Posts tagged ‘induction’

March 5, 2018

A modest theory of truth

by Neil Rickert

I have previously discussed some of the problems that I have with the so-called correspondence theory of truth.  In this post, I shall suggest my own theory.

I am describing it as modest, because it does not attempt to settle all truth questions.  The use of “true” in ordinary language is a mess, and my theory will not attempt to address all such use.  Rather, it is intended only for technical uses, such as in mathematics and science.

In my last post, I made a distinction between ordinary mathematical statements such as 3+5=8 and the axiom systems (such as the Peano axioms)  that we use to prove those ordinary statements.  There is widespread agreement on truth questions about those ordinary mathematical questions.  But there is less agreement about whether axioms are true.  Mathematics can be done, without settling questions on the truth of the axioms used.

Coming up with axiom systems is also part of mathematics.  But when a new axiom system is offered, the main concern is on whether that axiom system is useful.  Whether the axioms are true is often not asked, perhaps because there isn’t a good way to decide.  Axiom systems are usually adopted on a pragmatic basis.  That is, they are adopted for their usefulness.

Something similar happens in science.  The ideal gas laws of physics are a good example.  Those laws are true only for an imagined ideal gas.  They are false for any real gas.  But although technically false, they provide a pretty good approximation of the behavior of real gases.  And that makes them very useful.  So, with the gas laws, we see important scientific laws that are adopted on a pragmatic basis, even though they might be technically false.

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January 18, 2018

Generalization in science

by Neil Rickert

According to most treatments of philosophy of science, or at least most of those that I have looked at, science advances by means of inductive generalizations. Inductive generalizations are often assumed to be the basis for scientific laws (such as laws of physics).

To me, that seems wrong.  I do not see the evidence that science is using induction.

I can agree that there are generalizations in science.  But it does not seem to me that they are inductive generalizations.


First an example of induction, to illustrate what is meant by the term.

All the many crows that I have seen are black.  Therefore all crows are black.

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May 27, 2015

Searle on direct realism

by Neil Rickert

As I hinted in my previous post, I want to discuss some aspects of Searle’s theory of perception.

Searle makes a good start with:

I believe the worst mistake of all is the cluster of views known as Dualism, Materialism, Monism, Functionalism, Behaviorism, Idealism, the Identity Theory, etc. The idea these theories all have in common is that there is some special problem about the relation of the mind to the body, consciousness to the brain, and in their fixation on the illusion that there is a problem, philosophers have fastened onto different solutions to the problem. (page 10).

I agree that those are mostly mistakes.  Searle continues with:

A mistake of nearly as great a magnitude overwhelmed our tradition in the seventeenth century and after, and it is the mistake of supposing that we never directly perceive objects and states of affairs in the world, but directly perceive only our subjective experiences.

That is Searle’s statement about his direct realism.  I do support the view that perception is direct, but I avoid the term “direct realism” because the word “realism” seems to carry some unnecessary metaphysical baggage.

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September 13, 2014

Metaphysics — an example of what I criticize

by Neil Rickert

This morning, I came across a blog comment which is a good example of where I see metaphysics leading us astray.  I replied to that comment, and this post will mainly be quoting my reply.

Here’s what I wrote, starting with a quote from the comment to which I was responding:

Kantian Naturalist: More precisely, the point of the act/potency distinction (energeia and dunamis, respectively) is to characterize how the world must be in order for there to be modally robust empirical generalizations.

As a piece of metaphysics — indeed, a fundamental position in what might be called “transcendental realism” — it strikes as perfectly right that we should ask “how must the world be in order for science to be possible?” as well as the Kantian question, “how must the mind be in order for science to be possible?” And in answering the former question, it seems perfectly right to say that the world must have modal structure, otherwise there is nothing to make our counterfactuals correct or incorrect. (This is different from the epistemological question of how to explain our conceptual grasp of modality.)


To me, this reads like philosophy’s version of “Adam and Eve.” That is to say, it comes across to me as the origins myth that is the founding belief of philosophy seen as religion.

I prefer the alternative: it is obvious that science is possible, so let’s investigate how does it actually work. Let’s not start with a dubious a priori assumption, that it works by generalization (induction).

September 11, 2014

Metaphysics — what I am against

by Neil Rickert

I’ve occasionally suggested that I don’t do metaphysics.  One of the comments to my previous post took me to task over that, saying that it was an example of doing metaphysics and that I was therefore contradicting myself.

Such literalism.  This kind of quibbling is part of why many scientists are dismissive of philosophy.  Here, I’ll try to clear up that confusion.

What I’m against

Of course, every thinking person will do some thinking about metaphysical questions, self-included.  We can’t help it.  We are confronted with these questions, posed by others.  They may be questions that have no answers.  But we will think about them anyway.

What I oppose, is using metaphysical assumptions as a basis for other reasoning, such as reasoning about knowledge.


I’ll illustrate the point with mathematics.  There, I avoid platonist assumptions.  I usually consider myself a fictionalists (mathematical entities are useful fictions).  And I suppose that, technically, fictionalism is considered a metaphysical position.  But the point of fictionalism is to avoid making assumptions about the existence of mathematical entities by treating them as fictions.

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June 9, 2014

The nature of knowedge — a personal perspective

by Neil Rickert

In my previous post, I wrote

When I read John’s statement (either version), as quoted above, I see John mentioning the nature of knowledge as an important topic.  I’ve read a lot of epistmology (the subfield of philosophy that deals with knowledge).  In all honesty,  I have not learned anything at all about the nature of knowledge from that reading.

Here, I want to talk informally about what I take to be the nature of knowledge.

To me, knowledge is closely connected with learning.  I see knowledge is the result of learning.  I guess that makes me an empiricist, at least in the broad sense of the term.

At around 10 years of age, while walking home from elementary school, I wondered about knowledge.  In particular, I wondered if knowledge could be just those natural language statements such as we learn in school.  But, as I pondered that, it seemed impossible.  It seemed to me that there was nothing in those sentences that said how our language sentences connect with the world.

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March 23, 2014

On vjtorley on ways of knowing

by Neil Rickert

Recently, in a post at the Uncommon Descent blog, vjtorley made a post critical of Jason Rosenhouse:

Here, I shall comment on part of vjtorley’s post.

I’m actually a bit puzzled by the whole post.  I read Jason’s blog often enough to doubt that he is claiming that science is the only way of knowing.  I guess I’m also a bit troubled by the expression “ways of knowing” which seems a bit too vague.

Torley begins with:

People who hold the view that “there is a non-scientific source of knowledge about the natural world, such as divine revelation or the historical teachings of a church, that trumps all other claims to knowledge,” are a menace to science. That’s the claim made by mathematician Jason Rosenhouse, in his latest post over at his Evolution Blog.

As I see it, the significant part is “that trumps all other claims to knowledge.”  I don’t see Jason as saying that science is the only way of knowing about the the natural world.  I only see him as denying that what comes from religion can trump science.

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January 3, 2014

The problem with philosophy

by Neil Rickert

The problem with philosophy, is its excessive obsession with logic.  I was reminded of this when reading a blog post by Massimo Pigliucci:

Massimo is actually discussing the urge to study meta-ethics, as providing a logical foundation for ethics.  And he explains why he is resisting that urge.

That’s good.  I never had such an urge myself, perhaps because I don’t see logic the same way that philosophers do.  The idea of a logical foundation for ethics seems to me to be a hopeless non-starter.

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November 24, 2013

Science works; ergo God

by Neil Rickert

I obviously do not believe what is suggested by the title.  That title is my simplified way of describing what vjtorley has recently posted at the Uncommon Descent blog.  The tl;dr form of the title, as used by vjtorley, is:

The UD post uses a method of argument that we mathematicians refer to as Proof By Exhaustion.

There are actually two different versions of “proof by exhaustion”.  The main version is where one proves a result by exhausting all possibilities.  It is much like a case statement in a computer program.  That’s the version that is defined by the linked Wikipedia page.

The other version of “proof by exhaustion” is the one used by vjtorley.  That is where the argument is so tediously long, that you are exhausted by the time that you have finished reading it.  In fact, you are so exhausted, that you were too tired to notice all of the glaring holes in the argument.

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November 2, 2013

Convention (1) — introduction

by Neil Rickert

I am starting a series of posts on the idea of conventions, as in social conventions.  It has long been clear to me that conventions are important.  This, however, seems to be controversial.  As best I can tell, philosophers are deeply suspicious of convention.

As a self-declared heretic about philosophy, I am not troubled by opposing what seems to be the conventional view of convention among conventional philosophers.

Here’s some background reading:

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