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Is All Knowledge Pragmatic?

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This is something that I've wondered for a long time. We can all envision possible alternative cases for our experiences. For instance we can imagine that we are in some sort of matrix scenario, or that in fact we are really just highly deluded, rather than living the lives that we probably believe ourselves to be living. This is to say that any event which is witnessed can have multiple explanations. This happens in the fringe areas of science all the time, we’ve all gotten into arguments about this, and while it may appear a trivial issue, from any point of view it is where most of our “problems” arise.

 

On a very fundamental level, however, we cannot be certain that the “reality” which we are experiencing is in fact “real” because the alternatives which I pointed out above and a million other alternatives are all plausible explanations which are not falsifiable. However, in order to function in our perceived reality the most efficient way to do this has been shown, time and time again, to treat it at face value. This, however, does not necessarily make our interpretation any more accurate, since the whole thing could be one elaborate misinterpretation.

 

Does this mean that ultimately all interpretations of the perceived universe, all knowledge, is ultimately pragmatic. We use it because it works, not because it is necessarily true because we have no way of knowing what is true, beyond arguably some logical necessities. Therefore I can agree with the Objectivist claim that “existence exists”, but I believe that on the strictest level this is where the line of reasoning ends. We know that there is an objective universe that is in accordance with certain laws. This unfortunately does not give us anything into what these laws must be or what we are observing when we observe something beyond the fact that it is the interplay of objective laws.

 

Thoughts?

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I would not use the term "pragmatic".  That I believe is something entirely different.

 

"Rational" is a sufficient concept.

 

It is irrational to invoke the arbitrary.  Only a rationalist deems that arbitrary things are possible... In fact possibility requires some probability greater than zero i.e. some evidence.  So far from arbitrary, things are possible precisely because something in reality amounts to evidence that it is actual.

 

As for the axioms these are logically necessitated by your mere contemplation of them, by your seeking knowledge, your mere existence etc.  Again, you could "say" you do not exist, but that would be irrational, incomprehensible, and meaningless. The axioms are rationally indisputable.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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We use it because it works, not because it is necessarily true because we have no way of knowing what is true, beyond arguably some logical necessities.

 

This is the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. It says that certain propositions are true by definition and are therefore a logical necessity whereas other propositions are only 'coincidentally' true and could be otherwise in an alternate universe. Please see Peikoff's article, The Analytic Synthetic Dichotomy, for a thorough debunking of the dichotomy (found it on Google)

 

The fallacy you're committing is the assertion of the arbitrary: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/arbitrary.html

 

The fallacy results from placing cognitive value on propositions which are not grounded in a connection to reality.

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This is something that I've wondered for a long time. We can all envision possible alternative cases for our experiences. For instance we can imagine that we are in some sort of matrix scenario, or that in fact we are really just highly deluded, rather than living the lives that we probably believe ourselves to be living.

Before I make my bigger post, I am wondering, would you agree that even if we're in some simulation like the Matrix, it is still reality that is all around you? There is nothing about a simulation that is "unreal" other than being artificial. Of course even tools are real, even if artificial. Similarly, whether something is tangible is not important for what is real or not. For Objectivism "real" means tied to reality in some manner. Insofar as you perceive, reality is what you perceive - HOW or WHAT you perceive doesn't matter. Existence exists still applies. Even in Plato's Cave, everything in the cave is real: the shadows, the fire, the walls, the chains.

 

Although a simulated reality is arbitrary to assert, it's not really a fallacy unless you use it as proof of something. Depending on how you imagine it, like all thought experiments, you may reach useful conclusions or ideas.

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My computer screen might change into a duck in a few moments, if there is some law or facet of reality that I don't know about yet.  Yep.  And since I'm not omniscient, I don't have any way (and can't have any way) to be absolutely certain that isn't the case.  Logically, however, real experiences are different from and must be distinguished from fantasies.  If empirical evidence is the exclusive standard of truth then it would also seem to follow that nothing else can be counted as "evidence."

Therefore, while my computer screen might turn into a duck someday, it's not logical to hold my breath for it (unless, of course, I see such a thing happen).

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On a very fundamental level, however, we cannot be certain that the “reality” which we are experiencing is in fact “real” because the alternatives which I pointed out above and a million other alternatives are all plausible explanations which are not falsifiable. However, in order to function in our perceived reality the most efficient way to do this has been shown, time and time again, to treat it at face value. This, however, does not necessarily make our interpretation any more accurate, since the whole thing could be one elaborate misinterpretation.

 

If none of the alternatives are falsifiable, than do they make any notable difference in the way we treat reality? It doesn't make things any less "real" - even if we all live in some computer simulation, everything still must be treated in exactly the same way that we would have treated it otherwise. 

 

 

Does this mean that ultimately all interpretations of the perceived universe, all knowledge, is ultimately pragmatic. We use it because it works, not because it is necessarily true because we have no way of knowing what is true, beyond arguably some logical necessities. Therefore I can agree with the Objectivist claim that “existence exists”, but I believe that on the strictest level this is where the line of reasoning ends. We know that there is an objective universe that is in accordance with certain laws. This unfortunately does not give us anything into what these laws must be or what we are observing when we observe something beyond the fact that it is the interplay of objective laws.

 

I suppose you could call it pragmatic insofar as we can't meaningfully treat our observations and knowledge thereof as pertaining to anything other than what we can possibly observe and know. Assuming that reality is just one big simulation, again, has anything changed? We can't change our means of observing things in order to accommodate that metaphysical idea, or any other conception of what reality "really" is. The only meaningful thing we can say about the fundamental framework of reality is that it exists (existence exists) and that certain axioms apply as a result of it (identity, et cetera), and that certain conclusions can be drawn logically from those axiom. Saying that reality is fundamentally a simulation, or that it's all an illusion, or some other such thing, doesn't change anything. It neither adds nor subtracts meaningfulness or usefulness from the knowledge we obtain from reality. The way we observe things and the way we form knowledge, as a result, can't account for such ideas, because such ideas are fundamentally unaccountable

 

I don't really think that "pragmatic" is the right term here. We form knowledge about reality in the only way that we are capable of doing so. That's not really pragmatic if there's no other possible option.

 

 

I'm curious what "fringe" areas of science you think such ideas apply to or have any useful context in. Could you elaborate?

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My computer screen might change into a duck in a few moments, if there is some law or facet of reality that I don't know about yet.  Yep.  And since I'm not omniscient, I don't have any way (and can't have any way) to be absolutely certain that isn't the case.  Logically, however, real experiences are different from and must be distinguished from fantasies.  If empirical evidence is the exclusive standard of truth then it would also seem to follow that nothing else can be counted as "evidence."

Therefore, while my computer screen might turn into a duck someday, it's not logical to hold my breath for it (unless, of course, I see such a thing happen).

 

I think you may be using a rationalist's concept of "certainty".

 

 

At the very least you are diverging greatly from Objectivism in regard to what certainty, rationally tied to reality means:

 

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/certainty.html

 

 

 

And really this bit on the arbitrary is a good read:

 

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/arbitrary.html

 

 

I would suggest this also to Eiuol given his assertion that a arbitrary statement can have some cognitive value outside of using it "as proof of something".  An arbitrary statement has no cognitive status or value whatever.

 

Statements about what constitutes "the arbitrary" of course are valuable... as are statements about poison, fallacy, and immorality... as a warning of what to avoid.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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I think you may be using a rationalist's concept of "certainty".

Yes; deliberately.

I have essentially said that while we cannot truly be "certain" of anything, the only productive way to form knowledge is on the basis of empirical evidence.  Rand and Peikoff have said that we can only be "certain" of perceptual evidence and that, while almost anything is ultimately subject to future revision, any hypotheses which lack such evidence are arbitrary.

 

If the only form of productive knowledge is certain knowledge (which I believe) then what would the functional difference be, between the two?

 

At the very least you are diverging greatly from Objectivism in regard to what certainty, rationally tied to reality means:

I don't actually believe so.  I think I am making precisely the same case, in different words.

 

Rather than quibble over the meaning of "certainty" when someone uses the term for something completely different (like infallibility), I thought it would be much more elegant to simply use some other word for what "certainty" truly should refer to.

In reviewing my post I realize that I used "logical" where "productive" or "useful" would have served that purpose far better, but still the referent was "certain".  :thumbsup:

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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Statements about what constitutes "the arbitrary" of course are valuable... as are statements about poison, fallacy, and immorality... as a warning of what to avoid.

A metaphysical possibility is different than a metaphysical impossibility. Generally, both are arbitrary insofar as we can't evaluate the truth of either statement. I'm not going to go off and say The Matrix is an arbitrary movie, but simulations exist as well as computers. So although it is arbitrary to say it is a true, we can imagine such a scenario and talk about it, even if we well know that the actual scenario is invented. I am not saying we ought to make any evaluations of how the world is from imagination, but in the process of discussing the scenario we may incidentally think of a real-world question to ask, especially things that are metaphysically possible. Haven't you ever had cool ideas stimulated by thought experiments without evaluating if the experiment is a real situation?

 

It goes into the topic in the sense anything I think about should have some practical or pragmatic element to it. If fictional scenarios motivate your creativity, go ahead, just don't start thinking fiction itself tells you how reality works or is an actual fact of reality. Otherwise, I'd be unable to distinguish pure imagination from how the world is. There is nothing practical about saying imagination is maybe real; some philosophers have thought that if you can imagine something, it must be real because <insert bizarre arguments>.

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I am not saying we ought to make any evaluations of how the world is from imagination, but in the process of discussing the scenario we may incidentally think of a real-world question to ask, especially things that are metaphysically possible. Haven't you ever had cool ideas stimulated by thought experiments without evaluating if the experiment is a real situation?

 

I think Rand's use of the immortal robot metaphor in The Objectivist Ethics is a perfect example of this. Of course the robot is not real but the lessons drawn from the thought experiment are useful. 'Infinity' does not exist anywhere in reality but it too is a useful concept.

 

I think we need to be very precise about what we classify as arbitrary. Rand's metaphor was not arbitrary- there are clear connections between it and reality (which is the point of a metaphor in the first place). However, if Rand had claimed that the robot existed, that specific claim is neither true nor false but is arbitrary. I agree with StrictlyLogical that arbitrary assertions have no cognitive value. This follows from the fact that an arbitrary assertion is not even an attempt at cognition. I just think one has to be careful about what is labeled arbitrary.

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Good points generally.

 

 

Anyone want to weigh in on why Cartesian doubt was and is a failure i.e. a deeply flawed approach according to Objectivist philosophy?

 

Peikoff did a wonderful job handing Rene Descartes his A$$ in his lectures on the History of Philosophy... I cannot paraphrase LP with sufficient accuracy or eloquence but I believe it is brilliant and important as well as relevant to this discussion.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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