Truth suffers from too much analysis

Posts Tagged ‘Experience’

Principles of William of Ockham (Occam)

Posted by allzermalmer on November 18, 2012

These are the basic principles of William of Ockham or William of Occam. This comes from

1. All things are possible for God, save such as involve a contradiction.

In other words, God can do (or make or create) everything which does not involve a contradiction; that which includes a contradiction is absolute non-entity. Ockham expressly bases this principle on an article of faith: ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty’. From this Ockham immediately infers a second principle which is encountered everywhere in his writings:

2. Whatever God produces by means of secondary (i.e. created) causes, God can produce and conserve immediately and without their aid.

Hence any positive reality which is naturally produced by another created being (not of course without the aid of God who is the first cause) can be produced by God alone without the causality of the secondary cause. In other words, God is not dependent on the causality of created causes, but they are absolutely dependent on His causality. This is stated in a more general manner:

3. God can cause, produce and conserve every reality, be it a substance or an accident, apart from any other reality.

Hence God can create or produce or conserve an accident without its substance, matter without form, and vice versa. In order to bring anything under the operation of this principle, it is sufficient to prove that it is reality or entity. These rules or guiding principles are theological in nature, as Ockham does not fail to emphasise. The following is, however, a scientific principle of general application:

4. We are not allowed to affirm a statement to be true or to maintain that a certain thing exists, unless we are forced to do so either by its self-evidence or by revelation or by experience or by a logical deduction from either a revealed truth or a proposition verified by observation. 

That is the real meaning of ‘Ockham’s Razor’ can be gathered from various texts in Ockham’s writings. [Nothing must be affirmed without a reason being assigned for it, except it be something known by itself, known by experience, or it be something proved by authority of holy scripture.’ and ‘We must not affirm that something is necessarily required for the explanation of an effect, if we are not led to this by a reason proceeding either from a truth by itself or from an experience that is certain.’]

It is quite often stated by Ockham in the form: ‘Plurality is not to be posited without necessity’ (Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate), and also, though seldom:  ‘What can be explained by the assumption of fewer things is vainly explained by the assumpition of more things’ (Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora). The form usually given, ‘Entities must not be multiplied without necessity’ (Entia non sunt muliplicanda sine necessitate), does not seem to have been used by Ockham. What Ockham demands in his maxim is that everyone who makes a statement must have a sufficient reason for its truth, ‘sufficient reason’ being defined as either th eobservation of a fact, or an immediate logical insight, or divine revelation, or a deduction from these. This principle of ‘sufficient reason’ is epistemological or methodological, certainly not an ontological axiom.

The scholastics distinguished clearly between a sufficient reason or cause (usually expressed by the verb sufficit) and a necessary reason or cause (usually expressed by requiritur). As a Christian theologian Ockham could not forget that contingent facts do not ultimately have a sufficient reason or cause of their being, inasmuch as God does not act of necessity but freely; but our theological and philosophical, and in general ll our scientific, assertions ought to have a sufficient reason, that is a reason from the affirmation of which the given assertion follows. All created things can be explained ultimately only by a necessary reason, i.e. a cause which is required to account for their existence. For every creature is contingent. The guiding idea of Duns Scotus, to safeguard contingency (servare contingentiam), is present everywhere in the work of Ockham. We can formulate it as follows:

5. Everything that is real, and different from God, is contingent to the core of its being.

If we bear in mind these guiding principles of Ockham, then his philosophical work becomes intelligible as the effort of a theologian who is looking for absolute truth in this contingent world, viz. for truth independent of any of those thoroughly contingent worlds which are equally possible. He is a theologian who views the world from the standpoint of the absolute. Consequently he sees many truths which were called ‘eternal’ dwindling away in the light of eternity, which is God himself. The actual order of creatures remains contingents; the possible order of creatures is above contingency. Hence the tendency of Ockham to go beyond the investigation of the actual order, by asking what is possible regardless of the state of the present universe. What is absolutely possible can never be impossible; and in that sense statements about absolute possibility are always true and free from contradiction, and for that reasons are necessary. Thus the work of Ockham also becomes intelligible- and this is only the converse of the former viewpoint- as the effort of a philosopher who constantly remanded by the theologian in himself that he must not all any truth necessary unless it can be shown that its denial implies a contradiction.



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George Berkeley’s Immediate Perception and Mediated Perception

Posted by allzermalmer on October 7, 2012

George Berkeley makes two distinctions based on things presented to the human senses. There are those things immediately perceived those things that are mediately perceived. But it should be made clear, both things mediately and immediately perceied, only exist in a mind.

“Having of a long time experienced certain ideas, perceivable by touch – as distance, tangible figure, and solidity – to have been connected with certain ideas of sight, I do upon perceiving these ideas of sight forthwith conclude what tangible ideas are, by the wonted ordinary course of nature, like to follow. Looking at an object I perceive a certain visible figure and colour, with some degree of faintness and other circumstances, which from what I have formerly observed, determine me to think that if I advance forward so many paces or miles, I shall be affected with such and such ideas of touch. So that in truth and strictness of speech I neither see distance itself, nor anything that I take to be at a distance. I say, neither distance nor things placed at a distance are themselves, or their ideas, truly perceived by sight. This I am persuaded of, as to what concerns myself; and I believe whoever will look narrowly into his own thoughts and examine what he means by saying he sees this or that thing at a distance, will agree with me that what he sees only suggests to his understanding that, after having passed a certain distance, to be measured by the motion of his body, which is perceivable by touch, he shall come to perceive such and such tangible ideas which have been usually connected with such and such visible ideas. But that one might be deceived by these suggestions of sense, and that there is no necessary connexion between visible and tangible ideas suggested by them, we need go no farther than the next looking-glass or picture to be convinced…when I speak of tangible ideas, I take the word ‘idea’ for any the immediate object of sense or understanding, in which large signification it is commonly used by the moderns.

“But if we take a close and accurate view of things, it must be acknowledged that we never see and feel one and the same object. That which is seen is one thing, and that which is felt is another. If the visible figure and extension be not the same with the tangible figure and extension, we are not to infer that one and the same thing has divers extensions. The true consequence is that the objects of sight and touch are two distinct things.”

“In order therefore to treat accurately and unconfusedly of vision, we must bear in mind that there are two sorts of objects apprehended by the eye, the one primarily and immediately, the other secondarily and by intervention of the former. Those of the first sort neither are, nor appear to be, without the mind or at any distance off. They may indeed grow greater or smaller, more confused or more clear, or more faint, but they do not, cannot, approach or recede from us. Whenever we say an object is at a distance, whenever we say it draws near or goes farther off, we must always mean it of the latter sort, which properly belong to the touch, and are not so truly perceived as suggested by the eye in like manner as thoughts by the ear.”

“No sooner do we hear the words of a familiar language pronounced in our ears, but the ideas corresponding thereto present themselves to our minds. In the very same instant the sound and the meaning enter the understanding; so closely are they united that it is not in our power to keep out the one, except we exclude the other also. We even act in all respects as if we heard the very thoughts themselves. So likewise the secondary objects, or those which are only suggested by sight, do often more strongly affect us, and are more regarded than the proper objects of that sense, along with which they enter into the mind and with which they have a far more strict connexion than ideas have with words. Hence it is we find it so difficult to discriminate between the immediate and mediate objects of sight, and are so prone to attribute to the former what belongs only to the latter” An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision (Italics are my own emphasis)

This is George Berkeley showing that each of the senses are distinct from one another, and they have no connection to one another. Sight is not sound, or taste, or tactile, or smell. So what we see by sight has no qualities of sound, taste, tactile, or smell. But we still immediately perceive something by sight, but we can mediate it with sound, taste, tactile, or smell. We can combine these two distinct things, and something new comes about, i.e. sight and touch forms distance or 3d vision.

We interweave one sense with another sense, and confound them together into the same “object”. This object can be a tower. We have a visual idea, or immediate perception of it, and we also have a tactile idea, or immediate perception of it. We connect these two distinct ideas together into the same “object” or “idea”. But each of these things are “naturally” distinct from one another and have no connection expect those that we make by connecting them. From all of these immediate perceptions, we mediate them by connecting them together with former connections we have made, and find that what we are experiencing “suggests” the tower getting closer or moving further away, or its height.

It becomes second nature to take the mediated for the immediate, even though it is not immediately given in by that sense (i.e. visual or tactile). It is something that the human mind creates itself, and takes it for being immediately given or suggested by experience. The immediate things are not done by the human mind, but the mediated things are done by the human mind. They are what the human mind adds on to what is immediately perceived by the senses.

One of Berkeley’s big points is that “sensible things are those only which are immediately perceived by sense.” So those things immediately perceived by the senses are ‘sensible things’, and those things that are mediately perceived by the senses are not sensible things. This would mean that depth or 3d are not sensible things. Like seeing someone’s face flush red, sensible thing, does not mean that it is sensible thing that the person had a passion arise in them. It might be “suggested”, but it is not by vision that the conclusion was reached, but because it was mediated by something else, which was itself not immediately perceived.

The example of written word is a great example. There are certain colors and shapes that are seen, and from these things seen one obtains some thoughts. But the thoughts were not themselves found in the visual experience itself. So one mediated what was immediately perceived through something else, which was thought. Vision was mediated with thoughts, which are two distinct things. This is sometimes closer to what is called theory-ladden observation.

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