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Lance Payette

Epistemology and the JFK Assassination

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This is strictly a summation for those who have ears to hear.  The rest of you, ignore or ridicule it to your heart's delight.

Adam recently asked what one item of evidence or testimony was most troubling to me as a provisional Lone Nutter.  When I mentioned a couple of items, Jake suggested there must be at least a spark of CTer within me.  There has also been lots of discussion about “reasonable doubt” in the legal sense insofar as Oswald’s guilt is concerned.

These are all aspects of what I call the “epistemology” of the assassination.  Epistemology is the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of knowledge, how knowledge is acquired, and what constitutes “justified” (or “warranted” belief).  See https://www.iep.utm.edu/epistemo/.  A belief may be justified even though it is, in fact, untrue.

Every area of belief has both its “evidentiary” aspect and its “epistemological” aspect.  In every area where I hold important beliefs (including my Christian faith, where Alvin Plantinga is the foremost epistemologist), I make an effort not to overlook the latter.

I challenge myself as to whether my beliefs are justified:  Why do I believe these things?  Am I being influenced by something other than common sense, logic, the best evidence and most reasonable inferences?  Am I perhaps resisting common sense, logic, the best evidence and the most reasonable inferences?  If so, why?

This is why I have introduced on these forums psychological materials pertaining to the propensity on the part of some people – even highly intelligent, highly educated people with impeccable credentials – to see conspiracies and lean toward fringe explanations.  In areas where I myself have done this, I have stepped back and asked myself:  Is the psychological profile describing me?  If so, to what extent is this influencing my thinking here?

Even if it isn’t me, is my thinking nevertheless being influenced by social, political, economic or cultural factors that may be distorting my view of what constitutes common sense, logic, the best evidence and the most reasonable inferences?  Am I falling into the trap of placing too much reliance on supposed experts who may themselves be badly flawed or driven by hidden agendas?

In short, I want my beliefs to have both a solid evidentiary foundation and a solid epistemological foundation.

As I’ve gone through this process over the decades, my beliefs have indeed changed dramatically in several areas.  One of these is the JFK assassination.  I realized that I had a very one-sided evidentiary base and was being driven to a large extent by my own psychological propensities as well as social/political/cultural factors and the work of dubious self-appointed experts.

I now tend to trust the epistemology of my provisional Lone Nut position precisely because I once did find wild conspiracy theories appealing and I do have a propensity to be drawn to fringe thinking.  I have had to face and overcome these propensities.  Hence, I do trust that my provisional Lone Nut position reflects a much more dispassionate view of the evidence.

I simply challenge others to do the same.  The extent to which this is resisted and ridiculed here speaks volumes.  Intractable true believers always resist and ridicule any challenge to engage in self-examination.  This is most obvious in religious communities, but it’s obvious here as well.  Indeed, this is what I once did when I dismissed the Lone Nut literature as a waste of time while lapping up every new conspiracy tome that came down the pike.

On the evidentiary side, let’s say for the sake of argument that I have 750 items of evidence, testimony and reasonable inferences that I have concluded point toward the Lone Nut explanation.  I don’t have to believe that all 750 are rock-solid and free from doubt.  I simply have to believe that, as a whole, they point toward the Lone Nut explanation.  This is quite an evidentiary mountain.

But let’s say there are 100 other items that cause me to say:  “Incredible!” or  “I believe there is very reasonable doubt that this can be fitted into the Lone Nut scenario” or even "If true, that does kind of point toward a conspiracy."

Given the 750-item mountain, the question then becomes:  Are these 100 items, individually or collectively, sufficient to call into question the collective weight of the other 750?  Or are they most likely just the loose ends that remain whenever any crime is solved?  Will many of them eventually prove to have a plausible but innocent explanation, as we saw with Umbrella Man?

Something like Prayer Man would be a flat-out Lone Nut Killer.  Show me a clear photo of Oswald standing on the steps of the TSBD at the time of the assassination, and this one piece of evidence will cause the Lone Nut theory to go poof.  (Cliff believes his ‘irrefutable proof” is in the same vein, but we have amply demonstrated that it is not.  It’s simply one area of debatable evidence that is indeed problematical but that does not topple the mountain of other evidence.  The mountain of other evidence suggests that the Single Bullet Theory, unlikely though it may seem, is correct.)

CTers want to focus almost exclusively on the 100 problematical items and suggest they show “reasonable doubt.”  Those 100 items may well do this in the legal sense – in the hands of skilled defense counsel, they might cause enough confusion or honest doubt in the minds of jurors for Oswald to be acquitted.  This happens all the time.  Never mind that those 100 items point in diverse, irreconcilable directions, as a whole they “look bad” for the Lone Nut explanation.

A legal verdict does not have to square with common sense, logic, the best evidence and most reasonable inferences, nor does it have to be epistemologically justified.  (A judge cannot overrule a jury’s verdict of acquittal in a criminal trial even if he believes it was nonsensical; in other situations, the jury’s verdict may be overruled only in accordance with the extreme standard that “no reasonable jury could have reached such a conclusion,” which is in effect saying the jurors were irrational.)

In short, a focus on specific items of evidence that might call into question the Lone Nut explanation or cause reasonable doubt about Oswald’s guilt is misguided.  It’s just the arm-flapping that characterizes most discussions here.

What is needed is a plausible assassination conspiracy theory that is consistent with the best evidence and inferences – one that has a solid evidentiary foundation and does not simply throw random darts at the Lone Nut explanation.  One whose evidentiary foundation is more compelling than that of the Lone Nut explanation or that includes items of evidence that are flat-out Lone Nut Killers (e.g., a clear Prayer Man photo.)  One that genuinely connects the dots with reasonable inferences and not raw, sinister speculation and dark, unreasonable inferences.

So far, I have not seen it – but I have seen a whole lot of people who ought to closely examine the epistemological aspect of their theorizing.

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I challenge myself as to whether my beliefs are justified:  Why do I believe these things?  Am I being influenced by something other than common sense, logic, the best evidence and most reasonable inferences?  Am I perhaps resisting common sense, logic, the best evidence and the most reasonable inferences?  If so, why?

I'm sorry, is there some way in which we don't do that?  Everything gets challenged here, especially by members other than the original poster.  You may be thinking of Deep Politics Forum.

You're the fella who posts a rant on how the back threads represent an unimpeachable golden age that we don't question.  You assume this without researching any issues in them, or examining the pages of discussion logged there.  That's an arrogant position from a guy with Opie's picture for an avatar.  It's also arrogant to explain epistemology to us, as if you were the only person here with a Phi Beta Kappa key.

Edited by David Andrews

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2 hours ago, David Andrews said:

I challenge myself as to whether my beliefs are justified:  Why do I believe these things?  Am I being influenced by something other than common sense, logic, the best evidence and most reasonable inferences?  Am I perhaps resisting common sense, logic, the best evidence and the most reasonable inferences?  If so, why?

I'm sorry, is there some way in which we don't do that"?  Everything gets challenged here, especially by members other than the original poster.  You may be thinking of Deep Politics Forum.

You're the fella who posts a rant on how the back threads represent an unimpeachable golden age that we don't question.  You assume this without researching any issues in them, or examining the pages of discussion logged there.  That's an arrogant position from a guy with Opie's picture for an avatar.  It's also arrogant to explain epistemology to us, as if you were the only person here with a Phi Beta Kappa key.

That's not Opie - that's my inner child, who reminds me that this is all a Monty Python skit.  Technically, it's little me in Mrs. Hill's third-grade class at Lineweaver Elementary School, circa 1958.  I have lots of other potential avatars that are equally droll.  In fact, I think I'll change it today.

I have no idea as to the extent to which you engage in epistemological self-analysis.  I see no evidence of it here on the part of anyone.  Pissing contests are not epistemological self-analysis.  My guess would be that 98% of the participants have never given a thought to these matters, as I likewise had not for many years.  Thus, I provide this food for thought FWIW.

Regarding your final point, I was simply tweaking you and pointing out that this sort of longing for a Golden Age that never existed (and CERTAINLY never existed here) often has psychological roots.  I actually posted this ten days ago, which was one of the things that sent Joe Bauer into his short-lived existential crisis:

Slightly off-topic, but: When I look at threads from years ago, it seems to me that the level of discourse has deteriorated significantly.  Not that it wasn't always The Church of Conspiracy Thinking, but it seemed to have much more substance.  Many of the participants who seemed to me to have the most substance to contribute (including even some wild-eyed conspiracy zealots) seem to be gone.  I'm not sure why that is, but I can guess.  From the feedback I get, I wonder how many lurkers there even are.  If I thought my posts were only viewed by the same 15 people again and again (whose responses are so predictable that I could pretty well write them myself), I'd question whether continued participation were even worthwhile.

There ya go, note the new profile picture.  Not as droll, but I decided to give my favorite cat some airtime.

Edited by Lance Payette

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There is a passage in Augustine’s Confessions when he says:  ..'What we know, therefore, we owe to reason, what we believe, to authority.'

Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1500 years later, replied:“…. it remains true that in the proper acceptation of the term we know only what we owe to firm reasoning of the mind….When a true belief is justified by sense perception or trustworthy testimony, the plain man calls it knowledge, the philosopher belief.

For I take it that the important difference between knowledge and understanding is that knowledge can be piecemeal, can grasp isolated truths one by one, whereas understanding always involves seeing connections and relations between the items known.” 

 

For myself, Augustine's way of "knowing" was prevalent at  the time of JFK's murder. Authority provided what I wanted/needed/chose, so the Warren Report sufficed. As years went by, and revelations about corruption and abuse and mendacity in the people and organizations I had trusted came into focus, I reasoned my way to belief; I couldn't accept it on any "authority."

Also, FWIW, I think the term "conspiracy theorist" is meaningless. There are theories of many things both seen and unseen; there are conspiracies involving many  things on a daily basis. Without individuation--and a clear sense of meaning - it serves no communicable need. it reminds me of the use of the word "buff" used pejoratively.
 

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Lance, everything is a ‘pissing contest

7 hours ago, Lance Payette said:

This is strictly a summation for those who have ears to hear.  The rest of you, ignore or ridicule it to your heart's delight.

Adam recently asked what one item of evidence or testimony was most troubling to me as a provisional Lone Nutter.  When I mentioned a couple of items, Jake suggested there must be at least a spark of CTer within me.  There has also been lots of discussion about “reasonable doubt” in the legal sense insofar as Oswald’s guilt is concerned.

These are all aspects of what I call the “epistemology” of the assassination.  Epistemology is the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of knowledge, how knowledge is acquired, and what constitutes “justified” (or “warranted” belief).  See https://www.iep.utm.edu/epistemo/. A belief may be justified even though it is, in fact, untrue.

Every area of belief has both its “evidentiary” aspect and its “epistemological” aspect.  In every area where I hold important beliefs (including my Christian faith, where Alvin Plantinga is the foremost epistemologist), I make an effort not to overlook the latter.

I challenge myself as to whether my beliefs are justified:  Why do I believe these things?  Am I being influenced by something other than common sense, logic, the best evidence and most reasonable inferences?  Am I perhaps resisting common sense, logic, the best evidence and the most reasonable inferences?  If so, why?

This is why I have introduced on these forums psychological materials pertaining to the propensity on the part of some people – even highly intelligent, highly educated people with impeccable credentials – to see conspiracies and lean toward fringe explanations.  In areas where I myself have done this, I have stepped back and asked myself:  Is the psychological profile describing me?  If so, to what extent is this influencing my thinking here?

Even if it isn’t me, is my thinking nevertheless being influenced by social, political, economic or cultural factors that may be distorting my view of what constitutes common sense, logic, the best evidence and the most reasonable inferences?  Am I falling into the trap of placing too much reliance on supposed experts who may themselves be badly flawed or driven by hidden agendas?

In short, I want my beliefs to have both a solid evidentiary foundation and a solid epistemological foundation.

As I’ve gone through this process over the decades, my beliefs have indeed changed dramatically in several areas.  One of these is the JFK assassination.  I realized that I had a very one-sided evidentiary base and was being driven to a large extent by my own psychological propensities as well as social/political/cultural factors and the work of dubious self-appointed experts.

I now tend to trust the epistemology of my provisional Lone Nut position precisely because I once did find wild conspiracy theories appealing and I do have a propensity to be drawn to fringe thinking.  I have had to face and overcome these propensities.  Hence, I do trust that my provisional Lone Nut position reflects a much more dispassionate view of the evidence.

I simply challenge others to do the same.  The extent to which this is resisted and ridiculed here speaks volumes.  Intractable true believers always resist and ridicule any challenge to engage in self-examination.  This is most obvious in religious communities, but it’s obvious here as well.  Indeed, this is what I once did when I dismissed the Lone Nut literature as a waste of time while lapping up every new conspiracy tome that came down the pike.

On the evidentiary side, let’s say for the sake of argument that I have 750 items of evidence, testimony and reasonable inferences that I have concluded point toward the Lone Nut explanation.  I don’t have to believe that all 750 are rock-solid and free from doubt.  I simply have to believe that, as a whole, they point toward the Lone Nut explanation.  This is quite an evidentiary mountain.

But let’s say there are 100 other items that cause me to say:  “Incredible!” or  “I believe there is very reasonable doubt that this can be fitted into the Lone Nut scenario” or even "If true, that does kind of point toward a conspiracy."

Given the 750-item mountain, the question then becomes:  Are these 100 items, individually or collectively, sufficient to call into question the collective weight of the other 750?  Or are they most likely just the loose ends that remain whenever any crime is solved?  Will many of them eventually prove to have a plausible but innocent explanation, as we saw with Umbrella Man?

Something like Prayer Man would be a flat-out Lone Nut Killer.  Show me a clear photo of Oswald standing on the steps of the TSBD at the time of the assassination, and this one piece of evidence will cause the Lone Nut theory to go poof.  (Cliff believes his ‘irrefutable proof” is in the same vein, but we have amply demonstrated that it is not.  It’s simply one area of debatable evidence that is indeed problematical but that does not topple the mountain of other evidence.  The mountain of other evidence suggests that the Single Bullet Theory, unlikely though it may seem, is correct.)

CTers want to focus almost exclusively on the 100 problematical items and suggest they show “reasonable doubt.”  Those 100 items may well do this in the legal sense – in the hands of skilled defense counsel, they might cause enough confusion or honest doubt in the minds of jurors for Oswald to be acquitted.  This happens all the time.  Never mind that those 100 items point in diverse, irreconcilable directions, as a whole they “look bad” for the Lone Nut explanation.

A legal verdict does not have to square with common sense, logic, the best evidence and most reasonable inferences, nor does it have to be epistemologically justified.  (A judge cannot overrule a jury’s verdict of acquittal in a criminal trial even if he believes it was nonsensical; in other situations, the jury’s verdict may be overruled only in accordance with the extreme standard that “no reasonable jury could have reached such a conclusion,” which is in effect saying the jurors were irrational.)

In short, a focus on specific items of evidence that might call into question the Lone Nut explanation or cause reasonable doubt about Oswald’s guilt is misguided.  It’s just the arm-flapping that characterizes most discussions here.

What is needed is a plausible assassination conspiracy theory that is consistent with the best evidence and inferences – one that has a solid evidentiary foundation and does not simply throw random darts at the Lone Nut explanation.  One whose evidentiary foundation is more compelling than that of the Lone Nut explanation or that includes items of evidence that are flat-out Lone Nut Killers (e.g., a clear Prayer Man photo.)  One that genuinely connects the dots with reasonable inferences and not raw, sinister speculation and dark, unreasonable inferences.

So far, I have not seen it – but I have seen a whole lot of people who ought to closely examine the epistemological aspect of their theorizing.

He doth protesteth too much 

‘. Everything is a pissing  contest, You seem to think you’re above it whilst simultaneously doing a massive piss. And please stop talking to us as though we are all the same and all inferior, Godh it’s tedious. 

If you used to believe in conspiracy theories like us idiots then why the arrogance ? Why the ridicule ? It doesn’t add up . A nice friendly bit of banter occasionally would suffice. A guiding hand and a few links with a ‘ I used to think that ...’ would do. 

Also, we don’t all believe in Aliens and ‘ Oswald in the doorway’ . 

Finally, this is not a court of Law. This is not a violent assault case or a marital court. This is the assassination of the president with , at the minimum, a cover up of the link between LHO and the alphabet agencies. 

Finally finally - it’s not just about who dunnit, it’s about the social history, the context, the implications, the mood, the conversations that were had, the relationship, the human situation, the soul of man. I find that much more interesting personally than who pulled the trigger. 

Dont tell us we can’t research because you said so. 

However,  I do get your point. I myself once believed in many theories tegarding JFK that turned out to be baloney , and it was just as you described. A propensity to err on the side of the alternative and the unknown is all too tempting. Equally tempting to a different group however is the propensity to believe in what is most comfortable and what they’re told. Which many people are trying to rebel against. 

Edited by Jake Hammond

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from an essay linked by Steve Thomas in the strategy of tension thread:

"...throughout my time in Swiss high schools we never learned anything about secret warfare; our history teachers never broached the subject. Even when I pursued my University degrees, the subject never came up. It was only at the end of my studies, while doing my Master’s, that I had my first glimpse into secret warfare: that secret services exist; that the United Nations, and its Security Council, and governments lie to each other. I was baffled. I was twenty-five years old at the time,...

 Epistemology, referenced in the thread, is the philosophy of knowledge - (or how we know what we know) - especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.

Edited by Robert Harper

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29 minutes ago, Robert Harper said:

from an essay linked by Steve Thomas in the strategy of tension thread:

"...throughout my time in Swiss high schools we never learned anything about secret warfare; our history teachers never broached the subject. Even when I pursued my University degrees, the subject never came up. It was only at the end of my studies, while doing my Master’s, that I had my first glimpse into secret warfare: that secret services exist; that the United Nations, and its Security Council, and governments lie to each other. I was baffled. I was twenty-five years old at the time,...

 Epistemology, referenced in the thread, is the philosophy of knowledge - (or how we know what we know) - especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.

Good quote 

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