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Parmenidean Dogma

Posted by allzermalmer on December 9, 2011

This blog is based off an article done by W.T. Stace. The article is called Parmenidean Dogma, and appeared in the philosophical journal Philosophy, Vol. 24, No. 90 (Jul., 1949), pp. 195-204.

“By the Parmenidean dogma I mean the proposition that “something cannot come out of nothing.””

We usually hear of this first proposition, and also hear of the second proposition that usually follows from it, i.e. “something cannot become nothing.” But we shall be dealing with the first proposition, which is the Parmenidean dogma. It is called the Parmenidean dogma because Parmenides was the first person who made it into an explicit form of an abstract metaphysical proposition. The idea might have been part of human thinking before Parmenides, but he was the first to formalize it.

It is not hard to see that this dogma could come out of common experience. We have the examples of trying to get a rabbit out of an empty top-hat, cannot get blood out of a stone, cannot take money out of an empty wallet. These are part of some of our basic experiences, and these were taken on to become part of the Parmenidean dogma. We can find that something suddenly appears before us, and we will almost immediately wonder where it came from. We ask, “Where did it come from? It must have been somewhere all the time. It couldn’t have come out of nothing.”

“Just as the common experiences of stones which are hard and grey, or leaves which are green and soft, gave rise to the metaphysical concept of substance, so these other common experiences gave rise to the Parmenidean dogma. Thus common-sense truths are rashly erected into universal metaphysical principles of all being. They harden into dogmas. they solidify into prejudices so deep that in a little while men say that anything which contradicts them is “inconceivable”.”

These types of dogma help to fetter human advancement. The reason is that we come to hold these idea, and yet at the same time we never try to advance beyond it, because it seems inconceivable for them to be any different. Take for example Euclidean geometry. This looks to be our common-sense idea of the geometry of the world that we experience. From this position, it seemed inconceivable that two straight lines could enclose a space. But, however, this all changed with the non-Euclidean geometry, which was invented by Georg Riemannan

This dogma happens to be very influential, and can be found throughout western thinking. For example, it has been held in Western philosophy for a long time because of Parmenides. It has also become part of our thinking in science, or at least in many scientific thinking. As has already been pointed out, it is also part of our common-sense thinking as well.

Now Parmenides used his idea of in a very interesting way, and one that helped to make him famous. He would talk about substance and being, and these were to be major categories of how the world is. But it would also prohibit certain things.

“Change always involves the arising of something new, something which wasn’t there before, something therefore which has come out of nothing. If an object changes from green to red, then the red has come from nowhere, and the green has disappeared into non-existence. And as this contradicts the dogma it cannot have happened.”

But this seems to contradict the way we like to view things as well. That is because it makes change look like an illusion, and that’s even the conclusion that Parmenides stated based on the Parmenidean Dogma. For we do notice a change in colors, going from one color to another, or something change from one thing to another, or one state to another state. But this shows that there is change, which means that it contradicts the dogma. This would seem to indicate that there is something wrong with the Parmedian Dogma. This is involved with the Problem of Change, and one can read Heraclitus to see what happens with the Problem of Change and what can come from this.

This became such a problem back in the days of the ancient philosophers, that Aristotle came out with an answer to the problem of change. It seems to come out and try to answer the problem with a certain invocation of potential.

“Aristotle, as we know, believed he had “solved” the problem of change-a problem artificially created by the dogma and otherwise non-existent-by inventing the categories of potentiality and actuality. The rabbit was, by means of these categories, successfully produced out of the top-hat. This was very awkward because we had just looked into the top-hat and seen that the rabbit was not there. There is only one solution. The rabbit was in the hat all the time. But it wasn’t an actual rabbit. It was a potential rabbit. That is why we couldn’t see it when we looked. Potential rabbits are invisible.”

These ideas, which are developed by Parmenides, went on to influence how people reacted to it. Aristotles response went on to influence many generations of people with his response. This went on down through Aquinas of the Middle Ages, down to the present times that we live in. This, in some ways, goes to show the influences that the Parmenidean dogma went to have on philosophy and some reactions to it. “It was Parmenides who was responsible for potentiality”, because developed it to continue with the dogma in some form.

We can even find that it has even become a dogma of science. Alan Guth, in his book The Inflationary Universe, helps make this point when he says that, “”Being is ungenerable and imperishable,” wrote Parmenides in about 500 B.C., in a passage that helped to create the philosophical approach that today we call science.” So we can find that science does rely on this dogma as well, and forms one of the major foundations for science, and our view of the world. It comes from common sense experience, and we come to find it hard to think of a world that doesn’t follow such a principle.

“Clearly [Parmenidean Dogma] produced the scientific maxims of the conservation of matter and the conservation of energy. These ideas are not empirical generalizations. They are simply a priori deductions from the dogma…It is plain that scientists supposed that matter could neither be created nor destroyed because they supposed it inconceivable that something could come out of nothing or go into nothing.”

Now, it is true that we don’t see matter coming in and out of existence. We find the conservation of matter to be inline with our observations and with common-sense. It agrees with our observation of not finding rabbits coming out of empty top-hats, or finding money coming out of an empty wallet. This is what has helped to suggest the conservation of matter to begin with. But it is plain that these observations we have made are insufficient to base on which to found a universal principle about the nature of matter throughout the universe. But at least we can rely on experience for this one, to a certain degree.

But the conservation of energy itself is in a worse off position than that of matter. This isn’t support by common observation, but is flatly contradicted by it. Imagine that two people are throwing a baseball to each other, over a house. When one person throws it up into the air and over the house, there is a certain amount of kinetic energy being used. But now imagine that the ball gets stuck on the roof and doesn’t move from the roof in a week. What we notice through experience is that the energy was there when it was thrown, but disappeared when the ball got stuck on the roof. This energy disappeared. But, when a storm comes by and dislodges the ball and falls off the roof, we notice that the same amount of kinetic energy appears again. The energy was there, disappeared, and the same exact amount of energy reappeared. So what happened to the energy during that week of being lodged on the roof?

“If you consult experience, observation, the answer is that it had gone out of existence altogether. But this does not square with dogma. So the scientist invented the fiction of potential energy- Aristotle’s Parmenidean concept- to make it square. Not only is this concept supported by no evidence whatsoever, but it is in this case even flatly self-contradictory. For potential energy simply means no energy which is not now energizing. It is non-energetic energy.”

This is partially covered in another blog done here, by the same author.

But now, in recent physics, the two principles of conservation of matter and conservation of energy have disappeared. For, now both principles are combined together to form a new principle. This new principle is the principle of conservation of matter-energy. This means that energy and matter turn into one another. Matter can turn into energy, and energy can turn into matter. This follows the Parmenidean dogma, because two principles form the new single principle of conservation of matter-energy. Something still cannot come out of nothing. This is helps bring out the idea of form and matter, which seems to be related to the Parmenidean dogma.

“We suppose that two quite different things are really, in spite of their difference, the same thing, because one is a different form of the other or because they are both forms of something underlying. Another variant of the same idea is the notion of “aspects”. There are supposed to be different aspects of the same thing.”

Now an empiricist might agree to talk of such a way, the idea of form and matter, but they do not hold to it being true. It’s just a mode of speech that we use. For you can say that A and b are two forms of one thing, then either this one thing is an underlying substratum that’s unempirical, or you mean that one thing is A itself or B itself. Now, if you say that A is form of something which, by the very hypothesis under question, is different from it, specifically b, you are just talking nonsense. Purple cannot be a form of red, would be an example.

We find the category of form everywhere. For example, we say that diamond and charcoal are said to be forms of the same thing known as carbon. But charcoal and diamond are palpably different things. We also hear that heat, light, and electricity are different forms of energy. So, with all this in mind, how is this a result of the Parmenidean dogma? Empirically what is observed in the cases just mentioned would follow similarly to this. The charcoal disappears into nothing, and the diamond appears from nowhere. The heat disappears out of existence, and the light comes out of nothing.

Instead, what we do to try to avoid this, is to make an equivalence to be set up. This way we can say that heat is replaced with light, light replaced with the original amount of heat doesn’t affect this procedure. This just becomes a part of the regularity and orderliness in the changes that happen in the world. But all these observed facts contradict the Parmenidean dogma, but we say that heat has never gone out of existence and has exited for all time. We just say that it has existed in another form.

“The category of form in this case does the same work as the category of potentiality in the case of the [baseball] thrown up on the roof. And the one is as much a fiction as the other. And both fictions have been developed in our culture in order to square observed facts with the Parmenidean dogma.”

Now, one position in philosophy is that of causation. Certain theories have been proposed, and one of them has been based on the Parmenidean dogma. This type of idea is based on the cause and effect being identical. This is the idea of identity theory of causation. This means that all effects are completely and literally identical to their causes, which in turn means that there is no such thing as change in the world. But some cannot accept that there is no change in the world, and would thus have to say that the effect is another “form” of the cause. This helps bring out Parmenidean origin of the identity theory. This is because the effect must be identical with the cause, because if this were not the case, then something came into existence in the effect that was not in existence before. This means that something has come out of nothing.

Some try to save this theory of causation, and come to say that the cause and effect might not be identical but they’re at least alike. But this, as well, is contradicted by experience. Lighting is totally unlike its effect, that of thunder. One is a visual phenomena, and the other is an auditory phenomena. But this theory cannot even be made clear because the fact of resemblance is a matter of degree, and this makes it impossible for the theory to say how much resemblance there is between the cause and effect are required. And it is certainly possible that everything in the universe resembles everything else in some of it’s characteristics, no matter how much unlike they are.

The theory of identical causation, and it’s resemblance off-shoot, is part of the baseless objection to Cartesian dualism. For we usually consider it “inconceivable” for mind and matter to interact, or could influence one another. This, evidently, is because they’re suppose to be unlike one another. So the cause is unlike the effect, and find that the Parmenidean dogma ha a hand in the objection to Cartesian dualism.

There is another example, which is that of Absolute Idealism. One tenet of Absolute Idealism is that the higher cannot come out of the lower.This means that beaut and goodness cannot come out of nothing, and this would be involved if they came out of what is lower than themselves. Thus, they must have always been in existence in some say. They must be eternal.

“Indeed, on the Parmenidean view everything must be eternal, since nothing can ever come into existence. This is in fact the theory of absolute idealism, since it holds that if anything does come into existence it cannot be real, but is only an appearance. From this point of view absolute idealism is in all its expanse nothing but a vast elaboration of the Parmenidean dogma.”

Now some might question the absolute idealist, and one response would be that the pre-existent values in the absolute are invisible like the potential rabbit. This is what is meant by saying that they’re transcendental. And transcendental means not phenomenal, and not phenomenal means not visible. But if you give up the Parmenidean dogma, then all of this disappears.

Now it will be maintained that the Parmenidean dogma is either an empirical generalization or a necessary truth. Now it can’t be an empirical generalization when we’ve noticed that there’s contradictories of it being an empirical generalization. Thus, we’re left to come up with it as a necessary truth. And it would seem that many, especially Parmenides thought of it as a necessary truth. And Parmenides even used it to contradict experience, and yet such an idea is common and doesn’t strictly come from Parmenides himself. And it comes to be seen as “inconceivable” for something to come out of nothing, but this is like two straight lines enclosing space with Euclid’s geometry.

Now it seems that David Hume settled this issue of the Parmenidean dogma not being a necessary truth. He brought this up in “Why a cause is always necessary“. His answer to the Parmenidean dogma being a necessary truth doesn’t have to deal with necessary connection, and are independent of it. His answer of the Parmenidean dogma not being a necessary truth would still be valid even if we admit of necessary connection. What Hume argued against was that “whatever beings to exist must have a cause of existence.”, which we can call the causal proposition, was a necessary truth.

“[Hume] points out that we can easily imagine- he is using the word in the strict sense of having a mental image of- we can easily imagine something coming into existence without a cause.Thus you can easily imagine a billiard ball suddenly appearing on the table here, literally beginning to be, without any cause, or if you like, coming from nowhere…Now it is impossible to have an image of something which is self-contradictory. For instance, you cannot imagine a round square. Therefore the fact that you can imagine a thing or event proves that it is not self-contradictory. Therefore since you can imagine a thing coming into existence without a cause, this proves that it is not self-contradictory. Hence the causal proposition cannot be an analytic a priori truth.”

Now there is another type of “proof” that can be presented.

“When it is said that a thing is self-contradictory, this is of course elliptical. Only propositions can. So when it is said that a thing is self-contradictory what is meant is that two contradicting propositions follow from the assertion of its existence. Therefore if anyone says that something is self-contradictory we ought always to ask him to set out the two contradicting propositions. It follows that, if a thing or event can be completely described without remained in a set of propositions none of which contradicts another one, then the thing or event cannot be self-contradictory.”

Now let us imagine that some thing or event, X, comes into existence out of nothing, passes from non-existence to existence, at time T. We can describe this in only two propositions, (1.) that X did not exist before time T, and (2.) that X existed after time T. These propositions don’t contradict one another, because they deal with different times. Now, if it were said that X both exists and doesn’t exist at the same time, then this would be self-contradictory. Thus, X coming into existence out of nothing is not self-contradictory and not a necessary truth. Thus, it is neither an empirical generalization and a necessary truth.

This can also be applied to causal propositions. Suppose that X came into existence at time T without a cause. This can be described with 3 propositions. (1.) X did not exist before time T, (2.) X existed after time T, (3.) before time T there was no event which stood in the causal relation to X. None of these propositions contradict one another. Now this shows that it’s not an analytic (a priori) truth, and we seem to be left with a synthetic (a priori) truth.

Now it is commonly held that there are no synthetic a priori truths. But this being the case now doesn’t mean that there are no synthetic a priori truths. So if the Parmenidean dogma is a sythetic a priori truth, then it will have the character of being intuitively necessary. But this doesn’t seem to be the case at all. For example, children don’t seem to have a problem of thinking of fairies popping out of nowhere in front of them, and things of this nature. They find it intuitive that this can happen, which means it’s not intuitively necessary that the Parmenidean dogma is a synthetic a priori truth. Some propositions in mathematics seem intuitively necessary, but these are analytic truths and we can prove them step by step. But the Parmenidean dogma doesn’t look to be demonstrably step by step, and thus not intuitively necessary. So it seems that the Parmenidean dogma is like someone who says that “the Earth is flat”. It might seem intuitively necessary that the earth is flat, but there doesn’t seem to be any demonstrable way to back up this intuitive necessary truth that they hold. “But it is quite clear that what has happened is that he has mistaken a psychological feeling of certainty, such as is derived from a deep-rooted prejudice, or a logical necessity.”

“We reach the result that the Parmenidean dogma is baseless…It does not follow that some of the ideas based on it may not be useful. Perhaps potential energy may be a useful fiction. It is necessary if the principle of conservation is to be preserved. And that principle, though it cannot claim to be an absolute truth, is doubtless a valuable methodological assumption.”

“But in general our picture of the world will be changed- and changed evidently in the direct of a more empirical philosophy. We shall not invent hidden substances underlying the changes of things in order to preserve the things from going in and out of existence. We shall not invent a hidden mysterious energy which underlies heat, light, and electricity. We shall say that the principle that they are all “forms” of energy means only that when a given amount of motion disappears and is replaced by a given amount of heat, these are equivalents in the sense that the original amount of motion can be made by suitable means to appear again and displace the heat.”

Now, this also means that Newton’s infamous “action at a distance” can be accepted. Back in Newton’s day, people looked for mechanical answers, which was basically about showing one object coming into contact with another to make it move. But Newton’s formulation of gravity said that it was action at a distance, which was where one object doesn’t come into contact with another. This was a scandal in Newton’s time, but people came to accept it (reluctantly) because it worked so well with predictions. So there’s no contradiction to suppose that a cause happens here on Earth, and all of a sudden effects something on the other side of the universe with nothing intermediary between them. The rejection of the Parmenidean dogma means that the mind is perfectly open to admit action at a distance if ever the evidence should point to it.

“In general the moral is: anything whatever can happen- anything except round squares, two two making five, or other self-contradictions. It is simply a matter of evidence. I have sometimes been asked what is the value of empiricism. Sometimes I am afraid it is used to rule out possibilities. Sometimes it appears as a narrowing influence. But its true function is to free the mind from prejudices, to free us from the bondage of supposing that our prejudices are laws of the universe. Instead of narrowing our view-point, it should open our minds and our imaginations to the possibilities of new paths and hitherto undreamed progress in knowledge. It should strike off many ancient fetters from our minds.”

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Hume’s Philosophy of Religion

Posted by allzermalmer on December 8, 2011

This blog is based on a paper written by Nicholas Capaldi. It was published in the philosophical journal International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter, 1970), pp.233-240. It’s called Hume’s Philosophy of Religion: God without Ethics.

The author wants to bring up six things about Hume, and his talk on God and things of that nature. These can be derived from Hume’s philosophical works; the works be of Treatise of Human Nature, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.

Here are the 6 points:
[1.] “Hume never denied the existence of God.”
[2.] “He rejected the “ontological argument.””
[3.] “He accepted the existence of God, and he accepted the argument from design.”
[4.] “God exists, but his properties are unknown to us.”
[5.] “Morality is independent of religion (but not of God).”
[6.] “No one of the characters but every one of the characters in the Dialogues speaks for Hume. The message : morality is independent of religion.”

Point 1: There’s no where in Hume’s books does he say that God doesn’t exist, imply that God doesn’t exist, or say that he believes that God doesn’t exist.

What should be noticed about this is that Hume is considered the “Common Ancestor” from which all forms of modern empiricism are derived. To play off of the words of A.N. Whitehead, “The safest general characterization of the Empiricist philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to David Hume.”

As Bertrand Russell once said of him, “David Hume (1711-76) is one of the most important among philosophers because he developed to its logical conclusion the empirical philosophy of Locke and Berkeley, and by making it self-consistent made it incredible. He represents, in a certain sense, a dead end: in his direction, it is impossible to go further. To refute him has been, ever since he wrote, a favourite pastime among metaphysicians. For my part, I find none of their refutations convincing; nevertheless, I cannot but hope that something less sceptical than Hume’s system may be discoverable.”

And, by James Seth:”It would be unjust to both Locke and Berkeley to say that they stopped short of these [sceptical] conclusions from theological or other prejudices. The truth is that empiricism was only a part of their philosophy, the other part  being…of a rationalistic type; so that we cannot describe the sceptical philosophy of Hume as the complete logical development of the Lockean and Berkeleyean philosophy, but only as the logical completion of the empirical element in the philosophy of his predecessors. That which had for them been a part becomes for Hume the whole: he is an empiricist pure and simple, and he shows us with singular insight the ultimate meaning and consequences of pure empiricism.”

Point 2: Hume objected to the “ontological argument” for God. The reason that he rejects such an argument is that it is a priori, or not based on experience. Being an empiricist, he found problems with a priori arguments. And of his time, a priori arguments were very common and so had a problem with those arguments.

Hume is notorious for his assessment of causation (which was done by other philosophers like Al-Ghazali, Malebranche, and Berkeley). The a priori arguments usually dealt with causation, and especially necessary causation. With Hume’s treatment of these things, he found them all unacceptable. Thus, he rejected them. But he even affirmed his belief in causation (based on his empiricist position), and also affirmed the argument from design (a posterior argument).

Point 3: Hume accepts the existence of a God, and he does it through the argument from design. And this point usually comes as a shock from people. They tend to think that Hume didn’t believe in God, let alone accept the argument from design. But he happens to make this point throughout his writings.

“The order of the universe proves an omnipotent mind . . .” Treatise of Human Nature

“Wherever I see order, I infer from experience that there, there hath been Design and Contrivance . . . the same principle obliges me to infer an infinitely perfect Architect from the infinite Art and Contrivance which is displayed in the whole fabric of the universe.” A Letter From A Gentleman to his friend in Edinburgh

In the Enquires Concerning Human Understanding, there is a section called “Of a Particular Providence and of a Future state”. In this section, Hume’s friend defends Epicurus, and accepts the arguments from “the order of nature”.

“The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author ; and no rational enquirer can after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion” The Natural History of Religion

He accepts the “truth so obvious, so certain, as the being of a God” in the Dialogues.

Point 4:

“Even though God exists, we cannot know any of his properties or characteristics. The argument from design proves the existence of a cause but not the nature of the cause. It is the failure to note this distinction which leads some readers to misinterpret Hume and attribute to him a rejection of the argument from design.”

He goes on to think that we come to accept that God exists, but beyond this we can say no more. The reason is that experience shows it, under Hume’s position, but that we can’t tell anything more from it. So, reason supports the belief, but reason stops there. To pick between particular religions  or religious belief, is beyond the mere acceptance of God and experience. The rest we draw out from this acceptance isn’t drawn from experience, but is drawn from faith and divine revelation.

As Hume said around the end of the Enquires Concerning Human Understanding, “Divinity or Theology, as it proves the existence of a Deity, and the immortality of souls, is composed partly of reasonings concerning particular, partly concerning general facts. It has a foundation in reasons, o far as it is supported by experience. But its best and most solid foundation is faith and divine revelation.”

Point 5: Hume denied that morals need to be grounded on a religious foundation. He believes that we can have morals, and follow through with them, without having recourse to a religious foundation for the morals.

“In the Enquiry Concerningt he Principles of Morals, Hume develops his entire moral theory with utter disregard for religion. He does make an important statement about God in order to show that his moral theory is compatible with the existence of the God one finds in the argument from design (p. 294). Since God is the “cause” of nature, including human nature, the naturalistic ethics to be found in man is also the “effect” of God. The important distinction to be kept in mind is that Hume’s ethics is consistent with the existence of God, but it is not derived from religion.”

The point is that it’s compatible with God, but it does not necessarily entail that one needs a religious foundation for morals to have morals. It should be obvious that one doesn’t need to belong to a religion to believe in God. And if one doesn’t belong to a religion, then they just might not have a religious foundation for morals. The point is that Hume “maintains a skeptical
posture” towards the religious foundations of morals.

Point 6: In the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, he happens to make two points. There are three characters involved in a dialogue, and all three agree on two things. These two things seem to point to Hume’s actual beliefs, among those that he’s already stated in his other works.

These two points are already characterized in the previous 5 points. Two of them are agreed up on by all the people in the dialogue. Thus, we seem to be able to reasonably infer that he held to these two things and a foundation of some of his beliefs.

These two beliefs are that Hume “accepts the existence of God” and accepts that “morals need not be founded on religion”. All three characters, Philo, Cleanthes, and Dema, agree upon these points. As Capldi said, “First, all of the characters agree that God exists. Second, all of the characters agree that no moral implications follow from the initial agreement.”

Further, there is something interesting brought up, which seems consistent with what Hume has said else where. The author points out that Hume points out that “We cannot legitimately infer moral conclusions, that is, practical conclusions for guiding human behavior, from theological premisses.” This looks to be of the Is-Ought gap that Hume had pointed out, and became infamous for.

Hume, basically, said that we can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”. This “ought” would be like moral statements of “You shouldn’t kill people except in self-defense”. A statement of “is” would be like the descriptive statement of “Brutus helped kill Julius Caesar.” We can’t derive the moral statement from a descriptive statement of what we’ve observed with experience.

The reason that we can’t derive a moral conclusion from a theological premise is because of two things. The major one is that Hume pointed out that, from his empiricism, we can’t go beyond affirming the existence of God. We can’t go further because we can only get the conclusion of the existence of God but not of his properities. And these theological premises are going to add on properties to God, once they accept the existence of God.Hume takes this as illegitimate.

The second point is the Is-Ought divide, which he pointed out. Even if these theological premises were in fact true, descriptions of how things are, you still can’t derive the moral conclusions from those “is” statements. You can’t derive that moral conclusion from those (true) theological premises.

So even if we don’t accept God, we still can’t accept a moral conclusion from true (non-theological) statements. We can see how Hume would come to the conclusion that one doesn’t need a religious foundation for morals. Both groups can’t derive their moral conclusion from descriptive statements.

The other point, for Hume, was that even if we affirm the existence of God, it doesn’t imply moral conclusions. “Prior to Hume it was common for philosophers first to “prove” God’s existence and then to draw moral implications from that proof. Hume pointed out that these are two
separate questions, and the positive answer to the first by no means
implies a positive answer to the second.”

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Facts, Constructions, and Hypothesis

Posted by allzermalmer on November 10, 2011

This blog will be about a chapter in Walter Terrance Stace’s book calledTheory of Existence and Knowledge. This blog will be based on chapter 7, which is called Facts, Constructions, and Hypothesis.  This chapter is also related to posts on the Construction of the External World, and you can read the first one here.

There were six constructions in constructing the external world. And of these six, they can be broken down into two.  These two are Unificatory Constructions and Existential Constructions.

Unificatory Constructions:  Of the six mental constructions we employed to create the external world, three of them fall under the term of Unificatory Constructions. The second, third, and sixth mental construction were of the Unificatory sort. Here’s all three of them.

2.) That the corresponding presentations of different minds are identical, and that there are not many universes, but only one.

3.) That the presentations of a mind may continue in existence unperceived by that mind, provided that some other mind perceived them.

6.) That the different senses we may perceive the ‘same’ objects, and that the worlds of the different senses are, in general, identical with one another.

The characteristic of these three, and Unificatory Constructions in general, are that they don’t postulate new existence, but reduce the number of existences. For example, we find that we have many different things, but we reduce them to a few things to connect all these things together.

The second construction will identify your purple with my purple. my world with your world, and the private worlds of all minds with one another. This helps reduce the multitude of worlds to one world. Instead of having as many worlds as minds, there’s only one world. From many to one, which is a reduction.

The third construction identifies my purple now with your purple in a later moment. When I look at something, I know it exists through experience. But when I don’t look at something, I don’t know that it exists. With the third construction, following the second, we know that there’s only one world and what I see is similar to what you see. When I don’t see something, but you see it, it still exists and is similar to what I would see when I turn to look at it. It reduces the many successive world to one.

The sixth construction reduces all the different senses to combine into one thing, which would be what we call objects. The bird gives me a visual sense, but this visual sense isn’t the same audible sense of the bird. Neither does the taste or smell. But we combine these different senses to the “same” thing. This reduces the many to one.

Unificatory Constructions rest on two principles.
(1.) Principle of Superfluous Existences: Existences that make no difference to either knowledge or practical activities, and may be treated as if they were non-existent; they’re irrelevant to the mind’s purposes, either theoretical or practical, they can be cut out of the universe.
(2.) They Can’t be Proved: They’re not facts, but serviceable fictions, and they’re not inferences from facts. One unificatory construction can serve as an inference from another construction, like the third construction is an inference from the second construction. One construction can serve as a premise to lead to another construction.

Existential Constructions: Of the six mental constructions we used before, three of them were Existential Constructions. They are as follows..

1.) The presentations of one mind bear to the corresponding presentations of other minds the relation of resemblance.

4.) That presentations may exist when no mind is aware of them.

5.) That there exists ‘things’ or ‘objects’, which are not identical with presentations; and that the presentations are ‘qualities’ of the ‘things’; and that the ‘qualities’ may change while the ‘things’ remain the same.

What is common to these three, and one of the characteristics of some of our mental constructions, is that the imagination will invent the existence of some fictions that aren’t given in experience or infered from experience. We try to model these existence off of our experiences, and they’re made out of the materials of experiences we’ve had. But this asserted existence is never actually experienced, and are presented in a hypothetical type of proposition (If…then).

When we make a hypothetical type of proposition when expressing the existence of something never experienced or inferred from experience, the antecedent is something that we can never perceive it’s existence. This antecedent existence is something that we can never experience, and wasn’t experienced in the first place or inferred from what was experienced in the first place. And these things are mental constructions, or fictions.

Unificatory Constructions and Existential Constructions were employed to help build the external world, and they had two things going for them at their basis. There were six mental constructions used, which broke into unificatory and existential, and it all served for simplicity and consistency.

The first, second, fourth, and sixth constructions were all done for simplicity. With the first, we decide to take other people having perceptions to our own. It’s simpler to think that they’re similar than dissimilar. Both are equally ‘true’ and workable for intellectual and practical action.

With the second, we decide to think that our perceptions are approximately identical and believe in one universe instead of many. This goes from many different worlds for different people, but they’re all part of the one world. The one over many carries some sign of simplicity.

With the fourth, we decided to think we think that things go on existencing when we’re not experiencing it. Instead of having one universe going out of existence when people aren’t experiencing it is, and then having a new universe when experincing it, the same one universe continues on when not experincing it.

With the sixth, we decide to say that all our different senses give us information on “thing”. The world of the different senses become unified. The world of the apple feel, apple sight, apple taste, apple smell, hear it.

The third and fifth construction served for another use besides simplicity. They were used for consistency. The mind created this theory of the common world, which went against the facts that contradicted the theory. Because there’s a difference between our various minds and experiences. The third and fifth construction reconcile the differences with the theory of the common world and get rid of the inconsistency with mental constructions.

“We find again and again in the history of knowledge repetitions of this procedure. The mind, having invented a construction for the purposes of simplification and convenience, meets with new facts which do not square with the constructed belief. It is forced either to retrace its steps,  abandon the ground which it has gained, and give up the construction or even the system of constructions (which may well constitute a large bloch of its scheme of knowledge), or, in order to avoid this, it is compelled to manufacture new constructions or systems of constructions which will reintroduce harmony and avoid contradictions. In this way human knowledge grows as well as by the accumulation of new facts and inferences.”

From the epistemological analysis already set up, there’s two different kinds of existence that should be recognized. It’s (1) factual existence and, (2) constructive existence.

Factual existence is the existence of whatever is, has, or will be actually perceived by any mind, at any time or place. An example is that the existence of the computer while it’s being perceived by you or anyone else is a factual existence. But more explicitly, the existence of a visual presentation called the “computer”, the touch of the thing called the “computer”, and etc, are factual existence. When we say that no one is perceiving the computer, we supposed by the mind to think that it’s still there, it is a constructive existence.

What is actualy being experienced is the factual, which means that having the visual experience of the computer, that has factual existence. But when not touching the computer, it is given a constructive existence. When not tasting it, it has a constructive existence. But we go to think that at all times, whether the computer is experienced or not, there is a ‘thing’ behind the experiences and different from them, and this  is a constructive existence.

The sun rising tomorrow has a factual existence, because it will be actually perceived. The existence of Thomas Jefferson is also factual, because he was perceived. And for epistemology, this is an important distinction between factual and constructive existence. “But for the purposes of all other knowledge it is essential to obliterate and forget it.”

Constructive existence consists of supposing that unperceived things go on existing like they did as when actually perceived. Thus, we have experience of the computer existing when being perceived, and project that type of factual experience into a realm of where we have no experience. Projecting perceived factual existents, into the unperceived constructive existents.

The distinction between constructive and factual existence has only importance for the theory of epistemology, and not with theory or pratice. We can easily go on thinking that the computer exists when we don’t perceive it. But what they are during times when not perceived or if they are, they have no difference to us as practical people. What matters is when it’s there when we turn to it, what else would matter as practical people?

This situations makes no difference to the knowledge of the computers. We know the method of the manufacture of the computers, chemistry, electronics, and physics of operation. Any conceivable knowledge have of the computer remains the same during unperceived existences.

“It is, as we have seen, a logical rule of the mind that it ignores and treats as non-existent superfluous existences, existences which make no difference of any kind either to theory or practice.”

From this, the mind ignores the distinction between factual and constructive existence. We come to lump together all existence together as factual, and this may be regarded as a Unificatory Construction. And the attitude of which the mind takes up in this matter must be regarded as ‘true’.

For the most part, our knowledge has been built on mental constructions. And if we admit this knowledge as knolwedge, and not as false, then we admit constructed beliefs as being composed of truths. So we must take it as true that there’s an independent external world, things exist when no one perceives them, your penny is the same penny as mine, the table you touch is the same as the one that I see. And this forms part of our admitted knowledge of the world.

“These propositions form a part of our admitted knowledge of the world. They are universally accepted as true. Unless we are to do extreme violence to all accepted standards of truth and to all acknowledge conceptions of knolwedge, we must also admit them to be true, and must frame our definition of truth so as to include them.

And these things apply to our common world knowledge. Now let’s consider scientific knowledge to be distinguished from common world knowledge, and we find a similar conclusion as we did common world knowledge (i.e. factual existents and constructive existents).

Scientific knowledge is also composed of mental constructions, like the common world. We should be reminded of the ‘hypothetical’ nature of science. But as has been pointed out earlier, the ‘hypothetical’ aspect is composed of constructions, e.g. atomic theory and electronic theory. If we regard scientific knowledge as true, then we admit that such truth includes constructions.  This admission does not mean that the theories are false.

“We have to take a broad view of knowledge, to regard it in something the same way as we regard the world of art. The world of art is a product of the immense labors of the human spirit. So is the world of knowledge. It has been constructed by countless minds working through countless centuries.”

Truth, therefore, is held to include those constructions which have been built into human knowledge and form permanent parts of it. But this seems to raise a problem: Constructions are fictions, and if all constructions are true, then this destroys the distinction between truth and falsehood altogether. What ever we imagine could claim to be truth, would seem to be allowable. But some constructions are true and some false. (Future blog)

Hypotheses can assert either factual or constructive existences. For example, I now hear a noise behind me, and I conjecture that it’s my cat. I turn around and see the cat doing something with bubble wrap. I conjectured that the cat was behind me doing something to make noises. It’s a hypothesis, and the verification of it was based on me seeing the cat behind me doing something that’s making the noises that I heard. This hypothesis asserts the factual existence of my cat. The cat isn’t a construction but a fact.

Now it’s true that the existence of my visual cat when not being seen is a construction. It could be further said to be true when I say “I believe that the noise is caused by my cat” is not a hypothesis but a construction. But my statement of belief was based on two parts. (1.) My general belief in independent external world existing whether I experience it or not, and  (2.) my belief that among objects of this independent world is my cat which is causing the noise. And once grant an external world, my guess at my cat making the noise is a hypothesis.

At one point there was an invention known as the ether of space, which at the time required to be carrier of the light waves. The ether of space was not only hypothetical, but it was also a construction. It was posited not only the existence of the external world, but it also posited the existence of a new unperceived object.

Hypothesis are as much concerned with factual existence as with constructive existences, and what is usually called the hypothetical nature of science should be called its constructive character.

The character of science is said to be hypothetical, but this can’t mean that all scientific knowledge consists in unverified hypotheses. Hypothesis cease to be hypothesis when it has been verified. It will become known as a theory or a fact. For example, we once found that orbit of Uranus was the way that Newton’s theory was, and we came up with the hypothesis that there was another planet which helped cause the Uranus to be the way that it is, and different from what we thought with Newton’s theory. We eventually came to find this new planet, and this new planet became a fact. So this doesn’t quite to be what is meant by science being hypothetical.

Does this mean science is only concerned with hypothetical propositions? But this seems erroneous. It’s true that science makes very wide use of hypothetical propositions, but they’re intended to advance towards categorical ones.

“Hypothesis is a method of seeking scientific truth. But the truth when found is in no wise hypothetical. Hypothesis is not the end at which science aims-as would seem to be almost implied by such a phrase as ‘the hypothetical character of science’-but merely a means towards its end. And its real ends are the attainment of categorical propositions.”

Let’s use an example, and one dealing with Einstein’s theory and the displacement of Mercury. Einstein frames a hypothetical proposition like this, “If the geometry of space-time is such and such, then the displacement of the orbit of Mercury will be so and so, and rays of starlight passing the limb of the sun will be bent in such and such angle.” We come to know the displacement of the orbit of Mercury, and the bending of the light rays is measured. These facts are found to agree with deductions of the geometry of space-time that was set forth in the hypothetical proposition. And the hypothesis to some extent has been verified. And the hope is to be able to give the categorical proposition ‘The structure of space time is such and such.”

Supposes the scientist has a hypothesis that says that the atom may be described with the characters of mathematical formula like X,Y,Z. It is taken that X,Y,Z is true, and then attempts to deduce known properties of matter as observed in our ordinary life and in experiments. If correct, it shows that hypothesis explains all relevant facts that have been discovered, and if no further tests then it’s probably true. But what is actually hoped is that it is proved true, as far as such proof is possible in science. It is hopped to give the categorical proposition of the nature of the atom actually given is by the formula X,Y,Z. If the hypothesis is proved wrong, then it is hoped to hit the right one and prove the nature of the atom is expressed by the formula of P,Q,R.

So it’s not strictly true to say that scientific knowledge is hypothetical. It aims at being categorical. But it seems that there’s an important truth that science is hypothetical, and that could be that it’s expressing the constructional character of science.

“The essential distinction, then, between hypothesis and construction is that the construction is always a pure creation of the mind, and the existence posited by it, if any, is always a constructive existence; whereas in hypothesis need not possess this character. The existence posited by it may be factual, as is the case with the rat and the planet Neptune. It is true that any hyothesis may sometimes also be itself a construction…So that some hypotheses are also constructions and posit constructive existences. But this is not essential to the character of hypothesis as hypothesis. The existence posited by a construction is always constructive. The existence posited by an hypothesis may be either factual or constructive.”

The results can be summed up as follows:

(1.) A fact is something actually perceived, with qualification that the mind which perceives or knows is itself also a fact.

(2.) Mental constructions are pure creations of the mind and to which no facts correspond.

(3.) Existences posited by hypothesis are either factual or constructive.

(4.) The method of science may be mostly the method of hypothesis, the nature of science truth is not hypothetical. But it’s nature is constructional. And this is probably what is meant to refer to the ‘hypothetical character’ of science.

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Atoms and the Physical World

Posted by allzermalmer on November 5, 2011

This blog is based on Walter Terrence Stace article called Sir Arthur Eddington and The Physical World, in the journal Philosophy, Vol. 9, No. 33 (Jan., 1934), pp. 39-50. The article follows that of Refutation of Realism (which I did a blog on).

He starts out by pointing out the two distinct worlds of the familiar world and the physical world. The first, familiar world contains sticks, stones, stars, colors, sounds, and smells.  The second, physical world, contains electrons, protons, and has no colors, smells, or taste.

The familiar world is suppose to be composed of “sense-data”, and that they only exist in the mind, or are subjective. The physical world is to be composed of something that interacts with us, and gives rise to the “sense-data” that we experience. We reach to the physical world by inference from the familiar world that we experience, to the world outside of it by inference. This means we never come into direct contact with the physical world, like we never see it, touch it, smell it, or taste it. Thus, we only infer from the sense-data, which are ‘in the mind’, to the physical world of electrons and protons. But the electrons and protons aren’t hypothetical entities or fictions (as Eddington might think).

To clear up some of these things, this will not deal with common-sense division of universe of mind and universe of matter. This is to be considered false, because there is a third option. There is the third realm of neither physical nor mental, but what will be called a “neutral” realm. Part of this neutral realm is our sensory qualities, and are neither physical or mental. This is one way to get ride of this division of mind and matter (known as Neutral Monism).

We come to recognize that “Sense-data are the first and the most direct things in our experience; all else is remote inference.” It does not matter if they sense-data are mental or neutral, “in” minds or “outside” of them. What matters is that we don’t attribute these “sense-data” to atoms, because we’re told that don’t have color or anything like that, which are sensory qualities. For we’ll be stuck in a contradictions: “Electrons have color but they don’t have color.”

Let’s take a statement like, “There exists a physical world of protons and electrons which do not possess the sensory qualities. And this world is not in any way hypothetical or fictitious.” And we’ll come to think of it like saying something like the cat is real, the moon is real, the table is real. Come to understand it simply as “existent”.

Now let’s take a look at what happens if we take protons and etc are merely fictitious. We can soften the language and just call them “mental constructions”. This view doesn’t say anything about the validity of science, or the invalidity, nor does it derogates the dignity of it’s claim to teach us “truth”. There existence is more of an ontological question, one of metaphysics. As mathematician and scientist Henri Poincare once said, “It matters little whether ether really exists; that is the affair of metaphysicians. The essential thing for us is that everything happens as if it existed, and that this hypothesis is convenient for the explanation of phenomena.” And physicist Edward Andrade once said, “Whether the man of science regards his atoms as having an ultimate reality or not does not affect the validity of theory; the theory is just as useful in introducing order and promoting discovery if they are merely polite fictions as if they are desperate realities.”

Because we only experience the sense-data, this rules out the suggestion that we can know that atoms exist by perceiving them. They are outside of the sense-data, as the scientist would admit. But we can admit that we perform an experiment and notice that we see a “wavy trail”, and we call that the electron. But we haven’t seen the electron itself, but we say a “wavy trail”. The “wavy trail” was part of the sense-data, but the electron wasn’t. Instead, we come to think that the electron caused the “wavy trail” that was our sense data. This means that the electron would have to be an inference from the sense-data.

Now we could come to wonder how we infer these things from the sense-data. We seem to have the option of causality. What we observe is the effect, and we come to infer the cause from the effects. We notice certain regularities in sense-data, which provide us with the laws of physics or provide the rules of inference. Like “electron caused the wavy trail.”

This can lead us to think that the physical world is the cause of the familiar world, which is the effect of the physical world. In other words, the familiar world we all experience is the effect of the physical world, which is the cause. What we experience is the effect of something else, which we call the physical world.

It shall be assumed that there is some kind of causality, either deterministic or indeterminate, which is how we make the inference from a supposed effect to cause, or from sense-datum to atoms.  The obvious reason we have for believing in the law of causation is based on that observe certain regularities or sequences. When conditions A are met, it is always happens that B happens. This means that when condition A is the case, then B shows up. A is called the cause, and B is called the effect. This leads to the causal law of AB.

But these regularities are found among sense-data. A is a sense-datum, and B is a sense-datum, and any of our other cause and effect relationships ever observed by any human being have been sense-datum. This leads us to the conclusion that the cause of sense-datum is always another sense-datums, and all known causal laws apply solely to the world of sense-data. This means we have no, and could not have, one single piece of evidence for believing that the law of causation can be applied outside of the realm of sense-data, or sense-data can have any causes (like the physical objects) which aren’t sense-data themselves.

A diagram of what is going on here could help out:

A,B, and C are all sense-datum found in the familiar world. The person sees all these things, and sees that B follows A, and C follows B. This leads them to believe that A is the cause of B, and B is the cause of C. It comes to this conclusion of causality by the regular repetition of that order, and through experience. Sense-datum of billiard ball A is found to come into contact with sense-datum billiard ball B. This leads us to conclude that A is the cause of B moving.

But what right do we have, or what reason, to assert that the causes of A,B, and C are a’,b’,c’ (which are physical causes), when they’re never observed behind the sense-data? We have no right to this claim. The law of causation they operate on has never been observed to operate outside of the sense-data, and can therefore have no evidence that it does operate outside of the sense-data. It is sufficent to stick with A being the cause of B. We don’t have to invoke that a’ is the cause of A, when these aren’t part of sense-data, but A is the cause of B is part of the sense-data. We’d have to give two causes for each phenomena, one in the one world and the other in another world. One cause in the physical world and one in the familiar world.

It is not denied that a star causes light-waves, those waves cause retinal changes, the retinal changes cause changes in the optic nerve, which causes movements in the brain cells, and so on.

“But the observed causes and effects are all sense-data, or at least possible sense-data. And no sequences of sense-data can possibly justify going outside of the series of sense-data altogether. If you admit that we never observe anything except sense-data and their relations, regularities, and sequences, then it is obvious that we are completely shut in by sense-data, and can never get outside of them. Not only causal relations, but all other observed relations, upon which any kind of inferences might be founded, will lead only to further sense-data and their relations. No inference, therefore, can pass from what is sense-datum to what is not sense-datum.”

This, in the end, leads to there the fact that atoms aren’t inferences from sense-data. It is not to be denied that there is a vast amount of valid inferential reasoning taking place in a physical theory that contains atoms in it. But from a strict logical sense, there’s no inference from sense-datum to atoms. What does this mean?

“An hypothesis is set up, and the inferential processes are concerned with the application of the hypothesis, i.e. with the prediction by its aid of further sense-data, and with its own internal consistency.”

This means that atoms aren’t inferences from sense-data (i.e. experience), or can validly infer them from sense-data. This means we can’t have any reason to believe that they exist. Or, we at least, no one could know if they did, and means we have absolutely no evidence of their existence.

We might wonder the status the atoms have, or the hypothesis that contains them. It doesn’t mean that they’re false and worthless, merely untrue. We don’t come to think that the nautical almanac “exist” except on the pages of the book or in the brains of the people that compiled it or read it. But the natural almanac is “true” as much as it enables us to predict certain “sense-data”, like disks of light at night (i.e. stars). The atomic theory carries a similar function as that of the natural almanac. It helps us make predictions of experiences that we’ll have, and orderly amongst itself.

This view includes making predictions of future things, but it also includes the view to include retrodictions as well, which is making predictions about what happened in the past. For example, we could wonder where Mars was on 8,000 B.C.E. We use our hypothesis, say Newton’s. With this hypothesis, the theory makes a retrodiction of where Mars was around 8,000 B.C.E.

Stace suggests that hypothesis, like the theory of the atoms, are shorthand formula ingeniously worked out by the human mind. And they enable us to predict experiences. He gives us the example of Newton’s “force”.

“Newton formulated a law of gravitation in terms of “forces.” It was supposed that this law-which was nothing but a mathematical formula-governed the operation of these existent forces. Nowadays it is no longer believed that these forces exist at all. And yet the law can be applied just as well without them to the prediction of astronomical phenomena. It is a matter of no importance to the scientific man whether the forces exist or not…But that would not make the law useless or untrue (if Newton’s “force” didn’t exist). If it could still be used to predict phenomena, it would be just as true as it was.”

Instead, we’ve found that Newton’s “forces” couldn’t account for the orbit of Mercury, and a new theory was developed. It was developed based on Einstein’s theory. Einstein’s theory talks about bumps and space bending and creating hills in the space-time fabric. And this helped get ride of Newton’s “forces” in science. But this doesn’t put Einstein’s theory off any better.

“Not only may it be said that forces do not exist. It may with equal truth be said that “gravitation” does not exist. Gravitation is not a “thing,” but a mathematical formula, which exists only in the heads of mathematicians. And as a mathematical formula cannot cause a body to fall, so gravitation cannot cause a body to fall. Ordinary language misleads us here. We speak of the law “of” gravitation, and suppose that this law “applies to” the heavenly bodies. We are thereby misled into supposing that there are two things, namely, the gravitation and the heavenly bodies, and that one of these things, the gravitation, causes changes in the other. In reality nothing exists except the moving bodies, or moving sense-data. And neither Newton’s law nor Einstein’s law is, strictly speaking, a law of gravitation. They are both laws of moving sensedata, that is to say, formulae which tell us how the sense-data will move.”

We tend to think that these things exist, and that is because the human mind hasn’t broken free of the idea that science “explains” things. People weren’t just content with laws that told them planets, as a matter of fact, move in such and such ways. People wanted to know “why” planets moves these ways. Newton replied because of “Forces”. And humanity thought that explained why the planets move in such and such way. That’s because we understand forces, we feel them every time someone pushes or pulls us. This is suppose to have explained by things that are familiar to us in our own experiences. And the same happened with Einstein’s “humps and hills” of space-time.

“But scientific laws, properly formulated, never “explain” anything. They simply state, in an abbreviated and generalized form, what happens. No scientist, and in my opinion no philosopher, knows why anything happens, or can “explain” anything. Scientific laws do nothing except state the brute fact that “when A happens, B always happens too.” And laws of this kind obviously enable us to predict.”

Atoms are said to be in the same position as “Forces” of Newton’s and “Humps and Hills” of Einstein. And so too with the theory of atoms are exactly like them. They’re, in reality, mathematical formulae, and this is the scientific way of stating the atomic theory. This formulae helps to eventually lead to predictions, and these predictions are of sense-data that will appear in given conditions. It will, for example, enable a scientist to predict a “wavy trail”. And the human minds weakness for seeking explanation leads us to think that atoms exist in correspondence with the mathematical formula.

In seeking explanations, we try to come up with causes for events of our experience. And we’ve come to think of causation as a principle of explanation. But we don’t experience atoms as the cause of our sense-data, and so we can’t really say that atoms explain anything. The relation of atoms to sense-data isn’t a relation of cause to effect, but relation of mathematical formula to facts and happenings that enables the mathematician to calculate.

We come to think of these things existing because they give us a “physical” cause for the effects in the “familiar” world. And some scientists cling to the existence of atoms because they cling to explanation. But so did those during Newton’s time that “Forces” existed because they explained things. But it is the imagination that has explained things. It explains things by making them more familiar to us, and more homely. Maybe an example could help with this.

“One of the foundations of physics is, or used to be, the law of the conservation of energy. I do not know how far, if at all, this has been affected by the theory that matter sometimes turns into energy. But that does not affect the lesson it has for us. The law states, or used to state, that the amount of energy in the universe is always constant, that energy is never either created or destroyed. This was highly convenient, but it seemed to have obvious exceptions. If you throw a stone up into the air, you are told that it exerts in its fall the same amount of energy which it took to throw it up. But suppose it does not fall. Suppose it lodges on the roof of your house and stays there. What has happened to the energy which you can nowhere perceive as being exerted? It seems to have disappeared out of the universe. No, says the scientist, it still exists as potential energy. Now what does this blessed word “potential”-which is thus brought in to save the situation-mean as applied to energy? It means, of course, that the energy does not exist in any of its regular “forms,” heat, light, electricity, etc. But this is merely negative. What positive meaning has the term? Strictly speaking, none whatever. Either the energy exists or it does not exist. There is no realm of the “potential” half-way between existence and non-existence. And the existence of energy can only consist in its being exerted. If the energy is not being exerted, then it is not energy and does not exist. Energy can no more exist without energizing than heat can exist without being hot. The “potential” existence of the energy is, then, a fiction. The actual empirically verifiable facts are that if a certain quantity of energy e exists in the universe and then disappears out of the universe (as happens when the stone lodges on the roof), the same amount of energy e will always reappear, begin to exist again, in certain known conditions. That is the fact which the law of the conservation of energy actually expresses. And the fiction of potential energy is introduced simply because it is convenient and makes the equations easier to work. They could be worked quite well without it, but would be slightly more complicated. In either case the function of the law is the same. Its object is to apprise us that if in certain conditions we have certain sense-data (throwing up the stone), then in certain other conditions we shall get certain other sense-data (heat, light, stone hitting skull, or other such). But there will always be a temptation to hypostatize the potential energy as an “existence,” and to believe that it is a “cause” which “explains” the phenomena.”

If the views which I have been expressing are followed out, they will lead to the conclusion that, strictly speaking, nothing exists except sense-data (and the minds which perceive them). The hypothesis truth and value consist in their capacity for helping us to organize our experience and predict our sense-data. But we eventually have to come to the conclusion that the “real” world is the “physical world”. It is the “physical world” that is the illusion, and the familiar world that is the reality. It’s the only world that exists, or ever known to exist.

Science and Hypothesis by Henri Poincare

The Mechanism of Nature by Edward Andrade

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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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World of the Solitary Mind

Posted by allzermalmer on May 20, 2011

This blog will be derived from a chapter from Walter Terence Stace in his book The Theory of Existence and Knowledge called The World of the Solitary Mind.

When it comes to knowledge, we must begin from our own consciousness. We must start with only what we are aware of, which is our own thoughts and perceptions, since these are self-evident to us. This is the building block of all of our knowledge, and the only thing that can be strictly known by us.

John can only experience his own sensations and thoughts. John can see his purple, yet he can never see Jane’s purple. John can feel his pain in his arm, yet he can never feel Jane’s pain in her arm. John can feel his own emotions, yet he can never feel Jane’s emotions. If Jane is angry, her anger can infect John, yet this would be John’s anger and not Jane’s. John cannot see through Jane’s eyes, nor her through his eyes. Even if Jane were telepathic and could transfer her mental state or image to John’s mind, and he became aware of it, then it is John’s mental image and not Jane’s mental image. Even if John can directly perceive Jane’s mind, without inferring it from her body, it is still his perception of her body that will be his perception, his experience.

All knowledge must be based on experience. Whatever belief John holds, on any subject matter at all, will either be a datum from his experience or an inference based upon his data. If John accepts a scientific belief of a scientists authority, it must be an inference which John makes from the sounds he hears the scientist utter, and his belief in the repute as a scientific authority.  His belief rests, in the end, upon the data of his own consciousness.

The solitary mind, our own thoughts and data, are the foundation of all our knowledge. However, we can add other things upon it, like discovering other minds and our construction of the external world. Just because other minds are discovered and the external world is constructed, does not mean that we leave the solitary mind. It is the foundation upon which other things are built up. Like the root of the tree is the foundation of the tree, and no matter how much it grows, the roots are still there as the tree grows. Also, the solitary mind is the foundation of the building. The foundation is not abolished when upper stories are added upon it. It is still there. Thus, like the solitary mind, we added many rich editions to our knowledge, and build up more and more upon it. However, our foundation is never left behind, or made invalid.

The world we start from is presentations.

There are 3 distinguishing characters of the world of the solitary mind that differs from common world, when it comes to presentations like tables, chairs, and mountains:

(1.) Things do not go on existing when not perceived. The solitary mind has no reason to think that presentations go on existing when they are not being perceived. When the table is no longer presented to the solitary mind, it has no reason to think that it goes on existing. This is not a presentation. If it should go on existing when not a presentation to the solitary mind, it would not be a belief to occur to the solitary mind, since it would not be needed to account for any experiences that the mind has.

(2.) There are no other minds. The world of the solitary mind is not ‘public property’. The solitary mind is not even aware of the existence of other minds. Other people exist only as presentations, like a moving color patch among other color patches, and sounds that we call speech. The solitary mind does not come to believe that there is a mind behind these color patches and sounds, like it has itself. It does not come to believe that the color patches have something behind it that thinks and feels like itself.

(3.) Have not identified sensations to belong to one ‘object’. John sees a table and touches the table. Sight and touch are two different and opposing senses, and so they are not combined together with the ‘object’ known as the table. John’s sight of the table is different from the touch of it. The senses exist in different universes from one another. They are only conjoined at a later time.

For the solitary mind, esse of things are identical with their percipi. In other words, the existence of something is constituted by the very fact that it is being perceived. The differentiation between esse and percipi only happens when what is perceived persists in existence when no other mind is perceiving it. However, none of this can be drawn by the solitary mind. The solitary mind can make no distinction between ‘purple’ and ‘awareness of purple’. Thus, purple=awareness of purple. To differentiate between ‘purple’ and ‘awareness of purple’ can only come about at a later point when the external world is constructed, and other minds are discovered.

When a black book passes before John’s mind, and then taken away, the black book will disappear and no longer exist to him. Even if the black book were to be brought back before John, he will have no reason to think that the black book continued in existence. He will even think that it is a different black book presented to his mind. The book will still have the same color and shape, yet it will not be the same thing to his mind. It is something completely new and different from the last presentation. It cannot be a presentation that it goes on existing, since there is no perception of it existing when unperceived, since that would be logically impossible by it being a contradiction. It cannot be an inference, since it does not know that it exist unperceived and it would have to assume something that it has no evidence for, in order to make an inference to that conclusion. It would be arguing in a circle.

The idea of I and not-I are distinctions that come about when we have constructed the external world, but it is not something of the solitary mind. Thus, for the solitary mind, there is no I. There is only the presentations. For ‘purple’ and ‘awareness of purple’ are one in the same, since esse is percipi. We can call the presentations ‘sense data’. The percipi is the perceiver, which is what we call the I. The esse is what we call the not-I. However, with the solitary mind, these things are one and the same. Thus, all that can be said to exists is presentations, or sense data. There is no I, and only not-I. There is only sense data. All that exists is sense data, or, All that exists is presentations.

Only by coming to find other minds, and construction of the external world, can we make the distinction between I and not-I. The solitary mind is the starting point of investigation, and is the foundation of all things. This is based on purely empiricist position of all knowledge is based on experience. As David Hume also showed, it is the logical conclusion of the empiricist position, or all knowledge comes from experience.

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