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# Metaphysical Probability vs. Epistemological Probability & Ignoran

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Are there coined terms in philosophy for distinguishing between a metaphysical probability and an epistemological "probability" whose root is simply ignorance?

For example, imagine you have 100 marbles, 20 of which are red and 80 of which are blue.

You place all of them in a dark container which you cannot see into and shake them vigorously.  Now if you think about the potentiality of what you can end up with by placing your hand in the container and picking a marble (without being able to see the marble you pick) I think it could be said that "metaphysically" there is a 20% probability you will get a red marble and an 80% probability you will get a blue marble.  As a potentiality this statement is objective and true.

Now imagine you place your hand in the container and grab a marble and instead of removing your hand from the container to look at the marble you keep your hand and the particular marble in the container without looking at it.  I think it is clear that there is an ignorance on your part as to what color the particular marble is... in your mind it could be red but it also could be blue.  You think to yourself there is a 20% "probability" I have a red marble and an 80% "probability" I have a blue marble.  This particular use of the term "probability", acceptable in everyday conversation I would call "epistemological probability".

In reality you have picked a Red marble, and the metaphysical state of things is that there is a 0% probability you have a blue marble and a 100% probability you have a Red marble... or more bluntly, it is impossible for you to have a blue marble, you actually have a red marble.

Imagine you have a conversation with the marble in your hand.

"Hello marble, I have fully and statistically analysed the population from which I have taken you, and given the rate of blueness and redness I can conclude that there is a 20% probability THAT you ARE red and an 80% probability THAT you ARE blue."

"I am sorry sir but you are mistaken.  There are no probabilities attached to the particular attribute of color that I exhibit.  I can assure you that I have always only ever been one color at an astounding rate of 100% since my origin at Gilly Gilihoods Glass Works."

"Yes, but what I mean is that because I don't know what color you are, I can still SAY you might be red and you might be blue."

"Once again sir, you cannot say that about me in particular no matter how ignorant you are of my identity.  I mean you could say it, but that does not make it actually correct.  I may not be blue as I actually AM a red marble."

"Oh well then I suppose I need to look up the statistics to determine what the probability of a marble's being truthful is.  I mean if marble's tell the truth half the time or alternatively if half of all marbles lie while half tell the truth then...(you start to concentrate on a calculation)"

"Sir what marbles do in general statistically does not provide you any more information that what I choose to do now, nor do your statistics on the number of honest versus lying marbles tell you anything about which kind of marble I specifically am..."

"I suppose the metaphysical state of things is either you ARE Red and you are telling the truth, or you ARE blue and you are lying... one of those is certainly the case while the other is simply impossible?"

"Yes!"

You then take out the Red marble and the two of you have a nice laugh with one another.

So are there philosophical terms to distinguish between and identify "metaphysical probability" versus "epistemological probability" (based on ignorance)?

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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Is "metaphysical probability" something real? Is it not really epidemiological too.  If you shoot, blindfolded at a bed of marbles, what you hit will depend on where your gun is pointing (and other minor variables like wind-speed). So, you're actually going to hit something in particular, you just don't know it. Similarly, when you reach into the bag, you will always pick a particular marble, based on how they're arranged, and the way you reach and grab.

So, I wonder if "metaphysical probability" is a chimera... being just another form of lack of knowledge.

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Is "metaphysical probability" something real? Is it not really epidemiological too.  If you shoot, blindfolded at a bed of marbles, what you hit will depend on where your gun is pointing (and other minor variables like wind-speed). So, you're actually going to hit something in particular, you just don't know it. Similarly, when you reach into the bag, you will always pick a particular marble, based on how they're arranged, and the way you reach and grab.

So, I wonder if "metaphysical probability" is a chimera... being just another form of lack of knowledge.

Lets assume we do not live in a clockwork universe of absolute determinism.  By virtue of how I move my hand (free will) I need not pick a particular marble.  Let's not bring QM into this ... not yet....

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This isn't quite what you're asking for, but there are statistical techniques you could use to approximate the overall composition of the bag of marbles if you took several samples from the bag consisting of, say, ten marbles each. That would be sort of like calculating the metaphysical probability from the epistemological probability. We do these sorts of statistical calculations to evaluate experiments about, e.g., the metaphysical probability that a medicine will cure someone, so it's certainly an important issue.

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I believe the very concept of probability is epistemological. When you see blue, you are seeing blue. When you hear a sound, you are hearing a sound. Ad nauseum for any possible perception. Anything else, be it ball-picking or electron impacts necessarily rests on epistemology, because it is not bare perception.

Alternatively, anything which is not in the present tense is not purely perceptual. So asking what will or what is likely to happen is inextricably epistemological in nature.

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I believe the very concept of probability is epistemological.

It seems like SL was speaking towards Rand's distinction between the metaphysically given and the manmade; that nothing man does "had to happen that way".

Are there coined terms in philosophy for distinguishing between a metaphysical probability and an epistemological "probability" whose root is simply ignorance?

I'm no longer certain whether the distinction, itself, is valid.

What we signify by "metaphysical X" and "epistemological X" is whether X stems from some thing-in-itself or from our own awareness of it; it is analogous to Kant's distinction between the "noumenal" and the "phenomal". The flaw therein is that knowledge requires both the metaphysical and epistemological to work together, at all times and in all things, from the bottom (the absolute bottom) up.

Knowledge of X, without our own awareness of X, requires an unconscious consciousness. Knowledge of X, without any existencial source of that knowledge, requires a consciousness which is not conscious of existence. Neither is possible to man, nor to any other thing that could ever claim to be conscious.

I believe that our disputes over the nature of volition share this error, and that this is what renders them insoluble.

To say that the possibility of colors of the marble in one's hand is only epistemological, while keeping metaphysics and epistemology entwined, would mean only that the actual outcome observed (whenever and however it is observed) will be whatever ends up being observed, regardless of any of the details about how one observes it. It entails a great many facts about the observation itself, and not much else.

If and when this is false- and the outcome of an observation does depend on when and how it is performed- to maintain that such uncertainty is 'only epistemological' is meaningless; it is a statement about things-as-they-can-never-be-seen. When it is true, to call such uncertainty metaphysical is a rejection of the Primacy of Existence; in more concrete terms, it contradicts the fundamental principle for induction.

The answer is to restrict ourselves, in every aspect of the issue, to existents-as-we-perceive-them.

---

I realize what can of worms that opens, if true, but that's as far as I've gotten thus far.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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Refraining from getting any further into the issues here:

when you speak of the example of the marble in one's hand, are you saying there is no sense in which the term "possibility" can be used?

I think this is valid but it means a shifting of language.

BUT the person, although not knowing which color he has, does have knowledge about the number of balls, AND this is practical knowledge in certain contexts.

If he were given a wager, that he could bet 10 with a return of X dollars if the ball is blue, and that he can do this (resetting the bag each time) indefinitely over and over, he has enough knowledge to know that it makes sense if the return is more than 40 dollars, and that it does not make sense if the return is less than 40 dollars, and that it is simply over the long run a waste of time if the return is 40 dollars.  This real world knowledge is often referred to as risk, sometimes likelihood, on the face of ignorance.

If the term is not "probability" what term captures his incomplete knowledge?

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HD

I am sorry but your post makes no sense to me.

First let's set the background.  The discussion is in the realm of a universe that does not obey strict determinism.

What that means is: the exact state of the universe as it will be 10 years from now is not logically necessitated (not in 1 to 1 fashion anyway) by the exact state of the universe at 1:16 pm May 29, 2015.  In other words the future not only does not yet exist, it has multiple possibilities, potentialities, it is undetermined ... until it has happened.

Now clearly there is a meaning one can ascribe to "possibility" which deals with the fact that the future is undetermined.  There are facts which restrict all the possibilities to certain possibilities, e.g. there is no possibility of grabbing Hegel in the bag of marbles, but there is a possibility of grabbing a blue one and a possibility of grabbing a red one.

Now imagine you grab one and put it back before looking at it.  Clearly, identity requires that independent of your knowledge you must pick up a marble which is blue or a marble which is red.   Prior to picking up a marble and placing it back without looking at it, you can objectively say, as a statement about the universe, there is a chance it will be blue and a chance it will be red.  This probability is independent of your knowledge of the marble being red or blue, in fact it is just as valid assuming you will have no knowledge about it ever.

Of course once you pick it up ... and also after you put it back, you of course know that metaphysically the marble was with certainty red, or with certainly blue, you just have no idea what it was nor will you likely ever know because you put it back.

These are distinguishable because, (as our premises are laid out) the universe (for our hypothetical) is not deterministic.  In one case things as such are not determined and are hence possible, in another you characterise the certain states of the universe in terms of alternatives, the frequency of which you may know but the actualities of which you are ignorant and possible will forever be ignorant.

If the universe were deterministic (as the universe you believe in) this would be a different story, because in principle all you need is omniscience to know exactly what anyone (because under determinism there is no volition) and everything (because under determinism QM probabilistic behavior does not occur) will do forever into the future.  Clearly in such a case as a deterministic universe nothing is metaphysically possible or probable, everything is determined and certain, and anything like the words "probable", "possible" etc. would only be an identification of our lack of knowledge (humans not being omniscient).

Perhaps we can think of it this way

There are two "types" of facts:

I:  The current universe does not "know" what the future holds

II:  Individuals  a) do not know what the future holds; and do not know everything about the past or the present

These are different types of things which are related to the use of the word "probability".

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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I think that the distinction between metaphysical and epistemological probability makes sense. In the case of the bag of marbles, metaphyisical probability applies to the consequences of one's future actions, specifically reaching into the bag and grabbing a particular marble.

I also think that making this distinction can help to resolve the conflict between quantum mechanics and Objectivism, as well as people on the other side who try to use QM to jusitify primacy of consciousness. The position and velocity of a particle is a matter of metaphyisical probability, which is determined when the particle is "measured" -- in other words, when it interacts with other particles. This measurement will be the same, regardless of whether there is any consciousness present to observe it, so there is no conflict with primacy of existence.

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If the universe were deterministic (as the universe you believe in) this would be a different story, because in principle all you need is omniscience to know exactly what anyone (because under determinism there is no volition) and everything (because under determinism QM probabilistic behavior does not occur) will do forever into the future.

But omniscience is a physical impossibility. Since "determinism" in this sense (which is a perfectly accurate summary of what I've advocated, before) cannot be expressed without reference to that concept, the picture it paints of the universe is one which nothing can ever actually see.

This is what I began to grasp when DA asserted that certain introspective observations are simply self-evident. I have checked my premises, and I belive that they included Kant's noumenal-phenomal contradiction.

"Metaphysics" is the study of reality; "epistemology" is the study of our own knowledge. Neither can contradict the other in any sense whatsoever.

Edit:

This is why my contortions to describe all of this in terms of various observations; an "observation" has quantifiable identity and necessarily includes both an observer and an observed thing. If "probability" can be validated in terms of observations then the rest can be inferred (carefully) from that.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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Can you specifically address the above two types of situations to which the term "probability" is used.

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StrictlyLogical,

Greg Salmeiri contrasts metaphysically possible with epistemologically possible heavily in the 4th part of Objectivist Epistemology in Outline, available at ARI.

A doctor, diagnosing a patient with a few known symptoms, may have a host of possible ailments that bring about the symptoms.

The other example used is reaching into a box with an unknown substance at Halloween. By touch, it may feel like an eyeball, and you know it is metaphysically possible to remove an eyeball. It might also feel like a peeled grape.

The epistemological possibility moves along the continuum from possible, probable, certain, steering clear of the arbitrary.

To frame it as metaphysical probability, would to frame something from within a range of things that are metaphysically possible. Epistemological probability could be the starting point of trying to narrow it down. Probability and Statistics would permit me to know that I have to grab at least three marbles to ensure that I get at least two marbles that are one color (from the original mix of 20 red and 80 blue marbles.).

Metaphysical possibility, in the case of a medical diagnosis, would be a list of all know ailments that are known to cause a particular symptom. Epistemological possibility would be the likelihood(s) that the symptom is caused by any particular ailment(s).

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Greg, while Salimeri does mention metaphysical possibility, as in that which is capable to a thing by its nature, he doesn't say anything about metaphysical "probability".

Edited by Plasmatic

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Thanks. That's a confusion I did not mean to interject. Yes, the metaphysical probability would be a projection of my understanding as applied here.

Edited by dream_weaver

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So the coined term I am looking for is "metaphysical possibility".

Thank you all!

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