In response to my earlier post and some astute questions by Mere-O’s own, Mr. Buhler, a writer named Soarin’Blonde took up the cause of the Vienna Circle and Logical Positivism. I respond to excerpts below:
First of all, Mr. Selby and Mr. Buhler, death, and the non-propagation of one’s theories, is no means of evaluation for the truth-status of those theories! While intellectual fecundity is a positive sign, it is by no means a sure sign of validity or truth.
To begin, this was very well put, which was typical in this well-written post. I agree with the writer that to label a belief false because very few people hold to it anymore is certainly not logically valid. I didn’t mean to make such a claim in my description of the history of the Vienna Circle. Rather, I intended to show that the death of the Vienna Circle was caused by the major problem of incoherence in the foundational premise of this school of thought.
That said, you wanted a defense for a criterion of knowledge that has been presented. The truth of the proposition (p1) that “The only propositions that have truth-value are those that can be verified accurately, repeatedly, and universally, by independent observers over a span of time and place,” is under attack, and I hereby so defend!
We have p1. p2. is as follows: “The only such verification is sense experience, that is, seeing with the eyes, hearing with the ears, touching with the hands, and so on.”
p3. “Therefore, the only propositions that have truth-value are those that can be verified by sense experience.”
With p3. demonstrated, a variety of satisfying and conclusive truths can be deduced, including but not limited to the futility of a search for an “immaterial” “god,” the unlimited hopefulness of the Scientific Project in (eventually) discovering all knowable truths, and an end to frivolous armchair “philosophy” the likes of which inferior men may enjoy, but is not, thereby, fruitful or interesting, or, in the end, anything other than a pleasant diversion, like blowing bubbles or playing pool.
It looks like Soarin’Blonde has been immersed in some early Wittgenstein! However, I heartily object to the notion that the early Wittgenstein held and the author seems to advocate which states philosophy isn’t a real disciple but a series of games. I can’t find it in myself to reject the obvious Aristotelian observation that reason is what sets human beings apart from the animals and that to live the good life one must reason well. Philosophy presents an avenue to do just that. Metaphysics may have some very difficult issues that become highly technical and abstract, but difficulty does not demand disposal! I think there is also merit in doing metaphysics poorly – like how I do it. One must begin somewhere and, as G.K. Chesterton once said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”
Antagonists of p3, men like Mr. Selby and Mr. Buhler, want to throw it in our face that p1 itself is not a statement the truth value of which is verifiable by sense experience. They think themselves clever, and they intend to thereby undercut p3.
“What about p2?,” I ask these clever men,. “What about p2?” That p1 is not directly verifiable by the senses, I grant, and kindly thank you for pointing it out. But that it does not have a truth-value does not mean it necessarily follows that it does not have a high probability.
Unfortunately, I can’t see how this alleviates the critique of logical positivism. Put in a formal logic sentence p.2 reads: “All propositions possessing truth-value are propositions that can be verified by sense-experience.” Again, the fallacy of Self-Referential Incoherence screams out at me. There simply is no way, as far as I can see, to ground p.2 in sense-experience. I’m also not sure why it has a high probability. But Soarin’Blonde continues to save the argument:
Therefore, while it is remains true that what is called truth is no more than a phantom, a cardboard cut-out, a mirage, and, that what is verified by Sense Experience is verified indeed, there is, after all, a middle way, and that is Probability.
Probability is what we name those inductions from sense experience for which we can produce no sensory proof (and therefore no proof at all), but for which we have no reason to doubt, and which, if relied upon, further the Scientific Project.
On Soarin’Blonde’s definition of probability I must ask what “inductions from sense experience” are? Why does p.2 count as one of these inductions and not propositions dreaded by him such as those contained in the cosmological argument for the existence of God, which builds upon sense experience? I fail to see anything in p2 that distinguishes it from other propositions about nonphysical objects.
I hope that DSH, Soarin’Blonde, or another interlocutor will respond and teach me if I am wrong. Until then, the existence of such beings as “Biola philosophers” remains possible in my mind.
Would it quiet the screams of Self-Referential Incoherence if one understood P2 to be a statement of observation? If so, it would be supported by an array of empirically verifiable evidences that all past propositions containing truth-value are propostions that were empiriclly verifiable. This would not be a defense of a formal logic sentence that is universally true, but rather a defense of an arguably verified hypothesis about those things that contain truth-value. After all, empirical observations by their very nature can never result in universal statements of truth.
What I mean is this: if all that men can know are those things that are verifiable by the senses, there still is room for statements like P2, only P2 can never be uttered with ultimate universal certainty, just as all matters of fact (truths derived from sensible verification) can never be uttered with ultimate universal certainty. Isn’t this one of the points that Hume made about empirical observation?
If one confines oneself to the realm of empirical observation, universal logical propositions can never be made (e.g., there is always the possibility that the experiment will go the other way tomorrow). However, empiricists can operate on a principle of probability arising from the muliplicity of similar results from a repeated event. This probability gives enough reason for the empiricist to trust that the sun will rise tomorrow, the ground will bear the weight of the walker, and the air will continue to provide the right combination of gases for the further sustainment of life.
I think that P2 is best overthrown not through the deafening screams of Self-Referential Incoherence, but rather through the presentation of facts, events, and propositions that deny its conclusions. Merely recognizing P2 as a statement of observation already removes its sting and forces the defender of P1 to offer up more conclusive arguments or evidences for the statement that only those propositions that can be accurately, repeatedly, and independtly verified have truth-value.
Sorry, I won’t yell as loudly in the future. ;)
All I get are a jovial apology and an emoction? I was hoping for a little more interaction…
Whenever someone argues that a premise is self-referentially incoherent or defeating, I am forced to re-examine and hope that the postulator isn’t as foolish as it might appear at first glance. Do you think I am correct in my defense of the non-incoherence above proposition?
Very well. It has more to do with time than unwillingness to answer. This isn’t exactly stuff you can write off the cuff on.
I still think the logical positivist is self-referentially incoherent and here is why: if we accept that p2 is only a statement of matter of fact then let me push you and ask what empirical verification one uses in reasoning from particulars to generalities? This was Hume’s main point, if I remember rightly. He thought there was no connection between empirical observations, e.g. the sun rose this morning and thousands of morning before that, to statements of probability, e.g. the sun will probably rise tomorrow. What empirical verification can we use to justify the inference to probability in the first place? Any generalization we make in our minds has nothing to do with the particular pieces of evidences we accumulate.
Tex, I appreciate your charity, but I don’t see how your reasoning could get the logical positivist out of the dread self-referential incoherence.
“what empirical verification one uses in reasoning from particulars to generalities? This was Hume’s main point, if I remember rightly. He thought there was no connection between empirical observations, e.g. the sun rose this morning and thousands of morning before that, to statements of probability, e.g. the sun will probably rise tomorrow. What empirical verification can we use to justify the inference to probability in the first place? Any generalization we make in our minds has nothing to do with the particular pieces of evidences we accumulate.”
I’m inclined to your position, but I think the question for the log-pos is: is it essential to log-pos to be a realist with respect to natural kinds, or indeed with respect to the external world? If it is not, then the generalizations that we make based on sense experience don’t have to be subject to the same criterion. The log-pos might say, “It’s not Socrates I see, it’s something that appears to me Socrates-ly, and I remain agnostic about what the ‘something’ is, and describe ‘appearing Socratesly’ as some ultimately mysterious but somewhat plausible habituation to certain culturally prescribed ways of shaping up the indescribable ‘somethings’. I don’t care about what you call truth.”
If it is essential to log-pos to be a realist with respect to natural kinds and/or the external world in general, then he has a different kind of explanation to do (no pun intended), and I think “self-referential incoherence!”, however loudly claimed, is the proper response.
I should add that the that which causes the appearing to one Socrates-ly shouldn’t be described even as a ‘something’ and especially shouldn’t be described as ‘causing’ the appearance. These are all generalized, non-empirical notions. What permits the strict empiricists to call a that a that? He presumes too much. Quine understood all of this, I think, and embraced it.
A logical-positivist non-realist is just a scary thought. It’s like committing intellectual suicide twice! (If substance dualism and realism are true.)
I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time just getting on, so forgive me for not cross-posting identically from jonrowe.com. I lost the original message an half an hour ago.
But my response is pretty simple. First, on jonrowe.com, I confess to being sloppy. The Empirical Model has been the paradigm since the 15th C. Where I erred was conflating “verificationism” and “falsificationism” in the same post as regards to that Model. They are most definitely not the same!
Selby could have dunked this one in the basket. If, like Appiah, one wants to create a straw man in terms of Logical Positivism’s untenability, go for the jugular: LP insists that only “empirical and rational propositions that can be verified” are the case. Well, friends, no one can verify that axiom! Logical Positivism and the Vienna Circle died a quick death, and for the obvious reason. Next?
On the other hand, I’ll defend Popper’s falsification to the death! Seriously. But Selby did not raise it, for what I suppose are obvious reasons. So I won’t defend it here.
My apologies for not responding sooner. I’m a man on a mission to resurrect my own blog after an extended hiatus. I encourage you to check it out.
Apparently, all my efforts to post are of no avail.
For comments, if this posts, see http://www.jonrowe.blogspot.com
I didn’t raise it for the obvious reason that I don’t know what Popper’s falsification thesis is! Please enlighten me.