Empiricism and the Blind Man


#21

[quote=john doran]this is either (pragmatically) false or irrelevant.

for example, all historical facts are incapable of empirical verification, at least of the kind you seem to be talking about here (i.e. personal execution of repeatable experiments that match predictions).
[/quote]

I admit to vagueness of speech. “Fact” is an equivocal term, even in technical philosophy; it refers to both undeniable statements of sensory evidence as well as well-established ontological statements. If we’re going to speak strictly, we should talk about evidence and conclusions; “fact” is too equivocal to use in a strict sense.

My point about the blind man is that he can come to exactly the same ontological conclusions as the sighted person about light and sight based on the evidence available to him. He cannot, of course, directly experience certain kinds of evidence, but he can still come to exactly the same ontological conclusions.

Historical evidence is just those things presently available to us to experience: records, artifacts and (for recent history) personal accounts. Just as with an experimental science, the best ontological theory of history is just the simplest theory which accounts for all the evidence. Naturally, we can’t do additional experimentation–history is a forensic science–but the fundamental methodology is the same as experimental science.

the distinguishing epistemic factor will always be testimony.

Testimony is just as good (and just as bad) evidence as anything else. I still don’t have to take testimony on faith: I want to check it for independent consistency, consistency with the facts, and consistency with known natural law; I will reject the ontological interpretation of truthfulness to testimony in favor of either uncertainty or falsity for testimony which fails these tests. The best ontological conclusion about conflicting testimony is simply that one or both people are lying, mistaken, or jumping to conclusions.

realistically, i will never be able to go into space to look at the world and see that it is a giant sphere. i will never be able to go to the bottom of the ocean to verify that the pictures in the national geographic magazine that claim to be of the marianis trench actually are. i will never be able to set foot on the moon and finally prove - contra the conspiracy theorists - that we went there. and so on.

It really doesn’t matter. For any claim you have to bet your life on, you’re going to check it yourself (at least I hope you would!). For claims of lesser importance, you can relax your standard of evidence in proportion to the lesser importance.

Even so, you’re still basing your beliefs about ordinary reality on the evidence you actually have, which includes testimony which is (reasonably) independently consistent. Accepting the testimony of others at face value isn’t contrary to empirical methodology, it’s just laziness. And laziness is entirely unobjectionable if the belief in question is unimportant.

of course, perhaps you are simply stating the principle of verification, or something close to it: a proposition is meaningful only if it is in principle empirically verifiable or analytic. but, itself being neither in principle empirically verifiable nor analytically true, the principle must therefore be meaningless…

Generally speaking, a statement of evidence is true if and only if it is verifiable. A statement of ontology is meaningful if and only if it is falsifiable; and it is true only to the extent that it has survived attempts to falsify it. Don’t conflate Popper with Carnap and the Vienna Circle; The Logic of Scientific Discovery and Conjectures and Refutations were written in *opposition *to Carnap and the Logical Positivists. I’ll take Carnap for evidence, Popper for scientific and forensic conclusions, with a side of egg rolls.

so. where we’re left is that reliance upon testimony in the formation of our beliefs is unavoidable, and i think it is entirely possible to have warranted beliefs the basis of which is testimonial evidence.

*Of course *testimonial evidence is probative! But, as I’ve noted, it’s not necessary to take testimony on authority or faith, not even as a report of personal experience. Even a report of personal experience (sans ontological conclusions) can be contradicted by other evidence.

continued…


#22

[quote=john doran]this isn’t really true, either. given that we’re on a catholic board here, we must assume a catholic perspective on this kind of point (or at least i am, in fact, going to, whether or not i must).
[/quote]

It’s certainly your choice to accept that authority. My only point is philosophical: I accept the authority of doctors and scientists just because everything they say I can, in principle, evaluate myself (and some I have, in practice, actually evaluated). I reject the authority of theologians and priests on precisely the same grounds, just because they say a lot of things I cannot even in principle evaluate myself.

YMMV.

there have been a lot of theologians and priests throughout the ages that have said things about god that have been rejected by the church as being incompatible with basic theological principles, which principles have held firm for 2000 years. so there is a bulkwark of truth to which verifying appeals can be made.

But I simply cannot personally verify anything the Church (or any theologian) says about God. I can’t even in principle examine the evidence; it’s all faith and personal revelation. The supposed evidence is unverifiable; the ontological conclusions are unfalsifiable.

for someone who doesn’t believe either in god or in the indefectibility teaching authority of the church as guaranteed by god, the principles themselves will seem arbitrary, and so be it. for us catholics, they’re not.

Indeed.


#23

[quote=PLP]It’s not necessarily a category “mistake”; I suspect, however, we have different ontological categories.
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yup - you can be sure of that.

[quote=PLP]Empirical just means available to some sense. A “sense” of the divine is just that, an empirical observation. Of course, the ontological interpretation of that sense is what’s under discussion.
[/quote]

that seems an overly broad definition of “empirical”. what if the sense is a supernatuural sense, attributable to the soul?

[quote=PLP]My experience with sensory reports attributed to the “supernatural” is that they are just as inconsistent as we would expect if they were artifacts of the imagination with features inculcated by cultural/social knowledge. This analysis doesn’t rule out the supernatural, but any supernatural analysis is going to have to include the same natural analysis to explain the inconsistencies and then add additional entities (the actual existence of the supernatural). Since I prefer simplicity, I stick with the natural interpretation.
[/quote]

well, if one postulates a sense of the divine within the comprehensive theological background of (at least) catholic christianity, the reasons not everyone simply accepts the existence of god as obvious are original sin (clouds the soul), socialization (habituated to ignore it), and contrary inclinations toward things such as pride, or pleasure, or anything else relaized to be incompatible with a christian life.

a lot of people find god’s existence obvious, just as a lot of people find the existence of other minds obvious. i’m one of them. that we have a natural inclination toward, or sense of, god is one explanation of that experience which jives nicely with the rest of my experience.


#24

[quote=PLP]If you are going to draw the analogy between religious dogma is to God what light is to reality, then you must establish the essential property of the latter case, which is that sight gives us independently consistent occasion statements about reality.
[/quote]

Religious dogma is to God what light is to sight. The latter reveals the former. All of which pertain to reality.

Religious dogma does not, however, appear to give independently consistent occasion statements about God.

Could you elaborate what you mean by this?

I disagree. I don’t think there’s a single statement of fact about light (include the fact, “light exists”) which cannot be discovered by a blind person.

How would this be possible if there were no one else around who possessed sight? You’re relying on human mediation to ‘reveal’ light to the blind person.

As to whether direct experience constitutes a kind of “knowledge” in this sense, that’s a completely different question. We all have to take each other on the other’s authority regarding subjective experience, but that’s an entirely different philosophical problem.

Sure, but we aren’t dealing with anything subjective–simply objective reality. If direct personal experience is not ‘knowledge’ then what is knowledge, and how does one gain it?

But I don’t think that item (2) above is any different from anyone taking someone else’s subjective experiences on their authority. And there are no statements of fact regarding objective reality that ever have to be taken on another’s authority. It’s not an argument that empiricism cannot “fully” describe objective reality. And even (2) could well fall when we’re capable of doing better science.

It isn’t just regarding subjective experiences, but objective reality, and everyone makes use of it. Certainly, there are no statements of fact about objective reality which is accessible to you that need to be taken on faith, however, if none of us exercised faith we would be spending our entire lives personally verifying every single fact for its truth–this is obejctively possible, insofar as that reality which is available to our senses, but horrendously impractical; no progress could be made at all, in any field of study. Scientists make use of faith whenever they rely on established theories and laws to further investigate particular hypotheses, without personally verifying by experiment all of the conclusions arrived at by those theories and laws.
Anyway, for the blind man, personal verification of the existence of colour is impossible, as he does not possess the means to acquire such knowledge. It’s existence relies on the authority of those who do–sight-capable human beings. ‘Better Science’ isn’t going to eradicate faith, because there will always be established theories and laws which many scientists who do not specialise in the particular fields which pertain to them will accept on authority.
The object of faith is not necessarily something which is in principle inaccessible to your personal knowledge, although it may very well be (in the case of the blind man), it is simply accepting as fact something which you have not personally verified. It’s a simple, practical application of the human mind. It is an essential ingredient for learning. Reasoning itself is a matter of faith, since we must accept–without any objective assurance–that our reasoning pertains to reality.

The analogy is inapt. When I accept the authority of ordinary expertise, I’m just being lazy in a sense. There’s nothing that a doctor or historian knows that I cannot know in principle. And I’ve familiarized myself with their methodology and sources and I do in fact have some specialized knowledge that they have. The thelogian, or priest, OTOH, says things about God that I can’t figure out how I myself could know. He just arbitrariy declares things to be true, and expects me to believe them just because he says so.

Again, I think you are misinterpreting the meaning of ‘faith.’ Faith is simply accepting knowledge based on authority other than your own. If you reject that definition, then we aren’t even speaking the same language.
Unless you possess all human knowledge in its entirety through personal verification (which would take many more human lifetimes than are currently possible, not to mention the ability to travel back in time), then you are exercising some faith.
There is also nothing in principle which a theologian or priest knows about God that you can not yourself know. There is no ‘secret knowledge’ here which is reserved for a special group of spiritual elites (see Gnosticism).
The difference with religious dogma is it rests on the authority of divine revelation, rather than human reason. In any case, it is this revelation which you would reject, not faith.


#25

[quote=PLP]Testimony is just as good (and just as bad) evidence as anything else. I still don’t have to take testimony on faith: I want to check it for independent consistency, consistency with the facts, and consistency with known natural law; I will reject the ontological interpretation of truthfulness to testimony in favor of either uncertainty or falsity for testimony which fails these tests. The best ontological conclusion about conflicting testimony is simply that one or both people are lying, mistaken, or jumping to conclusions.
[/quote]

you perhaps mistake me here. my point about testimonial evidence is precisely that one can have warranted beliefs based on testimony without actually verifying those beliefs. i mean, if you needed to check every fact you received by word-of-mouth, you’d have almost no warranted beliefs at all. which seems absurd.

[quote=PLP]It really doesn’t matter. For any claim you have to bet your life on, you’re going to check it yourself (at least I hope you would!). For claims of lesser importance, you can relax your standard of evidence in proportion to the lesser importance.
[/quote]

i strongly suspect that we would have wildly different rankings of doxastic importance.

[quote=PLP]Even so, you’re still basing your beliefs about ordinary reality on the evidence you actually have, which includes testimony which is (reasonably) independently consistent. Accepting the testimony of others at face value isn’t contrary to empirical methodology, it’s just laziness. And laziness is entirely unobjectionable if the belief in question is unimportant.
[/quote]

i don’t think it’s (necessarily) laziness - it’s pragmatics. one has only so much time to devote to competing goods in one’s life, and fact-checking is only one of those goods, and certainly not the most important.

[quote=PLP]Generally speaking, a statement of evidence is true if and only if it is verifiable. A statement of ontology is meaningful if and only if it is falsifiable; and it is true only to the extent that it has survived attempts to falsify it.
[/quote]

who says?

when you say that some ontological proposition p is true only to the extent that an attempt has been made to falsify it, do you mean it’s actually neither true nor false until such an endeavour has been made? that we somehow make certain propositions true or false in virtue of or scrutiny?

where do broadly speaking logical propositions fit? how do you consistently justify the epistemic requirements for each of these classes?

[quote=PLP] Don’t conflate Popper with Carnap and the Vienna Circle; The Logic of Scientific Discovery and Conjectures and Refutations were written in *opposition *to Carnap and the Logical Positivists. I’ll take Carnap for evidence, Popper for scientific and forensic conclusions, with a side of egg rolls.
[/quote]

why not kuhn or feyerabend or quine? falsifiability is just one attempt to solve the demarcation problem, but it’s certainly not uncontroversial (though, in my experience, it seems to be treated thusly by the atheists with whom i have had discussions).


#26

[quote=PLP]But I simply cannot personally verify anything the Church (or any theologian) says about God. I can’t even in principle examine the evidence; it’s all faith and personal revelation. The supposed evidence is unverifiable; the ontological conclusions are unfalsifiable.
[/quote]

they’re unfalsifiable empirically, perhaps (and perhaps not, depending on what counts as empirical falsification to you - if i record my preferences in a book, listing all the foods i like, for example, and then, after giving it to you, i die; if someone then makes the claim that i liked chocolate ice cream, is your verification of that statement in my book an empirical one?).

but again, you give an unwarranted place of epistemological pride to “empirical” propositions and reasoning.


#27

I imagine that it would be mildly difficult to think up an experiment by which a blind man (or blind society) might verify the existence of sight, or light (though sight reallly follows from light). But it’s definitely possible. We have discovered all sorts of things and forces which we really can’t perceive “directly.” As it stands (and correct me if I’m wrong), our senses either work on the interaction of electrons (touch, taste, smell, etc), gravity (well, we sense the force that gravity exerts) and electromagnetism. On the other hand, we’ve got pretty certain knowledge of things like the weak and strong nuclear forces, which we can’t perceive directly. And once we’ve established that there’s this thing, getting to the possible existence of a sense for perceiving this thing is not difficult.

In other words, blind societies need not rely on sighted ones for evidence of light (and sight). We are already a blind society.


#28

[quote=EnterTheBowser]We have discovered all sorts of things and forces which we really can’t perceive “directly.”
[/quote]

We in fact perceive them constantly, and directly, just not in isolation. We can perceive the direct effects of things like the strong and weak nuclear forces, isolate them in experiments and give them these names.
A born blind person does not, and cannot perceive light, in any way. He is incapable of knowing about its existence even in experiment, and any of its effects (e.g. photosynthesis in plants) would be attributed to other causes (probably water), because he commands no capability nor motivation to isolate in experiment something which he never perceives. Without the help of other people who *can *perceive it, and deduction of the existence of *sight *(which would be impossible if it didn’t exist i.e. everyone was blind) then there would simply be no way for him to know about the existence of light, and his *simplest scientific theory *to explain the material universe to him would exclude it–even though it does in fact exist.

The empiricist believes that his 5 senses can convey the entirety of reality, which is impossible to know with any certainty.
It’s a very old criticism: colour does not exist to a blind man, nor music to a deaf man, but they are there, nonetheless.

And once we’ve established that there’s this thing, getting to the possible existence of a sense for perceiving this thing is not difficult.

But this is anti-empirical. A sense for perceiving a thing is necessary first, for the thing itself to be known by it.


#29

[quote=Neithan]We in fact perceive them constantly, and directly, just not in isolation. We can perceive the direct effects of things like the strong and weak nuclear forces, isolate them in experiments and give them these names.
[/quote]

Exactly; we can perceive the effects of them, but cannot perceive them directly. Similarly, a blind man might perceive the effects of light - or more specifically electromagnetic radiation - and eventually come to a theory regarding light exactly similar to what a sighted woman might come to.

A born blind person does not, and cannot perceive light, in any way. He is incapable of knowing about its existence even in experiment, and any of its effects (e.g. photosynthesis in plants) would be attributed to other causes (probably water), because he commands no capability nor motivation to isolate in experiment something which he never perceives. Without the help of other people who *can *perceive it, and deduction of the existence of *sight *(which would be impossible if it didn’t exist i.e. everyone was blind) then there would simply be no way for him to know about the existence of light, and his *simplest scientific theory *to explain the material universe to him would exclude it–even though it does in fact exist.

Like I said, this is straightforwardly wrong. We cannnot perceive the strong and weak nuclear forces directly (just as a blind man cannot perceive electromagnetic radiation directly), yet these forces have effects on things we can perceive (just as electromagnetic radiation produces results in things which blind men can sense), and after careful experimentation we can conclude their existence and enumerate their properties.

The empiricist believes that his 5 senses can convey the entirety of reality, which is impossible to know with any certainty.
It’s a very old criticism: colour does not exist to a blind man, nor music to a deaf man, but they are there, nonetheless.

But this is anti-empirical. A sense for perceiving a thing is necessary first, for the thing itself to be known by it.


#30

[quote=EnterTheBowser]Like I said, this is straightforwardly wrong. We cannnot perceive the strong and weak nuclear forces directly (just as a blind man cannot perceive electromagnetic radiation directly), yet these forces have effects on things we can perceive (just as electromagnetic radiation produces results in things which blind men can sense), and after careful experimentation we can conclude their existence and enumerate their properties.
[/quote]

I suppose trth_skr is right when he notes that we are differing as to underlying metaphysics here. Light is simply a wavelength that we happen to see. Much like colour is simply a particular wavelength within the visible spectrum.
I’ll concede that a blind man may be able to perceive electromagnetic radiation without sight–but light will remain non-existent to him (as will colour). EM radiation between ~400nm and 700nm would possess no special properties. Much like *sound *(and music) are simply non-existent to a deaf person, though he may be able to otherwise sense the vibrations which would produce it.
The main point is, with less than our current five senses, one would (barring mediation from those who *do *possess the full five senses) certainly not arrive at the same *simplest scientific theory *to explain the universe–because there just isn’t as much observable data available, and what isn’t provable on its own (light) would be ignored (no moon or stars!).


#31

[quote=Neithan]I suppose trth_skr is right when he notes that we are differing as to underlying metaphysics here. Light is simply a wavelength that we happen to see. Much like colour is simply a particular wavelength within the visible spectrum.
I’ll concede that a blind man may be able to perceive electromagnetic radiation without sight–but light will remain non-existent to him (as will colour). EM radiation between ~400nm and 700nm would possess no special properties. Much like *sound *(and music) are simply non-existent to a deaf person, though he may be able to otherwise sense the vibrations which would produce it.
[/quote]

I think you may be right in that we disagree on what is meant by “light.” In my opinion, it simply is electromagnetic radiation (and visible light is such radiation of such-and-such a wavelength). What do you mean by “light”?

The main point is, with less than our current five senses, one would (barring mediation from those who *do *possess the full five senses) certainly not arrive at the same *simplest scientific theory *to explain the universe–because there just isn’t as much observable data available, and what isn’t provable on its own (light) would be ignored (no moon or stars!).

It might indeed take longer, but I imagine the eventually a society of blind humans would eventually come to much the same conclusions regarding the universe as a sighted one. Presumably they would eventually develop some devices that took light as inputs and output things they could directly sense (much as we have done at the atomic level).


#32

[quote=EnterTheBowser]What do you mean by “light”?
[/quote]

Exactly what is there when you see it. The direct experience of EM radiation between 400 and 700nm, which is simply absent in a blind person.

It might indeed take longer, but I imagine the eventually a society of blind humans would eventually come to much the same conclusions regarding the universe as a sighted one. Presumably they would eventually develop some devices that took light as inputs and output things they could directly sense (much as we have done at the atomic level).

Perhaps they may eventually discover the moon and stars, although this would certainly take far, far longer than a society of sighted people. In any case, (metaphysical?) realities such as light and colour would remain non-existent unless they could somehow eventually ‘create’ sight or simulate it somehow, who knows. Without sight=no light.


#33

[quote=john doran]that seems an overly broad definition of “empirical”. what if the sense is a supernatuural sense, attributable to the soul?
[/quote]

According to naturalism, anything we can sense is, by definition, natural. At best (worst?) we can call something that is sensed paranormal, that is contradicted by current scientific knowledge. Some paranormal ideas (X-rays spring immediately to mind) end up becoming good science.

well, if one postulates a sense of the divine within the comprehensive theological background of (at least) catholic christianity, the reasons not everyone simply accepts the existence of god as obvious are original sin (clouds the soul), socialization (habituated to ignore it), and contrary inclinations toward things such as pride, or pleasure, or anything else relaized to be incompatible with a christian life.

That’s one theory. It has at least the virtue of being internally consistent. But is it a better theory? Is it simpler? Does it provide more explanatory power? How does the full theistic theory compare to the full naturalistic theory? Basic theism treated as an ontological theory is extremely complicated, and all the complications seem to reduce the explanatory power of the theory. Christian theism is even more complicated and has even less explanatory power.

Original sin is a classic case of weakening the explanatory power of the overall paradigm. Sure, Original Sin predicts there will be some bad things about life, but what kind bad things? How many? Why specifically the appendix, bad knees, the inability to synthesize vitamin C? Why not other things instead?

It doesn’t logically forbid any particular conclusion, so it can’t compel the alternative conclusion. There’s nothing in the theory of Original Sin which says, “If we see X, then original sin must be false.” If everything confirms Original Sin, the theory doesn’t have any explanatory power.

Many of the elements of any type of theology are like this: Any observation is compatible.

a lot of people find god’s existence obvious, just as a lot of people find the existence of other minds obvious. i’m one of them. that we have a natural inclination toward, or sense of, god is one explanation of that experience which jives nicely with the rest of my experience.

One thing that I’ve found in both my philosophical and scientific study is that thinking that something is “obvious” is a giant red flag that I have not thought through the problem carefully enough. In philosophy, whenever I read (even in the canon; especially in the canon) a sentence which begins, “It’s obvious that…” I’ve invariably found that this is the precise point where the author is trying to flim-flam me.

It’s equally “obvious” to me that there is no God. It’s obvious to me that a real world exists. It’s obvious to me that good and evil are real properties. It’s obvious to me that an object always has a well-defined position and momentum. So, obviously (), these are big red flags to apply more careful analysis to my own thinking.

Of course, I’m not saying that the obvious is always wrong. But thinking that something is obvious, IM (not so) HO, is always evidence that careful critical analysis has not yet been applied.


#34

[quote=Neithan]Religious dogma is to God what light is to sight. The latter reveals the former. All of which pertain to reality.
[/quote]

Well, that’s the metaphysical doctrine of theism. The question for the person engaging in critical analysis is: What does the employment of this doctrine entail for the essential properties of establishing ontological truth? If dogma can establish truth about god, and perception can establish truth about material reality, then at some level, these methods must be the same process: they mush share essential properties. If they don’t share any essential properties, then by what virtue are we using the same word, “truth”, to label their outcomes?

Religious dogma does not, however, appear to give independently consistent occasion statements about God. Could you elaborate what you mean by this?

“Occasion sentences” are just those sentences which are sometimes affirmed and sometimes denied by a presumptively rational* speaker. For instance “This is a red apple” will be affirmed if I’m pointing to a red apple; the exact same utterance will be denied by the same person if I’m pointing to a yellow banana. The opposite of occcasion sentences are standing sentences, just those sentences which are always affirmed or always denied by a speaker. (AFAIK, W.V.O Quine establishes this terminology in Word and Object.)

A consistent sentence is one that is consistently affirmed or denied by multiple speakers. Again, if I’m pointing to a red apple, all (rational) speakers will consistently assent; if I’m pointing to a yellow banana, they will consistently dissent.

An independently consistent sentence is a sentence which is consistently affirmed or denied without any other form of communication between the multiple speakers (including one speaker hearing another assent or dissent).

Under this terminology, much Catholic dogma comprises dependently consistent standing sentences. Any Catholic speaker will (on the whole) always affirm or always deny sentences which reference dogma, so they are standing. All Catholics, by virtue of being Catholics, will consistently affirm or deny sentences; they will all give the same answer. These sentences are dependent in that statements of dogma are communicated to Catholics explicitly by teaching; they don’t come up with them “on their own”. Indeed, if you asked most lay Catholics about many statements of technical dogma which are not widely taught, you would see inconsistencies of affirmation or denial; or at the consistent response of “I don’t know”.

Because of the dependence, we cannot differentiate between the competing hypotheses that they consistently affirming or denying the sentences because they are taught or because they are true.

I disagree. I don’t think there’s a single statement of fact about light (include the fact, “light exists”) which cannot be discovered by a blind person.

How would this be possible if there were no one else around who possessed sight? You’re relying on human mediation to ‘reveal’ light to the blind person.

Indeed I am. If there were no one at all with sight, the blind person would have no belief at all about light and sight, not even on the basis of faith or authority.

Sure, but we aren’t dealing with anything subjective–simply objective reality. If direct personal experience is not ‘knowledge’ then what is knowledge, and how does one gain it?

We’re talking about three different definitions of knowledge. The subjective knowledge of personal experience as experience is unobjectionable: If I see something, it is true that I am having that visual experience (even if it is an “illusion” or “hallucination”). There is the ontological conclusion on the basis of that experience, which is a matter of more complexity.

Then there is the question about whether subjective experience is in fact objective knowledge in and of itself. See Daniel Dennett’s presentation of the debate between Dennett and Chalmers for more information.

But the phenomenolgy of consciousness is a separate issue, since it’s an issue even between people who presumptively have all the same sensory modalities; it has nothing to do with extra modalities.

continued…

*Accounting for unexpected dissent by concluding irrationality is a more complicated issue, but can be handled by statistical methods beyond the scope of this post.


#35

Absent this issue, we can create any number of ontological sentences about light and sight:

[list]
*]Light travels in straight lines
*]You can’t see when it’s dark
*]Light travels at 3.00e8 m/s
*]etc.
[/list]It is my contention that the blind man can empirically determine the truth of all these sentences without uncritically accepting anyone’s authority but his own. The analogous point is that, even if believers have a true “sense” of faith which I myself lack, I should be able to scientifically *query *these believers to conclude that they do, in fact, possess a sense that I lack.

It should, as usual, be noted that empirically finding that faith is not a sense in the same meaning that sight, hearing etc. are senses is not itself an argument that the statements made on the basis of faith are not actually true (either false or not truth-bearing). It is merely an argument that, whatever faith is, it is not a sense in the same meaning that sight and hearing are senses.

[quote=Neithan]if none of us exercised faith we would be spending our entire lives personally verifying every single fact for its truth–this is obejctively possible, insofar as that reality which is available to our senses, but horrendously impractical
[/quote]

You’re equivocating two meanings of “faith” here. The first kind of “faith” is unobjectionable: I have rational confidence that people are, in fact, telling me the truth; I don’t need to verify everything they say (although I could, in theory, do so).

Thesecond meaning of faith: believing what people tell me even if they themselves declare that I cannot, even in principle, verify what they say is very different from the first meaning. Unless and until God starts telling me things directly, I simply cannot, even in principle, verify the truth of what someone says when they say that “God told me thus and such.”

How much critical analysis to apply is a practical question. Differentiating between when critical analysis is and is not possible in principle is a philosophical question. Just because I take it on “faith” that you’re telling me the truth when you say that Mel’s Diner is at thus and such an address doesn’t entail that I should take it on faith when someone says that God exists.

Anyway, for the blind man, personal verification of the existence of colour is impossible, as he does not possess the means to acquire such knowledge.

Again, I maintain that you are not correct here. He can, I submit, rationally assent or dissent from every objective sentence about color on the basis of his own experience. That it is impractical and rather pointless for him to do so is not philosophically important; it is not impossible.

Reasoning itself is a matter of faith, since we must accept–without any objective assurance–that our reasoning pertains to reality.

I disagree, but this is a metaphysical issue far beyond the scope of this thread.

Again, I think you are misinterpreting the meaning of ‘faith.’ Faith is simply accepting knowledge based on authority other than your own. If you reject that definition, then we aren’t even speaking the same language.

As noted, I think you are equivocating two meanings of the word “faith”, one sense unobjectionable, and the other sense I object to quite strongly. Acceptance of religious dogma is not the same sort of epistemological “laziness” on which I accept scientific knowledge outside my own specialty (algorithmic analysis and software design methodology).

There is also nothing in principle which a theologian or priest knows about God that you can not yourself know. There is no ‘secret knowledge’ here which is reserved for a special group of spiritual elites (see Gnosticism).

But there is: The special knowledge granted at least to the authors of the Bible and other scripture, as well as (if I understand Catholic theology correctly) the special knowledge granted the Pope when he speaks ex cathedra.


#36

[quote=john doran]my point about testimonial evidence is precisely that one can have warranted beliefs based on testimony without actually verifying those beliefs.
[/quote]

Yes, but only if those beliefs could be verified in principle. See my post to Neithan.

i mean, if you needed to check every fact you received by word-of-mouth, you’d have almost no warranted beliefs at all. which seems absurd.

This doesn’t seem to be the case. My eyes and ears have been open for 16 hours a day for 42 years and some months. I have zillions of warranted beliefs on the evidence of my own senses.

i don’t think it’s (necessarily) laziness - it’s pragmatics.

Yes, I’m saying that the epistemological laziness of not actually checking is pragmatically justified. Still, I demand to know at least how a statement could be verified in principle before I take it on another’s word.

Generally speaking, a statement of evidence is true if and only if it is verifiable. A statement of ontology is meaningful if and only if it is falsifiable; and it is true only to the extent that it has survived attempts to falsify it.

who says?

I say. That’s my metaphysical story and I’m sticking to it. :smiley:

when you say that some ontological proposition p is true only to the extent that an attempt has been made to falsify it, do you mean it’s actually neither true nor false until such an endeavour has been made? that we somehow make certain propositions true or false in virtue of or scrutiny?

Well, that’s the only basis on which I’ll *believe *it or know it to be true. There could, I suppose, be ontological statements which are true but which are not capable of being known to be true. On the other hand, there might not. On the gripping hand, how would we tell the difference? Under metaphysical Scientific Materialism the statement that unknowably true ontological propositions exist is an ontological question, and meaningless since it cannot be falsified.

where do broadly speaking logical propositions fit? how do you consistently justify the epistemic requirements for each of these classes?

I’m not sure what you’re asking here. Do you mean fundamental logical statements like noncontradiction, excluded middle or identity? I employ logic for the same pragmatic reasons I employ Scientific Materialism: It does the job I desire of explaining and predicting my experience.

why not kuhn or feyerabend or quine? falsifiability is just one attempt to solve the demarcation problem, but it’s certainly not uncontroversial

Yes, the philosophy of science is indeed controversial in at least philosophical circles. But falsifiability seems extremely entrenched among actual scientists.

(though, in my experience, it seems to be treated thusly by the atheists with whom i have had discussions).

Oh, my friend, you have no idea. No small few atheist/nontheist philosophers seem to hate falsificationism worse than they hate theism. Talk about falsificationism on Infidels, for instance, and you’ll be flamed off the board faster than talking about gay rights on the Westborough Baptist Church* discussion board**. That’s one reason I don’t post much there anymore.

*Home of the… inimitable… nutjob, Fred Phelps. Google it yourself if you want to know more. Not Safe For Work. Disturbing ideas. Discontinue use if nausea, swelling, redness or itching occurs.

**This is an outrageous exaggeration; the mood at Infidels isn’t all that bad. But falsificationism is in pretty bad odor there.


#37

[quote=PLP]If dogma can establish truth about god, and perception can establish truth about material reality, then at some level, these methods must be the same process: they mush share essential properties. If they don’t share any essential properties, then by what virtue are we using the same word, “truth”, to label their outcomes?
[/quote]

Dogma is not a perception, and would be better equated with, say, scientific laws, then a human sense. The difference of course, is that scientific laws can be tested by human beings, because they are based on (and arise from) human observation, whereas dogma is based on (and derives from) divine revelation. The latter can not violate human reasoning, but it is not provable by it. It is not empirically demonstrable.

Indeed, if you asked most lay Catholics about many statements of technical dogma which are not widely taught, you would see inconsistencies of affirmation or denial; or at the consistent response of “I don’t know”.

Does this mean dogma isn’t true? I’m sure if I queried a handful of random secularists not every one of them could detail to me the three laws of thermodynamics, and many would say ‘I don’t know.’ Does that mean physical laws aren’t true?

Indeed I am. If there were no one at all with sight, the blind person would have no belief at all about light and sight, not even on the basis of faith or authority.

Yes, except… if someone lived, a long time ago, who did have sight, who taught the existence of light, and his friends wrote about it.
Then a cult sprang up whose followers had faith in this invisible reality called ‘light’ and ‘sight’, and the Man Who Could See.
The ‘Church of Sight’ is ridiculed by alightist scientists for believing in an insensible entity which, to the best of anyone’s scientific investigation, simply does not exist, not to mention the Man Who Could See, about whom the ‘Books of Light’ were not written until a generation after his death.
Nevertheless, the Church of Sight enjoys thousands of followers who have faith on her authority that the Man Who Could See truly existed, and that light is real. It just so happens that they believe something which is true, but not empirically demonstrable :slight_smile:

(Continued)


#38

It is my contention that the blind man can empirically determine the truth of all these sentences without uncritically accepting anyone’s authority but his own.

Yet, aided by the mediation of those who can actually perceive light.

You’re equivocating two meanings of “faith” here. …]

Not exactly. Faith is always the same mental operation: accepting knowledge on authority without personal verification. The *basis *of faith can be different:
In the vast majority of cases, and in daily life, it is based on human observation and accepted on human authority–which is entirely possible for one to personally verify if they had the time and means to do so.
The core of theistic religious faith, however, is based on divine revelation, and is accepted on divine authority. Since none of us are divine, no article of divine faith can be empirically verified. One may dispute if this is really ‘knowledge’ or simply ‘belief.’ I guess that depends on whether it is objectively true or not.

I disagree, but this is a metaphysical issue far beyond the scope of this thread.

I suppose you would have to disagree. I’m still anticipating your ‘Metaphysical Materialism’ thread! :thumbsup:

But there is: The special knowledge granted at least to the authors of the Bible and other scripture, as well as (if I understand Catholic theology correctly) the special knowledge granted the Pope when he speaks ex cathedra.

Well, this is getting more specifically religious, but you’re half right, and you’re touching on revelation. The full deposit of revelation is present in Catholic dogma (and has been since the death of the last Apostle, John in ~100CE)–and anyone has access to it. Just like anyone has access to a physics textbook.
(see Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Dr. Ludwig Ott and Henry Denzinger’s Sources of Catholic Dogma for some comprehensive guides.)

The writers of Scripture possessed a special charism to transmit revelation to paper (a process known as divine inspiration which the apostles also made use of through oral preaching)–though they themselves could not directly perceive it. The pope, however, does not have an ability to directly speak or transcribe revelation. His *infallibility *is simply the ability to not violate divine revelation. It would be as if Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking were incapable of violating human observation while giving a formal lecture. That would be like not saying things such as “the sky is green” or “a sphere has four corners” or “dogs can speak English” etc. etc. except extended to the minutest details of scientific laws. Incapable of blatant error.


#39

[quote=Neithan]Not exactly. Faith is always the same mental operation: accepting knowledge on authority without personal verification. The *basis *of faith can be different…
[/quote]

Most atheists strongly reject the use of “faith” in this manner. Regardless of the actual words used, many people, myself included, consider the basis of believing the statements of others to be extremely important. Regardless of the words used, I accept certain bases and reject others. I personally differentiate believing statements which are verifiable in principle and those that are not. “Faith” and “trust” seem like perfectly good words to denote this difference.

I don’t see much point in equivocating the word; simply making the word denote any indirect basis of belief doesn’t actually erase the difference between the bases, nor does it imply that the use of one basis is justification for the use of another.


#40

[quote=PLP]Most atheists strongly reject the use of “faith” in this manner.
[/quote]

Nevertheless, the word means what it means. It’s too bad that secularists equate it *only *with religious faith, when in fact it is pretty common in everyday life. I think it is beneficial for atheists to better understand believers when you realise that ‘faith’ is not some ‘alien concept,’ but a familiar process.

“Faith” and “trust” seem like perfectly good words to denote this difference.

But they are not the same. ‘Trust’ does not necessarily involve grave authority nor a specific fact. Faith is a deeper, more particular level of trust, even when the basis is purely human and personally verifiable in principle (observable).

**faith **(fhttp://cache.lexico.com/dictionary/graphics/AHD4/GIF/amacr.gifth)
n.
[list=1]
*]Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
[/list]trust (trhttp://cache.lexico.com/dictionary/graphics/AHD4/GIF/ubreve.gifst)
n.
[list=1]
*]Firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing.
[/list]Faith is actually believing the truthfulness of a specific fact received on grave authority, without previous personal knowledge of it. Trust is a general reliance on someone/something. The object of Faith is inherently objective (what is the truth?), but Trust is usually subjective (how do you feel about the truth?).
If a child goes to the planetarium and listens to an astronomer explain that it takes 4 years for light to travel to the nearest galaxy, and the kid believes him because he’s a grown-up smart guy who studies the sky… that is faith. It’s different than if one were to trust that the astronomer is not a liar because he seems pretty honest.

I don’t see much point in equivocating the word; simply making the word denote any indirect basis of belief doesn’t actually erase the difference between the bases, nor does it imply that the use of one basis is justification for the use of another.

I’m not at all attempting to erase the difference between the bases–observation and revelation are completely different sources of knowledge. But it is important for intellectually honest atheists to realise that it is *revelation *which you reject, not faith. By all means, have fun positing reason against revelation and demonstrate to us how ridiculous the latter is (if that’s what you think–although it is Catholic dogma that the two cannot contradict one another), however, positing reason against faith is dishonest and hypocritical antagonism.

This kind of reminds me of Orwell’s *1984 *and the control of language (‘Newspeak’) in order to manipulate the thinking of a populace. The primary concept was to drastically narrow the definitions of words or even eliminate them entirely.

I can see how some freethinkers might be honestly concerned that faith discourages personal pursuit of the truth. That people will rely wholly on faith rather than reason. This, however, is not true faith but fideism. Faith doesn’t constrict or contradict reason (on the contrary, it frees one to explore further than otherwise possible), but compliments it. The two are essential for human progress and harmony.

I strongly recommend the excellent Encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) written by the late Pope John Paul II. This brilliantly illuminates the Catholic perspective.


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