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Re: [DebunkCreation] Epistemic Abyss

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  • Timothy Chase
    ... Definitely related. All awareness is causally-mediated, which is central to both the point that he was trying to make, to much of skepticism, and the
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 10, 2005
      On 11/10/05, lisaogut@... <lisaogut@...> wrote:
      > Hi Timothy,
      > Thanks for your piece on the epistemic abyss.
      > Let me take you further down the road of abyss:
      > The first day of my astonomy class, the professor asked, "Do you know
      > what I look like?" He kept repeating the question, looking around the room.
      > We students were mumbling under our breath "yes."
      > "NO!" was his response, "you know what I *looked* like."

      > He then discussed sight and that light takes time to travel from him
      > to our eyes. So, you did not see your car or your computer, at least
      > in the present. It is probable these things were there, but you did not
      > see them as they were.

      Definitely related. All awareness is causally-mediated, which is
      central to both the point that he was trying to make, to much of
      skepticism, and the necessity of accepting corrigible knowledge. This
      fact and the attempt to get around it is what gave rise to
      representationalism, and it has played a central role in other
      fundamental epistemic issues, such as the relatively recent Gettier

      Theory of Knowledge
      The Gettier Problem
      by James Pryor, Spring 2004

      > All you philosophers out there, lets hear your version of what "truth" is.

      Actually, I was able to arrive at definitions for "justification,"
      "truth," "belief," and "doubt" in terms of a metaphysics -- which
      required Aristotle's joint-actualization theory of consciousness and
      the employment of his concept of correlates -- approximately ten years
      after I realized it should be possible. Might be a little dry and OT
      for here, though.

      However, I spoke of the norm of self-referential coherence in that
      little piece you responded to but didn't explain what it meant. This
      was essentially due the fact that when I originally wrote it, I was
      able to assume that everyone knew what it meant. Shouldn't do that
      here, though, so I am including a couple of sections from one of my
      larger papers. I apologize for the length...

      -- --

      Something Revolutionary: A Critique of Kant's Transcendental Idealism
      Part 9, Section 22: The Meaning of Self-Referential Incoherence

      At this point, I would like to introduce what I call "the norm of
      self-referential coherence." This norm prohibits self-referential
      incoherence. Thus to understand the meaning of the norm, one must
      understand the meaning of self-referential incoherence. I will
      present an example before attempting a definition.

      Consider a radical skeptic who states "I know that no one knows
      anything." This skeptic has contradicted himself, violating in
      thought the law of identity. The law of identity, in its capacity as
      a norm by which we regulate and evaluate cognition, could be referred
      to as "the norm of coherence." It is a norm which directs us to
      remain coherent. But if the skeptic is a little more subtle, he may
      simply state "No one knows anything." In this case, that which he
      asserts involves no contradiction. Thus the second statement obeys
      "the norm of coherence." Nevertheless, there is something illogical
      about it.

      In affirming this proposition, he is not simply asserting that it is
      true. Implicit in the very act of affirmation is the idea that he
      knows it is true. And the proposition which he affirming to be true
      (and thus, to be known by himself) includes itself as one of its
      referents. What he affirms may be true (at least in the sense that
      such a state of affairs would not violate the law of identity), but if
      what he is affirming is true, then the act of affirming it becomes
      pointless, pointless since he couldn't possibly know it to be true.
      And yet if it is false, he is unable to know it to be true since that
      which is known is necessarily true.

      Now I will attempt a definition of the norm of self-referential
      coherence: it is "a prescriptive statement governing the affirmation
      of a proposition, statement, or theory which requires that the
      proposition, statement, or theory does not give rise to a
      contradiction as a result of its union with the context of assertion,
      where the context of assertion is propositional description of the act
      of affirmation or assertion." Unlike the law of identity, this norm
      applies only in cases of self-reference, e.g., when a statement is
      broad enough to include itself (or the proposition which it expresses)
      as one of its referents. An example of this is "No statement
      expresses a proposition."

      Before going any further, I wish to stress the similarity which exists
      between the law of identity as a prescriptive statement governing
      affirmations and the norm of self-referential coherence. When the law
      of identity is violated by an affirmation, the contradiction is
      internal to that which is affirmed. When the norm of self-referential
      coherence is violated, the contradiction still exists, but it is no
      longer in that which is affirmed, but within the surrounding context
      of its affirmation.

      Part 9, Section 23: The Problem of the Doubting Skeptic

      I chose "the problem of radical skepticism through denial" for two
      reasons: first, I believe that it demonstates the nature of
      self-referential argumentation very well, and thus serves as a good
      introduction to this kind of argument; and, second, I consider radical
      skepticism to be a problem worth addressing when attempting to found a
      new approach to knowledge. However, my second purpose has only been
      partially achieved: to complete it, in terms of the fundamentals, I
      must address an alternative approach to radical skepticism.

      As a counterargument to this example involving radical skepticism, it
      has been argued that skeptics may avoid the self-referential
      incoherence by doubting rather than affirming or denying. In
      otherwords, the skeptic may make use of a third possible stance: one
      in which he simply doubts that knowledge exists. Now before I attempt
      to evaluate this reply, it is necessary to analyze the manner in which
      the act of doubting differs from the acts of affirmation and denial.

      Let me begin by examining the nature of affirmation and denial. In a
      very important sense, affirmation and denial are opposites: if one
      man affirms a given proposition, and another man denies it, then, in a
      certain sense, they have contradicted one-another. Thus there exists
      a certain symmetry between affirmation and denial. And this symmetry
      corresponds to the symmetry between truth and falsity: if one affirms
      a given proposition, one is also affirming that it is true; if one
      denies a given proposition, one is also affirming that it is false.
      Furthermore, by affirming its falsity, one denies its truth, and by
      affirming its truth, one denies its falsity. Thus the correspondence
      is exact.

      But affirmations and denials cannot be given truth values: a
      proposition may be truth or false, but an affirmation or denial can
      only be correct or mistaken. Nevertheless, there exists an exact
      correspondence between that which is true and that which is correct,
      and that which is false and that which is mistaken.

      Given this context, it is necessary to determine where doubting fits
      in. Doubting, according to the "radical skepticism through doubt
      approach," constitutes a third alternative to that of affirmation and
      denial. And clearly, in a certain sense, it is. The act of doubting
      is clearly distinct from the act of affirmation, but it is equally
      distinct from the act of denying. If I deny a proposition, and I
      later discover that this proposition was true, then I was mistaken.
      However, if I simply doubted the proposition, and I discover that the
      proposition was true, I am not forced to conclude that I was mistaken.
      Quite the contrary: I might pat myself on the back for waiting until
      all the evidence was in. Furthermore, while it is true that a given
      person cannot simultaneously affirm and "simply" doubt a given
      proposition without contradiction, it is equally true that one person
      can affirm a proposition and another doubt it without the two
      contradicting each other: one person may simply have higher standards
      of evidence.

      Thus doubting can generally be considered a third alternative to that
      of affirmation and denial. It is distinct. However, it is also
      qualitatively different. Doubting consists of a higher order act of
      cognition. It is of a more abstract nature, and thus its relation to
      the two more primary acts of cognition must be considered.

      In logic, doubting, while distinct from the two other stances, does
      not exist independently of them. Doubting is a possibility only so
      long as both affirmation and denial are possible. That is, doubting,
      as a possibility, presupposes a state of affairs in which the
      alternative between affirmation and denial is open. But, as we have
      seen, the possibility of denial has been logically excluded: it is
      self-referentially incoherent. And the exclusion of the possibility
      of a denial logically necessitates the exclusion of the possibility of
      simply doubting.

      To make this argument clearer, rather than considering an argument
      about the existence of knowledge, consider an argument about whether a
      coin has landed heads or tails. One person affirms that it has landed
      heads, another denies this, holding that the coin has landed tails,
      and a third simply doubts that the coin has landed heads-up. A forth
      party is brought in who observes the coin and states that it has not
      landed tails. This eliminates the position of the person who denies
      that the coin has landed heads-up, but at the same stroke, it also
      eliminates the position of the person who simply doubted that the coin
      has landed heads-up: he no longer has any justification for doubting
      that the coin has landed heads-up.

      But unfortunately, this analogy works only so far. A
      doubting-skeptic, in considering his position to be distinct from that
      of the denying-skeptic, and thus as a refuge from the self-referential
      incoherence involved in denial, might regard his position as being
      analogous to a coin landing on edge. But this is clearly mistaken:
      unlike physical coins, the logical coin of knowledge is razor thin,
      and thus doubting does not represent a separate side which one may
      take on this issue. The exclusion of the position of doubting follows
      from the law of the excluded middle and the exclusion of the
      possibility of denial.

      The alternative between affirming the existence of knowledge and
      radical skepticism is more like a door than a coin. Radical
      skepticism as a viable possibility lies on the other side of that
      door, and the radical skeptic who denies the existence of knowledge
      holds that the door is open and that we should step through it. The
      radical skeptic who doubts the existence of knowledge holds that the
      door is open, but that we should simply place ourselves firmly in the
      middle of door's thresh-hold, neither standing on one side of the
      doorway or the other. Now in logic, the door can only be open or
      shut. The self-referential argument shows us that the door is shut.

      But for further clarification, we may bring back the evaluative terms
      which are applicable to affirmations and denials: namely, "correct"
      and "mistaken." When someone denies a given proposition and discovers
      that its contradictory is false, he should regard himself as having
      been mistaken. However, when someone doubts a given proposition and
      discovers that the affirmation of its contradictory is by necessity
      eliminated, and continues to doubt the given proposition, he too, is
      making a mistake, although his mistake is clearly of a different

      Now the earlier self-referential argument clearly eliminates the
      possibility of denying the existence of knowledge, and this is
      precisely what is needed to complete my argument. Not only is the
      position of the denying the existence of knowledge eliminated, but
      also the position of doubting the existence of knowledge. It is
      eliminated only in a more roundabout way, by means of the same
      self-referential incoherence. Implicit in his act of doubt are the
      premises that he has insufficient evidence by means of which to
      eliminate either the possibility of affirmation or denial. But the
      self-referential argument is sufficient to conclusively eliminate the
      denial of the existence of knowledge. Thus the norm of
      self-referential coherence necessarily eliminates the doubt that
      knowledge exists.


      "I carry my sword in my hand. You carry yours in your heart and in
      your mind. As I see it, that gives you a two-to-one advantage in arms.
      Be fair, citizen G'kar."

      -- Ta'Lon to G'Kar in Babylon 5:"A Day in the Strife"
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