Truth suffers from too much analysis

Direct v. Indirect Knowledge

Posted by allzermalmer on March 23, 2011

I’m going to talk about the Direct v. Indirect dichotomy when it comes to knowledge claims.

Direct knowledge is something that we gain from observing something happening. An example is observing customers in a store and count how many bags of candy they purchase.

Indirect knowledge is seeing the effect of something. An example is looking through trash cans on garbage day to see how many empty candy bags are in each trash bin.

Another example might help. Direct observation is seeing both the cause and the effect. Indirect observing is just seeing the effect. We don’t see the cause of the effect that we are directly aware of.  Direct observation allows us to see something, and we tend to think that what we observe has a cause. When we see no cause, we only see the effect. Thus we infer that there was a cause that we didn’t directly observe.

When it comes to cause and effect, we can give it the abstract formula of a logical formula known as contingent statements. If X then Y. X–>Y. If I place litmus paper in a vile of acid, then it will change colors.

Now there is a logical fallacy known as affirming the consequent. The logical form is this: If X then Y; Y; Therefore X. If a cat then an animal; an animal; Therefore a cat. The real problem is that we can only, logically, affirm the antecedent, which has this logical form. If X then Y; X; Therefore Y. If a cat then an animal; a cat; therefore an animal.

The reason why affirming the consequent is a fallacy is because a different antecedent can have the same consequent. Here is the logical form of what I am talking about: If ~X then Y. If not a cat then an animal; not a cat; Therefore an animal.

When we have a statement, X, then it denies something as well. This is known as the logical inference as double negation. Double negation has this form: ~~X, which is equivalent to saying, X. So if I say, “This is a cat”, which has the logical form of X, then I am saying “It is not the case that this is not a cat”, ~~X.

Let us go back to my original statement of, If a cat then an animal. X–>Y. Now there could be an animal that is not a cat. For example, when we affirm ‘an animal’, it could be a dog, a bird, a bear, an elephant, a bird, a zebra, and etc.These are all ‘not a cat’, and thus all ~X.

Back to indirect knowledge. So we observe an effect through direct observation  and think there is a cause of it. So we observe Y of If X then Y. Now it could also be ~X that produced Y, and ~X could be a multitude of things. Thus, a multitude of antecedents could have produced Y.

So when we observe the effect of something, there are nearly infinite amount of things that could have caused them that we didn’t observe. There’s no logical reason to pick one antecedent over another when all of them have the same consequent. Thus, an effect gives us indirect evidence for an infinity of different causes.


2 Responses to “Direct v. Indirect Knowledge”

  1. gaurav bajpai said

    plz sir mujhe iska indirect bata dijiye.
    Mother said,”let us invite some friends on our son’s birthday.”

    • That seems to be indirect in one sense at least. The parents are indicating to either the child or friends of the child, that their son is going to have a birthday party or something. You are not at the birthday part at the time in which it is spoken or observe the party itself. So this would seem to indicate something indirect. You are not actually there and observing what is going on, i.e. the birthday party. And those who are told about the party do not know that there actually will be one, since they did not observe on, so this means that they have indirect knowledge in some sense that there will be a birth day party for their son.

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