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What could Pascal have meant?

 
 
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 08:44 am
On a different forum, the following quotation from Pascal was given:

When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false.
He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides.
Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.


I wonder what others think of this passage from Pascal's Pensees. It seems to me just wrong.
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ughaibu
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 09:05 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:
It seems to me just wrong.
Why's that then?
Jebediah
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 09:21 am
Yeah it seems wrong to me. Talking about it in terms of sides is just confusing. Maybe he should say "we should look at the argument he uses, for that argument is usually valid*, and reveal which premises are false". But having false premises is being mistaken.

*maybe "usually" is a bit of a stretch...
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 09:40 am
@ughaibu,
ughaibu wrote:

kennethamy wrote:
It seems to me just wrong.
Why's that then?


Because, as near as I can make out, his argument goes like this:

1. Whenever anyone believes some proposition, he believes that proposition is true.
2. Therefore, there is some sense or other in which that proposition is true.

And, Pascal then advises that we seize on that truth even in propositions that "err" (that is, are false).

The above argument, 1. therefore 2. is clearly invalid. There is no sense in which a proposition is true merely because someone believes it, and so, believes it is true. And, since 1. is true, and 2 . is false, the argument is invalid.

On the other hand, I want to add that Pascal may be understood to be advising that even if what someone says is false, so as to persuade him of the error of his ways we should pretend to find some truth in what he says, and seizing on that, turn him around. I don't think much of the ethics of that bit of advice, but it may be, nevertheless, practical, and is certainly in line with Pascal's views about the intrinsic value of truth which seem to be not particularly enthusiastic.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 09:42 am
@Jebediah,
Jebediah wrote:

Yeah it seems wrong to me. Talking about it in terms of sides is just confusing. Maybe he should say "we should look at the argument he uses, for that argument is usually valid*, and reveal which premises are false". But having false premises is being mistaken.

*maybe "usually" is a bit of a stretch...


It sure is!. Take Pascal's own famous argument (Pascal's Wager) not, of course, for the existence of God, but for believing in God whether or not we have reason to think that God exists.
0 Replies
 
ughaibu
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 09:46 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:
as near as I can make out, his argument goes like this:
1. Whenever anyone believes some proposition, he believes that proposition is true.
2. Therefore, there is some sense or other in which that proposition is true.
Thanks, but I dont see it. Can you insert portions, of the quoted passage, to construct such an argument, please.
Dave Allen
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 10:37 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:

I wonder what others think of this passage from Pascal's Pensees. It seems to me just wrong.

He seems to me to be describing in pre-psychology terms something that is now well known to psychologists, which is that people tend to make decisions on most matters due to emotional preferences and then build a framework of rationale around it.

So he suggests (albeit a little too forcefully) that instead of saying "you sir are wrong!" a more successful method is "by adopting what I think your position is I can see how you might have drawn your conclusions - but have you considered such and such a position?" This approach flatters the other participant to a degree, and if they desire to seem reasonable they'll probably reciprocate - and are therefore more likely to be open to a new perspective.

Looked at cynically, it's a game - one person pretending respect for positions he doesn't hold in the expectation that his pretence will fool the other into actually considering positions he doesn't hold.

To be more generous - it's much the same point as the cliche "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar". He's not 'just wrong', though he's mistaken in outlining a psychological tendency as if it was without exceptions.
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fast
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 11:12 am
@kennethamy,
Quote:
When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false.
That makes sense to me. What a person believes to be true is many times (but not always) true, but we don't notice that because we're too busy noticing that what is actually said is false. We confuse what is said with what is believed and so we believe that what is believed by another to be false. We have to tunnel through the bewitching language to grasp what is truly meant, and once we know what is meant (which may often be in opposition to what is said), we can devise a way to bring clarity and dissolve the confusion--but not if we're stuck on the obvious falsities of what people say.

However, after reading the remainder of the quote, I have second thoughts on exactly what was meant by the quote above, so I'm no longer sure it makes as much sense as I thought earlier. Is he confusing perceptions with truth?

Quote:
He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides.
This is problematic. If what is said is what is meant, and if what is said is false, then he was mistaken. Still, I remember that he said earlier, "for on that side it is usually true," so it could be that he acknowledges exceptions pursuant to the some views that are not true.

Still, I am cautious to think that he may be suggesting that truth is relative to the perceptions that people have, which is not true, of course.
fast
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 11:34 am
@kennethamy,
When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false.

The key to deciphering this lies in uncovering what is meant by what is said in bold above. I feel that I'm being told that I need to see what others see. I need to see what others see from the same angle that they see it. I need to fill their shoes and try and perceive as others perceive. Only then do I see what they see, and it may just be that what they see is just as it is.

For example, policy may prohibit a person from leaving their job during the day, so a manager tells the employee that he may not leave. The employee says, "don't tell I may not leave; tell me I can't come back, but don't tell me that I may not leave." Isn't it true that the employee may not leave, and isn't it true that the employee may leave? I think so once we unravel the ambiguity. The employee isn't going to agree with the employer until we not only see what it is the employee sees but acknowledge that what the employee means is just as it is; then we can show how it is different from what the employer means.
0 Replies
 
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 12:19 pm
@ughaibu,
ughaibu wrote:

kennethamy wrote:
as near as I can make out, his argument goes like this:
1. Whenever anyone believes some proposition, he believes that proposition is true.
2. Therefore, there is some sense or other in which that proposition is true.
Thanks, but I dont see it. Can you insert portions, of the quoted passage, to construct such an argument, please.


I am assuming that Pascal is producing an argument here, and not just suggesting (as Dave Allen understands him "Looked at cynically, it's a game - one person pretending respect for positions he doesn't hold in the expectation that his pretence will fool the other into actually considering positions he doesn't hold")
a tactic to move someone from error to truth by pretending that he believes something true, but (perhaps) is not putting it the right way, and then suggesting the right way of putting it which is actually very different from what he actually said, and even the opposite. On that assumption I am trying to reconstruct Pascal's argument (which, as I allow, might not even exist in the first place) Reconstruction of arguments is (unless the argument is pretty clear to start with) a chancy business since you are, in a way, trying to peer into the mind of the arguer to determine what, despite all of the window-dressing, and all the junk that may accompany it. Given that, let me cite this bit:

show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false.
He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides.


Now, what does P. mean when he says that although the arguer errs (says what is false) that from the side he views the matter, what he says is (usually) true? How could a false statement be, nevertheless true (however frequently) from the person's view? What can that mean except that although he is wrong, he believes it is true? Well, of course he does. Whatever a person believes, he believes is true. If he did not believe that what he believes is true, he would not believe it in the first place. Necessarily, A believes that p entails A believes that p is true. (It is not only true, it is a necessary truth). So that is Pascal's premise.

1. If A believes that p, then A believes p is true.

But, so what? What is suppose to follow from that.

What I think Pascal thinks follows from that is that is some form of "perspectivism" (a la Nietzsche). Namely that from A's perspective (i.e. what he believes is true) that what he believes is true ("for him") and so, true (but in a way).

Thus, the conclusion, 2. above.

And, as I wrote in the earlier post, that kind of thinking does fit it with the kind of thing Pascal writes in other parts of his Pensees. He also seems to believe there is such a thing as "subjective truth". That is Kierkegaard's term, but a lot of Continental philosophers always have believed that kind of thing. It comes out of Descartes and the other Rationalists. As I say, both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche latched on to this (what I think is a nefarious idea) and, of course, it has not gone away by any means. It is a staple of the Postmodern diet. And, it is something that the British empiricists from Locke to Hume (Berkeley is a rather special case) rejected, and that rejection transmits to philosophers like Russell, and recent analytic philosophy.

I like this passage from Pascal. It makes for a superb target for analytic philosophy (as I hope I have illustrated). It would make an excellent passage for analysis for philosophy students. The exam might just begin with, "What is wrong with what Pascal argues here?". And, of course, it has all sorts of philosophical ramifications, as I just mentioned.
Jebediah
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 12:40 pm
@fast,
fast wrote:

Quote:
When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false.
That makes sense to me. What a person believes to be true is many times (but not always) true, but we don't notice that because we're too busy noticing that what is actually said is false. We confuse what is said with what is believed and so we believe that what is believed by another to be false. We have to tunnel through the bewitching language to grasp what is truly meant, and once we know what is meant (which may often be in opposition to what is said), we can devise a way to bring clarity and dissolve the confusion--but not if we're stuck on the obvious falsities of what people say.


I agree that often what people say isn't what they believe, and that one of the best ways to argue with someone is to show them that they don't really believe what they say. But I think after they say it, the end up believing what they've said, because that's the interpretation they've decided on.

*******

Having reread the pascal bit, I think it sounds better than it did at first. Assuming that you are arguing with a reasonable person, showing that you understand what is right about their argument and then pointing to the bit where they went wrong is more persuasive than just calling them mistaken.

"we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false."

This seems to be saying something like: "See how he is looking at it (for example "too much of X is bad for the economy), and admit that it is true that "too much of X is bad for the economy", but show him that the proposed bill is not too much of X.

Of course he should say "for on that side it is usually appears true".

0 Replies
 
ughaibu
 
  0  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 12:45 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:
ughaibu wrote:

kennethamy wrote:
as near as I can make out, his argument goes like this:
1. Whenever anyone believes some proposition, he believes that proposition is true.
2. Therefore, there is some sense or other in which that proposition is true.
Thanks, but I dont see it. Can you insert portions, of the quoted passage, to construct such an argument, please.
I am assuming that Pascal is producing an argument here. . . .
I'm asking for a concise post, map your interpretation to specific statements from your quote in the opening post. According to this structure:
1. Whenever anyone believes some proposition, he believes that proposition is true. (insert Pascal's assertion that was included in your initial quote)
etc.
talk72000
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 12:54 pm
@kennethamy,
It depends on what is being viewed that Pascal was commenting on. It is not just propositions or theories. If there was a fight there would be a version from each fighter. Then there are the witnesses. There wil be witnesses with no axe to grind and there will be friends or relatives for either fighters. Each has a version. Each sees the fight in his/her own way. Which would be correct based on his/her observation. But there might be history to the event that are missed by each. Each person may be privy to partial history and perspective. Pascal is right in describing these type of problems. Look at a game of football with fans and referees and slow motion cameras.

Just like in math there are different problems so in philosophy there are different things being discussed not only just theorems, propositions, ideas. In this case it was real life problems. The context must be taken into view. Quoting words out of context is like those gossip sheets.
Jebediah
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 12:59 pm
@talk72000,
talk72000 wrote:

It depends on what is being viewed that Pascal was commenting on. It is not just propositions or theories. If there was a fight there would be a version from each fighter. Then there are the witnesses. There wil be witnesses with no axe to grind and there will be friends or relatives for either fighters. Each has a version. Each sees the fight in his/her own way. Which would be correct based on his/her observation. But there might be history to the event that are missed by each. Each person may be privy to partial history and perspective. Pascal is right in describing these type of problems. Look at a game of football with fans and referees and slow motion cameras.


What do you mean by the bolded sentence? In tennis for example, isn't the correct call in if the ball is in, regardless of how people saw it and all the different versions of the story?
Zetherin
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 01:10 pm
Dave Allen wrote:
Looked at cynically, it's a game - one person pretending respect for positions he doesn't hold in the expectation that his pretence will fool the other into actually considering positions he doesn't hold.

Honestly, I don't think when most people do this, they mean for it to be a cynical game. I interpret it as a sort of positive reinforcement, and I've seen teachers employ this successfully. They praise the student for thinking critically, even though the conclusion the student came to was incorrect. Sometimes praising someone for "being on the right track" and explaining why they were (if they were) is better than just stating outright that they are wrong - I think it can help people learn the error of their ways.
talk72000
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 01:16 pm
@Jebediah,
It meant that his version is true to his observation temporarily. All the facts must be discussed in a final decision. Have you not held some view that was corrected later on better data?
0 Replies
 
fast
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 01:26 pm
@kennethamy,
When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false.

One more time.

Notice the bold. He is trying to give us a methodology.

Notice the underlined. He admits that a person can be mistaken (or be in err).

He is giving us a methodology on how to show that a person is wrong.

However, from "notice" on, we're led to believe that truth is a function of perspective. There is something else that leads us to this conclusion. Later, he says, " naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.”

So, there’s a sense in which he seems to believe that everyone is both right and wrong. Right when aligned with perceptions, and wrong when not aligned with the perceptions of others.

Maybe he has a very strange sense of what truth is—much like how people confuse reality with perception of reality. Has he been known to say things like “my truth” or “his truth” like some people rattle off the phase “my reality” when they mean their “perception of reality”?
0 Replies
 
Dave Allen
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 01:45 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin wrote:
Honestly, I don't think when most people do this, they mean for it to be a cynical game.

I think you have slightly but fatally misunderstood me. I said that if you looked at this piece of (what I assume to be) sophistry with the veiw of a cynic you could well conclude it was a game ("looked at cynically, it's a game"). Therefore I'm suggesting any cynicism is in the eye of the beholder - not necessarily those playing the game. The game could be played innocently or cynically or in many other moods - that would be down to the participants themselves.

In terms of human transactions I'm pretty sure it's a game. One player (the teacher in your example) is wagering with himself that he can better impart something to another (the pupil) by making an apparent effort to "go the extra mile" by acknowledging the pupil's point of view. In fact the teacher may be hoping to save time and effort because he predicts that not indulging the point of veiw of the student will result in greater resistence to the lesson, idea, subject, whatever.

Maybe the teacher is genuinely interested in encouraging the student's critical thinking - but that's not Pascal's stated concern - he is teaching a bit of sophistry designed to assist one player better imparting an idea to another by acknowledging the other's position.
Zetherin
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 01:48 pm
@Dave Allen,
Dave Allen wrote:
I think you have slightly but fatally misunderstood me.

I had a feeling you would think I was disagreeing, or countering, something you said (it is my fault for not being more clear). But I wasn't. And, in fact, what I wrote had nothing to do with Pascal at all. Moreover, the comment I made wasn't even necessarily directed at you. It was just that your post made me think of what I wrote, and that is why I quoted it.

It's a ******* warzone around here. Sheesh.
0 Replies
 
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jul, 2010 01:52 pm
@ughaibu,
ughaibu wrote:

kennethamy wrote:
ughaibu wrote:

kennethamy wrote:
as near as I can make out, his argument goes like this:
1. Whenever anyone believes some proposition, he believes that proposition is true.
2. Therefore, there is some sense or other in which that proposition is true.
Thanks, but I dont see it. Can you insert portions, of the quoted passage, to construct such an argument, please.
I am assuming that Pascal is producing an argument here. . . .
I'm asking for a concise post, map your interpretation to specific statements from your quote in the opening post. According to this structure:
1. Whenever anyone believes some proposition, he believes that proposition is true. (insert Pascal's assertion that was included in your initial quote)
etc.



But I can't, and I have never pretended to do so. I am, as I said, trying to reconstruct an argument. I don't even know whether Pascal (himself) was attempting to present an argument, although it does seem to me that he was. But even if he was not intending to do so, is there an argument in that passage, and what is it. It seems to me that if there is an argument in that passage, what I presented is the most plausible version of that argument. A reconstruction of an argument is nearly never one that must contain the exact words of the (alleged) arguer. You have a misconception of what a reconstruction of an argument is. It is an attempt to distill (in chemical terms) the essence of what the arguer is arguing (supposing he is arguing). In critical thinking classes, one important lesson is how to distinguish arguments from non-arguments. After all, not everything people say consists of an argument, not even (alas!) what philosophers say. The question then in, given that Pascal is advancing an argument, what is that argument? Now, if you have a more plausible version of what Pascal is arguing, or rather, forgetting about the author, what argument is contained in that passage, let's see it. Maybe you will persuade me differently. As I said, I think Pascal is arguing for a kind of "perspectivism" or "subjective truth" , and I think that what I have presented is the best reconstruction of such an argument contained in that passage.
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