January 18, 2007

Thinking from the Gut

Filed under: criticism, politics — ted @ 11:35 am

Writing on the Oxford University Press blog, Cambridge professor Simon Blackburn considers the philosophical import of “truthiness” and attempts by policy-makers to distinguish their efforts from those of the “reality-based community.”

Thinking that authority comes from the gut is not quite the same as thinking that reality is at the behest of our own construction. The one vice is something like superstition or credulity. It can go along with knowing that there is a truth out there, it just supposes that the subject can divine what it is by consulting his or her gut feelings. Sometimes that describes something that might happen: what people call their gut feelings may be reliable emotional indicators of things they have latched onto. A gut feeling that the salesman is lying to you might be a valuable indicator that he is indeed lying. Unfortunately a gut feeling that the war in Iraq is going well is not a valuable indicator of success. Evolution may have grown us to be quick and good at reacting to face-to-face cues of deception. But it hasn’t grown us to be good at knowing what is going on half way across the world, not without help.

The whole piece is superb: short, direct, and deeply concerned:

Constructions, fictions, models, often have a place in our attempts to make sense of the world. One task for the philosopher is to keep them in their right cages; to make sure they don’t spill out where they have no business. Not easy. Help welcome.


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