Archive for ‘philosophy’

February 20, 2018

What is truth?

by Neil Rickert

Pilate famously asked the title question (John 18:38).  I expect people have been asking that question for as long as they have been asking questions.  For a good discussion of theories of truth, check the entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Truth is a central concept in philosophy.  But I am not at all satisfied with the way that it is used.  Hence this post.

Correspondence

If you ask about truth, you may be answered with the correspondence theory.  But the idea of “correspondence” is usually left unexplained.  I sometimes see statements similar to:

  • A sentence is true if it corresponds to the facts.
  • A sentence is true if it expresses what is the case.
  • A sentence is true if it expresses the state of affairs.

The trouble with all of these, is that they seem to be roundabout ways of saying “A sentence is true if it is true.”  And that does not say anything at all.

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February 13, 2018

On scientism

by Neil Rickert

I’m never quite sure what “scientism” is supposed to mean.  It often seems to be little more than a strawman, or a punching bag used by some theists and some philosophers.

In any case, a recent blog post by Larry Moran:

drew my attention to an argument against scientism by Massimo Pigliucci.

I suggest you start by reading Larry Moran’s post.

Pigliucci’s questions

In his argument, Pigliucci gives a list of questions that he sees as philosophical questions rather than scientific questions.  I shall quote the questions here, and then give my comments on them.

  • In metaphysics: what is a cause?

Why should any scientist care about this?  Yes, causation is important to science.  But for science, we test causation be seeing what we can cause in our experimentation.  We attempt to narrow down causes.  And we tend to extrapolate that knowledge by way of predictions.  It is not at all clear that this has anything much to do with the metaphysics of cause.

  • In logic: is modus ponens a type of valid inference?

I’m not sure why any scientist would even care about this.

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January 22, 2018

Avoiding free will discussion

by Neil Rickert

Jerry Coyne has posted a question on his blog site:

I’ll comment here, because I think I am banned from posting comments to Coyne’s site.

People avoid these discussions because they know, perhaps from experience, that such discussions produce a lot of heat but very little light.

Here’s the problem:

  • There cannot be any credible evidence against free will.  For any such evidence would already demonstrate that the evidence was not freely obtained.  And if the evidence was not freely obtained, then it cannot make a credible case against free will.
  • There cannot be any credible evidence for free will.  For we cannot rule out the possibility of hidden variables, so that what looks free is really determined.

And that leaves arguments at an impasse.

In my experience, arguments about free will are pretty much disagreements over the meaning of “free will”.

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November 6, 2017

Popper upside down

by Neil Rickert

The idea for the title comes from a blog post by Sabine Hossenfelder:

Hossenfelder is herself a physicist.  She makes a good argument on the problems with the way that scientists use (or misuse) Popper’s idea of falsification.  It is well worth reading.

For myself, I slightly disagree.  I don’t think she should blame the problem on Popper alone.  The problem is bad philosophy of science.  And, unfortunately, there is a lot of bad philosophy of science.  Some of that bad philosophy comes from professional philosophers.  And some of it comes from scientists themselves.

[Yes, this was a very short post intended to reference Hossenfelder’s post.]

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September 25, 2017

On the EAAN

by Neil Rickert

The EAAN, or Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, is an argument by Plantinga.  The Wikipedia entry provides a reasonable summary.

In a recent post at the Uncommon Descent blog, Barry Arrington gives an argument based on the EAAN.  This will mostly be a response to Arrington.

What is the EAAN?

Here’s a short quote from the Wikipedia article.

The EAAN argues that the combined belief in both evolutionary theory and naturalism is epistemically self-defeating. The reason for this is that if both evolution and naturalism are true, then the probability of having reliable cognitive faculties are low.

Personally, I’m inclined to see the EAAN as a reductio ad absurdum of a traditional account of epistemology.  Traditionally, it is said that knowledge is justified true belief.  I’ve disagreed with that in the past, and I continue to disagree.

That Wikipedia quote talks of both evolution and naturalism as being true.  I have never subscribed to naturalism (nor to materialism), because I don’t know what it would mean to say that naturalism is true.  And evolution, as used in that quote, refers to the theory of evolution.  I tend to think of scientific theories as neither true nor false.  Rather, I see a theory as a set of pragmatic conventions that provide a guide to how we should talk about the world.  As such a framework, the theory sets standards, in this case for biology and related fields.  Those standards give as ways of coming up with factual (true) statements about reality.  But whether or not we see the theory as true does not seem important.

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September 11, 2017

John Wilkins and heretical philosophy

by Neil Rickert

Wow!  Just Wow!

To be clear, I am not accusing Wilkins of heresy.  I’m the heretic.  However, John has new post where much of what he says is where I see philosophy as going wrong.

I’ll note that I haven’t posted much over the last few months.  That’s largely because I am frustrated at my difficulty in communicating my non-standard viewpoint.  Perhaps this will help me make a fresh start.

I’ll quote parts of John’s post where I disagree, then say a little about why I disagree.  I will probably say too little.  Filling in the details can come in future posts.

John uses “conceptual confusion” in the title.  I agree.  But I expect that where I see conceptual confusion is not where John sees it.

Sapir (a student of Boas’) and Whorf (Sapir’s student) proposed a thesis, known obviously as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that our categories determine how we experience the world.

Hmm, that’s not how I understand Sapir-Whorf.

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August 3, 2017

Fundamental Ontology

by Neil Rickert

Coel has a post over at his blog:

I thought of posting a comment there.  But I then decided that it might be worth a full post.

Coel’s view

Coel quotes Feynman, as suggesting the atomic theory of matter as particularly important.  But Coel seems to disagree with this.  The trouble with atoms, is that they are made of subatomic particles.  In turn, quantum mechanics has something to say about those subatomic particles that makes them look less particle-like.

Coel delves down to a number of possibilities.  He even mentions Tegmark’s idea that everything is made of mathematics.  But Coel himself is not so certain that we can give a good answer at this, or perhaps ever.

I do recommend reading his post.

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April 27, 2017

Platonism, fictionalism and all that

by Neil Rickert

There was recently an interesting discussion of platonism and fictionalism as philosophies of mathematics.  This was at “The Electric Agora” blog.  I added a couple of comments myself.

Yesterday, I went back to take another look.  That was mostly to see if there were any additional comments.  And there were two, both by Robin Herbert.  But comments are now closed for that post.  So I’ll say something here.

First some links:

Both comments add to the discussion and are worth reading.

Is fictionalism true?

In his first comment, Robin says:

So the argument that fictionalism must be true because the axioms are only conventions appears to make the same mistake as saying the truth or falsity of “if A then B” depends on the truth or falsity of A.

To me, this seems weird.  I have said that I am a fictionalist.  I have never said that fictionalism is true.  I’m not at all sure that I know what it would even mean to say that fictionalism is true.

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May 31, 2016

The unexplained intellect — does it exist?

by Neil Rickert

This is my reaction to a post that I saw today at The Brains Blog:

(that post title is really in all caps, so I had to retype to make it look reasonable).

At first glance, that title looks good.  The statement that the mind is not a hoard of sentences fits with my repeated criticism of the idea that knowledge is justified true belief.  However, as I read further into that blog post, I realize that I still have a lot of disagreement with the author.

The blog post is written by Christopher Mole and, in part, it is saying something about Mole’s book “The Unexplained Intellect”.  I have not read the book itself.  It comes in at $54.95 for the Kindle edition, which is a bit pricey for me.

On minds

Here’s the second paragraph of that blog post:

We do not currently have a satisfactory account of how minds could be had by material creatures. If such an account is to be given then every mental phenomenon will need to find a place within it. Many will be accounted for by relating them to other things that are mental, but there must come a point at which we break out of the mental domain, and account for some things that are mental by reference to some that are not. It is unclear where this break out point will be. In that sense it is unclear which mental entities are, metaphysically speaking, the most fundamental.

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April 28, 2016

The way the world is

by Neil Rickert

Right now it is a cloudy, rainy April day.  And if that’s the kind of thing one means by “the way the world is” then I have no problem with that.  However, people often use that expression in a different sense.  Typically, they are talking about some metaphysical point, and they say “there’s a certain way that the world is”.  And they go on to ask questions such as whether our current science agrees with “that certain way that the world is” (whatever that is supposed to mean).

I’ll use the expression “the metaphysical way the world is” for that usage, though I’ll mostly abbreviate that as MWWI.

It seems that MWWI is supposed to refer to some presumed linguistic description of the world which is independent of personal and cultural viewpoints and is language independent.

I’m inclined to think that MWWI is incoherent.  I don’t think that there can be such a thing.  And that’s what this post is about.

Reality

Let’s start with reality.  When I deny that there could be a MWWI, some people take me as being something of an idealist.  That is, they take me to be denying that there is a human independent reality — that what we call reality is something that we make up in our heads.

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