Section II: rationality as a moral attitude: Bartley’s critique

Bartley's non-justificationist concept of criticism paves the way for understanding his critique of Popper's irrational faith in reason. By defining the problem of 'rationality theory’ as one of the rationalist’s identity, Bartley attempts to show that Popper's critical rationalism does not solve the problem in question and argues that, instead of expanding his non-justificationist logic of science to the philosophy of rationality. Popper founds his argument in favour of critical rationalism over uncritical rationalism on justificational logic: if rational belief in reason requires justification by argument or experience and if such justification is untenable, one’s belief in critical reason is irrational belief. In fact, this is Popper’s solution to the problem of the identity of a critical rationalist: unable to justify all of his positions or beliefs, the critical rationalist ought to accept criticism and learn from it through an irrational faith in reason or a moral attitude. Bartley's dissatisfaction with this explanation of critical rationalist identity led to his investigation of the epistemological origin of Popper's justificationist concept of rationality.

Popper’s critical rationalism and the limits of rationality

Bartley argues that the idea of irrational faith in reason originates in the notion of the limits of rationality. According to Bartley (1984a: 73-74), the limits of rationality mean that

... one camiot, without arguing in a circle, justify the rationality of a standard of rationality by appealing to that standard. Yet, if certain beliefs - for example, the standard itself - are held to be immune from the demand for rational justification and from the question "How do you know?”, they can be said to be held irrationally or dogmatically. And, so it is claimed, argument about the radically different beliefs held in this way is pointless . . . The limits of rational argument within any particular way of life seem, then, to be defined by reference to that object or belief in respect to which commitment is made or imposed, in respect to which argument is brought to a close. Thus reason is relativized to one’s halting place or standards, and cannot arbitrate among different standards (emphasis added).

In short, the idea of the limits of rationality implies that, with justification of a claim of rationality as the standard for its truth, the problem of infinite regress forces the rationalist to admit the limitations of his rational argument simply because infinite regress must be stopped at some point.

Bartley situates Popper's irrational faith in reason in a wider perspective of the limits of rational argument, declaring that, in contrast to his non-justificationist theory of science, Popper’s critical rationalism takes a justificational approach. Popper admits that the limits of rationality originate in the sceptic’s rejection of objective knowledge: unable to justify a claim of knowledge by argument or experience, the sceptic has no way to prove his claim. Nevertheless, despite the sceptic’s rejection of objective knowledge and rationalism. Popper does not acknowledge the logical consequences of such a justificational critique of uncritical rationalism, i.e. irrationalism. Instead, Popper claims that critical rationalism can be accepted with a concession to a minimum of irrationalism. Bartley criticizes Popper’s irrational faith in reason for its justificationist notion of the limits of rational argument.

According to Bartley, Popper follows the sceptic’s position regarding comprehensive rationalism because both take a justificational approach to the problems of rationality. While recognizing the sceptic's criticism. Popper does not follow the logical result of such criticism and becomes involved in a paradoxical simation by defending critical rationalism in terms of an irrational faith in reason. On the one hand. Popper refuses to accept the sceptic’s irrationalism while, on the other, rejecting rationalism in its comprehensive sense because it cannot be justified by argument or experience. Under these conditions, the only option remaining for Popper, who does not want to give up justificationism, is that one can justify faith in reason with an irrational commitment! This defence of critical rationalism is unacceptable for Bartley; however, due to its origin in the sceptic’s justificational critique of rationalism and the dogmatist’s justificational call for irrationally stopping infinite regress at some point. In sum, Bartley recognizes that the paradox in Popper’s critical rationalism originates in its justificationism.

As observed by Mariano Artigas (2002: 36):

Popper presents "rationalism” in opposition to the kind of irrationalism which refuses argument, and adds the qualification ‘critical' in order to emphasise that, unlike classical or "comprehensive” rationalism, which only admits that which can be justified by positive reasons, critical rationalism acknowledges that we camiot provide such positive justification.

This raises the question of the meaning of the term 'critical' in Popper's critical rationalism and means that, unable to justify our belief in comprehensive rationalism, our very belief in rationalism ought to be shaped by an irrational belief. In this case, the term 'critical' does not benefit from an epistemological meaning, and Popper cannot explain how our moral attitude of openness to criticism allows us to use logic in order to learn from our errors. Artigas (2002: 37) rightly recognizes that: "According to Bartley, behind this problem there exists a meta-context contaminated by a justificationist philosophy about true belief. Bartley argues that Popper's critical rationalism originates in the 'justified true belief' account of knowledge.

Bartley (1984a: 74) reminds us that two consequences seem to follow acceptance of the limits of rational argument:

The "truth” of one’s beliefs is then ultimately rooted not in their self-evidence or in their universality but in one’s whim, or in the belief, say, that God has commanded one to accept these standards. A man's standards are true for him because of his subjective commitment to them. An irrationalist thus has an excuse for his subjective irrationalism, and a secure refuge from any criticism of any subjective commitment: he has a tu quoque or boomerang argument. To any critic, the irrationalist can reply: tu quoque, reminding him that people whose rationality is similarly limited should not berate others for admitting to and acting on the limitation. If everyone - as a matter of logic - must make an irrational commitment at some point, if no one can escape subjective commitment, then no one can be criticized simply because he has made such a commitment, no matter how idiosyncratic.

Bartley uses the tu quoque (you, too) argument to show that Popper’s justifi-cationism leads him to irrational faith in reason. However, Bartley maintains that rejection of justificationism does not involve the need to admit an irrational commitment to any position, since no attempt has been made to justify any position that leads to infinite regress and irrational commitment. All rational beliefs can be held open to criticism.

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >