• Pfhorrest
    3.6k
    I started another thread recently specifically about the definition of knowledge, particularly Gettier problems, and the implications of critical rationalism on them. That thread has begun growing into a general discussion of critical rationalism, while I have been waiting for it to die before posting another thread on that broader subject. So I've decided to just go ahead and start that other thread here.


    My general position on the methods of knowledge is what I call critical liberalism. That is to say, I hold that rather than by default rejecting all beliefs until reasons can be found to justify them, all beliefs should be considered justified enough by default to be tentatively held (the liberal part) until reasons can be found to reject them (the critcal part). It is only when one wishes assert one belief over another that reasons need to be presented to show the other belief to be in some way wrong, and that alone does not in turn show that the proposed alternative is the one unique correct alternative, only that some alternative is needed, with the one put forth being merely one possibility.

    In this manner, knowledge-building is not, on my account, about starting from nothing and building up to grander and grander certainties piece by piece, but rather about starting with limitless possibilities, yet no certainty as to which of them is correct, and then embarking on a never-ending process of narrowing down the range of possibilities by eliminating those that can be shown to be incorrect.

    This epistemological view is more generally known as criticism, critical rationalism, or as applied to a narrower set of beliefs about empirical phenomena, as falsificationism; and it has been promoted by philosophers such as Immanual Kant and Karl Popper.

    An immediate consequence of this view is the rejection of a view called confirmationism, which is the common view that if a belief has implications about what else one should expect to find true, and those expectations are later borne out, that that confirms the original belief, or in other words gives further reason to continue holding that belief. Falsificationists and critical rationalists more generally, including myself, hold this to be straightforwardly a case of a logical fallacy called affirming the consequent: given a conditional statement of the form "if P then Q", it does not then follow that "if Q then P", so even if it's true that if P then Q, and you find that the consequent Q is indeed the case, that does not thereby imply that the antecedent P must be the case; it might be, but it just as easily might not be, and to suggest that it must be just because the consequent Q was found to be true is to commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent.

    The classical example of this is that if it were true that all swans were white, then any particular swan encountered would be found to be white, but encountering a particular white swan, or even many particular white swans, does not thereby prove that all swans are white, because it might still turn out to be the case (as in fact it is) that some swans are black, no matter how many white swans you've seen. (Indeed, as Carl Hempel points out, if that form of inference were valid, then because "all swans are white" and "all non-white things are non-swans" are logical equivalents, called contrapositives, the observation of any non-white non-swan, such as a green leaf or a red rock, would also count as evidence that all swans were white, which is intuitively absurd).

    Thus one can never in any way positively confirm any beliefs to be true, just by finding that everything else so far seems to accord with those beliefs, because any new piece of evidence might always be the one to show those beliefs false. Beliefs — whole systems of belief, as no individual pieces of them can be tested in isolation — can only be shown false, or not yet shown false; never positively shown true.

    But this does not imply that all beliefs not yet shown false are equal. Beliefs not yet shown false can still be more or less probable than others, as calculated by methods such as Bayes' theorem. Falsification itself can be considered just an extreme case of showing a belief to have zero probability: if you are frequently observing phenomena that your belief says should be improbable, then that suggests your belief is epistemically improbable (i.e. likely false), and if you ever observe something that your belief says should be impossible, then your belief is epistemically impossible (i.e. certainly false).

    When it comes to practical decision-making, it is often most reasonable to act on the beliefs that have such a greater probability, to ensure a greater chance of success. But it is not epistemically wrong to believe something that is unlikely but not actually shown false yet, and as falsificationists like Popper have argued, it is in some ways even better to do so. That is because beliefs that are more specific and detailed, having higher information content, are inherently less likely to be true — or conversely put, a belief that is so broad and general that it could not possibly be false accomplishes that by claiming nothing of substance at all, leaving no claims open to falsify — so such unlikely, high-information beliefs that, nevertheless, still have not been falsified, have withstood much more testing than those that put forward nothing to test. And it is only by taking such risks, sticking our necks out and risking being wrong, that we can hope to find out more about what is wrong, and so narrow in further still on what in turn might still be right.

    In general, I hold, we should tentatively adopt more specific and so risky beliefs when we can afford to risk being wrong, but when we cannot afford that risk, we should act in accordance with those beliefs that have the greatest probability of being true.
  • Isaac
    3.3k


    You're incorrigible, we're discussing this exact thing in the other thread and instead of answering the questions there, you just re-iterate the same theory in another thread? @StreetlightX, @fdrake could we please just move this to the thread that's already about this so that we can keep all the responses together, It's an interesting topic to participate in, but not split between two almost identical threads.
  • Pfhorrest
    3.6k
    I'm trying to move that discussion to this thread so that people who aren't interested in the OP of the other thread don't miss out on it, because the other thread did not begin as being about this topic, it wandered to this topic.

    The point of that thread was not to discuss critical rationalism generally, but just about defining knowledge, especially in light of Gettier problems, in the context of that viewpoint. I have a bunch of things about epistemology -- my kind of critical rationalist epistemology -- that I want to talk about, but rather than one enormous post with all of my thoughts about everything to do with epistemology all at once, I'm trying to break it down into bite-sized pieces. I've had the OP of this thread written for a while and have just been waiting for that other thread to die out to move on so that I don't have more than one active thread on the front page at a time.

    @StreetlightX, @fdrake, I started this in lieu of asking you to split the tangential discussion out of there for me, so as not to create more work for you, but if you really want to do something about it, feel free to split the argument about critical rationalism more generally out of that thread and move it here. Or not, if you don't care to bother, it's fine by me.

    If a religious person started a thread about a particular narrow philosophy of religion topic, and a proposed solution to that narrow problem specifically from a theist viewpoint, and that thread devolved into a general "existence of God" argument rather than the narrow topic it was supposed to be about, would that not call for splitting off into a new thread?
  • Isaac
    3.3k


    The trouble is these threads have a trend, you start a thread seemingly about A and B in which you make the argument B follows from A. People chime in with arguments against A or B, and you reply "no, this thread is just about the fact that B follows from A, not about either B or A" - then you start a thread about how C follows from A and the same thing happens. The problem is that usually you're not far off right. B following from A is perfectly reasonable, and trivially so. What's of interest is A, not it's relation with B. So if we followed your restrictions, you'd just end up with a series of threads where you proposes strict logical relations between terms and the only answers you'd get are "Yes -that's is a reasonable thing to think" restating the principles of rational thought doesn't make for a very interesting thread. Discussing different beliefs which can nonetheless arise from the application of such principles, does.

    I think, if you you start a thread in which A is already quite a specific proposition, and its relation to B is trivially shown, we needn't start a new thread to discuss A, we'll end up with a massive number of very short threads that way, and a great difficulty choosing where best one should respond.
  • Banno
    9.9k
    Yeah, it is the same topic. Bolding, underlining and italics don't change that.
  • Pfhorrest
    3.6k
    In all of these cases, I've already argued for "A" elsewhere, and I usually link back to earlier threads where that was the case. I'm slowly stepping through every subtopic of philosophy and my views on them, which each hinge on earlier views already argued for.

    In this case, the foundational arguments underlying this point of view that is the topic of this thread are to be found in this thread, but I've stopped linking back to that because you derailed the entire thing into an attack on one tiny facet of the general view espoused there, so that thread didn't end up actually being about the general principles I'd like to refer back to, but just about your objections to moral objectivism, which was not the point.

    Again, as much as I hate comparing myself to religious people: if someone wanted to discuss a theistic view on ontology, a theistic view on epistemology, a theistic view of mind, a theistic view of ethics, a theistic view of will, a theistic view of politics, etc... and every single time they tried to discuss some specific view on a specific topic that presumes theism, the thread became just a big general free-for-all about the existence of God in general... that's kind of derailing the thread.

    And now you're derailing this thread, like you have many before, by complaining about its very existence, since you've already been (analogously) "arguing about the existence of God" in another thread where that wasn't the topic, and now you're offended that I appeal to that same thing as a foundational belief in another thread about another topic.
  • Pfhorrest
    3.6k
    Yeah, it is the same topicBanno

    It's the same topic you derailed the other thread into, it's not the same topic as the OP of the other thread.

    ETA: Actually it's not even the same topic you derailed the other thread into, because you derailed the other thread into an attack on rationalism generally, not even critical rationalism specifically.
  • Banno
    9.9k
    The idea seems to be that we start with every possible belief.

    A, ~A, B, ~B, C, ~C...

    Then,
    It is only when one wishes assert one belief over another that reasons need to be presented to show the other belief to be in some way wrong,Pfhorrest

    So we now want to assert A over ~A; it seems we take some other belief, say D, such that D implies that ~A is false, and hence D implies A.

    But why do we believe D? By the starting hypothesis, we have not decided that D and not ~ D is the case...

    Do we refer to some further belief, E? Then we simply iterate the problem.

    I can't see how this gets epistemology anywhere.
  • Banno
    9.9k
    The obvious thing to do is to take on board Popper's grand conjecture; take something as true - anything - and then see if you can disprove it.

    The trouble is, if you are going to show that the grand conjecture is false, you are going to need something that is both incompatible with that conjecture, and true...

    Hence, you will need to already have other true propositions, besides the grand conjecture, in order to try to disprove the grand conjecture...

    Confirmation holism, again...
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k
    eliminating those that can be shown to be incorrectPfhorrest

    Except it's still not clear that this is what your method does. Where's the "false" in your "falsifying"?
  • Isaac
    3.3k
    [I've moved this comment here as it seems to be where the previous thread now is.]

    it seemed like you and Banno were questioning that, implying that there is no way of sorting beliefs at all, them all just being held non-rationally and so immune to any rational process of comparison.Pfhorrest

    Yes, that's entirely what we're saying (and @Srap Tasmaner, above, too, I think). Your process isn't 'sorting beliefs'. It's pointing out that you ought to do some choosing between those that are contradictory. That isn't actually doing any sorting at all. Falsification does not provide the rational method of comparison, so I don't see how banno and I arguing against it amounts to us saying that beliefs are "immune to any rational process of comparison".

    Lack of proof is just nothing, the starting pointPfhorrest

    Repeating it doesn't just make the counter-arguments go away. Lack of proof is not the starting point. It is neurologically impossible to derive a belief without proof and extremely difficult (read impossible for all but the severely mentally ill) to maintain one contrary to all proof.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    Thus one can never in any way positively confirm any beliefs to be truePfhorrest

    I don't think that's shown, or right. If I believe Jon has blonde hair, I can positively affirm this. Rather, it is general laws, such as are sought in science, that cannot be confirmed, because exceptions to those laws are always, in principle, discoverable.

    It's possible that a given belief is not falsifiable at all, which should be a sign that it is extremely unlikely rather than robust. For this reason, I prefer a default position of scepticism for want of a good cause to entertain the idea.

    The other benefit of scepticism is that saves one believing in two contradictory but as yet unfalsified theories: pending good cause to believe in one over the other, I'll usually credit neither.
  • Pfhorrest
    3.6k
    The idea seems to be that we start with every possible belief.

    A, ~A, B, ~B, C, ~C...
    Banno

    Yes, but an important thing is that some beliefs are about the relations between other beliefs. If C = "A implies B", then you can rule out the possibility of belief D = "A and ~B and C". You still don't know whether C, and if C, whether A or ~B, but you know for sure that ~D.

    The obvious thing to do is to take on board Popper's grand conjecture; take something as true - anything - and then see if you can disprove it.Banno

    Yes, that's the idea.

    The trouble is, if you are going to show that the grand conjecture is false, you are going to need something that is both incompatible with that conjecture, and true...Banno

    No, you only need to show that the grand conjecture contains inconsistencies.

    I gave this example in the other thread but I'll repeat it here. Say it seems to you that doing a certain dance causes it to rain. Why it seems like that to you isn't important, that's just your "grand conjecture", it's the possibility out of the infinite possibilities that you've initially picked for whatever non-rational reason. Then one day you think you did the dance, at least you sure tried to, but then it doesn't seem to rain, at least not like you expected it to. So now it seems to you that A implies B, but also that A and ~B, which aren't possible together. So you have to revise your beliefs somehow or another.

    You could just reject that A implies B: give up the theory that dancing causes it to rain. (But you don't have to, and actual sophisticated Popperian falsification never said that you do have to; you're arguing against the strawman of dogmatic falsificationism).

    You could instead reject that ~B: insist that it did rain in a way consistent with the rain dance theory, but for some reason it just didn't seem to rain to you.

    Or you could instead reject that A: figure that you must have done the dance wrong somehow.

    In any of those cases, you're also going to have to rearrange the rest of your beliefs somehow or another to accommodate whichever of those you chose to revise. There's going to be many, many ways you could revise the rest of your beliefs to accommodate any of those. But somehow or another, you've got to change something, on pain of inconsistency, since you can't consistently believe that dancing makes it rain, you danced, and it didn't rain.

    Your process isn't 'sorting beliefs'. It's pointing out that you ought to do some choosing between those that are contradictory.Isaac

    I think this highlights a possible source of confusion between us here. When I'm speaking of sorting beliefs, I'm speaking of sorting between entire systems of belief, not merely between atomic propositions. You can always save some atomic proposition by sacrificing others instead, but every time something seems to happen contrary to what your complete system of belief says should happen, you've got to make some change or another to your complete system of belief, and the repetition of that gradually sorts out subsets of the set of possible systems of belief.

    Repeating it doesn't just make the counter-arguments go away. Lack of proof is not the starting point. It is neurologically impossible to derive a belief without proof and extremely difficult (read impossible for all but the severely mentally ill) to maintain one contrary to all proof.Isaac

    I think you're confusing me with @Philosophim here, and also conflating "proof" with "suggestion".

    It was Philosophim who was saying that you could come to some belief completely at random, and I agree with your criticism of that (as did he, in the end). I'm not saying everyone starts out with a blank mind. We start out with some ideas or others about how things are, but those ideas aren't proven yet (and that's fine), they're just our intuitive impressions of things, and different people may have different intuitive impressions of the same things (and that's fine).

    What I'm saying is that by default, none of those differing intuitions has the burden of proof against the other; they're all equally fine interpretations of the limited available information, so long as they have all accounted for the same available information, and it's not until new information can be found to rule one or another out that there's any epistemological difference between them.

    Thus one can never in any way positively confirm any beliefs to be true — Pfhorrest

    I don't think that's shown, or right.
    Kenosha Kid

    Finally, someone comments on what I expected to be the controversial aspect of this (the "liberal" part), and not the boring generally uncontroversial aspect of it (the "critical" part).

    If I believe Jon has blonde hair, I can positively affirm this.Kenosha Kid

    Can you really though? I mean, pragmatically speaking, in an ordinary sense, sure you can: you can look at Jon and see his hair is blonde. But in a technical sense, in the way Banno and Isaac are on about, it's always possible to instead revise a bunch of other beliefs to account for why it seems to you like Jon has blonde hair but somehow he really doesn't.

    For this reason, I prefer a default position of scepticism for want of a good cause to entertain the idea.Kenosha Kid

    There are two kinds of skepticism to distinguish here. I am completely supportive of one of them, the kind I call "criticism" (whereby it is possible to show reason to reject a belief), which Banno and Isaac are arguing against; but the other, which I call "cynicism" (whereby it is necessary to reject any belief until reason is shown to accept it), is what I'm arguing against, and which you seem to be arguing for here.

    The most archetypical kind of cynicism, in this sense, is justificationism, of which most theories of knowledge are a form, though usually only tacitly, without their proponents realizing it. Justificationism is just the position that rationality means only holding opinions when you have reason to hold them.

    But a famous trilemma, known by various names such as Agrippa's Trilemma or Munchausen's Tremma, illustrates how this principle leads directly to cynicism in the sense I mean here, or else to something tantamount to fideism (the rejection of what I call "criticism") instead. For any reason put forth in support of some opinion is itself another opinion, for which the justificationist must then, if consistent with this principle, demand yet another reason. But that in turn will be some other opinion, for which the same demand for justification must be made. And so forth ad infinitum. This can only lead to one of three outcomes:

    - The most typical one is foundationalism. This abandons the principle of justification at some point by declaring some step of the regress of demands for justification to be self-evident, beyond question, without need of further support. That is transparently tantamount to fideism. Nevertheless, as I will soon explain, I have sympathy for the need to hold some opinions without them being rigorously supported from the ground up. I simply reject holding them to thus be unquestionable.

    - Another possible outcome is coherentism. This appeals at some point to an earlier step in that regress as support for a later one, establishing a circular chain of reasons that together can then support other reasons. I am sympathetic to the coherency criterion employed here, as surely all of one's opinions must be consistent with each other, and finding inconsistencies is a good reason to rule out some opinions. But while that is a necessary feature, I think it is not a sufficient one: mere consistency is not enough to justify opinions in the sense demanded by justificationism, without again falling to fideism. For as that whole circular chain of reasons is then collectively unsupported and held as needing no further support besides itself, it is then, as a whole, tantamount to one big foundational, and therefore fideist, opinion.

    - The last possible outcome, and the most honest application of justificationism (in that it never breaks from the demand for reasons, to hide instead in fideism), is infinitism. This accepts the infinite regress of demands for justification, leaving the initial opinion, any and every initial opinion looking to be supported, forever insufficiently supported. That leaves one unwarranted in holding any opinion, and so is transparently tantamount to nihilism. Self-avowed infinitists do at least nominally hold that knowledge is still possible, and therefore conclude that it must somehow be possible to have an infinite chain of justification, even while acknowledging that it would be impossible for anyone to ever complete one in practice. While I am again sympathetic to this unending search for deeper and deeper principles to underlie our opinions, as I will soon elaborate, this infinitist position seems to me simply incoherent when framed as a form of justificationism: if you cannot ever complete the chain of justification, and you must have justification to have knowledge, then you cannot ever have knowledge.

    Most theories of knowledge are either foundationalist or coherentist, and most of those who reject both of those conclude that therefore knowledge is impossible, seeing infinitism to be as incoherent as I do.

    But a few philosophers, including Immanuel Kant and Karl Popper, have instead rejected the justificationist principle tacitly underlying all of those positions, and instead say, as do I, that it is not necessary to reject every opinion until you can find reasons to justify it; it is only necessary to reject an opinion if you find reasons to reject it, and it is acceptable to hold any opinion, for no reason at all, until such reasons to reject it are found.

    Like with coherentism, contradictions between different opinions are good reasons to reject some or all of them; and like with infinitism, this process of whittling away incorrect opinions is unending. But because both coherentism and infinitism tacitly accept the justificationist principle, neither of them quite adequately escapes the dilemma of either following it into nihilism, or else abandoning it for fideism.

    When considering reasons to intend something rather than reasons to believe something, this anti-justificationism seems largely uncontroversial. Most people will accept that it is acceptable to do something simply because you want to do it, for no particular reason, so long as there is not a good reason not to do it. We don't demand that everybody stop doing anything at all until they can show that what they want to do is justified by the need to do something that is justified by the need to do something that is justified by the need to do something... ad infinitum. We instead just accept that they're free to do whatever there's no reason not to do.

    My rejection of justificationism includes that kind of freedom of intention, and to deny such freedom of intention, as in to insist that nobody does anything until it can be shown that there is a good reason to do so, would also qualify as a form cynicism in the sense that I am against here. But my rejection of cynicism also extends equally to a freedom of belief like that put forth by philosophers such as Kant and Popper. I say that it is not irrational to hold a belief or an intention simply because you are inclined to do so, for no reason; it is only irrational to continue to hold it in the face of reasons to the contrary.

    But in rejecting justificationism, I am not at all rejecting rationality, or the importance of reasons. I am still against fideism, against irrationally holding opinions in the face of all reasons to the contrary of them, or asserting them to others with no reasons to back them. I only hold, for the reasons I have shown, that such an anti-justificationist position is the only practicable form of rationality, the only one that leaves us with reasons from which to reason.

    Justificationism, if true, would make it impossible to ever rationally hold an opinion, instead insisting either that we hold no opinions, or else hold some core opinions to be, quite irrationally, beyond question.

    In rejecting justificationism, we make room to hold some opinions, still open to question, that can nevertheless serve as reasons to hold or reject other opinions. We do lose any hope of ever having absolute certainty in any of those opinions, as they all remain constantly open to question and revision, but justificationism never offered any hope of rational certainty anyway, only the irrational false certainty of fideism (or else none at all), and with justificationism out of the way we can at least begin to compare our tentatively held opinions against each other and progress towards gradually better sets of opinions.
  • Banno
    9.9k
    ...but you know for sure that ~D.Pfhorrest
    No, you don't, on your very own account.

    Anything goes. It didn't rain because the third violinist hit a bum note, or because the chorus girl's mum was a non-believer.

    Nor have you found reason for rejecting justification. Anything goes.
  • Pfhorrest
    3.6k
    No, you don't, on your very own accountBanno

    You got that D = (A and ~B and C) where C = ~(A and ~B), so D = (A and ~B and ~(A and ~B)) and so is flatly self-contradictory, right? That's why we can know that ~D.

    Anything goes. It didn't rain because the third violinist hit a bum note, or because the chorus girl's mum was a non-believer.Banno

    In which case the simple belief that dancing makes it rain is false, and needs to be modified with something else that takes into account the violinist's performance or people's beliefs too.

    Anything goes.Banno

    Then "not just anything goes" goes too.

    Why are you even arguing if you think there's no such thing as any opinion being wrong? It's not like you think I'm wrong or something then, is it?
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k
    In which case the simple belief that dancing makes it rain is false, and needs to be modified with something else that takes into account the violinist's performance or people's beliefs too.Pfhorrest

    But now you're talking about ceteris paribus clauses and that's a whole 'nother minefield, as Nelson Goodman showed.
  • Banno
    9.9k
    Why are you even arguing?Pfhorrest

    Best thing you've written in a while.
  • Pfhorrest
    3.6k
    But now you're talking about ceteris paribus clauses and that's a whole 'nother minefield, as Nelson Goodman showed.Srap Tasmaner

    Ceter parabis clauses are exactly the thing at issue here. Falsification in the Popper sense, but not the strawman sense, doesn't assume there are any ceter parabis clauses. If you think that dancing causes it to rain, without any ceter parabis clauses, that means you think that if you dance then it will rain, period. So if you do actually dance (you didn't dance wrong or something) and it doesn't actually rain (it didn't just seem to not rain somehow), then your belief that dancing makes it rain must be false as stated. But maybe some modified version of it, with ceter parabis clauses, could still be true.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k


    Adding them doesn't help because they can't be properly specified. Roughly I took@Banno's point to be that, since you are putting an essentially undefined set of beliefs on the table, you have far too many options for disconfirmation. It's the same as what goes wrong with c.p. clauses.
  • Isaac
    3.3k
    an important thing is that some beliefs are about the relations between other beliefs. If C = "A implies B", then you can rule out the possibility of belief D = "A and ~B and C". You still don't know whether C, and if C, whether A or ~B, but you know for sure that ~D.Pfhorrest

    Firstly, that's not falsification. Falsification is about scientific theories, not logic. All you've done there is assert the laws of logic. If what you want to say is that one can hold any belief as justified so long as it doesn't contradict the laws of logic, then I don't think you'll have a single opposition. as I said above it's trivially true. The point a bout the laws of logic is that we didn't create them out of thin air and then teach them to everyone. they're like the law of gravity, things always used to fall toward the earth, we didn't force them to by the new law. People think in ways broadly construed by the laws of logic, which we then codified to help us avoid a few complex mistakes.

    Secondly - mistakes. As I mentioned before (which you ignored) comparing the logical coherence in this way between even as few as ten networked beliefs will require you to carry out 3,6368,800 tests. Given that the types of belief you're talking about are very fine grained here, we'd bee needing to compare several thousand interconnected ones. We all know that we shouldn't hold two contradictory beliefs. The challenge is finding a pragmatic way to avoid it. Testing each one for logical coherence with each other one and discarding only the belief that two logically incoherent beliefs can be held simultaneously, is an impractically obtuse way of doing it. Or as Srap put it

    since you are putting an essentially undefined set of beliefs on the table, you have far too many options for disconfirmation.Srap Tasmaner

    In any of those cases, you're also going to have to rearrange the rest of your beliefs somehow or another to accommodate whichever of those you chose to revise. There's going to be many, many ways you could revise the rest of your beliefs to accommodate any of those. But somehow or another, you've got to change something, on pain of inconsistency, since you can't consistently believe that dancing makes it rain, you danced, and it didn't rain.Pfhorrest

    Nobody believes that anyway. There's been no result gained from your experience of dancing. It was already that case that you couldn't believe these three things simultaneously. They merely exhaust the set of all possibilities, we can see that without dancing. You're implying the processes of falsification (testing one's beliefs) but reverting to simple logical laws when that process fails to yield anything useful. The actual testing of the theory "doing a certain dance causes it to rain" has no effect whatsoever on the conclusion you claim that test yields "you can't consistently believe that dancing makes it rain, you danced, and it didn't rain" We knew that by the laws of logic before we did the test.

    You can always save some atomic proposition by sacrificing others instead, but every time something seems to happen contrary to what your complete system of belief says should happen, you've got to make some change or another to your complete system of belief,Pfhorrest

    No you absolutely don't I've just demonstrated that with your own example. the required change to you system of beliefs is not impacted one iota by the "something happening contrary to that system". All you're saying in your own example above is that you cannot have a logically inconsistent belief system. We knew that before anything happened.
  • Pfhorrest
    3.6k
    The actual testing of the theory "doing a certain dance causes it to rain" has no effect whatsoever on the conclusion you claim that test yields "you can't consistently believe that dancing makes it rain, you danced, and it didn't rain" We knew that by the laws of logic before we did the test.Isaac

    The meat of the process happens when "you're also going to have to rearrange the rest of your beliefs somehow or another to accommodate whichever of those you chose to revise". If you think you did the right dance, and dancing supposedly makes it rain, but it doesn't seem to rain, and then you decide to resolve that conflict by rejecting the apparent fact that it didn't rain, then you're going to have to revise a whole lot of something or other to explain in what way it "actually did rain" even though it doesn't appear in any way to have rained to you. Invent a deceiving demon, or invisible rain, or something to excuse the appearance of no rain despite the "reality" you want to claim that it did rain.

    And likewise with any of the other decisions you could make to resolve the conflict: reject that you did the dance right, or reject that dancing causes it to rain, and you have to revise whatever beliefs lead you previously to believe that you were doing the dance right, or that that would make it rain.

    You have some complete network of beliefs according to which you ought to conclude from your experiences (i.e. you have all these theories that laden your observations such that you interpret them to mean) that you did the dance, that that should cause it to rain, but that it didn't rain. Yet you can't conclude all of those things at once. So you have to change something about that complete network of beliefs (the theories ladening your observations) to allow you to interpret your experiences in a way that doesn't imply that contradiction.
  • Isaac
    3.3k
    you did the dance, that that should cause it to rain, but that it didn't rain. Yet you can't conclude all of those things at once. So you have to change something about that complete network of beliefs (the theories ladening your observations) to allow you to interpret your experiences in a way that doesn't imply that contradiction.Pfhorrest

    Yep. A fact which...

    A) is not what falsification is about
    B) we knew was true no less prior to the 'testing' than we did after it. This fact was completely unaffected by the actual testing of the theory
    C) helps us not one iota to sort our beliefs because the only one we must reject is that we can believe contradictory things concurrently, a belief which we never had in the first place.
  • Pfhorrest
    3.6k
    A) is not what falsification is aboutIsaac

    See earlier about strawmanning falsification. Actual falsification that Popper et al supported is not the dogmatic falsificationism that Quine et al opposed.

    B) we knew was true no less prior to the 'testing' than we did after it. This fact was completely unaffected by the actual testing of the theory
    C) helps us not one iota to sort our beliefs because the only one we must reject is that we can believe contradictory things concurrently, a belief which we never had in the first place.
    Isaac

    We knew prior to the testing that we could not hold beliefs that would result in a contradiction. We did not know prior to the testing that our beliefs would result in a contradiction.

    According to the beliefs we held before, what we seem to have observed should not have been logically possible, and therefore should not have been observed. Yet we seem to have observed it anyway. Therefore we must revise the theories ladening those observations, so that what we observed is not interpreted as being that logical impossibility.


    I’d also like to repeat to you the same question I posed to Banno. If you think it is not possible to show any opinions to be incorrect, what exactly are you trying to do by arguing against mine? If you’re right to think that nothing can be wrong then I’m consequently not wrong to think that some things can be wrong.

    And again, I really really didn’t expect the “sometimes beliefs can be shown to be incorrect” part of this to be the hot-button issue, but rather the “you’re not required to show that your beliefs are correct, you can just have them as you like (until they’re shown incorrect)” part, which I’d think you would like (besides the part in parentheses).
  • Coben
    1.6k
    I think this is better than only believing things that have passed some supposedly or actually rigorous epistemological process. 1) it matches reality - we come to adulthood with a very mixed set of beliefs, some of them not even conscious. These have been arrived at all sorts of ways: via parents (and into them via a range of processes), through experiences and peers, through reading through various other authority figures, through media (both implicitly and explicitly) and so. At a certain point some people begin to consider their various beliefs, perhaps separating the wheat from the chaff, some don't. But one is generally in the position of having too many things to check. I think it actually makes sense to keep going with many of them unless one has strong reasons - of all sorts of kinds - for putting one on the table for autopsy. Imagine eliminating all not rigorously arrived at beliefs at the age of 18 or 21. The next few years would be a mess. And, in fact, you wouldn't even know all of them. Which is my 2) you can't do without them. Whatever your epistemology you are going to have beliefs about the opposite sex, parenting, how to succeed professionally, how much emotion to express (and how much for each one), what should not be talked about with whom, how to determine who to be friends with, how much sleep you need, what you need to read or study, all sorts of social priorities and more, that you can't just stop believing, some of which you don't know about, and which give you heuristics to navigate both personal and professional worlds.One could pretend to decide one no longer believed these things and try to navigate every decision 'from scratch' while on the side engaging in a vast research project, I suppose. But that is a life's work.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k


    I think the idea of falsification as a way of narrowing the range of what could be true is really appealing, it's just not the whole story. One of the things that's wrong here, I think, is that the set of beliefs under consideration is treated as if it's frozen; it's entirely retrospective. There's some sense to this for the start of diagnosis -- I'm in an epistemic pickle, how did I get here? -- but there doesn't seem to be a way out if all you do is re-evaluate and re-arrange and re-classify that frozen set of beliefs. There are always ways to do that.

    As Dewey would insist, we live constantly projecting into the future. The resolution to this kind of problem is going out and getting more data, which is what we naturally do anyway. We are never properly represented as having a fixed set of beliefs to play with; the contents of that set -- insofar as there even is such a thing -- is constantly shifting, in large part because we make it so. But that means the freedom you think you have to re-arrange your web of beliefs however you like is probably illusory, because taking action and gathering more and new types of data actually works, and there's no reason it should, if it's just a matter of choosing, even arbitrarily, what to keep and what to jettison.

    I'll give an example, one that I always thought kind of illustrates the implicit existence of the web of beliefs, but will make Dewey's point as well: the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation. I always loved this story. Penzlas and Wilson weren't even looking for it, but they had a nice radio telescope on the roof and had done a good job isolating what it should pick up. But there's a hum. At the very beginning, you count this as completely unexplained. What's helpful about the web of beliefs thing is that you can take a step back -- what other assumptions are we making? Top of the list is that the equipment is working properly. In the movies, at this point someone (or the machine itself) will "run a full diagnostic". So they did that. Maybe there's a problem on the roof -- in other words, something we can't even standing here in the lab. They climb up on the roof and find their beautiful dish full of pigeon nests and pigeon poop. Chase 'em off and scrub the thing clean, then check again. It's still there.

    Sussing out your assumptions is helpful, because it could be one of those assumptions (that the machines are working, that there is no obstruction in the dish) could be wrong. But then you take action. You check. And once you've "run a full diagnostic" or maybe two, you count the equipment as working. You're done there. It doesn't stay forever in epistemic no-man's land as maybe still not working. Same for the roof. Once you've climbed up there and taken the action to nail down this assumption -- that the dish is in working order -- you're done. Now you have actually ruled out the hum as being an artifact of your equipment in some way, and you conclude that it is real and worth thinking about.

    But in none of this are we just playing a formal game with a frozen set of beliefs and making choices about which to keep and which to discard.
  • Pfhorrest
    3.6k
    :up:

    I'm not sure exactly what point you're arguing for here.

    Previously I thought you were arguing along the same lines as Isaac and Banno that you can't ever conclusively falsify any particular belief because you can always revise a bunch of other beliefs instead to excuse retaining that particular belief in the face of evidence that would otherwise seem contrary.

    But now you seem to be saying that you can, with enough effort and checking, conclusively rule out some of the possible alternative explanations (the equipment isn't working, the dish is dirty, etc) and so be compelled to accept some particular conclusion (there actually is microwave-frequency radiation coming from every direction in the sky).

    I actually agree with both of those things, in different ways. Technically you can always make something up to excuse any observation without it compelling you to reject some particular belief you want to retain. But practically there comes a point when what you have to make up to excuse the observation is so far-fetched, meaning that it requires you to change so much else about your belief system, that it doesn't make pragmatic sense to go that route rather than the far more parsimonious route.

    E.g. with my previous example scenario about the rain dance theory, you could excuse the apparent lack of rain, without rejecting that you did the right dance and that that dance causes it to rain, by saying that the rain is invisible, intangible, etc. But then you have to rearrange all the rest of your beliefs to accommodate such a thing as undetectable rain. Probably far easier to just reject the rain dance theory. Actually, it's probably easier still to just reject the belief that you did the dance right. But then after trying all the different variations on dances, checking all the other confounding factors -- just like running a diagnostic on the equipment, making sure the dish is clean, etc -- at some point it becomes more plausible, requires fewer stretches of the imagination (modifications of other beliefs), to just reject the rain dance theory entirely.
  • Janus
    9.5k
    The problems I see with your proposal, to keep it really simple are:

    1. Falsification of p is necessarily confirmation of not-p, however general not-p might be. It follows that the logic of falsification is no different than the logic of verification.
    2. No one believes anything just because they feel like it, so the benefit flowing from that purported freedom is an illusion.
    3. No system allows us to sidestep fideism, because given the scope of human knowledge, any individuals will necessarily take the majority of her or his beliefs on faith.
  • Pfhorrest
    3.6k
    1. Falsification of p is necessarily confirmation of not-p, however general not-p might be. It follows that the logic of falsification is no different than the logic of verification.Janus

    The logical forms of falsificationism and confirmationism/verificationism are completely opposite: one is the valid deduction of modus tollens, the other is the fallacy of affirming the consequent. One is "if P then Q, not Q, therefore not P" (valid), the other is "if P then Q, Q, therefore P" (fallacious).

    Then there's the discursive difference, in terms of "epistemic rights", of critical rationalism (of which falsificationism is just the empirical species) vs justificationism: under critical rationalism you are permitted any belief by default until reason to prohibit it is found, while under justificationism you are prohibited any belief by default until reason to permit it is found.

    2. No one believes anything just because they feel like it, so the benefit flowing from that purported freedom is an illusion.
    3. No system allows us to sidestep fideism, because given the scope of human knowledge, any individuals will necessarily take the majority of her or his beliefs on faith.
    Janus

    "Taking things on faith" in the sense you seem to mean there is the exact same thing as I mean by "believing because you feel like it": something just seems true to you, you can't conclusively prove that it is, but you believe it anyway because you pragmatically have to believe something or other.

    "Faith" in the sense of the fideism I'm opposed to is not just that. That is just the principle of "liberalism" I mentioned in the OP. Fideism is the opposite of the principle of "criticism" I mentioned in the OP. In terms of epistemic rights as above, fideism is not merely taking beliefs as permitted by default (which I'm for), but as obliged by default, as epistemically necessary, and so immune to questioning (which I'm against).

    The opposite of the "liberalism" I mentioned in the OP, what I called "cynicism", either requires you resort to fideism in the above sense to find some ground to build up from, or else resign yourself to nihilism, having no ground to build from. "Liberalism", the opposite of that "cynicism", frees from needing a ground to stand on, letting you just float (so long as you avoid things that would drag you down), and so saves you from nihilism without resorting to fideism.
  • Janus
    9.5k
    The logical forms of falsificationism and confirmationism/verificationism are completely opposite: one is the valid deduction of modus tollens, the other is the fallacy of affirming the consequent. One is "if P then Q, not Q, therefore not P" (valid), the other is "if P then Q, Q, therefore P" (fallacious).Pfhorrest

    As I see it falsification has nothing at all to do with deductive logic. It has to do with the inductive and abductive logic of our dealings with the empirical world. Falsifying, for example, the assertion "Fire is phlogiston" is exactly equivalent to verifying "Fire is not phlogiston"; the logic is the same. If you think there is a difference there, then I'd be keen to hear your explanation.
  • Pfhorrest
    3.6k
    Say you think fire is phlogiston. On account of that you expect to see certain things. You go make observations and you see those things. On that basis, you hold your theory that fire is phlogiston to be confirmed. This is a case of affirming the consequent: you think that A implies B, you see B, and you take that as evidence for A. That's a textbook fallacy.

    Now say instead you think fire is not phlogiston. On account of that you expect to see certain things. You go make observations and you don't see those things. On that basis, you hold your theory that fire is not phlogiston to be falsified. That is a case of modus tollens: you think that not-A implies not-B, you see B, and you take that as evidence that A. That's a valid inference.
  • Isaac
    3.3k
    Actual falsification that Popper et al supported is not the dogmatic falsificationism that Quine et al opposed.Pfhorrest

    Well, that's a debated issue, but in neither Quine's view nor Lakatos's is it described as merely eliminating the logically inconsistent. It is about the role of observation, in whatever interpretation.

    We knew prior to the testing that we could not hold beliefs that would result in a contradiction. We did not know prior to the testing that our beliefs would result in a contradiction.

    According to the beliefs we held before, what we seem to have observed should not have been logically possible, and therefore should not have been observed. Yet we seem to have observed it anyway. Therefore we must revise the theories ladening those observations, so that what we observed is not interpreted as being that logical impossibility.
    Pfhorrest

    You're ignoring the argument. It's pointless just repeating the same assertion without addressing the issue. You said...

    some beliefs are about the relations between other beliefs. If C = "A implies B", then you can rule out the possibility of belief D = "A and ~B and C". You still don't know whether C, and if C, whether A or ~B, but you know for sure that ~D.Pfhorrest

    So the only thing you are able to rule out here is belief D that "A and ~B, where A implies B". No observation rules this belief out. It is ruled out by logic, it doesn't require any observation at all. So "we did not know prior to the testing that our beliefs would result in a contradiction" is false in respect of the beliefs you're claiming to be able to rule out "beliefs about beliefs".

    you think it is not possible to show any opinions to be incorrect, what exactly are you trying to do by arguing against mine?Pfhorrest

    Show your opinion to be less pragmatic, less honest, less useful... Show other people that there are reasonable alternatives...Undermine the rhetorical power such views have... There's all sorts of reasons to argue against an opinion other than the expectation that it can be proven wring by some mathematical algorithm.
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