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Epistemological Consequences of a Consciousness Being Partially Infallible/Fallible

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I have a hypothetical question that I am thinking about and I wanted to see what other people think about it.  We know that human beings are not omniscient AND that human beings are fallible.  With regard to fallibility I think Objectivism’s position is that there exists a general possibility of error that can impede the human ability to acquire knowledge that is certain.  I think I read somewhere that Objectivism holds that the possibility of error is abstract and metaphysical and specific errors are more concrete and epistemological.  Is this correct?  Skeptics exploit the metaphysical possibility of error to claim that humans can never know anything for certain.  And I think Objectivism’s answer to that claim is that we can’t get rid of the general metaphysical possibility of error but we don’t have to because we can apply objectivist epistemology to acquire knowledge with epistemological certainty in a specific context.  So the metaphysical possibility of error is very abstract and it applies to ALL ERRORS that humans can possibly commit.  And the certainty that Objectivism claims we can obtain is an epistemological certainty that exists in specific situations.

So my hypothetical what-if question about fallibiity is what would the consequences be to our ability to obtain certainty if the general metaphysical possibility of error wasn’t so general and it only applied to certain specific mistakes but not other mistakes?  For example, let’s consider three specific activities humans do in normal life:

  1. Driving a car

  2. Tying Shoes

  3. Playing chess

Each one of these activities has its own specific, concrete errors associated with it which can be committed.  What if, for example, there was something specific about the activity of driving that makes you commit driving errors, and you are infallible when you are doing everything else like tying shoes, playing chess, etc.  Let’s say you are capable of making some mistakes, like driving errors, but not other mistakes.  If this scenario was real, could you ever know with certainty that you are driving a car properly without committing any traffic infractions or other driving errors?  In such a scenario, even if you would apply Objectivist epistemology to determine that you are driving correctly, just knowing that the activity of driving itself causes you to commit errors would qualify as at least one specific piece of evidence that you are doing something wrong.  Am I right about this?  So now the claim that you are making a mistake would not be arbitrary, since the activity of driving itself would give you reason to suspect that you are committing a driving error.

I think the philosophic significance of this scenario is that it extends the possibility of error from the metaphysical layer of your worldview into the epistemological layer of your worldview and thereby destroys your ability to obtain certainty.  So I am wondering does fallibility have to be so general?  What would the philosophic consequences be if it only applied to cerain errors but not other errors?

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RF, where on earth did you get the position set out in your first paragraph? Do you have some text from some Objectivist writer that you could refer to for me to read or, better yet, that you could simply quote with citation here? That might show me that something like what you wrote in that paragraph is anything in Objectivist philosophy, and indeed clarify exactly what you are trying to say in that paragraph.

I wondered also, What have you studied in the history of skepticism?

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1 hour ago, ReasonFirst said:

Objectivist epistemology to determine that you are driving correctly, just knowing that the activity of driving itself causes you to commit errors would qualify as at least one specific piece of evidence that you are doing something wrong. 

If the very nature of your method causes errors, then yes, you lose the ability to attain any kind of certainty.

But Objectivism doesn't portray rationality as a matter of finding an absolute truth and anything short of that is an error. Certainty is instead about knowing you use a method that brings you closer to hitting the mark every time. Using an objective methodology doesn't cause errors, or at least, it's a method that doesn't take you further away from the truth or what is the case. If objectivity by nature caused errors, there would have to be something pervasive about human reasoning that completely prevents you from even getting closer to the truth.

Say you wanted to make a cheese omelette. There is a basic method to it, with variations in technique and skill that lead to different qualities of omelettes, but there is nothing about the basic omelette making technique that by its very nature prevents you from making a successful omelette. You could apply the methods incorrectly, but that's not because the methods necessarily cause you to do it wrong. There are different wrong ways to do it though, that by nature will always make a failed omelette. You can't crack the eggs into boiling water to make an omelette, you're always going to end up with poached eggs. No matter how much you try, if you cook eggs that way, you will never make an omelette. You might make something that resembles one, but it will always be an "erroneous" omelette.

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I think your question is too abstract and wide-ranging, and would benefit from narrowing its scope, and filling in some details. Let us take the first of your activities: driving a car. Rather than assume infallibility in all other domains, can you be infallible w.r.t. driving a car? Pick a different domain if you want, but don’t start with the premise that infallibility is metaphysically possible in some unspecified domain. Now, state precisely what it means to “fail” w.r.t. driving. I don’t mean “give an example of a failure in driving”, I mean give a description of all things that would be a failure. One possibility is framed in terms of emotional reaction – “actions which cause you to be unhappy”. You can then be infallible, as long as you can control your emotions and can completely detach reason from action. Under the hedonist theory of fallibility, it is not a failure if you drive off a cliff, as long as you are happy doing so.

There are very many relevant contexts for an objective view of success or failure, for example, it might be considered a failure to drive for hours and end up where you started, but it might be a success if you have the goal of viewing spectacular autumnal foliage. It might also be considered a failure if a way of driving results in commission of a traffic infraction but saves you 2 hours of time on the road. If so, you will have learned that it is more important to you to not commit a traffic infraction that it is to carry out your plan in a shorter time period.

Rather than presuming infallibility in all choices then injecting an abstract possibility of failure, I would start by trying to construct a plausible case for infallibility. Error can arise from failures of logic, and also from lack of relevant knowledge. To be “generally infallible”, you have to be “generally rational” and also “generally omniscient”. I posit that you cannot infallibly know whether an action in a specific context is a traffic infraction (or crime) since these are not objectively defined (in a fashion that any person would know what an infraction is).

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