up in a blog post. It would be interesting to see whether you've really got a problem here. Maybe it's solvable, maybe it's easily solvable.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Happy New Year, Mike!

The revised write-up will appear in a handbook of theistic arguments that Bill Craig is editing. I am now furiously writing a 100+ page paper on leibnizian cosmological arguments for that volume.

The argument for PSR is rescuable, given the technical assumption. (That assumption is hard to dispute. Surely it couldn't be the case that the PSR is true, but it would have been true had I skipped breakfast.) Probably the argument for S5 is rescuable given some assumptions, but the situation will be less elegant.

Mike Almeida said...

The argument for PSR is rescuable, given the technical assumption. (That assumption is hard to dispute. Surely it couldn't be the case that the PSR is true, but it would have been true had I skipped breakfast.) Probably the argument for S5 is rescuable given some assumptions, but the situation will be less elegant.

Happy New Year to you! Could you send me a copy of these proofs, if you have them in soft copy? The derivation of S5 sounds very interesting.

Douglas said...

I'm itching to get my hands on that volume edited by Craig. Also, I'm embarrassed to say I haven't picked up a copy of your PSR book. But I will keep in mind that it requires some qualification to represent your best work when I do get it(assuming that's not so far off that a revised edition isn't already in existence.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

And here is another oddity. I think we would be right for a research department to hire a philosopher whose philosophical views are wrong (but perhaps not too perversely so) but interestingly so over one whose views are right but boringly so (e.g., because they reiterate what is well known). I think this is because interesting errors advance the discussion, so they would be valuable as means to an end. But I worry that this is too consequentialistic.