My discovery of pancritical rationalism (PCR) reminds me of how I felt in November 1981 when I came across libertarian writings for the first time. Until then I had tasted a range of political viewpoints but had found none of them terribly appealing. Particular elements of some seemed right, but none of the intellectual packages as a whole made sense to me. A similar frustrating uneasiness resulted from my studies of the range of epistemologies, past and present. I had found certain rationalists, such as Karl Popper, appealing but reading Bartley’s The Retreat To Commitment stirred the same excitement and feeling of fit in me as had reading Rothbard’s For A New Liberty 12 years before. But Bartley’s PCR offered something new. PCR’s supremely anti-authoritarian perspective on rationalism seems to me to harmonize with the values and concerns embodied in what we call Extropianism. I want to show how this is so, first by detailing just what it is that PCR expounds, and then by directly relating it to the values expressed by the Extropian Principles.
Pancritical rationalism, uniquely among epistemologies8, requires no authorities. Look at the questions posed by the various epistemological schools. As Bartley notes, they ask “Questions like: How do you know? How do you justify your beliefs? With what do you guarantee your opinions? all beg authoritarian answers whether those answers be: the Bible, the leader, the social class, the nation, the fortuneteller, the Word of God, the intellect, or sense experience.”  Bartley makes an interesting parallel with political philosophy in which the traditional question has been: “Who should rule?” Or: “What is the supreme political authority?” Despite many political philosophers having been motivated by a desire to overcome authorities, the form of the traditional question has molded thinking so that one authority (such as a monarch) is merely replaced with another (such as elected representatives). Similarly, supposedly anti-authoritarian revolutions in epistemology have succeeded only in replacing old authorities (such as intellectual intuition) with new authorities (such as incorrigible sense data).9
PCR shares the comprehensive aims of panrationalism, seeing the scope of reason as unlimited and, with critical rationalism, rejects the demand for rational proofs of our rational standards. Pancritical rationalism goes further in that it also abandons “the demand that everything else except the standards be proved or justified by appealing to the authority of the standards, or by some other means. Nothing gets justified…everything get criticized.” [Bartley, 112] Instead of replacing philosophical justification with mere description of existing rational standards, PCR urges the philosophical criticism of standards as the proper task of the rationalist philosopher. Instead of proposing infallible intellectual authorities, we can “build a philosophical program for counteracting intellectual error.” [112-13] A little later I’ll examine what such a program might involve.
When PCR replaces authoritarian justification with unbounded criticism, holding all positions to be criticizable, it means (in Bartley’s words): “(1) it is not necessary, in criticism, in order to avoid infinite regress, to declare a dogma that could not be criticized (since it was unjustifiable); (2) it is not necessary to mark off a special class of statements, the justifiers, which did the justifying and criticizing but was not open to criticism; (3) there is not a point in all argument, the terms, which is exempted from criticism; (4) the criticizers the statements in terms of which criticism is conducted are themselves open to review.”
Crucial to grasping the essence of pancritical rationalism is the realization that, in the past, the concept of criticism has always been fused with the concept of justification. The inevitable result was that criticism was made in an authoritarian manner: “You belief is irrational because it cannot be justified in terms of my absolute standard of justification.” Or, in a weaker strategy, the criticism is that a belief conflicts with the rational authority (rather than that it cannot be derived from it). This fusion of criticism with justification caused every supposedly critical philosophy to slam into the dilemma of ultimate commitment. PCR replaces these approaches with what Bartley calls a nonjustificational philosophy of criticism. So, how are we to conceive of a rationalist according to pancritical rationalism? Bartley again:
“The new framework permits a rationalist to be characterized as one who is willing to entertain any position and holds all his positions, including his most fundamental standards, goals, and decisions, and his basic philosophical position itself, open to criticism; one who protects nothing from criticism by justifying it irrationally; one who never cuts off an argument by resorting to faith or irrational commitment to justify some belief that has been under severe critical fire; one who is committed, attached, addicted, to no position.” 
Pancritical rationalism is able to maintain its integrity, unlike other forms of rationalism. PCR satisifies its own requirements since it can hold itself open to criticism. Earlier forms of rationalism, being unjustifiable, were internally inconsistent, but PCR is consistent because the practice of holding everything open to criticism can itself be held open to criticism. Perhaps someone could produce an argument demonstrating that some of the critical standards necessarily used by a pancritical rationalist were not only unjustified but uncriticizable, that even the pancritical rationalist must accept something as uncriticizable if circular argument and infinite regress are to be avoided. I doubt that such an argument is possible, and it is up to the critic to make the argument. Until such an argument is forthcoming, pancritical rationalism can be held to be a consistent and coherent conception of rationalism.
In saying that I, as a pancritical rationalist, hold everything open to criticism, I do not mean that in practice I hold no views beyond question. For instance, it would seem rather silly for me to declare that I might revise the belief that I am over two years old (to use Bartley’s example). I may practically hold that belief beyond criticism in the sense that I do not take seriously the possibility of revision of this belief but I am not logically committed to doing so. I do not have to be dogmatically committed to the belief. Just possibly, a vast expanse of my fundamental worldview is radically mistaken. Perhaps the world is a simulation that was initiated just a month ago and all apparently older memories are implanted. While I do not take this possibility seriously, PCR suggests that I not rule out, in principle, the possibility that future events might give me cause to reevaluate the mutually-supporting set of beliefs that convince me that I cannot be less than two years old. As Bartley notes, “[T]he claim that a rationalist need not commit himself even to argument is no claim that he will not or should not have strong convictions on which he is prepared to act. We can assume or be convinced of the truth of something without being committed to its truth.” (p.121) Although Bartley himself never discusses the word “certainty”, I think a pancritical rationalist can, with consistency, be certain of some of her beliefs, if by this she means that, given her current understanding of the world, she cannot imagine how a particular belief could ever turn out to be false. Such a contextual certainty involves being thoroughly convinced of a belief, but does not imply that the belief is held dogmatically held to be beyond criticism, beyond revision in principle.
It should also be obvious that being rational, according to the PCR model, does not mean that you have no unexamined beliefs, presuppositions, or assumptions, many of which may be false. Rationality has nothing to do with omniscience, infallibility, or total awareness of your beliefs, implicit and explicit. The rational person is one who is genuinely willing to subject their assumptions and presuppositions to criticism once those assumptions come to light. Such an attitude has been felicitously expressed by the world-shaking biologist Charles Darwin:
“I had, during many years followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favorable ones. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views which I had not at least noticed and attempted to answer.” [Charles Darwin, Autobiography, p.123]
Finally, holding everything open to criticism does not means you hold that there are no true statements or valid arguments, or that for every proposition there exists a successful criticism of it. Such a relativistic view would be precisely what pancritical rationalism is intended to avoid. Relativism and the problem of ultimate commitments are closely tied to one another, and PCR provides an effective response to both.
The preeminent logician and philosopher of language, W.V. Quine, in his “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” has argued that we can always maintain a belief, no matter how bizarre, so long as we are willing to make changes at other points in our web of belief. As practicing rationalists, what guides do we have to help ensure that our belief-web evolves towards greater truth rather than towards deepening delusion? I do not have the space here to develop any suggestions in depth; I recommend a study of Robert Nozick’s suggested Rules of Rationality from his recent book The Nature of Rationality, and I will briefly mention four methods offered by Bartley of reducing error by criticizing our conjectures:
(1) The check of logic: Is the theory in question consistent?
(2) The check of sense observation: Is the theory empirically refutable by some sense observation? And if it is, do we know of any refutation of it?
(3) The check of scientific theory: Is the theory, whether or not it is in conflict with sense observation, in conflict with any scientific hypotheses?
(4) The check of the problem: What problem is the theory intended to solve? Does it do so successfully?
The check of the problem is especially useful for theories or conjectures that are not clearly empirically falsifiable, such as ethical and metaphysical ideas, or interpretations of physical data (such as interpretations of the equations of the mathematical structure of quantum mechanics). Even when the nature of a conjecture doesn’t admit of empirical checking, we may make headway by determining whether a view truly gets to grips with a problem, or whether it merely displaces the problem. We can ask whether a particular theory solves a problem better than any competing theory, and decide whether it simply multiplies problems. We might also see if it is incompatible with other philosophical theories that appear necessary for solving other problems. Other things being equal, we will favor a theory with high fecundity, i.e., one that raises genuine new problems that had not occurred to us before.
Extropian Principles & Pancritical Rationalism:
How should we think of the relation between pancritical rationalism assuming we find it both attractive and able to withstand criticism and the Extropian perspective? This question can be broken down into two parts: First, should we think of PCR as one element of the Extropian philosophy an idea subsumed under one of the Principles, or as part of a cognitive environment within which extropic thinking and living can flourish? Second, how might adopting PCR further the values and goals codified in the Principles? Having shown why PCR is attractive and powerful in its own right, I can now relate it to the Principles without being vulnerable to the charge that I am treating the Principles as authoritative standards by which to choose epistemological views. It should go without saying that the Principles act as a coherent codification and expression of the shared values and goals of Extropians, and not as foundational statements against which all beliefs and practices must be tested for acceptance or rejection.
To answer the first question: I recommend that pancritical rationalism be viewed, strictly speaking, not as an element subsumed under the title of “the Extropian philosophy” but as an attitude and sensibility that will help Extropian thought and practice flourish to the extent that such thought and practice can withstand criticism or evolve under its impact. In other words, let us not bestow the status of “official Extropian epistemology” on PCR. A person can be a perfectly fine Extropian without being convinced of PCR, and someone can be a principled adherent of PCR without necessarily being Extropian. Naturally I think the two sets of ideas fit well together, such that an Extropian is likely to find PCR appealing, and a pancritical rationalist has a good chance of adopting Extropian ideas if she comes across them in an appropriate context.
Rather than seeing PCR as a component of Extropian philosophy, I suggest we regard it as (in Bartley’s terms) a metacontext for the Extropian context. Ideas, memes, and ways of thinking can be classified as positions (such as “women have a right to abortion”), or as contexts for positions. A context is a belief system, ideology, institution, or tradition (libertarianism, Marxism, Sufism, the traditional conception of sportsmanlike behavior). Any position or context may be the object of criticisms, which themselves might be either positions or contexts. A metacontext is a context of contexts, and have to do with how and why contexts are held. Given this scheme of Bartley’s, we can understand the Extropian philosophy as a context, and pancritical rationalism as a metacontext especially conducive to the worldview.10 Before going on to examine what general conditions are conducive to sustaining the metacontext of fallibilism or nonjustificationism, I will look specifically at how living in accordance with the Extropian Principles meshes in a mutually supportive way with PCR.
By replacing justificationism with fallibilism, and by encouraging the practice of opening to, welcoming, and respecting criticism, pancritical rationalism maximizes the pursuit of truth, accelerating the death of poorly-supported views and ineffective practices. It immunizes against dogmatization, fostering critical thought and an anti-fideistic culture and so opens every area of thought and practice to unlimited, perpetual improvement. Its critical procedures are precisely those embodied in science and, we hope, in practicing scientists. PCR’s effects are radical, expansive, and progressive.
PCR obviously engenders self-criticism and openness to criticism by others, thereby helping us to leave behind ineffective beliefs and habits, flexibly exchanging them for new ones. By encouraging us to welcome criticism and to look forward to finding our errors rather than focusing on proving our beliefs to be beyond question and our personal characteristics, habits, and goals to be perfect, PCR assists us in releasing psychological blocks to the admission of error (and the improvement made possible by the discovery of error). In my formulations of Extropian cognitive habits, I have always stressed that we should tie our feelings of pride and self-esteem not to how often we can convince ourselves that we are right, but to how open we are to reevaluating our positions and to revising them when we cannot rebut criticism. The confluence of self-transformation and PCR shows itself in this principle’s recommendation of rationality, critical thinking, and personal growth, and opposition to faith, adherence to sacred texts, uncritical acceptance of authorities, and blind conformity.
Dynamic optimism expresses the attitude that we are capable of improving matters if only we exert ourselves in looking for a better method, a more effective practice, a larger information base, and a truer model of the world. This optimism is dynamic since it rejects any form of passive faith. It reframes difficulties so they are seen as challenges rather than as problems, directing the mind towards the range of possibilities and resources for overcoming the difficulty. Contrary to faith, dynamic optimism recommends experimentation to uncover the truth fitting well with PCR’s fallibilist emphasis on being open to new perspectives. (Evolutionary epistemology which has close ties to PCR and may be held conjointly also resonates with this aspect of dynamic optimism.) Dynamic optimism acts as a potent psycho-epistemological vaccine, not only against pessimism and defeatism, but against dogmatization and stagnation, and so encourages the openness to new information and approaches exemplifed by the pancritical rationalist.
If we rarely change our beliefs regarding the most effective way to accomplish a task, clinging to familiar means, we will avoid adopting new, superior technology, furthermore acting as a drag on technology’s largely demand-driven advance. PCR probably accelerates technological advancement by stimulating the search for superior means of solving problems, and will certainly stimulate the individual rationalist’s discovery and adoption of innovative technologies. For present purposes I mean to construe “technology” broadly enough to include the design of intellectual and cultural institutions. Widespread adoption of PCR should incentivize the development of technologies facilitating criticism and information gathering and intelligent filtering, for instance true hypertext systems such as the proposed Xanadu11, and knowbots to roam the Net for information relevant to criticism and answering criticism.
A centrally directed culture or intellectual community will generate fewer perspectives, a more tightly restricted range of criticisms, and slower flow of innovations than a diverse, spontaneously ordering culture. PCR requires not only relentless criticism of ideas, but also generation of numerous innova tive approaches. Spontaneous social orders both embody the liberty to develop divergent ideas, and provide an effective framework for the dissemination of those ideas. Spontaneous orders only arise in the presence of appropriate regularities (property rights and price signals in markets, variation and selection in evolution); therefore, we need to choose the rules of our interactions leading to such orders so that they form an “ecological niche”12 for rationality.
This last point the need to establish and maintain conditions conducive to a ecological niche for rationality deserves some attention here, so I wil conclude by briefly raising the issue of how to achieve this, especially in our activities, fora, and institutions as Extropians. Bartley presents the issue in the following question:
How can our intellectual life and institutions, our traditions, and even our etiquette, sensibility, manners and customs, and behavior patterns, be arranged so as to expose our beliefs, conjectures, ideologies, policies, positions, programs, sources of ideas, traditions, and the like, to optimum criticism, so as at once to counteract and eliminate as much intellectual error as possible, and also so as to contribute to and insure the fertility of the intellectual econiche: to create an environment in which not only negative criticism but also the positive creation of ideas, and the development of rationality, are truly inspired. 
In seeking more effective arrangements of our intellectual life and institutions we want to balance carefully the goal of increasing lethality to incorrect memes with the goal of encouraging the proliferation of new attempts at describing the world. We will need a mix of fora and institutions. In some of them, while we will want criticism to be thorough and accessible, we may not want it to be instant. Intellectual spaces are often needed where embryonic ideas can be developed without being strangled at birth.13 Applying this to electronic fora, we see the need both for a “safe haven” such as the main Extropians e-mail list14, and for unrestricted spaces (such as alt.extropians or a new critical-essay list) where the basics can be debated. Perhaps a critical essay list modeled on the current Exi-Essay list would be an ideal critical forum, the required essay format eliminating personal disputes, insults, and ad hominem digs that infest regular lists, and promoting detailed, thoughtful responses.
I leave aside many other areas of our intellectual lives in which we should consider how to optimally balance vigorous criticism with the flowering of new memetic creations. I will conclude with a few suggested cognitive strategies for promoting openness to criticism and revision in ourselves and in others. When we are corrected by others, or realize for ourselves that we erred, many of us exclaim, or think implicitly or explicitly things like: “Oh shit!” “What an idiot I am!” “Now I’ll look stupid.” Such responses not only make us feel bad, they discourage us from openness to criticism by making a negative assessment of its results. Instead, let’s apply a dose of dynamically optimistic thinking, substituting responses along the lines of “Great! I’m a little bit wiser!” or “Thank you! Now I understand the world better than before” or “I did well to listen and learn to that criticism of a belief I hold dear.” Be lavish in your praise of yourself for willingness to seriously entertain criticisms of cherished beliefs, especially when the critic has an obnoxious style. As suggested by the Principle of Dynamic Optimism, tie your self-esteem to your determination to advance and reevaluate, not to having to be right.
These cognitive strategies can be applied to other people to encourage their openness to criticism. Be generous with your praise when participants admit error or simply exhibit genuine respect for criticism, especially when the discussion takes place in a public forum. Not only will this reinforce that person’s rationality, it will foster the same attitude in observers, and elicit a tit-for-tat response to your own benefit. Avoid attacks on the person rather than on their arguments ad hominem attacks annoy people and close them to criticism. Try giving respect to discussants even if you doubt that they deserve it. Finally, embed your criticisms within appreciative recognition of shared assumptions, areas of commonality, and boldness of conjecture even if the conjecture doesn’t stand up.
In this paper I have sought to convey the essence of the pancritical conception of what it is to be a rationalist, and to show why this conception should be especially appealing to we who profess extropic values, practices, and goals in our lives. The applications of PCR suggested here are meant merely to be a preliminary sketch, an overture to a continuing development that I hope to see unfold at future EXTRO sessions, in the pages of Extropy and Exponent, on the various ExI e-mail fora, in local Extropian meetings, in each Nexus establishment, and in every aspect of our lives. Let us, as Extropians, continue to lead the way in seeking to hone our rationality, deepen our wisdom, and augment our intellects. If — as the Biblical story suggests — it is evil to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge to attain rationality and critical thought, let us gorge ourselves. If religion brands rationality as sinful then, in Nietzsche’s words, let us become better and more evil!
Alfred Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic (Penguin Books, 1983; Originally published by Victor Gollancz, 1936, revised 1946).
William Warren Bartley, III, The Retreat To Commitment (Open Court, 2nd Edition, 1984).
Donald T. Campbell, “Unjustified Variation and Selective Variation in Scientific Discovery”, in F. J. Ayala and T. Dobzhansky, eds., Studies in the Philosophy of Biology (Macmillan, 1974).
Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (1641).
Kai Hahlweg & C.A. Hooker, eds. (1989). Issues in Evolutionary Epistemology. (State Univ. of N.Y. Press, 1989). Includes “Self-Organization: A New Approach to Evolutionary Epistemology” by Wolfgang Krohn & Gunter Kuppers.
Friedrich A. Hayek, “Kinds of Rationalism”, ch.5 of Studies in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (University of Chicago Press, 1967).
David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748).
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1781).
David Miller, The Possibility of Empirical Science (Open Court, forthcoming 1994).
Mark Miller, Dean Tribble, Marc Steigler, and Ravi Pandya “The Open Society and Its Media”, in Extropy #12 (Vol.l.6 No.1): First Quarter 1994 (Extropy Institute).
Max More, “The Extropian Principles v.2.5” in Extropy #11 (Vol.5, No.1): Second Half 1993 (Extropy Institute).
Robert Nozick, The Nature of Rationality (Princeton University Press, 1993).
Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934, Hutchinson Group 1959, revised 1980).
Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963, 4th edition 1972).
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol.2: Hegel and Marx, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1945
John L. Pollock, Contemporary Theories of Knowledge (Rowman and Littlefield, 1986).
W. V. Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” in From a Logical Point of View (Harvard University Press, 1953).
Gerard Radnitsky & W.W. Bartley, III, eds. (1987). Evolutionary Epistemology, Theory of Rationality, and the Sociology of Knowledge. (Open Court.)
Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (New American Library, 1961).
Morton White, Religion, Politics and the Higher Learning (Harvard University Press, 1959).
1 William Warren Bartley, III, The Retreat to Commitment (Open Court, 1984).
2 I borrow this phrase from Robert Anton Wilson.
3 Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (New American Library, 1961), section 6.
4 Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol.2, p.225 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1945).
5 For a clear overview of the various kinds of coherence theories, see John L. Pollock, Contemporary Theories of Knowledge (Rowman and Littlefield, Totowa, New Jersey, 1986).
6 White, Religion, Politics and the Higher Learning (Cambridge,Mass.: Harvard University Press,1959), p.48.
7 Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic.
8 Pancritical rationalism does not actually contend to be a full epistemology, saying nothing about the means of acquiring information and leaving open questions about precisely how to effectively criticize ideas. PCR is intended as a conception of rationality, or of what it is to be a rationalist.
9 Bartley may have conceived this parallel due to his enormous familiarity with Friedrich Hayek’s work on spontaneous orders and types of rationalism.
10 According to Bartley there are only three metacontexts:
(1) The metacontext of true belief or justification philosophy. This metacontext seeks to justify or defend positions and contexts.
(2) The oriental metacontext of nonattachment. This aims to detach from positions and contexts.
(3) The metacontext of fallibilism, or of pancritical rationalism. This aims to create and to improve positions and contexts.
11 See “The Open Society and Its Media” by Miller, Tribble, Steigler, and Pandya in Extropy Vo.l.6 No.1 (First Quarter 1994). True hypertext provides features such as hyperlinks, transclusion, and detectors.
12 Bartley’s term.
13 Paul Feyerabend (in Against Method) overemphasizes variation, claims Bartley, while Popper overemphasizes selection.