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.