Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, December 11, 2006

THE EMPIRICIST PROJECT

One commenter, upon reading the last post, calls my position "skeptical reductionism." Actually, I end up agreeing with the general rejection of skepticism. But I do take it as a premise that Humean skepticism about induction is unanswerable in strictly logical/rational terms. One cannot refute the induction-skeptic, but one can easily show that the induction-skeptic is inconsistent, constantly forming beliefs based on induction.

An e-mailer writes that: "everyone has to agree that there is some order in the world-- not just because we'd go mad otherwise, but because if there weren't there's no explantion for how we can describe and predict as well as we do-- and that mundane fact seems loaded with significance about the nature of the world." But how do we know that "we describe and predict as well as we do?" Isn't induction involved in the very perception processes by which we recognize the truth of our predictions, i.e. the accuracy of our induction? Don't we fall into the trap of Hume's circularity once again?

To clarify, I argue that all induction depends on a certain meta-belief that there is order/patterns in the world, and that without that belief, one would sink into skepticism/madness. If you do accept that meta-belief, however-- and all of us do accept it, it seems to be an indelible part of our natures-- then the Empiricist Project can go full speed ahead!

Indeed, I think I can claim to be more rationalist than the rationalists. I applaud rationalists, of whom for these purposes the paradigm case is the scientific naturalist, precisely for their great faith. Einstein, for example, knew that there was something NOT* right about the old Newtonian physics in which all motion was relative to the "ether." He envisioned a grand alternative scheme-- the theory of relativity-- which at first seemed counter-intuitive, absurd, almost mad; but he was undaunted, he made his predictions, he was vindicated! An ordinary empiricist could justify believing that Einstein was right, but I'm not sure he could justify the admiration that he feels for Einstein. One meta-belief may be more useful than another, but why is it morally superior? The peculiar notion of faith that I have introduced predicts that Einstein should be not only believed, but admired.

*UPDATE: Initially this erroneously read "something right." Nato finds this post "opaque"... Now that this typo is corrected, are things any clearer? Perhaps not...

4 Comments:

  • Clearly I've missed something, because this post is largely opaque to me.

    By Blogger Nato, at 12:26 PM  

  • I don't know where I get lost, but I feel like I'm following along until the last paragraph when "faith" qua term of art begins to fill some explanatory role that's inscrutable to me.

    One item I'll throw out there without having a clear idea of how it relates to the argument Lance is attempting to communicate: we can sidestep Humean circularity if we cease throwing modal logic at the problem in the hopes that we'll somehow arrive at some granule of non-contingent empiricism. We don't need it. All we need to show to justify empirical belief is that the "inductive" approach is objectively (not merely intersubjectively) privileged.

    Of course, the clear intersubjectively privileged status of inductive reasoning (everyone does it) is suggestive, but leaves open some awkward reductios such as one mounted by a UCSC prof that made me want to smack him.

    By Blogger Nato, at 2:24 PM  

  • Not being one to sit around attempting to deduce by right reason the actual number of teeth a horse has, I've got a suggestion. Once upon a time (as all such stories begin), there were two groups of people: those who reasoned inductively about their world and those who didn't. Over time, those who didn't managed to kill themselves off, since they found no sound basis to believe that, simply because everyone who had jumped from a particular cliff previously had died that they would if they were to do the same thing, or, a fortiori, if they were to jump from a similar cliff from which no one had yet jumped. Attempting to swim large bodies of rapidly moving water, setting ones self on fire, and wrestling with cave bears also took their tolls. As a result, only Darwin and the inductionists remain with us today, with the exception of some philosophers. ;-)

    By Anonymous Strophyx, at 3:58 PM  

  • Strophyx's story assumes that people who practice induction are more likely to survive than people who don't. How do we know this is the case? Surely our belief that it is the case is based, in part, on induction (e.g., inferring from patterns about belief, action, and survival). Therefore, for the story to be persuasive, induction has to be assumed. And we're back to the ol' circularity.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 4:29 PM  

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