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Truth suffers from too much analysis

Posts Tagged ‘Walter Terence Stace’

Positivism

Posted by allzermalmer on January 18, 2012

This blog will be based on a paper done by W.T. Stace. It was published in the philosophical journal Mind, New Series, Vol. 53, No. 211 (Jul., 1944), pp. 215-237. It was called Positivism.

During the time of writing this paper, there was a big movement in parts of Europe and eventually came to America, and it was Logical Positivism or Logical Empiricism. This group was known for the principle for which they became infamous and later collapsed. Stace says what he takes the principle to be, and calls it the Positivism Principle.

“A set of words purporting to express a factual proposition P is significant only if it is impossible to deduce or infer from it, in combination if necessary with other premises, some proposition or propositions (at least one) Q^1, Q^2, Q^3…etc., the truth or falsity of which it would be logically possible to verify by direct observation. If no such directly verifiable deductions from P are possible, then the set of words purporting to express P is non-significant, and P is not really a proposition at all, but a pseudo-proposition.”

Now there are some terms in that principle that would need to be clarified. These terms are “significant” and “meaning”. We, in our common speaking, talk of meaning of a sentence and meaning of a word. This will also deal with the difference between significant and meaning. The meaning of a sentence is called significance, because only a sentence can be true or false. The meaning of a word is called meaning, but words can’t be either true or false. This is because meaning of sentences is where the predicate of true or false apply, but those predicates don’t apply to single words like “red”. Sentences have significance, and words have meaning. This forms a big distinction from which the rest of the paper follows.

The difference between significance and meaning are based on a distinction within the genus of semantical meanings. So Stace shall be dealing with the semantical significance of sentences and the semantical meaning of words. And Stace will deal with “deduce or infer” as being a deduction or being a causal inference. So when we make the statement of “P”, it can hold the form of “P→Q”. This will help spell out some of the deduction and causal inference that is going on.

But Stace also quotes the Logical Positivist A.J. Ayer, as he states what is meant by the Positivist Principle.

“Let us call a proposition which records an actual or possible observation and experiential proposition. Then we may say that it is the mark of a genuine factual proposition…that some experiential proposition can be deduced from it in conjunction with certain other premises without being deducible from those other premises alone.”

There seems to be no clear distinction between A.J. Ayer and what W.T. Stace has said as well. And so what Stace would say would also seem to hold for the Positivism Principle.

The Positivism Principle seems to be of the same of the Verification principle, but there is some slight difference from when the original Verification principle was proposed. Schlick was one of the first to propose the Verification principle. Verification was meant to be direct and complete verification, which was the significance of a statement was the method of its verification. It had to be direct and complete verification. But such a principle makes universal statements to be insignificant. For to directly and completely verify a universal statement, you wold have to observe an infinite number of facts, which would have been of the past, present, and future, and all locations. And even singular statements about material objects would be insignificant sine the complete verification would also involve an infinite number of observations. Also, talk of the past wouldn’t be allowed for to be significant.

In order to escape some of these downfalls of what Schlick presented as the Verification principle, it was mean to soften it some, but keep some of the same points. Now, instead of complete and direct verification, the new principle allowed for indirect and partial verification. So we can verify the past occurrence of something by checking the present effect. And this is part of Carnap seems to mean with “testing” the proposition. Stace points out how we come to indirectly and partially verify something.

“What is now required in order to make a statement about the past significant is, not that the facts asserted in the statement should be themselves now observable, but that some of their effects should be observable (indirect verification). And what is required to make a universal proposition significant is not that all the facts which it asserts (an infinite number) should be observable, but that some of them should be observable (partial verification). These are the requirements which are embodied in the positivist principle as formulated in the first paragraph of this article.”

Now with the Positivist principle, and what was originally in the Verification principle which was later modified, seemed to be another principle. In other words, the Positivist Principle seems to be based on another principle. And now see what this other principle is would seem to help cast light on the Positivist Principle. This principle would be called The Principle of Observable Kinds:

“A sentence, in order to be significant, must assert or deny facts which are of a kind or class such that it is logically possible directly to observe some facts which are instances of that class or kind. And to observe some facts which are instances of that class or kind. And if a sentence purports to assert or deny facts which are a class or kind such that it would be logically impossible directly to observe any instance of that class or kinds, then the sentence is non-significant.”

Now let us use an example to see what this principle is trying to get across. Take “Napoleon crossed the Alps”. It is logically impossible for us to now directly observe this particular fact asserted in the sentence. This fact no longer exists, and so we can’t directly observe it. But this particular fact of Napoleon crossing the Alps is also part of the class of “men crossing mountains”, which we can experience. So the point becomes that we might not be able to logically observe all particular members of the class, but it is logically possible for us to observe some of the particular members of that class. Thus, the fact itself might not be observable but it is of the observable kind. This means that if the kind of thing said is unobservable, then we definitely can’t observe the particulars.

So the point becomes, “A sentence is significant if what it asserts or denies is the sort of thing which it is logically possible to observe, even if the particular instance in the sentence is such that it would not be logically possible to observe it.”

Now Stace will maintain that the Positivist Principle implies the Principle of Observable Kinds. But the Positivist Principle might not directly say it. But the Principle of Observable Kinds doesn’t seem to be what the Positivist Principle is saying, or what the Logical Positivist themselves maintain. There seem to be two differences between the two principles: 1. The principle of observable kinds introduces the notion of classes, while, on the other hand, the positivist principle says nothing about classes. 2. The Positivist principle makes use of the concept of indirect verification while the principle of observable kinds contains only concepts of direct verification or observation.

Now the Principle of Observable Kind is based on direct verification, and would seem to go back to that of the Verification principle that was given by Shclick. But this wouldn’t be correct to think that it goes back to the Verification principle. But the Principle of Observable Kinds does make a distinction from that of the Verifiability principle, which is based on that of classes.

“Suppose the proposition to be examined for its significance is P. Then according to the original principle of verifiability the facts asserted or denied in P must themselves be capable of being observed. What the new positivist principle says is that the facts asserted or denied in Q (the proposition or propositions deduced from P), must themselves be capable of being observed. It does not say anything at all about the observability or non-observability of the facts asserted or denied in P. It entirely ignores that question.

Now as was pointed out earlier, P can be replaced with P→Q. So P of the P→Q might not be directly verifiable by experience, or direct experience. But the consequence of it, which is Q, would be of the observable kinds. But now there is a divide between both principles, the original formulation and the later formulation that deals with indirect verification. And this divide is filled with the Principle of Observable Kinds. This is because the original formulation doesn’t state whether the facts stated in P must be observable. Nothing is said on this.

So what is the Positivist to say with this divide? “He ought to say, not that the particular facts asserted in P must be observable (this is what he wished quite rightly to avoid), nor yet that they may be of a wholly unobservable kind; but rather that the particular facts asserted in P, although they cannot be themselves be observed, must yet be of a kind of facts which other instances can be observed. And this is what the principle of observable kinds does say.” Thus, the Principle of Observable Kinds is implied by the new Positivist Principle.

The Principle of Observable Kinds seems to carry some of the same meaning of the Positivist Principle, but would seem to give more gain than that of the Positivist Principle. One of the reasons is that the Positivist Principle is based on the way of the propositions logical consequences, while the Principle of Observable kinds don’t seem to be worried too much about that.

Now A.J. Ayer makes a point in his book The Foundation of Empirical Knowledge, that we can have two different philosophers disagree over a certain point. So take that Philosopher A said that “We do not perceive the table or the chair, we only perceive sense-data which we believe to belong to a  table and a chair.” But Philosopher B says, “No, what we perceive is the actual table and the actual chair”. What Ayer says is that both philosophers disagree with the language, but they agree with the observations. They agree about the color, shape, weight, and about every fat which could possibly be observed. They agree about all possible observable facts, and there is no disagreement between these two philosophers on the facts. Thus, they both disagree over the language and not the facts.

But what do we say, in this position, when they disagree over unobservable facts? This seems to be something that Ayer might have overlooked, and is overlooked by the Positivist Principle.

“For instance, Philosopher A may hold the view that there is a “physical object”, X, which possesses intrinsic qualities which correspond to the perceived qualities of shape, size, color, smell, etc, but which are forever hidden fro us, so that we can never know anything about these intrinsic qualities except the fact of their correspondence to perceived qualities; and that this physical object X stands in a causal relation to our sense-data…Philosopher B may deny that any such object as X exists. He may say that the table or the chair simply is the collection of all the sense-data which (according to A) are caused by it. Thus both of them may admit the existence of the sense-data, and may entirely agree about all their characteristics, which means that they will agree about all the observable facts. But they will assert that they are in disagreement whether x exists or not. X, if it is a fat, is a fact forever unobservable These philosophers will therefore say that they are in disagreement about whether or not there exists an alleged unobservable fact. Mr. Ayer appears to have overlooked this in his argument.”

This seems to be one reason why the Positivist Principle would have many things listed as insignificant. It is more of a difference over language than it is over some actual fact. And thus, for the Positivist, it is only about a way of speaking than some actual facts. For they both contain the same observable kinds.

But now maybe the Positivist principle doesn’t rely on the principle of observable kinds. What might be the case if this isn’t so? Than although the facts stated in Q of P→Q are logically capable of being directly verified, then P itself might states facts which would be logically impossible to observe. And the Positivist principle seems to tell us that this might be the case. For Q tells us that it is observable, but it doesn’t say anything about the observability of P. And there seem to be two cases: (1.) Where P→Q is a deductive argument, and (2.) where P→Q is a cause and effect inference.

Case 1: If P→Q is a deductive argument, then either (A.) Q states some facts as P, either in whole or in part or (B.) Q states some facts or elements of fact which are not asserted in P. (A.) is the view that logical rules are rules of linguistic transformations. (B.) is the view that in the conclusion of a deductive argument there may be some element of fact that may be “new”, i.e. not “contained” in the premises.

If we accept (A.), then it is clear that if Q is of the observable kind then P will be of the observable kind as well. This is because Q states the same thing as P, but in different words. Thus, if Q is observable, then P would also be observable since P is just another way of saying Q. This means P is another way of saying observable kind, which is what Q did as well. Thus, the Positivist principle implies the Principle of Observable Kind.

If we accept (B.) then it doesn’t seem that we can rigorously prove that if Q states observables P must state observables. For p might conceivably be of a different kind from the facts stated in Q. But, what seems to be enough, is that the Logical Positivist themselves held to the linguistic transformations.

Case 2: If P→Q is a cause and effect inference, then it’s certain that facts stated in P cannot be unobservable if the facts stated in Q are observables. This is because inference must rest on a causal law. “The cause C will be the fact stated in P, while the effect E will be the fact stated in Q. For instance, P any state the fact that it rained five minutes ago, while Q states in effect of this rain, namely, that the ground will be wet now. But it is impossible that the causal connection between C and E can have been established except on the basis that E has been observed to follow C. Therefore C, the fact stated in P, must be an observable.”

Thus, from these considerations, it appears obvious that the Positivist Principle does rely on the Principle of Observable Kinds. And the Positivist Principle, if adopted because that is the definition for significance that they choose, it carries no real force. This is because they just freely choose this criterion while someone else can pick whatever else criterion they wish to use for significance. But if they wish for it to carry some meaning about it based on experience, it would have to be shown through some sort of experience. This would be be based on inductive generalizations.

Now we might wonder how did we arrive at this Positivist Principle. Stace has an answer on how he thinks that the Positivist derived their principle.

“I think it is almost certain that positivists believe that their principles are a development of the general principle of empiricism. They call themselves “empiricists”. And thus by implications they claim that, whatever evidence there is to support the general principle of empiricism is also evidence which supports them. They think that,although their position is in some way different from that of the other empiricists (such as Hume)- more “advanced” no doubt- yet it grows out of the same root as does the tree of empiricism., and that therefore the sap which nourishes that tree will also nourish them. This is a very interesting and also a very important claim. And I propose to examine it. the question is: Is positivism a legitimate development of empiricism, and are the grounds which support empiricism also grounds which support positivism?”

Now the Logical Positivist claim that they’re “empiricists”, but we might wonder what type of empiricist they are. They’re seems, in history, to be different types of empiricist, but they haven’t, as Stace says, made it clear what type of empiricists they are. But there does seem to be two different types of Empiricism. (1.) the doctrine that all knowledge is “based upon ” or “derived from” experience, and (2.) the doctrine that all “ideas” are “based upon” or “derived from” experience.

With the first kind, the meaning of the phrase “based upon” or “derived from” seem to be different in (1.) and (2.). With (1.) is that if any proposition is known to be true, it can only be so known because there is empirical evidence for it, or must be empirical grounds for it. John Stuart Mill brought this up and tried to use it to support that 2+2=4 is an empirical generalization and illustrates this kind of empiricism. The (2.) kind is based upon ideas, like that of a “centaur”. The idea is neither true or false. What happens is that we can break down our ides into some basic parts, or that our experiences are built up off of some basic parts like “blue”, “horse”, “human head”, and etc. This is like Hume saying that “complex ideas” are based on “simple ideas”.

It appears that the Principle of Observable Kinds isn’t based on the first type of empiricism. As Stace says, “For the principle of observable kinds professes to be a criterion, not of the truth of propositions, nor of ways of knowing them to be true, but of whether they have significance. But the first kind of empiricism has nothing to do with significance at all, and cannot so far as I can see have any bearing on that subject.”

For whatever the relaations between “being known to be true” and “being significant” may be, they are certainly not the same thing, since a proposition may be significant and yet not known to be true. A significant proposition may in fact be known to be false. The long and short of it is that the first kind of empiricism is a theory about the truth of propositions (more correctly about how their truth can be known) while the principle of observable kinds is a theory about the significance of propositions. And since the two theories are “about” different subjects, one cannot possibly follow from, or be legitimately developed out of, the other.”

Of the first kind of empiricism, which is about the truth of propositions, the Logical Positivist would have seemed to hold this position as well. And the position that they state is that a priori statements are analytic statements, which means they’re not “derived from” experience. This stance follows from the first kind of empiricism, but we’ve also noticed that the significance of a proposition isn’t based on the first kind of empiricism. And all a priori propositions being analytic would follow from the first principle.

Now take the second kind of empiricism. We might wonder if the Principle of Observable Kinds comes from the second kind of empiricism. David Hume, after all, does bring up something that would be similar to that of the second kind of empiricism, “from what impression is that supposed idea derived.” But the Principle of Observable Kinds doesn’t follow from the second kind of empiricism.

The second kind of empiricism dealt with “ideas” being derived from experience. But as was pointed out earlier, the Principle of Observable Kinds is based on sentence significance, and not word significance. The second kind of empiricism is worried about the ideas, like that of “red”. But it is only the sentences that make significance and not the words itself. The second kind of empiricism is strictly concerned from what those experiences come from, like “red”, “sweater”, “blue-jeans”, “tennis shoes”, and etc, but isn’t concerned with whole sentences. The Principle of Observable Kinds is concerned with only whole sentences, like “James wore a red sweater while also having some blue-jeans to match their tennis shoes.” That sentence carries significance.

So it doesn’t look like the Principle of Observable Kinds follows from empiricism as well, in either kind. Thus, since the Positivist Principle seems to be implied by the Principle of Observable Kinds, the Positivist Principle seems to carry no weight when it comes to empiricism. Thus, those who call themselves empiricists and support the Positivist Principle don’t seem to have such a right.

The reason is that the principle of empiricism was stated by David Hume. The idea can be listed as the mind cannot spontaneously generate “simple ideas”, nor create them out of nothing, but has to derive them from “impressions”. These simple ideas would be those things that you can’t break down any further from your experience. For example, you have “red, “hot”, “cold”, “round”, “soft”, “sweet”, “loud”. From these unanalyzable, simple, building blocks, we can create different things from them by combining them in different ways. Giving some basic material, you can combine it in many different ways. But the basic idea is that you can’t create these simple ideas out of nothing, which means that you needed some impression of them.

The principle of empiricism implies nothing on how we form these simple ideas are to be combined into complex ideas. It provides no rules for combination. This means that we are free to combine the simple ideas in any way we would like, at least we have no rules on how to combine them, or at least according to the principle of empiricism. But there could be some laws, like the law of non-contradiction, or incompatible characters cannot be combined in the mode of spatio-temporal coincidence, though they can in the mode of spatial juxtaposition. This second idea is the Principle of Incompatibles. It basically states that the surface of a ball may be red and blue simultaneously if juxtaposed over one another. Also, we might have the laws of syntax to deal with how to combine our ideas. But the point is that none of these ideas follow from the principle of empiricism.

“The principle of empiricism concerns only the origination of simple ideas, nothing else. It tells us: no impressions,then no simple ideas. We may add as part of the principle, if we wish, the fact that certain of our ideas are not simple but are compounded out of simple ideas.”

But sentences are based on some ideas being placed in relation to one another in a certain way, or whatever way since the principle of empiricism does not care. Sentences, it seems, deals with complex ideas. So take a word to be symbolized like “F”. This word is composed of different simple ideas, like a certain color, shape, smell, taste, or sound, to go along with it. So all these different, simple ideas, can be symbolized as m,n,o,p,q. Thus, F=m,n,o,p,q. And sentences are composed of complex ideas which talk about the relations between something like A being B or A being related to B.

Thus, when empiricism isn’t concerned on how we form complex sentences, which is how we form our simple ideas together, it doesn’t imply the Principle of Observable Kinds because that principle relies on sentences or how complex ideas are to be put together. And this would also mean that the Positivist Principle isn’t implied by the principle of empiricism.

“What [the principle of empiricism] tells us is that if a sentence asserts or denies a fact F, which is a complex of a,b,c,d…, then each of these simples, a,b,c,d,…, must be an observable. But what the principle of observable kinds does is to assert that the total complex fact F, or abcd, must as a whole, be an observable. But for this there is not the slightest warrant in the principle of empiricism.”

The main point is that the Positivist have no right to claim to their principle of significance follows from empiricism. And that they’re constriction on propositions is arbitrary on it’s own, and has no standing in the principle of empiricism.

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Metaphysics and Meaning

Posted by allzermalmer on January 17, 2012

This blog will be based on a paper done by W.T. Stace in the philosophical journal Mind, New Series, Vol. 44, No. 176 (Oct., 1935), pp. 417-438. The title of the paper was Metaphysics and Meaning.

A.J. Ayer published a paper called “A Demonstration of the Impossibility of Metaphysics” in the philosophical journal Mind in July of 1934. A.J. Ayer went over the basic principle of the Logical Empiricist, which was known as the Principle of Verification. This principle was suppose to give us a way of telling the difference between what statement was meaningful and what statement was meaningless. And Metaphysics was considered to be part of meaningless statements. These meaningless statements were also called pseudo-proposition.

Some of the metaphysical ideas that they would question, and say were meaningless, were those saying there is something behind the appearances. In other words, how there was something that was hidden from our senses. For example, the talk of an external world would itself be a meaningless proposition, for it would be stating that there is something behind the appearances, or what we experience with our senses.

One of the things about being a meaningless proposition is that it means that the contradictory of that proposition is also meaningless. For example, this means that metaphysical proposition A is meaningless, and means that ~A is also meaningless. Both propositions are also meaningless, and so they carry no meaning. These propositions don’t stand for anything. And this is all based on the Principle of Verification:

“the meaning of a statement is the method of its verification.”

This makes many of the statements of metaphysicians to be meaningless, or moral philosophers to be meaningless, some of our commonsense beliefs, and some scientific statements would also be meaningless. Verification is only possible of what is, but never what ought to be. One of the common examples of what is rendered to be meaningless by the Logical Positivist is “other minds”.

“It is, of course, quite senseless to ask whether one person’s sensations bear any resemblance to the corresponding sensations of another person, whether, for example, what I call ‘red” is anything like what you call “red”. for it is in principle impossible for me or anyone else to compare my red with your red or to verify either their likeness or their unlikeness.”

So to say that someone else has experiences, or is conscious of any experience, is something that would be meaningless to ask. We can’t verify this statement to say if it is true or false, and thus becomes meaningless. There is no experience we can have to verify such a statement. And along with this, it is meaningless to say that there is an external world or to say there’s no external world. This would also mean that if you do agree that there is an external world, which is meaningless, whatever you say that the external world is would also be meaningless.

Now Stace wishes to bring up a criterion for meaning that will allow for some of our previous beliefs that the Verifiability principle would have had us gotten rid of. But the point is that the Verifiability principle seems to rest on this idea.

“…the meaning of any statement which a man makes about the world, or about part of it, has to be interpreted, in the long run, in terms of possible experiences. If it has meaning, it must be analysable into statements each of which sets forth a possible or actual experience. Any part of it which is not so analysable cannot be said to have meaning.”

Now take the example of saying “This is a wooden table”. This statement will deal with certain things that we shall experience. For example, with the wood, it will deal with our observation of something that is oblong and colored. If you touch it, you will get a certain tactile feeling of resistance in the fingers, and will emit a certain sound if you tap on it, and if you cut it open you will get a certain white visual observation. And other people, in the same conditions, would have the same experiences as well.

“Thus the meaning of the statement consists in certain possible experiences. But these very same experiences would also constitutes its verification.” So the statement “This is a wooden table” is talking about possible experience, which can only be verified with actual experience. The statement was bringing up the possible experience you would have, which would be of the observation of something oblonged and colored, as well as when you touch it you feel some resistance in the fingers, and will emit certain sound if you tap on it, and if you cut it open you will get a certain visual observation. “Hence the verification of the statement would consist in bringing to actuality the very same experiences the assertion of whose possibility constitutes its meaning.”

Now take it that someone makes a statement that says “this table is cotilaginous”. Here is a statement that would need to be qualified with some possible experience that would help give it some meaning. We have the possible meaning of “table”, but now we need one of “cotilaginous”. We would wonder what the word stands for, and we would have to say that it deal with some sort of possible experience. For example, it would have to describe some possible experience in some possible circumstance to be received from the table, and that the experience in those circumstances is what is meant by being “contilaginous”. Now if I were to give such a specification based on experience, then you would understand the meaning of that word. When this can’t be done, this word carries no meaning.

“All meaning is clearly conceptual…The point I want to make here is that, whichever view we take, a concept is meaningless unless it has application in experience.”

So if we follow the empiricist, all concepts are abstracted from experience, then every concept must at least apply to experience from which it was abstracted. And this means that a concept that has no application to experience is meaningless. Say that we say that some part of experience is X, this would mean that x asserts something that is experienceable. It will say something verifiable in experience. And this should be obvious when the empiricist usually works with induction. We experience something that has X, and abstract that particular property from what we’ve experienced.

Now there is a Kantian view that we have some sort of a priori concept, but this is still consistent with the idea that Stace is bringing for for the empirical principle. These a priori concepts wouldn’t necessarily be meaningless. For they might not be derived from experience, but they are still applicable to experience. And being applicable to experience is what gives these a prior concepts their empirical meaning. “[a priori] concepts, although they are not derived from experience, would be empty and meaningless unless they had application in experience.” This means that a concept not derived from experience isn’t meaningless, unlike going with the inductive procedure of abstraction with the empiricist.

“They cannot be thought of except as potential or dormant forms which only spring into living actuality when the mind makes contact with empirical reality. They are the structure of experience. But structure cannot exist by itself. It must be the structure of something. And the categories cannot come to be, cannot come to consciousness of themselves, until they have become embodied in actual perception.”

This follows Kant motto of “concepts without percepts are empty”. This would also seem to form one of the foundations of what the Logical Positivist were trying to get across with their principle of Verifiability. This all helps to form what makes the verification principle so appealing. There seems to be something to it that we latch on to, and we see to carry something strongly appealing to it. It’s just that some problems arise from the way in which the Logical Positivist have taken some of this idea that takes it too far.

The Logical Positivist make half of our common propositions to be meaningless, and this seems to say something about about the criterion that they are using. Most people, in fact, actually seem to find many of these propositions that the Logical Positivist say are meaningless seem to be meaningful. We know that certain statements have meaning, but the logical positivist actually think that none of this has any meaning.

One example is statements of the past. Statements of the past would be meaningless under the verifiability principle. Some might say something like C.I. Lewis said: “At any date after the happening of an event, there is always something, which at least is conceivably possible of experience, by means of which it can be known. Let us call these items its effects. The totality of such effects quite obviously constitute all of the object which is knowable…The event is spread throughout all after-time.” And we can take this to mean that the past is verifiable in its present effect.

We can take the proposition that “Brutus killed Caesar”. How would we know this past event based on it’s present effect? We would know this that it is written in history books or written on some stone monuments, which are the present effect of that murder. But it would seem that knowing the present effects of the past event is the same as knowing the past event itself. So me reading a history book on the murder of Caesar would be the same as knowing that the murder took place. So “Brutus killed Caesar” would be the same as saying “It is stated in a book that Brutus killed Caesar.” For it could be that Brutus didn’t kill Caesar, and yet the history book says that Brutus did killed Caesar. And there’s another reason for seeing that we have a problem with the meaning of a proposition is based on the verifiability principle:

“And I cannot know that a present event had a certain cause in the past unless I have a knowledge of the past which, though the present may have been the clue which led me to it, is a logically distinct piece of knowledge from my knowledge of the present…Knowing B (an effect) is not the same thing as knowing A (its cause). For in the one case what I know about is B, while in the other case what I know about is A. It is impossible to get away from the fact that if knowing the past is simply identical with knowing the present, then the past is itself simply identical with the present. A proposition about the past has for its subject a thing or event which no longer now exists. A proposition about the present effects of something past has for its subject a thing or event which exists now. Therefore, since these two propositions have different subjects, they cannot be the same propositions, and the knowledge conveyed by the one is not the same as the knowledge conveyed by the other.”

So it seems that there is something appealing about the verification principle, but it also brings one objection that would follow from this principle. So we might try to get the good part out of the principle, while getting it to the point where this objection can be met.

When we go back to the statement of “this is a wooden table”, which means that when scratched it will look whitish, doesn’t mean anyone in the future or now has to verify it. The table could annihilated at this instant, and so verification would be impossible. And this would make the statement meaningless. But we just have to say that there should have been possible to observing it. “And it begins to emerge that what is necessary for meaning is simply that what is asserted in the statement should be something of a kind which is in general an experiencable character of the world.”And we would add on one more thing, which is based on Kant’s motto of “concepts without percepts are empty”, which carries that “a concept, to be meaningful, must have application in experience.”

So the Empirical theory of meaning, which is distinguished from the verification theory.

“either that any statement, to have meaning, must symbolize experiencable characters of the world; or, what is the same thing, that every concept employed in it must have empirical application.

Let’s go back to a statement of the past like “Caesar’s hat was red”. It is a meaningless statement under the verificanist principle, but it is meaningful under the empirical theory of meaning. Under the verification principle, the redness of the hat wouldn’t be verified because it was in the past, which can’t be experienced. However, with the empirical theory, it is meaningful because redness is of a general experiencable character of things, and is proved that you have had the experience of it before. But the concept also has application in experience as well.

Here is one of the other major differences between the verification principle and the empirical principle.

“On the verificational view, in order to give meaning to my assertion that a certain entity has a certain character I must be in a position actually to experience (if I want to) that very instance of the character in that very entity. I must be able to experience every particular example of the concept which I want to assert. That is what is meant by verifiability. But on the empirical theory, all that is necessary is that I should have had experience of some instance or instances of the concept. The concept then has application in experience and can be extended by me to other cases far beyond the horizon of my own limited experience. “

So take the example of other minds. Under the verification principle, it is meaningless to say that other people have minds. This means that they don’t feel pain, don’t feel pleasure, don’t have any sensory experience of things like blue, red, hot, cold, and etc. All we can say is that we see a body behaving in a certain way, but we don’t see them being in pain itself. The face is moving, but we can’t see pain or feel the pain. The empirical principle says that saying there are other minds is perfectly meaningful. This concept is experienceable because it has been experienced and so have one case. And this helps us form the concept and thus give it some application in experience to ‘other minds’.

Under the verificaton principle, it was meaningless to ask if someone elses experiences were similar to you. This would mean, if I saw a cat and a friend was next to me looking at the same place, we can’t say that we saw the same thing or anything similar to one another. This is because I can only experience my experiences, and can never experience another persons experiences. There’s no way to verify them. In other words, whether the sensations of one mind are qualitatively similar to the corresponding sensations of another mind, is meaningless for the verificationist. But it is perfectly meaningful under the empirical theory.

“It is true that the likeness or unlikeness of A’s green to B’s green is in principle unverifiable. This shows that we can never discover whether they are alike or not. But it has no bearing on the question of meaning. If A makes the statement “B’s green is similar to my green”, the statement is meaningful since both “green” and “similarity” are concepts which have application in experience (in A’s experience, and in B’s experience, and in that of other people.) Therefore the question is not meaningless, though the answer to it may be impossible to discover.”

The logical positivist, under their principle, also stated that questions of morality, or what we ought to do are meaningless. Under the empirical theory, this isn’t quite the case. The empirical theory is definitely open to the idea of oughts being meaningful. There are different ways in which one could do this, and Stace brings up one way in which it would be meaningful. But the logical positivist basically took that things should be sensuous, while moral statements were said not to be sensuous. But there is one way in which objective morals could fit into the Empirical theory.

“But the value of the thing might be a character of it actually experincible by an intuition of the mind. And the theory of value which I had in mind when I said that a meaningful theory of objectivity might be framed is that which asserts that value is a kind of quality directly experienced in intuition. If there is any such non-sensuous kind of experience, then this concept of the objectivity of value would be meaningful, since it would have application in that experience.”

“It is urged that what is not, but merely ought to be, cannot be experienced. But when any quality has been apprehended in experience, it is frequently possible to conceive a higher degree of that quality than any which has ever been actually discovered. For example, the idea of a perfectly elastic body has empirical meaning, though no perfectly elastic body has ever been found. For elasticity is an empirical character of things which admits of degrees. And the notions, first of a more elastic, and finally a perfectly elastic, object are reaching by an extension of degrees beyond what has been actually experienced. And if goodness were an experincible quality of things admitting of degrees, exactly similar considerations would be applicable. We could speak with perfectly clear meaning of a degree of goodness beyond any actual experience, and such a notion would yield a norm and an empirical concept of obligation.”

The same consideratiosn of morals could also hold with what have been deemed mystics. For they have an experience of some kind, and to have an experience of some kind is to to have a structure of experience. And this structure of experience can have applicability in communication. Now what the mystic might say might be nonunderstandable to the masses of people, but there are also a group of mystics that understand what the other said. This is because they would carry the same structure. But this would also seem to hold universally with any speaking community.

A question that could arise would be, “If a concept, to have meaning, must have application in experience, whose experience is here referred to?

“The first suggestion is likely to be that the experience referred to must be the experience of the mind to whom the concept is to have meaning; that a concept cannot mean anything to me unless it has application in my personal experience; and that similarly what is to have meaning for you must have application in yours. And in a sense I believe this to the correct answer.”

Now there are certain ways that this can be taken, so it would probably be best to clarify some of it in some way. Take the point of “having application in my experience”. Taking this too loosely would lead to the verification principle. But we need to keep in mind that it is necessary to assert that a for a concept to have meaning, it must have application within the experience of the mind which is to understand it. For all knowledge and meaning, is individual. It’s somebody’s knowledge, and so it’s somebody’s meaning. So when we ask if a proposition has meaning, we must ask whether it has meaning for some particular mind.

But this isn’t the only point. For if we follow just this part strictly, we are lead to the verification theory. Take, for example, the point of “dogs hear sounds which are inaudible to human beings”. This would be meaningless, because we can never have this experience, and I wouldn’t be able to have those experiences and so wouldn’t have meaning to me. However, we do have the experience of sounds ourselves, so the concept itself, like of “red”, dos seem to make sense and we do have experience of that. “The conditions for the solution of our problem seem therefore to be that, on the one hand, meaning must be solipsistic in the sense that no mind can understand any concept which has not direct application in its own experience; and yet, on the other hand, that it must somehow be possible for the mind to make available for is meanings the experiences of the other, even of non-human, minds. How can we combine these apparently irreconcilable conditions?”

“The solution of the difficulty lies…in a distinction which has been made familiar to us by the logical positivists themselves, the distinction between structure and content. One can put the essence of the solution in a few words by saying that concepts are structure, the structure of experience, and that what alone is necessary to render available for the mind’s meanings the experience of another is that this latter should possess the same structure as mine…If a concept is to be meaningful to me I must have personally experienced the structure which is that concept. I need not have experienced the content with which another mind fills that structure. It is correct then, as originally suggested, that a concept cannot have meaning for me unless it has application within my individual experience. But the phrase “having application within my individual experiences” must be interpreted so as to refer to structure only. The content of the experience need not be experiencible me.”

Now we might wonder what it means to say that “concepts are structure”. We can try to get a hand on this with an example. How could it be applied with the concept of “green”? It is usually understood that very general concepts like those used in categories, constitute the structure of experience. But a concept like “green” seems to be part of the senses, and so part of the sense content. Now imagine that A says to B, “This book is green”, and both share normal vision. So for B to understand A, it isn’t necessary to suppose that what A calls “green” is qualitatively similar to what B calls a green sensation. But we can assume that what A calls green is unlike what B calls green, and if A could experience B’s green, then A would call it a toothache. Even with all this, A and B can perfectly understand one another when the statement “this is green” is made. So they have the same concept of “green” but they have different content. Thus, they are constituted by structure and not by content.

Now we could wonder “what is this structure of the concept “green”? The answer, it would seem, would be that is consists in a network of relations. The concept holds between what is presently before my senses as “green” and those other within my experience of the past. Stace gives us one example.

“When A says, “This book is green” he is asserting a number of relations between his present experience and other past experiences, of which “similarity to one of the sensations received from grass” may be taken as a typical example. Now suppose that the green book gives B a sensation which A would call a toothache if he could experience it. B will still understand A’s statement about the book, provided that grass also gives B a sensation which A, if he could experience it, would call a toothache. For there will then still be the relation of similarity between the book and the grass in both A’s and B’s experiences. And it is this relation which (among others) is asserted by the concept of “green”. The structure of A’s experiences will be (to this extent at least) the same as the structure of B’s, not with standing their differences of content. They will have the same concept.”

So this means that when we talk about the structure of the concept of ultra-violet color has its relation to the colors that we do know. It stands in a definite relation to red, green, and blue of the spectrum. Thus, we can fill in the structural pattern with any imaginable sensory content that we like. But this does seem to bring up something interesting, which is that we can meaningful speak of salamanders, fairies, or ghosts. So how do we deal with this? Well, Stace does bring up a limiting example.

“The limit is set by the consideration that the experience of these remote minds, though its content may be unimaginable to us, must share the structure of our own. If not, there is no bridge of meaning by which we can pass over. The assertion of the very existence of a mind, or of experience, completely beyond these limits, is meaningless. It is utterly meaningless to say, therefore, that there might exist a mind whose experience should have absolutely nothing in common with ours. There must be structure in common.”

Now this helps make clear how we can understand something of a higher degree. For the concept does consist of relations that we have experienced, even though we have not experienced these higher degrees themselves. For example, you might only experience a dark green, but you’ve experienced green itself, but of a lower degree. And you can extend this to a higher and higher degree, even though you’ve never experienced these higher degree’s themselves.

So this means that the empirical theory does allow for some metaphysics. But the verification theory doesn’t allow for metaphysics, and many of our common beliefs. Thus, the empirical theory is friendly to certain kinds of metaphysics, while the verification theory wasn’t friendly to any kind of metaphysics. Stace gives an example of how it is friend to metaphysics or some structure of metaphysics.

“But the theory of meaning which we have now evolved shows that any statement is meaningful provided the concepts which it employs have application in experience; or in other words, provided what it asserts is an experiencible character of the world; and the experience which is thus the criterion of meaning may be that of any mind, human or non-human, provided that it share structure with our experience…The assertion of a reality which lies behind our experience, and which can never be experienced by us, may be meaningful provided it is conceived as the possible expeirence of some other mind wich shares structure with our own. Otherwise it will be meaningless…The mere facts that the thing-in-itself cannot be experienced by the human mind does not deprive its concept of meaning. If it is conceived as an entity which might be experienced by some other mind, say the mind of God, then it will have meaning (though it may of course be quite false). This, however, will only be the case provided its structure is conceived as in some way similar to that of human experience…The greater the amount of common structure, the greater the quantity of meaning. The less the common structure, the less the meaning. The less the commons structure, the less the meaning. The absence of all common structure is the absence of all meaning.”

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Are All Empirical Statements Merely Hypotheses?

Posted by allzermalmer on December 19, 2011

This blog will be based on an article done by W.T. Stace. It is called, Are All Empirical Statements Merely Hypotheses? It appeared in the philosophical journal known as The Journal of Philosophy Vol. 44, No. 2 (Jan. 16, 1947), pp. 29-38.

It is sometimes stated that all empirical statements are only probable. This was stated by those like, and especially by, Rudolph Carnap. One philosopher who disagreed, and said that some empirical statements are certain, was G.E. Moore. Stace shall agree with Moore, but with some qualifications. The statement that will be the exemplar of what is being talked about will be the statement of “This key is made of iron”. Now this statement is a singular statement like x is Y.

“To say that this proposition can never be more than probable means, I assume, that there must always be some doubt as to its truth. The question we have to get clear about is: what is the doubt, or what are the doubts, which those philosophers who say that such a statement can never be more than probable, have in mind?”

Some of the doubts could be as follows for what makes this empirical statement probable: the laws of nature are statistical, we could be deceived by some sort of demons or might be dreaming, or statements that we make rely on memory and our memory could be wrong. None of these things seems to be what has lead some to think that all empirical statements are probable. That is because these doubts are arising from practical doubt because of the frailty of human faculties.

The philosophers, like Carnap, seem to be relying on theoretical/logical doubt. This seems to be based on the logic at which we arrive at empirical truths, regardless of the frailties of particular human beings. They seem to be saying that we arrive at these empirical statements, like “this key is made of iron”, are arrived at by means of induction. And, through the means of induction, we never arrive at certainty by by means of probability.

Stace quotes Carnap on the basic idea of which is to lead to all empirical statements are merely probable. Take the statement that “This key is made of iron”. This proposition will be known as P1. We can test P1 by seeing if it is attracted by a magnet, if it is then we have partial verification of P1. So here is what Rudolph Carnap says, which leads him to state that all empirical statements are merely probable in his book Philosophy and Logical Syntax:

“After that, or instead of that, we may make an examination by electrical tests, or by mechanical, chemical, or optical tests, etc. If in these further investigations all instances turn out to be positive, the certainty of the proposition P1 gradually grows…but absolute certainty we can never attain. the number of instances deducible from P1 is infinite. Therefore there is always the possibility of finding in the future a negative instance.”

Now this is the logical problem that we face. Anytime we perform a new test, and the test is passed, it only adds a degree of probability to the statement that “this key is made of iron”. And the problem, further, is that we can’t completely verify the statement, or be certain of it, because we would have to complete an infinite number of observations. But this is not only practically impossible, it is also logically impossible.

But there is some ambiguity of what Carnap means, because there are two ways that this can be taken. The first thing could be about the different kinds of tests. For we noticed that he brought up the tests that could be done, like magnetic, electrical, chemical, and etc. So the it could be meant that the number of different kinds of test is infinite, which means we would have to make an infinite number of kinds of tests in order to achieve complete verification of the statements truth. But Stace has an objection to this position.

“If an infinite number of kinds of tests of the key were possible, this would imply that the key must have an infinite number of different characteristics or properties to be tested for. But even if an object can have an infinite number of characteristics, it would not be necessary to test for them all in order to identify the object as iron. All we need is to verify the defining characteristics of iron, which are certainly finite in number. and there is, of course, no logical difficulty about doing that.”

Now there is a second possible meaning for which Carnap has in mind. We could do a single test of a defining characteristic like “being attracted by a magnet”, or what other defining characteristics there might be. These tests only make the statement probable because we may find that the key is attracted one time and perform many of the same tests a thousand times in succession and find the same results as the first test. But we can never be sure that an instance will not turn up in the future in which the object will not be attracted by a magnet (problem of induction). “If the same thing happens in the same circumstances in a vast number of times, each time it happens makes it a little more probable that it will happen again, but it can never be quite certain.”

It is true that scientists perform the same experiments, this is the repeatably of the scientific tests. What one scientist is able to do in a test, it has to be reproducible by other scientists around the world. The same experiment can be repeated by the same experimenter over and over, or can be done by other experimenters around the world. But why are experiments repeated? Is it because each fresh instance of a positive result of the same test adds to the probability of the conclusion? It seems not.

Let us assume that we have an object that is to be tested. We want to test whether it is composed of a certain substance, which we can call X. Now let us suppose that there is only one defining characteristic of X which we call A. The scientist is testing for Y. If Y is found it is a sign that the substance is X. Now, is it true that A may be repeated many times. But why?

“It is not because he supposes that a barren repetition of instances of A makes it more probable that the substance is X. It is always, on the contrary, because he has doubts whether he has satisfactorily established by his observations of the presence of A. It is not the validity of the inductive inference from A to X that he is doubting, but whether A is really present…the doubt which the experimenter is trying to exclude is not any logical doubt about induction, but practical doubts arising from difficulties of observation, possible deficiencies in apparatus, difficulty in ensuring that the experiment is made in the exact conditions required, and so on. He is not doubting that the inductive premises will lead to an absolutely certain conclusion. He is doubting whether he has satisfactorily established the inductive premises.”

What is going on is that the scientist procedure is that a single observation is sufficient to establish an inductive conclusion with certainty. But this is only the case provided that the premises have been established. So it is not the inductive conclusion that is being questioned, but it is the premises that are being questioned. As Stace says, “What is implied by the scientist’s procedure is that a single observation or experiment is sufficient to establish an inductive conclusion with certainty, provided the premises have been established. I hold that the scientist is right.”

Stace locates the problem at three points. And this is the problem of how some philosophers have reached the conclusion that all empirical statements are merely probable.

(1.) One of the problems was how philosophers thought that scientists were repeating experiments to try to dispel logical doubts about the validity of induction. What the scientists were doing, in fact, was trying to dispel practical errors in observing or establishing the premises on which an induction rests. The question of probability doesn’t fall within the inductive argument, but outside of the inductive argument.

“That is to say, what is only probable is not that, if A is once associated with B, it will always be associated with B, but that A has actually been found associated with B; not that if a substance has a certain specific gravity it is gold, but that the substance now before me actually has that specific gravity…a natural mistake located the question of probability within the inductive argument instead of outside of it; have extrapolated it from the practical sphere of observation, measurement, and so on, where it actually belongs, to the logical sphere of the inductive inference in which in reality it has no place.”

So the problem is not in the inductive argument itself, but outside of the argument. What is outside of the argument is making sure that you have made an observation that meets with the premises of the argument. This is what constant testing is about, to make sure that the observations are in line with the premises. It is not the argument being questioned, but something outside of the argument that is being questioned.

(2.) Another reason that it seems that it is brought up that empirical statements are probable deals with the view of induction where an application of the inductive principle to a type of cases different from that of the Iron key. This other application is based on generalizing from observations. For example, we generalize from observations of a number from a certain class to the whole class. This means, from observing some white swans, we go on to generalize to the class of swans. From seeing a certain number of swans being white, and not observing any black swans, we go on to say that All swans are white. This will be dealt with a little later on.

(3.) This view seems to follow, as some philosophers think, from what David Hume had to say on the problem of Induction. Hume showed that we can’t “prove” a conclusion in an inductive argument. Because of this, some seem to have imagine that because we can’t prove it, we can at least make it probable. But it doesn’t seem that this follows from what Hume said on the problem of Induction. But Stace does think that something follows from what Hume said on this problem.

Imagine that we have a single instance of A being associated with B, and we’ve ruled out all practical doubts from possible errors of observation or experiment. We now have, logically, two positions that we can take up.

The first is that we can assume the validity of the principle of Induction. So, in this single instance, we can conclude that A is always associated with B, and our conclusion follows with absolute certainer from our two premises of single observed association of A with B and the principle of induction. With these two premises, the conclusion is certain to start with, and so there is no increasing probability or probability at all.

The second is that you may not assume that validity of the inductive principle. Now this means that we follow Hume, which means that there’s no logical connection between the premises and the conclusion of induction. This means, nothing follows from induction, neither certainty nor probability. No matter how many single instances that support our inductive conclusion, the probability never arises above zero. (Karl Popper would agree with this point). There is no connection to say that because the conclusion obtained, that we can say that the probability of the premises rises some more. They are disconnected. It is like having three dots on a sheet of paper. They are disconnected from each other. So when we affirm one, we can’t affirm any of the others because they’re not connected with one another.

“I have affirmed that, given the inductive principle, a single case will prove the inductive conclusion with certainty, I ought to give a formulation to the inductive principle which embodies this…”If in even a single instance, we have observed that a thing of the sort A is associated with a thing of the sort B, then on any other appearance of A, provided the other factors present along with A are the same on both occasions, it is certain that A will be associated with B.””

There is the clause of “provided the other factors present along with A are the same on both occasions.” This forms part of the principle, which comes down to “Same cause, same effect”. There is an example to help make this point clear. If the bell is struck in air then it produces sound. But it doesn’t follow that a bell struck in a vacuum will produce sound. This is because of the clause that was inserted into the principle. The factors aren’t the same, and so they’re not the same type of thing. But it does introduce a new inductive discovery.

There is one obvious objection that one could make to this principle. It could be said that this new interpretation is merely an assumption that is incapable of proof. So if this is a matter of being arbitrary choice of how to formulate it in terms of certainty and probability, then we ought not to assume more than is necessary to justify our sciences and our practice. So someone could say, “it will be quite sufficient for these purposes to assume that, if A is associated with B now, it will probably be associated with B at other times and places. On this ground the probability formulation should be preferred.”

But putting the term certainty in there is not meant to be arbitrary, but it is mean to represent a formulation of the assumption which has been the basis of science and practice. But maybe Stace should be more clear, which is what he tries to do like as follows:

“If you have one case of a set of circumstances A associated with B, and you are quite sure you have correctly established this one association, then, assuming the uniformity of nature, or the reign of law, or the principle of induction-call it what you will- a repetition of identically the same set of circumstances A is bound to be associated with B. For if not, you would have a capricious world, a world in which A sometimes produces B, and sometimes it does not, a world in which the kettle put on the fire may boil today, but freeze tomorrow. And this would clearly be a violation of the principle of induction which you have assumed.”

Now, if you assume the principle of induction, then a single case validates an induction. But now Stace will try to prove his second contention that if you don’t assume the principle of induction, your inductive conclusion aren’t probable at all and there’s no repetition of instances, so no matter how great the number, then the probability is never raised above zero.

To establish this position, Stace will assume that Hume is right. This means, between the premises and the conclusion of an inductive argument there is absolutely no logical connection at all. This means that there is nothing to establish the slightest probability because they’re is no connection between them. So if we affirm one part, it has no connection to another to raise the probability of this part that is connected to what we affirmed. They are so completely disconnected that there’s no logical connection to even bring up probability.

For example, here is what Al-Ghazali said about causality, which is the same position that David Hume took up, and this is based in some ways on the principle of induction. “The affirmation of one does not imply the affirmation of the other; nor does its denial imply the denial of the other. The existence of one is not necessitated by the existence of the other; nor its non-existence by the non-existence of the other.” So when we affirm one thing with induction, like a correct experiment, this in no way can increase any probability when the affirmation of one doesn’t imply the affirmation of the other. How can you raise the probability when what you affirm has no connection to anything else to raise the probability of this other thing? You can’t.

Stace goes on to try to examine the types of cases in which generalize a whole class from a number of instances that are smaller than the whole class. Try to generalize about a whole class of swans from observing a few of the swans that are suppose to make up the whole class. If we observe one swan and it is white,nto conclude that all swans are white, we might be accused of generalizing from one instance. But if we make 10,000 observations, we might think we have a degree of probability to support the generalization. We go on to make observe 1 billion swans and they were white. This might lead us to go on to admit that the hypothesis has become even more probable. So, someone might say to defend the probability view, that how can we deny that we probability and use the probability view of induction?

“But the inductive principle only holds with the proviso, “if the factors present along with A are the same” in subsequent repitition of A. And this case of the swans is simply a case in which it is extremely difficult to be sure that this is so. A in this case means the defining characteristics of the class swan, and B means whiteness. Now different swans will have, along with the defining characteristics A, a number of other characteristics. and these will differ with different individual swans, not to mention circumambient differences of environment. Thus the first case of A you observed was really ACDE, and this was associated with B. The second case was APQR, the third AXYZ. Now, of course, it does not follow from the principle of induction that because ACDE was associated with B, therefore APQR and AXYZ must be associated with B. For we do not have there that exact repetition of the same sets of circumstances which the inductive principle requires.”

To try to remedy the situation that we are in, we constantly repeat observations of this class of swans. Now if we keep making these observations of A, and they’re found to have B, then we think it becomes more and more likely that we have eliminated other certain possibilities, and raise the probability. We want to eliminate some of the accidental characteristics of certain swans. This would be something like they’re size. food they eat, and the climates that they live in. When we rule out sets of circumstances as irrelevant, they become more probable.

The fundamental reason why there is constant repetition of observation on new members of class is that although in theory the association of A with B, once it is observed must always hold, is because in practice we never get our cases of pure A. “We can not isolate the system. It is always mixed up with extraneous circumstances. Thus the doubt which we are trying to dispel by repeated observations has nothing at all to do with Hume’s doubt about the validity of induction…” That doubt can’t be dispelled, no matter now many numerous observations we make. But the doubt that we are trying to get rid of isn’t the logical doubt. The doubt we are trying to get rid of is the practical doubt from the enormous complexity of nature, our frailty of our intellects which are unequal with the task to disentangle the complexities, or the inadequacy of the instruments that we have at our disposal to isolate the system present.

Some, like Carnap, have divided knowledge into empirical knowledge and necessary propositions. Necessary propositions would be those like mathematics and logic. Now the empirical propositions could be considered doubtful because the practical doubts that arise from our human infirmities. But this means that we ought to have the same doubts in concern with mathematics. This is why we have people that check our work in mathematics, to make sure that we made no practical doubts in the process that we followed.

“There is one sense in which mathematical, or, in general, deductive conclusions are certain this may be called the logical or theoretical sense. And there is another sense, which may be called the practical sense, in which they are only probable, since the mathematician or the syllogizer may err in his reasoning. The mathematician may miscalculate, and the syllogizer may make any one of a hundred mistakes. And if practical doubts are not a ground for denying that, in an appropriate sense, mathematics is certain, then practical doubts can not be a ground for denying that, in an appropriate sense, empirical conclusions are uncertain.”

“As it is with mathematical truths, so precisely it is with empirical truths. There is one sense in which an inductive conclusion is certain, namely, the theoretical sense that it follows with certainity from a single observation plus the inductive principle. And there is another sense, the practical one, in which it is probable only, because there may be errors in observation, experimentation, and the like.”

“The statement that empiricial knowledge may be theoretically certain is, of course, subject to the proviso that we accept the inductive principle. If we don’t accept it, then, of course, empirical knowledge is not even probable. It has no validity at all. In no case does any question of probability enter into the matter.”

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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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