11 Dec 2020

Breeur (2.1) Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, Ch.2.1, “Stupidity and Errors”, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

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[The following is a paragraph by paragraph summary of Breeur’s text. Boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my mistakes. The book can be purchased here.]

 

 

 

 

Summary of

 

Roland Breeur

[Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page]

 

Lies – Imposture – Stupidity

 

Part 1

Lies and Stupidity

 

Ch.2

Alternative Facts and Reduction to Stupidity

 

2.1

“Stupidity and Errors”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brief summary (collecting those below):

(2.1.1) Normally we define stupidity as being error. And error here is understood as not knowing something we should have known. We furthermore suppose that all humans have a “natural disposition towards truth as such” (35) and we think that we all have the good sense to discern the true from the false. So if we fail to judge the true as true or the false as false (including when we fail to judge at all), then we are being stupid, according to this conception. (2.1.2) Now, both error and lie involve the confusion of true and false. Lies, we suppose, involve the intention to deceive. However, we think that stupidities that cause errors are more or less innocent and perhaps harmless (as they do not arise from this intention to deceive, and) because, rather than endangering the truth, they instead confirm “the existence of our natural disposition towards it” (35). (In other words, perhaps, because we make room for innocent errors, we recognize that we think truth should prevail in the end, which can be accomplish by correcting the errors.) (2.1.3) Each era may hold a different view on truth, the mind, and the intellect. As a result, each era might have its own idea of what would qualify as being erroneous or “contrary to established evidence and conviction” (35). People of the Enlightenment, for instance, denounced “obscurantism and superstition,” while “contemporary advocates of the Enlightenment” confuse “postmodernism with post-truth”  (35). (2.1.4) Although society may, with utopian ambitions, embark on crusades to abolish stupidity, “such emancipation projects conceal deeper and less decent ambitions but because stupidity as such cannot be eliminated outright or once and for all: It threatens thought from within” (36). (2.1.5) Harry Frankfurt discusses a particular type of stupidity called “bullshit” (in his “On Bullshit”). Bullshit results when people lack any interest in whether or not what they say is true, because for them, truth itself is not of interest. Frankfurt furthermore connects bullshit to stupidity. “Frankfurt asserts that a general skepticism, ‘which den[ies] that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality,’ is responsible for the proliferation of stupidity.” But, Breeur questions this notion, noting that even if we maintain such a realist standpoint and advocate for speech that remains true to such an objective reality, still there is no guarantee we will not succumb to stupidity. For, “there exist a lot of calamitous stupidities that, as Deleuze said, are made up entirely of truths” (36). (2.1.6) In order to overcome stupidity, it may not be enough to simply favor realism (which holds that there is an objective reality to which our claims might veridically correspond) over skepticism (which holds we can have no such reliable access to reality and may make room for bullshitting, because bullshitting involves an indifference to the truth values of one’s claims.) The reason this strategy can fail is that “The truth a realist has access to can be as stupid as the errors of the antirealist” (37). Breeur also notes that antirealists do not simply deny that we can have access to reality or that there even is an objective reality in the first place. Rather, antirealists hold that any such access to reality is insufficient for guaranteeing “sense and meaning” (37). Realists are presupposing “a value framework,” and their “notion of truth functions as an undetermined concept in an ontological vacuum” (37). (2.1.7) Frankfurt makes an interesting distinction between bullshit and lies. Lies oppose truth, and liars reject the authority of truth. But in order to do so, they in the first place recognize truth’s status, value, and power. Furthermore, lies dissimulate something supposed to be true, and as such ultimately affirm the value of truth. Bullshitters, however, are completely indifferent to what is true and what is false, and for this reason bullshit is a much greater threat to truth than lies are. Breeur ends by noting that “This indifference to the difference between what is true and what is false is precisely what is at stake in stupidity and the proliferation of opinions” (37).

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

2.1.1

[Stupidity as Error: Failing to Judge the True or False as Being Such]

 

2.1.2

[Stupidity’s  Supposed Innocence]

 

2.1.3

[Each Era’s Errors]

 

2.1.4

[Doomed Efforts for a Stupidity-less Utopia]

 

2.1.5

[Bullshit & Stupidity: Harry Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit”]

 

2.1.6

[Realism’s Inability to Protect Us from Stupidity]

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

2.1.1

[Stupidity as Error: Failing to Judge the True or False as Being Such]

 

[Normally we define stupidity as being error. And error here is understood as not knowing something we should have known. We furthermore suppose that all humans have a “natural disposition towards truth as such” (35) and we think that we all have the good sense to discern the true from the false. So if we fail to judge the true as true or the false as false (including when we fail to judge at all), then we are being stupid, according to this conception.]

 

[ditto]

What is stupidity? Usually, we tend to identify stupidity with error. In other words, we reduce it to a lack of truth, the | absence of something we should have known. That conception presupposes human being to share a universal and natural disposition towards truth as such. Good sense, for example, being the best thing distributed in the world, and naturally equal in all men, allows every individual subject to discern autonomously the true from the false. We behave stupidly when we neglect our power to judge well, or when we don’t use our power at all.

(34-35)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.1.2

[Stupidity’s  Supposed Innocence]

 

[Now, both error and lie involve the confusion of true and false. Lies, we suppose, involve the intention to deceive. However, we think that stupidities that cause errors are more or less innocent and perhaps harmless (as they do not arise from this intention to deceive, and) because, rather than endangering the truth, they instead confirm “the existence of our natural disposition towards it” (35). (In other words, perhaps, because we make room for innocent errors, we recognize that we think truth should prevail in the end, which can be accomplish by correcting the errors.)]

 

[ditto]

But these stupidities, given their nature as errors, can easily be corrected or rectified. Contrary to lies, which presuppose the intention to deceive, stupidity is supposed to be innocent and, one would be inclined to believe, harmless. Such stupidity never endangers the truth – on the contrary, it confirms the existence of our natural disposition towards it. And, given the premise that this disposition coincides with the nature of our mind, our thinking, or our intellect, stupidity will normatively be ascribed to anything that deflects the spontaneous tendency to what counts as “intelligent” or “thoughtful” The intellect heads for the truth by itself, as long as its exercise is not deflected by emotions, feelings, ignorance, illness, etc., i.e. everything by definition exterior to thinking: What distracts the disposition from its pure openness towards the truth refers to the body or the animality (the beast) in us. The stupids are silly sheep, donkeys, or owls.

(35)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.1.3

[Each Era’s Errors]

 

[Each era may hold a different view on truth, the mind, and the intellect. As a result, each era might have its own idea of what would qualify as being erroneous or “contrary to established evidence and conviction” (35). People of the Enlightenment, for instance, denounced “obscurantism and superstition,” while “contemporary advocates of the Enlightenment” confuse “postmodernism with post-truth”  (35).]

 

[ditto]

Of course, every epoch presents its proper form of stupidity. Dependent upon what it believes to be true, and what it believes to be the nature of mind and intellect, every new culture allows itself to denounce what seems contrary to established evidence and conviction. Hence, the Enlightenment (for example of Voltaire) denouncing obscurantism and superstition, Marx denouncing cretinism as a product of capitalism (to tie the workers slavishly to the means of production), the more recent so-called “black books” denouncing Marxism, and contemporary advocates of the Enlightenment confusing postmodernism with post-truth.

(35)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.1.4

[Doomed Efforts for a Stupidity-less Utopia]

 

[Although society may, with utopian ambitions, embark on crusades to abolish stupidity, “such emancipation projects conceal deeper and less decent ambitions but because stupidity as such cannot be eliminated outright or once and for all: It threatens thought from within” (36).]

 

[ditto]

These tendencies to denounce and surpass stupidity are often accompanied by weak or strong versions of utopian aspirations or ideals concerning the nature of reality. The crusade against stupidity is part of a program to emancipate the human being from everything that hinders his or her access to the truth. But, unfortunately, such inquisitions often reflect what Melville once said about how “the greater idiot ever scolds the lesser.”32 And this is not only because such emancipation projects conceal deeper and less decent ambitions but because stupidity as such cannot be eliminated outright or once and for all: It threatens thought from within.

(36)

32. Herman Melville, Moby Dick (London, Penguin Books, 1994), p. 489.

(36)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.1.5

[Bullshit & Stupidity: Harry Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit”]

 

[Harry Frankfurt discusses a particular type of stupidity called “bullshit” (in his “On Bullshit”). Bullshit results when people lack any interest in whether or not what they say is true, because for them, truth itself is not of interest. Frankfurt furthermore connects bullshit to stupidity. “Frankfurt asserts that a general skepticism, ‘which den[ies] that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality,’ is responsible for the proliferation of stupidity.” But, Breeur questions this notion, noting that even if we maintain such a realist standpoint and advocate for speech that remains true to such an objective reality, still there is no guarantee we will not succumb to stupidity. For, “there exist a lot of calamitous stupidities that, as Deleuze said, are made up entirely of truths” (36).]

 

[ditto]

In a recently (and much-commented-on) rediscovered article, Harry Frankfurt complained about the proliferation of a form of stupidity which he called bullshit, which he described as a direct consequence of our lack of interest in the truth-value of what we state or claim. Someone producing bullshit deceives us, because he or she hides from us the fact that truth is of no interest to him or her. The motive guiding and controlling her speech, Frankfurt says, has nothing whatsoever to do with how the things about which he or she speaks truly are.33 But on the basis of what criterion does one claim that she knows how the things truly are? Frankfurt asserts that a general skepticism, “which den[ies] that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality,” is responsible for the proliferation of stupidity. But how can he guarantee that his notion of realism and the promotion of speech that is concerned with the kind of truth it presupposes can protect us against stupidity? After all, there exist a lot of calamitous stupidities that, as Deleuze said,34 are made up entirely of truths.35

(36)

33. Harry G. Frankfurt, “On Bullshit,” in: The Importance of What We Care About (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, [1988] 2005), pp. 117-133.

34. Cited by François Zourabichvili, Deleuze. Une philosophie de l’événement (Paris: PUF, 1994), p. 26.

35. See his remarks on “contemporary” forms of “anti-realist” doctrines, e.g. skepticism “which den[ies] that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality and which therefore reject[s] the possibility of knowing how things truly are” (Frankfurt, “On Bullshit,” p. 133).

(36)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.1.6

[Realism’s Inability to Protect Us from Stupidity]

 

[In order to overcome stupidity, it may not be enough to simply favor realism (which holds that there is an objective reality to which our claims might veridically correspond) over skepticism (which holds we can have no such reliable access to reality and may make room for bullshitting, because bullshitting involves an indifference to the truth values of one’s claims.) The reason this strategy can fail is that “The truth a realist has access to can be as stupid as the errors of the antirealist” (37). Breeur also notes that antirealists do not simply deny that we can have access to reality or that there even is an objective reality in the first place. Rather, antirealists hold that any such access to reality is insufficient for guaranteeing “sense and meaning” (37). Realists are presupposing “a value framework,” and their “notion of truth functions as an undetermined concept in an ontological vacuum” (37).]

 

[ditto]

Perhaps claiming to contest and resist stupidity simply by defending “realism’’ against “skepticism’’ might be a little bit naïve. The truth a realist has access to can be as stupid as the errors of the antirealist. Moreover, it is too easy to declare that the antirealists deny the ability to access and/or the existence of objective reality. Rather, what they wish to disclose is the fact that being able to access objective reality provides no guarantee of sense and meaning; on the contrary, reliance upon an idealized conception of objectivity in order to defend some notion of truth itself presupposes a value framework. For the realist, the notion of truth functions as an undetermined concept in an ontological vacuum. (This is far from self-evident, as we will see.)

(37)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.1.7

[Bullshit as a Greater Danger to Truth than Lies]

 

[Frankfurt makes an interesting distinction between bullshit and lies. Lies oppose truth, and liars reject the authority of truth. But in order to do so, they in the first place recognize truth’s status, value, and power. Furthermore, lies dissimulate something supposed to be true, and as such ultimately affirm the value of truth. Bullshitters, however, are completely indifferent to what is true and what is false, and for this reason bullshit is a much greater threat to truth than lies are. Breeur ends by noting that “This indifference to the difference between what is true and what is false is precisely what is at stake in stupidity and the proliferation of opinions” (37).]

 

[ditto]

Interesting, however, are Frankfurt’s claims opposing bullshit to lies. A lie still dissimulates something supposed to be truth, and in that sense a person who lies is “responding to the truth.” To that extent, argues Frankfurt, he is still “respectful of it.”36 But the “bullshitter” is “neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false,” he does not “reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to [it]. He pays no attention to it at all.” By virtue of this indifference, bullshit is finally a “greater enemy of the truth than [are] lies.”37 This indifference to the difference between what is true and what is false is precisely what is at stake in stupidity and the proliferation of opinions.

(37)

36. Frankfurt, “On Bullshit,” p. 131.

37. Frankfurt, “On Bullshit,” p. 132.

(37)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Breeur, Roland. Lies – Imposture – Stupidity. Vilnius: Jonas ir Jakubas, 2019.

The book can be purchased here.

 

Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page.

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