Epistemic viciousness in the Martial arts
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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In Graham Priest & Damon Young (eds.), Martial Arts and Philosophy. Open Court (forthcoming)
When I was eleven, my form teacher, Mr Howard, showed some of my class how to punch. We were waiting for the rest of the class to finish changing after gym, and he took a stance that I would now call shizentai yoi and snapped his right fist forward into a head-level straight punch, pulling his left back to his side at the same time. Then he punched with his left, pulling back on his right. We all lined up in our ties and sensible shoes (this was England) and copied him—left, right, left, right—and afterwards he told us that if we practised in the air with sufficient devotion for three years, then we would be able to use our punches to kill a bull with one blow. I worshipped Mr Howard (though I would sooner have died than told him that) and so, as a skinny, eleven-year-old girl, I came to believe that if I practised, I would be able to kill a bull with one blow by the time I was fourteen. This essay is about epistemic viciousness in the martial arts, and this story is illustrates just that. Though the word ‘viciousness’ normally suggests deliberate cruelty and violence, I will be using it here with the more old-fashioned meaning, possessing of vices. Vices (such as avarice, alcoholism and nail-biting) are common, and most of us struggle with a few, but ‘epistemic’ means ‘having to do with knowledge and the justification of belief’ and so epistemic viciousness is the possession of vices that make one bad at acquiring true beliefs, or give one a tendency to form false ones. My eleven-year-old self possessed the epistemic vice of gullibility and hence showed a streak of epistemic viciousness, which led to the formation of a false belief. Other kinds of epistemic vice can lead to us failing to form true beliefs when we ought to. Consider the internet-surfing karate-sensei who stumbles upon an article claiming that chocolate milk is better than water or sports drinks for promoting recovery after strenuous exercise, and describing an experiment using stationary bikes performed at the University of Indiana, purporting to support this claim..
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