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Guest post: Evils of constructive empiricism

This is a Guest Post by Frank Bellamy, a reader and content manager for the eMpirical, the newsletter for the Secular Student Alliance. He recently wrote an interesting article on why Humanists should not deliver invocations, but today he’s going to talk a bit about philosophy. So, discuss your hearts out while I’m away!

Evils of constructive empiricism

Philosophers routinely entertain and foster ideas which are not only stupid, but also an affront to science: dualism, intelligent design, qualia, the list goes on. Another item on that list that I have only recently discovered is constructive empiricism. That phrase may sound harmless enough, after all, scientists like empirical evidence, and being constructive is good, right? It’s anything but harmless when one looks at its meaning. According to the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, “the constructive empiricist holds that science aims at truth about observable aspects of the world, but that science does not aim at truth about unobservable aspects.” In other words, science gives us no reason for thinking that the unobservable constructs posited by scientific theories actually exist.

A few concrete examples may be useful here. According to the constructive empiricist, we have no good reason to think that atoms exist. After all, no one has ever seen, heard, felt, tasted, or smelled an atom. Atoms may be a useful computational tool for determining what will happen when we mix two substances together, but that is not a reason for attributing actual existence to them. Scientists may even believe that atoms exist, but if they do they go beyond what the evidence warrants.

Evolutionary biologists are in equal trouble. Since we can’t actually observe history, we have no reason for believing historical claims. The idea that humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor more recently than humans and cats may be useful for explaining and predicting various features of the genomes, morphology, or cognitive capacities of these species, but that is not a reason for thinking that any of these species share common ancestors, or indeed that they even have ancestors at all.

To use a more every day example, I have a theory that Jen believes that the christian god does not exist. This theory may be useful in predicting what sorts of things Jen will write on her blog in the future. It allows me to predict, for example, that the next time Jen writes about some amazing new scientific discovery, she will explain it in naturalistic rather than theological terms. But according to the constructive empiricist, that is no reason for thinking that Jen actually has such a belief. Since I can’t directly observe any of Jens beliefs, I am completely unwarranted in believing that she has beliefs at all. So much for theory of mind being a positive aspect of human cognition.

Lets set aside the fact that constructive empiricism entails that scientists are liars and consider its practical implications for science. A scientist who believes in constructive empiricism doesn’t have to waste time considering such irrelevant questions as whether his pet theory is true or not, or how it relates to other theories in other parts of science. All that matters is whether his pet theory can account for the available data.

One implication of this is that it completely undermines the motivation most scientists have for doing science in the first place. Scientists don’t just want equations and models that predict data, we want to understand whatever phenomenon we have chosen to study. We want to know what’s actually going on in the world. We want to know how what we’re doing relates to other parts of science. If constructive empiricism is true, then we are deluding ourselves. Science isn’t in the business of telling us how things really are.

Another implication of constructive empiricism is that it doesn’t really matter how well theories in different domains of science match up with each other. If we explain the movement of objects on earth in terms of forces and masses, and the movement of objects in the sky in terms of Ptolemy’s spheres, so long as we can predict the data that’s ok. If we have physically, neurally, or evolutionarily implausible theories of human cognition, that’s ok, so long as we can predict the behavioral data. If scientists were to truly adopt this view, it would change the face of science forever, and not for the better.

And why would I, a grad student with many other non-philosophical demands on his time be worrying about constructive empiricists you may wonder? It’s because I’ve recently discovered that my adviser is one. Frack me.

Comments

  1. says

    Eugh

    Atheist blogs are (rightly) awash with ridicule for antagonistic ideologues who don't both to actually read and understand what they are so vehemently opposed to. Unfortunately we're not exempt from ignorant caricatures either.

    Its an easy game to play. Characterise a position in terms that is most likely to scandalize your readers. Use that position to derive positions that no real proponent of the theory would state and that are even more scandalous. And avoid having to really deal with any of the underlying motivations or real concerns. All while studiously avoiding reading (or if reading, really making sure you understand) what is actually being said or read on a topic.

    This essay is closer to Intelligent Design than science.

  2. says

    EughAtheist blogs are (rightly) awash with ridicule for antagonistic ideologues who don’t both to actually read and understand what they are so vehemently opposed to. Unfortunately we’re not exempt from ignorant caricatures either.Its an easy game to play. Characterise a position in terms that is most likely to scandalize your readers. Use that position to derive positions that no real proponent of the theory would state and that are even more scandalous. And avoid having to really deal with any of the underlying motivations or real concerns. All while studiously avoiding reading (or if reading, really making sure you understand) what is actually being said or read on a topic.This essay is closer to Intelligent Design than science.

  3. says

    If that's what "constructive empiricism" is, it sounds like a pointless word game. If all the evidence points to something being true, that doesn't mean we can conclude that it is true, it's just a description of the evidence(?)

    By this argument, if the police find Joe's fingerprints on the murder weapon, and Joe had a motive, and the victim scrawled "Joe did it" on a piece of paper as he was dying, the police cannot conclude from all this that Joe is the murderer; it only tells them that Joe's fingerprints are on the weapon, etc.

  4. says

    If that’s what “constructive empiricism” is, it sounds like a pointless word game. If all the evidence points to something being true, that doesn’t mean we can conclude that it is true, it’s just a description of the evidence(?)By this argument, if the police find Joe’s fingerprints on the murder weapon, and Joe had a motive, and the victim scrawled “Joe did it” on a piece of paper as he was dying, the police cannot conclude from all this that Joe is the murderer; it only tells them that Joe’s fingerprints are on the weapon, etc.

  5. says

    I have to disagree that constructive empiricism is dangerous (certainly how you protray it and in the way you say it is).

    In my experience as particle physicist we use models because they allow us to work: we know the models are wrong but within the certain bounds they work. It is impossible to even imagine what's happening 'in reality' at an atomic level (if you can visualise an electron's wave-particle duality then its either wrong or your insane) so we use our models and try to interpret them. You can theorise as to what's the real 'truth' but unless you can test it then there's not much you can do with it: when a wavefunction collapses do realities split or do we just roll the die?

    Your first concern that it will dissuade people from science doesn't make much sense to me. If you enter science to know actually how things work or because the process of making and using a model is interesting to you shouldn't impact upon the quality of your research or your interest in carrying it out. I, for one, actually enjoy looking at models etc: I want to know what's really there but I doubt I ever will live that long.

    Your second concern that by following CE you start to employ incompatible theories in different domains doesn't really work either. One of the biggest conflicts that I know of is between general relativity and quantum mechanics: they are both terrifyingly accurate and utterly imcompatible. Luckily there are few cases where QM and GR come into conflict (black holes are one) but when they do we have to work on new theories (eg string theory), then we test and see how they match up. We can come up with multiple theories and if they all match the data we can pick one which is most 'realistic' but unless you can show that it is better than the others empirically then it's just speculation.

    With your second concern I also object to your example: we can use Newtonian physics and Ptolemy's spheres and they both work as an approximation; once we want better than that we turn to Einstein and if we want better than that we need something new. Sometimes all you have is a model that we know is wrong but it can tell you something about how the world works none the less. You can then look where that model breaks down and by probing there you may get a better model and a better understanding of how the world works. You'll be very lucky to get a view of what's really 'real'.

    Following an (apparently) insane theory can be much more useful that working on what your intuition tells you should be correct all you can really rely on is your data: this is why you blind your trials. If we didn't follow 'insane' theories we might have settled for Newtonian physics over Einstein's theories.

    While I'm all for finding out whats really going on the concept of an ultimate truth is dangerous. Everything is filtered, checked and open to interpretation; models are all you can use sometimes.

  6. says

    I have to disagree that constructive empiricism is dangerous (certainly how you protray it and in the way you say it is).In my experience as particle physicist we use models because they allow us to work: we know the models are wrong but within the certain bounds they work. It is impossible to even imagine what’s happening ‘in reality’ at an atomic level (if you can visualise an electron’s wave-particle duality then its either wrong or your insane) so we use our models and try to interpret them. You can theorise as to what’s the real ‘truth’ but unless you can test it then there’s not much you can do with it: when a wavefunction collapses do realities split or do we just roll the die?Your first concern that it will dissuade people from science doesn’t make much sense to me. If you enter science to know actually how things work or because the process of making and using a model is interesting to you shouldn’t impact upon the quality of your research or your interest in carrying it out. I, for one, actually enjoy looking at models etc: I want to know what’s really there but I doubt I ever will live that long. Your second concern that by following CE you start to employ incompatible theories in different domains doesn’t really work either. One of the biggest conflicts that I know of is between general relativity and quantum mechanics: they are both terrifyingly accurate and utterly imcompatible. Luckily there are few cases where QM and GR come into conflict (black holes are one) but when they do we have to work on new theories (eg string theory), then we test and see how they match up. We can come up with multiple theories and if they all match the data we can pick one which is most ‘realistic’ but unless you can show that it is better than the others empirically then it’s just speculation.With your second concern I also object to your example: we can use Newtonian physics and Ptolemy’s spheres and they both work as an approximation; once we want better than that we turn to Einstein and if we want better than that we need something new. Sometimes all you have is a model that we know is wrong but it can tell you something about how the world works none the less. You can then look where that model breaks down and by probing there you may get a better model and a better understanding of how the world works. You’ll be very lucky to get a view of what’s really ‘real’.Following an (apparently) insane theory can be much more useful that working on what your intuition tells you should be correct all you can really rely on is your data: this is why you blind your trials. If we didn’t follow ‘insane’ theories we might have settled for Newtonian physics over Einstein’s theories.While I’m all for finding out whats really going on the concept of an ultimate truth is dangerous. Everything is filtered, checked and open to interpretation; models are all you can use sometimes.

  7. says

    "According to the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, “the constructive empiricist holds that science aims at truth about observable aspects of the world, but that science does not aim at truth about unobservable aspects.” In other words, science gives us no reason for thinking that the unobservable constructs posited by scientific theories actually exist.

    A few concrete examples may be useful here. According to the constructive empiricist, we have no good reason to think that atoms exist. After all, no one has ever seen, heard, felt, tasted, or smelled an atom."

    There's no difference in making an observation with a tool, and making an observation with our bodies. Our eyes, ears, nose, etc. are after all, just different tools. An observation made with an electron microscope is the same as an observation made with our eyes.

    Denying that we can observe atoms is the same as denying we can observe a chair.

  8. says

    “According to the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, “the constructive empiricist holds that science aims at truth about observable aspects of the world, but that science does not aim at truth about unobservable aspects.” In other words, science gives us no reason for thinking that the unobservable constructs posited by scientific theories actually exist.A few concrete examples may be useful here. According to the constructive empiricist, we have no good reason to think that atoms exist. After all, no one has ever seen, heard, felt, tasted, or smelled an atom.”There’s no difference in making an observation with a tool, and making an observation with our bodies. Our eyes, ears, nose, etc. are after all, just different tools. An observation made with an electron microscope is the same as an observation made with our eyes.Denying that we can observe atoms is the same as denying we can observe a chair.

  9. says

    Ian above nailed the criticism here. I could write 1500 words here and never begin to get beyond a superficial treatment of the numerous issues in this post. I am constantly bewildered by people taking very explicit philosophical positions having such derisive opinions of the field. Even more frustrating is that so many science-minded individuals, who are justly annoyed at people with absolutely no scientific training acting as if they are experts because they read a wikipedia entry on some subject, behaving in exactly the same manner when it comes to subject matter outside their own areas of study and expertise. I like this blog. I read it daily, I link to it, and I tweet about it. But this is a terrible post that highlights the sad fact that everyone can get caught up in hyperbole and asshattery and spout absolute nonsense about a subject of which they have no genuine understanding, all with a tone of authority that only serves to make their claims all the more ridiculous. In the same way Ken Ham needs to stay away from biology and geology, you need to avoid philosophy, at least until you have at least a rudimentary grasp of the issues.

  10. says

    Ian above nailed the criticism here. I could write 1500 words here and never begin to get beyond a superficial treatment of the numerous issues in this post. I am constantly bewildered by people taking very explicit philosophical positions having such derisive opinions of the field. Even more frustrating is that so many science-minded individuals, who are justly annoyed at people with absolutely no scientific training acting as if they are experts because they read a wikipedia entry on some subject, behaving in exactly the same manner when it comes to subject matter outside their own areas of study and expertise. I like this blog. I read it daily, I link to it, and I tweet about it. But this is a terrible post that highlights the sad fact that everyone can get caught up in hyperbole and asshattery and spout absolute nonsense about a subject of which they have no genuine understanding, all with a tone of authority that only serves to make their claims all the more ridiculous. In the same way Ken Ham needs to stay away from biology and geology, you need to avoid philosophy, at least until you have at least a rudimentary grasp of the issues.

  11. Anonymous says

    Is there anything difficult in philosophy that can't be understood by any remotely competent scientist? Philosophy is after all, a place for people to go who aren't smart enough for science.

    Or you know, you might want to actually point out a single problem with the post, as all you've done is make an argument from your own authority that it's wrong.

  12. Anonymous says

    Is there anything difficult in philosophy that can’t be understood by any remotely competent scientist? Philosophy is after all, a place for people to go who aren’t smart enough for science.Or you know, you might want to actually point out a single problem with the post, as all you’ve done is make an argument from your own authority that it’s wrong.

  13. says

    There are three key points that should be noted about the article that are definitely misconstrued:

    "While the constructive empiricist view is a view about the aims of science and not a normative theory in epistemology, the constructive empiricist is an individual who values the sort of epistemic modesty which might motivate one to harbor anti-realist sympathies in general"

    "mistakenly understood in that normative way, constructive empiricism would imply that belief in a theory's empirical adequacy is the only rational candidate for the belief involved in a theory's acceptance."

    "The constructive empiricist rejects arguments that suggest that one is rationally obligated to believe in the truth of a theory, given that one believes in the empirical adequacy of the theory."

    To be clear, this is not a theory of knowledge, this is a theory about how science describes the world. While I think that the two are not nearly as separable as this theory seems to contend, we should keep in mind that this is an analysis of how does science work. Furthermore, the second and third points that you overlooked cuts against intelligent design and the acceptance of ad hoc theories.

    To give you an example of how this theory may be acceptable to you, intelligent design can describe all past phenomenon. But just because it can do this and one believes that it is empirically adequate, one is not rationally obligated to believe that it is true. And this is something that I find generally acceptable; that simply describing the phenomenon is not the only mark of a good theory, otherwise ad-hoc corrections to theories would be all the rage.

    However, I won't defend that the theory doesn't have its crazy parts, and Churchland (who can also get a tad crazy at times…) is dead on about the problems with this theory's definition for observation. But being a tad crazy does not mean you are incorrect. LR beat me to this point about quantum mechanics and the horrifying realities that it entails for scientific realism (damn, I really wanted to bring up the lunacy behind Dirac's delta functions or constructing measures for the path integral function).

    This theory, while a bit peculiar, does have some advantages for a scientist trying to cleanse himself of ad-hoc theories like ID. Additionally, it is not nearly as extreme or evil as you want it to be by interpreting it as an epistemological theory about truth. On top of that, this gives a very trim ontological structure, with no modal realism, natural kinds, or mathematical realism (comes with denying natural laws). All of which are problematic and these problems should spur one to reconsider or at least reexamine what one is doing as a scientist. Go talk to your professor, he might have some really good insights into how science functions.

  14. says

    There are three key points that should be noted about the article that are definitely misconstrued:”While the constructive empiricist view is a view about the aims of science and not a normative theory in epistemology, the constructive empiricist is an individual who values the sort of epistemic modesty which might motivate one to harbor anti-realist sympathies in general” “mistakenly understood in that normative way, constructive empiricism would imply that belief in a theory’s empirical adequacy is the only rational candidate for the belief involved in a theory’s acceptance.””The constructive empiricist rejects arguments that suggest that one is rationally obligated to believe in the truth of a theory, given that one believes in the empirical adequacy of the theory.”To be clear, this is not a theory of knowledge, this is a theory about how science describes the world. While I think that the two are not nearly as separable as this theory seems to contend, we should keep in mind that this is an analysis of how does science work. Furthermore, the second and third points that you overlooked cuts against intelligent design and the acceptance of ad hoc theories.To give you an example of how this theory may be acceptable to you, intelligent design can describe all past phenomenon. But just because it can do this and one believes that it is empirically adequate, one is not rationally obligated to believe that it is true. And this is something that I find generally acceptable; that simply describing the phenomenon is not the only mark of a good theory, otherwise ad-hoc corrections to theories would be all the rage. However, I won’t defend that the theory doesn’t have its crazy parts, and Churchland (who can also get a tad crazy at times…) is dead on about the problems with this theory’s definition for observation. But being a tad crazy does not mean you are incorrect. LR beat me to this point about quantum mechanics and the horrifying realities that it entails for scientific realism (damn, I really wanted to bring up the lunacy behind Dirac’s delta functions or constructing measures for the path integral function).This theory, while a bit peculiar, does have some advantages for a scientist trying to cleanse himself of ad-hoc theories like ID. Additionally, it is not nearly as extreme or evil as you want it to be by interpreting it as an epistemological theory about truth. On top of that, this gives a very trim ontological structure, with no modal realism, natural kinds, or mathematical realism (comes with denying natural laws). All of which are problematic and these problems should spur one to reconsider or at least reexamine what one is doing as a scientist. Go talk to your professor, he might have some really good insights into how science functions.

  15. says

    I really don't get what has pissed you off so much about this concept. Science IS about aiming to get better and better approximations of the truth. Not believing our models are 100% true and not believing that they have any truth to them are two entirely different things.

    Not to mention, your examples kind of suck. The bit about Jen in particular… unless you are one of the readers of this blog that has actually met Jen, you actually don't even have PROOF that she is a real person, much less proof of her beliefs. Sure, SOMEBODY has to be writing this blog, but there is some small chance that there is some random person stealing someone else's pictures and making up this whole thing for giggles. Highly unlikely, but possible (from the perspective of the average person that stumbles upon this blog). And to get back to her beliefs… beliefs of others ARE things that you have to make guesses about from their behavior. Unless you've invented literal mind reading and just haven't let the rest of us in on it yet, your beliefs about Jen's beliefs are just THEORIES. (That's why it is called Theory of Mind)

    And yes, I understand the scientific concept of a theory. Theory = description/explanation that we believe accurately describes what is happening in reality.

    Gah. Here I am getting so worked up over such slight differences in meaning. This is why I hate philosophy. It's important, but it's way too frustrating for me to deal with with any kind of regularity.

  16. says

    I really don’t get what has pissed you off so much about this concept. Science IS about aiming to get better and better approximations of the truth. Not believing our models are 100% true and not believing that they have any truth to them are two entirely different things. Not to mention, your examples kind of suck. The bit about Jen in particular… unless you are one of the readers of this blog that has actually met Jen, you actually don’t even have PROOF that she is a real person, much less proof of her beliefs. Sure, SOMEBODY has to be writing this blog, but there is some small chance that there is some random person stealing someone else’s pictures and making up this whole thing for giggles. Highly unlikely, but possible (from the perspective of the average person that stumbles upon this blog). And to get back to her beliefs… beliefs of others ARE things that you have to make guesses about from their behavior. Unless you’ve invented literal mind reading and just haven’t let the rest of us in on it yet, your beliefs about Jen’s beliefs are just THEORIES. (That’s why it is called Theory of Mind)And yes, I understand the scientific concept of a theory. Theory = description/explanation that we believe accurately describes what is happening in reality. Gah. Here I am getting so worked up over such slight differences in meaning. This is why I hate philosophy. It’s important, but it’s way too frustrating for me to deal with with any kind of regularity.

  17. says

    Keely,You are absolutely right that there is a difference between not believing our models are 100% right and not believing they have any truth, and that science is about approximating truth. I simply seem to have failed to communicate what constructive empiricism is. It is the view that our models do not contain any truth about unobservable entities, or at least that we have no reason to think that they do contain any truth at all about such unobservable entitles. If it is true, a theory is not a description of what we are justified in thinking is happening in reality, it is only a description of what is happening in observable reality, plus some extra computational aids that help us to predict that. I know it's hard to get your head around the fact that someone might actually believe something like this, but they do.

  18. says

    Keely,You are absolutely right that there is a difference between not believing our models are 100% right and not believing they have any truth, and that science is about approximating truth. I simply seem to have failed to communicate what constructive empiricism is. It is the view that our models do not contain any truth about unobservable entities, or at least that we have no reason to think that they do contain any truth at all about such unobservable entitles. If it is true, a theory is not a description of what we are justified in thinking is happening in reality, it is only a description of what is happening in observable reality, plus some extra computational aids that help us to predict that. I know it’s hard to get your head around the fact that someone might actually believe something like this, but they do.

  19. says

    James,I knew someone was going to throw the theory of knowledge v aim of science thing at me. I intentionally glossed over that because I'm not sure what philosophers are actually trying to get at with that distinction. If constructive empiricism is merely a claim about the goals of individual scientists, one only needs to talk to a scientist for five minutes to discover that it is false, and I can't believe that philosophers are that stupid. If it is a claim about the aim of science in some broader sense, then the only thing I can think of that it might be talking about is what sort of truth the methods of science lead to, in which case it is an epistemological claim.

  20. says

    James,I knew someone was going to throw the theory of knowledge v aim of science thing at me. I intentionally glossed over that because I’m not sure what philosophers are actually trying to get at with that distinction. If constructive empiricism is merely a claim about the goals of individual scientists, one only needs to talk to a scientist for five minutes to discover that it is false, and I can’t believe that philosophers are that stupid. If it is a claim about the aim of science in some broader sense, then the only thing I can think of that it might be talking about is what sort of truth the methods of science lead to, in which case it is an epistemological claim.

  21. says

    Jim,I realize that you must feel very much like theologians do when Richard Dawkins says that there is no legitimate subject of theology, and I'm sorry you feel that way, but I don't think there is a legitimate subject of philosophy. All your whining about how I'm not familiar with any philosophy and haven't read Van Fraassen or whomever else you consider relevant is kind of pathetic from where I'm sitting. It also demonstrates certain assumptions on your part about my level of philosophical education that aren't true. I refer you to PZ Myers courtiers reply, it addresses your line of thinking better than I ever could.

  22. says

    Jim,I realize that you must feel very much like theologians do when Richard Dawkins says that there is no legitimate subject of theology, and I’m sorry you feel that way, but I don’t think there is a legitimate subject of philosophy. All your whining about how I’m not familiar with any philosophy and haven’t read Van Fraassen or whomever else you consider relevant is kind of pathetic from where I’m sitting. It also demonstrates certain assumptions on your part about my level of philosophical education that aren’t true. I refer you to PZ Myers courtiers reply, it addresses your line of thinking better than I ever could.

  23. says

    Ian,I did my best to honestly communicate the basic idea of constructive empiricism. If you think I failed, I invite you to point out my specific failing. I am perfectly capable of discussing whether constructive empiricism is true or not, that simply wasn't the question I chose to write about here, mostly because I expected most readers to already agree with me that it isn't. The question I addressed here is whether it is hazardous to good science. Alex makes a good point about why it isn't true though.

  24. says

    Ian,I did my best to honestly communicate the basic idea of constructive empiricism. If you think I failed, I invite you to point out my specific failing. I am perfectly capable of discussing whether constructive empiricism is true or not, that simply wasn’t the question I chose to write about here, mostly because I expected most readers to already agree with me that it isn’t. The question I addressed here is whether it is hazardous to good science. Alex makes a good point about why it isn’t true though.

  25. says

    LR,Your response is particularly interesting to me, as it is my own background in physics that led to my own interest in science and my rejection of constructive empiricism and philosophy generally. I'm certainly not arguing against the use of models, I am arguing against the claim that the empirical verification of those theories isn't evidence that they are at least approximately true. I think that the success of Newtonian mechanics is a very good reason for thinking that it is an approximately true description of how large slow moving bodies interact. I think the success of chemistry in making predictions is a very good reason for thinking that atoms actually do exist and are basically the way chemists say they are. Do you disagree? Because constructive empiricists do.As to my second concern, there is nothing contradictory about saying that quantum mechanics is an approximately true description of how things work within its domain, and general relativity is an approximately true description of how things work within its domain. As you say, the two domains don't overlap much. The GR v QM thing is actually a good example of what I am talking about. A constructive empiricist would be perfectly happy to have GR working in its domain, QM working in its domain, a third theory of black holes working in its domain, a fourth theory of some other phenomenon, etc. No physicist I have ever met would be content to leave physics in such a state. When physicists develop string theories, they don't just want those theories to describe black holes and other cases where GR and QM overlap, they also want those theories to describe everything that GR and QM describe as well. They want to unify things, to have one coherent theory that describes as many phenomenon as possible. This is why physicists develop grand unified theories and build massive and expensive experimental apparatus such as the Large Hadron Collider. But this desire makes no sense from a constructive empiricist point of view. The constructive empiricist would look at the black hole, collect some data, come up with some relatively simple equation that fits the data, and call it a day, without ever wasting time considering how his description of the black hole relates to the rest of physics. This isn't how physics is done, is it?

  26. says

    LR,Your response is particularly interesting to me, as it is my own background in physics that led to my own interest in science and my rejection of constructive empiricism and philosophy generally. I’m certainly not arguing against the use of models, I am arguing against the claim that the empirical verification of those theories isn’t evidence that they are at least approximately true. I think that the success of Newtonian mechanics is a very good reason for thinking that it is an approximately true description of how large slow moving bodies interact. I think the success of chemistry in making predictions is a very good reason for thinking that atoms actually do exist and are basically the way chemists say they are. Do you disagree? Because constructive empiricists do.As to my second concern, there is nothing contradictory about saying that quantum mechanics is an approximately true description of how things work within its domain, and general relativity is an approximately true description of how things work within its domain. As you say, the two domains don’t overlap much. The GR v QM thing is actually a good example of what I am talking about. A constructive empiricist would be perfectly happy to have GR working in its domain, QM working in its domain, a third theory of black holes working in its domain, a fourth theory of some other phenomenon, etc. No physicist I have ever met would be content to leave physics in such a state. When physicists develop string theories, they don’t just want those theories to describe black holes and other cases where GR and QM overlap, they also want those theories to describe everything that GR and QM describe as well. They want to unify things, to have one coherent theory that describes as many phenomenon as possible. This is why physicists develop grand unified theories and build massive and expensive experimental apparatus such as the Large Hadron Collider. But this desire makes no sense from a constructive empiricist point of view. The constructive empiricist would look at the black hole, collect some data, come up with some relatively simple equation that fits the data, and call it a day, without ever wasting time considering how his description of the black hole relates to the rest of physics. This isn’t how physics is done, is it?

  27. says

    “the constructive empiricist holds that science aims at truth about observable aspects of the world, but that science does not aim at truth about unobservable aspects.”

    If the constructive empiricist knows of some non-scientific method through which we may know that the tenets of the constructive empiricist philosophy applies in practice rather than in theory, let him or her present it.

    "But according to the constructive empiricist, that is no reason for thinking that Jen actually has such a belief. Since I can't directly observe any of Jens beliefs, I am completely unwarranted in believing that she has beliefs at all."

    I'd love to become acquainted with some of these visible, tangible, audible, olfactible, gustable constructive-empiricist-philosophy particles.

  28. says

    “the constructive empiricist holds that science aims at truth about observable aspects of the world, but that science does not aim at truth about unobservable aspects.”If the constructive empiricist knows of some non-scientific method through which we may know that the tenets of the constructive empiricist philosophy applies in practice rather than in theory, let him or her present it.”But according to the constructive empiricist, that is no reason for thinking that Jen actually has such a belief. Since I can’t directly observe any of Jens beliefs, I am completely unwarranted in believing that she has beliefs at all.”I’d love to become acquainted with some of these visible, tangible, audible, olfactible, gustable constructive-empiricist-philosophy particles.

  29. says

    Frank, I didn't need to make any assumptions. You showed your level of understanding in this post.It's funny that you should bring up theologians' feelings when reading Dawkins, because I had the same sort of thought when reading you. More appropriately, I thought of Don McLeroy from the Texas Board of Education crying, "Someone needs to stand up to these experts!" You certainly showed those philosophers, didn't you!Doing science requires holding specific metaphysical and epistemic positions. Those are areas of philosophy. When you say "I don't think there is a legitimate subject of philosophy," there is no other way to read that than you saying that you are uninterested in justifying the positions you must explicitly hold. That means you hold them not for any rational reason, but by blind faith. Congratulations, you're a fundamentalist.Seriously, you in particular are in desperate need of some basic philosophical teaching. You don't get that suggesting that, because some philosophers have at some point said things that are wrong, philosophers then have nothing to offer, is just the kind of argument that creationists use when attempting to say that "evolutionists" are all evil because Hitler believed in evolution. The point there would be that, regardless of Hitler's position on evolution (though it is clear that the creationists are pretty wrong on their history, here), evolution stands or falls on its own merits and not because of who did or did not believe it. I mean, it is absolutely true that the Nazis employed lots of scientists, but that's no reason to impugn science in general. In the same way, just because you happen to not like some particular philosopher's position is no reason to attack philosophy in general, as you have done here.But you have a problem much worse than fallacious arguments of the type above. You simply don't know how to make arguments at all. Look at this post. At no point do you provide any argument as to why constructivism is wrong. Period. You simply say that you don't like the implications. So what? What do your preferences have to do with anything? Certainly, lots of people don't like the implications of lots of things that are true, but that does not change their truth status. In the same way, the fact that you might not like the consequences of of constructivism, or anything else, is wholly irrelevant to whether or not such is the case. (I will point out here, as many others already have, that your characterization of constructivism is absurd, and that is yet another reason it is clear that you simply don't understand the issue you've taken on.) And, again, you didn't offer one single argument for constructivism being incorrect. Lastly, I'll point out that the history of science is the history of an area of philosophy. All the early scientists were philosophers, and some still are. The overlap is not surprising at all as, like I said, doing science requires that you hold particular philosophical position in several different areas and, unless you're merely someone who believes dogmatically by blind faith, some kind of justification for those positions is required. Here's something to drive home the point. You think constructivism is wrong (and you're right, though it's clear that it's clearly accidental), making you, I assume, some type of scientific realist. Fine. Justify scientific realism without resorting to philosophy. I would find such an attempt quite amusing. Remember, no philosophy allowed.

  30. says

    Frank, I didn’t need to make any assumptions. You showed your level of understanding in this post.It’s funny that you should bring up theologians’ feelings when reading Dawkins, because I had the same sort of thought when reading you. More appropriately, I thought of Don McLeroy from the Texas Board of Education crying, “Someone needs to stand up to these experts!” You certainly showed those philosophers, didn’t you!Doing science requires holding specific metaphysical and epistemic positions. Those are areas of philosophy. When you say “I don’t think there is a legitimate subject of philosophy,” there is no other way to read that than you saying that you are uninterested in justifying the positions you must explicitly hold. That means you hold them not for any rational reason, but by blind faith. Congratulations, you’re a fundamentalist.Seriously, you in particular are in desperate need of some basic philosophical teaching. You don’t get that suggesting that, because some philosophers have at some point said things that are wrong, philosophers then have nothing to offer, is just the kind of argument that creationists use when attempting to say that “evolutionists” are all evil because Hitler believed in evolution. The point there would be that, regardless of Hitler’s position on evolution (though it is clear that the creationists are pretty wrong on their history, here), evolution stands or falls on its own merits and not because of who did or did not believe it. I mean, it is absolutely true that the Nazis employed lots of scientists, but that’s no reason to impugn science in general. In the same way, just because you happen to not like some particular philosopher’s position is no reason to attack philosophy in general, as you have done here.But you have a problem much worse than fallacious arguments of the type above. You simply don’t know how to make arguments at all. Look at this post. At no point do you provide any argument as to why constructivism is wrong. Period. You simply say that you don’t like the implications. So what? What do your preferences have to do with anything? Certainly, lots of people don’t like the implications of lots of things that are true, but that does not change their truth status. In the same way, the fact that you might not like the consequences of of constructivism, or anything else, is wholly irrelevant to whether or not such is the case. (I will point out here, as many others already have, that your characterization of constructivism is absurd, and that is yet another reason it is clear that you simply don’t understand the issue you’ve taken on.) And, again, you didn’t offer one single argument for constructivism being incorrect. Lastly, I’ll point out that the history of science is the history of an area of philosophy. All the early scientists were philosophers, and some still are. The overlap is not surprising at all as, like I said, doing science requires that you hold particular philosophical position in several different areas and, unless you’re merely someone who believes dogmatically by blind faith, some kind of justification for those positions is required. Here’s something to drive home the point. You think constructivism is wrong (and you’re right, though it’s clear that it’s clearly accidental), making you, I assume, some type of scientific realist. Fine. Justify scientific realism without resorting to philosophy. I would find such an attempt quite amusing. Remember, no philosophy allowed.

  31. says

    Jim,Clearly you and I disagree as to which people constitute legitimate authorities. There are clearly also disputes about whether theologians and biologists constitute legitimate authorities. The only way I know to resolve such disputes is to look at which so-called experts have evidence to back up their claims and which do not. Philosophers generally do not. I disagree with your claim that science requires philosophy. Scientists are just as much entitled to use the tools of reason and logical argumentation as philosophers are, and philosophy has nothing of value to add to that.

    Your suggestion that science is part of philosophy is absurd. It is like arguing that because many early scientists, including Newton, were alchemists, science must be part of alchemy.

    As to my background in philosophy, I did minor in philosophy as an undergraduate. I took a total of seven courses that were either listed as philosophy or accepted as substitutes for philosophy courses by the philosophy department, with an average grade of A-, and have had numerous additional encounters with philosophy, so I think I am reasonably familiar with the field. I'm not going to go into a long argument about my reasons for thinking it is worthless, I'm just saying you shouldn't assume that I'm unfamiliar with the field just because I don't like it and don't have the time or interest for a long argument as to why.

    As to the fact that I did not argue against the truth of constructive empiricism or for the truth of scientific realism, you are absolutely right that I did not. That isn't because I can't, it is merely because that is not the topic I chose to write about. There are numerous other places one could go to find those argument, such as the stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Since I expected that most of the readers of this blog would already agree with me in being scientific realists, I chose to write about the negative effects of constructive empiricism, not the reasons why it is false. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. And I don't have the time to go into the arguments for and against constructive empiricism here.

  32. says

    Jim,Clearly you and I disagree as to which people constitute legitimate authorities. There are clearly also disputes about whether theologians and biologists constitute legitimate authorities. The only way I know to resolve such disputes is to look at which so-called experts have evidence to back up their claims and which do not. Philosophers generally do not. I disagree with your claim that science requires philosophy. Scientists are just as much entitled to use the tools of reason and logical argumentation as philosophers are, and philosophy has nothing of value to add to that.Your suggestion that science is part of philosophy is absurd. It is like arguing that because many early scientists, including Newton, were alchemists, science must be part of alchemy.As to my background in philosophy, I did minor in philosophy as an undergraduate. I took a total of seven courses that were either listed as philosophy or accepted as substitutes for philosophy courses by the philosophy department, with an average grade of A-, and have had numerous additional encounters with philosophy, so I think I am reasonably familiar with the field. I’m not going to go into a long argument about my reasons for thinking it is worthless, I’m just saying you shouldn’t assume that I’m unfamiliar with the field just because I don’t like it and don’t have the time or interest for a long argument as to why.As to the fact that I did not argue against the truth of constructive empiricism or for the truth of scientific realism, you are absolutely right that I did not. That isn’t because I can’t, it is merely because that is not the topic I chose to write about. There are numerous other places one could go to find those argument, such as the stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Since I expected that most of the readers of this blog would already agree with me in being scientific realists, I chose to write about the negative effects of constructive empiricism, not the reasons why it is false. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. And I don’t have the time to go into the arguments for and against constructive empiricism here.

  33. DarkSideCat says

    "“the constructive empiricist holds that science aims at truth about observable aspects of the world, but that science does not aim at truth about unobservable aspects.”" This is true, if you go by the scientific method. Science can get its data through observation and models, that's its methodology. Btw, indirect observation still counts as observation. For your crime example, how do you know that the theory of Joe being the killer is probably a good one? Based on the fact that all of your observable data works well with this model and extremely poorly with others. You have good reason to believe that atoms exist because the model of atomic theory consistently works with all of your observations about objects in the universe and how they effect each other. "Scientists don't just want equations and models that predict data, we want to understand whatever phenomenon we have chosen to study." No, that's just your underlying methodology. Insofar as your models and equations are correct and correctly relate to the world, then you have gained some insight into how the world works. Consider the methods that you would use to disprove a theory. You could either show that the model or equations were internally inconsistent or, you could find some data that demonstrated that the model was not the correct one for the observable universe. It is absolutely true that science does not concern itself with things with are unobservable, it focuses on things that can be observed either directly or indirectly. I don't really see why you would want science to be into things that have no observable evidence of their existence.

    " science gives us no reason for thinking that the unobservable constructs posited by scientific theories actually exist" If you have no data either from direct or indirect observation, then you don't have good reason for believing such a thing exists (under an empiricist view). You might benefit from looking up the Phlogistin fallacy for a real life example of how assuming something is true simply because you have a theory without data is bad science.

    "that science does not aim at truth about unobservable aspects" You can still hold this and be perfectly consistent if you hold that things which by definition have no potentially observable impact either do not exist or, even if they did, could not possibly be known. It follows that if we could never have good reason to believe that something exists, we would not seek out truths about it.

  34. says

    ““the constructive empiricist holds that science aims at truth about observable aspects of the world, but that science does not aim at truth about unobservable aspects.”” This is true, if you go by the scientific method. Science can get its data through observation and models, that’s its methodology. Btw, indirect observation still counts as observation. For your crime example, how do you know that the theory of Joe being the killer is probably a good one? Based on the fact that all of your observable data works well with this model and extremely poorly with others. You have good reason to believe that atoms exist because the model of atomic theory consistently works with all of your observations about objects in the universe and how they effect each other. “Scientists don’t just want equations and models that predict data, we want to understand whatever phenomenon we have chosen to study.” No, that’s just your underlying methodology. Insofar as your models and equations are correct and correctly relate to the world, then you have gained some insight into how the world works. Consider the methods that you would use to disprove a theory. You could either show that the model or equations were internally inconsistent or, you could find some data that demonstrated that the model was not the correct one for the observable universe. It is absolutely true that science does not concern itself with things with are unobservable, it focuses on things that can be observed either directly or indirectly. I don’t really see why you would want science to be into things that have no observable evidence of their existence.” science gives us no reason for thinking that the unobservable constructs posited by scientific theories actually exist” If you have no data either from direct or indirect observation, then you don’t have good reason for believing such a thing exists (under an empiricist view). You might benefit from looking up the Phlogistin fallacy for a real life example of how assuming something is true simply because you have a theory without data is bad science. “that science does not aim at truth about unobservable aspects” You can still hold this and be perfectly consistent if you hold that things which by definition have no potentially observable impact either do not exist or, even if they did, could not possibly be known. It follows that if we could never have good reason to believe that something exists, we would not seek out truths about it.

  35. DarkSideCat says

    It should be noted that you are talking about an empiricist view and empiricist hold that observation (direct or indirect) alone is the only basis for rational belief or knowledge. So, for an empiricist who claims science is purely empirical, this is a complement. They think you are exclusively using the only method to gain rational beleif and knowledge. An empiricist who wants to assert knowledge or rational belief in God would have to show observable evidence. Most of the dualists are rationalists, not empiricists, which is pretty obvious for anyone with a background in philosophy (Descartes was a rationalist, as were Spinoza and Leibniz). Empirically proving the existence of souls is, under some definitions, literally impossible, and in any case is an high burden for those who assert that souls exist. I have yet to find an empiricist who believed in souls or the Christian God. 'Find me some good observable data which demonstrates God exists' is a charge that relgions fails pretty soundly at. I suppose their might be a religious empiricist out there, but they aren't the norm.

    There are about equally as many rationalists as there are empiricists and they differ in that rationalists believe that knowledge can be gained, in some cases, through reason alone (though empirical evidence can still be good reason as well). Mathematicians tend to be rationalists, because it is difficult to see how mathematical knowledge would arise under an empiricist view. The religious philosophers lean more towards rationalism, but there are also huge numbers of rationalist atheists. The question here comes down to questions of formal logic and consistency, so rationalist debates about God tend to be extremely distanced from mainstream religious arguments. Some rationalist arguments against the existence of God include the stone paradox and the problem of evil.

    Constructive Empiricists, in particular, tend to have pretty strict views about knowledge which make the definition far stricter than the colloquial use of the word. They would grant, most likely, that you have more rational reason to believe modern physics theories than any other theories in existence, but that only observations count as knowledge. You see the chemicals bubble and feel heat release, that you can know, the theory of chemical reactions is something that you have rational reason to believe, and to believe over any other theory, but you can't meet the standard of knowledge. As you can see, this is an argument over what properly counts as knowledge, not over what counts as good evidence. The huge majority of empiricist will agree with you that science has the best evidence for its claims about the unobserved, but some will disagree that this meet the threshold for knowledge.

  36. says

    It should be noted that you are talking about an empiricist view and empiricist hold that observation (direct or indirect) alone is the only basis for rational belief or knowledge. So, for an empiricist who claims science is purely empirical, this is a complement. They think you are exclusively using the only method to gain rational beleif and knowledge. An empiricist who wants to assert knowledge or rational belief in God would have to show observable evidence. Most of the dualists are rationalists, not empiricists, which is pretty obvious for anyone with a background in philosophy (Descartes was a rationalist, as were Spinoza and Leibniz). Empirically proving the existence of souls is, under some definitions, literally impossible, and in any case is an high burden for those who assert that souls exist. I have yet to find an empiricist who believed in souls or the Christian God. ‘Find me some good observable data which demonstrates God exists’ is a charge that relgions fails pretty soundly at. I suppose their might be a religious empiricist out there, but they aren’t the norm.There are about equally as many rationalists as there are empiricists and they differ in that rationalists believe that knowledge can be gained, in some cases, through reason alone (though empirical evidence can still be good reason as well). Mathematicians tend to be rationalists, because it is difficult to see how mathematical knowledge would arise under an empiricist view. The religious philosophers lean more towards rationalism, but there are also huge numbers of rationalist atheists. The question here comes down to questions of formal logic and consistency, so rationalist debates about God tend to be extremely distanced from mainstream religious arguments. Some rationalist arguments against the existence of God include the stone paradox and the problem of evil.Constructive Empiricists, in particular, tend to have pretty strict views about knowledge which make the definition far stricter than the colloquial use of the word. They would grant, most likely, that you have more rational reason to believe modern physics theories than any other theories in existence, but that only observations count as knowledge. You see the chemicals bubble and feel heat release, that you can know, the theory of chemical reactions is something that you have rational reason to believe, and to believe over any other theory, but you can’t meet the standard of knowledge. As you can see, this is an argument over what properly counts as knowledge, not over what counts as good evidence. The huge majority of empiricist will agree with you that science has the best evidence for its claims about the unobserved, but some will disagree that this meet the threshold for knowledge.

  37. says

    C Brown,Whether constructive empiricism is a form of empiricism I'm not quite sure, but the position you seem to be defending is not constructive empiricism. One of the big problems with constructive empiricism is that they don't have a coherent distinction between observable and unobservable things. However, they do clearly view things such as atoms and mental representations as unobservable and therefor as things for which we do not have evidence. If you think that we do have good reasons for thinking that atoms exist, then you are not a constructive empiricist. I encourage you to read the stanford encyclopedia of philosophy entry on constructive empiricism for yourself.

  38. says

    C Brown,Whether constructive empiricism is a form of empiricism I’m not quite sure, but the position you seem to be defending is not constructive empiricism. One of the big problems with constructive empiricism is that they don’t have a coherent distinction between observable and unobservable things. However, they do clearly view things such as atoms and mental representations as unobservable and therefor as things for which we do not have evidence. If you think that we do have good reasons for thinking that atoms exist, then you are not a constructive empiricist. I encourage you to read the stanford encyclopedia of philosophy entry on constructive empiricism for yourself.

  39. says

    Frank, you're either dense or a terrible reader. Either seems just as plausible at this point.Your response only shows how little you continue to understand the issue, regardless of what classes you may have taken. Because, as we all know, everyone who takes a few classes in a subject fully understands that subject, and no one's dogmatic presuppositions ever get in the way of their understanding of the subject matter about which they are supposed to be learning. I mean, there are no examples of people with PhDs in things like biology continuing to crow about nonsense like intelligent design, are there? Of course not. Oh, wait…You making the point that "Scientists are just as much entitled to use the tools of reason and logical argumentation as philosophers are" only shows that you missed my point completely. Well, that or you chose to ignore it in hopes of getting everyone sidetracked onto a different issue. Too bad I actually know how to follow arguments. (Damn you, philosophy!) I in no way claimed that scientists are somehow not allowed access to the "tools of reason," and it's hard to believe that you honestly think that's what I meant as I was explicit in what I said. To quote myself, "Doing science requires holding specific metaphysical and epistemic positions." Your supposed concern about some made-up suggestion that reason is the privileged domain of philosophers only further highlights your denseness or inability to comprehend simple sentences that use unambiguous language. Maybe you want to try again?Another point of humor here is your response to my assertion that you have no argument against constructivism. "Well, I assumed everyone here would agree with me, so I didn't need to explain why something was evil when claiming it's evil" is more fundie-speak. Just because you thought you were preaching to the choir doesn't get you off the hook of justifying your claims, and that's exactly what I pointed out that you didn't do. Again, you brought up some supposed implications of constructivism, said you didn't like them, and ended with melodramatic hand-waving about imagined slippery-slopes that "would change the face of science forever, and not for the better." (Ooooooh, scary!) I'll call you on your bullshit the same way I'd call other fundies who say that if you don't believe in some god then you're going to rape and eat babies. That position is just as justified as the one you're making in that both of them are groundless.Again, if you can't offer some justification for your beliefs, then they are mere dogmatism, instantiations of unexamined blind faith. I would have thought that someone with a whole seven classes of philosophy under their belt would understand something some basic. Maybe your opinion of philosophy comes from receiving instruction in a shit department. Regardless, all you do is continue to show just how clueless you are in this area.

  40. says

    Frank, you’re either dense or a terrible reader. Either seems just as plausible at this point.Your response only shows how little you continue to understand the issue, regardless of what classes you may have taken. Because, as we all know, everyone who takes a few classes in a subject fully understands that subject, and no one’s dogmatic presuppositions ever get in the way of their understanding of the subject matter about which they are supposed to be learning. I mean, there are no examples of people with PhDs in things like biology continuing to crow about nonsense like intelligent design, are there? Of course not. Oh, wait…You making the point that “Scientists are just as much entitled to use the tools of reason and logical argumentation as philosophers are” only shows that you missed my point completely. Well, that or you chose to ignore it in hopes of getting everyone sidetracked onto a different issue. Too bad I actually know how to follow arguments. (Damn you, philosophy!) I in no way claimed that scientists are somehow not allowed access to the “tools of reason,” and it’s hard to believe that you honestly think that’s what I meant as I was explicit in what I said. To quote myself, “Doing science requires holding specific metaphysical and epistemic positions.” Your supposed concern about some made-up suggestion that reason is the privileged domain of philosophers only further highlights your denseness or inability to comprehend simple sentences that use unambiguous language. Maybe you want to try again?Another point of humor here is your response to my assertion that you have no argument against constructivism. “Well, I assumed everyone here would agree with me, so I didn’t need to explain why something was evil when claiming it’s evil” is more fundie-speak. Just because you thought you were preaching to the choir doesn’t get you off the hook of justifying your claims, and that’s exactly what I pointed out that you didn’t do. Again, you brought up some supposed implications of constructivism, said you didn’t like them, and ended with melodramatic hand-waving about imagined slippery-slopes that “would change the face of science forever, and not for the better.” (Ooooooh, scary!) I’ll call you on your bullshit the same way I’d call other fundies who say that if you don’t believe in some god then you’re going to rape and eat babies. That position is just as justified as the one you’re making in that both of them are groundless.Again, if you can’t offer some justification for your beliefs, then they are mere dogmatism, instantiations of unexamined blind faith. I would have thought that someone with a whole seven classes of philosophy under their belt would understand something some basic. Maybe your opinion of philosophy comes from receiving instruction in a shit department. Regardless, all you do is continue to show just how clueless you are in this area.

  41. says

    Jim, The claim I attempted to defend here is that constructive empiricism is evil, i.e. has negative effects. I believe I did defend that claim, and you have yet to argue against the points I made. The question of whether constructive empiricism is true or not is a different question, and as you have observed I did not make an argument on that point. Please don't confuse the two. They are simply two different questions. It is similar to how atheists can argue that religion is false by presenting evidence that refutes its claims, or atheists can argue that religion is dangerous by pointing to the bad things that people have done because of their religious beliefs. Both may be true, but they are different claims supported by different arguments. I was writing here about whether constructive empiricism is harmful or not, not whether it is true or not. I said that in the title, I said it in the post, I have now said it three times in the comments. In three comments now you have yet to address my claim that it is harmful, and you think I'm dense?

  42. says

    Jim, The claim I attempted to defend here is that constructive empiricism is evil, i.e. has negative effects. I believe I did defend that claim, and you have yet to argue against the points I made. The question of whether constructive empiricism is true or not is a different question, and as you have observed I did not make an argument on that point. Please don’t confuse the two. They are simply two different questions. It is similar to how atheists can argue that religion is false by presenting evidence that refutes its claims, or atheists can argue that religion is dangerous by pointing to the bad things that people have done because of their religious beliefs. Both may be true, but they are different claims supported by different arguments. I was writing here about whether constructive empiricism is harmful or not, not whether it is true or not. I said that in the title, I said it in the post, I have now said it three times in the comments. In three comments now you have yet to address my claim that it is harmful, and you think I’m dense?

  43. says

    Philosophically speaking, Science and positivism are based on a fallacy, namely the theory of induction, which states that just because something happens many times, does not mean it happens that way every time. Just because dropping an apple off a table makes it fall down every time we've ever tried it doesn't prove by itself that there might not be one time when for some reason it doesn't.However, this doesn't bother me, or other scientists, because the universe has so far proven extremely consistent, and any real abrupt change wouldn't mean the end of our understanding of the world, but the discovery of a new and better principle, which is an exciting prospect for us. Take Einstein's proof of relativity, contradicting earlier ideas about Newtonian physics. Relativity proves that Newton was in some areas wrong, and proposes new rules that better describe what data we have. It did not prove all physics to be wrong, as some people have tried to claim it did.It doesn't shame me to be wrong if I have limited information on the subject, and I can uncover the truth later with some effort. Unlike woo-meisters who must suppress all contradictory information lest their entire foundation collapse into a formless pile of mockery.Come back soon, Jen.

  44. says

    Philosophically speaking, Science and positivism are based on a fallacy, namely the theory of induction, which states that just because something happens many times, does not mean it happens that way every time. Just because dropping an apple off a table makes it fall down every time we’ve ever tried it doesn’t prove by itself that there might not be one time when for some reason it doesn’t.However, this doesn’t bother me, or other scientists, because the universe has so far proven extremely consistent, and any real abrupt change wouldn’t mean the end of our understanding of the world, but the discovery of a new and better principle, which is an exciting prospect for us. Take Einstein’s proof of relativity, contradicting earlier ideas about Newtonian physics. Relativity proves that Newton was in some areas wrong, and proposes new rules that better describe what data we have. It did not prove all physics to be wrong, as some people have tried to claim it did.It doesn’t shame me to be wrong if I have limited information on the subject, and I can uncover the truth later with some effort. Unlike woo-meisters who must suppress all contradictory information lest their entire foundation collapse into a formless pile of mockery.Come back soon, Jen.

  45. Anonymous says

    (this is cathy again, having trouble signing in)

    Okay, Frank, on to the SEP

    Here's the very next sentence after the one you cited:

    "Acceptance of a theory, according to constructive empiricism, correspondingly differs from acceptance of a theory on the scientific realist view: the constructive empiricist holds that as far as belief is concerned, acceptance of a scientific theory involves only the belief that the theory is empirically adequate."

    Again, same article:

    "Even given her stance about what theory acceptance involves, a constructive empiricist can still understand scientific theories literally. "

    "Note that the phenomena relevant to a theory's empirical adequacy are all actual observable phenomena (1980, 12). So for a theory to be empirically adequate, it has to be able to account for more than just the phenomena that have actually been observed and the phenomena that will be observed. "

    This exactly matches my point. You are quote mining rather than reading for comprehension. This article actually gives good arguments for both sides and an extensive explanation, which you seem to have ignored. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/constructive-empiricism/

    "Bas van Fraassen (1980) revitalised the debate about scientific realism by proposing his constructive empiricism as an alternative. His antirealism is sceptical rather than dogmatic, and does not depend on the distinction between theoretical and observational terms. He allows that terms such as ‘sub-atomic particle’ and ‘particle too small to see’ are perfectly meaningful and should be taken literally (note that the former term is theoretical and the latter term is not but both purportedly refer to unobservable entities). On the other hand, he holds that it is perfectly rational to remain agnostic about whether there are any such particles because he argues that to accept the best scientific theories we have only requires believing that they are empirically adequate, in the sense of correctly describing the observable world, rather than believing that they are true simpliciter. (For more on constructive empiricism see Monton 2007.)"

    There's the history and some further description, from the second article on SEP which discusses constructive empiricism, an article actually dedicated to Structual Realism, which is a form of scientific realism. You are misunderstanding the conversation and you are mischaracterizing your opponent's position. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/structural-realism/

  46. Anonymous says

    (this is cathy again, having trouble signing in)Okay, Frank, on to the SEPHere’s the very next sentence after the one you cited:”Acceptance of a theory, according to constructive empiricism, correspondingly differs from acceptance of a theory on the scientific realist view: the constructive empiricist holds that as far as belief is concerned, acceptance of a scientific theory involves only the belief that the theory is empirically adequate.” Again, same article:”Even given her stance about what theory acceptance involves, a constructive empiricist can still understand scientific theories literally. “”Note that the phenomena relevant to a theory’s empirical adequacy are all actual observable phenomena (1980, 12). So for a theory to be empirically adequate, it has to be able to account for more than just the phenomena that have actually been observed and the phenomena that will be observed. “This exactly matches my point. You are quote mining rather than reading for comprehension. This article actually gives good arguments for both sides and an extensive explanation, which you seem to have ignored. http://plato.stanford.edu/entr…“Bas van Fraassen (1980) revitalised the debate about scientific realism by proposing his constructive empiricism as an alternative. His antirealism is sceptical rather than dogmatic, and does not depend on the distinction between theoretical and observational terms. He allows that terms such as ‘sub-atomic particle’ and ‘particle too small to see’ are perfectly meaningful and should be taken literally (note that the former term is theoretical and the latter term is not but both purportedly refer to unobservable entities). On the other hand, he holds that it is perfectly rational to remain agnostic about whether there are any such particles because he argues that to accept the best scientific theories we have only requires believing that they are empirically adequate, in the sense of correctly describing the observable world, rather than believing that they are true simpliciter. (For more on constructive empiricism see Monton 2007.)” There’s the history and some further description, from the second article on SEP which discusses constructive empiricism, an article actually dedicated to Structual Realism, which is a form of scientific realism. You are misunderstanding the conversation and you are mischaracterizing your opponent’s position. http://plato.stanford.edu/entr

  47. Anonymous says

    To treat your position as anything other than the laughable idiocy it is I'd have to accept that it's "perfectly rational to remain agnostic agnostic about whether there are any such particles". Since that isn't a rational statement I can't take this particular branch of philosophy seriously. Since you seem to think that that's a valid statement, I can't take you seriously.

  48. Anonymous says

    To treat your position as anything other than the laughable idiocy it is I’d have to accept that it’s “perfectly rational to remain agnostic agnostic about whether there are any such particles”. Since that isn’t a rational statement I can’t take this particular branch of philosophy seriously. Since you seem to think that that’s a valid statement, I can’t take you seriously.

  49. says

    On the distinction between scientific theory versus an epistemology we have this:

    "The constructive empiricist recognizes that these pragmatic factors like simplicity and explanatory power are important guides in the pursuit of the aim of science … these factors are valuable in that pursuit only insofar as their consideration advances the development of theories that are empirically adequate and empirically strong. They do not have special value as indicators of the truth of what the theories say "

    The split between science and epistemology is that the rules for a good theory, empirically adequate and empirically strong, do not determine the truth of a theory. This is a challenge to the rules of parsimony, just as philosophers challenged verificationism back in the 40s.

    Later von Frassen says:

    "But what scientists are really aiming to discover, according to the constructive empiricist, are “facts about the world — about the regularities in the observable part of the world”

    At the end of Feynmann's QED lectures, he highlights a puzzling problem about the interaction between mathematics and nature through physics. The problem is whether the repeated application of mathematical analogies is the result of nature's intrinsic mathematical nature, or physicists recycling.

    Feynmann does not supply a definite answer, he leaves it up to the philosophers to work it out. Startling how a man of more intelligence lacks the hubris towards another academic field that you do. But CE is remarkably similar to Feynmann's belief that scientists are simply describing phenomenon, they are not able to figure out why it is like that (such as why certain constants have that particular value and not another one).

    Furthermore, the theory of truth that von Fraassen proposes is hardly evil: "the doctrine that the aim of science is truth about what is observable should be replaced with the doctrine that the aim of science is truth about what's actually been observed" which is a claim that science is inherently descriptive of regularities without penetrating the underlying reality of why nature acts the way she does.

    This theory does not mean that scientists are liars. It contends that "truth", as in the way the world really is apart from our observations, is not the purview of science. It contends that science is supposed to construct powerful theories that predict the regularities in our observations. That's not evil or harmful, that's being humble about one's endeavors.

    And as for saying that they would not accept a theory of atoms, well, that's an absurd strawman. In 3.5, von Fraassen gives his reply, which is agnosticism toward unobserved entities. This hinges on what it means to be unobserved. It appears that electrons are observable since at the end of 2.3, von Fraassen talks about the Millikan experiment.

    As for your "evils", not only is this hyperbole, but irrelevant. You claim that it would undermine the scientific spirit is the same one that christians use to justify their belief in god. They say that regardless of the truth behind the claim that god doesn't exist (replace with CE), it satisfies some sort of longing we have for it to be that way. No, reality doesn't work like that. If science really doesn't determine or find what makes the electron tick, then it doesn't do that. A good scientist should take the facts as they are, not as they want them to be. Furthermore, this claim about human psychology is simply not true. As a mathematician, I don't care about the realism of the complex plane to enjoy working in it. Many of my friends find no problems with the anti-realist stance concerning math while still passionately loving it. Perhaps scientists just can't hack it as mathematicians.

  50. says

    On the distinction between scientific theory versus an epistemology we have this: “The constructive empiricist recognizes that these pragmatic factors like simplicity and explanatory power are important guides in the pursuit of the aim of science … these factors are valuable in that pursuit only insofar as their consideration advances the development of theories that are empirically adequate and empirically strong. They do not have special value as indicators of the truth of what the theories say “The split between science and epistemology is that the rules for a good theory, empirically adequate and empirically strong, do not determine the truth of a theory. This is a challenge to the rules of parsimony, just as philosophers challenged verificationism back in the 40s.Later von Frassen says:”But what scientists are really aiming to discover, according to the constructive empiricist, are “facts about the world — about the regularities in the observable part of the world”At the end of Feynmann’s QED lectures, he highlights a puzzling problem about the interaction between mathematics and nature through physics. The problem is whether the repeated application of mathematical analogies is the result of nature’s intrinsic mathematical nature, or physicists recycling.Feynmann does not supply a definite answer, he leaves it up to the philosophers to work it out. Startling how a man of more intelligence lacks the hubris towards another academic field that you do. But CE is remarkably similar to Feynmann’s belief that scientists are simply describing phenomenon, they are not able to figure out why it is like that (such as why certain constants have that particular value and not another one). Furthermore, the theory of truth that von Fraassen proposes is hardly evil: “the doctrine that the aim of science is truth about what is observable should be replaced with the doctrine that the aim of science is truth about what’s actually been observed” which is a claim that science is inherently descriptive of regularities without penetrating the underlying reality of why nature acts the way she does.This theory does not mean that scientists are liars. It contends that “truth”, as in the way the world really is apart from our observations, is not the purview of science. It contends that science is supposed to construct powerful theories that predict the regularities in our observations. That’s not evil or harmful, that’s being humble about one’s endeavors. And as for saying that they would not accept a theory of atoms, well, that’s an absurd strawman. In 3.5, von Fraassen gives his reply, which is agnosticism toward unobserved entities. This hinges on what it means to be unobserved. It appears that electrons are observable since at the end of 2.3, von Fraassen talks about the Millikan experiment. As for your “evils”, not only is this hyperbole, but irrelevant. You claim that it would undermine the scientific spirit is the same one that christians use to justify their belief in god. They say that regardless of the truth behind the claim that god doesn’t exist (replace with CE), it satisfies some sort of longing we have for it to be that way. No, reality doesn’t work like that. If science really doesn’t determine or find what makes the electron tick, then it doesn’t do that. A good scientist should take the facts as they are, not as they want them to be. Furthermore, this claim about human psychology is simply not true. As a mathematician, I don’t care about the realism of the complex plane to enjoy working in it. Many of my friends find no problems with the anti-realist stance concerning math while still passionately loving it. Perhaps scientists just can’t hack it as mathematicians.

  51. says

    Gee, Frank, I guess I did make an assumption about you, namely that you weren't quite so dense as to claim that discovering truth could be evil. And yet, since you claim that your argument that constructivism is evil works regardless of whether or not constructivism is true, there is no other way to frame your position. Seriously, could you be any more dogmatic? "The truth doesn't matter! It's evil! EVIL!!" You fundies slay me. Further, contrary to what you stated, I have addressed your claim that constructivism is harmful. Specifically, I called it absurd, hand-waving, and guilty of the slippery slope fallacy. Do try to keep up.And, for the record, I offered up three possibilities, and only one was that you were dense (though I was subtle as to the suggestion that you were simply a liar). But I think you've nailed it here. Out of being dense, suffering from significant disability in terms of reading comprehension skills, and being a liar, it looks most likely that you're just dense.If I were you, I would demand my money back from your university for having a philosophy department that can't equip you with even the most modest critical thinking skills, even with seven whole classes with an average grade of A-.

  52. says

    Gee, Frank, I guess I did make an assumption about you, namely that you weren’t quite so dense as to claim that discovering truth could be evil. And yet, since you claim that your argument that constructivism is evil works regardless of whether or not constructivism is true, there is no other way to frame your position. Seriously, could you be any more dogmatic? “The truth doesn’t matter! It’s evil! EVIL!!” You fundies slay me. Further, contrary to what you stated, I have addressed your claim that constructivism is harmful. Specifically, I called it absurd, hand-waving, and guilty of the slippery slope fallacy. Do try to keep up.And, for the record, I offered up three possibilities, and only one was that you were dense (though I was subtle as to the suggestion that you were simply a liar). But I think you’ve nailed it here. Out of being dense, suffering from significant disability in terms of reading comprehension skills, and being a liar, it looks most likely that you’re just dense.If I were you, I would demand my money back from your university for having a philosophy department that can’t equip you with even the most modest critical thinking skills, even with seven whole classes with an average grade of A-.

  53. says

    James,CE does entail that scientists are liars. Every time I have set foot in a science classroom a scientist has made a truth claim about an unobservable object. If CE is true, then those claims were false, and scientists are liars. There's no way around that. Psychologists actually did try this not making claims about unobservable things for a while, it was called behaviorism, and it was abandoned for a reason.

    As for atoms, agnosticism means not believing. That is entailed in what the word "agnostic" means. So for Von Fraassen to say that we should be agnostic about the existence of atoms or electrons is an attack on science. And if you actually read 2.3, it is clear that Van Fraassens interpretation of the Millikan experiment is that electrons are not observable and the experiment does not give us a reason to believe in them.

    As to your final claim that the evils are irrelevant, how hard is this to understand? I know the evils are irrelevant to the truth of CE. I never claimed they were relevant. I have entirely separate reasons for thinking CE is false which I intentionally did not go into here. My point here is that CE leads to certain evils. Hence the evils that CE leads to are highly relevant. When Jen makes a post about religious people doing some bad thing, no one objects her argument doesn't show religion to be false, because they understand she never said it did. Why is that so difficult to grasp in this case?

  54. says

    James,CE does entail that scientists are liars. Every time I have set foot in a science classroom a scientist has made a truth claim about an unobservable object. If CE is true, then those claims were false, and scientists are liars. There’s no way around that. Psychologists actually did try this not making claims about unobservable things for a while, it was called behaviorism, and it was abandoned for a reason.As for atoms, agnosticism means not believing. That is entailed in what the word “agnostic” means. So for Von Fraassen to say that we should be agnostic about the existence of atoms or electrons is an attack on science. And if you actually read 2.3, it is clear that Van Fraassens interpretation of the Millikan experiment is that electrons are not observable and the experiment does not give us a reason to believe in them.As to your final claim that the evils are irrelevant, how hard is this to understand? I know the evils are irrelevant to the truth of CE. I never claimed they were relevant. I have entirely separate reasons for thinking CE is false which I intentionally did not go into here. My point here is that CE leads to certain evils. Hence the evils that CE leads to are highly relevant. When Jen makes a post about religious people doing some bad thing, no one objects her argument doesn’t show religion to be false, because they understand she never said it did. Why is that so difficult to grasp in this case?

  55. says

    Frank, I'm not going to bother defending CE in general, since the folks above seem to have done a good enough job to my taste. But I must point this out:

    >Every time I have set foot in a science classroom a scientist has made a truth claim about an unobservable object. If CE is true, then those claims were false, and scientists are liars.

    CE does not imply that claims about the reality of unobservables are false, but rather that science doesn't tell us anything about their ontology.

  56. says

    Frank, I’m not going to bother defending CE in general, since the folks above seem to have done a good enough job to my taste. But I must point this out:>Every time I have set foot in a science classroom a scientist has made a truth claim about an unobservable object. If CE is true, then those claims were false, and scientists are liars.CE does not imply that claims about the reality of unobservables are false, but rather that science doesn’t tell us anything about their ontology.

  57. Wes says

    Frank seems to have a rather simple-minded understanding of philosophical empiricism. I'm not a constructive empiricist myself, but I know enough about it to know that it's no threat to science.

    CE does not effect the truth claims of science. As Thom Blake above noted, it's just a philosophical position about the ontology of scientific terminology. For the empiricist, what makes scientific claims true is that they conform to the empirical evidence. This has no effect in terms of the PRACTICE of science–the realist and the anti-realist both agree on the criteria of what makes science true.

    I find Ian Hacking's arguments for realism to be a good antidote to the anti-realism of the empiricists, for those who are interested. But there's no need to denounce CE as "evil" like Frank has done. It does not have the implications that Frank alleges.

  58. Wes says

    Frank seems to have a rather simple-minded understanding of philosophical empiricism. I’m not a constructive empiricist myself, but I know enough about it to know that it’s no threat to science.CE does not effect the truth claims of science. As Thom Blake above noted, it’s just a philosophical position about the ontology of scientific terminology. For the empiricist, what makes scientific claims true is that they conform to the empirical evidence. This has no effect in terms of the PRACTICE of science–the realist and the anti-realist both agree on the criteria of what makes science true.I find Ian Hacking’s arguments for realism to be a good antidote to the anti-realism of the empiricists, for those who are interested. But there’s no need to denounce CE as “evil” like Frank has done. It does not have the implications that Frank alleges.

  59. selfification says

    This post (and some of the comments following it) were utterly disappointing. I am not going to claim to be an expert in philosophy by any means (I took numerous courses on logic, computation and computability during my undergraduate and graduate studies as a computer scientist) but would like to point out a number of positions taken here that, to me, are quite frankly absurd.

    James, LR and Jim (Jim being more pharyngulous than the first two) have stated most of the objections. Here are a couple more:

    Frank said: "I disagree with your claim that science requires philosophy. Scientists are just as much entitled to use the tools of reason and logical argumentation as philosophers are, and philosophy has nothing of value to add to that."

    Umm.. WAT? Philosophy is the study of logic and argumentation. Which logical model are you using? Do you get to use the law of excluded middle (classical) or do you choose to forgo it (constructivist). What's the order of your logic? What implications does this have on the completeness or consistency of your logic? Philosophy is the study of this. It is the study of "consistency". It is the study of "computability". Any computer scientist worth his salt knows that there is a whole world of difference between the empirical systems that one deals with and the philosophical computational models (lambda calculus/turing machines) that underpin it, and exactly what these theoretical systems claim. To simply assert that "the tools of reason and logic" are available to all completely misses the elaborate work that has gone into formalizing and defining what those words even mean and ignores the field that is responsible for exploring it.

    Now coming to CE — LR provided a good example involving wave particle duality. Here is another one to get people thinking. Suppose you lived in the 1900s. Science had this wonder theory about electromagnetism that used Maxwell's equations to describe the propagation of EM waves and the working of magnets and charges. It was tested repeatedly, and everyone was convinced of the "existence" of E/M waves (and I say most still are). Along with the strict acceptance of E/M waves as "actual", "real" waves, came the realization that the waves are just an artifact of the movement of a medium. Hence, the Luminiferous (a)ether was postulated as a medium that was invisible but would vibrate in the intended manner to propagate E/M waves. If you were in the 1900s, would you hold the position that the luminiferous ether was "real". Were we to "believe in the existence of the ether". When the results of Michaelson+Morley were known, did we "lose our knowledge" of the ether (I know I am using a lot of air quotes… I am no expert in epistemology and ontology and will not pretend to use the technical terms correctly). Was the ether "real" and become "not real"? Were E/M waves "real" and become "not real"? Or were they simply models that helped explain the observable phenomenon? Did we have any real reason to believe that such a thing as "E/M waves" and "luminiferous ethers" actually existed or were they simply the necessary artifacts that were required to explain the observations related to E/M. How about when we rejected J.J.Thompson's plum pudding model to Rutherford's orbiting electron model? Was J.J.Thompson's atom "real"? Did we have to believe in the reality of that atom? What about when Rutherford's model was replaced by Heisenberg's? How about when nuclear quantum chromodynamics increased our understanding of what a proton is? Are "protons" real? Or are they simply models use to describe the energy field around 2 up and 1 down quark? Are the quarks really real?

  60. selfification says

    This post (and some of the comments following it) were utterly disappointing. I am not going to claim to be an expert in philosophy by any means (I took numerous courses on logic, computation and computability during my undergraduate and graduate studies as a computer scientist) but would like to point out a number of positions taken here that, to me, are quite frankly absurd.James, LR and Jim (Jim being more pharyngulous than the first two) have stated most of the objections. Here are a couple more:Frank said: “I disagree with your claim that science requires philosophy. Scientists are just as much entitled to use the tools of reason and logical argumentation as philosophers are, and philosophy has nothing of value to add to that.”Umm.. WAT? Philosophy is the study of logic and argumentation. Which logical model are you using? Do you get to use the law of excluded middle (classical) or do you choose to forgo it (constructivist). What’s the order of your logic? What implications does this have on the completeness or consistency of your logic? Philosophy is the study of this. It is the study of “consistency”. It is the study of “computability”. Any computer scientist worth his salt knows that there is a whole world of difference between the empirical systems that one deals with and the philosophical computational models (lambda calculus/turing machines) that underpin it, and exactly what these theoretical systems claim. To simply assert that “the tools of reason and logic” are available to all completely misses the elaborate work that has gone into formalizing and defining what those words even mean and ignores the field that is responsible for exploring it.Now coming to CE — LR provided a good example involving wave particle duality. Here is another one to get people thinking. Suppose you lived in the 1900s. Science had this wonder theory about electromagnetism that used Maxwell’s equations to describe the propagation of EM waves and the working of magnets and charges. It was tested repeatedly, and everyone was convinced of the “existence” of E/M waves (and I say most still are). Along with the strict acceptance of E/M waves as “actual”, “real” waves, came the realization that the waves are just an artifact of the movement of a medium. Hence, the Luminiferous (a)ether was postulated as a medium that was invisible but would vibrate in the intended manner to propagate E/M waves. If you were in the 1900s, would you hold the position that the luminiferous ether was “real”. Were we to “believe in the existence of the ether”. When the results of Michaelson+Morley were known, did we “lose our knowledge” of the ether (I know I am using a lot of air quotes… I am no expert in epistemology and ontology and will not pretend to use the technical terms correctly). Was the ether “real” and become “not real”? Were E/M waves “real” and become “not real”? Or were they simply models that helped explain the observable phenomenon? Did we have any real reason to believe that such a thing as “E/M waves” and “luminiferous ethers” actually existed or were they simply the necessary artifacts that were required to explain the observations related to E/M. How about when we rejected J.J.Thompson’s plum pudding model to Rutherford’s orbiting electron model? Was J.J.Thompson’s atom “real”? Did we have to believe in the reality of that atom? What about when Rutherford’s model was replaced by Heisenberg’s? How about when nuclear quantum chromodynamics increased our understanding of what a proton is? Are “protons” real? Or are they simply models use to describe the energy field around 2 up and 1 down quark? Are the quarks really real?

  61. selfification says

    The part where Frank claims that CE accuses scientists of lying — come on.. we are having a detailed discussion on the meaning of "true" and "real". Common turns of phrases like "we know evolution happened" have a reasonably well defined meaning amongst scientist for all operational purposes. Here, we leave alone the fact that there are varying theories of "know", some of them more outrageous than others (think solipsism), and get on with the harsh "reality" of communicating our ideas and getting on with out lives (even solipsists eat, sleep and don't mass murder everyone just because they don't have a reason to believe that we aren't zombies). There is nothing "dangerous" in the inherent idea of CE. Science isn't going to come crashing down. There isn't going to be mass panic. We all pick philosophical positions (whether it being the truth of scientific induction, realism, humanism or any of the other philosophical positions that deal with "knowledge", "reason", "reality" and "purpose") without fully vetting them and being able to defend every last aspect of them and we still manage to get along and learn as we go along.

  62. selfification says

    The part where Frank claims that CE accuses scientists of lying — come on.. we are having a detailed discussion on the meaning of “true” and “real”. Common turns of phrases like “we know evolution happened” have a reasonably well defined meaning amongst scientist for all operational purposes. Here, we leave alone the fact that there are varying theories of “know”, some of them more outrageous than others (think solipsism), and get on with the harsh “reality” of communicating our ideas and getting on with out lives (even solipsists eat, sleep and don’t mass murder everyone just because they don’t have a reason to believe that we aren’t zombies). There is nothing “dangerous” in the inherent idea of CE. Science isn’t going to come crashing down. There isn’t going to be mass panic. We all pick philosophical positions (whether it being the truth of scientific induction, realism, humanism or any of the other philosophical positions that deal with “knowledge”, “reason”, “reality” and “purpose”) without fully vetting them and being able to defend every last aspect of them and we still manage to get along and learn as we go along.

  63. says

    Selfification,

    Regarding logic and the place of philosophy in science, your questions are good ones, my point was simply that philosophers have no particular advantage over mathematicians, computer scientists, or natural scientists in answering them. I consider logic to be as much a branch of mathematics or computer science as philosophy. I certainly have nothing against logic, and if that is all you know of philosophy I can see how you might have a positive view of philosophy. I unfortunately have had to deal with other branches of philosophy, and haven't found any value in any of them. They certainly contribute nothing to science.

    As to Maxwell's equations, belief in a scientific theory isn't a metaphysical thing. Scientific theories can be, and often are, only approximations to the truth, and that's ok. Maxwell's equations still are a very good approximation to the truth about electromagnetism in a wide variety of cases, that's why they are still taught to physicists and engineers. And if you look at the equations themselves, nothing in them requires a medium. It was always an irrational assumption of scientists, unsupported by evidence, that electromagnetic waves required a medium to travel through. But I don't want to get into a long discussion of the truth of CE. As I have said many times above, that's not what I wrote about here.

    As to whether CE implies that scientists are liars, I don't think there's a way around that. No scientist I have ever met would say that their theories are good at accounting for data but that it doesn't matter if the theory is true or not. Do you honestly think that you could find a single evolutionary biologist who would say that common ancestry is good at accounting for data, but isn't really true?

    Finally, simply asserting as you do that the philosophy is irrelevant to the practice of science doesn't make it so. If you have an argument to make on that point, make it. Otherwise don't waste everyones time.

  64. says

    Selfification,Regarding logic and the place of philosophy in science, your questions are good ones, my point was simply that philosophers have no particular advantage over mathematicians, computer scientists, or natural scientists in answering them. I consider logic to be as much a branch of mathematics or computer science as philosophy. I certainly have nothing against logic, and if that is all you know of philosophy I can see how you might have a positive view of philosophy. I unfortunately have had to deal with other branches of philosophy, and haven’t found any value in any of them. They certainly contribute nothing to science.As to Maxwell’s equations, belief in a scientific theory isn’t a metaphysical thing. Scientific theories can be, and often are, only approximations to the truth, and that’s ok. Maxwell’s equations still are a very good approximation to the truth about electromagnetism in a wide variety of cases, that’s why they are still taught to physicists and engineers. And if you look at the equations themselves, nothing in them requires a medium. It was always an irrational assumption of scientists, unsupported by evidence, that electromagnetic waves required a medium to travel through. But I don’t want to get into a long discussion of the truth of CE. As I have said many times above, that’s not what I wrote about here.As to whether CE implies that scientists are liars, I don’t think there’s a way around that. No scientist I have ever met would say that their theories are good at accounting for data but that it doesn’t matter if the theory is true or not. Do you honestly think that you could find a single evolutionary biologist who would say that common ancestry is good at accounting for data, but isn’t really true?Finally, simply asserting as you do that the philosophy is irrelevant to the practice of science doesn’t make it so. If you have an argument to make on that point, make it. Otherwise don’t waste everyones time.

  65. selfification says

    Frank: Finally, simply asserting as you do that the philosophy is irrelevant to the practice of science doesn't make it so.

    Uhh? I believe the whole point of my tirade was that it does (in particular, it defines what "true" meant). Maybe I was not clear on this but I meant to say that such arguments tend to not occur in practice because our intuitive sense and feel for "truth" and "reality" amongst scientist nearly always agree for all practical purposes (or are close enough that we can mentally translate what is being said into our framework). We all understand what "God does not exist" in common parlance means. We actually know that what the person (if they were a scientist) meant to say was "There is no evidence for the existence of God" where we fill in the meaning of "God" from context and "exists" from out intuitive notion of existence.

    "No scientist I have ever met would say that their theories are good at accounting for data but that it doesn't matter if the theory is true or not."Referencing the point I made above — no scientist would say exactly that in a science setting because there is no need to. No scientist would say "Common ancestry is good at accounting for data only assuming that scientific induction is valid" either. The philosophical underpinnings are omitted during a science discussion.

    Now if asked a pinpoint question about the philosophy of science itself, I can think of many scientist who can hold a position quite similar to "Our current model of an atom accounts for the data" while making no claim about whether or not an atom is "real". Some may even consider the discussion to be pointless and the concepts of "real/not real" to be quite nebulous. Each one of the observations is true (a charge was measured, or a scintillation was observed), but that doesn't require any assertion about the "reality" of the underlying model (this becomes quite easy especially if the "reality" of the model becomes hard to visualize). Just because Hilbert's matrix mechanics describes quantum physics quite well doesn't mean matter is made of matrices. And just because string theory describes subatomic particles well (let's pretend for a moment that it did :-P) does not necessarily mean that the strings are "real". Now, one could work under a framework in which we require it to be so… or one could not. This isn't going to stop your everyday scientist or "change the face of science forever, and not for the better" or do any of the other hyperbolic claims that you make.

    Now might there be some issues with CE from a philosophical standpoint, and without much more detailed research into the claims and assumptions it makes (which are not the same as the caricature of it that you present), I cannot take a position on arguing for its complete soundess or otherwise.

  66. selfification says

    Frank: Finally, simply asserting as you do that the philosophy is irrelevant to the practice of science doesn’t make it so.Uhh? I believe the whole point of my tirade was that it does (in particular, it defines what “true” meant). Maybe I was not clear on this but I meant to say that such arguments tend to not occur in practice because our intuitive sense and feel for “truth” and “reality” amongst scientist nearly always agree for all practical purposes (or are close enough that we can mentally translate what is being said into our framework). We all understand what “God does not exist” in common parlance means. We actually know that what the person (if they were a scientist) meant to say was “There is no evidence for the existence of God” where we fill in the meaning of “God” from context and “exists” from out intuitive notion of existence.”No scientist I have ever met would say that their theories are good at accounting for data but that it doesn’t matter if the theory is true or not.”Referencing the point I made above — no scientist would say exactly that in a science setting because there is no need to. No scientist would say “Common ancestry is good at accounting for data only assuming that scientific induction is valid” either. The philosophical underpinnings are omitted during a science discussion.Now if asked a pinpoint question about the philosophy of science itself, I can think of many scientist who can hold a position quite similar to “Our current model of an atom accounts for the data” while making no claim about whether or not an atom is “real”. Some may even consider the discussion to be pointless and the concepts of “real/not real” to be quite nebulous. Each one of the observations is true (a charge was measured, or a scintillation was observed), but that doesn’t require any assertion about the “reality” of the underlying model (this becomes quite easy especially if the “reality” of the model becomes hard to visualize). Just because Hilbert’s matrix mechanics describes quantum physics quite well doesn’t mean matter is made of matrices. And just because string theory describes subatomic particles well (let’s pretend for a moment that it did :-P) does not necessarily mean that the strings are “real”. Now, one could work under a framework in which we require it to be so… or one could not. This isn’t going to stop your everyday scientist or “change the face of science forever, and not for the better” or do any of the other hyperbolic claims that you make.Now might there be some issues with CE from a philosophical standpoint, and without much more detailed research into the claims and assumptions it makes (which are not the same as the caricature of it that you present), I cannot take a position on arguing for its complete soundess or otherwise.

  67. says

    Selfification mails it on the necessity of philosophy. "Tools of reason and logical argumentation" use these here word thingies, and word thingies are hazardous. Fallacies can be perpetrated with the aid of linguistic ambiguity, and one of the jobs of philosophy is to police such matters.

    If we say that we are cool about our model of the atom, but let's have a discussion about whether atoms are "real" or not, then what do we mean by "real"? Or "true" for a theory? What do we want out of such a discussion? What kind of "reality" of the atom or truth of the theory will satisfy us? Might it be that there is an emotional component to this satisfaction and the demand for it?

    Seems to me that there is indeed a sense of "know" in which I can indeed not "know" that I still have an asshole (I seem to remember that mine was there an hour ago, but is that good enough?), but the philosophers of my college days were apt to ask not only whether a given proposition was "true" but also whether it was "interesting". I would suggest that if "know" is restricted to mean "observe", excluding "have adequate reason to believe", then the proposition "we cannot know what is unobservable" is a formal tautology, and thereby both true and profoundly boring.

    If we must be agnostic about unobservables, then not only evolutionary history becomes impossible, but also ordinary history, starting, mark, NOW. Including your own biography. You can't observe that you ate breakfast this morning, only fallibly remember and/or deduce it. The piece of the past in which the dictionary of philosophy was (allegedly) consulted is forever unknowable. We must then be agnostic about whether this actually happened, so can we all go home now?

    CE thus seems to me damned silly as epistemology, but is that really what it wants to do? I'm still trying to get a handle on that. Is it just a methodological tool, a cousin of the Razor? Is it the Hume position on causation?

    If it means not talking about WHY the correlations of nature are as they are, as in the Feynman position, that sounds not unreasonable to me. Because I suspect that human beings cannot use the word "why" without subconscious agency and teleological bias. Look how difficult it is to talk about evolution, especially in lay language, without such bias and the metaphors they engender.

  68. says

    Selfification mails it on the necessity of philosophy. “Tools of reason and logical argumentation” use these here word thingies, and word thingies are hazardous. Fallacies can be perpetrated with the aid of linguistic ambiguity, and one of the jobs of philosophy is to police such matters. If we say that we are cool about our model of the atom, but let’s have a discussion about whether atoms are “real” or not, then what do we mean by “real”? Or “true” for a theory? What do we want out of such a discussion? What kind of “reality” of the atom or truth of the theory will satisfy us? Might it be that there is an emotional component to this satisfaction and the demand for it? Seems to me that there is indeed a sense of “know” in which I can indeed not “know” that I still have an asshole (I seem to remember that mine was there an hour ago, but is that good enough?), but the philosophers of my college days were apt to ask not only whether a given proposition was “true” but also whether it was “interesting”. I would suggest that if “know” is restricted to mean “observe”, excluding “have adequate reason to believe”, then the proposition “we cannot know what is unobservable” is a formal tautology, and thereby both true and profoundly boring. If we must be agnostic about unobservables, then not only evolutionary history becomes impossible, but also ordinary history, starting, mark, NOW. Including your own biography. You can’t observe that you ate breakfast this morning, only fallibly remember and/or deduce it. The piece of the past in which the dictionary of philosophy was (allegedly) consulted is forever unknowable. We must then be agnostic about whether this actually happened, so can we all go home now? CE thus seems to me damned silly as epistemology, but is that really what it wants to do? I’m still trying to get a handle on that. Is it just a methodological tool, a cousin of the Razor? Is it the Hume position on causation? If it means not talking about WHY the correlations of nature are as they are, as in the Feynman position, that sounds not unreasonable to me. Because I suspect that human beings cannot use the word “why” without subconscious agency and teleological bias. Look how difficult it is to talk about evolution, especially in lay language, without such bias and the metaphors they engender.

  69. Anonymous says

    "If we must be agnostic about unobservables, then not only evolutionary history becomes impossible, but also ordinary history, starting, mark, NOW. Including your own biography. You can't observe that you ate breakfast this morning, only fallibly remember and/or deduce it. The piece of the past in which the dictionary of philosophy was (allegedly) consulted is forever unknowable" Exactly, CE is extremely strict about what it formally counts as knowledge, it's not picking on science specifically. The way we use the word 'know' in ordinary conversation is weaker than the 'epistemically justified' standard that CE gives for science, so in every day discussions, it is perfectly justified to speak in such terms when using everyday meanings of the word 'know'.

    "I would suggest that if "know" is restricted to mean "observe", excluding "have adequate reason to believe", then the proposition "we cannot know what is unobservable" is a formal tautology, and thereby both true and profoundly boring. " And so it is, as far as empiricist views are concerned, the argument between empiricists over views like CE is more about whether or not completely accurate inferences can count as knowledge or only as justified beliefs. If you reject the idea that all knowledge must come from observation, you've rejected empiricism, which is perfectly legitimate. I myself strongly favor rationalism. My issue here is not that CE is being criticized, but that it is being flat out misrepresented and that the criticisms having nothing to do with the accuracy or lack thereof of CE. It in no way follows from the fact that things would be better if something were untrue that it actually is false. It would be better if there was no murder, but that's a pretty bad argument for saying that a theory which states murder exists is a false one or even a bad one.

  70. Anonymous says

    “If we must be agnostic about unobservables, then not only evolutionary history becomes impossible, but also ordinary history, starting, mark, NOW. Including your own biography. You can’t observe that you ate breakfast this morning, only fallibly remember and/or deduce it. The piece of the past in which the dictionary of philosophy was (allegedly) consulted is forever unknowable” Exactly, CE is extremely strict about what it formally counts as knowledge, it’s not picking on science specifically. The way we use the word ‘know’ in ordinary conversation is weaker than the ‘epistemically justified’ standard that CE gives for science, so in every day discussions, it is perfectly justified to speak in such terms when using everyday meanings of the word ‘know’.”I would suggest that if “know” is restricted to mean “observe”, excluding “have adequate reason to believe”, then the proposition “we cannot know what is unobservable” is a formal tautology, and thereby both true and profoundly boring. ” And so it is, as far as empiricist views are concerned, the argument between empiricists over views like CE is more about whether or not completely accurate inferences can count as knowledge or only as justified beliefs. If you reject the idea that all knowledge must come from observation, you’ve rejected empiricism, which is perfectly legitimate. I myself strongly favor rationalism. My issue here is not that CE is being criticized, but that it is being flat out misrepresented and that the criticisms having nothing to do with the accuracy or lack thereof of CE. It in no way follows from the fact that things would be better if something were untrue that it actually is false. It would be better if there was no murder, but that’s a pretty bad argument for saying that a theory which states murder exists is a false one or even a bad one.

  71. Wes says

    "I certainly have nothing against logic, and if that is all you know of philosophy I can see how you might have a positive view of philosophy. I unfortunately have had to deal with other branches of philosophy, and haven't found any value in any of them."

    Branches of philosophy:LogicEthicsEpistemologyMetaphysicsAesthetics

    Yup. Couldn't imagine how any of those things might be useful.

    Geez, Frank. I'll grant you the right to get along without the last two; but logic, ethics, and epistemology are simply indispensable. If you found nothing of value in ethics or epistemology, you must be either incredibly dense or just simply not paying attention.

    "As to whether CE implies that scientists are liars, I don't think there's a way around that. No scientist I have ever met would say that their theories are good at accounting for data but that it doesn't matter if the theory is true or not."

    *facepalm*

    The distinction between empirical truth claims and realist ontological commitment really is just flying right over your head, isn't it?

  72. Wes says

    “I certainly have nothing against logic, and if that is all you know of philosophy I can see how you might have a positive view of philosophy. I unfortunately have had to deal with other branches of philosophy, and haven’t found any value in any of them.”Branches of philosophy:LogicEthicsEpistemologyMetaphysicsAestheticsYup. Couldn’t imagine how any of those things might be useful.Geez, Frank. I’ll grant you the right to get along without the last two; but logic, ethics, and epistemology are simply indispensable. If you found nothing of value in ethics or epistemology, you must be either incredibly dense or just simply not paying attention.“As to whether CE implies that scientists are liars, I don’t think there’s a way around that. No scientist I have ever met would say that their theories are good at accounting for data but that it doesn’t matter if the theory is true or not.”*facepalm*The distinction between empirical truth claims and realist ontological commitment really is just flying right over your head, isn’t it?

  73. Anonymous says

    And, considering that most arguments about the existence or nonexistence of god fall squarely under metaphysics, you might not want to give that one up either. Metaphysics is the study of what is, why it is, and how we understand what is. Some people mistakenly believe that metaphysics only deals with invisible and intangible, but ironically, it is the branch that actually concerns itself with trying to figure out what things (if any) exist and why. Materialism (aka physicalism), the belief that only things which are part of the physical universe, is the most popular metaphysical view, followed by dualism. And aesthetics usually just attaches to discussions in the other branches these days and is usually not a specialty in and of itself (the only aesthetics centered academics I can think of is philosophy of the arts) though aesthetics comes up often in discussions of ethics when talking about things like subjectivism and distinctions between personal taste and what should be general rules of ethics.

    Most folks count Political Philosophy as its own branch as well. Figuring out what makes a legitimate government or law is a pretty important exercise as well.

  74. Anonymous says

    And, considering that most arguments about the existence or nonexistence of god fall squarely under metaphysics, you might not want to give that one up either. Metaphysics is the study of what is, why it is, and how we understand what is. Some people mistakenly believe that metaphysics only deals with invisible and intangible, but ironically, it is the branch that actually concerns itself with trying to figure out what things (if any) exist and why. Materialism (aka physicalism), the belief that only things which are part of the physical universe, is the most popular metaphysical view, followed by dualism. And aesthetics usually just attaches to discussions in the other branches these days and is usually not a specialty in and of itself (the only aesthetics centered academics I can think of is philosophy of the arts) though aesthetics comes up often in discussions of ethics when talking about things like subjectivism and distinctions between personal taste and what should be general rules of ethics.Most folks count Political Philosophy as its own branch as well. Figuring out what makes a legitimate government or law is a pretty important exercise as well.

  75. Anonymous says

    * correction "belief that only things which are part of the physical universe" insert exist right at the end of that.

  76. Anonymous says

    * correction “belief that only things which are part of the physical universe” insert exist right at the end of that.

  77. Anonymous says

    I'm not sure why you think that stating even more philosophical nonsense makes your position stronger? Or why you think that the position that CE takes as you've described it is either useful or interesting? Or why on earth you think that it's legitimate to reject empiricism when it's the only possible way to actually view the world in a manner that is not ridiculous on its face.

    Philosophers seem to constantly waste their time arguing about things that nobody but themselves cares about.

  78. Anonymous says

    I’m not sure why you think that stating even more philosophical nonsense makes your position stronger? Or why you think that the position that CE takes as you’ve described it is either useful or interesting? Or why on earth you think that it’s legitimate to reject empiricism when it’s the only possible way to actually view the world in a manner that is not ridiculous on its face.Philosophers seem to constantly waste their time arguing about things that nobody but themselves cares about.

  79. Anonymous says

    " it's the only possible way to actually view the world in a manner that is not ridiculous on its face." Er, no, and one of the biggest motivations for rationalism is the failure of empiricism to be able to account for mathematics and the fact that it holds that a sound argument (logically valid and with all true premises) can give no knowledge in many cases. Finding a version of empiricism that accounts for mathematics is a challenge that, in my opinion, has not been met. Rationalism does not reject that empirical evidence can be used as a rational basis for beleif, rather it holds that empirical evidence is not the only rational basis for belief.

    "Or why you think that the position that CE takes as you've described it is either useful or interesting?" Because it is the natural outcome of holding both a strict epistemological view as well as being an empiricist. CE is a way to try to reconcile natural sciences with those positons and it does so in a manner that fits nicely with those views. Since many people in the natural sciences have traditionally liked empiricism and fairly strict defintions of knowledge, that's an important task for many people. Wanting to know what knowledge is and what counts as the basis for it (and for rational belief) is pretty important.

    "Philosophers seem to constantly waste their time arguing about things that nobody but themselves cares about." Yes, because the former posts about the actual importance of many philosophical fields didn't happen. Just because you are not interested in a field enough to learn the nuances of every argument, the fact that you lack the background to understand them is not something you get to blame on others. I've sat in a room and listened to physics majors argue over possible shapes of the universe. I assume that there were important differences in the underlying theories that caused each of these people (one a grad student, the other a senior) to hold that their view worked better. I don't assume that just because I have an intro to physics level understanding of the field that it is for trivial reasons that they have disctinct and nuanced views. I'm not going to hold physics to be useless if one of these beliefs seems intuitively implausible, especially because of my limited knowledge of the view. If I went on a physics forum and started spouting off terribly ridiculous things about Newtonian mechanics and had a really distorted view of those theories, I would rightly be corrected about just what Newtonian physics holds, even though it is likely to not be the view that most physicists hold. I do not have to agree with CE to think that Frank is making huge mistakes about what is holds. He also made the assumption that we would hold a different philosophical view (scientific realism) without realizing that this contradicts with his assertion that these debates aren't fruitful. I honestly don't give a damn if Frank ends up being a scientific realist who holds not very strict epistemological views, I care that he misunderstands one view and uses it as a polemic against an entire discipline. Philosophy tends to embrace the disagreements within the field more than other disciplines (and chemists, physicists, etc. do have internal disputes about what theories are correct), but in a field that revolves around logical argumentation, that's a strenth, not a weakness.

  80. Anonymous says

    ” it’s the only possible way to actually view the world in a manner that is not ridiculous on its face.” Er, no, and one of the biggest motivations for rationalism is the failure of empiricism to be able to account for mathematics and the fact that it holds that a sound argument (logically valid and with all true premises) can give no knowledge in many cases. Finding a version of empiricism that accounts for mathematics is a challenge that, in my opinion, has not been met. Rationalism does not reject that empirical evidence can be used as a rational basis for beleif, rather it holds that empirical evidence is not the only rational basis for belief.”Or why you think that the position that CE takes as you’ve described it is either useful or interesting?” Because it is the natural outcome of holding both a strict epistemological view as well as being an empiricist. CE is a way to try to reconcile natural sciences with those positons and it does so in a manner that fits nicely with those views. Since many people in the natural sciences have traditionally liked empiricism and fairly strict defintions of knowledge, that’s an important task for many people. Wanting to know what knowledge is and what counts as the basis for it (and for rational belief) is pretty important.”Philosophers seem to constantly waste their time arguing about things that nobody but themselves cares about.” Yes, because the former posts about the actual importance of many philosophical fields didn’t happen. Just because you are not interested in a field enough to learn the nuances of every argument, the fact that you lack the background to understand them is not something you get to blame on others. I’ve sat in a room and listened to physics majors argue over possible shapes of the universe. I assume that there were important differences in the underlying theories that caused each of these people (one a grad student, the other a senior) to hold that their view worked better. I don’t assume that just because I have an intro to physics level understanding of the field that it is for trivial reasons that they have disctinct and nuanced views. I’m not going to hold physics to be useless if one of these beliefs seems intuitively implausible, especially because of my limited knowledge of the view. If I went on a physics forum and started spouting off terribly ridiculous things about Newtonian mechanics and had a really distorted view of those theories, I would rightly be corrected about just what Newtonian physics holds, even though it is likely to not be the view that most physicists hold. I do not have to agree with CE to think that Frank is making huge mistakes about what is holds. He also made the assumption that we would hold a different philosophical view (scientific realism) without realizing that this contradicts with his assertion that these debates aren’t fruitful. I honestly don’t give a damn if Frank ends up being a scientific realist who holds not very strict epistemological views, I care that he misunderstands one view and uses it as a polemic against an entire discipline. Philosophy tends to embrace the disagreements within the field more than other disciplines (and chemists, physicists, etc. do have internal disputes about what theories are correct), but in a field that revolves around logical argumentation, that’s a strenth, not a weakness.

  81. Anonymous says

    One strength of CE is that it allows that accepting things like Newtonian mechanics back in Newton's day was rational and justified and that, because of new oberservations, a change in theory was justified. It allows for a flexibility of changing theories based on new evidence while still having been justified to have believed the old theory before that evidence came out.

  82. Anonymous says

    One strength of CE is that it allows that accepting things like Newtonian mechanics back in Newton’s day was rational and justified and that, because of new oberservations, a change in theory was justified. It allows for a flexibility of changing theories based on new evidence while still having been justified to have believed the old theory before that evidence came out.

  83. says

    Why should we care whether or not Newtonian mechanics was rational and justified in the light of the observations available back then? It's not like Sir Isaac is on trial for his life and we want to plead mitigation.

  84. says

    Why should we care whether or not Newtonian mechanics was rational and justified in the light of the observations available back then? It’s not like Sir Isaac is on trial for his life and we want to plead mitigation.

  85. Anonymous says

    "Rationalism does not reject that empirical evidence can be used as a rational basis for beleif, rather it holds that empirical evidence is not the only rational basis for belief."

    I want you to show me an example of something that exists for which there is not and cannot be any empirical evidence. I already know that you can't do this, so this will be fun to see you continue to demonstrate what an idiot you are.

    "Yes, because the former posts about the actual importance of many philosophical fields didn't happen."

    I didn't see any posts where the importance of philosophy was shown. What I saw was a lot of the circlejerking that's typical of people who think that philosophy is useful. Are you going to start bringing up nonsense about Hume and how we can't know anything from induction next? That will be entertaining when you try and tell me that it's rational to worry about whether gravity will pull in the same direction five seconds from now that it did five seconds ago.

    "I've sat in a room and listened to physics majors argue over possible shapes of the universe."

    At least they are arguing over something that is real.

    "I'm not going to hold physics to be useless if one of these beliefs seems intuitively implausible, especially because of my limited knowledge of the view."

    I hold philosophy to be worthless because it doesn't produce anything that's needed, and because it doesn't produce anything that is of artistic value. You could eliminate every philosophy department from every university tomorrow, and nobody would notice or care except for the philosophers themselves. It wouldn't affect the operation of the science departments in any way whatsoever, and that's all the proof you need to know that it's unnecessary when determining how the world actually works.

    " He also made the assumption that we would hold a different philosophical view (scientific realism) without realizing that this contradicts with his assertion that these debates aren't fruitful. "

    If you aren't an empiricist or a realist, then your beliefs aren't worth listening to, so there's little wonder that he assumed that. Let me explain this to you again in a way that you might understand. If you have beliefs for which there is no empirical support, then you are delusional. And I don't deal with delusional people except as targets of ridicule.

  86. Anonymous says

    “Rationalism does not reject that empirical evidence can be used as a rational basis for beleif, rather it holds that empirical evidence is not the only rational basis for belief.”I want you to show me an example of something that exists for which there is not and cannot be any empirical evidence. I already know that you can’t do this, so this will be fun to see you continue to demonstrate what an idiot you are.”Yes, because the former posts about the actual importance of many philosophical fields didn’t happen.”I didn’t see any posts where the importance of philosophy was shown. What I saw was a lot of the circlejerking that’s typical of people who think that philosophy is useful. Are you going to start bringing up nonsense about Hume and how we can’t know anything from induction next? That will be entertaining when you try and tell me that it’s rational to worry about whether gravity will pull in the same direction five seconds from now that it did five seconds ago.”I’ve sat in a room and listened to physics majors argue over possible shapes of the universe.”At least they are arguing over something that is real.”I’m not going to hold physics to be useless if one of these beliefs seems intuitively implausible, especially because of my limited knowledge of the view.”I hold philosophy to be worthless because it doesn’t produce anything that’s needed, and because it doesn’t produce anything that is of artistic value. You could eliminate every philosophy department from every university tomorrow, and nobody would notice or care except for the philosophers themselves. It wouldn’t affect the operation of the science departments in any way whatsoever, and that’s all the proof you need to know that it’s unnecessary when determining how the world actually works.” He also made the assumption that we would hold a different philosophical view (scientific realism) without realizing that this contradicts with his assertion that these debates aren’t fruitful. “If you aren’t an empiricist or a realist, then your beliefs aren’t worth listening to, so there’s little wonder that he assumed that. Let me explain this to you again in a way that you might understand. If you have beliefs for which there is no empirical support, then you are delusional. And I don’t deal with delusional people except as targets of ridicule.

  87. says

    Regarding the issue of scientists being liars, there are two serious problems with that argument.

    1) The scientists in question may not be constructive empiricists. Being mistaken is not the same thing as lying.2) The scientists may be making a probabilistic claim rather than a truth claim. In fact, most claims we make, are inherently probabilistic in nature. Our perceived probabilities of correctness may be very high, but they are still probabilistic. If I say 1+1=2 it is remotely possible that every human for however long we've had counting has mis-added. I might be doing that again. The probability of that is really tiny (for comparison much tinier by many orders of magnitude than the chance that I'm hallucinating the computer in front of me right now). But the claim is still probabilistic. The strong construct empiricist simply takes that a step further.

    I'm also very worried by an argument of the form "But believing in X leads to bad consequence Y." I suspect almost every reader of this blog would react very negatively to a statement of the form "But if we believe in evolution then we won't act morally." One of the first responses people will give is that even if that is true, it wouldn't impact the truth of the claim at all.

    Responding to the last anonymous commentator: So do you not think it is important to have a dividing line between what is and is not science? Does falsifiability matter for example? That's a philosophical claim. Many of the reasons we label say ID as not science are essentially philosophical in nature. Philosophers have spent a lot of time trying to pin down these sorts of thorny issues. And the fact that we can have people go to a federal judge in Kitzmiller and say "look judge. Here's why this isn't science" is due in a large part to the philosophers. So yes, what they do matters.

  88. says

    Regarding the issue of scientists being liars, there are two serious problems with that argument.1) The scientists in question may not be constructive empiricists. Being mistaken is not the same thing as lying.2) The scientists may be making a probabilistic claim rather than a truth claim. In fact, most claims we make, are inherently probabilistic in nature. Our perceived probabilities of correctness may be very high, but they are still probabilistic. If I say 1+1=2 it is remotely possible that every human for however long we’ve had counting has mis-added. I might be doing that again. The probability of that is really tiny (for comparison much tinier by many orders of magnitude than the chance that I’m hallucinating the computer in front of me right now). But the claim is still probabilistic. The strong construct empiricist simply takes that a step further.I’m also very worried by an argument of the form “But believing in X leads to bad consequence Y.” I suspect almost every reader of this blog would react very negatively to a statement of the form “But if we believe in evolution then we won’t act morally.” One of the first responses people will give is that even if that is true, it wouldn’t impact the truth of the claim at all. Responding to the last anonymous commentator: So do you not think it is important to have a dividing line between what is and is not science? Does falsifiability matter for example? That’s a philosophical claim. Many of the reasons we label say ID as not science are essentially philosophical in nature. Philosophers have spent a lot of time trying to pin down these sorts of thorny issues. And the fact that we can have people go to a federal judge in Kitzmiller and say “look judge. Here’s why this isn’t science” is due in a large part to the philosophers. So yes, what they do matters.

  89. says

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  90. says

    “The only way I know to resolve such disputes is to look at which so-called experts have evidence to back up their claims and which do not. Philosophers generally do not.”I laughed out loud at this. If philosophers don’t have evidence, they aren’t philosophers. They’d be poets at best, and morons at worst. The difference between scientists and philosophers is that scientists use empirical evidence (we can see something! that suggests something!), and philosophers use rational evidence. As a philosophy minor, I’m sure you are aware of the problem of being able to trust our senses, which brings empirical evidence into question. Philosophers, particularly in the last 150 years, (with the tradition of analytic philosophy) like to take logical truths (if something can have a color, it must be either blue or not-blue) and work from there, and philosophers like to believe that this is more valid than basing a statement off of empirical evidence, because if we can’t always trust our senses, who’s to say when we can?

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