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Chapter 4

SSH 105 Chapter 4 Notes

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Social Sciences and Humanities
SSH 105
David Hunter

• We have learned that good reasons are both sufficient and acceptable o In chapter 3 we covered what it means to be sufficient, but what is counted as acceptable? Chapter 4 is also about what it means to be acceptable • Sometimes our reasons to believe something come directly from a source of evidence o Observation, measurement, and testimony are sources focused on in this chapter • We need to find if the source of evidence is acceptable, and most importantly reliable o A source of evidence is reliable when it provides accurate or truthful evidence more often than not. For example, flipping a coin to guess the weather is not as reliable as looking out the window. • There are 3 main points to keep in mind when thinking about the reliability of evidence o The Matter of Degree. Some sources of evidence are more reliable than others. It is hard to imagine that a source is 100% reliable because there could always be a malfunction But there is a minimum level of reliability needed o Another is Optimal Conditions. We must keep in mind whether the conditions are optimal, meaning we must know what the conditions are. For example, a scale is only accurate when it is on a flat and level surface, and eyesight is only reliable in good light conditions o The last is Topic Relative. Simply put, just because a source is reliable for one topic does not mean it is reliable for others. Example: The scale may be a good source of evidence for my weight, but not on my mood or cholesterol levels • Evidence is unacceptable if we have good reason to believe that it is undermined or overridden by other evidence we have o Undermined is when we have reason to believe that a source is not reliable (bias, ulterior motives, etc). Undermined evidence can still be accurate, but should not be trusted o Evidence is overridden when we have evidence that points in the opposite direction. To expand it is overridden when:  It conflicts with evidence from a known reliable source  It conflicts with expert opinion  It conflicts with what we already have good reason to believe • Mistakes To Avoid: Relying On Ignorance o It is a mistake to accept some evidence just because one does not know of any undermining or overriding evidence. You are obligating to look for overriding and undermining evidence before making a decision • Perceptual Observation o Based on our sense organs, and is reliable in some cases but not in all cases  There are also lots of things we cannot tell with our sense organs (such as if a person has AIDs) o Perceptual capacities are subject to illusions  Some visual illusions are optical – that means their explanation has to do with the way light works. For example, a straight stick in a glass of water looks bent because the light reflected off the part of the stick in the water is slowed down as it travels through the water causing it to change directions slightly  Some visual illusions are cognitive – they have to do with the way our visual system is structured or the way it works. For example the “flipping cube” or infinite stair case, or railroad tracks that are parallel that seem to meet in the distance. Memory • Memory is NOT a source of evidence, rather, it is a repository of evidence o We know that memory can be unreliable. Studies done on eyewitness reports show extremely high variety in their explanations o It is as if when memory is put in, stored, or used it gets distorted o In a study, subjects where told a story about how they poured a slimy substance onto the head of their grade 1 teacher. The story was the same for every subject, except for names and places. They were provided with fake photos of the event. 65% of the subjects reported that they remembered the event in vivid detail, and expressed shock and surprised when told the entire event was fictional Testimony Evidence that consists in what other people tell us is testimonial evidence. This includes the information we get from newspapers, teachers, and parents. Even when your friend says that there is a fridge full of beer, it is a testimony. Testimonial evidence is acceptable if, but only if • It is on an appropriate topic • It is from a competent source • The source is unbiased Appropriate Testimony The evidence must be on an appropriate topic. An expert in gardening cannot give acceptable testimony about car engines. There are some topics where there are no such things as experts, and so where an appeal to a witness is not acceptable • Matters of personal taste or preference (Ex: Springsteen is better than Eminem) • Where the facts are too complex (Ex: Why stock market goes up or down within a few hours) • Where there is no settled expert opinion (The leading edge of scientific investigation) Competent Testimony Testimonial evidence is only acceptable if the witness is competent The witness is competent only if: • The witness is properly trained or experienced • The witness is fully informed on the matter at hand o There are independent conditions: someone might have lots of relevant training but not have studied the case on which she is giving her testimony • Note 1: These conditions are independent. You have to check each one • Note 2: If you think that some testimony is not acceptable, then you have to say which of the conditions it fails to meet • Note 3: Testimony that is not acceptable might still be true! Even biased fools can speak the truth Advertising and the Media Advertisi
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