GIF Minutes for October 17, 2003
Prepared by Judie McCoyd
Attending: Paul, Anne, Corey, Xenia, Roland, Cheryl, Judie, Sam
Readings: The Metaphysical Club by Menard
After confessions that many had not gotten through the book yet,
we scheduled next meeting (Nov. 14) as a time for continuing discussion
of The Metaphysical Club. The Dec. 12th meeting will then build
on the readings and articles by Liu, Parker and others will be added
as critique to pragmatism and it's educational applications. (These
readings are posted on the Blackboard website for Explorations of
Conversation started with the information that Menard is not actually
an historian and that his literary credentials caused some in the
discipline of history to be offended that the book is so successful.
It was observed that ironically, Menard crossed boundaries to write
the book, much as James crossed boundaries in his education and
practice of his myriad occupations/ vocations. The idea that we
benefit when we have our own nuanced, individual worldview balanced
with "backing off" and experiencing our worldview through
the structural "eyes" of another discipline.
Roland commented that the style is different in that Menard is
"not overly concerned about providing evidence that his interpretations
are correct- he's just telling a story." Paul questioned this
and commented that Menard weaves the story in such a way as to show
how Holmes battle life, history and his legal philosophy all intertwined
and were mutually informed.
Anne suggested that the book is an example of the asymmetry of
causal determination concept that we wrestled with in our prior
reading. She found the book both open and complex and enjoyed the
fact that the book acknowledged the lack of linear causality. She
dreww our attention to the notion of "Bettability" (p.
217) as useful concept for understanding the way decisions/ life
plans get made.
We explored whether "betting" is essentially deciding
which options to give priority when decision-making. It was suggested
that the "coin toss" proposed by Paul last meeting only
occurs when all options are considered to have equal "bettability"
and/or that one quits looking for a "right" answer. Anne
suggested that p227 may provide the answer in the assertion that
all believing is betting and then on guesses to make choices by
betting on the outcome, so decisions are, by definition, the best
bet on the desired outcome.
Paul believes this is a misinterpretation based on a false assumption.
He asserts that people worry about making the right decision and
that this leads to confusion, but that none are truly considering
the outcomes of such decisions, that they just want to be done with
the decision-making. This was challenged as not an accurate portrayal
of many GIF members experiences. Judie provided a story where the
potential outcome was precisely what the decision was based on.
Corey suggested that the type of problem, types of means, and type
of ends all contribute to the decision-making dilemma.
Paul continued to assert that most decisions are of the "Two
roads diverged in the woods and I, I took the one less traveled"
type and raised the issue of rational choice theory. All agreed
that rational choice theory really has little to say about how humans
make decisions in the course of everyday life.
The question of a decision to commit suicide was raised. Xenia
suggested that in decision-making, maybe some are making decisions
on outcomes and others are making decisions on means. Corey suggested
that vision is what guides decision-making- ie that we have a provisional
belief about what will be the outcome and we "try on"
different provisional beliefs about potential outcomes. Anne further
suggested that p 220 suggests that we may create a frame of reference
that assumes decision-making so that we feel that we are truly agents.
Paul stated that the nervous system and brain particularly follows
decision trees and that each branch gets a calculated value that
is then "back-determined" for action toward an outcome.
This was challenged by Corey who suggested that most decision-making
is much less linear and patterned than that , suggesting that her
own decision-making feels like a miasma where outcomes pop up and
down as possibilities and have multiple factors being assessed for
their influence on the desired outcome (Hebrew school example)
Anne got us back on track by asking "So what use is pragmatism?"
Corey suggested that keeping recognition of contingent free will
and ethical content still means that there's not real way to know
what "right" is. Sam cited p 220 and it's assertion that
"what makes beliefs true is not logic but results" and
pointed out that we're then all immoral (in the sense of no morals)
if we are making decisions of belief that doesn't really exist except
through the final results. Roland suggested that maybe one acts
out belief in order to have belief reinforced by action.
Anne suggested that themes emerge such as: certitude leads to violence
(Holmes); certitude leads to spiritual death (James) and that May
be what fuels pragmatism is the fear or opposition to certitude
in any of its forms.
Roland suggested that morality is just the current story we tell
ourselves about what guides our current behavior, leading one to
question whether there could ever be a "real" set of morals.
His belief is that there is no generalizable moral view. Pragmatists
would say "my current set of biases tell me this" yet
they don't deny any moral guidelines whatsoever.
We ended somewhat abruptly as time was up and we will continue
to consider pragmatism's implications next meeting- Nov. 14- 1-3.
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