Let’s call verificationism the thesis that the meaning of any sentence expressing a synthetic proposition is just its method of empirical verification. It follows that a statement is meaningless if it has no method of empirical verification, and if neither it nor its negation is an analytic truth. (Obviously, this characterization of verificationism could be fleshed out, and most if not all verificationists would refine it in some way.) Empirical verifiability (or falsifiability – I’ll henceforth refer to the former term for ease of explication) is a matter of a proposition’s having some sort of probabilistic or deductive relationship with observable states of affairs. For example, a statement regarding the existence or behavior of an unobservable entity can still be empirically verifiable if it entails or has some sort of probabilistic relationship with observable states of the world (see, for example, Ayer 1952: 13, 38; Carnap 1936: 425-427). Thus, a statement about, say, an atom, can be empirically verifiable if it is evidentially related to observation sentences – things like “under such-and-such conditions the cloud chamber will look like this,” or “under such-and-such conditions the screen connected to a scanning tunneling microscope will look like this.” Alright, here’s my question: what does the verificationist mean by “observable” and “unobservable”? Or, more specifically, because these are the terms the verificationist is more likely to use, what does the verificationist mean by “possibly observable” and “possibly unobservable”?
Archive for the ‘Philosophy of Language’ Category
I found segments on youtube of Derek Jarman’s 1989 film “Wittgenstein.” The rest can be found on youtube. Enjoy!
The following post constitutes an edited transposition of a series of comments found in another thread on this site. In the event that I have uncharitably edited this material from its origin, I depend upon my peers to alert me to the fact. You can find the original post here. While the title of this post refers to two individuals (for purely archival purposes…and I think it’s a clever title), it is not my desire to exclude others from the discourse; in fact, I hope that those who are interested in this topic will get involved in this conversation.
Context: Some commentators and analysts argue that undergraduates emerge from the contemporary American system with weak critical engagement skills. Specifically, some students express difficulty in determining the cohesive meaning of the sum of their intellectual exploits. In other words, some students become frustrated when they are unable to find (satisfactory) connections between different and seemingly disparate courses, ideas, and arguments. Does this difficulty result from weak critical methodology? Should educators be more explicit or direct in their efforts to get students to hone their critical skills? If so, how could educators go about doing this?
I’ve been reading Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation, which has been in the news quite a bit recently. Early in the book, Harris puts forward an argument to the effect that Christians are inconsistent in claiming, on the one hand, that they have good reasons for holding Christianity while believing, on the other, that Muslims do not have good reasons for believing Islam. Maintaining consistency, concludes Harris, requires Christians to reject Christianity. I thought it was an interesting argument. So, I’ve been thinking about a possible response, and thought I would share what I’ve come up with so far.
As I understand it, Harris’s argument, when boiled down to its essentials, can be put thus: (more…)