[FoRK] critical rationalism Re: Philosophy, for whoever needs it

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Tue Jun 24 08:01:23 PDT 2008

On Jun 24, 2008, at 12:13 AM, Dr. Ernie Prabhakar wrote:

> Hi Jeff,
> On Jun 23, 2008, at 11:26 AM, Jeff Bone wrote:
>> Popper's critical rationalism is closest to my own opinion with  
>> respect to metaphysical claims.  Either such claims are empirically  
>> falsifiable, and hence within the realm of rationalism and  
>> empirical knowledge, or they are not, in which case I have no use  
>> for them and grant them no epistemological standing whatever.  This  
>> is the grounds on which I reject your --- or anyone's ---  
>> statements about the existence or nature of a divinity.  You  
>> haven't presented me with anything falsifiable.  Note that this  
>> Popperian stance is in contrast to the usual logical positivism;   
>> for example, critical rationalism attaches no special importance to  
>> the predictive power of a theory;  such predictions say nothing  
>> about the truth or falsity of a hypothesis in any strong (absolute)  
>> sense.
> Okay, let me see if I understand.  Using "critical rationalism" as a  
> shorthand for your beliefs, is it fair to summarize your position as:
> A.  Only propositions which are susceptible to empirical validation  
> and rational inquiry are worthy of belief

Belief's a problematic term.  I try not to believe anything. ;-)   
Here's how I would revise your summary:

Only propositions which are "susceptible" to empirical validation and  
rational inquiry belong in the realm of rationality.  (Doubly circular  
definition, sorry, but if you understand "rational" well enough to use  
it in the term "rational inquiry" above then presumably you understand  
it well enough in general.)  If it can't be proved or disproved,  
observed, measured, repeated, agreed upon by an arbitrary independent  
observer, and so on then it's (definitionally) not a matter for  
rational discussion or consideration.

More specifically apropos critical rationalism, specifically, if it  
cannot be refuted it cannot be claimed.  More generally, if it can't  
be tested it can't be "known."

> Or, do you posit two different truth levels, with slightly different  
> standards of belief?

Independent of the above, I do posit (at least) two different kinds of  
truth, with two different epistemological standards.  There is a  
minimal working set of things that can be known with certainty through  
the application of logic and formalism to certain minimal axioms, to  
the products of observation and measurement, or even to the products  
of pure thought (in some very restricted cases.)  These things can be  
known to be certain *given agreement on the epistemological method /  
priors that are used.*  These things can be said to be "strictly,"  
"strongly," or "absolutely" true (under some epistemology) --- and if  
one uses a conservative epistemology in making such conclusions then  
the use of almost any *other* rigorous method of reasoning and / or  
any logical formalism will allow an arbitrary independent thinker to  
draw the same conclusions from the same facts.  (There's a conjecture  
about weak equivalence of subsets of different methods of formal  
reasoning lurking in there, perhaps I'll hit that later.)

There aren't many truths that fit into this category, and most of them  
are mathematical in nature.

All other truth is tentative and probabilistic.  Science recognizes  
and embraces that fact.


It's necessary to understand that belief (i.e., degree of certainty  
regarding held knowledge) and disbelief (degree of rejection of any  
particular knowledge) are not logical inverses, or ratios or any other  
arithmetic relation.  It is possible to believe something, to  
disbelieve something, to both believe and disbelieve to varying  
degrees, or to have no particular stand one way or the other.  Hence  
the error in your "A" above.  My rejection of "divinity" as a subject  
of rational inquiry is not a statement of belief or disbelief, of  
certainty or probability.  It is a statement about the unsuitability  
of that topic for rational inquiry, consideration, or discussion ---  
by definition of rationality, under critical rationalism.  I am not  
*willing* to believe because I do not recognize the validity of any  
epistemological method that would allow me to acquire and possess such  
belief.  Religion insists on faith;  faith sets itself outside the  
realm of the rational by definition.

Independent of this lack of belief, I am led to *disbelieve* by other,  
less certain means --- particularly that the concept subsumes all  
others;  by explaining everything, it fails to explain anything, and  
therefore I am led to conclude that it is *probably* not correct.   
That's a probabilistic statement, though.

The sudden appearance of, say, Ganesh floating above the lake in  
downtown Austin would immediately force the revision of these  
stances. ;-)


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