Guard Your Premises, Guard Your Impressions
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Here is my presentation at Interintellect yesterday, which featured Stoic Gosling a few times…
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You can read it by clicking on the Chapel below …
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May 20th, 2021
I will be journaling more about reasoning today. Yay!
I feel called to talk about tightening our reasoning game, and sometimes all that is needed for that is a good move or two, and one of those moves is guarding your premises. Before I discuss this move, it might be good to discuss what some see as a problem with reasoning in general, and that is the infinite regress problem.
This “problem” basically states this: any proposition in an argument needs justification, and those justifications need justification, hence any proposition can be infinitely questioned, which is fucking annoying.
I think this is only a problem though if you are a nerd who only reasons in service to truth, but if you reason in service to adventure, hence reason wildly, then infinite regress transmutes into infinite possibility. This is how you play the infinite game.
It is good to know how to address the infinite regress problem though. In the conversational wild you’ll get all sorts of nerds who ostensibly act in service to truth, but are really playing ‘chimp politics’ via propositions, attempting to win arguments to bolster their ego. This is rampant in the skeptic and new atheist scenes.
Once you become sophisticated in power and status dynamics, this shit becomes so painfully obvious. These folks, usually men, will do their best to pick apart your arguments, and will happily push you into the abyss of infinite regress. Socrates did this as well, hence his gadfly status, but the difference was that he did it out of love.
It is good to arm yourself against the infinite regress problem though, and one way to do so is to ensure your arguments are super tight, and a surprising way to do that is to actually weaken your arguments, rather than strengthening them. This is called guarding your premises, or premise guarding.
To do this, you simply add words to your premises that make their claim less definite. From Walter Sinnot-Armstrong’s ‘Think Again: How to Reason and Argue’ ...
To change the premise from “all” to “many” (or “most”) or “some” or from “definitely” to “possibly” or “significant chance” (or “probably” or “likely”) is to guard the premise. Other ways to guard premises include self-description, as in “I believe” (or think or suspect or fear)...
You might have noticed that I use words like “sense” and “maybe” and other premise guarding words often. Why? Because it is truthful for me to do so, for one, but it also provides less fodder for the bad faith actors out there. And yeah, I sometimes give myself poetic license and write without any premise guarding, but I hope it is obvious when I code-switch in this way.
Speaking more boldly is sexier, because it sounds more confident, and confidence is sexy, but I do think it is possible for us to be just as confident, and perhaps even more sexy, while being super cool with unknowingness. What if we could live in a world where guarding our premises is hot? That would be hot.
Socrates was pretty physically ugly apparently, but people were undeniably attracted to him, probably because he was super confident with the only thing that he claimed he knew, which was that he knew nothing.
Guarding premises is also related to that annoying motte-and-bailey fallacy. This is where people speak boldly about something, then when pressed on their argument, they escape into a position that has super guarded premises. This can be done in bad faith, but if you have a transperspectival mind, you're afforded a playfulness with your motte-and-baileying, which is that meta-trolling stuff.
I will also suggest that the idea of premise guarding can be extended to impression management, which is the art of managing your impression. In my philosophical coaching practice, people are often coming in with an inquiry related to their vocation, ikigai, dharma, or whatever else you’d like to call their highest calling.
Something that is a common thread here is that people need to "put themselves out there,” which often means putting stuff up on the internet. That is scary. The process of becoming an internet person is an underappreciated dilemma. The thing often present here is some kind of impostor syndrome, which is related to fear of having one’s “premises” challenged by someone in chimp politics mode.
I recommend to not only take care to guard your premises, but also take care to guard your impressions, and be sure you are not over impressing in a way you simply cannot deliver on, or in a way that does not correspond to reality.
There are grey areas that one can play with here though, and it is the wrong move to only try to impress in a way that corresponds to reality. There are aspirational grey areas, which are the areas that magick operates in. This is that “fake it until you become it” stuff, which can be done in an authentic sort of way, or an “authoring your life” sort of way.
This is all about becoming a live player, of course.
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