A Brief Restatement and Defense of Bartley

In bartley, empiricism, experiments on 17/07/2011 at 1:41 am

‘Faith’ is often taken to be a theory that is not taken on logical or empirical grounds. This is little more than a simultaneous disparagement of theories that are not logically or empirically grounded and an assumption that such grounding is possible.

It is impossible, so I conjecture, to ground anything. If this is the case, according to this description of faith, all theories are equally faith-based. That doesn’t seem right. At this point, most people see this as a reductio of the conjecture of the impossibility of grounding. I can intuitively tell apart a scientific theory, they might say, from religious theories. Therefore, some theories are grounded. The nature of grounding is then examined in detail.

Perhaps the fact that science ‘works’ is enough. This is the pragmatic answer, which has issues of its own. What is the nature of ‘works’? Or perhaps science needs no grounding. The claim of self-evidence is problematic, for is the claim of self-evidence self-evident? If science is empirical, and what is empirical is grounded, then is the claim that “what is empirical is grounded” grounded? Science may be coherent, but what of the negation of the set of all scientific theories? Are they not coherent? And so on. There are many responses to the reductio, each one attempting to ground a set of scientific theories and keep the grounding limited solely to this set of theories.

But what if groundlessness is not the sufficient description of faith? Perhaps the other intuitive description of faith will suffice: rather than a description of theories, we should focus on describing the attitudes one may have towards theories.

Scientific theories, even though it is not in any way grounded, are then different from religious theories, for scientists make public statements that (all other things being equal), if they come to pass, the scientists will reject their theories; non-scientists do not make public statements that, if they come to pass, the non-scientist will accept these statements and reject their theories, or if they do come to pass, will not accept these statements as legitimate come what may.

Scientists then have the attitude, the willingness to change when confronted with unappealing statements while non-scientists do not.

A problem: scientists are often unwilling to change and non-scientists are often willing. What do we make of this? Maybe we are not talking about scientific and religious theories and scientists and non-scientists anymore.


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