Not really an excuse, but I’ve had a brutal work week. Which is why I’ve been remiss in highlighting Dan Kahan’s fantastic response to my recent post. To recap, Kahan has been trying to understand how people can understand something while not believing it–what he calls “knowing disbelief” (KD). I suggested that there’s nothing to worry about because that’s just how we–as human beings–operate. People are inconsistent…what’s the big deal?
And Kahan explained:
I don’t think any such expectation or demand for “consistency” is what’s puzzling me about dualism! The reason is that I don’t think there necessarily is any contradiction in the beliefs and related intentional states of the dualist. For the Pakistani Dr., “the theory of evolution” he “rejects” and the “theory of evolution” he “accepts” are “entirely different things”…
Is there a cogent account of the psychology of KD under which we can understand the mental objects of the “theory of evolution” that the Dr “rejects” and the “theory of evolution” that he “accepts” to be distinct because they are properly individuated with reference to the use they play in his negotiating of the integrated set of identities (integrated as opposed to segregated, as in the case of the dissonance-experiencing compartmentalizing, closeted gay man). If so, what is it?
Once we understand it, we can then decide what to make of this way of organizing the contents of one’s mind—whether we think it is “rational” or “irrational,” a cognitive ability that contributes to being able to live a good life or a constraining form of self-delusion & so forth. I am grateful to Kulkarni for helping me to get clearer on this in my own thinking.
But I wonder now if he doesn’t agree that there is something very much worth explaining here.
To which I answer…yes there is something worth explaining here! I was too glib when I argued that there’s nothing to understand because, well, this is just how we do. As I read and re-read Kahan’s KD taxonomy, I realized that I didn’t initially appreciate how different the four types of KD are. The cognitive processes of closeted gay men, of people who “believe” Obama was born in Kenya, and of doctors who reject evolution are not in fact identical. It is worth cataloging, analyzing and understanding these differences. Lumping them all together is scientifically careless and doesn’t do justice to how individuals experience KD on their own terms. Given how much of my writing focuses on actual people, I should have been more careful. As happens so often here, my interlocutors have reminded me I still have much to learn.
I suspect that at the end of the day Kahan and I will disagree on whether dualism and its variants are “rational” or “irrational.” We may also disagree how much of a “problem” it is with respect to evolution and what, if anything, we should do about it. But we no longer disagree that it’s a question that should be studied.