“If we are fallible and not omniscient, surely it is exaggerating to say it is always possible to solve problems without coercion?”
“You used to say that it is possible to raise children entirely without coercion. Have you changed your mind on that?”
It is true that in the past, I used to say that it is possible to raise children entirely without coercion. That caused no end of misunderstandings. What I meant by that was that there is nothing in the laws of nature that prevents problems being solved without coercion. In terms of the laws of physics, problems are soluble. That does not mean, however, that there is any guarantee that in any particular case we will find a solution. Creating a solution takes creativity and knowledge, and sometimes we do not manage to create the necessary knowledge. We are fallible human beings who lack knowledge.
“If ‘there is no guarantee’ a problem will be solved, and sometimes we fail to solve a problem, surely it would be more accurate to say that only some problems are soluble?”
No, it is not that only some problems are soluble. It is a property of the universe that problems are soluble. We do not necessarily manage to solve a given problem in the moment, but not because the problem was inherently insoluble. There is always a solution possible, even if we do not manage to find it in real time in the moment. For a deeper understanding of this idea, read David Deutsch’s life-altering books, The Fabric of Reality and The Beginning of Infinity.
Knowing that problems really are soluble even if we have not managed to solve this one yet seems at least sometimes to result in our mind quietly working on the problem in the back of our mind, such that a brilliant solution suddenly pops into our conscious mind.
“This is disturbing. If problems are soluble, and it is always possible to interact non-coercively, but in my experience it is often impossible, does that mean I am evil?”
Not at all! To the extent that anything I write makes it sound as if I think that, I have written terribly badly. ‘Problems are soluble’ does not mean that knowledge can be created by fiat, or that anyone who fails to interact entirely non-coercively is evil. That is horribly far from how I see it. Solutions are sometimes hard to come by. It is often not obvious how to solve a problem. Truth is not manifest. As Karl Popper wrote:
“The theory that truth is manifest—that it is there for everyone to see, if only he wants to see it—this theory is the basis of almost every kind of fanaticism. For only the most depraved wickedness can refuse to see the manifest truth; for only those who have reason to fear truth conspire to suppress it.”
– Karl Popper, 1962, Conjectures and Refutations, Introduction, p. 8
Truth is not manifest, and failing to solve a given problem or even to notice that there is a problem in the first place – does not make you evil, it makes you human. We are all fallible human beings who make mistakes, and we all lack knowledge. We have creative fallible human minds, not omniscient infallible god minds.
The other problem with my having said “it is possible to raise children entirely without coercion” is that it suggests that there are some of us, such as I, perhaps, who have arrived at the lofty heights of the Correct Way, perfect 100% non-coercion, whereas everyone else is a bit evil and needs to pull their socks up and get to where I am. Not only does this create a horrendous us-and-them feel, and make people feel miserably bad and wrong and guilt-ridden, it is also utter rubbish. The more time goes on, the more coerciveness I see in myself. As Karl Popper said, we are all alike in our boundless ignorance.
So why do I still say “problems are soluble”? Because they are, and because I find it incredibly helpful, myself, to keep in mind that problems are soluble, and that I myself can solve them. Keeping that in mind informs and positively affects one’s problem-solving efforts. It makes a massive difference if you actually think problems are soluble even if at this moment, you cannot quite see how this given problem is soluble.
If I were to add to that the idea that any failure to do so is evil, that would imply that I mistakenly think that truth is manifest (that it is there for all to see, if only they want to see it), which as Popper said is “the basis of almost every kind of fanaticism. For only the most depraved wickedness can refuse to see the manifest truth; for only those who have reason to fear truth conspire to suppress it.”
Adding “and you are wicked if you fail” would be enough to make me give up. It is just too painful a thought. And it is not true! We are not wicked! We are fallible human beings. And the wonderful thing about human beings is that we often find a way, even when it’s hard, and even if we don’t find a way this time, we do learn from our errors, such that maybe next time we will find a way. Human beings make progress. Human beings are amazing!
Sarah Fitz-Claridge, Taking Children Seriously FAQ: ‘If we are fallible and not omniscient, surely it is exaggerating to say it is always possible to solve problems without coercion?’, https://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/if-we-are-fallible-and-not-omniscient-surely-it-is-exaggerating-to-say-it-is-always-possible-to-solve-problems-without-coercion/