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Everything posted by cmdownes

  1. For the same reasons one might read and discuss the work of any philosopher one disagrees with. It's part of a process of engagement with views that challenge one's own, a process which helps one in arriving at the truth. It sharpens rhetorical, logical and exegetical skills. I entertain the possibility of my own fallibility. Are you suggesting that simply because you disagree with some view you can't derive any value from discussion of it?
  2. David, Mark Crooks, Herbert Feigl, Steven Lehar and Bertrand Russell all adopt(ed) forms of indirect realism. Descartes and Locke too, depending on one's sense of "modern". It's hardly an absurd position on its face, whatever one thinks of its untenability.
  3. Kendall, Sorry, I lost sight of it by getting bogged down in the exegetical debate with David. Anyways, thank you for the explanation. Can you explain what you mean by a misidentification, though? At what point in the sense organ-integrative faculty-mind chain does Rand think that takes place?
  4. David, A non-tautological answer would be appreciated - or at least an explanation of an answer that you know I'm going to find inadequate and ask for explication of. William, Well, maybe there are all sorts of things that exist. What I'm looking for is an understanding of Rand's view of what it is for something to be an entity. Does Microsoft "exist" in the same sense as I do, or that coke cans do, or that cats do, or that subatomic particles do? Are there any existents that are metaphysically "simple", that aren't composed of anything else? Those are the sorts of questions that comprise ontology, and that I'm trying to get Rand's views on. Jennifer, Because the question of whether some object X exists or not isn't as simple or scientific as it might seem. Does some object X (one that we might epistemically label a table) such that it is the mereological sum of four table legs and a table top exist? How about some object Y such that it is the mereological sum of the Queen of England and my keyboard? You're right that what we identify as objects is largely dependent on a labeling system, but I don't think that necessarily bears on the question of whether that object which I've stipulated and somehow label exists in a metaphysically primary sense.
  5. David, There's a third response: denial of one of your premises. The quote (singular) that you provided from ITOE says that sensations are not retained in the memory. As I've already said. that doesn't contradict the reading of Rand that I've offered, and in fact has nothing to do with what the direct object of perception is. Allow me to recapitulate my analysis: Rand's claim that percepts, an arrangement of sensations that is the product of some integrative faculty, are the direct objects of awareness, is incompatible with direct realism, which holds that physical objects are the direct objects of awareness. The thesis that when I perceive a cat, I am aware of a set of sensations whose existence is causally linked to some cat in my field of vision and which are automatically integrated and presented to my mind is inconsistant with the thesis that when I perceive a cat, I'm directly aware of a cat. The latter thesis is direct realism. Since Ayn Rand's view contradicts it, but she is still a realist about the existence of said cat, she must be an indirect realist. And I can't very well stop talking about indirect realism and answer your challenge at the same time.
  6. In the first chapter of OPAR, Peikoff gives General Motors, subatomic particles and the solar system as examples of entities - existents, in the parlance of the rest of the philosophical community. Peikoff does qualify this by saying that these are combinations or arrangements of other entities. So what exactly do Rand and Peikoff include in their ontology, and where is it articulated (if it is at all)? At least one implication of Peikoff's statement is that mereological sums exist. A mereological sum is something which is nothing over and above the sum of its parts. So more explicitly, what Peikoff permits when he says that the solar system is a combination of other entities and what mereological sums are about is a relation of parthood. So in a possible world consisting of three simple entities, A, B and C, there are 7 possible mereological sums - A, B, C, A&B, B&C, A&C, A&B&C. Mereological summation is something like the inverse of a ascribing parthood to an entity - granting arguendo that A&B&C exists, we would say that A is a part of A&B&C. Allowing the existance of mereological sums is important, because it means allowing the existance of composite objects. So we know that Rand permits the existance of composite objects. What I, at least, don't know is what sorts of composite objects exist under Rand's account. Presumably she has a very full ontology if she permits that entities like General Motors exist in a metaphysical sense. Is there anywhere in Rand's corpus that we can find an explicit account of what sorts of things exist? Or even whether she thinks that there are mereological simples, entities that have only one part (themselves) and thus are not composite? Does Objectivism permit the possibility of gunk, infinitely divisible entities (ie, for any entity A there exists an X and there exists a Y such that X is a proper part of A and Y is a proper part of A and X does not equal Y)? Does she permit unrestricted fusion of entities, or does she have conditions on what constitutes a parthood relation?
  7. Kendall, A claim for which I provided textual evidence I found in an excerpt from ITOE. Having particular knowledge of what is entailed by some written statement by a person has no connection to knowing what that person's beliefs on a different question are. Back up an argument? What argument? I said the problem of hallucinations is a motivator for indirect realism. That's an empirical statement about members of the philosophical community and what draws them to a position. I have not, and will not on this forum, put forward any arguments in favor of indirect realism. I'm simply uninterested in engaging in that debate here. I'll provide analysis of the second contigent upon the presentation of a defeater to my conclusions on the first. I don't deny this, and I didn't claim that Rand explicitly denies the first thesis. A position which is not incompatible with indirect realism. One can think that conclusions reached on the basis of the senses are infallible while thinking that the direct object of perception is something other than the external referent of the percept. I'll run the risk, and recant my position on the exegesis of Rand's answer to the problem of perception if it's demonstrated to me that it's incorrect. I'm more interested in finding out if my catagorization of Rand as an indirect realist is inaccurate than I am in crafting a characterization that you'll find difficult to refute or mischaracterizing my level of knowledge for sophistic reasons.
  8. David, Whether they're retained or not is irrelevant. I'm not aware of any neccessary connection between persistance and existance. Regardless, my use of the term mental objects was too strong. At the very least, her use of the nouns percept and sensation entails that there is some object that those terms refer to. And unless my percept of a cat is identical to some physical cat, Rand is not a direct realist. Perhaps you're right, and I am just misunderstanding her use of the terms sensation and percept. Show me where I go astray then: are you saying that for Rand percepts and sensations are not entities? And if so, how exactly do her semantics of perception cash out? The mind is directly presented with a percept - not the cat or white field itself. That in and of itself is enough to make Rand an indirect realist. Any kind of tertium quid is enough, whether or not it bears a direct causal connection, an unquestionably infallible connection, even, to a physical referent. Whatever the nature of Rand's account of sensation, she's presenting it as some kind of intermediary between other entities in our mind. Unless Rand is saying that the electrochemical response our bodies have to other physical entities are, in fact, what percepts reduce to - in which case you place her in the odd position of saying that she's a direct realist about facts of our biochemistry but an indirect realist about things external to our nervous system, since those things are simply not what the mind is presented with. Unless Rand is saying that cats and white fields are the direct objects of perception, or even maybe that relational features existing between us and cats are the objects of perception, she's simply not a direct realist in the sense that the philosophical community uses the term. Since I haven't actually presented an attack on the Objectivist view of perception, this is something of a non sequitur. I'm making an exegetical point a point about what Rand is saying, not whether she's right or wrong. Saying that Rand is really an indirect realist about perception or an immanent realist about universals, even if she didn't know it, isn't the same thing as saying that Rand's view of perception is wrong. And in short, I rejected her metaethics because her attempt to ground out value in goal directed action doesn't have anything resembling a necessary or sufficient account of what goal directed action consists in. It's extraordinarily difficult, in fact, to provide an account of goal direction that wont be overinclusive or underinclusive with respect to Rand's attempt to generalize a notion of value out of it. Peikoff's attempt in OPAR to limit the scope of what entities can be considered to take goal directed action by appeal to the idea of alternatives conflicts with Rand's view of causation. That's the root of my disagreement. I'm going to elaborate on it later this month
  9. David, I'm trying to approach Ayn Rand from the perspective of contemporary epistemology and see if she actually brings anything new to the table. She's saying that the direct object of perception is a mental object that is causally linked to physical objects. That's practically a definition of indirect realism. I'm not analogizing her, I'm catagorizing her, putting her in the framework of contemporary thought on the topic. Kendall, I think I know broadly the position of Objectivism on perception; I don't know if Ayn Rand ever articulated an answer to a particular problem in epistemology. I'm curious as to what precisely puts my credibility in question. I'm not prepared to articulate a defense of some specific account of what sense data are. I'm simply going to say that you probably have an intuitive grasp of it anyways, and if you're interested, the literature on the subject is extensive. Adverbial contents is a reference to the adverbial theory of perception, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/perception-problem/#3.2 . Rand enters the realm of saying our experience is mediated by sense data the second that she says "When we speak of 'direct perception' or 'direct awareness,' we mean the perceptual level. Percepts, not sensation, are the given, the self-evident." What we are directly aware of is something mediated by some concept forming/integrative faculty and by sensation. A true direct realist will say that the direct objects of awareness are physical objects themselves. And I didn't bother with the second thesis because it's dependent on the first, which Rand rejects. So do percepts lack any conceptual or cognitive aspects? Or does the particular arrangement of sensations that constitutes a perception have relational features?
  10. David, I have no interest in nor intention of doing so, especially since Rand herself sure sounds a lot like an indirect realist to me. "A 'perception' is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism, which gives it the ability to be aware, not of single stimuli, but of entities, of things." Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, Page 19. "When we speak of 'direct perception' or 'direct awareness,' we mean the perceptual level. Percepts, not sensation, are the given, the self-evident. The knowledge of sensations as components of percepts is not direct, it is acquired by man much later; it is a scientific, conceptual discovery." Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivism Epistemology, Page 5 (I found this little fragment online, so I'm not sure of the context) Rand seems to be saying that we are directly aware of percepts, and that these percepts are mental constructs formed by integration of sensations - which I assume are what the rest of the philosophical community means by sensa or sense data. That doesn't jive at all with what direct realism entails: "Viewed as an alternative to representative realism in particular, direct realism involves two main theses. The first is a denial of the view referred to here as perceptual subjectivism: according to direct realism, in veridical cases we directly experience external material objects, without the mediation of either sense-data or adverbial contents. And the second direct realist thesis is then that the justification or reasons for beliefs about material objects that result from sense experience do not depend on the sort of inference from the subjective content of such experience that the representative realist appeals to, but can instead be accounted for in a simpler and less problematic way, one that depends in some way on the the truth of the first thesis. While the standard name for the view obviously derived from the first of these theses, it is the second thesis, which often receives relatively little attention in defenses of direct realism, that is ultimately the more important from an epistemological standpoint — for without it direct realism fails to constitute a genuine alternative to representative realism." SEP "Epistemological Problems of Perception" Since Rand says that the direct objects of awareness are mental constructs, Rand's view appears to cash out as just a strong form of indirect realism that rejects any skepticism about the causal links between sensa and reality as it is. I'm not interested in debating the problem of perception with you, I'm trying to find out what Rand's answer to the problem of hallucination is. I'm sure she answers the question herself in ITOE (which I know I need to read), but I'm out of town at a seminar and the only copy at the library here is checked out. Rand's answer to the problem of hallucination is going to help me determine if my catagorization of her as an indirect realist is right.
  11. How does Objectivism grapple with the problem of hallucinations, or of illusions? The possibility of either throws the infallibility of my perceptions into doubt. The possibility of my senses deceiving me is one of the really strong motivations for indirect realism.
  12. Anyways, representationalists or indirect realists think that we are aware of the physical world, but inferentially. They argue that what we immediately perceive is something like sense data, the cause of which is the physical world. Bertrand Russell held this view, and a fairly lengthy account of his model of the mind is at http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/RusAnal.html where his 1921 book is posted. In essence, "When we "see a table," as common sense would say, the table as a physical object is not the "object" (in the psychological sense) of our perception. Our perception is made up of sensations, images and beliefs, but the supposed "object" is something inferential, externally related, not logically bound up with what is occurring in us." In a more contemporary vein, Steven Lehar accepts a version of indirect realism which he supports by appeal to recent work in neuroscience at http://cns-alumni.bu.edu/~slehar/webstuff/bubw3/bubw3.html I doubt you'll be sympathetic to indirect realism, but it's certainly difficult to say that indirect realists think perception has nothing at all to do with reality. The claim that we don't have any direct perception of the physical world doesn't prevent us from gaining knowledge of it, it merely makes all such knowledge inferential instead of self-justifying.
  13. Pierre Le Morvan, an associate professor at the College of New Jersey, is a direct realist. He offers an articulation and defense of his view at http://www.tcnj.edu/~lemorvan/APR_Proof.pdf William Alston, from Syracuse University, defends a slightly different version of direct realism, the theory of appearing. It's in Philosophical Perspectives 15, but in case you don't have access to a scholarly database I've quoted a bit below: "The most intuitively attractive way of characterizing my state of consciousness as I observe all of this is to say that it consists of the presentation of physical objects to consciousness... There is apparently nothing at all 'between' my mind and the objects I am perceiving. They are simply displayed to my awareness." For TA folks, "Phenomenal features are relations between material objects and minds" (Harold Langsam, from UVA, in Philosophical Studies 87). More "direct" or "naive" direct realists like Le Morvan would say something like, our perceptions just reduce to physical features of the external world. I'm being kicked out of the library right now, but I'll post some examples of contemporary representationalists in the morning.
  14. A few reasons spring to mind. (1) She didn't engage with the academic establishment. Admittedly, neither did Nietzche or the Greeks or lots of other folks. But this isn't Ancient Greece, or even the 1800s. To be taken seriously today, philosophy almost has to emerge from an academic context. The situation isn't really too odd - it happened in the sciences too. Folks today can't just sit down in their attics and expect to pump out work that's going to change the shape of physics. Perhaps mathematics is really more analogous. Note that you don't hear about the work of pure mathematicians who work outside academia too much. (2) She was explicitly contemptuous of much academic philosophy. To an extent it has simply returned the favor. (3) Many of her views are seen as highly suspect or naive on their face. For example, her ethics just totally lack intuitive appeal for a great many people. Her claim to have a view of universals that is a form neither of nominalism, nor transcendent realism, nor immanent realism strikes most philosophers as misunderstanding the problem. Her characterizations of Kant and Aristotle just don't jive with the way the philosophical community in general interprets their work. (4) Philosophy has become a highly specialized discipline. It is ill equipped to deal with work that is as tightly interconnected as Rand's. An ethicist who reads Rand can't pry out her ethics and play with it in isolation from her metaphysics, and a lot of ethicists just aren't all that interested in metaphysics. In the end, these boil down to philosophers not finding Rand particularly interesting. That's not a good reason for not engaging with her work, but I think it's at least one thing motivating Rand's lackluster reception in the academic community.
  15. Don't overgeneralize. There are a large number of direct realists and representationalists working in the philosophy of perception whose work can't be characterized in anything resembling that fashion.
  16. Kane, The claim "I have no grounds to accept P" doesn't entail the assertion of ~P. That's just a non sequitur. As David pointed out several posts ago, the demand for justification is not the accusation of falsehood. EG, "I have no evidence my roommate is in the hall," does not mean I'm claiming my roommate isn't in the hall. To the extent that you need to prove an axiom, it's not axiomatic. A foundational claim needs to be self-warranting, or it's not a foundational claim. Appealing to sense data makes the legitimacy of such data foundational, not "existence exists". As odd as it sounds, the skeptic is skeptical even that he is actually conversing with you and adopting the skeptical mode. Dave, I wouldn't call it juvenile, but yes. You're right in that skepticism doesn't really advance an argument as such. In fact, I made that very statement earlier: "Pyrrhonism is not an argument. Pyrrhonians are not concerned with convincing you of the truth or falsity of any propositions... It's just the methodological employment of universal skepticism." So when you say, ...you misrepresent me. I think skepticism is interesting and worth exploring because it poses the primary question of epistemology. "How do you know that?" The entire history of epistemology in Western thought is a response to skepticism of different sorts. Ignoring skepticism is ignoring the driving force of that branch of philosophy.
  17. That rhetorical move is a cheap trick and you know it. If I were actually a skeptic it wouldn't work in the first place, since there wouldn't be any propositions of mine to interrogate. The effectiveness of your sophistic ploy is dependent on the fact that I'm actually not a skeptic - which pretty much makes the whole thing pointless in the first place. What other irrational philosophies am I forbidden to even broach the notion of?
  18. Then I have to ask whether you're a being a skeptic yourself and simply refusing to assent to any proposition or whether you've misinterpreted my original claim. And if you intended to make this a sort of object lesson, it would have been far more polite and intellectually honest to simply say that skepticism endorses a stance of invincible ignorance. As I happen to neither be a skeptic, nor be literate in Attic Greek, nor be a scholar on the subject of pre-Socratic thought, I feel little shame in arriving at beliefs on what constitutes skeptical philosophy on the basis of what experts in the field say the positions of skeptical philosophers were - or at least what people literate in Attic Greek say that the contemporaries of the skeptics said about them. I thought those excerpts pretty well outlined that skepticism doesn't negate the basic claims made by foundationalist epistemologies (i.e. Rand's axioms) but rather calls into question our ability to determine their truth or falsity.
  19. David, I hope you find the supplied excerpts satisfactory. "The Pyrrhonian is not (and cannot consistently be) assenting to the claim that foundationalism [Randian epistemology, argued to be grounded in axiomatic truths, is a foundationalist view -Colin] is false. Rather, a Pyrrhonian employing this mode would be attempting to reassure herself (and perhaps show the Epistemist [The author of the article uses this term to refer to those who think knowledge of epistemically interesting facts is possible -Colin]) that the so-called foundational proposition stands in need of further support. In other words, the Pyrrhonian believes that a foundationalist cannot rationally practice his foundationalism because it inevitably leads to arbitrariness — i. e., assenting to a proposition which can legitimately be questioned but is, nevertheless, assented to without rational support. So, how could the Pyrrhonian proceed? To begin to answer that question it is important to note that foundationalism comes in many forms. But all forms hold that the set of propositions can be partitioned into basic and non-basic propositions. Basic propositions have some autonomous bit of warrant that does not depend (at all) upon the warrant of any other proposition.[23] Non-basic propositions depend (directly or indirectly) upon basic propositions for all of their warrant. Suppose that an inquirer, say Fred D'Foundationalist, has given some reasons for his beliefs. Fred offers q (where q could be a conjunction) for his belief that p, and he offers r (which could also be a conjunction) as his reason for q. Etc. Now, being a foundationalist, Fred finally offers some basic proposition, say b, as his reason for the immediately preceding belief. Sally D'Pyrrhonian asks Fred why he believes that b is true. Sally adds the "is true" to make clear to Fred that she is not asking what causes Fred to believe that b. She wants to know why Fred thinks that b is true. Now, Fred could respond by giving some reason for thinking that b is true even if b is basic, because basic propositions could have some non-autonomous warrant that depends upon the warrant of other propositions. But that is merely a delaying tactic since Fred is not a coherentist. In other words, he might be able to appeal to the conjunction of some other basic propositions and the non-basic propositions that they warrant as a reason for thinking that b is true. But Sally D'Pyrrhonian will ask whether he has any reason that does not appeal to another member in the set of basic propositions for thinking that each member in the set is true. If he says that he has none, then he has forfeited his foundationalism because he is really a closet coherentist. Being true to his foundationalism, he must think that there is some warrant that each basic proposition has that does not depend upon the warrant possessed by any other proposition. The crucial point to note here is that Sally can grant that the proposition has autonomous warrant but continue to press the issue because she can ask Fred whether the possession of autonomous warrant is at all truth conducive. That is, she can ask whether a proposition with autonomous warrant is, ipso facto, at all likely to be true. If Fred says "yes," then the regress will have continued. For he has this reason for thinking that b is true: "b has autonomous warrant and propositions with autonomous warrant are somewhat likely to be true." If he says "no" then Sally can point out that he is being arbitrary since she has asked why he thinks b is true and he has not been able to provide an answer."-SEP "Skepticism", Sec. 8 "He [Pyrrho] himself has left nothing in writing, but this pupil Timon says that whoever wants to be happy must consider these three questions: first, how are things by nature? Secondly, what attitude should we adopt towards them? Thirdly, what will be the outcome for those who have such an attitude? According to Timon, Pyrrho declared that things are equally indifferent, unmeasurable and inarbitrable. For this reason neither our sensations nor our opinions tell us truths or falsehoods. Therefore for this reason we should not put our trust in them one bit, but should be unopinionated, uncommitted and unwavering, saying concerning each individual thing that it no more is than is not, or both is and is not, or neither is nor is not. The outcome for those who actually adopt this attitude, says Timon, will be first speechlessness [aphasia], and then freedom from disturbance; and Aenesidemus says pleasure. (Eusebius, Prep. Ev. 14.18.2-5, Long & Sedley)"-Quoted in SEP, "Ancient Skepticism" "…the dogmatists say that they [the skeptics] abolish life, in the sense that they throw out everything that goes to make up a life. But the skeptics say that these charges are false. For they do not abolish, say, sight, but only hold that we are ignorant of its explanation…. We do sense that fire burns, but we suspend judgement as to whether it is fire's nature to burn…. “We only object,” they say, “to the non-evident things added on to the phenomena [the appearances]…. For this reason, Timon in his Pytho says that he has not diverged from what is customary. And in his Likenesses he says, "But the apparent utterly dominates wherever it goes." And in his work On the Senses he says, “That honey is sweet I do not posit; that it appears so I concede.” (D.L. 9.104-5, Inwood & Gerson)" -ibid. "Sextus reports two of Carneades' central arguments against the Stoics' cataleptic impressions and any alternative “criterion” of knowledge proposed by the dogmatic philosophers (AM 7.159-165). [Here we've switched from the Pyrrhonians to the Academic skeptics, those making positive claims about the unknowability of things -Colin] According to the first argument, there can be no criterion which establishes certain truth because reason, the senses, and any other possible criterion sometimes misleads us. According to the second argument, the impressions (or “presentations”) that inform our judgments are not completely objective, and reflect their own nature as well as the nature of the reality they reflect — as light shows both itself and the things it illuminates. The subjectivity emphasized in the latter argument may have been underscored by an appeal to the standard Academic argument that any impression which appears true can be paired with (and opposed by) an indistinguishably similar impression which is apparently false." -ibid Regardless of what one thinks of the strength of the skeptics' views, it simply cannot be claimed that they argued the the law of identity is false. Skepticism as articulated by those in whose context Aristotle was writing in would not have supported any such claim.
  20. Greg, Haha, alright, we'll see. I'm not a skeptic in the classical sense, I was just saying that BrassDragon had misrepresented their burden in the discussion of foundational truths. But I think Pyrrhonism generates an interesting discussion contra Rand on foundational truths. I'll defend it here for the sake of argument. My (arguendo) position isn't agnosticism about the truth of logic, as such. It's agnosticism about all propositions. Are you referring to BrassDragon's "Because the axioms are presupposed in all knowledge, anyone who tries to argue that one of them is false can easily be defeated in an argument." ? If so, I don't know how it can still apply. One can't contradict oneself unless one makes a claim. Since a Pyrrhonian skeptic doesn't assert any propositions, they can't contradict themself. Well, they grant themselves one sort of proposition, but I don't think it alone can ever generate a genuine contradiction. A Pyrrhonian can advance the claim, "P, or not P, or neither P nor not P". They just withold judgment on which elements of the disjunct obtain. Well, the Pyrrhonian skeptic doesn't claim one or the other. I'm not quite sure where you're going with this. And clearly a change in argumentative burden doesn't change the facts under discussion. It can, however, determine to what extent we are able to hold beliefs about those facts. The skepticism I'm defending here is really more ancient Greek than Modernist in bent. But regardless, I don't know to what extent your claim can convince a Pyrrhonian who has no position on the validity of his senses, the existence of other persons, the reality of mental states etc. Well, Pyrrho was more of a All the evidence in the universe is ultimately subject to the same mulish refusal to grant assent to its alleged truth and the demand for further justification. The Pyrhhonian doesn't even have opinions, in the end, just a state of "ataraxia" attained through their methodological skepticism. Ataraxia is what Pyrrhus called the detached and balanced state of mind that supposedly arises from the tranquility of total, global skepticism. Pyrrhonism is not an argument. Pyrrhonians are not concerned with convincing you of the truth or falsity of any propositions. They are not Socrates, saying "I know nothing but the fact of my own ignorance." They would see even that as a sort of dogmatism, since it holds at least one foundational belief. It's just the methodological employment of universal skepticism. But it is a really old and interesting challenge to foundationalist epistemologies, like Rand's, and it can't be dismissed quite so brusquely. It hurts a bit, but being wrong hurts a lot. I'm not a Pyrrhonian, like I said, but witholding judgment in the absence of compelling reasons for belief is sometimes appropriate. David, I don't your sentence. What kind of evidence do you want me to give for the claim that a school of philosophy doesn't advance a given claim? I assume you're not looking for a bibliography on philosophical skepticism. What do you want from me?
  21. This is somewhat unfair. Strictly speaking, a skeptic isn't beholden to argue "existence does not exist", merely that we have no grounds to accept the claim "existence exists". The situation is analogous to how a lot of theism/atheism debates go - the skeptical atheist is not obligated to prove the negation of "god exists", but merely refuses to grant the claim. I'm not sure if this makes the Pyrrhonian skeptic's job any easier, but one should accurately represent the philosophy's rhetorical obligations.
  22. You can ignore the tautology. It wasn't neccessary. But I haven't seen any evidence that you've bothered with the substance of my argument. Unless there are at least some situations where it's appropriate to justify beliefs on the testimony of others, you're committed to being agnostic on the question of whether Antarctica exists. You either have to ditch the rejection of testimony or a lot of beliefs you hold on the basis of it. Are you really saying that a reductio ad absurdam isn't a way to justify a claim? There are well-formed philosophical positions in the discipline, just as in normative ethics or mereology or any other area of philosophical inquiry. I can't understand what you're driving at. Social epistemology isn't a school of thought any more than metaphysics is a school of thought, and one can't criticize social epistemology for not constituting a well formed position for the same reason one can't do so to ethics or ontology. Uh, the entire content of the article I posted a link to is a survey of the field of philosophy which is specifically concerned with the epistemic status of expertise and trust of others. The question of trusting scientists is a special case of the more general question of the how epistemology grapples with the relationship between experts and novices. I'm hardly off topic. And what do you mean, Kantian? How on Earth is the entire field of social epistemology Kantian? Hume's epistemology of testimony is a long, long way from Kant's.
  23. You misinterpret my argument. I'm not saying it's ok because we do it, I'm positing a reductio. Either there are situations in which we are justified in believing propositions on the basis of testimony or not. If there are no such situations, that means all the beliefs we hold right now on things which we know only through the testimony of others - that Sarkozy was elected president of France, that Hillary Clinton is female, that Jerry Falwell is dead, that Antarctica is a real place - are unjustified. That is clearly absurd. Therefore there are at least some situations where testimony is an appropriate way to arrive at beliefs. If you're willing to surrender the set of beliefs you hold by virtue of the testimony of others, then you can escape the reductio. That seems fairly implausible on its face, however. Social epistemology isn't a philosophical position, it's a field of inquiry. That's like saying "sociology is a notational variant of noncognitivism" or "ethics is a notational variant of emotivism". It's the branch of epistemology dealing with whether knowledge gained from others is justified, and if so, when - not a stance on the question. You must be understanding the term belief very differently than I am.
  24. I'm going to speak directly to the OP instead of diving into the discussion above. The question is much more general than just the sciences. We accept things that others tell us with little question constantly. For instance, I ask you the time, you look at your watch and say it's a quarter past. I now believe that it is a quarter past two. This isn't faith, it's accepting testimony. Is my belief that it is a quarter past two justified? I'm inclined to think so. If the testimony of others can never be appropriate grounds for justifying a belief, we have far fewer justified beliefs than we generally assume. Anyways, the subject is called social epistemology, and the Stanford Encylcopedia of Philosophy has a nice article on it.
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