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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 Teaching)

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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