• Agent Smith
    Nobody here has the right answer to the question that follows from the OP which is this:

    How can we prove/disprove idealism/materialism?

    Way forward:

    There are two questions to ask:

    1. How can we prove/disprove idealism/materialism? (vide supra)

    2. Why, o why can't we answer question 1 in a way that gives some degree of closure?

    Question 2 seems more important than 1.
  • Pie

    I see no need to prove the existence of sense-organs.

    I think we can and must and do take lots of things for granted. Philosophy is ideally presuppositionless in the sense that any claim can be challenged (nothing is sacred but the critical attitude itself), but discussion simply breaks down if no agreement can be found on things that are counted as obvious. This is what @Banno was talking about, I think.

    In essence, basic statements are for Popper logical constructs which embrace and include ‘observation statements’, but for methodological reasons he seeks to avoid that terminology, as it suggests that they are derived directly from, and known by, experience (2002: 12, footnote 2), which would conflate them with the “protocol” statements of logical positivism and reintroduce the empiricist idea that certain kinds of experiential reports are incorrigible. The “objectivity” requirement in Popper’s account of basic statements, by contrast, amounts to a rejection of the view that the truth of scientific statements can ever be reduced to individual or collective human experience. (2002: 25).

    Popper therefore argues that there are no statements in science which cannot be interrogated: basic statements, which are used to test the universal theories of science, must themselves be inter-subjectively testable and are therefore open to the possibility of refutation. He acknowledges that this seems to present a practical difficulty, in that it appears to suggest that testability must occur ad infinitum, which he acknowledges is an operational absurdity: sooner or later all testing must come to an end. Where testing ends, he argues, is in a convention-based decision to accept a basic statement or statements; it is at that point that convention and intersubjective human agreement play an indispensable role in science:
  • Pie
    Of course I don't live solipsistically, but neither did Hume live like a good empiricist, by his own admission, right?GLEN willows

    Sure. No issue there. We are playing with concepts, discussing discussion, what makes sense, what needs proof and doesn't. Good stuff.
  • Banno
    Have a read of "what the Tortoise said to Achilles".

    There's a point at which further demands for proof lead only to the ridicule of the skeptic.
  • Banno
    Popper's idea of basic statements is the best version of this I've seen.Pie

    Meh, no for me. Quine and Feyerabend took care of that. I'll go with Wittgenstein's hinges and Searle's institutional facts.
  • 180 Proof
    I'll go with Wittgenstein's hinges and Searle's institutional facts.Banno
  • Pie

    Is there a big difference ? Haven't looked into Searle's theory. I just speculate that it's some kind of post-foundational holism ?
  • Pie
    I don't want to derail the thread with a tangent (and maybe it's not such a digression), but...
    In the Construction of Social Reality, Searle is concerned with the logical structure of social reality. It aims at offering an understanding of this reality that accords with the idea that we live in one world, one that is described by physicists and that is made of particles, electrons and mountains. Social reality seems not to fit very well in this world because it is composed of objects — money, judges, kings, marriages, etc. — that seem to be irreducible to particles and electrons. The striking difference between these two kinds of objects is how they relate to our intentional states, i.e. to our beliefs, judgments and representations. Unlike mountains and electrons, money, judges, kings and marriages would not exist if we did not represent them as existing. They are, in Searle’s words, observer-dependent. The problem that Searle ultimately addresses is, therefore, how do objects that are observer-dependent fit in a world that is fundamentally composed of observer-independent objects.

    This seems to depend a bit much on the ghost story (intentions). Aliens could postulate money and marriages and kings when studying the artifacts we left behind before our extinction. Is explaining a radio transmitter's activities with 'electron's so different than explaining a human body's motions with 'money' or 'promises.'? I understand that 'mountain' and 'electron' are arguably a more stable concepts than 'money' and 'marriage,' but I don't see a clean break. If a marriage is what we take a marriage to be, then so is a mountain, even if part of the way we take mountains is that they don't care about our feelings, aren't causally affected by our chatter about them, and are there even when we don't notice them.
  • Pie
    I think this one connects pretty well to the OP.
    The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathematics and logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges. Or, to change the figure, total science is like a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience. A conflict with experience at the periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field. Truth values have to be redistributed over some of our statements. Re-evaluation of some statements entails re-evaluation of others, because of their logical interconnections -- the logical laws being in turn simply certain further statements of the system, certain further elements of the field. Having re-evaluated one statement we must re-evaluate some others, whether they be statements logically connected with the first or whether they be the statements of logical connections themselves. But the total field is so undetermined by its boundary conditions, experience, that there is much latitude of choice as to what statements to re-evaluate in the light of any single contrary experience. No particular experiences are linked with any particular statements in the interior of the field, except indirectly through considerations of equilibrium affecting the field as a whole.

    If this view is right, it is misleading to speak of the empirical content of an individual statement -- especially if it be a statement at all remote from the experiential periphery of the field. Furthermore it becomes folly to seek a boundary between synthetic statements, which hold contingently on experience, and analytic statements which hold come what may. Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system. Even a statement very close to the periphery can be held true in the face of recalcitrant experience by pleading hallucination or by amending certain statements of the kind called logical laws. Conversely, by the same token, no statement is immune to revision.
    — Quine
    This seems close to Popper, but with a rough spot left unfixed. The talk of experience linked with statements is problematic and basically evades the issue. How does 'experience' impinge on language ? Is 'experience' understood as ectoplasmic radically private sensory input ?

    For vividness I have been speaking in terms of varying distances from asensory periphery. Let me try now to clarify this notion without metaphor. Certain statements, though about physical objects and not sense experience, seem peculiarly germane to sense experience -- and in a selective way: some statements to some experiences, others to others. Such statements, especially germane to particular experiences, I picture as near the periphery. But in this relation of "germaneness" I envisage nothing more than a loose association reflecting the relative likelihood, in practice, of our choosing one statement rather than another for revision in the event of recalcitrant experience. For example, we can imagine recalcitrant experiences to which we would surely be inclined to accommodate our system by re-evaluating just the statement that there are brick houses on Elm Street, together with related statements on the same topic. We can imagine other recalcitrant experiences to which we would be inclined to accommodate our system by re-evaluating just the statement that there are no centaurs, along with kindred statements. A recalcitrant experience can, I have already urged, be accommodated by any of various alternative re-evaluations in various alternative quarters of the total system; but, in the cases which we are now imagining, our natural tendency to disturb the total system as little as possible would lead us to focus our revisions upon these specific statements concerning brick houses or centaurs. These statements are felt, therefore, to have a sharper empirical reference than highly theoretical statements of physics or logic or ontology. The latter statements may be thought of as relatively centrally located within the total network, meaning merely that little preferential connection with any particular sense data obtrudes itself.

    As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries -- not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer. Let me interject that for my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer's gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conception only as cultural posits. The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience.
    — Quine
    The above is pretty great, especially 'germaneness.' But he seems to take sensation as primary, which seems to depend on the (mere) posit of a certain kind of physical object, our sense organs.

    *I should add that this is pretty much a discussion of usage preference. I think it's better to not put quasi-mystical qualia in the picture, but just do the minimal thing and start with claims that are minimally controversial.
  • Banno

    something like this...

    Popper's basic statements are simple existential statements: "there is an X", used as potential falsifiers for universal statements, so "here is a black duck" falsifies "all ducks are green".

    Wittgenstein's hinge propositions are more varied, being the stuff that is unreasonable to doubt. "I've never been to the moon", "there are other minds" and so on.

    Searle looks to the logic of institutional facts: this piece counts as a bishop in chess. The counts as renders the statement indubitable.
  • Banno
    Quine's criticism of Popper, in a nutshell, is that basic statements already involve theory. Popper of course agrees, but thinks all he has to do is push the pylons further into the swamp so his edifice doesn't wobble too much. Lakatos and Feyerabend show that there can be no agreement as to how far down to push the pylons, so any foundation will do.

    Wittgenstein and Searle take a slightly different approach, showing that there are things we must hold steady in order, for Wittgenstein, that we can even have a disagreement, and for Searle, in order to act socially.

    Of course, there's a bit more detail to each. But as a great mind once said, "understanding a great philosopher\s philosophy, requires an enormous effort, a great amount of study".
  • Agent Smith
    There's a point at which further demands for proof lead only to the ridicule of the skeptic.Banno

    Too skeptical (areum mediocritas). Nevertheless, if someone is so enamored of their proof, go the whole nine yards, si señor? In for a penny, in for a pound, yes?
  • Banno
    When does a thread cease being a conversation and become a comedy?
  • Agent Smith
    When does a thread cease being a conversation and become a comedy?Banno

    When the thread loops back to the starting position, Sisyphusean style. Going round in circles confusion. The point to philosophy is to realize that and, at some point, cease/desist the search for the orbit closes in on itself (back to square one). Que sais-je?
  • Pie


    I agree that we must hold some things relatively steady, such as the concepts we apply. I still think Popper's system is pretty solid though...and part of the anti-foundational holism trend.
  • Pie
    The point to philosophy is to realize that and, at some point, cease/desist the searchAgent Smith

    In some cases, clarifying the situation may lead to our no longer being interested in resolving an issue or no longer finding that project meaningful or coherent. In other cases, I think real progress is made. The stories we tell about the stories we tell can get leaner, more efficient, and leave less out.
  • Agent Smith
    In some cases, clarifying the situation may lead to our no longer being interested in resolving an issue or no longer finding that project meaningful or coherent. In other cases, I think real progress is made. The stories we tell about the stories we tell can get leaner, more efficient, and leave less outPie

    :up: Agent Smith makes a note of that!
  • bongo fury
    Sorry but can you dumb that down just a tiny bit?GLEN willows

    "Methodological solipsism" is an oxymoron that fairly makes its own point. In spite of its polysyllables.

    Solipsism is an absurd parlour game, or intriguing science fiction; but methodology is science.

    But, the two aren't necessarily separate. They can feed each other. Like in any good oxymoron.

    REFERENCES. Since the choice of an autopsychological basis amounts merely to an application of the form and method of solipsism, but not to an acknowledgment of its central thesis, we may describe our position as methodological solipsism. This viewpoint has been maintained and expounded in detail, especially by Driesch, as the necessary starting point of epistemology ([Ordnungsl.] esp. 23). I mention here some further adherents of this theory, some of whom apply the solipsistic method only in the initial stages of their systems and eventually make an abrupt jump to the heteropsychological. Since they do not, for the most part, employ any precise forms of construction, it is not always clear whether this transition amounts to a construction on the solipsistic basis, as is the case in our constructional system, or whether it is a desertion of that basisRudolf Carnap, The Logical Structure of the World, p102

    The title there a provocative oxymoron with metaphysical overtones. (But that's titles for you.) "Aufbau" (I presume "structure") is the usual abbreviation of Der Logische Aufbau Der Welt. I shouldn't have assumed familiarity, especially when I did presume to bandy "umwelt" - I hope correctly.

    Anyway, this kind of scientific program does look like an attempt to take the basic empiricist dogma,

    Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the sensesThomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 2 a. 3 arg. 19.

    literally. But for the sake of theoretical psychology, rather than metaphysical deductions.

    Was my point.
  • GLEN willows
    I ain't ridiculing anyone, my friend. i just posted a question and it seems to have stirred up a lot of different positions and disagreements. Enough to make a healthy thread anyway.

    Thanks for responding to my question. Have a great weekend
  • javi2541997
    i just posted a question and it seems to have stirred up a lot of different positions and disagreements.GLEN willows

    That’s what philosophy is all about :wink:
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    Anyway, this kind of scientific program does look like an attempt to take the basic empiricist dogma,

    Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses
    — Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 2 a. 3 arg. 19.

    literally. But for the sake of theoretical psychology, rather than metaphysical deductions.

    Was my point.
    bongo fury

    That "basic empirical dogma" is the reason for the separation between divine ideas or divine intelligible objects, as independent, or separate Forms, and human ideas, or intelligible objects, which are dependent on the material body of the human being.

    The intelligible objects which are apparent to the human mind are dependent on sensation, which is a function of the material body, as described by Aristotle. The intelligible objects which exist as separate, and independent Forms, are prior to, and necessary for, the existence of material objects, as the cause of them, and therefore cannot be dependent on material bodies.

    This is an important point because it elucidates the separation between human ideas and divine ideas, and accounts for the fallibility of the human intellect. The human intellect is fallible in its apprehension of immaterial forms (intelligible objects) because of its dependence on the material body.
  • Michael
    My view is that we are bound by common, public norms in the application of concepts (these seem to be caught up in rules that license inferences). I don't pretend that these norms are exact or exhaustive or inflexible.

    But one such concept is 'private.' Another is 'sensation.'

    I don't really know what you're trying to say here, but if you're equating "other minds" as something given in experience then the types of mind that you're thinking of aren't the type that solipsists deny. The types of mind that they deny are the private kind that you also seem to deny, which makes me wonder how your view is distinct from solipsism.
  • Pie
    The types of mind that they deny are the private kind that you also seem to deny, which makes me wonder how your view is distinct from solipsism.Michael

    The (metaphysical) 'private mind' seems to function like a variable. It's by definition (grammatically) a black box with contents radically hidden from me, unless that box is mine. It's this ghost story that casts the shadow of the p-zombie in the first place.

    Those who posit this metaphysical private mind reject every public criterion for mindedness as not getting at it correctly, which seems to put them in the position of being unable to be sure that others are (truly ) conscious.

    It's also assumed that non-p-zombies are all (metaphysically) 'conscious' in the same way. Why not 73 general flavors of consciousness ? Or a continuum ? What possibilities are eliminated, given only the black box ? With p-zombies still having none of them ?

    I suppose I have 'raw feels' like anyone, but there's something sketchy about the concept. 'Other people can't have my sensations' is not a discovery or about human beings but an implicit definition of 'sensation'. It's the idea of something hidden and apart from the world, undetectable by definition.

    I say all that, but I also feel that there is something that slips through the nets of language. But that's what an android might say in 2095 while arguing for suffrage.
  • Pie
    f you're equating "other minds" as something given in experience then the types of mind that you're thinking of aren't the type that solipsists deny.Michael

    I think the issue is that what they are trying to deny can't be said, isn't clear...apart from some vague addition to the qualities that tend to be associated with having a mind. Real person minus p-zombie = metaphysical mind ?
  • Pie

    This Ryle quote probably makes the point I'm trying to make better than I can.
    There is thus a polar opposition between mind and matter, an oppos- ition which is often brought out as follows. Material objects are situated in a common field, known as ‘space’, and what happens to one body in one part of space is mechanically connected with what happens to other bodies in other parts of space. But mental happenings occur in insulated fields, known as ‘minds’, and there is, apart maybe from telepathy, no direct causal connection between what happens in one mind and what happens in another. Only through the medium of the public physical world can the mind of one person make a difference to the mind of another. The mind is its own place and in his inner life each of us lives the life of a ghostly Robinson Crusoe. People can see, hear and jolt one another’s bodies, but they are irremediably blind and deaf to the workings of one another’s minds and inoperative upon them.

    What sort of knowledge can be secured of the workings of a mind? On the one side, according to the official theory, a person has direct knowledge of the best imaginable kind of the workings of his own mind. Mental states and processes are (or are normally) conscious states and processes, and the consciousness which irradiates them can engender no illusions and leaves the door open for no doubts. A person’s present thinkings, feelings and willings, his perceivings, rememberings and imaginings are intrinsically ‘phosphorescent’; their existence and their nature are inevitably betrayed to their owner. The inner life is a stream of consciousness of such a sort that it would be absurd to suggest that the mind whose life is that stream might be unaware of what is passing down it. ... Besides being currently supplied with these alleged immediate data of consciousness, a person is also generally supposed to be able to exercise from time to time a special kind of perception, namely inner perception, or introspection. He can take a (non optical) ‘look’ at what is passing in his mind. Not only can he view and scrutinize a flower through his sense of sight and listen to and discriminate the notes of a bell through his sense of hearing; he can also reflectively or introspectively watch, without any bodily organ of sense, the current episodes of his inner life. This self-observation is also commonly supposed to be immune from illusion, confusion or doubt. A mind’s reports of its own affairs have a certainty superior to the best that is possessed by its reports of matters in the physical world. Sense-perceptions can, but consciousness and introspection cannot, be mistaken or confused.

    On the other side, one person has no direct access of any sort to the events of the inner life of another. He cannot do better than make problematic inferences from the observed behaviour of the other person’s body to the states of mind which, by analogy from his own conduct, he supposes to be signalised by that behaviour. Direct access to the workings of a mind is the privilege of that mind itself; in default of such privileged access, the workings of one mind are inevitably occult to everyone else.

    For the supposed arguments from bodily movements similar to their own to mental workings similar to their own would lack any possibility of observational corroboration. Not unnaturally, therefore, an adherent of the official theory finds it difficult to resist this consequence of his premisses, that he has no good reason to believe that there do exist minds other than his own. Even if he prefers to believe that to other human bodies there are harnessed minds not unlike his own, he cannot claim to be able to discover their individual characteristics, or the particular things that they undergo and do. Absolute solitude is on this showing the ineluctable destiny of the soul. Only our bodies can meet.

    As a necessary corollary of this general scheme there is implicitly prescribed a special way of construing our ordinary concepts of mental powers and operations. The verbs, nouns and adjectives, with which in ordinary life we describe the wits, characters and higher-grade performances of the people with whom we have do, are required to be construed as signifying special episodes in their secret histories, or else as signifying tendencies for such episodes to occur. When someone is described as knowing, believing or guessing something, as hoping, dreading, intending or shirking something, as designing this or being amused at that, these verbs are supposed to denote the occurrence of specific modifications in his (to us) occult stream of consciousness. Only his own privileged access to this stream in direct awareness and introspection could provide authentic testimony that these mental-conduct verbs were correctly or incorrectly applied. The onlooker, be he teacher, critic, biographer or friend, can never assure himself that his comments have any vestige of truth. Yet it was just because we do in fact all know how to make such comments, make them with general correctness and correct them when they turn out to be confused or mistaken, that philosophers found it necessary to construct their theories of the nature and place of minds. Finding mental-conduct
    concepts being regularly and effectively used, they properly sought to fix their logical geography. But the logical geography officially recommended would entail that there could be no regular or effective use of these mental-conduct concepts in our descriptions of, and prescriptions for, other people's minds.

    It is an historical curiosity that it was not noticed that the entire argument was broken-backed. Theorists correctly assumed that any sane man could already recognise the differences between, say, rational and nonrational utterances or between purposive and automatic behaviour. Else there would have been nothing requiring to be salved from mechanism. Yet the explanation given presupposed that one person could in principle never recognise the difference between the rational and the irrational utterances issuing from other human bodies, since he could never get access to the postulated immaterial causes of some of their utterances. Save for the doubtful exception of himself, he could never tell the difference between a man and a Robot. It would have to be conceded, for example, that, for all that we can tell, the inner lives of persons who are classed as idiots or lunatics are as rational as those of anyone else. Perhaps only their overt behaviour is disappointing; that is to say, perhaps ‘idiots’ are not really idiotic, or ‘lunatics’ lunatic. Perhaps, too, some of those who are classed as sane are really idiots. According to the theory, external observers could never know how the overt behaviour of others is correlated with their mental powers and processes and so they could never know or even plausibly conjecture whether their applications of mental-conduct concepts to these other people were correct or incorrect. It would then be hazardous or impossible for a man to claim sanity or logical consistency even for himself, since he would be debarred from comparing his own performances with those of others.
    — Ryle
  • Michael
    Those who posit this metaphysical private mind reject every public criterion for mindedness as not getting at it correctly, which seems to put them in the position of being unable to be sure that others are (truly ) conscious.Pie

    Yes, that's solipsism.

    I don't understand what the rest of your post is trying to say.
  • Pie
    A few more quotes:
    It will be helpful to keep in mind that Ryle’s target is the Official Doctrine with its attendant ontological, epistemological, and semantic commitments. His arguments serve to remind us that we have in a large number of cases ways of telling or settling disputes, for example, about someone’s character or intellect. If you dispute my characterisation of someone as believing or wanting something, I will point to what he says and does in defending my particular attribution (as well as to features of the circumstances). But our practice of giving reasons of this kind to defend or to challenge ascriptions of mental predicates would be put under substantial pressure if the Official Doctrine were correct.

    For Ryle to remind us that we do, as a matter of fact, have a way of settling disputes about whether someone is vain or whether she is in pain is much weaker than saying that a concept is meaningless unless it is verifiable; or even that the successful application of mental predicates requires that we have a way of settling disputes in all cases. Showing that a concept is one for which, in a large number of cases, we have agreement-reaching procedures (even if these do not always guarantee success) captures an important point, however: it counts against any theory, say, of vanity or pain that would render it unknowable in principle or in practice whether or not the concept is correctly applied in every case. And this was precisely the problem with the Official Doctrine (and is still a problem, as I suggested earlier, with some of its contemporary progeny).


    Surely, as his earlier critics pointed out (and as those who see him as a behaviourist ignore) some of the phenomena he allows will reintroduce a realm of private occurrences (dreams and imaginings will be the paradigm case). But as Ayer suspects, this sort of “ghost” is an honest ghost. Not simply (as Ayer suggests) because the phenomena do not command the stage of a private theatre: in the sense that no one else can tell us about them they are in that respect private.[12] As Ryle himself admits, “the technical trick of conducting our thinking in auditory word-images, instead of spoken words, does indeed secure secrecy for our thinking …” (1949a, 35).

    It is an “honest ghost” since privacy or secrecy of certain episodes will not lead to privacy for them all; and thus the epistemological concomitant to the Official Doctrine that would lead to the problem of other minds is not a threat. Nor does this sort of privacy usher in the semantic consequences of the Official Doctrine. The privacy attending our dreams and imaginings does not impugn our right to draw on observable (in the robust sense of the term) phenomena to defend our right to employ mental predicates for a large number of cases, for “this secrecy is not the secrecy ascribed to the postulated episodes of the ghostly shadow-world” (1949a, 35).

    There will indeed be cases in which only the agent can say whether she is pondering, imagining, dreaming, letting her mind wander, calculating, solving, planning, or rehearsing. But the sort of privacy in which only she can say whether she was doing any of these or other particular things is not the sort of privacy that gives rise to philosophical conundrums like the problem of other minds and the problem of necessarily private languages. On the contrary, the ability to describe one’s dreams (as well as one’s sensations) presupposes a language whose terms have established and public criteria for their correct use.


    When the thinking does result in propositions or sayings, however, the temptation is on the one hand toward excessive inflation, and on the other toward excessive deflation. For the result is not merely a string of words linked together in a grammatically well-formed sentence. In recognising this truth, however, we are tempted toward the view that bits of language are only necessary as the interpersonal vehicles of objective Meanings that are thinkable, in principle, to any hearers or readers of any nationalities.

    These Meanings are for the Duplicationist those significance-cargoes that are carried indifferently by your French and my English internal locutions—though the challenge to exhibit to his Reductionist critic even one such cargo, prised off its French or English vehicle, is as usual unwelcome to him. (1979b, 87)

    Ryle’s solution is to reject the vehicle-cargo model. In owning a penny, the duplicationist is right in saying I own more than a mere metallic disc; but the reductionist is also right in rejecting the idea that I own two things: a mere disc and a non-metallic, unpocketable yet marketable cargo. The word I employ is not a noise and something else as well; nor is just a noise. In learning a word’s meaning, I become enabled to conduct with it a host of inter alia informative, calculative, recording, anagram-solving, and versifying transactions of quite specific kinds. Just as a penny is not just a disc and nor is it a disc and something else as well, so a word is not just noise, but nor is it a noise and something else as well. The penny is an institutionally-qualified enabling instrument that I can use for specific sorts of transactions. The word is a complexly qualified noise, endowed with a quite specific saying-power, endowed by institutional regulations, accumulating public custom, pedagogic disciplines, and so on.
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