No Remedy

Sastra makes a relevant point, or set of points, in a comment on ‘No Exit’.

Bottom line, science is the method you use when you want to force yourself to seriously consider the possibility that you might be wrong. It’s designed to eliminate bias and test views as much as possible. It’s structured to force a change of mind. If that is allowed to pass as just a “different kind of dogma,” then being undogmatic would mean refusing to consider the possibility you might be wrong, embracing your biases, and not testing your beliefs. Don’t change your mind. Stay firm. Otherwise, you might be in danger of the smugness of scientism.

Just so, and that’s where the regress comes in, and I just can’t see any way out of it. For one thing, as Sastra indicates, taking things on faith itself involves a kind of smugness. In fact you could say that it doesn’t involve smugness, it is smugness. The refusal to consider disconfirming evidence (and that is what faith is, by definition) could be seen as the very essence of smugness. Again, I reach a dead end where I just don’t see what the alternative can be. Making a virtue of refusing ever to change one’s mind, no matter what, is not an anti-smug stance.

But then it’s smug of me to say that. We’re saying (we have a consensus) that rational inquiry and science, which always include the possibility that we might be wrong, are better forms of inquiry than their opposites, which exclude the possibility that their practitioners might be wrong; we’re saying this method is better than that method; therefore there is a potential for smugness. Sure; there is; but the remedy for that can’t be to take up a much smugger, more self-protective way of thinking. I don’t know what the remedy is, other than the usual ones of trying to be vigilant, aware, self-critical, and so on; but I’m pretty convinced of what it’s not.

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