Posts Tagged ‘foundationalism’

Reasons for Reasons

In critical rationalism on 09/10/2011 at 4:10 am

I suggest reading Michael Lynch’s article in the New York Times Opinionator blog before reading past the break.

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Disjunctive Propositions

In skepticism on 17/08/2011 at 11:54 pm

Question: do we attain certainty of at least some facts? We are certain, for example, that of two disjunctive propositions, one is true, the other false. We are certain about the truth of the principle of noncontradiction. While there is a trade-off between the utility of justifying informative claims and indubitably, for the principle of noncontradiction does at most say that there are at least some true sentences. Therefore, we know that there are at least some certainties about logic and there exists some true sentences. This is no argument, for it is exists outside the reach of argument: any criticism would, so the argument goes, have to assume the principle of noncontradiction, making it immune from argument. Therefore, the skeptical position is wrong about some state of affairs.

Is this true?

Two skeptical responses:

  1. We might note that a great deal of theory-laden cognition takes place when considering the principle of contradiction. We might, although it sounds silly at first blush, have made a simple mistake in our reasoning. Purported past cognitive state p is to person S actually a memory of past cognitive state p. We might misremember p, no matter how certain we are that we remembered p correctly; or be unaware that we have an improper justifier for p; or the justifier for p may be proper, but we may not be aware of it.
  2. The principle of noncontradiction is wholly supported on the structure of the argument itself, opening itself to the criticism that, while it is assumed as an axiom, logicians and mathematicians that one thought some axioms were obvious or indubitable have turned out to be, upon further reflection, far from obvious or indubitable. Just as Euclid’s fifth axiom could be rejected and still provide consistent non-Euclidean systems, the principle of noncontradiction can be rejected, producing paraconsistent logics.

Are we then certain of at least some facts?


The Spirit of Truth

In kolakowski on 05/08/2011 at 9:04 am

Philosophy can never discover any universally admissible truths … The cultural role of philosophy is not to deliver the truth but to build the spirit of truth, and this means never to let the inquisitive energy of mind go to sleep, never to stop questioning what appears to be obvious or definitive, always to defy the seemingly intact resources of common sense, always to suspect that there might be “another side” in what we take for granted, and never to allow us to forget that there are questions that lie beyond the legitimate horizon of science and are nonetheless crucially important to the survival of humanity as we know it. (Leszek Kolakowski, Modernity on Endless Trial, p. 135)



In gellner on 28/07/2011 at 2:44 pm

When there was a recognized final Authority and intellectual court of appeal, the professional thinker could perform a useful function and he could do so with dignity – especially if the authoritative truths were available in a Holy Writ, and literacy which gave access to it was a specialist accomplishment which he did not share with all and sundry. Surrogate final sources of truth have since been sought – the Inner Light of Reason, Experience, History, Nature – but unfortunately these ladies do not speak with a clear, single or unambiguous voice. (Ernest Gellner, Words and Things, p. 13)



In critical rationalism, fideism, popper, wittgenstein on 26/07/2011 at 5:51 am

A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push. (Ludwig Wittgenstein)


In Wittgenstein’s posthumous Philosophical Investigations he argues that meaning of terms is equal to its use within language: each ‘linguistic universe’ has its own rules. Content cannot be separated from criteria by which they are judged: criteria is never inter-cultural, but sub-cultural. Each discipline or ‘language’ game has its own standards, which cannot be reducible to other standards or principles. The task of the philosopher is then to describe and clarify standards, not to judge, defend, or criticize proposals laid out within a ‘language game.’ Criticism can only point out the misuse of language, or violations of the rules.

Argument or judgment does not cross disciplines, for they exist only in reference to criteria of the rules of the game. This leads to relativism, where there is no rational choice to be made between competing games: all games are equally defensible.

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In fideism, induction on 23/07/2011 at 6:24 am

Nothing is more characteristic of a dogmatist epistemology than its theory of error. For if some truths are manifest, one must explain how anyone can be mistaken about them, in other words, why the truths are not manifest to everybody. According to its particular theory of error, each dogmatist epistemology offers its particular therapeutics to purge minds from error. (Imre Lakatos)

I’ve heard it said from followers of Rand that a theory (usually one of Rand’s own, or a variation thereof) is unassailable, for any criticism of the theory must necessarily assume the theory in order to criticize it. This, somehow, invalidates all criticism.

Is the supposition “Any criticism must assume the validity of the theory being criticized” self-evident?

One problem: how does one know that all possible criticisms employ that theory? Is anyone familiar with all potential arguments against the theory? Of course not: novel ideas are created every day. Therefore, this assertion, that all criticism must assume the theory is true, is based on an inductive inference, which cannot, as a matter of logic, be as demonstrably self-evident or unconditionally immune to criticism as it first appears.

It might be the case that it is true, but it is hardly evident to me, especially once this doubt is raised. Furthermore, whatever theory is used to demonstrate how the initial theory is self-evident must, of course, be scrutinized to determine if it suffers from the same problem: is this new theory self-evident as well? A regress of ‘unassailable’ theories begins in earnest.

The world is far more interesting than we can imagine: asserting that no criticism could possibly exist speaks only to, I think, their limited intellectual horizon. I conjecture that it is better for an idea to stick its neck out as far as it can, therefore inviting many criticisms, and taking them serious. One criticism, if accepted, is enough. As the followers of Rand would have it, the world can only be a constant construction of sandcastles following the blueprints of the Master, and yet no helpful criticism of the blueprints or their faithful execution is permitted. I might go so far as to say that this meta-theory is self-evident, but of course, I don’t.

Assume that everything I have just said is not the case: assume that the Randian (for they are such an easy punching bag, no?) now says that by any criticism that does not assume the same things as Objectivism is then starting from different — incompatible — assumptions, and is not a viable criticism. This might be a possible defensive maneuver for the Randian, for it disallows criticism of its assumptions and criticism of its coherence. Here we have the gestation of the most uninteresting post-modernists within the Randian (or the religious presuppositionalists like Van Til), for the Randian must not be aware of a reductio ad absurdum.

And this, I should note, is a point that deserves no further clarification on my part, for pointing out incoherence is one of the most powerful criticisms available.


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.

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In justificationism, skepticism on 27/06/2011 at 10:46 am

Jonathan Schaffer’s The Debasing Demon [.pdf] was an immense pleasure to read. Some highlights:

I will draw three lessons from the debasing demon. The first lesson is that all knowledge is imperilled by sceptical doubt, even knowledge of the cogito. This clarifies the range of scepticism. The second and related lesson is that anti-sceptical strategies relying on a residue of knowledge immune from doubt cannot succeed. The debasing demon leaves no residuum. The third lesson is that deception and debasement do not exhaust the forms of sceptical doubt. In that sense, there are more demons in epistemic hell than are dreamt of in epistemology. (Schaffer, 228)

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“Piss Christ”

In ethics, fallibilism on 15/06/2011 at 6:02 am

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. (WB Yeats, The Second Coming)

Piss Christ, the picture that enraged a thousand preachers in the US back in 1987, was destroyed by French Christian protesters.

I liked the photograph. If you didn’t know what the crucifix was submerged in, you’d think of it almost as … reverent. Serrano has always remained somewhat vague about its meaning, saying that it’s far more about the cheapening and commercialization of Christianity than a direct attack at Christ. Serrano was raised Roman Catholic, and might still be practicing to this day. Protesters, though, have always known that it is an affront to Christianity, and after several attempts at destroying the picture, have finally succeeded. Here is a photo of the aftermath.

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