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Archive for the ‘Epistemology’ Category

Spock’s Epistemology

Hey guys! Here is my attempt to start a discussion after many months away from the blog. 🙂

Last week, during a discussion about naturalized epistemology, a very interesting series of interconnected topics came up that I want to explore more in-depth. For those who don’t know, naturalized epistemology is the idea that epistemology should be connected with science in some way. Many epistemologists merely believe that we should consider developments in cognitive science when doing our epistemology. More radical theorists seem to want epistemology to equal cognitive science.

This brings up the first topic I want to discuss. Cognitive science tells us how we do think, perhaps even how we can think. Should we tie justification or knowledge to only how we do or can think? That would neatly do away with skepticism, but at what cost? It seems that such a method of approaching epistemology would put some serious limits on epistemological theories including excluding the concept of possible worlds (which science can tell us nothing about) and seemingly requiring separate theories of justification or knowledge for different life-forms (like Vulcans or Hobbits or Sonny from I, Robot, which would potentially have different cognitive capabilities).

So I have a few questions. First, should we tie epistemology to science in such a strong way? Do you have a problem with excluding discussions of possible worlds from epistemology? How about sacrificing a universal (or at least almost) epistemology? Is it possible to have this close tie without the above effects? Feel free to chip in any other possible ramifications of such a strong naturalized epistemology you can think of, plus any nerdier examples than Spock and Frodo.

Oh, and thank you to the reading group! Many of these ideas are theirs, not mine. Credit where credit’s due.

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“Morality is a collective illusion foisted upon us by our genes”—Michael Ruse

[The following was presented to the UNF Philosophy Club on December 9, 2011. By no means is it complete and it is my intention to develop a more coherent paper arguing against the Moral Error Theory. I am open to any comments and criticisms]

As we approach the 35th year anniversary of John Mackie’s, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, it has become an appropriate time to commemorate the arguments put forth along with more recent ones, as well as some criticisms of his argument. Though, to begin outright with the arguments discussed may create some confusion. Therefore, in an attempt to avoid this confusion, it is essential that a brief account of the origins of the Moral Error Theory be given.

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In ‘Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism,’ Alvin Plantinga argues that naturalism excludes the means to validating our cognitive faculties. In a nutshell, Plantinga argues that if the reliability of our cognitive faculties is under question, one cannot answer the question whether they are reliable by pointing out that these faculties themselves deliver the belief that they are reliable; one needs more, one needs good, independent reason to believe our cognitive faculties are reliable. Crudely, Plantinga criticisizes empiricists / naturalists for failing to provide a logically satisfactory argument for asserting that our cognitive faculties are reliable.

Plantinga’s argument, though, does not immediately commend itself to acceptance: Essentially, the empiricist / naturalist must provide an argument for the foundational reliability of our cognitive faculties only if she first accepts a foundationalist epistemology. However, empiricists / naturalists need not accept a foundationalist epistemology. Indeed, the empiricist / naturalist should instead reject the premise that knowledge requires an Archimedean foundation. (I guess Plantinga could assert that the empiricist / naturalist is somehow committed to a foundationalist epistemology, but I would like to see the argument for that. In any case, I have little confidence the argument would work.)

Rather, pace Hasok Chang (epistemic iteration), C.S. Peirce (pragmatism) or W.V.O. Quine (coherentism), the empiricist / naturalist can take other routes. Though I have significant misgivings about coherentism, it remains a viable option. However, a more promising route, I believe, would be Chang’s idea of epistemic iteration, which is a thoroughly proper empiricist epistemology (situated within a largely Peircean pragmatist framework). To see this, let us look at Chang’s analysis of the historical problem of the reliability of thermometry in early and mid 19th science. Though crude and without the requisite scholarly detail, the synopsis should suffice to give the rough view.

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Must an omnipotent and omniscient supernatural agency also be morally perfect?

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Too many people take the so-called theory of intelligent design seriously, which is unfortunate since nobody who takes a scientific view of the world should, and everyone ought to take a scientific view of the world. As many have argued, ID theory is not, properly, a theistic explanatory model. However, I am not convinced that this is the case, and for two primary reasons. (Though, I find that insofar as ID theories are not theistic models, they actually suffer from more problems, so they really ought to welcome theistic interpretations. But this we may skip for now.) First, the correlation between theism and ID theory is too great for it to be an accident of honest inquiry. The overwhelming majority of ID theory proponents are theists, and theistic conceptions of god are, not surprisingly, suitable candidates for the intelligent designer. Second, the Discovery Institute, the main intellectual impetus behind ID theory in the English speaking world, published The Wedge, wherein they explicitly advocate for a theistic interpretation of ID theory. (FYI: One may read the document here: The Wedge.)

In any case, what is to follow is a rough and ready argument against theistic explanatory models.

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“and if Christ hath not risen, vain is your faith, ye are yet in your sins;”

1 Corinthians 15:17

I want to grant the strongest possible case allowable for the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, I expect to afford much leeway- indeed, more than is rationally justified- to the claims of the historicity and reliability of the Christian texts. That is to say I will grant, though I do not think it is true, that the eyewitness reports in the gospels and the epistles are from individuals who were neither inappropriately credulous, uneducated, nor emotionally and psychologically unfit to provide generally reliable testimonies. I will further grant, though I do not think it is true, that the gospels and the epistles are independent, generally reliable and unbiased historical documents which track the events under consideration accurately- as accurately as any historical text could, that is. I will also grant, though I do not think it is true, that the testimony of the Church Fathers was generally reliable and has transmitted accurately the succeeding 1,800 years to the current day.

I shall further suppose, though I am not sure how they might accomplish this, that historians can exclude all possible naturalistic explanations, with the exception of so-called swoon hypotheses, to include even future explanations which further scientific investigation might disclose and more elaborate explanations such as extraterrestrial interventions not now seriously entertained. Even then, I shall contend, Christians are not justified in believing that Jesus’ reported postmortem sightings were the result of a Christian miracle. I will argue that even on these favorable grounds the Christian is not justified in believing the Christian god rose Jesus from the dead.

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Before continuing, I should offer the following caveat. What is to follow is a very rough draft of a paper I threw together. The paper was inspired by another I authored on a similar theme for a PoS class. The following neglects many details and instead provides for a rough outline of a larger, much closer analyzed and ambitious paper I suspect I will write in the near future. So, this post is but an approximation of what is to come. Nevertheless, if the post engenders discussion on any topics pertaining to quantum mechanics, scientific methodology, philosophy of science, verificationism, logical positivism, whatever, and attracts critical first assessments, then it will have served its purpose.

Logical Positivism and the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics

“The rise of quantum theory in the years 1900 to 1927 is surely one of the major advances in the history of science- perhaps even one of the greatest intellectual advances ever made by mankind” (Hund 1974, p. 5). The mathematical formulation of modern quantum mechanics consists of a complete and logically consistent framework of mathematical deductions (see, for instance, von Neumann 1955). However, an ordered series of mathematical deductions, no matter how complete or logically consistent, is not a physical theory. In order to obtain the status of a physical theory, the mathematical formalism or, more precisely, the mathematical representations, must be assigned certain, specifiable experimental conditions so as to allow for the determination of measurement procedures which may aid in the confirmation and disconfirmation of hypotheses and in the identification of new and fruitful avenues of investigation. Of course, the experimental data produced by the measurement procedures necessitate interpretation, and that interpretation will run up through the mathematical structure resulting in our view of the theory and its overall implications for our system of the world.

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