Axiom Reliability

/ Knatz.com / Teaching / Thinking Tools /
@ K. 2004 08 05

Mission: to encourage us to take reasoning systems and their details with a grain of caution

Euclid precedes his “proofs” with axioms. Since Euclid, Euclid’s axioms have been revised. Since Euclid other geometries have utilized other axioms.

No reasoning can be systematic without axioms. Reasoning may be dangerous at best (almost as dangerous as not reasoning), but reasoning becomes especially dangerous when an audience is led by a reasoner where either audience or audience-and-reasoner are unaware of the axioms: unaware of their arbitrariness, their unprovability, their possible falseness.

I launch this module today with the intent of dealing at least briefly with two things. The first I’ve touched on for years in Knatz.com’s Society section. I call it the Iron Mountain Report syndrome. (That’s a Knatz.com search Item: you’ll find at least several references.) Lots of reasonings, some famous, begin with false assumptions. If you accept the first sentence … you’re likely to still be misled through the last sentences. (How often the errors are conscious, deliberate, is (are) (a) separate question(s).)

What I want to add today, starting with just a glimpse, is a consideration, of rituals conditioning audiences for falsities to follow.

The last time I did jury duty, having been selected for the jury, the jury was placed before the judge who then instructed us on a few key points of court epistemology, I was awestruck at how careful, how cautious, how reasonable it seemed. The actual trial was a shambles, but the judge’s preamble was a masterpiece.

Watch out for clean rituals. Very dirty dealings may follow.

Now, clean rituals followed by clean dealings … Ah!


Axioms can’t be avoided. Axioms should be minimized: as few as possible. Axioms should be taken with a grain of salt.

In non-formal thought situations I believe axioms should be regarded with skepticism. For example:

No one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, nor to delegate its initiation.

L. Neil Smith

A behavioral directive that’s given rather than deduced is a kind of an axiom, isn’t it?

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a better moral generalization; but I’ll be damned if I’ll swallow it as an absolute.

Of course it’s phrased in the natural language. Therefore it’s full of elasticity, uncertainty. “Rights”? Too many things need-but-lack definition.


Sorry I don’t have time to spell my direction out more clearly just now. (And 2009 06 05 I apologize for how many mistakes the K. version had offered, uncorrected till today.)

K. Teaching Thinking Tools

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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