The Loser’s Compromise (cont.)June 2, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
In my post on “Victoria and Holmes,” I wrote the following:
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.
The rest of the post explained this and gave some illustrations, but there’s just a point or two more that I’d like to add to try and clarify why this is indeed a Loser’s Compromise.
The heart of the Loser’s Compromise is that the person making the argument is trying to claim that he is “justified” in believing any conclusion he wishes to accept. The idea is that, since we can’t know which conclusion is true, the justification for any of them is the same.
That’s almost true: if indeed we cannot know which conclusion is the correct one, then all conclusions are equally UNjustified. This is the crux of the matter, because there’s a difference between all conclusions being equally justified, and all being equally UNjustified. The term “justified” implies that the believer has valid reasons for his beliefs, but in the case of the Loser’s Compromise, nobody has any valid reason to prefer one conclusion over the others.
What the Loser’s Compromise does is to try and remove the social stigma that comes from advocating beliefs that we don’t have any valid reason to believe. The believer wants to claim the social status that comes from having “justified” beliefs, and therefore uses the Compromise to claim that his beliefs are just as justified as anyone else’s.
But let’s go back to the conclusions themselves. Where we have a body of conflicting and mutually contradictory conclusions, at most one of them is going to be consistent with the real-world truth. If we say that all conclusions are equally “justified” when we know that they cannot all be equally true, what we’ve done is to redefine the meaning of “justified” so that it no longer has any relevance to the question of whether or not a particular conclusion is true.
But there’s a reason why we attach a certain social stigma to the practice of believing things when you have no valid reason for concluding that they are true. Self-deception has practical consequences that often include harm to the believer and/or those around them. Why would you want to listen to someone who was deliberately impeding their own ability to distinguish between truth and falsehoods? Why would you trust them when they regard truth and falsehood as being virtually the same in terms of what we should believe?
We rightly look down on such rationalizations and self-deceptions, because of their practical implications. The Loser’s Compromise attempts to avoid that stigma by contriving a counterfeit form of “justification” that is really just unjustified beliefs masquerading as justifiable. This is a pure fraud, a con, and ought to be thoroughly and soundly repudiated by all honest inquirers after the truth.