Category Archives: Epistemology

Defiance

The only legitimate statement we can make about belief — given the fact that we cannot know why we believe something and given the fact that we are wired to produce reliable beliefs — is to say that each and every belief we have has warrant until there is more reason to doubt the belief than continue to accept it, and, the only reason we can give as to why we believe anything at all, in any case, is that it seems to be the case.
 
We are slaves to belief. We cannot choose them, cannot tell why we have the ones we do, are driven by them to act one way versus another.
 
The only measure of will we have over belief is doubt, and that is by exposing our beliefs to honesty, to experience, to others, to ourselves in reflection.
 
To change one’s mind is an act of insurrection, of defiance to automata!
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An Implication Of Involuntarism

On many fronts from epistemology, psychology, and neuroscience, we are geared to form reliable beliefs and these processes through the wonders of evolution, are themselves reliable.

It is true that some have the ability to more often produce more beneficial beliefs and that some have disabilities.

On the whole, these don’t describe anything at issue here.

There is then a sense in saying there are “default positions” but not as hoped by those using the term. Our initial beliefs are the only beliefs warranted until some greater reason to doubt them exists. Since the sciences suggest no one chooses what to believe or how our beliefs will form, there’s no other sense to the application of such a term.

That our beliefs may be mistaken or that we may not be able to account for what we believe or why we believe is irrelevant to being ethical, responsible, and diligent with our beliefs. On this view, the only mistake we can make is not being open to having our minds changed. The only other fault we may have is again ethical in, knowing all of this, suggesting someone ought to be human in a way we are not and suggesting they should doubt their beliefs merely on our sayso.

One must have warrant for every belief and every doubt, and having no good reason to believe is likewise no good reason to doubt, just as having no good reason to doubt is no good reason to believe.

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“Be Objective, Be-ee Objective!” They Cheered.

Often, Christian apologist, philosopher, and theologian, William Lane Craig, will say “objective moral duties, obligations, and values exist”. What he means is that there exist facts which are independent of what human beings make of them, and these facts are what “make” something moral, immoral, or amoral. He supposes that if objective moral duties, obligations, and values didn’t exist, then morality would be subjective and relative. In this, he either ignores or denies “epistimic objectivity”. That is, he requires more than morality being objective in the sense of creating goals and judging progress; he requires, built into his argument already, that something other than human beings legitimizes the objectives and activities humans have. He applies this not only to morality but to his notions of truth as well.

The difference?

Epistemological objectivity is about our rights to confidence in some proposition and its assertability; so, it’s about arriving at a conclusion in “the right sort of way”.

Ontological objectivity is about a proposition’s truth-bearing attributes in a representative way; so rather than asking when and under what conditions something can be “called true”, the question is whether or not something “makes it true”.

Craig of course has no grounds to deny or ignore epistimic objectivity.

Just a thought.

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Foundational Mistake

It seems the idea of Foundationalism is far more rampant in American culture than merely Christianity. The idea that in order to know anything we have to know some things absolutely is an odd one at best, but many are keen on not thinking it through. Alvin Plantinga, for instance, champions the idea that knowledge rests on “properly basic beliefs”. These are beliefs we come by naturally, through direct experience; these cannot be justified through other beliefs.
 
The problem, however, is that Foundationalism is about justification. There must exist justification for believing something is true. The question then is what justification is sufficient. A second, equally important question is how things like brute facts, direct experience, perceptual statements, and other entitlements do not require justification in order for us to believe what we do about them.
 
Foundationalism may be summarily dismissed in the light of common sense. If justification is the means to suggest belief is warranted, then it may be fully achieved well before any interlocutor would dream of tracing an immediate belief with its descent down the proverbial tree of life to the roots in common ancestry with “properly basic beliefs”. If warrant is about ethical confidence in what we believe, then justification rather than notions of foundations, or claims of foundations and their necessity, is what provides warrant to truth claims and ultimately, knowledge claims.
 
It is with great pleasure then that when I correct laymen about poor thinking, it’s not the Christian alone that I correct here; it’s much of Western culture it seems.
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What Logic Is Not

About logical validity … we all realize logic doesn’t entail truth when logic doesn’t tell us if premises or conclusions are true, and that all we know is that premises are false if the conclusion is false, right?

All dogs are cats.
All spaniels are cats.
All spaniels are dogs.

Here above is the last problem. We can’t even say that a conclusion is false even though we know for certain that the premises are false! All spaniels are dogs after all.

It is entirely up to some other enterprise to determine the truth of some statement about the world.

About logical soundness …

1) Logic is axiomatic.
2) Logical arguments are tautological.
3) Sound arguments are those
a) with valid form and
b) with true premises
4) If a sound argument turns out to actually have a false conclusion, we only know that at least one premise is false and that only by definition is the argument no longer sound.
5) We may be wrong about the truth of the premises of sound arguments.
6) Because an argument can have a valid form and the appearance of true premises, the purpose of saying an argument is “sound” isn’t to say its conclusions are in reality actually true; just that there’s no way around such a conclusion except by faulting a premise or conclusion in reality rather than logic.
7) Therefore in practical terms:
a) sound arguments don’t entail truth, as all counter-examples simply cause us to take a once “sound” argument and by definition alone, declare it no longer is sound, and
b) have no guaranteed certainty between necessary conclusions and the real world, and
c) Trivial if 7.a and 7.b are not the expectations of sound arguments.

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Words, Words, Words!

You cannot hope to make any point by appealing to the meaning of a word as if there is only one or that definitions are static and unchanging.
 
At best, one can only say “Here’s what I mean by x, and given that meaning, doesn’t x apply?”
 
For example, we cannot argue that “Belief is conviction” because one may be persuaded that something is true without at all being convinced it is actually true; so counter to “Belief is conviction”, some beliefs are convictions and some are simply dispositions to think something is the case even though conviction is entirely absent in our thinking it is so.
 
Another example is saying “Belief is an attitudinal disposition toward a state of affairs”, which makes affirming and doubting and refraining, dispositions and as such “beliefs”. In that case, Atheism is a belief and no one can be an “Apistivist” given everyone thinks something about any state of affairs they’re considering. Being careful and even-handed here then, does this mean that Atheists and Apistivists are mistaken, or do they themselves have their own definition of belief that we may or may not find useful in the way they do?
 
When making arguments, do not appeal to “This is what this word means”. That leads nowhere. Instead, explain only that “This is what I mean by this word, and, doesn’t it apply in this case?”
 
Just a thought.
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“I don’t have enough …” patience

If belief is our draw to think something is or isn’t the case, then an atheist certainly is drawn to think gods are not the case.

Atheists get accused of having faith. This is absurd. Faith is the opposite of belief. Faith is the admission that the state of affairs hoped for isn’t the current state of affairs. Belief, again, is thinking something is true about current states of affairs.

Faith is a choice.

Beliefs cannot be chosen.

Faith is from commitment, desire, hope, trust, confidence into the unknown future or in some object, person, process, etc. likewise cast into the future; it may sometimes be warranted or unwarranted.

Belief is always “here and now” about past or present matters of fact, states of affairs.

While an atheist may indeed have faith in the methodological success and reliability of science for example, it isn’t a religious, blind faith as it is justified in “enumeration”; the process itself tested each time it is applied.

What counts and what’s at stake here isn’t justified belief or justified faith. What is at stake is the apologist’s claim that there is an actual past or present state of affairs that is the case, but there’s no reason , no justification for thinking so. The unethical use of the idea of blind faith being grounds to believe is the issue.

I have yet to meet an atheist whose atheism is so grounded.

Atheism is exactly justified in the fact that the theist continually fails to show that there is warrant to believe that there are gods is the case.

Frank Turek simply didn’t take the time or care to do his homework before writing an entire book dedicated to equivocation and conflation.

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My Dear Watson …

Enumeration is a form of rational justification. It is when we examine particular instances of something and then generalize a truth from it where repetitively, it holds. “All swans are white” or “All ravens are black” is a justified statement as an enumeration. Knowing that there are black swans and white ravens shows us there may be short-comings with this way of justifying our theories.
 
When we make an argument where the premises lead us to only one conclusion, that’s called a “deduction”. When an argument has premises that don’t necessarily have just one conclusion–like unexpectedly colored swans and ravens–it’s called an “induction”. Sherlock Holmes and Science both employ induction rather than deduction in order to justify hypothesis; theory, further justified from vindication.
 
The problem isn’t with induction itself. The problem is that logic doesn’t tell us about the world. It may be absolutely true that if all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, then he is mortal, but the truth about such statements is trivial for being completely about language; what are men and what is mortal after all?
 
If one were to try to justify that Socrates is eventually going to die around age 78, it would be vindicated in the very same way as an induction and the key is that in reality, we don’t have a god’s eye view to keep us from the very same “problem of induction”; better thought of as “exceptions to the rule”.
 
Logical certainly, or “necessity”, doesn’t itself entail truth in reality.
 
We can always be wrong and the fact that we all must live with is that in terms of justifying propositions about the world, what counts is being able to come to reasonable conclusions that are vindicated through rigor, testing, peer review, and transparency in the processes applied that suggest we have safely and reliably come to a well-supported theory.
 
This is why neither Holmes nor Science employ faith and why each is so successful.
 
Enumeration establishes that each is justified in method and their proposals about the truth, vindicated or falsified and discarded.
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Erroneous Onus

There is no way to know just by reading the following whether or not the speaker owes some burden of proof.
“God exists.”
It may be easier to see given this sort of statement:
“I believe that P.”
Imagine that P is the proposition “God exists”. Both statements are trying to convey something. Sentences and utterances don’t in themselves have “illocutionary force”. That is, without knowing the intention, the purpose, the reason something is being communicated, we only presume some meaning because meaning is intention. In the Philosophy of Language, speech is considered an action which obtains through intentionality. That is, speech is a behavior, an action we take in order to get something done, much the same way we’d use our hands to hold dinnerware or feet for walking.
“I believe that P” ontologically is two statements. First, it is a declarative statement, also called an assertion. It doesn’t assert “God exists” is the case but asserts one’s disposition toward that proposition. I think it would be obvious that no one would suggest a person asserting this statement bears any onus; we simply take them at their word that what they say they believe is what they do believe. Second and most importantly, the sort of speech act it is again comes by way of intentionality. The reason one would say “I believe that P” is to report, to relay, to disclose how one feels about P, “God exists.”
People far too often suggest that simply having a belief, much less articulating it, entails to some burden of proof. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The only speech acts that bear a burden of proof are assertions; as defined as a declarative statement about they way things actually are, as a matter of fact. The above illustrates an important point however. Not all assertions have onus. The burden of proof is simply a matter of conversational etiquette. Sometimes, the person hearing an assertion isn’t entitled or in a position to question the truth of what is being asserted; again, see personal disclosures or even matters of expertise. Sometimes assertions are uncontroversial and everyone agrees the assertion is true, and so without disputes arising in a conversation, there is no burden of proof even though assertions are being made.
I had to defend a person once from attack from at least two folks presumably well-versed in philosophy. He was responding to the assertion “God exists”, to which he declared, “There aren’t any Gods!” Some felt at that point that he had a burden of proof. After all, it had the same look and feel as “God exists”, so isn’t that enough to say both are assertions if one is? Indeed, that’s what the philosophies were saying. My answer to him was found in asking him what he meant; in other words, why would he say such a thing, what was his intent. It suffices that he was simply saying that “God exists” isn’t the case. In that case, merely denying that some proposition is the case doesn’t mean a burden of proof exists. In fact, the only signal that a burden of proof exists is exactly when someone denies that some proposition is true. Denials actually signal that the person asserting now bears a burden of proof, if and only if a genuine, productive, worthwhile conversation is the goal.
What about the original statement that “God exists?”
At this point, you should realize that because it indeed has the same look and feel as “There are no gods”, that we don’t yet know if it is an assertion or some other sort of statement. Written as such, it may still be disclosing what someone believes, and thus doesn’t have any onus. It may be a number of ways one intends to be understood and not simply that one is stating that “God exists” as a matter of fact and that’s the way things are.
The most pertinent idea in speech act theory is that of intention and if the idea is neglected, being an effective communicator and a good listener will be likely impossible.
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Kill Bill, Vol. 3

I can forgive most professional apologists for many things because many of their arguments are philosophical and they’re simply ignorant of philosophy.
 
I still can’t seem to forgive William Lane Craig, for example– versus an R.C. Sproul or Lee Strobel or Frank Turek– because as a PhD Professor of Philosophy, he cannot be unaware of the distinction between epistemic and ontological objectivity. Meaning that if I say “The Earth is roughly spherical”, it is “objective” in the sense that folks can agree to all of the relevant facts that would make such a statement true. And were I to say, “Vanilla Ice had a dope fade”, we may never agree to any of the facts; the facts don’t necessarily lead folks to agree that such a statement is true. This is epistemic objectivity and subjectivity respectively. If I were to say “The Ozarks are a series of mountain ranges and plateaus”, then regardless of what anyone says or why they would say so, such a statement is true. “The Ozarks are beautiful,” on the other hand, is a statement whose truth is determined by a subject; its truth is entirely reliant on the determination of people and facts about people, and it doesn’t even matter if all people everywhere agreed that it is true that “The Ozarks are beautiful”. Here, the distinctions are between ontological objectivity and subjectivity.
 
To make this easier to understand and remember, epistemic objectivity and subjectivity entails to how some claim obtains given some mode of determination, and ontological objectivity and subjectivity entails to what some state of affairs actually is in itself; a rock is an object, humor is a subject.
 
Craig refuses to acknowledge to any audience of layman that such a distinction exists and is vitally in opposition to, and easily undoes, all his arguments about truth and morality. No, Bill, truth and morality can objectively obtain epistemically through justification and “really” be more than lip-service and without any need to “actually BE” true or moral! “Why is that”, the layman doesn’t even know to ask? Because ontological status is irrelevant to the human ability to appropriately apply terms like “true” and “moral”. Meaning, whether truth or morality, warrant must exist to assert P is true or P is moral, and then the only kind of objectivity that matters is the very sort Craig hides; the epistemic task of laying forward grounded and grounding “reasons to assert” that P.
 
To claim that in order for P to be true or moral, we have to ontologically know that P is or is not true or moral is a charade! How else would we know but through a determination? And the process of determining what is true or moral entirely entails to what we can agree is true or moral. So claiming P is absolutely true or moral, or that it’s absolutely true or moral that P gets us nowhere; we must establish that the ontological claim is true or moral, but that’s a redundant insignificance! We do so epistemically!
 
So again, no, Dr. Craig … I still hold you in contempt and a charlatan that honest Christians are better off ignoring, unless getting half of the story is all somebody wants, and where the half that is always delivered is the most impotent!
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