Prudential Evidentialism

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Prudential Evidentialism

Postby hyksos on June 26th, 2018, 2:38 am 

I recently discovered this fancy thing in ethics, and I'm so fascinated by it, that I feel like sharing. It is called Prudential Evidentialism.

This is a process wherein facts are obscured, removed, lied about or twisted, because revealing such facts to the public would lead to an outcome that is undesirable. The person engaging in the cover-up, removal, obfuscation or lie, believes in their own mind, that they are acting ethically -- because the outcome resulting in the long term is better.

At first you might see this definition and be like "This sounds like people who lie for their own benefit. Everybody does that, so what?" But this is very different from lying for one's own benefit or to escape punishment or blame for one's self. A person engaging in Prudential Evidentialism is under the impression that the concealment of the fact is crucial for the greater good of the entire society.

In media journalism -
A mass shooting takes place on a campus. The shooting is ended when someone else with a gun shoots back. Several more "Left-leaning" media outlets conveniently leave out the fact that the person who stopped the on-going shooting was himself armed. The journalist or media reporter has calculated this fact should be removed from the story, maybe because it does not fit a 'bigger narrative' that the outlet has promulgated in the past (likely gun control related issues).

In education -
Black inner city youth score lower on standardized tests than their caucasian counterparts, even after having adjusted for economic and social factors. Should this fact be bandied about in public or shouted from rooftops? Perhaps not. Perhaps it should be quietly swept under the rug. Spreading it around in the public dialog might feed into racism. We conclude that hiding this fact is the 'ethical' thing to do.

In Culture -
The HIV virus does not spread by transmission at a n equal rate among different populations of people. Worse, HIV infection spreads through gay male communities at a rate that is 700 times faster than in heterosexual communities. The probability that HIV infection is transmitted by vaginal intercourse between a man and woman is surprisingly low (3.7% or some such). You may have noticed that the TV media never told you this little inconvenient fact. Of course they didn't. It doesn't fit with the "narrative". The journalists who made this omission believed they were acting ethically.

Science vs Religious Belief
Consider the facts to be found out in the wild regarding biological lifeforms on earth. One would be that the boundary between species out in the wild is 'fuzzy'. Another would be hybridization (which can often yield a third variant for use in agriculture). These facts run contradictory to Biblical Creationist narrative about the origins of life. Some people conclude that such facts may be dangerous for adolescent minds -- since they may cause them to question creationism, in turn question their Christian religion. So it is feared that they may lose their moral center. Certain parents on the fundamentalist spectrum may choose to shelter their children from science to deter their teenage children from going apostate. These parents believe in their heart that they are doing something ethical.

In recent years, this subject was quite political. President George W Bush has called that "both sides" be taught on classrooms in public schools. More relevant to today, sitting vice president Mike Pence has called for teaching "both sides" in classrooms. These men are adopting the ethical stance that not just their children, but all children should be equally "sheltered" from science in public schools. One way is to create a lingering doubt in evolution by natural selection. However and regardless of how unfounded those doubts are in reality. Ethically the desired outcome is not good science, but pious christians. The ethical argument goes something like "We need american children to grow up good christians otherwise they would be indoctrinated into secularism , and the moral fabric of society would come unwound and {insert other scary predictions here}".

Criticism
I've given some examples above where grown adults engage in abusing facts for the sake of social outcomes they desire. One criticism of Prudential Evidentialism is a contrary ethics -- which sets bounds on what counts as justified belief. The motto that evidence, and only evidence alone should justify one's beliefs. This is practically the entire motto of Richard Dawkins in his public life.

"Evidence and evidence only" is often repeated by judges in court rooms to juries. That is, as a juror you are not to consider the punishment that a person might receive in prison if found guilty. (that woudl be applying prudential evidentialism) Your job as a juror is to merely decide on the facts of the case, hand down a verdict to that end, and little more.
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Re: Prudential Evidentialism

Postby Braininvat on June 26th, 2018, 9:09 am 

Am familiar with PE. I find it a vile and arrogant sort of ethics. It rests on a paternalistic notion that the people from whom facts are withheld are not capable of your level of reasoning and judgment of information. It presumes that one is a legitimate censor because others are, in essence, children. And if you treat adult people like children, this can indeed hold back their personal growth.

PE is only valid when it concerns young children and complex issues they are simply not yet equipped to deal with. Every sane parent practices this form of PE.

I even see mild forms of this in news sources that don't generally engage in PE, like a column or blog where someone uses phrases like "...and here's why this is important [or] here's why this matters. " Wait a minute, isn't it up to the reader to decide if it matters to them? Why are you the arbiter of what's important to others? Just present your evidence and interpretation and let the reader decide, instead of patronizing them.

Thanks for this thread, Hyksos.
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Re: Prudential Evidentialism

Postby wolfhnd on June 26th, 2018, 5:27 pm 

Nietzsche and the death of God is an example of a more nuanced take on the topic. Nietzsche was no fan of Christianity but he did predict the social upheavals in Germany and Russia that would result from the decline of traditional order falling God's death. Nobody in their right mind would want to go back to pre enlightenment conditions but good things carry unpredictable costs.

If you are going to expose truths that disrupt the social order then you may at the same time be ethically obliged to offer them in a way that provides an alternative grand narrative. Post modernism and neo Marxism are complete failures in this regard.

Another example may be civic pride and patriotism. The cost of undermining such belief systems may be greater than the benefits from a purely rational world view. People don't live by bread alone and engineering a healthy emotional basis for social cohesion is difficult.

Our social lives are an iterated series of games. A certain amount of tribalism and competitive spirit is healthy. Combine that with the limits of a few thousand individuals who can integrate into a team or community and irrational pride is not so irrational. On the national level communities combine to form larger competitive structures and irrational nationalism is not so irrational. To play games you have to cooperate to compete. It becomes a question of balance. When does competition become murderous or counter productive.

It a way it comes down to limitations on articulation. Something's are so complicated that what appears to be irrational or a lie are just gross oversimplifications. It's the grand narrative that fills in the unarticulatable voids in our low resolution perspective on social order.
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Re: Prudential Evidentialism

Postby hyksos on June 29th, 2018, 5:28 pm 

Hey wolfhnd, that sounds pretty good.

Have you ever taken an ethics course in a university?
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Re: Prudential Evidentialism

Postby wolfhnd on June 29th, 2018, 6:14 pm 

hyksos » Fri Jun 29, 2018 9:28 pm wrote:Hey wolfhnd, that sounds pretty good.

Have you ever taken an ethics course in a university?


As close as I have come is a required human potential class at a small college. The instructors themselves probably had little formal training.
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Re: Prudential Evidentialism

Postby Forest_Dump on June 30th, 2018, 10:10 am 

It is pretty common, if not actually required in many cases, to ignore some aspects of reality in order to isolate some factors for further study, thought, etc. Just to give a somewhat extreme example, I will discuss the history of evolution as a given fact that is beyond debate now (as opposed to creationist narratives) and in order to focus on mechanisms to explain how evolution happened. However when the discussion shifts to philosophy of science, as more of a "realist" I would acknowledge that there is never any absolute proof, instead a failure of have falsified, so therefore we cannot really ever say evolutionary history has been "proven". We often, in other words, have difficulties balancing things like paradoxes and ambiguities. As an archaeologist, for example, it can be tricky when faced with a need to focus on changes vs continuity especially through time and/or across space which would require holding some things constant, for example, in order to focus on the change in other things when in fact the things I held as unchanging were/are actually changing dynamically. That is, after all, what all model building in science requires, a simplistic ignoring of facts in order to focus attention on other things.
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Re: Prudential Evidentialism

Postby Braininvat on June 30th, 2018, 1:14 pm 

It sounded to me like PE involved a bit more than just simplifying a theory in order to render it explainable to a lay audience. Or scientists simplifying a model in order to zoom in on manageable data sets or coherent hypotheses. PE seems to be a more active omission/censoring of some facts, or obfuscating, because it is believed that the end justifies that means. PE would seem to erode the integrity of public dialog and education. Here are two statements that could be made about the theory of evolution:

1. Evolution is just one of several theories.

2. Evolution is a theory that stands out from all others by virtue of an immense quantity and quality of evidence which points to no other viable explanation of how modern species came to be. There is not, to date, one shred of evidence supporting any rival theory.

(1) reeks of falseness, by what it omits. It's implication is there might be other rival theories that have some merit, and that this branch of science is still in its infancy. (1), by what it leaves out, rises to the level of PE, and of a kind that fosters religious indoctrination of the impressionable minds out there.
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Re: Prudential Evidentialism

Postby Forest_Dump on June 30th, 2018, 1:49 pm 

I don't disagree. Truth be told, there will be a fuzzy line somewhere and in the end where you draw the line is going to be heavily dependent upon your goals and other aspects of the context. I simply argue that it is vitally important to be self critical and aware of where and how biases can and will creep into the best intentioned scenarios both to try to minimize the errors we make and to try to be fore-warned and fore-armed for the critiques we will inevitably be faced with. I recently witnessed an unfortunate confrontation between very well-intentioned people from a city-culture and people from a remote community because the city folk intended well but didn't fully think through and anticipate how their actions were going to be interpreted. They really did mean well but didn't fully think through what the impacts of their words and actions would have because they honestly didn't include some aspects they didn't think we're relevant but became the focus of the community's reactions. Bottom line, not everyone sees the world the same way, however much you would like them to, and you need to be able to at least try to see the world in totally different ways (i.e. practise cultural sensitivity) if you want to avoid at least some unfortunate outcomes. What you might think are totally irrelevant tangents may well be the key central issues to someone else.
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Re: Prudential Evidentialism

Postby hyksos on June 30th, 2018, 6:13 pm 

Forest_Dump is playing a superbly honest scientist here. Always qualifying and hemming himself in.

In contrast, I want to point out that among certain conservative segments of American society, they are today engaging in what I describe as ruthless forms of social engineering. The political climate today has become poisoned to the point that facts are being abused , if not ejected from public discourse. This is tide/zeitgeist that superbly honest scientists are up against.

But this is a topic better fit for News Discussion Forum.

viewforum.php?f=129
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Re: Prudential Evidentialism

Postby wolfhnd on July 1st, 2018, 1:35 am 

hyksos » Sat Jun 30, 2018 10:13 pm wrote:Forest_Dump is playing a superbly honest scientist here. Always qualifying and hemming himself in.

In contrast, I want to point out that among certain conservative segments of American society, they are today engaging in what I describe as ruthless forms of social engineering. The political climate today has become poisoned to the point that facts are being abused , if not ejected from public discourse. This is tide/zeitgeist that superbly honest scientists are up against.

But this is a topic better fit for News Discussion Forum.

viewforum.php?f=129


I don't understand?
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Re: Prudential Evidentialism

Postby hyksos on July 2nd, 2018, 9:27 pm 

I don't understand?

Recent headline news items are certainly allowed in any good discussion of ethics. In University courses, the students are cajoled and promoted to read the news more and talk about it. However, political debates can deteriorate into punditry quickly on the internet.
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Re: Prudential Evidentialism

Postby wolfhnd on July 2nd, 2018, 10:39 pm 

I really don't agree with Forest because his view focuses on group identity not individual character. The only group identity I recognize as valid is the group of people committed to minimizing suffering and those who have other priorities such as ethnic identity.
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Re: Prudential Evidentialism

Postby mitchellmckain on July 3rd, 2018, 3:16 am 

I would put this under the category of difficult ethical dilemmas where absolutes can run aground and we just have to make the choices we can live with. Of course, I wouldn't bother with rationalization in "prudential evidentialism" to justify decisions and I don't think that others do this either. Rather this is most likely concocted by people observing such examples and taking this as a sort of ethics by which some people operate. But I think they are largely misguided. This is not a system of ethics ANYONE is using, but rather something some ethical choices can be fit into after people have made an ethical judgement in a grey area (by their way of thinking).
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