On The Building Block Of Good Sense

Just let me throw a phrase out there that I have known and used for many a long night but might be new to some, and very useful.

Plausibility structure.

Maybe it was that philosopher dude Polyani who thought it up or Popper or one of those lads I’ll get round to knowing inside out if God lets me have my three score and ten years on the Earth but it is an idea that is essential for us to do any kind of self examination. It is, to sound wanky, an epistemic building block.

What it means is that we all, deep down at the bottom of what we call “I”, have a series of beliefs so basic that they are axiomatic, that is, they are beyond proof. We don’t even think to challenge them to proof. Often we are actually totally blind to them at all. They are the pieces of glass that make up the lens of our worldview. And we all have them. They are the boundary lines of what is possible, what is sensible and what is viable as a truth claim. Our brains are like plausibility-structure generators. It’s just what they do in boot-up, before they get around to thinking, they decide to lay some groundrules for future decisions.

What this means is that the common way we talk about truth, in terms of reason and experience, faith and fact, and any other black and white dichotomy you care to offer, is far far too simplistic to do justice to the way we think about reality (nevermind how reality actually really is).

So this Christmas when you consider the Incarnation or the credit card balance or any other thing that makes you think of the Big Issues, bear in mind that your mind is bearing on its plausibility structures.

Your Correspondent, His baseline assumption is that he’s right ALL THE TIME

3 Responses to “On The Building Block Of Good Sense”

  1. David Wayne says:

    Have you seen Os Guiness’s stuff on plausibility structures? He sees it as a community driven thing – i.e. the plausibility structure exists outside of you. A belief becomes plausible to you and me when it is embraced by our community, whatever that community is. Not to say his definition and yours are incompatible – I liked your definition very much and it could simply be the case that we internalize these plausibility structures we receive from the community.

  2. zoomtard says:

    I haven’t seen it but the philosophy buddies of my much better-read wife talk alot about the Alaisdair Macintyre book After Virtue which talks about communal truth. (Allegedly)

    I don’t know if it’s the same for you but I get very excited working in a church and seeing how functioning community literally opens people’s minds up to a whole new way of life.

    By the way, I’ve loved your blog for a long time so it’s cool that you comment on this humble little site. 🙂

  3. David Wayne says:

    You flatter me – not to sound like a mutual admiration society here but I find that you are miles ahead of me intellectually.

    I haven’t read Macintyre, which I realize just accentuates the “pseudo” in “pseudo-intelectual” when it comes to me. I’ve been hearing about After Virtue for years so maybe some day I’ll pick it up. I first heard about plausibility structures in Os Guiness’s book “The Gravedigger File,” which is good because it was closer to a popular level of reading and made it accessible to someone like me who doesn’t specialize in philosophy.