A personal history (was Re: Levels of Discourse)

Danny Yee (danny@STAFF.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Wed, 18 Jan 1995 21:28:14 +1000

Bjorn Fry wrote:
> The general lack of backbone among so many so called intellectuals
> and educators doesn't bode well for either heuristic research or decisive
> and effective strategies. Too many of us resort to name calling or
> insulting language when our pet beliefs seem to falter under the onslaught
> of other ideas. The exchange of just such ideas, no matter how off the
> wall, ultimately represent part of a win win situation we should all
> welcome and not fear. How else are we going to learn and advance? I really
> wonder which heads WILL actually roll most over the next decade. Will it be
> the restless and the brave or the spineless and opportunistic scratching
> for power anyway they can?

I always feel a little torn in these sort of debates. On the one hand
I have a strong attachment to reason, to logic, and to objectivity,
and a tendency to get irate at what I consider really blatant
affronts to any of these. This is of long standing in my mind-set
-- my earliest philosophical position (at age 13) was Newtownian
determinist, radically anti-religious, science-worshipping and
generally rather crudely realist/materialist. I would have become
an instant Cultural Materialist if I'd read Marvin Harris. (I would
also have called myself a Marxist and I had a normative belief in
free love, but that's another story; my parents had whole sheleves
of political material from the 60s :-)

On the other hand I also believe in the essential irrationality
of humanity, and am an ethical relativist. I now subscribe to a
coherence rather than a correspondence theory of truth, and would call
myself an instrumental realist rather than a realist. This change was
accompanied by a shift of interests from mathematics and physics to
anthropology and biology. All of which happened as a gradual process
from about age 16 through to 22 (my philosophical position has been fairly
stable for some time now). Despite the lack of an abrupt conversion
experience in this process, there are elements of "convert fervour"
in the readiness with which I wield keyboad against those who fail
to understand Hume's Law and insist on confusing their own ethical
and political beliefs with objective reality (my recent messages in
response to Marius Johnson are a good example of this).

What is the relevance of this to Bjorn's comment?

I've forgotten, and I have really sore wrists, so it's left as an
exercise for the reader. (Given the number of hours a day I spend at
keyboards, I'm really suprised I haven't ever been afflicted with RSI.)

Danny Yee.