Category Archives: Epistemology

“Bird” Ain’t The Only Word!

It must be hard to understand that we use the word “truth” functionally and completely differently than we actually talk about it. The oddest thing of all is that we deny the function and think our casual use of the term is all there is. It must be hard because most people can’t even see it.

For instance, we say that whatever is true is true regardless of what we believe. We say that truth is elusive. We say that the truth is out there. That’s all causal language.

Functionally, there are only actual states of affairs and our perspectives on what those actual states are. That means that truth isn’t reality but is a word attributed to a perspective we think best describes a state of affairs.

Yes, there is one reality. However, truth is not a property of states of affairs or the sentences we use to describe what we think of them. That means that it is possible to have many ways to describe a state of affairs but no way to say one is true or another is false, as long as their usefulness is the same, essentially. This is the first birthed idea of Pragmatism from Peirce and still echoed by other scientists today; for instance, Mlodinow and Hawking in the pragmatic reprise, Model-dependent Theory.

Reality is “out there”, folks; sentences are “in here”, as Rorty would say.

Nothing is “true”. There are only sentences that entail to justified propositions, or warranted assertability, or reason to assert. And there is no necessary limit to the number of justified ways we can think about any single given state of affairs; making the idea of “a” truth obsolete.

Hence, the functional end of “truth” because when a person thinks something is true, they must argue. In arguing, they are justifying. In justifying, people demonstrate no use for the word “true” but actually, functionally mean that truth is justification. Justification is what we appeal to in order to prove “truth”. We​ cannot merely appeal to “truth” and have anyone think it’s a justified comment; in other words, a true statement.

That’s what we’ve determined in Western Epistemology in its entire history, which comes from millennia of rigorous thought on human knowledge starting with the Greeks.

Truth is a word and that’s about it. Our use of it is poetic in most cases. However, most mistake their poetry for Epistemology. That’s a mistake.

Carry on.

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On Being “Suobjective” …

I’ll put aside my being amazed and perplexed at the way laymen understand the terms “subjective” and “objective” so that I can redress whatever magic has beguiled the masses.

Everything is subjective.

Objective is not the opposite of subjective.

Objective does not entail mind-independence.

As it concerns morality then, we are subjective in our behavioral tastes, we are objective in that as human beings, we have the same natural sentiments (natural attractions and repulsions) and we reason similarly. This means we will generally reason similarly and feel similarly about the same sorts of problems and situations. These shared circumstances are the objects of our moral choices. Judging morality then has these three basis of objectivity and objectiveness; sentiment, reasoning, circumstance.

The fact that there’s no absolute fact of the matter about why humans should want one sort of society or another (say egalitarian versus authoritarian) doesn’t negate the fact that some choices we make are objective towards things like egalitarianism or totalitarianism. The social good itself is subjective and its attainment, objective, and that social goods vary between cultures and circumstances, morality is relative to these concerns.

So, my Theist friend, objective morality requires only society, not deity. And my Atheist friend, one need not reject that objective morality exists. Rather, just that it needn’t exist independent of ourselves, as if morality is an object in the world, like a book or rainbows. And for goodness sakes, if your discussions about morality eventually bring up Hitler, you’ve no business discussing ethics or morality at all.

In short, human morality is subjective, objective, dynamic, and relative.

When a person appeals to moral absolutes and standards, it’s not because they believe it and want to themselves comply, but to simply demand theirs is the standard unwaivering and that you’d best comply.

Just a thought.

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What Meets The Eye

It only makes sense that arguments are only necessary when genuine reasons to doubt exist. That which is most obvious then, requires no argument and no other consideration at all in order to be justly believed. It should have by now in so many thousands of years become clear that evidence is inversely related to argumentation.

It is true that doctoral theses merely present old evidence, rearranged, but defending a thesis always entails to providing more of one and less of the other. So at the core, foundational level of belief are brute facts which are so obvious that we can only think to suggest they aren’t so. Antithetical claims of them must be justified before we doubt them. Frankly, whatever speaks for itself should be allowed to, until we’ve found it to be a liar.

This leaves Foundationalists and Presuppositionalists frustrated in the demand that because we can doubt, say, existence, that we aren’t entitled to say we know we exist; that it’s merely supposed. Quite wrongly, no, we need not suppose at all. One only supposes we should doubt simply for the sake of doubting.

For what it’s worth though, almost nothing speaks for itself. However, this is the most straightforward way to explain why we can be justified in holding some beliefs without any literal reason (ie from consideration and deliberation) or evidence outside of what most obviously meets the eye.

Just a thought.

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Process Confusion

Process, Provision, Or Purpose?

Why should we favor a process over forming conclusions?

Why should we favor any one process over another?

The answer is that processes serve a purpose. If we are interested in saying things that best describe some state of affairs, then the purpose of any means getting us there, or even getting us situated in order to get there, is judged according to the conclusions those processes bring us to.

Truths are justified beliefs. Beliefs are affirmed empirically. Processes, say the methods of Science for instance, are vindicated in that they do what we want them to do. The complaint is that we are only at best incomplete with any conclusion, so we ought to hold conclusions as provisional and focus more on processes.

The problem there has origami folds of difficulty and I’ll pick up just a few:

First is that one presumes various processes are reliable, but this seals the fate of process with that of its fruit, conclusion. A process is reliable if it produces sound conclusions. So, we cannot favor process any more than conclusion when we start with the admission that conclusions are sketchy. Both must be provisional then.

Second is that if we divorce processes from conclusions, we have nothing to attach it to; those processes no longer have an interest in anything relating to knowledge in any sense related to warrant. Without some purpose, process has no meaning.

Third is that as part of a feedback loop between experience and explanation, conclusions are mandatory but processes actually aren’t at all. Most people have a myriad of beliefs that they are entitled to and that are justified, yet they cannot themselves explain why they are justified. It is only the Epistemologist that would complain that unless a person can account for their beliefs, they’re at least not justified in believing whatever they do believe. And, we’re already admitting that conclusions are sketchy; processes are the cause. So we can’t hardly be so skeptical about conclusions yet demand these folks have any process at all. That is, unless justified beliefs, truth, is the aim of epistemological processes rather than process for process’ sake. However, their process of lacking processes only belies a strategy. Again we know these folks hold justified beliefs. Balking about lacking processes is only owning that we want processes in place to increase the volume of no less than justified beliefs, ie. better conclusions hinged on good reasons to assert rather than on any process at all. Warranted assertability being the purpose after all.

Fourth, if the aim is to have a multiplicity of explanations for some state of affairs, then we cannot hold that a single process can provide a diversity of explanations; the more reliable a process, necessarily, the more likely we are to have a single conclusion from it. Too, in wanting to have more than one explanation, we’re left asking why. At that point, we’re talking about a strategy. We are dually admitting that conclusion and processes are indeed best kept provisionally. That is, that because one requires the other, none guarantee warranted assertability.

Finally, the only process we can absolutely commit to is discarding processes that don’t work, but this is no different than discarding conclusions that don’t work either; the one is an extension of the o

Just a thought.

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Love And Other Ideas

Epistemic entitlement in principle is much like other perceptual states.

It would be out of place it seems, to ask yourself why you were first smitten by your lover. There are words we can use and reasons we can articulate that would explain in part, but those same features may actually apply to others we don’t love or even to those we may hate. It would beg the question as to why those features lead your affections to one but not another given they all share them. Too, that feature list may be the same as mine but I find I love someone else entirely and find no affection for your mate. At the bottom of those reasons one may give to establish that there is love there and that one is justified in loving that person, there’s a jes nes se qua which is the compelling reason one’s mind changed from “not loving” to “now loving”.

It’s this idea best exemplified in asking why I may love you that entitlements are understood. The idea is that why I love you is because I am as I am and I simply love whatever it is I find you to be. I cannot articulate why I genuinely​ love you, but I know that I do. My being entitled to love you isn’t just that I ought to be able to love anyone I want. It’s that I am entitled to love anyone I genuinely love despite my ability or inability to express why I do.

There are things we are entitled to believe because we find them so obvious to believe that like love, it is effort lost if someone were to say those beliefs aren’t justified for the mere fact that we didn’t argue or think about them or didn’t even know why we believed at all.

Is it an unjustified belief that I exist even though reason and evidence — as Descartes so brilliantly made clear by the time we get to the end of his third meditation — cannot justify asserting that I do?

There are scores of brute facts like existence that we are entitled to believe and which warrant asserting as being the case, despite their independence of rational justification or evidence.

As this has possible implications on Theology and Atheism, the believer is entitled to the belief something like a god may exist as long as it is from a compelling, genuine impulse. However, the Atheist is likewise so entitled to the belief that there are no deity or even just in denying claims that “There are deity” is true. Too, neither are entitled to assert these beliefs as true, because “God” is a metaphysical proposition and therefore not truth-bearing. So while many modern Atheists contend nothing should be believed without reason or evidence, Theists are right in appealing to modern Epistemology which has long denied that as a requirement for truth-candidates. However, the Atheist is completely right in pointing out, without knowing it, that whatever beliefs to which a person is entitled, god-talk is not of that sort.

Just a thought.

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Properly Meaningless Beliefs

Most have heard the question, “How do I know reality is real or whether or not I’m just a brain in a vat?” Some think that if we can’t tell, then we don’t have any way to know what’s true and what isn’t. But for any question that cannot be answered using evidence or some other means of falsification and validation, the answer either way doesn’t actually matter.

If we must merely suppose things like reality or God or regularity and uniformity in nature or the existence of other minds, then we are equally merely supposing we ought to act one way versus another; it’s artificial.

It turns out that supposing reality is really real or that I’m a brain in a vat doesn’t at all effect my behavior either way, as long as I cannot discover what the case actually is. The same is true with the existence of God and so on. In that case, these “cornerstone positions” are only so-called. That’s for the fact that the reliability of how I go about justifying my experience only hinges on how well my means and methods help me come to describe my experiences, whatever world that may be; reality or vat. Since I’m able to experience, my relation to whatever world I may be in is what matters rather than knowing what lies outside my ability to know. Warrant from these propositions is drawn from the functional role between myself and my surroundings, even if fictive. That role is simply coming to know how to properly interact within an environment.

Therefore, regarding reality, brains, and vats, warrant hinges on justified beliefs, beliefs entail to action, and justification can only ever be vindicated; meaning that there is a payoff when acting one way versus another.

In other words, is what I’m thinking about things the way those things seem to be, because it actually matters.

For all such category of beliefs for which there can be no answer through reasoning or evidence, their import is exactly tied to the fact that they are not truth-bearing propositions. There may actually be a case for reality, vats, deity, other minds and so on, but they have literally no meaning to our human existence except the meaning we ascribe to them.

That’s for the very fact that we can’t know if they actually matter at all.

Just a thought.

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On Presuppositionalism …

I have as of late been posting about one topic which is both a counter to Atheistic criticisms of just belief in God and that defeats the Presuppositionalist complaint of needing a basis for all beliefs, or that all beliefs must be justified through reason or reasons to assert.

I am unconcerned with the Atheist’s criticisms because I agree with them, and generally they agree with how I do in fact justify my beliefs about God.

The Presuppositionalist is a spurious creature however. Their argumentation platform is actually more related to “Foundationalism” than to anything Van Til proposed. Their idea is that a belief must ultimately​ be traced back to a special kind of belief that must also be justified but cannot be justified by other beliefs. This sort, they call “Properly Basic”, or “Cornerstone Propositions”.

The idea is that in order to say justfication hinges on reliable methods, for example, there must be a properly basic belief that “the future resembles the past” or “there is general order to change over time, uniformity, regularity, order” and so on. The problem lies in the fact that if we merely justify these beliefs through presuming or assuming these are in fact the case, then the “foundation” is not truth. It follows then that it is literally meaningless as a preliminary for justifying other, non basic beliefs such as the initial belief that justification hinges on reliable methods; which pragmatically and justly affirms that belief time and again. The common complaint that Science isn’t the basis of Science or that it doesn’t justify itself using itself is moribund. The evident, obvious fact that it works not only vindicates Science and its methods and philosophies, it is justified because by “true” we can only mean “it works” and in a particular way which correlates to the subject of the “work”; ie. a demonstration that a proposition is describing a real state of affairs.

It suffices that Foundationalism isn’t a very interesting theory of human knowledge in Epistemology and is generally​ easy to defeat, as I initially attempted above.

However, we can indeed agree for the sake of argument that there must be a foundational belief outside of rational criticism because it is justified aside from other beliefs. We can also take up the charge that all beliefs must be justified. This is where I engage “entitlement” in the various forms given by Dretske, Wright, Burge, and Peacocke.

Entitlements are beliefs that are warranted because they are apparent and obvious, compelling, in terms the Foundationalist describe properly basic beliefs. However, we don’t presume these things or assume these things are true. We consently hold to the Foundationalist change that there are justified beliefs for which reason and evidence are not required. So where Foundationalism yields to self-refutation (no rational person would say supposition is justification, or that assuming is either), entitlements purport to be beliefs which are obviously true, and unlike Foundationalism again, defeasible.

The Atheist may worry that we can’t or shouldn’t say any belief is warranted without reason or evidence, but then several assurances follow. First, that “God” or any other metaphysical proposition cannot be an entitlement by definition. Second, that a volume, a volley, a landslide of examples of warranted beliefs which are properly basic do exist. Third and last is that the Skeptic is going to be more inclined to want some other basis of their Epistemology than beginning with presumption and assumption, and entitlements provide just that.

And for interesting trivia, notice those in the list of Anti-Foundationalists:

Roy Bhaskar
Jacques Derrida
John Dewey
Stanley Fish
Michel Foucault
G.W.F. Hegel
William James
Friedrich Nietzsche
Charles Sanders Peirce
Richard Rorty
Wilfrid Sellars
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Each in their own way defeat this idea of the need of foundations, be it Derrida making the case that beliefs are tied to language more than reality, or Peirce describing a closure principle of beliefs much like the web of meaning created by the words in a dictionary, though in the broadest sense all beliefs entail other beliefs cleanly, semiotically without any other problems like foundations.

In the end, the Presuppositionalist is claiming we presuppose some beliefs, but what they imply is that we only merely assume they are true and since assumptions create assess, as the saying goes, “God” (whatever the hell that term means!) ought to be the foundation for all knowledge claims. But that just carries assumption into credulity and desire and definition. In contrast, Entitlements are neither presumed true nor assumed true. They are asserted true and find warrant in their obviousness as being the case and for the fact that the only sort of reasoning which can be done about them is to justify doubting they are true; which of course no one can do, especially since the Entitleist can adopt all the initial positions of the Presuppositionalist yet not contradict itself in the end.

No, Presuppositionalist, I don’t presume anything in any of my beliefs; they are all justified beliefs that are either so, obviously, or not so obviously which then requires me to otherwise argue their justification.

Just a thought.

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Ouí, Ouí!

There’s an idea that there are certain questions that must be answered in order for any other questions to be asked and answered, but this is mistaken. There certainly are questions we can ask where our answers must be assumed true, but examining whether or not this effects any other enterprise of inquiry is actually very doubtful.

Rather than suppose the answer is “I do exist.” to the question, “Do I exist?”, what if I simply throw it out for being a nonsense question?

We can actually color all “cornerstone” or “properly basic” beliefs in such a way and all that changes is perspective, not how we go about justifying what we think some state of affairs is. So while Descartes may have been keenly interested in that sort of question, a Pragmatist or Linguist may simply say that what “I” and “exist” mean does more, or actually does all of the work in settling the importance of the question because it isn’t the fact of being a brain in a vat that’s of import. We cannot answer that question. But whether we are or are not doesn’t change either our concepts of “I” or “exist”; the experience is identical and so other questions like vats for brains or “really real realities” is immediately apparent as a dim question, an unnecessary one.

But, it’s the kind of question which demonstrates the lack of a need of concepts like “properly basic” beliefs or “cornerstone” propositions. In fact, the only sense in which they matter to epistemology is if we mandate, by fiat, that they must be a part of our paradigm of thought. In fact, they mustn’t.

This entire way of thinking is merely the remnant artifact of Descartes’ once dream of reduction and reconstruction. While he utterly failed in his attempts to reduce, as plenty of Analytic Philosophers have weighed in heavily by now, René failed to reconstruct even with the most forgiving compatriot of thought as sympathetic judges.

We do not begin with doubt and that we can doubt is no justification to doubt and all moves in Epistemology require justification, including doubting beliefs which we have arrived at simply by compelling pursuation of some states being obviously so. If we encounter such a question whose answer is so impossibly something else, we are justified in claiming we’re entitled to it until such a time as justified, reasonable doubts can be raised.

But given no question necessarily must be addressed, we avert a regress of “Well, why?” to every conclusion we have come to. In short, justification has never hinged on our ability to answer all questions we could ever ask. And given we in fact have quite a few justified beliefs, and a universe of unasked mysteries, the “problem” of “cornerstone” or “properly basic” beliefs is simply that they are thought to actually be genuine and mandatory when what they are is an artifact from a failed hope of a long-dead French philosopher.

Just a thought.

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Fess Up!

“We have a right to accept what we are powerless to reject.”

Fred Dretske, “Entitlement: Epistemic Rights without Epistemic Duties?” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, p. 598).

If it occurs to a believer in a consistent manner and is from genuine conviction that reality entails something extra or volitional, then the believer is justly entitled to a belief he may name “God”.

If it occurs to a skeptic in a consistent manner and is from genuine conviction that reality doesn’t entail something extra or volitional, then the skeptic is justly entitled to a belief he may name “Atheism”.

That is, in both cases, where conviction is not akin to personal desire or credulity but to convincing, irresistible persuasion.

This is one reason I love Philosophy in that through its study, we soon find out that most involved in “The Great Debate” are simply ignorant, else they wouldn’t​ bother debating. It also immediately identifies to you those most despicable souls who do know better but profit off of the ignorance of others; William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Frank Turek, Ravi Zacharias, R.C. Sproul, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

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I Don’t Have Enough Ignorance To Be Frank

People in general have a hard time understanding belief and denial and the subtlety of truth-telling.

You and I may hear a dog bark on the other side of the fence. Were you to assert the color of the dog is black but you had no means of knowing, my denial of your asserting “That dog is black” isn’t about the dog being one color or the other. It’s about whether or not you are entitled to assert any color the dog may be; black, brown​, orange, red, blonde, and so on.

My denial doesn’t mean that I think the dog is white, or any other color, or even that the dog isn’t black. Assertion relies on justification. When sufficient warrant is lacking, then it isn’t the content of the proposition that’s rejected. It’s only the denial of a person’s right to say it is the actual state of affairs.

As a Christian (though belief in deity isn’t required in order to so be, as far as I can tell), I have a disposition toward the proposition, “There are deity”, and I’m inclined to think it’s the actual case. However, though I think I am entitled to that belief, and justified in having it, I am very much Atheist in all important regards. That is, my anecdotal experience of what I suppose is the divine isn’t justification for me to assert that “There are deity” is actually the case. There’s no way to genuinely suggest everyone has my experiences or that other explanations, just as sound, aren’t more likely the case.

And though this conversely applies to Atheism, the point is that Atheism itself is not reliant on Theism for its definition nor does it entail to the belief that “There are no deity”, since this too is not an ultimately justifiable statement either. While Atheists do have beliefs about the assertion “There are deity”, it more often than not is completely limited simply to denying a Theist has just warrant to say that it is so.

Once Theists understand formal reasoning better, they will stop telling Atheists what they do and don’t believe or that it takes faith for them to believe something they themselves don’t often even believe; that there are no Gods. Instead, folks like Frank Turek will retitle books like “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Athiest”. The newly titled book, “I’m Completely Unable To Be Convincing”, will also change its content. It would now read in summary that people can’t choose what to believe and arguing about deity with those who lack an impression of otherness in reality is pointless. Though this will never happen as the empires of those like Frank only care about selling shitty apologetics to those who already “buy it”, they just may have not purchased the book yet.

Once Atheists likewise understand that a “lack of belief in” doesn’t at all negate the fact there is no “lack of belief about”, then they can simply tell the Theist the only belief they have about the existence of deity is that they justifiably believe the Theist hasn’t made their case at all. And in nearly all cases I’ve seen or experienced, the Theist only succeeds in removing any faith it would take in the Atheist disagreeing.

Just a thought.

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