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Mentat method

  1. Feb 15, 2005 #1
    This is a serious thread (in the GD forum...well, I couldn't think of where else it should go) dedicated to all of my Thrasymachuses out there (most recently, and most poignantly, Fliption).

    It has been said (throughout my long time here) that I am argumentative, not open to any agreement, and too semantically inclined. I wish to address this, if only to have a thread I can refer my critics to, and thus avoid side-tracking threads.

    Being argumentative and against agreement is how it may seem, but I'm really just being Skeptical, in the original use of the term. The Pyrrhonean Skeptic had a counter statement for every statement. To this they added epoche (suspension of judgement), and that was their method. My method is very much like that. However, contrary to popular opinion, I do come to agreement, and I don't counter every statement. In short: if there were no flaws in your statement, I'd have nothing to counter; as it is, I would appreciate it if my counters were addressed directly.

    As to semantics, well, I really admire the philosophy of Wittgenstein. As per the Philosophical Investigations, philosophy's "problems" can be solved by ceasing to use empty terms (which have evolved through complex histories, as I've been trying to explain in my recent threads, but are not less empty), and addressing all philosophical difficulties as problems of the language-game being used.

    That I sometimes nit-pick about a word, or feign ignorance with regard to a word's meaning is simply a way of fleshing out how well my opponent understands the words that make up the language-game s/he's playing. That my opponent very often cannot define a term to anything like a sufficient extent (which needn't be perfect or exhaustive, merely useful (i.e., you shouldn't need to erect an entire paradigm, so that your word can gain meaning therein)).

    Any posts (in any thread) that relate to my method of discussion will henceforth be responded to by a simple reference to this thread.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 15, 2005 #2
    Is the paperback version of "The Mentat Method" out yet? :smile:

    Sorry Mentat. Couldn't resist. It's good to hear from you. I guess we don't travel in the same areas of the forum, so I don't see many of your posts.

    Seriously though, we are all here for intelligent discussion. I agree that a person should be required to state their position properly. Even if it seems to others that we are being unreasonable seeking that requirement.
  4. Feb 22, 2005 #3
    I'm going to comment here since this is where all future particpants will be referred when they have something to say about this method of dialogue.

    First of all, I am a skeptic as well. Most reasonable people who participate here would say the same thing about themselves. To be skeptical means to be skeptical of ALL views not just some. I've never once seen Mentat practice his method of skepticism against a proponent of Dennett even though they do lurk around and make bold claims at times.

    I will make the argument that if any frustrated person is referred to this thread, then it will not be because of their dislike of "skepticism". It will be because of their dislike of the approach to the discussion. This is a method of personality, not skepticsm.

    This method involves pretending to be completely dense and ignorant about what most people take for granted in conversation so that the opponents simplest assumptions never get off the ground. This havok on words is especially unproductive when you consider that this communication medium has many shortcomings to begin with. (I find myself working extra hard at times saying things in posts that I normally wouldn't say just to overcome these shortcomings and make sure people understand where I'm coming from.) But even with all this in mind, I still say this method would be ok if there were truly a point to be made. But an attempt is never made to follow up and say something like "I actually did know what you meant but I was trying to illustrate the point that....".

    This clarification never happens. It's much too easy to respond by asking questions full of shock value with no follow-up explanation like "What do you mean the sky is blue?". Unfortunately, after pages and pages of this unproductive game, the result is that people eventually just write Mentat off as nuts or especially hard-headed. I personally find that if you meet people half-way and let them know that you understand them even if you don't agree, you'll have a better reception to your own views. But Mentat views "understanding" them as somehow acknowleding their "terms" and therefore his whole tactic of tearing down the opposing view by tearing down the concepts goes out the window. Therefore, he never gives an inch, never even establishes common terminology with which to even begin productive communication. I can post quotes from several different people in the last week alone who have claimed something similar and backed out of the discussion.

    My question is "What's the point of this method"? Is it actually productive? If it's not going to make an honest attempt to meet people half-way and eventually try to convince others, then maybe it's to learn something yourself? But how can you possibly do that when everyone else is so wrong? The only other motive for posting here , other than these two, is self aggrandizement.

    I'm not necessarily interested in anyone's answer to this question. We all probably have our own opinion. It's just something to think about. I have my theory.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2005
  5. Feb 23, 2005 #4
    First off, Fliption, to ask what the "point" is is to reveal an ignorance of the Skeptic method. I don't need to say why, pick up a book.

    Secondly, my skepticism has indeed been turned against followers of a Dennettian view, but it was before your time. Aside from which, I still come in with a comment here or there, whenever the thread is predominately pro-Dennett, as to whether there is something "more" to consciousness, or how they can rule out such things.

    Thirdly, that such comments are often simply stated, and are not substantiated is because of the nature of the comment. Wittgenstein employed similar questions with his students. I ask what you mean by "the sky appears blue" to get you to think about the words you're using and to see if you really know what they mean to you, and how to defend that position. That this requires feigned ignorance at times is simply the nature of the beast (that's why I call you Thrasymachus...as in Republic).

    Finally, anti-Dennettian views are commonplace. Views about "qualia" and "conscious experience" are discussed without ever substantiating why it is that such words are used at all, and what they really mean. Thus, my recent threads have been attacking the history of such terms. I must be skeptical of all references in favor of such terms, but I cannot currently attack pro-Dennett views, because few people actually understand skepticism, and they would begin quoting me to myself. "A house divided against itself will quickly come to ruin". And, FYI, the skeptics did not encourage countering publicly the same view that is your current public counter-argument. Ataraxia is not attained by constantly arguing with yourself in public, but by having a counter to all arguments, even if you don't bring them up in public all the time. Epoche is still exercised in my posts, which is why I call myself Advocatus Diaboli (i.e. my arguments against you will have only the strength and conviction that your arguments have against me).
  6. Feb 23, 2005 #5
    Mentat, I have been in your position before and argument of the type you describe requires two active participants who are aware of the rules. You have to adjust your arguments to your audience, pragmatically.
  7. Feb 23, 2005 #6
    I couldn't care less about some academic exercise that you label "skepticism". I'm not referring to the point of such an exercise. I'm asking "what is the point in using a method that isolates you from effectively communicating with the other participants?" That is a personal question, not an academic one.

    I'll just have to take your word for it. What I said is still true because I have never seen this.

    I understand exactly the tactic you're describing. I just find it highly ineffective for this communication medium. And for most other mediums as well. I envision this type of method as an entertaining, academic thought exercise. It's interesting as a method for documenting a conversation between fictional characters to get a point across. This is no way to actually communicate in real life about such complex topics.

    I substantiate why I use these terms all the time. You just don't accept it because either it doesn't fit into your prescribed world view or you just aren't able to comprehend that other people may have an entirely different (legitimate) perspective on how things work.

    Again, I will say that I have zero interest in participating in some academic exercise you're calling "skepticism". Using the more common definition of the word, I am a skeptic as well, and still claim my beef is not about being skeptical. It is about being impractical in communication.

    Communication in this medium is difficult enough because we have nothing but words to communicate with. There are no facial expressions, body language, or intentional bad grammar/slang/inflexions etc. It's all about the words. This is difficult because everyone has slightly different ideas about what words mean. The only way to communicate in such an environment is to be very clear about what you're trying to say. You cannot assume that someone knows what you mean or what point you're trying to make when you ask such off the wall questions. Most people don't realize that you're playing some academic game with them. I certainly never did. I assumed you were telling me exactly what you thought. I have no qualms at all (and in fact think it is very effective) to be very open and explain to you my thinking on all views. This idea that I cannot doubt my own view in public has no appeal to me considering why I participate here. I want to communicate to you the thoughts in my head and expect you to do the same. I'm not interested in games and debate club rules. I now see why communication has been a problem for you with many of the people you choose to engage with. I agree with the point Bartholomew is making.
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2005
  8. Feb 24, 2005 #7
    wow, this is a boring thread. I hope you have some success referring people to this thread, but I'm a bit skeptical
  9. Feb 24, 2005 #8
    Groan, :rofl:
  10. Feb 26, 2005 #9
    The Pyrrhoneans didn't. And neither did Socrates (again, I refer you to Thrasymachus' critique of Socrates' method, which was very much like the Skeptic method).

    As to this being a "game" that I play with people with whom I argue...so what? You are debating. Debating is, by its nature, a language-game. That you were not made aware of my definition of belief (the disposition to hold this side of the argument, for now) is quite irrelevant, as you were supposed to be attacking the lines of reasoning and answering the questions.

    Fliption, I don't mean to upset anyone. As I see it, the only people who will get upset are the ones who think they are arguing with a "normal person" who is defending his side because he "actually believes" in it. Argue with the reasoning itself. That's a good idea in argument with anyone, but especially with me.
  11. Feb 26, 2005 #10
    Not all threads in the GD forum are funny, trib. I just don't have any better place to put this, nor do I have all that many personal critics (which means you shouldn't be seeing very much of this thread in the future).
  12. Feb 26, 2005 #11
    Mentat, I am not criticizing your use of discussion as a game; as I said I have been in your situation before, and theoretically a game-discussion would be quite productive. But you need two people willing to participate.

    Fliption, on the other hand--why don't you participate? You should give it an honest try, meaning 10 or 20 replies, and see what happens.
  13. Feb 26, 2005 #12
    I disagree. Debating can easily become a language game for those that don't desire to get anything out of it other than creating tension and entertaining themselves. It takes work to communicate properly. Especially in a medium like this. The point is to work hard to avoid language games and actually exchange some content.

    That's not what irritates me. I couldn't care less what you believe. I just think you should be more clear about what you're thinking rather than attempting to sound like Socrates. Sometimes that means trying to understand what the other persons position is and really trying to bridge the gap. As opposed to pretending that you're speaking the same language(when you're not) and having them walk away thinking you're nuts.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2005
  14. Feb 26, 2005 #13
    There are two things going on here. 1) Mentat is following some acedemic set of rules when engaging in communcation over the internet and calling it "skepticism". Which is different from 2) Mentat plays like he doesn't understand any terms his opponent is using thus never attempting to understand the other position (or at least not admiting that he understands it)or bridge the language gap. He is saying that number 1 is causing number 2. I wouldn't have a problem with number 1 if it didn't lead to number 2. I have no time to play these academic games if they don't lead to productive communication.
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