Posts Tagged ‘justificationism’


In critical rationalism on 19/11/2011 at 7:05 am

As I was sitting in my chair,
I knew the bottom wasn’t there,
Nor legs nor back, but I just sat,
Ignoring little things like that.

How apt at describing most justificationist programs and their belief that all will be resolved. Acting as if some hypotheses are to be preferred is indispensable to the conduct of ordinary life, but they are a matter of convention, and to believe that one may reliably choose the right properties is a belief without warrant. Therefore, they do not follow their own proposed procedure.



In experiments, induction, justificationism on 20/08/2011 at 7:29 am

A philosophical problem has the form: I don’t know my way about. (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

Up until the late 19th century every observation was compatible with Newton’s theory of gravity. All these observations are also compatible with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Two quite different theories were compatible with the same set of observations; therefore, one cannot know they have derived true theories from observations.

Assume we have a long series of numbers. They go on: 2, 4, 8 … What is the next number in the series?

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In fallibilism, justificationism on 08/08/2011 at 2:41 pm

Two undefeated chess grandmasters meet at a chess tournament. No ties are accepted: this is a mental fight where only one can win. Each believes that they will win the match, and in fact has good reasons to believe that they will win: they each have defeated all previous games. For one of them their belief is true, for the other their belief is false, yet the winner cannot be said to know. True belief (mere opinion, doxa) does not make knowledge (episteme). We want a way to sort out true from false beliefs, and not just accidentally stumble upon truths like one of the grandmasters. To cut a long story short, we need some reliable way of sorting out true from false beliefs.

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The Sun Also Rises

In induction on 08/08/2011 at 5:57 am

As simply as possible …

Do we know that the Sun will rise tomorrow because it has risen in the past? No. Hume’s psychological account of inductive inferences is mistaken, for it misstated the problem. Somehow empiricists have taken Hume as the final word that the justification for the belief that the Sun will rise tomorrow is that the Sun has risen in the past.  It is easy to undermine that argument, for there is no logical inference made. We know the Sun will rise tomorrow because we know why it rises. We have an explanation: the Earth rotates on its axis roughly every 24 hours, and we have an explanation for why that happens, and so on. The rising Sun has led us to seek an explanation, and that explanation is our ‘justification,’ for if the Earth rotates on its axis roughly every 24 hours, then the Sun will rise tomorrow.

The logical content is transmitted from the conditional “if” to the “then,” for while the phrase ‘the Sun will rise tomorrow’ is clearly not true when understood in its broadest sense (the Sun does not ‘rise’, solar eclipses are infrequent events, and people in the far North experience no sunlight for months at a time), when understood colloquially, it is but an observation report of the Sun rising in the East when viewed from a particular vantage point at a particular time. In other words, it would be like saying “If all dogs are brown, then all other things being equal, an individual will, upon seeing a dog, report that it is brown.”

Conditional knowledge, however, is in no way justified by appealing to the explanation. Another explanation about laws of gravitation is necessary. This new explanation requires another explanation, and so on, creating an infinite regress of explanations. This conditional knowledge is in no way justified, for our explanations have in the past been false, and there is no way to know if our explanations are true, for explanations always have a logical content that extends far into the future and past, discussing events that we will never have a chance to observe.



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)


The “Proper” Work of Philosophy

In wittgenstein on 19/07/2011 at 11:27 pm

That there can be no … superior tribunal has also been one theme of contemporary analytical philosophy in Britain, beginning in the late 1930s and gaining strength since the war. Philosophy as a kind of antropology of knowledge and belief is a conception revived in the later work of Wittgenstein. His suggestion was that we should turn our attention to the justification of belief, and of claims to knowledge, which are customarily accepted, and not look for a rationally satisfying justification altogether outside our established habits of thought: such a justification could never in principle be found. The proper work of philosophy is purely descriptive, to set out the linguistic facts that reveal our habits of thought … (Professor S. Hampshire, in David Hume: a Symposium, ed. D.F. Pears, London, Macmillan, 1963, p. 5)



In empiricism, induction, justificationism on 19/07/2011 at 6:49 am

There is endless conjecture, and certainty is not to be counted upon (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason)

Some people treat evidence as something that accumulates over time, like sap from a tree. Once enough evidence is collected, you need only synthesize it into syrup, and then you’ve proved your point. “I have X amount of evidence for Y, therefore you ought to believe Y, otherwise you are behaving irrationally.” So the story goes.

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A Very Short Argument Against Empiricism

In empiricism, skepticism on 15/07/2011 at 5:42 am
  1. The ambition of empiricism is to reduce all relevant matters of fact to sensory qualities.
  2. Sensory qualities, even if assumed that they can be known immediately, do not justify matters of fact outside sensory qualities.
  3. The ambition of empiricism to reduce all matters of fact outside sensory qualities to sensory qualities is impossible.

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Lash on Commitment

In ethics, irrationalism, justificationism, wittgenstein on 14/07/2011 at 11:08 am

I cannot suffer fools, and Nicholas Lash is an educated fool–the worst kind by far, for his words can beguile those with less learning than he. And by Jove, Lash has a way with words. His All good reasoning comes from prior commitments and beliefs, published in the “Comment is Free” section of the Guardian, is a strangely enticing word-salad.

And what of Lash? He is, according to the press release by Durham University on the occasion of Lash receiving an honorary degree, “regarded as one of the most influential Roman Catholic philosophical theologians of our time.”

… all good reasoning expresses and proceeds from prior commitments and beliefs and relies, at every step along the way, on believing – however cautiously and critically – the testimony of others engaged in this and similar collaborative enterprises.

The article is, in brief, a case-study of the Wittgensteinian attempts by the learned to protect religious conjectures from criticism. With a quick bit of Googling, it turns out that Lash is indebted to Wittgenstein’s approach. That attitude throws up hastily built walls to keep trespassers at bay–while simultaneously legitimizing all other ‘forms of life.’ While such a conclusion may have sat well with Wittgenstein, how can Lash dare say anything critical of other ‘forms of life’? Everyone is already committed. No rational argumentation–and thus no change, except for the religious conversion on par with Saul on the road to Damascus–is permissible.

But is that the case? Don’t people often change their minds when confronted with criticism from without the community? Of course; however, Lash’s attitude, and his perplexing language, do little more than hinder those that may in due time change.

It follows (and O’Collins’s definition brings this out so well) that serious theological investigation is never purely a matter of inference and deduction; never merely a matter of the reasoning mind. It is also a matter of the mind and heart at prayer. There is a sense in which all good theology is done on one’s knees.

In sum, rather than a raging a war of words between intellectual ‘nations,’ Lash would have us all live in little herme(nu)tically-sealed cocoons. Thank you, but I’ll pass on the offer.


Debate Styles

In critical rationalism, justificationism, popper, wittgenstein on 12/07/2011 at 12:54 pm

There’s a lovely debate that’s been around for some time between Christopher Hitchens and William Lane Craig at Biola University. I recommend that you watch it — or watch parts of it, namely Christopher Hitchens’s turns at the podium. William Lane Craig is an awful speaker. Christ must have granted Hitchens a silver tongue and Craig a wooden ear. If you can bear through Craig’s turn at the microphone, then you’ll witness a great ‘debate’ between a philosopher-hack and a public intellectual.

What I find most interesting about the debate — besides the subject of ‘Does God exist?’ — is Hitchens and Craig’s respective debating styles. I will start with Hitchens:

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A Little Effort, Luck, and Creativity

In critical rationalism, fallibilism, fideism on 07/07/2011 at 12:42 pm

Anti-justificationists can have a lot of fun with any philosopher who claims that a particular class of statements or some specific proposition is certain and, therefore, immune from criticism, because, with a little effort, luck, and creativity, it is possible to find a way of criticizing any given statement. (Diller, A. ‘Constructing a Comprehensively Anti-Justificationist Position’, Kark Popper: A Centenary Assessment Volume II, p. 121)



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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Ethics & Epistemology

In ethics, justificationism on 16/06/2011 at 5:02 pm

What have I done? If this is a victory, what’s a defeat then? Is this a victory or a defeat? Is this justice or injustice? Is it gallantry or a rout? Is it valor to kill innocent children and women? Do I do it to widen the empire and for prosperity or to destroy the other’s kingdom and splendor? One has lost her husband, someone else a father, someone a child, someone an unborn infant…. What’s this debris of the corpses? Are these marks of victory or defeat? Are these vultures, crows, eagles the messengers of death or evil? (Ashoka)

Some people think that there are no grounds on which to judge different cultures. The cultural practice of ‘honor’ killing is as equally justified as cultural practices that ensure freedom of speech, for instance. That’s how the argument goes.

In a (qualified) sense, I agree. There are no foundations one can appeal to, no (so far as I can tell) justification for human rights or human dignity that extend beyond culture. What I’m getting at is that we ought to remain agnostic over the existence of any ethical code that is inherent to the universe.

This same claim is directed towards different cultural theories of knowledge (Feyerabend, et al.): who am I to say that, since all theories of knowledge are cultural constructs, reading the entrails of goats is any better than the Western process of scientific discovery?

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The Dialleus

In justificationism, skepticism on 16/06/2011 at 3:34 pm

How will you look for it, Socrates, when you do not know at all what it is? How will you aim to search for something you do not know at all? If you should meet with it, how will you know that this is the thing that you did not know? (Plato, Meno, 2nd ed. tr. G.M.A. Grube (Indianapolis: Hackett 1981), 13 (80d).)

In its most general form, problems take place when our conjectures run up against some sort of difficulty, some sort of wall that impedes advancement. Our intuitions are stressed during rigorous testing. That is a problem. For instance, the following argument looks like a problem…

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In justificationism, nozick on 15/06/2011 at 3:51 pm

Externalism assumes that internalism misses the very point of the act of justifying statements. Epistemic luck about justifiers should not be a significant factor in cases of true knowledge, not fortuitous ‘true opinion.’ The justifier can be independent of the beliefs of Adam, resting on the fact that the justifier is in fact a proper justifier. In other words, if The Times is an accurate predictor, it does not matter if Adam have awareness of his access to an accurate predictor.

Even if Adam cannot provide a good reason why The Times is a reliable source, as long as The Times is in fact a proper justifier of p, and if Adam forms the belief p after reading The Times, and if the content of The Times is in fact true, then Adam is in possession of knowledge. To generalize, in the externalist program Adam will have a justified true belief iff

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In gettier, justificationism on 15/06/2011 at 3:45 pm

Assume that a reliable belief-formation process (whatever it may be) determines when one possesses good reasons. For instance, Adam reads in the New York Times the prediction p: “the Queen of England will be visiting New York City on the fifth of June.” Adam’s reasonable belief in The Times‘s accuracy in predicting visiting dignitaries is a justifier for p. The Times often employs fact-checkers that catch mistakes, it is prima facie reasonable to assume that Adam’s copy of The Times is not a forgery, and so on. Taking all this into consideration, Adam now believes that p. As it so happens, The Times was correct: p is true. This is a good description of insufficient but good reasons. To generalize, the internalist program says that Adam will have a justified true belief iff Adam

  1. has access to a justifier for p,
  2.  believes that p, and
  3. p is in fact true.

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In justificationism, kuhn, skepticism, wittgenstein on 15/06/2011 at 3:18 pm

Justificationism in Continental Rationalism leads to a situation of salvation and damnation. The epistemologist must save some commonsensical ideas, such as other minds, an external world, the reliability of science, and cast out or exorcise supposed illegitimate foundations. She sorts out the desirable from the undesirable statements, yet to begin this sorting this requires a proper sorter.

Out of all the possible foundations for knowledge, all but one foundation will fail to correctly sort out all desirable positions. If a foundation does not succeed, it will fail to deliver the promised goods. It is one thing to question whether the system is coherent; it is another to question whether it accomplishes its task. For instance, if a proposed foundation asserts the existence of the external world, this is not a satisfactory foundation, for it does not tell us anything of importance about the external world. We are not searching for a meta-criterion, but as a criterion of preferable foundations. I want a foundation that doesn’t let too much in, yet keeps all the riffraff out.

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A Solution to the Gordian Knot

In bartley, critical rationalism, justificationism on 15/06/2011 at 2:47 pm

We are like sailors who have to rebuild their ship on the open sea, without ever being able to dismount it in dry-dock and reconstruct it from the best components. (Otto Neurath)

Knowledge isn’t built on a foundation. Deducibility is a transitive relation; the conclusion of a valid argument cannot entail anything that is not also entailed by the premises. Nothing is built, since all that is entailed is the original set of premises. Since the foundation cannot be logically weaker than the set of all it entails, the foundation is the entire building.

The metaphor of construction in epistemology is a cognitive trap. The notion of “building from a foundation” cuts off creativity and diversity, reducing epistemology to unpacking the logical content of a few propositions. What does this achieve? Very little, almost nothing is produced but restatements of common beliefs – ‘I exist,’ ‘there is thinking,’ and so on – and little can come from them without some additional, and quite dubious, assumptions about phenomenal states.

I’m willing to grant that phenomenal states are indubitable to the justificationist out of a sense of leniency. Unfortunately for the justificationist, this does nothing to further their program. One cannot have access the noumenal world that easy. It is as if a man sets out to cross the Grand Canyon with little more than a running start.

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In irrationalism, justificationism, kuhn, underdetermination on 15/06/2011 at 6:41 am

If argument is to provide sufficient reasons for accepting or rejecting a claim, then why is disagreement possible?

Agreement is valued everywhere: it sounds friendlier and builds communities of like-minded individuals. Valuing unanimity, we may accept tradition without asking too many questions. Agreement is easy, and invites acceptance of ideas without much thought, whereas disagreement is criticism, involving a great deal of creativity and willingness to go against the grain, and more often than not produces conflict. Kuhn advocated agreement in his ‘normal science’, knowing that science and a measure of dogmatism occur naturally: there are far worse traditions than science. There is an alternative to this admittedly irrationalist solution, namely a rational justification: as Bacon said, by far the best proof is experience. The problem then becomes how does experience justify theory?

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