This is one of those “blogging is eating into my worktime productivity” kind of days. But I have to take a bit more time out to respond to the ever clear thinking and diplomatic Robert Gressis. In reply to my persistent attempt to get John Loftus to explain what he means when he uses terms like “rationality” and “justification” and “knowledge” Robert asks,
Randal, you seem to adhere to the following principle:
“In order for a person to legitimately use a term T, he has to have a definition of T.”
But that couldn’t be right, could it?
I am not sure what couldn’t be right, the principle so articulated or my endorsement of the principle so articulated. As it stands it doesn’t really matter because the principle isn’t right and I don’t endorse it. Imagine if I did. Then when four year old Billy says “I love you mummy!” his mom would have to say “I don’t know about that. Define ‘love’.”
So what is it that motivates me to ask for John to provide definitions of his terms if not that erroneous principle? It is because of a much more unwieldy principle like this:
“If person A claims that person B fails to use term T appropriately, and person A wants person B to take his claim seriously, then person A has an obligation to explain what his own understanding of term T is and why his understanding is better than person B’s.”
This is precisely what is going on here. John consistently says that I am delusional and irrational. In other words, he disagrees with my use of terms like “justification”, “rationality” and “knowledge”. If he wants me and others like me to take him seriously then he has an obligation to explain how he is using those terms and why his own understanding is superior.
To this point, he has failed in that task. Not only has he failed however, but he has produced formulations of belief that are self-defeating. He is like the miner covered in coal dust save the whites of his eyes who is insisting that everybody else wash their hands before dinner.
If John has no interest in persuading the person B’s of the world that he is right, if he has no interest in being taken seriously, if he merely wants to play the court jester, then fine. I don’t claim he is obliged to play the straight man. But in that case he should don a red wig and a clown nose so we’re clear on the intent of his act. A laugh track would help too.
Deep down I know that John isn’t just joking around. He really does want to be taken seriously. But then the principle I articulated applies. He really does need to explain how my use of epistemological terms is fundamentally errant and he needs to point the way to better definitions.