Re: PHIL: Dynamic Optimism as a tool in logical reasoning

From: Menno Rubingh (
Date: Fri Jan 14 2000 - 04:43:44 MST

[This is a re-send of my mail of Thu Jan 13 which seems not to
have come through for some weird reason]

Hi Frank !,
nice to meet you again, by the way !

On Thu, 13 Jan 2000, Frank Prengel wrote:

> 1. It is well known (I think :) that in many circumstances
> *pessimism* is a better tool for success

I disagree, I maintain that (rational) optimism (which is different from
naivete') is *always* a better tool for success. Disprove it.

> - especially when it comes to
> scientific research where *criticizing*
> hypotheses is highly necessary.

I agree that criticizing hypotheses *is* highly necessary in science (as well
as in other areas of life, I think), but that doesn't say that for example
criticizing hypotheses is the *most important* goal or thing.

> (That's what science is
> about: make hypotheses and try to disprove them.)

No, I think that the goal which people try to achieve in science through this
process (of making hypotheses and trying to disprove them) is not to falsify
or disprove hypotheses, but a more positive goal, namely: to find new useful
hypotheses that work !

> 2.
> Actually, I feel that LIVING D.O. is more advanced than just
> THINKING optimistically. You can do the latter and still
> fail to put it into practice, but hardly vice versa.

Whatever. It is just an arbitrary epithet labelling either thinking or living
as ''higher''. I'm not sanguine about which of the two (living or thinking)
should be labelled as ''higher'' than the other. Probably the two are when
you look closely rather entangled and inseparable, anyway ? What exactly *is*
''thinking'', after all ?

It might even be true that before a human starts 'thinking' about things, he
has first to have dumbly tried out things (without too much of thinking
first), or have seen things happen ? In that way, ''acting optimistically''
could maybe come before (and be possible somewhat independently of) ''thinking
optimistically''. *Some* people who hardly ever seem to think in their lives
(and who never heard of philosophy) do, I think, exhibit a marvellously D.O.
kind of living -- they just go do things without thinking too much about
possible bad outcomes. That kind of D.O. living / D.O. action is possible
without thinking deeply.

> 3.
> No, that's justificationalism. Science is about (see above)
> criticizing ideas.
> Point (2) should be: "Do not believe anything that has been falsified."

I think that's an unnecessarily pessimistic view :-)<grin>:-). I think that a
''proof'' *can* be constructive. I mean, I think that a proof can
legitimately consist of showing that something *can* be done -- instead of
always showing only that something is 'falsified'. I even think that it is
not very well possible to advance into new areas without this kind of
positive proof.

Only *dis*proving things (finding out how a theory could be false)
does, I think, not generate enough ''trust'' in a theory to go build on
top of it or advance from it (using the theory as a secure base) in other

Is a failure to find something that disproves a theory A enough support
to start believing in theory A ? I think not. I think that before stepping
on to the ice and trusting in the theory that the ice is thick enough to
support you, one primarily wants positive proof. Seeing no one on the ice and
seeing neither people sinking through it nor people standing on the ice
without sinking through it does not convince *me* that the ice is thick enough
to unhesitatingly jump on to the ice. I first would want to do some simple
tests, e.g. throwing some heavy stones on it or sitting on the shore and
pounding it with my foot. Only after I see a positive proof that makes it
probable that the ice is in fact thick enough, do I want to jump onto it
without further hesitation.

I think we *need* this kind of ''justificationalism'', that we cannot do
without it.

In what way do *you* get to new positive theories with using as your tools
only disproving things; and *without* ever using positive, supportive proof ?

> Ciao,

Best greetings, Menno (

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