About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

These things I know - or do I?

Here are some claims that I am inclined to think true, and that I'm inclined, even after reflection, to think that I have justification or warrant for. In one or two cases, though, there may be some doubt about what is actually meant, let alone whether the claim is really true. Let's have a look:

"Right now, as I type this, the sun is shining outside my window."

"Macbeth is the main character in Macbeth."

"In Macbeth, Macbeth murders Duncan."

"Macbeth is a tragic hero."

"Macbeth loves Lady Macbeth, at least at the start of Macbeth."

"As I type, the US and Australian dollars are roughly at parity."

"Human reproductive cloning is illegal in Australia."

"I had spaghetti for lunch yesterday."

"Cheetahs are beautiful animals."

"MedellĂ­n was once racked by political instability and guerilla warfare."

"Maxwell Perkins was a great editor with a superb (if not unerring) ear for literature."

I've stolen the last couple of these, with minor modifications for concision and to make sure I think they are true, from Jerry Coyne's blog.

The first point I want to make about all the above is that, if I actually know these things to be true, it's not through science. My claim isn't necessarily that they are science defeaters, as if scientists are helpless to find out these sorts of things. I simply say that it wasn't through any distinctively scientific process that I found out any of the above. Nor did I find out these things by asking someone who did use a distinctively scientific process (or who in turn ... etc.). These are all things of a kind that could have been found out long before the methods that are distinctive of science coalesced into the beginnings of the institution or practice that we now know as science. Of course, we couldn't have known that human reproductive cloning was illegal, back in those days, because without science such a thing would not even make sense as something to ban. But we could certainly have consulted statute books, lawyers, and so on about various matters of law.

Nor could I have found out that it is illegal by looking it up on the internet ... not without the technoscience that makes the internet possible. But if I just go and look on a site like AustLII I am not doing anything distinctively scientific. I'm just doing the equivalent of reading a statute book, which could have been done in medieval times.

Whether there are some things that are, in principle, always going to be science defeaters is another thing. I don't make that claim and I'm not sure how exactly it could be settled. But I do, for example, claim that it would be impractical and unnecessary to try to use any distinctively scientific activities to find out whether or not Macbeth really is the main character of Macbeth. Just read the text or go and watch a production, and you'll come to that conclusion. Or ask someone who is trustworthy on such things.

But be warned, once you start drawing conclusions about Macbeth that go beyond the least sophisticated ("Macbeth is the main character of Macbeth"), you may need quite a bit of education in the English of the time, in the historical context, in the literary forms that had existed up until then, and so on. It's possible to pick that up in various ways, but there's a lot to be said for actual guided and formalised study with teachers who know what they're talking about.

Some of the other claims I've made are trickier: e.g. is it really true that cheetahs are beautiful animals?

Well, they sure look it to me. But there's still a nagging question about whether cheetahs are really beautiful and what the claim even means. Does it just mean that they have (perhaps unspecified) characteristics that strike "us" (whoever "we" are in this context) in a certain "aesthetic" way - or what? Some people may believe that cheetahs possess a rather spooky property of strongly objective beauty such that any rational being in the universe somehow makes an error about reality if it fails to see a cheetah as beautiful. I doubt, though, that many of us really think anything like that, even if people in some culturally-closed societies (and perhaps not just them) have thought that way.

Note that science may be able to do a great deal to clarify how many people really see cheetahs as beautiful, what is going on at the level of the functioning of the brain, what it is about cheetahs that produces these responses, etc. I'm not at all claiming that science has nothing to say about the beauty of cheetahs, or, indeed, about any of the issues raised by the statements I listed above. Still, these are all things that are known to me, if they really do constitute knowledge, with nothing distinctively scientific being involved in the way I found out.

I keep talking about "distinctively scientific", because I am well aware that scientists are able to look outside and see whether the sun is shining or whether it's a cloudy day. Or they can use indirect methods of various kinds to infer, "The sun is currently shining in Newcastle, Australia." However, I don't rely on anything especially scientific; I just look out the window.

Obviously I am talking about "science" in a sense that is narrower than "rational inquiry" (I'm prepared to assume that looking out the window is, or can be, an example of rational inquiry). As usual, I can't give you a precise definition. I don't think that phenomena such as science lend themselves to sharp definitions; they are inherently fuzzy, as are many of our concepts. However, it is possible to have a fairly rich conception of science that definitely covers some things and not others. For example, if I simply read Macbeth I am definitely not doing science in the sense under discussion. If I'm trying to work out stuff about the play as I read it (Who is the main character? Could it be Macbeth?), I am engaging in a form of rational inquiry, but it's a humanistic form of rational inquiry, not a distinctively scientific form. On the other hand, it seems to me that these can merge into each other. For example, humanistic scholars are quite capable of using more distinctively scientific approaches on occasion - computerised word frequency analyses provide one example where a scientific instrument is being used by textual scholars to assist with humanistic research. And of course, scientists can read texts, watch plays, learn languages and so on. No one has a monopoly on any of this.

I object to the expression "other ways of knowing" because people who use it tend to countenance methods, such as divine revelation and mystical insight, that seem to me to be pretty damn dubious as ways of finding out stuff. But there are obviously many things I can do to find stuff out - e.g. I can just go and look, in some cases, or read a novel in others, or rely on my memory. Scientists rely on a mix of these things as does everyone else. But not everyone else puts so much emphasis on studying phenomena that are very small, very ancient, or very distant, or using theoretical propositions about these phenomena as causal explanations, and not everyone else relies so heavily on such things as mathematical models, controlled experiments and hypothetico-deductive reasoning, and scientific instruments.

I view science as a distinctive phenomenon that arose in a recognisable form around the start of the seventeenth century, though of course it had precursors. Seventeenth-century thinkers realised that they were confronted by something new and powerful, though they did not invent the word "scientist" (that came much later).

The thing about science is that it's continuous with rational inquiry more generally. We need a word for the phenomenon that I've sketched in the last couple of paras, and "science" is the word we've inherited. So I prefer not to use the word to mean simply "rational inquiry" and I think there's at least some fuzziness about, for instance, whether what we call political science is really best classified as science (usually, in fact, it isn't for pedagogical purposes). The main thing, however, is to make sure that we're consistent in any given context as to how we conceive of science and use the word "science". As so often, we'll create confusion if we use the word in two or more diffferent ways in the same discussion, or within the same argument.

Now, I don't accuse Jerry Coyne of doing that over here. He makes clear that he is using a broad conception of science while I am using a narrow one. It follows that we are not necessarily disagreeing with each other on anything.

But if we're not all careful to define our terms - or at least give some indication of how broad our concepts are - we run quickly into the possibility of confusion. Let's all tread carefully here. Oh, and it might be a good idea to apply the principle of charity and assume that our interlocutors are not saying weird or extreme things.


Adrian said...

I think these beliefs were arrived at through empirical, rational, sceptical inquiry. I don't see why they aren't scientific - not cutting edge or worthy of grants and research, but if anyone asked you why you believe these things, I'd bet your answer would be similar to any other scientific question.

The only exception might be "cheetah's are beautiful creatures". If you rephrased that as "I believe cheetahs are beautiful creatures" then it would fit well.

Ultimately, I think Jerry (and others) are arguing that, if questions can be answered, then science in a broad sense is the only known way of getting the answer. If you disagree (and I don't think you do), then I would be much more interested in your thoughts on how you arrived at these answers and beliefs and what system exists to challenge science.

Charles Sullivan said...

I think Jerry is applying a logical empiricist approach to knowledge.

And an interesting question, to me at least, is whether this is the only approach to knowledge.

I'm skeptical that we can answer the "cheetahs are beautiful animals" question with this approach.

We can also follow Hume's skepticism about whether we really have an idea of causality (other than contiguity, constant conjunction, etc), or we can look at the problem of induction.

We can also consider whether it's possible to know if synthetic a priori knowledge is possible.

Just thinking out loud here.

Russell Blackford said...

I don't know how much further I can take it. As I said, I'm not trying to challenge science, though I know all sorts of things via means that are not especially scientific - e.g. I simply remember what I had to eat yesterday. You can say that relying on memory is a form of science "in a broad sense" but the sense is so broad that it's not in contradistinction to anything else that falls under rational inquiry. It becomes trivially true that all rational inquiry is scientific.

If you discover that a poem, written in French, say, is written in iambic pentameter by actually reading it (even my rudimentary French might be up to that task), that is just the sort of thing that we have in mind when we talk about humanistic inquiry. Learning languages (and other semiotic structures) is just the sort of thing that counts as humanistic education.

As I said, I think that scientific forms of inquiry (and education) and humanistic forms of inquiry (and education) are continuous with each other and can inform each other, but simply defining the latter out of existence doesn't advance anything.

My point is actually in Jerry's defence. When he says that science "in a broad sense" can do all sorts of things it can sound as if he thinks that science in the narrow sense that's fairly familiar from history and pedagogy can do all these things and that there's no room for the humanities - so, there's no reason to learn languages, hone sensitivity to your own language and its history, etc.

The point is that Jerry is not saying that, and I'm sure he doesn't think that, and he should not be accused of scientism.

But on the other hand, I'm quite alarmed at some of the comments on his blog which show a lack of understanding of the simple point that we need to choose what concept of science we're talking about and be consistent. Some comments really do seem to show people not understanding that there can be any benefit in humanistic training in languages, narrative forms, historical contexts, etc. That would be a pretty extreme and shocking position, especially to someone like me with not only a PhD in philosophy but also one in English. If anyone really does think that then I'm happy for the word "scientism" to be applied to them, but I think some folks end up saying extreme-sounding things because they're not careful or perhaps because they just don't have a lot of familiarity (or sympathy?)with the humanities and don't know how what they say will sound to a humanities scholar.

Btw, I'm not sure "I believe that cheetahs are beautiful creatures" helps. It's a subjective report about me, but it still reports a proposition that I believe to be true. But what does that proposition amount to? If I said: "I like cheetahs" - well, that doesn't report my commitment to any proposition about cheetahs. It just reports on my feelings towards them. But something seems to be lost. It's implausible that "Cheetahs are beautiful creatures" just means "I like cheetahs".

Necandum said...

It seems to me like your defining science as rational inquiry pursued quantitatively, through the use of instruments which give consistent and repeatable results.
Whereas the humanities rely upon training and using a more fallible and inconsistent tool, the human mind, though in the context of system which nevertheless demands rigour and evidence.
Then we come to the more everyday sort of thinking, which can just fall all over the map.

If that is indeed the idea you were trying to convey, I rather like it.

Also, regards whether once can call anything beautiful, I rather like this essay by Paul Graham. To paraphrase, he says that since most people are very similar, we can classify things as 'beautiful' or 'good taste' that would appeal to most people, or at least to certain sub-groups. Since these concepts only exist in a social context and yet most people would agree that some things are inherently more beautiful than other, defining how attractive something is based on the range of people it appeals to seems to make sense.

Owen said...

It's implausible that "Cheetahs are beautiful creatures" just means "I like cheetahs".

Really? Seems to me that's exactly what it means.

You can say "Cheetahs are very fast" or "Cheetahs are very efficient at chasing prey over short distances." These are fairly objective statements. You can even say, "and that's why I think they are beautiful", or whatever. But that last statement is different in character to the others.

(Am I reaching too far to say this is like the "is/ought" distinction?)

Russell Blackford said...

It'd be nice and simple if "Cheetahs are beautiful" just meant "I like cheetahs" or "I gain a certain kind of pleasure from looking at cheetahs" or something of the sort. We'd have a simple subjectivism about that kind of aesthetic judgment. But I'm pretty sure that something more is going on with judgments about beauty. I'm not sure exactly what, to be honest, and I'd be happy to discuss this further. But the sentence at least has the grammatical form of ascribing a property to cheetahs and stating something we can disagree about.

Compare "Angelina Jolie is beautiful." Someone who wants to dispute this will say "No she's not." They won't think of saying, for example: "You don't feel like that." (But they might say, "I don't find her so.)

The disputants might agree after a while that it's all subjective, or something, but there seem to be at least the ghost of a thought that there's an objective property out there in the world that's being ascribed to her.

And what if it were "Angelina Jolie is (a) morally good (person)"? That doesn't seem to mean "I approve of Angelina Jolie's behaviour" or something similar. That sort of simple subjectivism about judgments of moral character doesn't seem very attractive.

It's a bit mysterious what these kinds of sentences do mean, but at least the ones about moral character cause a lot of problems if we take them as simple subjective reports of what we like. I think the same applies, perhaps to a lesser extent, to the aesthetic ones.

But I'm still inclined to say that cheetahs are beautiful. :)

Physicalist said...

Perhaps we could make the point clearer to Coyne and his ilk (can I say "ilk" here?) by claiming all rational inquiry for philosophy.

After all, Coyne does have a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD).

Science is merely natural philosophy. History (when it's done well), is merely philosophy of the past. Those folks in lit. studies are doing philosophy of literature (at least if their inquiry is rational), etc.

Perhaps they'll get the point that an overly broad definition loses its meaning.

John Pieret said...

I am inclined to think that you have got this distinction exactly right. There is a distinction to be made between "science can study the sources of human sexual attraction" and "I know I'm in love with my wife".

At least one consistent attribute of what we call "science" is its collective nature. The reporting of hypotheses and theories, observations and experiments, and the evaluation by other knowledgeable people is a crucial difference between the Time Cube guy and Einstein.

Mirik Smit said...

Shouldn't we think rather on how science can inform subjective opinion?

Cheetah's may be beautiful in more then just a subjective way if it is in fact pleasing to parts of our (or just your) brain to look at the animal running or lounging around (Though I could equally well imagine it would make one stressed).

It may well have a objective calming or pleasing effect.

I say this because when we claim a tree, bush, moss or a dense forest as beautiful there is actually a basis of objective reasoning to understand it to be so in a definition of beautiful as 'pleasing to the brain'. Harking back to primitive ancestors' natural surroundings for foraging, etc.

I think there could be an objective reasoning for everything, explaining why an opinion is so formed or felt and THAT makes it amenable to science to inform our reasoning, emotions and subjective experience.

I have always thought of this as scientism. A way of improving, informing and extending subjective life through the knowledge and tools of science.

That it can in fact make everything BETTER then it was not knowing why it was so in the first place.

Feeling plus knowing > just feeling.

I am not a training philosopher and I could be mistaken, just wanted to drop my few cents.

Kevin said...

"I keep talking about "distinctively scientific", because I am well aware that scientists are able to look outside and see whether the sun is shining or whether it's a cloudy day. Or they can use indirect methods of various kinds to infer, "The sun is currently shining in Newcastle, Australia." However, I don't rely on anything especially scientific; I just look out the window."

Is astronomy not a science because all they do to test their hypothesis is look at the sky? You have hypothesis that the sun is shining, you test your hypothesis by looking out the window for certain evidence that will confirm or falsify your hypothesis. How is that any different than what astronomers do?

Sigmund said...

"I'm still inclined to say that cheetahs are beautiful."
That's a surprising comment to come from a gnu.

flies said...

I should start by saying that I basically agree with what you've got here, Russell. I think the "broad sense" that Jerry was using is way too broad. However, I'm just having trouble drawing the line between scientific and humanistic inquiry.

Learning a new language is humanistic. What about learning a new computer language? What's the difference? The subject matter? Seems like the answer is probably just that this is a sort of "gray area"....

Quidam said...

Science is simply evidence based reasoning. Or to put it more sciency "rational and empirical investigation". So they are all amenable to science to determine their truth.

"Cheetahs are beautiful animals." is a subjective statement and should be restated as

"Russell Blackford thinks Cheetahs are beautiful animals."

for which there is evidence in support

Anonymous said...

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is a common phrase for a reason. I always assumed that everybody understood that aesthetic statements could only be properly phrased in terms of how a set of observers feel, and that objective phrasing of aesthetic statements was a poetic conceit.

Moral phrasing depends on whether morality is defined as absolute or relative. The former is a objective question, and the latter is an aesthetic one.

I define morality as absolute in that every true moral statement reduces to "how effectively would this action foster happiness?" Though, of course, measurement is provisional, and certainty is relative to the strength of the evidence.

Science is any topic where certainty is pegged to the strength of the evidence. That definition excludes any topic that relies solely on definition and reason (math and language spring to mind). Science also includes trust as trust is distinguished from faith in that trust is earned. Trust in your mechanic is based on past evidence of reliability. Science is hardly the same thing as rational inquiry or so broad as to be trivial for that matter.

Russell's category of humanistic inquiry seems to me to be a false category. Words are just evolving definitional statements, while rhetoric and poetry and stories are aesthetic topics, and can be investigated as such.

History is objective, though identifying the driving forces of societal change is often difficult due to the scarcity of good, relevant data, the overwhelming complexity of forces at play, and the biases of the authors of history. So truth is much more difficult to discern in the soft sciences. So what? There is no epistemological difference when the same methods of investigation are employed.

John Corless said...

I think perhaps one factor that might help distinguish narrowly defined science and rational inquiry (or at least hopefully add to the discussion) is the role of experimentation. As a practicing scientist, I am constantly changing some set of variables to understand their impact on a set of responses. Many of your claims amount to simple observations ... the sun is shining, I ate spaghetti, cloning is illegal, etc. But let's look at your claim about Lady Macbeth's affection for Macbeth. There really is no room for experimentation to answer this question (indeed, whether there is an objective truth to the emotional state of fictional characters is questionable). There is plenty of analysis to be done (the disciplines of literary analysis, history, etc.), but no way to actively test. But for living people, you could approach this question "scientifically" through experimentation. For instance, perhaps I could put one person in a tough situation and see how the other responded. Or observe under controlled conditions for the presence of thoughtful or generous behavior. It would be difficult but you can certainly think of tests that could yield evidence in favor or against the hypothesis. Much the same way that we "know" whether someone loves us or not.

ColinGavaghan said...

Maybe it depends what you mean by 'beautiful. My online dictionary defines the adjective as 'having qualities that give great pleasure or satisfaction to see, hear, think about, etc.; delighting the senses or mind'. In principle, whether cheetahs (or Ms Jolie) actually have that effect on most observers is empirically testable.

Yet that doesn't account for the common intuition to consider something beautiful even though most people don't recognise the fact (as Henry James described Isabel Archer in 'Portrait...').

If this is murky territory in aesthetics, it's even more so in ethics. When I say 'rape is wrong', I don't think I'm merely making a descriptive comment ('my society currently considers rape to be wrong') nor stating a personal preference ('I don't like the idea of rape'). I think I'm stating something like a universal truth. But it obviously isn't a truth claim like 'the speed of light is a universal constant', in that it isn't falsifiable, doesn't make testable predictions, etc.

I could accept without too much difficulty that the purpose of academic philosophy is to teach clear-headed thinking (and how to avid certain minds of muddle-headed thinking), rather than to discover actual facts. But that doesn't deal with my lingering intuition that there are such things as moral facts.

Russell Blackford said...

I'll accept the word "ilk" as just meaning "type" or "kind", but let's all be nice on this thread. I think there's much to clarify and the issues are difficult. I also don't see why there should be acrimony when we're discussing something like this in good faith.

E.g. claims such as "using a term in such and such way discredits the user" are not useful for advancing the discussion - and, to reverse the charge, they don't actually make the person who says such a thing look open-minded or thoughtful.

As for astronomy, which someone mentioned: sure, astronomers make observations. I'm not denying that scientists make observations. But so does everyone else. The point is that science does a lot more than that. Science has resources available to it that go far beyond ordinary observation. Just one of those resources is the availability of scientific instruments such as telescopes. Astronomy really took off in a big way in the northern winter of 1609/1610 when Galileo went beyond naked-eye observations and turned his telescope to the heavens. But Galileo also did a lot of other stuff with mathematics, hypothetic-inductive reasoning, etc.

The use of instruments wasn't new, and neither was mathematics or hypothetico-deductive reasoning. But quite suddenly, historically speaking, the confluence of things like this, used at the same time and to back each other up, and with unprecedented sophistication, meant that a huge jump could be made in understanding of things that had eluded understanding for centuries. Initially, it was very distant things like the moons of Jupiter, but other things as well.

Science added something. But it didn't thereby subtract other perfectly good, non-spooky forms of inquiry.

Peter Clemerson said...

I once read that Kant divided all propositions into 3 categories:

1. Objective: These carry a truth value of true or false in the sense that they can be demonstrated to be objectively true or false, eg, cheetahs can run faster than any other cat.

2. Aesthetic: These carry only a subjective statement of taste or liking and have no objective value, eg cheetahs are the most beautiful of cats,

3. Moral: These do not carry an objective truth value but express a behavioural rule that their proponents wish to see adhered to for any reason, eg no-one should kill cheetahs.

Any comment, anyone?

Brian said...

They love you over at RD.Net Russell. :)

I get the feeling that a few over there think that science isn't much more than confirming your beliefs with whatever evidence you find.

Richard Wein said...

Very well said, Russell, and I agree with you regarding science.

Science aside, I would make the following comment on your examples of (possibly) true statements. In my view many statements carry both factual (descriptive) and value (normative) meanings at the same time. Some of your examples fall into this category, to a greater or lesser degree. As a value anti-realist I think that the value component cannot be considered factually true. But, where the factual component predominates, I'm happy to say that a statement is true.

The most value-laden of your examples is "Cheetahs are beautiful animals". In this case I'm inclined to question whether it's a good idea to say that the statement is factually true.

On the one hand, the statement is expressing your own judgement of beauty. In that sense it's a value statement, and cannot be true. On the other hand, it could be seen as carrying either or both of the following meanings:
1. People generally find cheetahs beautiful.
2. Cheetahs have the kind of characteristics that people generally find beautiful.
In these senses the statement is a matter of fact, and seems to be true. (There might be other factual components to the meaning too, but these seem the most obvious ones.)

I think that a good judgement as to whether the statement is true depends on a judgement as to the relative degree to which the statement carries value and factual meanings. That can vary from speaker to speaker, so I won't necessarily deny that the statement is true coming from you. But I for one would not call it a true statement in general.

Russell Blackford said...

Brian, I didn't read the discussion there very closely, but some of it is actually rather upsetting. Fortunately, the discussion here has generally been thoughtful and (from my viewpoint) much more enjoyable.

Brian said...

I'm as narcisistic as the next narcissus. However, I recall RD.Net as being a place where a self-absorbed wannabee intellectuals like me fit in. But I haven't fit in there for a long time.

It could be that I've matured in my views (I'd like to say yes) or like most things in life, shit happens (far more likely).

Anyway, Russell, without incurring the wrath of 'Luke' (whoever he was), I'm glad you're out there (here?), being rational instead of being a cheerleader or another Andrew Bolt (may Zeus forgive me for typing that name!).

Russell Blackford said...

Some of the comments at Jerry's place are odd as well.

I can see why some people might want to use the word "science" in a broad sense for certain purposes. But when it's made very clear that it's being used in a narrow (and, I insist, more common) sense to refer, roughly, to the stuff that goes on the science faculty, it's pretty strange when I see people insisting that the research and education that goes on in the arts faculty is "really" science in that narrow sense.

When I see people insisting on something like that, I have to wonder what's going on here. Do they really think it's denigrating science to point out that there is any legitimate teaching, learning, research, etc., that is not narrowly scientific?

Richard Wein said...

I suspect that one of the reasons people want to adopt a broad definition of science is that there is no clear line of demarcation between science and non-science. As you say, Russell, it's a fuzzy distinction. People tend to be uncomfortable with fuzzy distinctions, and this often leads them either to deny the distinction altogether (like those who want to equate science with all of empirical enquiry) or impose an over-narrow, too-hard demarcation line (as supporters of IMN tend to do).

I think I see the same problem in other areas of philosophy, for example with the distinction between analytic and synthetic facts. I think this is another fuzzy distinction. However many philosophers seem to want it to be hard one, and then run into trouble when they try to draw the line. Quine perhaps went to the other extreme of denying the distinction altogether (though I haven't read him for myself and am not sure this was his view).

I think people also make a similar mistake with the fact-value distinction, insisting that a statement must be one or the other, whereas I'm arguing that a statement can combine both fact and value meanings, so the distinction between factual statements and value statements is a fuzzy one.

Dale said...

"Right now, as I type this, the sun is shining outside my window."

This is clearly something you learned through the scientific method.

1) you conducted an experiment

-got up walked over and looked out the window.

2) you made an observation of the results of the experiment.

- the sun was shinning outside at that moment.

3) you could at this point make a prediction based on your observation

- an hour from now based on the look of the sky it will still be shinning outside.

Just Some Guy said...

". . . claims such as 'using a term in such and such way discredits the user' are not useful for advancing the discussion - and, to reverse the charge, they don't actually make the person who says such a thing look open-minded or thoughtful." - Russell Blackford

Because I just can't help myself: is the proposition that a claim (used in a particular way) discredits the speaker any less close-minded than the proposition that a term (used in a particular way) discredits the speaker? Or is it that close-mindedness does not discredit?

Russell Blackford said...

What's your point, James? I made a joke. Is your point that you didn't get it?

Ignostic Morgan's said...

Russell, ah, you're eviscerating haughty John Haugth's nonsense of excoriating use naturalists that there are other venues of knowledge in this manner, and I do it by noting that he is begging the question of those ways! Rational inquiry excludes the divine, so Haught needs to proffer evidence for those venues.

GroovyJ said...

I'm not sure that the question of science is as fuzzy as you seem to think. Science is the pursuit of knowledge by use of the scientific method. That means more than just rational inquiry.

It means that you put forward a coherent hypothesis, and then attempted to the best of your ability, through empirical experiment, to prove your hypothesis wrong, failed, and so accepted it as provisionally true.

Finally, it means that you then presented your work to other experts in the field and allowed them too to attempt to refute your claim.

If you are asserting something as absolute truth, then you are not doing science. You may be doing logic, or you may just be spouting opinion, but you are not doing science, because science deals only in provisional truth.

I think it is dangerous to reduce science to rational inquiry. Science is a particular subset of rational inquiry certainly, but one with distinctive rules. By its nature, science is antagonistic to its own conclusions. That is what makes it such an exceptional means to truth.

Russell Blackford said...

Well, my own preference is certainly to conceive of science that way, or something very like it - and to point out that it's a relatively new phenomenon.

Once again, it makes perfectly good sense to speak of science that way and to indicate that there are a lot of things that we know without doing science. The methods of science vastly expand the kinds of things we can know, as they've proved to be very powerful, but that doesn't mean we are doing science every time we use rational means to find out something about the world.

Russell Blackford said...

But it's interesting to see how much people's intuitions on this differ, even on this thread (and the next one). The post has a humorous title and a fairly whimsical style. It's meant to make a serious point - but one that I didn't even think very controversial - in a light-hearted and somewhat exploratory way.

But it's generated some real controversy and even hostility (the latter not so much here as in one or two other forums). The issues that it's touched on evidently have some heat in them.

Just Some Guy said...

"What's your point, James? I made a joke. Is your point that you didn't get it?" - Russell Blackford

It's a very clever joke that can express itself without the slightest trace of humour. Clearly this joke is far too clever for a simple person like myself. Perhaps you can explain it so I too can share in it.

While we wait for that, I take it that you don't think it's close-minded to claim that a particular use of a term night discredit the user. Or were you joking about this belief while also holding it?

Russell Blackford said...


Ignostic Morgan said...

Russell, Lamberth's atelic or teleonomic argument reasons that since the weight of evidence evinces teleonomy- no planned outcomes rather than teleology, not only does postulating God as intent-agency, teleology-planned outcomes, violates the Ockham with convoluted, ad hoc suppositions, it contradicts that very teleonomy! Therefore, not only do we find no intent to design but no intent as Primary Cause,, Grand Miracle Monger or any other argument involving intent. Thus, with no referents as intent, He cannot exist1 Since He has incoherent, contradictory attributes, He cannot exist!
Russell and others, that's a triple whammy!
Lamberth's argument from pareidolia is that as scientists are studying how and why people see agency when there is none, here we find that people see His agency, intent- teleology and find designs when there are only teleonomy and patterns.
Here we have two arguments resting on science.
PZ Myers and the accommodationists, as Maarten Boudry, would note, use intrinsic methodological naturalism, which does a priori rejects the supernatural agmpstically whilst the majority view is for pragmatic or provisional methodological naturalism can accept the supernatural a posteriori would ever any supernaturalist find evidence for supernatural activity. The presumption of naturalism is in line with that in that it notes that , without begging the question nor sandbagging the supernaturalists that not only are natural causes and explanations, efficient and necessary but also primary and sufficient; they are themselves the sufficient reason, Leibniz notwithstanding. As Flew noted before his dementia into deism, that presumption is as the one of innocence, and Aquinas alluded to it, failing to do so with his five arguments..[ He begs questions].That is, they must use the the presumptions of empiricism, rationalism [ reason,not faith-the we just say so of credulity], skepticism[open but not credulous minds] to overcome these presumptions with empirical evidence
.Eons ago , Carneades, the first ignostic eviscerated this: we are his foot-notes. Had Europe followed him, Thales, the other preSOcratics and Strato, we'd be further advanced, I daresay! Whilst, Aristotle has a naturalist philosophy and reasoned that Existence exists eternally, he employs teleology, which supernaturalists ever try to improve upon. Now, some feel that why yes, Hawking and Mlodinow are perhaps right about the Metaverse and eternity, they are overlooking teleology and how God is the Sustaining Cause.
Everyone, our cause is to proclaim teleonomy cannot exist with teleology- theism does not complement science, but is quite incompatible with it,despite the agnosticism of INM.
Of course, Drees and others will obfuscate matters! Stenger is ever eviscerating the promise keepers [ "Has Science Found God?'].
And the problem of Heaven[ logical] and Rowe's evidential problem from evil further eviscerate the supernatural.
We need to ever stress no intent and the ignostic-Ockham challenge!
Google, these arguments.
[Boudry at noted @ Why Evolution Is True,source noted there.]
Russell, thank you for your efforts in defence of reason!

Ignostic Morgan said...

Russell,please take on Haught, Keith Read and Alister Earl McGrath as the obscurantists they are! And note that creationist evolutionists who accept evolution but find intelligent desing [ intent; design rather than patterns] and evolutionary creationists like Ayal, Giberson and Miller who espouse that intelligent desing as directed evolution, underestimate the power of natural selection and other natural causes! I refer everyone to Amiel Rossows essay on the yin and yang of Miller and to Coyne's " Seeing and Belieinv," as worthy reading to dispel that notion of teleology as complementing science, albeit as metaphysical rather than scientific.
How do you view all this is these two posts, friend?

Anonymous said...

Keith Reid design Believing

Carneades said...

Russell, I'm sorry to have failed to use spell-check!
Neurological deficits affect my posting,alas.
We must ever note the teleonomic argument as it strikes at the jugular of theism that His intent makes for His referents as Primary Cause, Grand Miracle Monger and so forth. And our atelic argument note that theists ever beg the question of intent,of arguing in a circle about intentional outcomes. Again, Coyne eviscerates the notion of those outcomes!