Empirical philosophy

Taking Polycarp’s suggestion, I’ve created this thread in the hopes that it will result in the ceasing of the hijacking that took place in his thread (mostly at my instigation).

I am forwarding the proposition that there’s no ultimate difference between “pure” logic or reasoning and empirical knowledge: using logic is an example of empirically examining what we wish to learn about, which is thought.

Essentially, if we want to know about something, we have to look at it. If we want to know about “actual” ethics or aesthetics or causality, we need to look at the universe in which we live. If we want to know about how we think, we need to look at our thoughts. We can make whatever models we please, but we must never forget that the model isn’t the reality.

Thoughts, anyone?

Sounds good – provided that we remember that the premises on which our logic is founded may themselves be invalid. (Classic example, which I’d regret causing a hijack by giving, is in the idea advanced by many conservative Christians that if gay sexuality is sinful and God created people with the ability to turn from sin and follow Him, then one must be able to “quit being gay” – it’s logically sound given the premises, but the premises themselves are questionable.)

But I like where you’re going with this (and I’d greatly appreciate people not debating my example and hence hijacking the thread).

Quite right.

At the moment, I lack the time to put forward a full-fledged example (I’ll return later), but consider the following statement:

We should avoid action that is excessive.

What’s the problem with this statement?

Ask yourself how you came to know such a thing. What principles allowed you to realize this?

I think this is much more difficult to prove than it is to say. If the model isn’t the reality, then everything is a representation. Including reality. To what does “knowledge” then refer? I mean, what does “reality” then mean?

Vor wrote:

Just a couple of questions, and then I possibly will have more, depending on how successfully you address these to my satisfaction.

What do you mean by “pure”? And how is logic an empirical examination of thought? Why is it not an epistemology if you’re “learning”? And to what types of logic do you specifically apply your proposition? Or do you proclaim your opinion to be true of every type of logic?

I don’t know if this is exactly the kind of example you have in mind, but… Didn’t Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle) once say that, from a drop of water, a reasoning man can extrapolate an Atlantic Ocean or a Niagra Falls?

But…in fact…no, he can’t. There simply isn’t enough “data” in a drop of water to allow someone to extrapolate that far. You’d never get to thermoclines, to vortices, to tides, to cavitation.

(Given a hundred gallons…maybe…)


it seems to me that what we might consider “objective” is just a subset of empirical knowledge. how do we know anything besides what we know empirically?

that we consider something transcendent is based on the conclusions we draw from our empirical knowledge. for example, based on what we know, see, and are capable of, it seems completely impossible for the following to be true:

if proposition A is true, then proposition B is true.
proposition A is true.
proposition B is false.

it is unimaginable how these statements could be consistent. of course, this assumes we have some knowledge of what we mean when we say “true”, which may or may not be the case. the point is, we accept these things as transcendent, because they are constructs that allow us to speak of empirical things. consider what we could talk about without the concept of truth. how could we put forward anything meaningful? how could we consider it to be true?

so, certain empirical knowledge, we like to think transcends the realm of empiricism, because if it doesn’t apply to all things empirical, the world makes no sense.

The same problem this statement has:

We should do everything in moderation.

** The Vorlon Ambassador’s Aide**


excessive is a relative term.
It’s relative to the motivation and goals of the action.

** erislover**


Is everything a representation?

Do you ever experience anything “in-and-of-itself “.

Do you ever experience your “self” as “in-and-of-itself’ ?

Regarding “excessive”:

There are essentially two meanings of the word. The first is that more of something is being used or consumed than is needed to create a certain result. The other is that enough of something is being used to bring about a negative result.

For example, if I eat more food than I need to satiate my hunger, that is excessive1. If I eat enough food to give me an upset stomach, that’s excessive2.

When we consider the concept of “waste”, we see that the first meaning is essentially just a special case of the second; when something is wasted, that’s a negative result.

When I make the statement “we shouldn’t do anything in excess”, all that really means is “we shouldn’t do anything that leads to a negative result”, which is trivial (essentially tautological once the concept of causality is accepted).

Therefore, for the statment to be meaningful, there must be a ready operational definition of what it means to be excessive. Without that standard, the sentence essentially has no content.

Fatwater Fewl and Iamthat are correct.

Trinopus: I’m afraid I’d have to disagree with you. The rules governing the drop of water are the same as the rules governing all the oceans of the world. Given enough computational power, we could derive all of the universe from its smallest components. The problem is twofold: first, the only thing capable of genuinely modeling the universe without simplification is the universe itself; secondly, we could make the derivation only because you need the entire universe just to have the drop of water in the first place.

Lib: Logic, and all of philosophy, is thinking about thinking. We generate sets of relationships within our minds and use them to construct models of the world around us; when we find that the model in our minds gives results that allow us to make limited predictions about the world, we claim that they’re correct.

All the logics exist within the human mind… the human mind couldn’t exist without a greater system in which it can be. If every trace of humanity and its works were destroyed, the Theory of Relativity, Plato’s parable of the cave, and the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem would all be destroyed. The reality in which these concepts could be derived from would continue.

erislover: What do I mean when I say “reality”? Consider: what if I postulated a substance exactly like mass-energy of modern physics in all ways but one: it could not be transformed into any form that would interact in any way with “normal” mass-energy. Would it be real?

I say it would not. Reality is the set of things that interact with any given thing. The alternate mass-energy might be a reality unto itself, but that universe wouldn’t be real to ours. There would be no consequences from its existence that would differ in any way from its nonexistence; therefore, the two conditions are utterly and completely indistinguishable and are therefore the same.

Your answers are unsatisfactory, but that’s okay. Of much more immediate importance to me is a request that you shorten your username. When you are the OP and the last poster, the Great Debates forum titles are squished into one word per line, and Explorer adds a horizontal scrollbar to see the dates and times.

Is that what it is, Vorlon, or is that how you are modelling it?

Hah! Coming from a person who tries to justify the ontological proof of God, that’s funny!

Ah, no. I’m not asserting that the thing out there, which is commonly referred to as “reality”, is the set of all things that interact with me.

Rather, I’m calling the set of all things that interact with me, “reality”.

I merely note that, when I substitute this definition for the word “reality” as it is commonly used, it doesn’t seem to change the meaning of statements.

The first law of metaphysics: nothing unreal exists.

Seriously: what is the difference between something not interacting with you (or with anything that interacts with you), and its not existing?

I think you have to have at least one piece of internal logic before you can learn anything through observation. If you don’t have the principle of non-contradiction, A v ~A, then you cannot acquire knowledge through observation. When you observe “it is snowing”, you must be able to exclude the proposition “it is not snowing”. Without being able to do so, you could never limit the set of propositions that accurately describe the world.

Since you cannot learn anything without knowing the principle of noncontradiction, the principle of noncontradiction cannot itself be learned. It must therefore exist prior to any empiric examiniation whatsoever.

Who knows (or cares) what you mean by “justify”? A proof is either valid or it is not. Peter Suber, an atheist and a philosopher, understands this. You do not.

Can I ask: is this an emprirical truth?

Well, Lib, if we know that necessary existence is, but not what it is, do we know anything at all?

Well, since no one has been able to find an unreal thing that exists, yes.

is that an empirical observation?