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Truth suffers from too much analysis

Archive for June, 2011

Between Two Worlds

Posted by allzermalmer on June 29, 2011

We find that we are stuck between two places, and these two are, respectively, the world of ideas and the world of senses.

The world of senses would be our perceptions. These are sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound. We can call these sense-data. These are the things that are impressed upon my consciousness. These things I, basically, have no control over. I cannot control what type of sense-data that I have.

The world of ideas are our thoughts. Like now, I am having a thought like, “The C-Span coverage of the Libya and War Powers Act hearing was very interesting.” These are not real things that are found in the world. Or, here is another one, “A bachelor is an unmarried male”. We do not find these things existing. Or another one would be, even simpler, “Cat” or “Rocko”. These are just thoughts. They run through my mind, but they are not things found existing with the sense (sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound). I have control over what I think, or at least for the most part.

Very often we confuse our ideas with the senses. For example, here is a sense-data:

This is the world of the senses. There is an image produced to our consciousness. This is all of the world. But, we automatically, or at least it has become automatic, apply labels to this world of the senses. For example, the idea that is applied to this image is that of “brain”. We also apply the idea “vat”. We also apply the idea of “11.694.2”. We also apply “liquid”.

Nowhere in our senses is this found to be the case. There is only our sense impressions, our sense-data, which happen to be visual. We apply our ideas to this sense-data. It is not that our senses give us these ideas, but something that we create ourselves, and are not part of the world of senses, but applied to the world of the senses. But when we come up with ideas, these are mostly following the law of Identity. X=X or X=Y.

Thus, ideas are identical to themselves. Thus, brain is identical to brain. Or, Bachelor is identical bachelor. X=X. However, most identities are not that way, but invoke something else. For example, for Bachelor we also invoke something else. When we invoke this other thing, we get the thought that a “Bachelor is an unmarried male”. Thus, the identity is X=Y. But the equal sign indicates that they both are the same thing. Our thoughts follow the law of identity.

We are apply our thoughts to the world of our senses. Like with the picture that was given, we apply the idea of brain to it. But brain has an identity. And I can always call the sense-data a different name, or apply a different idea to it. I am not constrained to what idea or identity I give to my sense-data. I usually say that the color of an apple is red, but I can always say that the color of an apple is purple. However, I can never change that I am having a certain sense-data present to my consciousness, which I typically call an apple.

Ideas can be changed, but sensations cannot be changed. However, our forms of communication are mostly through ideas, and so we get so caught up in our world of ideas, which in fact have no bearing on the world of the senses, but are applied to the world of the senses. We become so accustomed to the ideas that we use to apply to the world of senses, that we forget that the ideas applied to the senses are not found in the senses themselves. We become trapped in our language, which is just another way of saying we become trapped in our of ideas.

Perhaps one way to get this point across can come from the Tao Te Ching. “The Tao is beyond words…Words may be used to speak of it, but they cannot contain it.” So let us try to change it around slightly. “The senses are beyond words…words may be used to speak of it, but they cannot contain it.” Thus, we find that words, or ideas, may be applied to the senses, but the senses are beyond words and cannot be contained by words.

Any explication we make will only be based on ideas, and ideas are not part of the world of the senses, but they are applied to the world of the senses. Being applied to the world of the senses does not mean it is of the senses. We find we are trapped between two worlds. These two worlds are contrary of one another, but we become so accustomed to the world of ideas being of the world of the senses.

 

 

 

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Refutation of Realism

Posted by allzermalmer on June 28, 2011

This blog is going to be based off an article done by W.T. Stace. The name of the paper is The Refutation of Realism, and it appears in the philosophical journal Mind, Vol. 43, No. 170 (Apr., 1934), pp. 145-155. This article is a play off of G.E. Moore’s article The Refutation of Idealism.

Now, the obvious question would be “What is meant by realist?”. Stace goes on to say, by realist, he means someone who agrees to the assertion that “some entities sometimes exist without being experienced by any finite mind.” Now, this might not be what all realist would agree to, but it is close enough to the very basic idea.

So let us take a look at what a realist might believe. Before me is a book, and I know this because I am seeing it, I am touching it, and I hear it when I slam my hand against it, I am smelling it, and taste it. Now, a realist would believe that the book continues to exist when I put it in a drawer, and I no longer have those experiences of it, and there is no other finite mind experiencing it. Thus, a realist will at least believe that it continues to exist when no one is experiencing it.

Now, there would also seem to be no point in asserting that entities might exist unexperienced, unless they do, as a matter of fact, sometimes exist unexperienced. Now, imagine that the universe has a property, which we call X, as a matter of fact, the universe has no such property, would be useless, and has no contribution to truth. Now, some realist might think that such a belief of the relation between knowledge and object as such, helps them in someway of helping with the belief in things that exist unexperienced by some mind.

Now, it should be stated as clearly as possible, and which is very important. That statement is,  One cannot prove that no entities exist without being experienced by minds. For, it is always possible that they do exist unperceived. However, it is also possible that they do not exist unperceived. Thus, we find that both are equal in their possibility. But, the main point is this: We have not the slightest reason for believing that they do exist unexperienced. And it is from this that the realistic position is groundless, and one that ought not to be believed. And the realistic position is like that of “there is a unicorn on the planet Mars”. We cannot prove that there is not a unicorn on Mars. However, since there is not the slightest reason to suppose that there is one, it is a proposition which we ought not to believe.

Now it will not be held that objects of experience, like a color patch that is green, are “mental”. And so when it comes to the question of if what we experience is only mental, it will be held that this question is meaningless, and this is a form of neutral monism. Now, the position will be as follows: “There is absolutely no reason for assertion that these non-mental, or physical, entities ever exist except when they are being experienced, and the proposition that they do so exist is utterly groundless and gratuitous, and one which ought not to be believed.”

It will be attempted to show that we do not know that any single entity exists unexperienced. It will be inquired how we could possibly know that unexperienced entities exist, even if they do exist unexperienced.

Let us get back to a previous example. Now, at this moment, I am experiencing this book in front of me. But how can I know that it existed last nigh in my drawer, when, as far as I know, no other finite mind was experiencing it? How can I know that it will continue to exist tonight when there is no one in the room? A realist knows, or at least believes, that they continue to exist. Now a question comes up: How could such knowledge, or belief, be obtained and justified?

There are two ways in which it could be asserted that the existence of any sense-objects can be established. They are by sense-perception, and the other is inference from sense-perception. I know of the existence of the book now because I see it. It is part of my sense experience. Now, I am supposed to know of the other side of the moon, which has never been seen, by inference from all the various actual astronomical observations, and so I make an inference from things actually experienced. And, it is also a possible experience. I could fly out to the moon, and go around to the dark side to have a sense experience.

1. It should be obvious that we cannot have sense-perception of things that are not sense-perceptions. For, to have a sense-perception of something that is not a sense-perception would be a contradiction. Both sense-perception and not sense-perception. And, if we were to have a sense-perception, it would be experienced by some finite mind, and so it would not be existing without some finite mind experiencing it.

2. Now inference seems like the most likely candidate for coming to the belief of things existing unexperienced by some finite mind. So how can I pass, by inference, from a particular fact of experiencing the book now, when it is being experienced, to the different particular fact of the existence of the book yesterday or tomorrow, when no finite mind is experiencing it? Now the onus of proof is on those that say things somethings exist when some finite mind is not experiencing. It would be up to them to show how they passed from what is sense-perception to something that is not a sense-perception. So one may sit back and wait for them to show how they came to such a proposition, which means to support their proposition.And Bertrand Russell had something to say about this, “Belief in the existence of things outside of my own biography must, from the standpoint of theoretical logic, be regarded as a prejudice, not as a well-grounded theory.”

Now, such an inference to things existing when some finite mind is not experiencing it cannot be done by an inductive inference. Induction works from what has been observed, what we have experienced, to what will be experienced, but which is currently unexperienced. For example, every morning I have found that the sun rises in the east. This I have experienced. From this, based on an inductive inference, I come to the conclusion that tomorrow morning, which is unexperienced, that I will experience the sun rising in the east.

Now inductive reasoning cannot help me here, since I have never experienced something existing unexperienced, since that is just a contradiction, and not possible. In other words, there is no case where it has been observed to be true that an experienced object continues to exist when is not being experienced. It is, by hypothesis, its existence when not being experienced, cannot be observed. And induction is also about generalization from observed facts, but there is not one single case of an unexperineced existence, since that is a contradiction, which can be the basis of the generalization that entities continue to exist when one is experiencing them.

Now, since induction is ruled out, we are left with deductive inferences. Deduction depends on consistency. Thus, when given P→Q, we can only prove Q if P is admitted. From P→Q , all that can be admitted is that P and not Q are inconsistent with each other, and we cannot hold both propositions, P and not Q, together, though we can hold to P and not Q as separate propositions. Thus, to assert that the book exists now when I am experiencing it, to the existence of the book when no one is experiencing it, together is an internally inconsistent proposition. But, there is no inconsistency when these two propositions are asserted separately. In other words, deductive inferences do not allow us to reach that because things exist when some finite mind is experiencing them, to things existing when no finite mind is experiencing them, is deductively invalid.

Thus we find that we have no sense-perception to support the realist position, and that we cannot use inferences to the realist position, since deduction and induction do not help us.

Now it is not proved that because we cannot make an inference to the existence of things existing unexperienced by some finite mind, that they do not exist unexperienced. For such a way of reasoning would be fallacious. However, because it has not been proved there does not exist things unexperienced, that it shows that they do exist unperceived. For to argue either way would be an argument from ignorance. An argument from ignorance carries these two forms, which is both, respectively, positive and negative.

Positive:If a proposition has not been disproven, then it cannot be considered false and must therefore be considered true.
Negative:If a proposition has not been proven, then it cannot be considered true and must therefore be considered false.

Now that we have no sense-perception that can allow us to assert such a proposition, and we cannot make an inference to such a proposition, we ought not to believe it. For we ought not to believe that there is a unicorn on Mars because we have no sense-perception of it, and we have no inference to reach such a conclusion. It does not mean that it does exist or does not exist, but that we ought not to believe it. Thus, the unicorn are like the existence of things existing unperceived by some mind. And from a logical point of view, the onus of proof is on the realist that asserts that things exist unperceived by some finite mind, and until they keep to their burden, we ought not to believe what they say.

Now some might come to use the causal processes to make an inference to things existing when not experienced. The whole argument of causal sequences continuing on when not perceived is  begging the question. For you are still assuming that things that happen when perceived continue on when not perceived, and that is the thing in question.  If  someone, say, John stays in the room as he builds a fire and keeps it going till it is done, which takes about an hour, he observes a certain sequences of the phenomena. The sequence follows like this, m, n, o, p, q, r,  s, t, u. Now if John leaves the room after it starts, and returns half an hour, he will see it at sequence q. If John leaves the room after that sequences and returns to it in a quarter-hour, he will get the sense experience of s. And on this goes. John will thus ‘infer’ that m,n,o, & p have occurred in his absence and that of any other mind. However, the only way this inference can be made is with the belief that things go on in his absence, or as if he were there. John cannot infer the conclusion of things going on unperceived as they do when perceived, because of his belief in uniform causal sequences rests on belief in the general belief in continuity of nature, i.e. continued occurrence of events when he is not perceiving them. He has to first come to the belief in continued existence when no one is perceiving things before he can believe in uniform causal sequence when not being perceived. Thus, he cannot logically make the inference that he does.

So, like we cannot perceived unexperienced things, so too we cannot perceive unexperienced processes and laws. Also, like we cannot infer from anything which we experience to the existence of unexperienced things, so we cannot infer from any processes and laws we experience the existence of unexperienced processes and laws. And our belief in the processes of causality that happens when we experience it, to it going on when we do not experience it, is based on the belief in the continued existence of things when we are not experiencing it, and so begs the question.

Now some have made some distinction between sense-data and our awareness of sense-data. It is said that Green is not the same as awareness of Green. This is said because of us comparing different sense-data. Say that I experience a green sense-datum and a blue sense-datum. We find that there is some common element between them, and this is awareness. Thus, awareness must be different from green, since awareness also exists in the case of blue, and that awareness is not green. Thus, it is thought that Green exists when we are not aware of Green. But this is not the case.

Whenever we come across green, we find that we have awareness of green, but we also find that green and awareness of green are not the same thing. Thus, there is a difference between X and Y. Yet when we find X, we also find Y. Thus, to say that X goes on existing when Y is not there, is not supported by sense-perception, and now we are stuck with inference, and we come to the same problems. We do not find sense-perception to show that green exists when there is no awareness of green, and we cannot make an inference to it either. Thus, such a distinction between green and awareness of green does not allow us to believe that things exist when unexperienced by some finite mind.

Now, since experience and inferences cannot lead us to the realist position, and all the arguments to such a conclusion are fallacious, we ought not to believe it. However, some would say that it is probably true, and thus we ought to believe it. However, all such reasoning would have to be based on the same types of arguments, and they all come to rely on fallacious reasoning. Also, since both options are possible, we find that they have an equal probability, and one does not have a greater probability than another. Heads and tails both have the same probability. Also, we cannot present an argument to support the realist position, and if we could then we could just as well use the critique presented her to show that it could be even more probable that they do not exist when not experienced by some finite mind.

Now some mind resort to it being an animal faith a primitive belief, or an instinctive belief. To invoke such things to support the realist proposition is to throw up ones hands in defeat, and to admit that one has no rational reasons to support their beliefs. It becomes an unreasoned belief, and has nothing to rely on by fiat. It is to be one who files for bankruptcy, and gets ride of rational grounds for their belief.

So, throughout, we find that the logically correct position is this. We cannot have any reason whatsoever to believe that unexperienced entities exist. We cannot prove that they do not exist. The onus of proof is on those who assert that they do exist unexperienced. We have found that experience does not attest to the existence of unexperienced things, and we have no way of inference to reach it (without fallacious reasoning), and thus we find that it is impossible to reach such a conclusion. Thus, we ought not to believe it, if we are to be rational, like we do not believe in a unicorn on Mars.

But, the way around this is to be explained as it being a mental construction, or a fiction. It is a pure assumption which we invent to simplify our view of the world.

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Chuang Tzu’s Theory of Truth

Posted by allzermalmer on June 13, 2011

This blog comes from an article called Chuang-Tzu’s Theory of Truth. The article appeared in the journal Philosophy East and West, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Jul., 1953), pp. 137-146. The article is by Siao-Fang Sun.

The concept of truth has its problems. They are usually divided into two sorts. They are Absolute Truth and Relative Truth. Absolute Truth is usually based on a statement is identical with reality or the real. Relative Truth is usually based the property of the statements, and outside of language there is no truth. When we say, in Relative Truth, that something is true, we say that this or that statement is true. Thus, we come to a distinction of truth. Absolute Truth is based a concept of  metaphysics, while Relative Truth is based on a concept of semantics.

Chuang Tzu accepted both theories of truth. “Truth is one and many at the same time. It is one when it is considered as reality itself. It is many when it is considered as a property of our knowledge of things.” (Italics is my emphasis). Thus, Chuang Tzu held to two theses of truth:
[1.] There is the absolute truth, and this is the goal or ideal of our life.
[2.] We only have relative truth.

Relative Truth: We come to find that we have relative truth. All events in the world are relative to one another. One thing is bigger than another, and one thing is better looking than another. Distance between each other are relative to their location to each other. What we see is relative to us, and where we are. What is big to one thing is small to another. However, ignoring these relations, the thing is neither big or small. And if we leave out this relation of a thing, we find that it is not a thing at all, or at least not as we know it.

“Everything has infinite relations with other things, and it is impossible, therefore, for men to have complete knowledge of what a thing is. A man can know some aspects of the nature of what a thing is, but he can never know all the aspects of a thing…All the predicates in our language by which we describe things are by nature relative.”

We find that human knowledge is relative, and that there is also differing opinions within the human framework of knowledge. What is true for one system of thought is false under another system of thought. We not only find this within religion, politics, but also in science. There are different systems of thought in science, and some claim that theirs correlate to reality while the other side says that their does. “[F]or the truth of our knowledge depends upon the objects, the external things, as well as the subject, the knower.”

The article, as a footnote, quotes a portion of Chuang Tzu’s books. Here is the portion that is quoted from Chuang Tzu’s book.

“Now I would ask you this, If a man sleeps in a damp place, he gets lumbago and dies. But how about an eel? And living up in a tree is precarious and trying to the nerves; but how about monkeys? Of the man, the eel, and the monkey, whose habitat is the right one, absolutely? Human beings feed on flesh, deer on grass, centipedes on snake’s brains, owls and crows on mice. Of these four, whose is the right taste, absolutely? Monkey mates with monkey, the buck with the doe; eels consort with fishes, while men admire Mao Ch’iang and Li Chi (beauties of the fifth and seventh centuries B.C. respectively), at the sight of whom fishes plunge deep down in the water, birds soar high in the air, and deer hurry away. Yet who shall say which is the correct standard of beauty? In my opinion, the standard of human virtue, and of positive and negative, is so obscured that it is impossible to actually know it is as such.”

In fact, within this quote, we can see how Chuang Tzu is using some of the ten trops of the skeptic, and also the criterion argument that we find within Sextus Empiricus. Thus, we see that there is some skeptical attitude within Chuang Tzu on knowledge.

In our experiences, perhaps, we find that some people are optimist. Some people are pessimist. We find that they take a very different outlook on things, since they are different observers. They see the world through different lenses, through different eyes. They come to a different understanding on the world. “A frog in the well can never know the grandeur of heaven, because it is limited by the place where it lives.”

But now that we find that there is a controversy between different relative truths, we find that our controversy would never end. Chuang Tzu tries to show us how we could try to escape this, but never does help us escape.

“Granting that you and I argue. If you beat me, and not I you, are you necessarily right and I wrong? Or if I beat you, and not you me, am I necessarily right and you wrong? Or are we both partly right and partly wrong? Or are we both wholly right and wholly wrong? You and I cannot know this, and consequently the world will be in ignorance of the truth.

Who shall I employ as arbiter between us? If I employ some one who takes your view, he will side with you. How can such a one arbitrate between us? If I employ someone who takes my view, he will side with me. How can such a one arbitrate between us? And if I employ some one who either differs from you, or agrees with both of us, he will be equally unable to decide between us. Since then you, and I, and man, cannot decide, must we not depend on Another?”

Many different theories of knowledge, or systems of thought, have different specific frameworks that they work within. Thus, different systems have different frameworks. Thus, what fits for one framework does not work in another framework. It is like taking a fish out of water, and place it in the desert. The only way we can accommodate something from framework X into framework Y, is to modify or change framework Y. We, in short, find that there is no absolute system of truth that humans construct.

However, this does not mean that each system does not contain some truth within them. They contain a truth, but they do not contain the truth. Each system can have from one truth, to many, but not all the truth. The truth is not found in any system, since all our truths will be relative to us the knower, which is human beings. We are limited to what we can know, and how we can know it.”The truth cannot be a matter of knowledge…”.

The search for the absolute truth is what many of the systems of thought are after. They are after the way things are, and is an eternal quest of the human mind and species. However, each person gets their own relative truth, and relative knowledge, but now the absolute truth. But, this does not stop us from searching, and trying to obtain it.

Absolute Truth: Chung Tzu is famous for one story, or parable. This is the parable of the Butterfly.This is taken from Zhuangzi, book by Chuang Tzu

“One day about sunset, Zhuangzi dozed off and dreamed that he turned into a butterfly.

He flapped his wings and sure enough he was a butterfly…

What a joyful feeling as he fluttered about, he completely forgot that he was Zhuangzi.

Soon though, he realized that that proud butterfly was really Zhuangzi who dreamed he was a butterfly, or was it a butterfly who dreamed he was Zhuangzi!

Maybe Zhuangzi was the butterfly, and maybe the butterfly was Zhungzi?”

Now this shows that we have reason to believe that our knowledge is unreliable, besides it being relative, or that even our knowledge is an illusion. In modern day Western philosophy, there is the problem of being a Brain-In-A-Vat. “Not only is what we perceive and do merely dream, but even when I am conscious that I am dreaming, I do not go a step beyond the dream. Only the degree of dreaming is less when I am conscious of it than when I am not conscious of it. but the consciousness of dreaming does not change the fact that we are dreaming.”

Chuang Tzu points out to us that everything is changing, and that everything is change itself, which is related to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Yet we think that there is something underneath this change that is unchangeable, or that which we experience as changing. For without this, change becomes unthinkable. For how can something change if there is not something that is changing, which is itself unchanging? We just experience the manifestation of change itself.

Chuang Tzu is an empiricist, and takes knowledge of the world to come from the senses. Empirical knowledge is the way in which we come to have knowledge of the world. Thus, “All knowledge of the world is based upon our experience. And as we have reason to believe ourselves in a dream and as experience is most unreliable, our knowledge is unreliable.” We also find, through experience, that “everything merely happens to be” and that there is no necessity in anything that we experience. Thus, laws of nature have no universal validity. In fact, these are the very things that we try to use to explain and predict our experiences. But in fact, laws of nature are just universals, and we only experience particulars. We find that we do not experience laws of nature, but just our particular experiences which just happen. The empiricist position is the skeptical position.

But Chuang Tzu does come to one conclusion in our skepticism. We find that (1.) there is harmony in the universe, and (2.) the concept of transcendentalism.

We find there is harmony in the way things are arranged, and these events do not occur in chaos. This harmony is good enough to secure the relative certainty of our knowledge.

For the transcendental, we have this:

“[F]or Chuang Tzu it is true that everything in the world is relative and that our knowledge of a thing is also relative. But with the totality of all the relative things, the case is entirely different. While the individual things are relative, the totality of all things is not relative. The totality of all things is itself not a thing. It is, to use a familiar term in Western philosophy, a transcendental concept. It transcends all relativities. It is one and it is absolute.”

Thus, we find that there are many relative truths, but that all of these things together come to form the one thing. This one thing becomes the transcendental. There is even more to this, which is suppose to show how Chuang Tzu came to accept that there is an absolute truth.

“Since everything in the world is not only in a process of change but also is change itself, the reality of every individual thing is doubtful. From moment to moment change occurs and an individual thing appears and then disappears. Once an individual thing disappears, it disappears forever. There is never a repetition of the same individual thing. what looks like the same thing is in fact a different thing. The so-called identity of things does not exist. Therefore, from the standpoint of the individual thing, we find that the reality of a thing is questionable. Not only can we not grasp a thing with absolute certainty at all, since in every moment the thing is changing, but also we cannot grasp our own bodies, for we are changing things, too. But, looking from the standpoint of the totality of things, we find that there is the change which we cannot doubt. For the ultimate change we may imagine that there is something in it which sustains the change. We do not know what this something is, but we imagine there is something there underlying the changes, just as there is a fundamental form in accordance with which every change occurs, though every individual change has also its specific form. This something-we-do-not-know and this fundamental form are identified. They are different aspects from which we see the whole change itself. They constitute the totality of phenomena are real.”

The position of Chuang Tzu is very similar to that Immanuel Kant. The Absolute Truth would be the Noumena, and Relative Truth would be the Phenomena. In fact, the Phenomena does not show that there are other minds and that there is an external world. These things are contained within the Noumena, and are hidden from us, and even relative. The Absolute is the glue that holds all change together, and holds all the relative truths together. It is the foundation of all change, and of all relative truth. We also come to think that there are things that are true if we were not existing, but this can only be contained within the Noumena, and is not contained within the Phenomena. It is not found in experience, and our only way out is to either reject the Noumena, and thus that there are things that are true independent of humans and our point of view, or to accept it and that there are things that are true independent of the human point of view.

But since we are humans, we can only know things relative to us. But there is the sub-set of humans having different points of views within the human point of view. So what about animals, like, for example, a bat? We assume, but is beyond the phenomena of our expeirence, that bats have experience. Thus, there would be the bat experience, and the relative experience of a bat.

So take the category of human, bat, cat, dog, dolphin, amoeba, spider, and etc. Each categories experience is different from that of another categories, like the experience of the category of human is different from that of cat. Each categories experience is relative to that of another categories experience. But, each category has particulars in it. And each particular object in that category has its experiences relative to each other particular object in that category. Thus, the absolute contains each point of view of the category, and the particulars that make up the category. It is the glue that holds them all together, categories and particulars of the categories.

Now, to Chuang Tzu, the Absolute Truth is that of the Tao. We can only come to know this through intuition, but it is not something that we can be taught, like we can be taught mathematics. But we can be trained to be receptive to it, and to come to learn it on our own, through training.


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Epistemological Possibility

Posted by allzermalmer on June 5, 2011

This blog comes from W.T. Stace’s book Theory of Existence and Knowledge. It comes from his chapter on categorical knowledge. The possibility that is being talked about is not logical possibility, which is anything is possible that is not self-contradictory. This possibility is based on epistemology, or theory of knowledge.

Meaning of Possibility: Possibility is part of a cluster or group of categories, that deal with the category of existence. The other categories that deal with existence are identity and substance. Possibility is a category, i.e. character of the external world, and clearly applies to the world and not just our knowledge of it.

A possibility is something which is part of the real world, or at least in some sense. For example, it could rain tomorrow or it may not rain tomorrow. We, typically, say that either option is a possibility. However, possible in such a sense is a concept that does not quality as part of the world, but only our knowledge of it. All it says is that we do not know whether it will rain or not. But tomorrow’s weather, when it comes, will be actual. So one could think that possibility has to deal with our uncertainty about the world, but that is not the meaning of the category to be mentioned.

Possibility (not based on uncertainty) is opposed to actuality. Possibility is said to be part of the world which is never actual, which means that it is something that is non-existent. Possibility is saying that there is something part of the world that does not exist, which makes it into some sort of mystery.

Let us look at some examples of a possibility that has no actuality, no part of the world. “If the British fleet did not defeat the Spanish Armada, then they would have invaded Britain.” Another one is, “If the horse I bet on in the Kentucky Derby had won, then I would have won 5,000 dollars.” However, the British fleet did defeat the Spanish Armada, and the Spanish Armada did not invade Britain. The horse I bet on in the Kentucky Derby did not win, and I did not win 5,000 dollars. Thus, we find that these propositions do not express any facts or ever did, or will ever exist in the world. But, they do express possibilities which might have happened, but did not.

With the image above, we are walking one path. This one path is the actuality. However, as we are walking, we come to a fork in the road, and there are many ways we could go. There are many possibilities. However, we can only walk one of those paths. Thus, there is only one actuality. What we do take is the actuality, and all the others that we do not take are possibilities.

Now I gave propositions of possibility of the past, but this also holds with propositions of the present and of the future. “If I put my hand out in front of me, then the wall will feel hard.”, “If I bite the Pear, then it will taste sweet”, “If I look through a telescope at Saturn, then I will see its rings”. I am looking at the wall, but I am not touching it. I have the visual sensation of the wall, which is actual, but I don’t have any tactile sense of the wall. Thus, the tactile sense would be possible and is not actual. The feel of the wall is a possible tactile experience which I might have if I stretched out my hand.

The essential notion of possibility is  the antecedent of the hypothetical proposition is not meet. Thus,  with “If I bite the Pear, then it will taste sweet”, but I do not bite down on the Pear. The actuality is that I never did bite down on the Pear, and thus there is no actuality of me biting down on the Pear. For if I do that, then the experience ceases to be possible and becomes actual, with the assumption that my prediction is correct.

Possibility is only expressible by the means of a hypothetical proposition, which is a conditional statement of X→Y. Now we could say, “X is a possibility”, but this categorical propositions is really a hypothetical. It means if certain conditions were meet, then X would actually exist.

The question of necessity: There is no necessity in possibility, as should be obvious. It is, however, essential to rational prediction and control of experience. Without possibility, our thinking would be confined to only what is present to our consciousness by the senses. Our thinking would be at a rudimentary stage. Possibility, then, is of a practical necessity. But it is not necessity of thought. We could, theoretically, confine our attention to what is actually given/existent.  There is nothing self-contradictory in such a course.

Epistemological Type: Possibility is a constructive category. It is a construction that is existential, since it creates in the imagination an existence that is not actual. It sets up hypothesis which cannot be proved by experience, and which posits an existence which is not part of the actual world.

Suppose we are in a totally dark room. I say, “If I had switched on the lights, then I should now see the walls of the room”. That proposition is alleged to be now a possible experience. It is not a prediction of future experience, since it does not assert that I shall turn on the light or that I shall see the walls. It does not assert anything, whatsoever, about what will happen in the future. It only makes an assertion of the present. The proposition asserts that if the room were now light, then I should see the walls. But this can never be proved or shown. For If I do turn the lights on, then the visual experience of the wall will exist at a time future to when the proposition was spoken. Also, the experience will have ceased to be possible and would have become actual, so we can never prove the existence of the possibility.

So we see we can never prove possibility, but it is even contrary to the facts, which makes it clear that it is a construction or a fiction. Take the proposition, “If I bite this Pear, then I shall taste that it is sweet.” This proposition does not state anything is the case, but only that something might be the case. But what does ‘might be’ even mean?A fact, an existence, a reality, either is or is not. There is no half-way in the universe for ‘might be’. ‘Might be’ is simply an ‘is not’. So there is no possibility has no part of the actually existing universe, and there is no such thing as possible experience. This makes it clear that possibility is a fiction.

The importance of such a category, though, is very great. It is involved in our existential constructions, and is involved in every scientific hypothesis that asserts the existence of something that we can never perceive (i.e. atoms, gas molecules, DNA, or viruses). These concepts depend on the category of possible experience. This construction lies at the foundation of the construction of the external world, and renders it possible.

The notion of possible experience is an assumption that things exist when no one is aware of them, like the wall when the lights are out, or the hardness of the wall when no one is touching it. At an early stage of the mind, it is only aware of its presentations and nothing else, which is just what actually exists. Esse was identical with percipi. All existence has to be conceived in terms of perception, and even unperceived existence is thought of, and only thought of, as if it were a perceived existence. To exist does not mean simply to be perceived, since the mind has determined it to be otherwise, and has come to project existence beyond its own perceptions, beyond the actual existing, and invented an unperceived world. However, all thought and all knowledge, has its foundation in perception.  The mind simply takes the materials given to it, i.e. what is actually perceived, and builds them up into fictitious worlds. The wall exists when no one is aware of it, and is supposed to be purple, shiny, hard, rectangular, and just like the wall that we see. So the everything that the mind constructs has roots in perceptions, and goes back to perception, and has to be understood in terms of perception.


What do we mean when we say things exists when no one is aware of it? Well, we simply mean that although we are not now looking at it, or perceiving it, yet if any one looked that he would see it. But this is the formula by which the category of possibility is expressed. Thus, the notion of the category of possibility, is based on unperceived existence, is really a construction of the mind.

What do I mean when saying that Beijing exists on the other side of the planet? It must ultimately be explained in the terms of perception. The statement means that some minds (like the inhabitants of Beijing) are actually perceiving Beijing. However, if there were no other minds there to perceive it, then my statement can only mean that if I traveled around the world to Beijing, then I should perceive Beijing, or if any other mind were to do it.

What about the other side of the moon, the dark side of the moon? It means that if any could look around the back of the moon, then he would see the other side.

The minds invention of possibility was its greatest creations, since it helped advance its knowledge. By inventing this imaginary realm of the possible, which is distinguished from the actual, from existence, it opened up all the future existential constructions. It helped us render the idea of permanence, existence, and a public independent world, into existence.

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David Hume on Modern Science

Posted by allzermalmer on June 4, 2011

This blog will be taking some of the British Empiricists David Hume’s doctrine, and seeing how modern science would be judged from such a doctrine. David Hume’s place is that of an empiricist, which means that he says that knowledge of matters of fact are to be comes from the senses. From this stand point, we can see how modern science would be judged from an empiricist position.

I will be using some of his stated position from Treatise of Human Nature and Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

Hume starts out the Treatise of Human Nature (ToHN) by presenting his Fork, or Hume’s Fork. This divides knowledge into two different sorts. He also presents it in his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (ECHU). They are both, respectively, as follows.

“All the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into two distinct kinds, which I shall call Impressions and Ideas.” (ToHN)

“Here therefore we may divide all the perceptions of the mind into two classes or species, which are distinguished by their different degrees of force and vivacity. The less forcible and lively are commonly denominated Thoughts or Ideas.The other species want a name in our language, and in most others; I suppose, because it was not requisite for any, but philosophical purposes, to rank them under a general term or appellation. Let us, therefore, use a little freedom, and call them Impressions; employing that word in a sense somewhat different from the usual. By the term impression, then, I mean all our more lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will. And impressions are distinguished from ideas, which are the less lively perceptions, of which we are conscious, when we reflect on any of those sensations or movements above mentioned.” (ECHU)

Hume goes on to state, in short, that sensations are impressions. These would count as our senses of sight, touch, taste, smell and sound. These are our contact with the world, or what we can only know of the world. It is the most immediate thing that is present to our consciousness. It is what informs us. Ideas are those of thought, which is like me sitting here and wondering, “I wonder what Shaquille O’Neal is going to do now that he retired from the NBA”.

The difference between them are the force that they come to my consciousness. The sensation of touch is not as lively as my hands touch the keyboard as the thoughts I have, like the example that I gave. I can ignore my thoughts, but I cannot ignore my senses.

Hume, in the Treatise, goes on to break down Impressions and Ideas into simple and complex.

“Simple perceptions or impressions and ideas are such as admit of no distinction nor separation. The complex are the contrary to these, and may be distinguished into parts.” (ToHN)

A simple impression would be that of a color, like, say, the color red. A complex impression would be something like, say, an apple. A complex impression can be broken down into simple impressions, but a simple impression cannot be broken down. Thus, we find that simple impressions are like bricks, and these bricks are joined to form a house. The house is complex, yet the bricks are not complex.

This distinction between simple and complex also hold with ideas. Thus, I have the simple idea of red. I also have the complex idea of an apple. This idea of an apple has simple ideas like, red, sweet, hard, and round. Yet each of these things just listed are simple ideas.

In order to get a better idea of this, we can go to the original source of such an idea that Hume comes up with, which comes from George Berkeley. This comes from George Berkeley’s A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge.

“By sight I have the ideas of light and colours, with their several degrees and variations. By touch I perceive hard and soft, heat and cold, motion and resistance, and of all these more and less either as to quantity or degree. Smelling furnishes me with odours; the palate with tastes; and hearing conveys sounds to the mind in all their variety of tone and composition. And as several of these are observed to accompany each other, they come to be marked by one name, and so to be reputed as one thing. Thus, for example a certain colour, taste, smell, figure and consistence having been observed to go together, are accounted one distinct thing, signified by the name apple Other collections of ideas constitute a stone, a tree, a book, and the like sensible things–which as they are pleasing or disagreeable excite the passions of love, hatred, joy, grief, and so forth.” (TCPHK)

Hume goes on to tell us, through his empiricist epistemology, that impressions go ahead ideas. He also goes on to say that, generally, ideas are derived from impressions. I cannot have the idea of green without first having the impression of green. Thus, we find there is an asymmetrical relationship. Every simple  idea has a correspondence with a simple impression. But he does go on to say that many complex ideas don’t correspond with complex impressions. I can have the complex idea of a city of gold and diamonds, yet I do not have a complex impression of a city of gold and diamonds. I form such an idea through my imagination. I do this by combining simple ideas, which are copies of simple impressions, into a complex idea that I have not experienced myself.

Hume also goes on to bring about a major distinction, which is related to that of ideas and impressions. This is his Matter of Fact and Relation of Ideas. This is related to Leibinz’s distinction of Truth of Fact and Truth of Ideas. This has been a major distinction in epistemology ever since it was brought about, and took a major critic by W.V. Quine in his Two Dogmas of Empiricism.

“All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, Relations of Ideas, and Matters of Fact.

Of the first kind are the sciences of Geometry, Algebra, and Arithmetic; and in short, every affirmation which is either intuitively or demonstratively certain. That the square of the hypothenuse is equal to the square of the two sides, is a proposition which expresses a relation between these figures. That three times five is equal to the half of thirty, expresses a relation between these numbers. Propositions of this kind are discoverable by the mere operation of thought, without dependence on what is anywhere existent in the universe. Though there never were a circle or triangle in nature, the truths demonstrated by Euclid would for ever retain their certainty and evidence.

Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not ascertained in the same manner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing. The contrary of every matter of fact is still possible; because it can never imply a contradiction, and is conceived by the mind with the same facility and distinctness, as if ever so conformable to reality. That the sun will not rise to-morrow is no less intelligible a proposition, and implies no more contradiction than the affirmation, that it will rise. We should in vain, therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falsehood. Were it demonstratively false, it would imply a contradiction, and could never be distinctly conceived by the mind.” (ECHU)

So a matter of fact would be something like this, “The white crow ate a white squirrel”. A relation of idea would be something like this, “All bachelors are unmarried males”. The easiest way to understand this is based on the contradiction. A relation of idea is a statement that would be contradictory to deny. A matter of fact is a statement that there’s no contradiction in denying it. Thus, I could deny “The white crow ate a white squirrel”. However, I cannot deny that “all bachelors are unmarried males” without forming a contradiction. This is the difference between contingent statements and tautological statements.

A contingent statement is a statement that, when you check their truth table, it is true in at least one row of the truth table. A tautological statement is a statement that, when you check their truth table, it is true in every row of the truth table. Thus, the difference is contingent/not self-contradictory to deny and tautology/self-contradictory to deny.

The other major difference is that one is based on the senses and the other is based on thoughts alone. Thus, a relation of idea is true based on the words that one uses and is not based on the senses. Mathematics and Logic are based on relation of ideas.

Hume goes on to show that matters of fact are based on causality, and that this holds between our sensations. He also goes on to state that it is based on induction. Hume is known, or infamous, for his critique on causality and induction. He basically said that we never experience causality in our sensations, and that induction begs the question and relies on an assumption that is not given in experience. This would lead one to think that this dissolves the matter of fact. This would be true if Hume did not invoke a psychological stance known as Custom of Habit. We notice one thing follow another (causality), and we notice this many time (induction), that we come to say that one is caused by the other.

Take the example of fire and smoke. I start a fire (A) and I see smoke (B). Hume tells us that we see two different things. Start fire. See smoke. We find that fire is followed by smoke. This means nothing by itself if we only experience it once. However, when we experience it many times, then we come to combine them together through custom of habit. Now, when I see a fire, I come to expect to see smoke. If I see smoke, then I conclude that there is a fire. This is something that is not found in the senses. It is something that the mind imposes onto the sensations. Hume also calls this Constant Conjunction.

There is a simple logical inference that works just like this. This inference is called Conjunction. The symbolic form follows like thus: (1.) A, (2.) B; (C.) A&B.The inference follows like thus in sentences: (1.) See fire, (2.) See smoke; (C.) See fire and See smoke. We see these things so often in experience that we make this conjunction constantly. Thus, it is a constant conjunction. And another side note, we combine these two single  events and can put them in a conditional statement of, If see fire then see smoke. We combine these two separate events and form a causal line or reasoning when we notice it more often through experience.

Science is an empirical philosophy. It is based on an empirical epistemology, and an empiricist epistemology is a sub-class of an empirical epistemology. An empirical epistemology states, “all true knowledge must, at some point, be associated with empirical correspondences and consequences.” (George Gale). Also, “Scientific knowledge, at some point in its construction, must be securely tied into the human sensory system. If it were impossible in principle that some proposed scientific object could ever, under any circumstance, leave a sensible trace in a human sensory system, then that object, no matter what its potential as an explanatory or theoretical entity, could not be considered as a candidate of scientific existence.” (George Gale)

Science will collect all sorts of sensory information, and categorize it to make it easier to understand and use. Thus, we can come across a white swan and investigate it and learn new things. We will collect this information and put it under the class of a swan, and then put some of the other information under as a sub-class of a swan. Like they are sexual creatures, lay eggs, and eat certain creatures.We will find categorical statements like, “Swans lay eggs”, “Swans have wings”, “Swans having mating rituals”, and etc.

One of the most important things of science is prediction. It is actually one of the most important things, if not the most important. It will predict what we shall observe with our senses. This is known as testability. In order to be a scientific hypothesis, the hypothesis must make predictions of what we shall observe with our senses. For example, a girl who is a friend of mine could come up to me with something that is on her mind. She could say, “I think my boyfriend is cheating on me.” I could come up with a hypothesis to help her with this problem, and maybe solve it. I could say, “If your boyfriend is cheating on you, then you will smell perfume on his clothes when he comes back from a late night out on the town.” The consequence of my hypothesis is testable. She can smell him when he comes back from a late night out on the town.

Now science creates hypothesis. So what are hypothesis? “A hypothesis is a tentative statement, subject to investigation, that is advanced to explain an event or relate facts in a given context….Hypothetical reasoning is the process of inferring certain implications from a hypothesis and then making observations or conducting experiments to decide whether these implications are true.” (Logic: An Introduction). Science comes up with hypothesis that collect all of our observations together, and helps make predictions. They are general in character, and can be applied almost universally into anything that meets those same conditions.

These hypothesis can be based either on deduction or based on induction. “All of the sciences, and especially the quantitative ones, rely heavily on the reliability of logical reasoning and deductively valid arguments; the sciences also rely on inductive arguments-ones which move from finite bodies of data to general theories.” (Philosophy of Science)

Induction is about reasoning from what is observed to what is as yet unobserved but can be observed. From example, I have made many observations of black crows. I go on to make a prediction of the next crow that I observe shall be black. Now, I am not currently seeing a crow, which means it is unobserved. However, I can, in principle, observe it at a future date. It is known as inductive enumeration to move from past observations to a general conclusion. Its reasoning follows this typical form:
(1.) Black crow
(2.) Black crow
(3.) Black crow

…..
(C.) All crows are black

There is also statistical induction, which just moves from past observations to stating the statistical probability of the conclusion. In past observations I have found that I have gotten heads 50% of the time when I flipped it. Thus, I predict that there is a 50% chance I will get heads when I flip a coin.

Now what I have gone through is a just a rough outline of science, but it does cover some of the big points of science. But there are two things that I did leave out. (1.) Science likes to use causal reasoning to explain things, and (2.) Science invokes many unobservables to explain our experiences. (1.) and (2.) are related closely, but they are not exactly the same.

I can causally explain that I hear a loud sound because a gun went off. I could observe a gun being fired and hear the sound from the gun, and say the sound I heard based on the gun being fired. However, I cannot observe atoms but I can observe what the atoms supposedly caused, like streaks in a cloud chamber.

Now we cannot use inductive arguments to move from observed to what can never be observed with the senses. For example, I cannot move from what I experience with my senses to make the inductive generalization or inductive argument, to something that I can never observe with my senses. Thus, induction only works from what is observed to what can be observed. So how do we come up with hypothesis that deal with what is unobserved? We use deductive arguments.

Deductive arguments carry the form of a conditional statement. A conditional statement carries this form: X→Y. [As a side note, logically, we can turn an inductive conclusion into a conditional statement: All X is Y↔ (X→Y)]. The antecedent of the conditional statement, X, is based on something that is unobservable. Its something that we can never experience with our senses. However, through much logical reasoning, we deduce an observable consequent (something we can observe with our senses), which is Y. Thus, science starts out with induction, and then eventually moves to deduction.

Now, we have already gone over the problem of causality, or light touched on it. However, we only dealt with causation based on what can be observed. We have dealt with causality with what can be observed by the senses at some time. Thus, if I were to use a conditional statement, X→Y, then we can observe both X and Y. But now science has moved on to reasoning where we cannot observe both X and Y. We can only observe Y. What does David Hume have to say on such reasoning?

“Impressions way be divided into two kinds, those of Sensation and those of Reflexion. The first kind arises in the soul originally, from unknown causes.”(ToHN)

Now he is saying that our impressions, divided into sensations (something I did not mention, but does not affect anything that has been said on his position), come from causes that we do not know where from. We cannot know where they come, when our senses do not tell us where they came from. He further adds on something else.

“The only existences, of which we are certain, are perceptions, which being immediately present to us by consciousness, command our strongest assent, and are the first foundation of all our conclusions. The only conclusion we can draw from the existence of one thing to that of another, is by means of the relation of cause and effect, which shews, that there is a connection betweixt them, and that the existence of one is dependent on that of another. The idea of this relation is derived from past experiences (perceptions), by which we find, that two beings are constantly conjoined together, and are always present at once to the mind. But as no beings are ever present to the mind but perceptions; it follows that we may observe a conjunction or a relation of cause and effect between different perceptions, but can never observe it between perceptions and objects (things outside of perception). ‘Tis impossible, therefore, that from the existence or any of the qualities of the former, we can ever form any conclusion concerning the existence of the latter, or ever satisfy our reason in this particular.” (ToHN)

So we find that causality holds between what we observe. I see fire and I see smoke. Thus, crudely, I think that fire caused the smoke. But now, when we invoke a cause of something that we observe, which has no observable cause like smoke has the cause of fire, we can make no conclusion. I cannot know what causes my sensations, and I cannot know what unobservable things, if any, are causing what I observe. Thus, going with this conditional statement of a hypothesis based on deduction, X→Y, we are found to have it really looking like this,  ?→Y.

So we find, with Hume, that when science invokes all these unobservable causes for what we observe, we cannot know if they are true or that they exist. It is completely unknown if atoms are the causes of what we observe in a cloud chamber. But someone might say, “We can have strong evidence that they probably exist, since our hypothesis work so well and have led to many corroborated observations. Their predictions have worked extremely well.”

That seems like an intuitive answer, but it is not a very good one, as Hume would think. Why is that? Because there can be many causes for what we observe, and so we have no reason to accept the hypothesis we have now other than it is the only one we have developed systematically. I have stressed the hypothetical character of science, and so I will give a truth table of such a hypothetical character.

Notice line 1 and 3 of the truth table. Both lines of that truth table show that the consequent is true. However, they both disagree over the truth of the antecedent of the conditional statement. Now the third line shows that there could be a different unobservable leading to the same observable consequent. In fact, from a logical point of view, there are an infinity of other unobservables that lead to the same observable consequent.

Now someone could say, “Yes, for each situation there could be other causes that lead to that specific observation, but we have hypothesis that lead have one cause for many different observations of different sorts.” Yes, this is true. The problem is that the same problem holds. Let us hear what W.V. Quine had to say on this.

“If all observable events can be accounted for in one comprehensive scientific theory- one system of the world, to echo Duhem’s echo of Newton – then we may expect that they can all be accounted for equally in another, conflicting system of the world. We may expect this because of how scientists work. For they do not rest with mere inductive generalizations of their observations : mere extrapolation to observable events from similar observed events. Scientists invent hypotheses that talk of things beyond the reach of observation. The hypotheses are related to observation only by a kind of one-way implication; namely, the events we observe are what a belief in the hypotheses would have led us to expect. These observable consequences of the hypotheses do not, conversely, imply the hypotheses. Surely there are alternative hypothetical substructures that would surface in the same observable ways.”

Jane Enlgish also had this to say on the same issue.

“The problem is this: even if we had all possible observations in the sense of all the observation reports true of the actual world, still there would be alternative scientific theories that explain those observations equally well but are incompatible with each other. To put it another way, if you were to decide you accept all theories that are unrefutable in experience, you would accept a contradiction.”

All these different potential hypothesis, would all have the same observable consequents, and thus cover the same situations, but all have different unobservables. They would also all have the same probability, and so we cannot know which one is true. All we can know is what we observe with our senses. The rest of it would be unknown, it would be ?→Y. All Hume would care about would be that the consequents are true. That is all we can know, and the rest is unknown to us.

There is also one question that Hume asks in his Enquiry, which would itself show that the ideas are not based on experience.

When we entertain, therefore, any suspicion that a philosophical term is employed without any meaning or idea (as is but too frequent), we need but enquire, from what impression is that supposed idea derived? And if it be impossible to assign any, this will serve to confirm our suspicion. By bringing ideas into so clear a light we may reasonably hope to remove all dispute, which may arise, concerning their nature and reality

So when we are told that atoms exist or that atoms do such-and-such, we may ask, “from what impression (sensation) is that supposed idea derived?” The answer will be that it came from streaks in a cloud chamber. But another question would be, “How did you arrive that it was these atoms and not something else?”. In the end, we have nothing to rely on for such an idea. There is no impression, and it is based on relation of ideas that we apply to the senses.

Now there is no matter of fact that atoms caused what we observed in the cloud chamber. It is not based on causality, and it is not even arrived at by observation. It is an invention of the imagination to account for what we do observe, and is a tool that we use to predict to future observations. It also helps in the systematization and organization of all those categorical statements that we do have.

Also, these unobservables would be based on relation of ideas, which means that they are true by definition. This is because science has to give a precise definition to the concepts that they invoke, like mathematicians do, and from these well-defined concepts, come to deduce certain observable consequences. Thus, they are very similar to tautologies. They become formal systems that we change certain parts of the sentences when an observation goes counter what is predicted, and this will help account for the observation or we make an ad hoc addition.

Here is an example of what philosopher of science Ronald Giere has to say on how science has took on the Relation of Ideas that David Hume brings up.

“My use of the term “model” (or “theoretical mode”) is intended to capture current scientific usage-at least insofar as that usage is itself consistent. To this end, I would adopt a form of the “semantic” or definitional view of theories (hereafter, models). On this view, one creates a model by defining a type of system. For most purposes one can simply identify the model with the definition…Viewed as definitions, theoretical models have by themselves no empirical content-they make no claims about the world. But they may be used to make claims about the world. This is done by identifying elements of the models with elements of real systems and then claiming that the real system exhibits the structure of the model. Such a claim I shall call a theoretical hypothesis. These are either true or false. From a logical point of view, the definition of a model amounts to the definition of a predicate. A theoretical hypothesis, then, has the logical form of predication: This is an X, where the corresponding definition tells what it is to be an X.”

David Hume was also a nominalist, and this means that he did not believe that general ideas existed. This is when we abstract certain qualities away from the impressions of the senses, and say that they exist on their own. We find an example of this with George Berkeley, which David Hume also followed.

And as the mind frames to itself abstract ideas of qualities or Modes, so does it, by the same precision or mental separation, attain abstract ideas of the more compounded Beings which include several coexistent qualities. For example, the mind having observed that Peter, James, and John resemble each other in certain common agreements of shape and other qualities, leaves out of the complex or compounded idea it has of Peter, James, and any other particular man, that which is peculiar to each, retaining only what is common to all, and so makes an abstract idea wherein all the particulars equally partake–abstracting entirely from and cutting off all those circumstances and differences which might determine it to any particular existence. And after this manner it is said we come by the abstract idea of Man, or, if you please, humanity, or human nature; wherein it is true there is included colour, because there is no man but has some colour, but then it can be neither white, nor black, nor any particular colour, because there is no one particular colour wherein all men partake. So likewise there is included stature, but then it is neither tall stature, nor low stature, nor yet middle stature, but something abstracted from all these. And so of the rest. Moreover, their being a great variety of other creatures that partake in some parts, but not all, of the complex idea of Man, the mind, leaving out those parts which are peculiar to men, and retaining those only which are common to all the living creatures, frames the idea of Animal, which abstracts not only from all particular men, but also all birds, beasts, fishes, and insects. The constituent parts of the abstract idea of animal are body, life, sense, and spontaneous motion. By Body is meant body without any particular shape or figure, there being no one shape or figure common to all animals, without covering, either of hair, or feathers, or scales, &c., nor yet naked: hair, feathers, scales, and nakedness being the distinguishing properties of particular animals, and for that reason left out of the ABSTRACT IDEA. Upon the same account the spontaneous motion must be neither walking, nor flying, nor creeping; it is nevertheless a motion, but what that motion is it is not easy to conceive.

What science does it it abstracts away certain qualities in our impressions, and says that they exist away from what we experienced. These are things like shape, motion, and existing in space. However, we have no experience that such things exist, or that it is as said. They are just abstract ideas that have no basis on experience, and are not based on causality but relation of ideas. Science uses these in creating some of their hypothesis, and are thus unobservable, since we only experience them with colors and etc. They are not based on complex impressions, let alone simple impressions. Thus, these are complex ideas that are not based on anything but the imagination.

So what would Hume think of Modern Science? He would think of it is not based on impressions but based on imagination. This comes back to Hume’s’ quote, “This is the universe of the imagination, nor have we any idea but what is there produced.”

All Hume would care about, and could accept, was that it had true predictions. That means no matter what the hypothesis talked about, the only thing that mattered was that the predictions worked. That is all we could ever know, and that is what was most important, since it had direct results on the world that we know and move in. We do not know if the unobservables exist or not, and it does not matter. All that matters is that we use the hypothesis as instruments to organize our experiences and predict our experiences. Once the hypothesis leads to an observable result, we can use induction from there on out.

Here is a quote from Alfred J. Freddoso talking on David Hume’s views of science.

“Empiricist view (of science): Accepting a scientific theory should involve believing only that the theory is an accurate guide to what is observable and what will be observable in the future — -the aim of natural science is just to order our experience and not to get to real causes.”

We can probably see what Hume would say about science with this quote from Stephen Hawking in his new book The Grand Design.

“But different theories can successfully describe the same phenomenon through disparate conceptual frameworks. In fact, many scientific theories that had proven successful were later replaced by other, equally successful theories based on wholly new concepts of reality…According to model-dependent realism, it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation.”

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Yoruba Epistemology

Posted by allzermalmer on June 2, 2011

This is blog is based on the epistemology of an African tribe called the Yoruba. Here is some general information on the Yoruba. They are found in the western Africa country known as Nigeria.

The Yoruba epistemology is one that we can call, in western language, an empiricist epistemology. This means that knowledge, for the Yoruba, derive from the senses. This belongs to that of sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. An empiricists epistemology also relies on induction. This moves from past observations to predictions of future observations based on the past.

The Yoruba break epistemology down into two different categories. These are Imo and Igbagbo. Imo is similar to what we call, in the west, but not exactly the same, as knowledge. Igbagbo is similar to what we call, in the west, but not exactly the same, belief.

In the west, we put knowledge down into propositional knowledge. Propositional knowledge would be something like this, “Water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.” In western epistemology, we consider knowledge to be of the propositional sort. However, with propositional knowledge, this is mostly secondhand. This means, someone experiences something and they tell you what they experienced. Thus, with the example of water, someone experiences this and tell us about and hold universally. So, following the water example, a chemist experiences that water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (and I will skip over the problem with that for now). Thus, when we are students in a chemistry class, our chemistry teacher teaches us the proposition, “water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom”. Now we are said to have propositional knowledge. We never experienced it, but we were taught it.We are said to have knowledge that water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

For the Yoruba, though, that would not be knowledge per se, that would not be Imo, per se. For the Yoruba, you would need to have experienced such a thing to have knowledge. The chemist would have had to experience that water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. This is problematic, since atoms are, by definition, something that we cannot experience with our senses. Thus, under the Yoruba theory of epistemology, that would not be considered knowledge. That would be considered belief, or Igbagbo.

Imo is based on someone having a direct experience. For example, say that you see a friend drive down the street in a red mustang. You have Imo that your friend Dave drove down the street in a red mustang. This is knowledge, and this is based on a 1st person experience. But now say that you tell other friend Rick that you saw Dave  drive down the street in a red mustang. For Rick, this would be Igbagbo, or belief. This is 2nd hand knowledge. All Rick knows is what he heard you say, and this is not first person experience. This is not knowledge.

Igbagbo is based on secondhand knowledge. This means that you have no experience about what is being talked about, but it is something that is told you. Thus, going back with the chemistry teacher, they are telling you something that they have Imo on, that they have knowledge on. Now, since they tell you, and you do not have knowledge on it, you only have Igbagbo. You take it that you have knowledge, but it is a belief so long as you do not have first hand experience on it.

Imo=First hand experience=See friend drove a red mustang
Igbagbo= Second hand experience=Told friend drove a red mustang

In order to have Imo, you need to have a sensory experience and cognition (comprehend what you are experiencing). I can walk down an aisle at the library, and have all sorts of experiences, but I am not cognitively aware of the books that I am walking by. Thus, I do not know, as I walk down the aisle of the library with the books on each side of me, what books they are. I am not cognitively aware of if it is Moby Dick or Crime and Punishment. This would not count as Imo.

Nothing that we experience first hand would go under Igbagbo. So if I learn something in science class, and I have no personal experience of it, I do not know it. I only know that my teachers told me something. This is just a belief that I can hold on what the teacher told me. Thus, I do not know that two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atoms make up water. I believe that they do because my teacher told me. Those of us that are not scientists, and more importantly experimentalist in science, do not know anything that scientists tell us. We only believe what they tell us, or what they tell us that they experience.

Now a question could come up for knowledge about mathematics or logic. How do I know, in geometry, that “In right-angled triangles the square on the side opposite the right angle equals the sum of the squares on the sides containing the right angle.” I do not know this. My geometry teacher tells me this. I do not know it until I work out the proof myself. Once I work out the proof myself, then I know that “In right-angled triangles the square on the side opposite the right angle equals the sum of the squares on the sides containing the right angle”. So I can be taught this proposition, and I can only have Igbagbo about it. It is not until I do the actual proof myself do I have Imo about it. The same holds with logic.

Let us say that I have Imo that if I drop a feather and a bowling ball on the moon, that they both land at the same time. I tell Rick this, but Rick does not believe me. We can settle this issue by testing what I said. Rick could go to the moon and drop a bowling ball and a feather at the same time, and see if they land at the same time. From this, Rick would come to have Imo himself. He would than have knowledge.

Now imagine that I make a claim, and it is one that cannot be tested. Just imagine that I say, “I saw a white crow catch a white squirrel.” Rick might not believe me, and there is no way to test this. There is no way for Rick to come to have Imo on this. Thus, we can settle this by asking someone else. Now imagine that Dave was with me, and Steve as well, when this happened. We all saw it happen. Thus, Rick can ask Steve and Dave. They all tell Rick the same thing I said, and so he might come to believe what I said. Thus, he would come to have Igbagbo.

Now imagine the same situation above, about white crow getting white squirrel. But let us change things a bit. I was the only person there, and no one else was there. Thus, I was the only person that saw it happen, and thus the only one to have Imo. Rick cannot test this himself, and he cannot ask anyone else. So this question is open if Rick will believe me or not.

From these three examples, we find that there are three levels with the Yoruba epistemology. (I.) 1st hand experience, (II.) Igbagbo open to testing & transform into Imo, (III.) Igbagbo never open to verification (or can be), but testimony, or explanation.

Now moving with (III.), there is one important thing that comes into play. This is the character of the speaker. If I am someone who makes the claim about the white crow and white squirrel, and I am known as a liar, no one is going to believe what I say. However, if I am known as an honest person, then that leads credence to believe what I say. Thus, with the science teacher, I come to believe them because I am taught that scientist have good character, and should be believed, even if I cannot experience what they talk about. Character is very important in judging whether to believe what someone says. Character is important in whether or not to have Igbagbo on someone’s Imo.

We can conclude that since Imo is based on 1st hand experience, that the Yoruba works with what we call methodological solipsism. This is the position “that knowledge about the existence & non-existence of everything outside of self origin in immediate experience, or “the given”, which is not strictly shared (with other selves” (Rollins). In other words, knowledge about what is the case and what is not the case, comes from my personal experience. That is the only thing that I can know to be the case or not. I can only know what you say, and I cannot know what you experience. Thus, I will either come to believe you or not, or withhold judgement on what you say. Everything else outside of one’s personal experience is just a belief. It is not based on the testimony of your senses. This does not mean one holds that only one’s self alone exists. It is only in method that one works with such a position.

Now there is something else that is important about the Yoruba epistemology, and it involves tradition. Let us say, hypothetically, that my tradition says that “If a black cat crosses your path, then you will break your leg that day.” Now, the Yoruba will not automatically have igbagbo on this, unless it comes from someone of good character. However, they will accept this tradition if they find, through their own personal experience, that they find it to be true or happen. Thus, they will have Imo on the subject. This means, if my father and my fathers father held to something as Imo, it does not mean I will follow it unless I find it to be true myself. Thus, if I am told there is a certain way to farm my crops, I will not do it unless I find it to be true myself. This means that traditions will not be held unless they are personally found to be true, and thus continue on with the tradition.

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