Victoria and Holmes

There’s a particular approach to the truth that I call the Loser’s Compromise, and it goes like this: “We can’t know the truth about X, so let’s just agree that different people are equally justified in believing whatever they like about it.” Considered superficially, it sounds open-minded and fair, because it appeals to a certain live-and-let-live quality that avoids putting anyone in the wrong. In reality, though, it’s a deceptive rationalization, and an excuse for avoiding the truth instead of embracing it.

To illustrate why this “compromise” is actually a form of self-deception, let’s consider two different people, one of whom believes that Queen Victoria was an actual person who lived in England in the 1800’s, and the other wants to believe that Sherlock Holmes was an actual person who lived in England at the same time.

Which of these people need to resort to the Loser’s Compromise? The person who wants to believe in Queen Victoria doesn’t. Queen Victoria actually did exist, and there’s abundant evidence of both her existence and her reign. There is no correspondingly abundant evidence for a competing theory that she existed only as an entertaining character in the fictional works of some prominent author. The evidence reflects a clear and distinct difference in support for the Real Person Hypothesis versus the Fictional Character Hypothesis, and that difference in evidentiary support is what we mean when we say we are justified in concluding that Queen Victoria really existed.

Appealing the the Loser’s Compromise would be foolish under these conditions. Not only does it fail to lend any better support to the conclusion that Victoria existed, but it actually compromises our ability to recognize the truth, since it grants equal weight to the false conclusion that she was merely a fictional character. This is going to be true in any question of objective fact: at most one conclusion will be consistent with the actual real-world truth, and other conclusions are going to be false. To treat all conclusions as equally justified is to prevent oneself from distinguishing between true answers and false ones. For the honest inquirer who wishes to know the truth about Victoria’s existence, such an approach would be abhorrent because of its inescapable self-deception.

It might have a certain appeal, though, to the person who wishes to believe that Sherlock Holmes was real. Because Holmes did not actually exist, the Loser’s Compromise offers the believer something that the evidence can’t: a presumption of legitimacy. By gainsaying all evidentiary differences between the Real Person Hypothesis and the Fictional Character Hypothesis, the believer can avoid having his false beliefs exposed as false. That’s a rhetorical benefit to the person believing a falsehood, but only because his beliefs are false. He doesn’t want to know the truth because the truth isn’t what he wants it to be. Thus, the best he can hope for is to reduce everyone else to a level of ignorance that will prevent them from knowing his answer is wrong.

This is why I call it the Loser’s Compromise. The believer knows (at some level) that the evidence is against him, and that’s why he tries to discredit it so that it cannot be used to distinguish between truths and untruths. It’s an intentional sabotage of one’s ability to discern, and thus is a desperate, last-ditch effort at rationalization. The honest inquirer has no need of it, because the evidence will already support the genuine truth. The only function of the Loser’s Compromise is to create a false justification for a preconceived and false conclusions.

 
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Posted in Loser's Compromise, Unapologetics. 21 Comments »

21 Responses to “Victoria and Holmes”

  1. ssjessiechan Says:

    Well, there’s one other way in which it’s the Loser’s compromise. You only hear it after they’ve tried, repeatedly, to prove their point, and have acknowledged even to themselves that they can’t win the argument. They could say something to the tune of “I’ve lost the argument but I know I’m right anyway so you won’t convince me” (which I do sometimes hear), but more often you hear something to the effect of “you’re wrong to think this is something that can be argued, we’re both right and you’re intolerant for trying to change my mind”. AFTER he spent an hour trying to change YOUR mind. It’s a way of announcing that they have, indeed, lost, but aren’t willing to admit it.

  2. cl Says:

    Ha! The Loser’s Compromise? I wasn’t aware the discussion had been resolved yet.

    Appealing the the Loser’s Compromise would be foolish under these conditions. (sic)

    I agree – under those conditions.

    This is going to be true in any question of objective fact: at most one conclusion will be consistent with the actual real-world truth,

    I’ve already shown that to be false with a real-world example.

    To treat all conclusions as equally justified is to prevent oneself from distinguishing between true answers and false ones.

    Sure – if that’s our general approach to epistemology – but who treats all conclusions as equally justified?

  3. Arthur Says:

    cl,

    I’ve already shown that to be false with a real-world example.

    Whether or not you are capable of conclusively determining how a landform formed, or what a secretive friend really wants, it is still the case that only one conclusion is really the case.

  4. cl Says:

    Arthur,

    Whether or not you are capable of conclusively determining how a landform formed, or what a secretive friend really wants, it is still the case that only one conclusion is really the case.

    Correct. It is not still the case that in any question of objective fact at most one conclusion will be consistent with the actual real-world truth, which are the words DD used. In my friend analogy – although only one hypothesis is correct in actuality – all available evidence was equally consistent with both hypotheses.

    Do you deny that all available evidence was equally consistent with both hypotheses in my friend analogy? Or are we in agreement now?

  5. ThatOtherGuy Says:

    “This is going to be true in any question of objective fact: at most one conclusion will be consistent with the actual real-world truth,

    I’ve already shown that to be false with a real-world example.”

    And that’s what Parsimony is for.

    Yes, some deity COULD be directing evolution with a desire to eventually produce humanity so that he can start loving meaningful relationships with them (after lovingly putting their ancestors through the meat grinder that is natural selection). Or it could just be, y’know. Entirely natural.

  6. R.C Moore Says:


    Sure – if that’s our general approach to epistemology – but who treats all conclusions as equally justified?

    The point here is that the belief is considered equally justified. No real conclusions are being compared at all. No one “concludes” Sherlock Holmes existed (unless they are quite detached from reality) They just “believe it”, and claim their belief is equivalent, because they subscribe to the axiom of “If you don’t know everything, then anything I fill into the gaps of your knowledge is considered true by default”.

    An example: “No one knows how to describe the state of things before the initial conditions of the creation of Universe (Big Bang). Therefore, I say there was a Creator, who created those initial conditions.”

    It took centuries of very hard work (objective evidence) to get close to the knowledge those initial conditions, and then, without any work at all, superior knowledge is claimed.

    I reject claimed knowledge without work, as it cannot be differentiated from nonsense. It arises from nothing, or tautologies, and leads nowhere. It lacks any objectively defined attributes, or any mapping functions which can can create defined attributes.

    It is merely the “belief” that one is right, a position that can be held by anyone about anything. And who cares about that?

  7. Arthur Says:

    cl,

    Do you deny that all available evidence was equally consistent with both hypotheses in my friend analogy?

    No; it’s true that all the evidence available to you was inadequate. But that just means that, for whatever reason, you were short of definitive evidence. It is still the case that the actual real-world truth of things only supports one conclusion.

  8. cl Says:

    Arthur,

    It is still the case that the actual real-world truth of things only supports one conclusion.

    Correct. I never said it wasn’t.

    TOG,

    Between the More OxyContin Hypothesis and the Methadone To Quit Hypothesis, how would you suggest we apply the principle of parsimony? Wouldn’t any pronunciation of which hypothesis constitutes the least complex explanation remain entirely arbitrary?

    R.C.,

    It’s hard to tell which (if any) parts of your comment are directed at me. You griped about my use of the word “conclusions,” but I was just responding to the actual word DD used. Perhaps you should take that up with him? Also, I don’t abide by the axiom “If you don’t know everything, then anything I fill into the gaps of your knowledge is considered true by default.”

    I reject claimed knowledge without work..

    I don’t. If I witness a car accident, I feel I have sufficient grounds to claim knowledge, and I’ve done zero work. I’d also be interested in hearing your opinions on the concept of philosophical knowledge.

  9. R. C. Moore Says:


    If I witness a car accident, I feel I have sufficient grounds to claim knowledge, and I’ve done zero work.

    You have witnessed a car accident. That is considered knowledge from work (objective evidence), good enough for a court of law.

    As opposed to “you do not know if a car accident occurred, I therefore declare your lack of information allows me justification to believe the accident did occur”

    That is knowledge without work, and would be rejected by me (and a court of law, and science)

  10. cl Says:

    I don’t see how mere observation entails work, but feel free to elaborate. I would never declare that lack of information justifies belief; I’d reject that type of knowledge as well.

  11. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Notice the old switcheroo here:

    DD:

    This is going to be true in any question of objective fact: at most one conclusion will be consistent with the actual real-world truth

    cl:

    In my friend analogy – although only one hypothesis is correct in actuality – all available evidence was equally consistent with both hypotheses.

    What I actually said is true: given a selection of mutually contradictory conclusions about the real world, at most one of them will be consistent with the real world truth. This is because if two conclusions contradict each other, they can’t both be consistent with the real world truth which does not contradict itself.

    By switching the topic from true conclusions to ambiguous evidence, cl claims a refutation he has not earned. And in fact, his point reinforces my own (thanks cl!). The whole point of my post above is that we can indeed contrive a biased and selective view of the evidence which does indeed convince us that no knowledge of the truth is possible. That alternative, however, is the Loser’s Compromise, because it seeks to avoid honest and effective inquiry by denying us access to the differences which would allow us to distinguish truth from falsehood.

  12. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Ha! The Loser’s Compromise? I wasn’t aware the discussion had been resolved yet.

    It is helpful to understand the difference between honest inquiry and mere obstructive rationalization, so that we can resolve the discussion.

  13. R. C. Moore Says:


    I would never declare that lack of information justifies belief

    Well, that would pretty much wrap it up for God then. Thanks.

  14. ThatOtherGuy Says:

    “It is helpful to understand the difference between honest inquiry and mere obstructive rationalization, so that we can resolve the discussion.”

    Remember who you’re talking to, here. Post after post have been turned into 40+ comment discussions because of this guy.

  15. cl Says:

    R.C.,

    Well, that would pretty much wrap it up for God then. Thanks.

    I feel that’s very oversimplified logic – but I’m sure my opinion shouldn’t bother you.

    ThatOtherGuy,

    Oh, yeah.. because of me. Probably nothing to do with folks like yourself who refuse to take accountability for factually incorrect statements until absolutely forced. That couldn’t have anything to do with it, right? Nor does it probably have anything to do with folks like 5keptical whose claims to be oh-so-rational seem oddly juxtaposed against ad hominem smirks that typically accompany the irrational. It probably doesn’t have anything to do with basic math either – you know – like the fact that I’m constantly conversing 6 people all who seem like they have boners for me or something.

    Should I just sit back and let folks like yourself run their mouths while simultaneously and hypocritically adding nothing pertinent to the discussion? Where’s the fun in that? You (and anyone else who claims I’m rationalizing before hearing my case) can jump to conclusions about me all you want. All it does is further betray your appeals to rationalism.

    I’ve been busy re-reading all these posts, like I said. Now go ahead and make another reply that has nothing to do with the discussion.

  16. Eneasz Says:

    like the fact that I’m constantly conversing 6 people all who seem like they have boners for me or something.

    I will gladly admit that I have a boner for cl. :) I look forward to his comments, mainly because of the responses they elicit.

    I suggest we set up a cl-clock, similar to the Sylvia Browne Clock, to document how long it will be until he produces his promised rigorous thesis. Phase One of the clock should be “date from announcement of thesis” to “date a hypothetical completion date is offered”. Wasn’t the first mention of an exhaustive rebuttal about three weeks ago? Still no estimated date of completion.

  17. cl Says:

    Esneaz,

    DD’s written upwards of 20 posts in this series, and I’m going through each and every one of them writing a week-by-week, post-by-post analysis in attempt to be sure I’ve not missed pertinent comments. Believe me, although I’d give anyone here the shirt off my back and buy them dinner and beer if they needed it, you folks and your arguments here (for whatever they’re worth) certainly are not my life’s priority.

  18. cl Says:

    Eneasz,

    My apologies for misspelling your name all along. I’m mildly dyslexic.

  19. Eneasz Says:

    Hey no worries, it’s not a big deal, and I know it’s an unusual name. I generally don’t nitpick spelling and grammer errors (unless they’re TRULY attrocious). It’s a silly distraction as long as people understand what you mean. And many people don’t have english as a first language, or have problems like dyslexia, or post drunk (a favorite of mine :) ).

  20. jim Says:

    Postign drnk s grate!

  21. » The Loser’s Compromise (cont.) Evangelical Realism Says:

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