THE DUEL BETWEEN PLATO AND ARISTOTLE


Victor Pross

Recommended Posts

THE DUEL BETWEEN PLATO AND ARISTOTLE

THE EPILOGUE OF OPAR

We know that human beings possess conceptual faculties; they act ultimately on their beliefs. Belief systems, i.e. philosophies, have thus been the ultimate driver behind major events in human history. Philosophies form within small subgroups of people, who then spread their ideas and whose followers eventually create the application systems for those philosophies.

It is understand that the two primary idea systems that have shaped Western history have been those advocated by Plato and Aristotle.

Plato's ideas of "higher worlds" and self-sacrifice as "the good" helped to drive the Catholic Church into power and plunged the Western world into the Dark Ages. Aristotle's ideas of an objective reality perceivable by our senses and of happiness as "the good" helped the West to rise out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance. Kant's deletion of paganism from Plato's philosophy made his idea system more virulent, and it infected large portions of the West's intellectuals, leading to its inevitable political applications as Nazism, Communism, and Fascism.

Ayn Rand's removal of Plato's influence from Aristotle's philosophy led to her development of Objectivism, which has the greatest hope of sweeping Kant (and others) from its position of influence on Western intellectuals.*(1)

Question: It is said that human beings fall into two extremely broad categories, in terms of essentials: Plato or Aristotelian.

Is there anyone who wishes to expand on this idea? Or is there anyone who would disagree with this summation?

**

NOTE FROM ADMINISTRATOR:

* Plagiarized from Summary of Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Luke Setzer. The original passage reads as follows:

(1)

Because human beings possess conceptual faculties, they act
ultimately
on their beliefs. Belief systems, i.e.
philosophies
, have thus been the
ultimate
driver behind major events in human history. Philosophies form within small subgroups of people, who then spread their ideas and whose followers eventually create the
application systems
for those philosophies. The two primary idea systems that have shaped Western history have been those advocated by
Plato
and
Aristotle
. Plato's ideas of "higher worlds" and self-sacrifice as "the good" helped to drive the Catholic Church into power and plunged the Western world into the Dark Ages. Aristotle's ideas of an objective reality perceivable by our senses and of happiness as "the good" helped the West to rise out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance. Kant's removal of paganism from Plato's philosophy made his idea system more virulent, and it infected large portions of the West's intellectuals, leading to its inevitable
political
applications as Nazism, Communism, and Fascism. Rand's removal of Plato's influence from Aristotle's philosophy led to her development of Objectivism, which has the greatest hope of sweeping Kantism from its position of influence on Western intellectuals.

OL extends its deepest apologies to Luke Setzer.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 141
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Plato's ethics were actually egoistic. He simply has a very different conception of self-interest to ours. But egoism is not in the 'what' but in the 'why.' He said that one should do X because it was in one's ultimate interests.

But the categories are so broad in nature.... by Aristotelian, one would mean a realist and empiricist, Platonism would be everything else. Im not sure if this 'theory of everything' taxonomy is useful but its certainly a chewy idea.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...
THE DUEL BETWEEN PLATO AND ARISTOTLE

power and plunged the Western world into the Dark Ages. Aristotle's ideas of an objective reality perceivable by our senses and of happiness as "the good" helped the West to rise out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance.

Aristotle's errors and even more so the refusal of Aristotle's intellectual heirs to see his errors held back physics science for over a thousand years. Aristotle's basic error was his failure to check his conclusions experimentally or by observation. You can see his mistakes in his -Physics- and -On the Heavens-. Here are some of his better known errors

1. The general statement that heavier bodies achieve a terminal velocity in proportion to their weight (actually their mass). Dead wrong. This may be true where fluid resistance (air or water or oil) impedes the falling of a body because of friction and viscosity. However were bodies are so heavy that resistance or viscosity is negligible all masses fall at the same rate. It was well within Aristotle's means to test this out. Tossing two similarly shaped heavy objects but with greatly differing from a rooftop or a cliff would have easily shown the error. No major technology is required.

2. Motion of all sorts requires a force. Aristotle missed on inertia and momentum completely. To abduct from experiments that uniform motion requires no force. According to Aristotle's principle an arrow would fall down immediately as soon as it clears the bow. In fact an arrow or any ballistic object will continue to climb for a bit because of momentum. Galileo correctly deducted that a body will follow a parabolic path exactly in the absence of air resistance. The Greeks had ballistae and would have easily observed this. Aristotle chose to ignore observable fact.

3. Aristotle claimed the earth did not move -on principle-. It neither rotated about the Sun (rather; the Sun went about the earth) nor did the earth rotate about an axis. In order to account for the circular motion of all the stars by assuming the stars were affixed to a rigid frame (the crystal spheres) which rotated about the earth. Aristarchus was able to account for the apparent motion of the stars, the planets, and the sun with a heliocentric hypothesis, and this two thousand years before Copernicus. Aristotle was not alone in this error. Yet Kepler, -without a telescope- was able to use the careful observations of Tycho Brahe to determine that the earth rotated about the sun, as did the other planets. The means of doing this were available in Aristotle's time (Tycho did not use lenses, for example). Again, Aristotle's reluctance to check and recheck his conclusions maintained his erroneous views both for him and his followers.

4. Aristotle considered the Cosmos to be alive. He attributed purposes and ends to insensate matter. One of the Aristotelian causes is Final Cause. This can only apply where sentient beings make plans. In Nature there are no Final Causes. Nature is as dumb and insensate as a bag of rocks. It is mostly non-alive. In modern times we recognize only one kind of cause - efficient cause-. The functions of material cause and formal cause have been absorbed into the actions of hypothetical entities (atoms for example) and the descriptions of the actions by means of mathematically expressed theories. In modern times theories are checked and rechecked empirically.

Flash forward about one hundred years to Alexandria in Egypt. There existed a nascent empirical/deductive mode in dealing with the material world. Eritosthanes was able to work out (by both empirical and geometric means) the circumference of the earth to within five percent of the modern value. Heron, an Alexandrian inventor produced a steam turbine and even invented the coin vending machine! This highly empirical approach to the material nature of the world simply did not happen with Aristotle. While Aristotle did do a creditable job of studying animals and plants (he was a physicians son and was so inclined) he did not do nearly so well with forces and motions.

Aristotle's followers tended to be a priorists and Aristotle's errors went uncorrected for a long period of time.

I have speculated that if Archimedes, who was the most brilliant thinker of the Ancient World (he invented calculus two thousand years before Newton and Leibniz) had established a school, we would be traveling in Star Ships, rather than Jet Airplanes. Archimedes work on statics and hydraulic forces still stand today even in the context of modern mechanics. Unfortunately Archimedes was a "one of" and his methodology was not propagated. It was not until the time of Copernicus and later Galileo and Kepler than Aristotle's errors were finally purged from astronomy and the science of motion.

Aristotle's main failing --- he didn't check his work thoroughly. He did not carry the experimental method sufficiently far, not even as far as did the Ionians. The Enlightenment did not happen until Aristotle's errors were purged. Give Aristotle an A for logic and a C minus for checking out his scientific conclusions. In the matter of physical processes he was not sufficiently empirical.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Aristotle's errors and even more so the refusal of Aristotle's intellectual heirs to see his errors held back physics science for over a thousand years.

. . .

Give Aristotle an A for logic and a C minus for checking out his scientific conclusions. In the matter of physical processes he was not sufficiently empirical.

Bob,

I can go with your second conclusion, but I have a question about your first one. And I ask because I do not know much about the history of science.

Was Aristotle and/or "Aristotle's intellectual heirs" actually so influential in the physical sciences over the centuries as to hold it back? I know for a fact that they were not in the Oriental world, simply because his works were not there. Interestingly enough, according to the section in the Wikipedia article on Aristotle, The loss of his works, his influence on Islamic scholars had far more impact than on the West until Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century.

Michael

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Re #1: All these years I've thought Aristotle was the one who got rid of Aristotle's Platonism, primarily by moving past the theory of forms. What are some examples, first, of his Platonism and, second, of Rand's patching it up?

Re #4: He actually gives extensive and rigorous logical arguments for his now-disproven physical and cosmological notions, primarily in the Physics. You're going to have to get to him on his logic (i.e. his reasons for believing these falsehoods), not just his fieldwork, if you want to challenge him on natural science.

Where does he say that the cosmos is alive? I've seen assertions like this about Aristotle but not in his writings. The examples I've seen people give have turned out to be problems in the translations.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Re #4: He actually gives extensive and rigorous logical arguments for his now-disproven physical and cosmological notions, primarily in the Physics. You're going to have to get to him on his logic (i.e. his reasons for believing these falsehoods), not just his fieldwork, if you want to challenge him on natural science.

No. No. No. Empirical disproof of a logical consequence of a theory discredits the theory. If a prediction is empirically false, one of the underlying premises of the theory must be false. Good old Modus Tolens, formulated by Aristotle.

As Ayn Rand often said to do but Aristotle did not often enough do: check your premises. And how do we check our premises? By seeing if their logical consequences are empirically supported.

Contrary facts kill theories no matter how logical the theory seems.

That is why Phlogiston, Caloric and Aether have been purged from physics and Vital Essence from Biology.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Re #4: He actually gives extensive and rigorous logical arguments for his now-disproven physical and cosmological notions, primarily in the Physics. You're going to have to get to him on his logic (i.e. his reasons for believing these falsehoods), not just his fieldwork, if you want to challenge him on natural science.

No. No. No. Empirical disproof of a logical consequence of a theory discredits the theory. If a prediction is empirically false, one of the underlying premises of the theory must be false. Good old Modus Tolens, formulated by Aristotle.

As Ayn Rand often said to do but Aristotle did not often enough do: check your premises. And how do we check our premises? By seeing if their logical consequences are empirically supported.

Contrary facts kill theories no matter how logical the theory seems.

That is why Phlogiston, Caloric and Aether have been purged from physics and Vital Essence from Biology.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Aristotle was not a scientist, except, perhaps, in a most general and basic way (philosophy of science). Scientists gather and interpret data. It can be someone else's data. No data, no science. Theoretical leaps are okay, if they eventually result in data. My layman's understanding of Einstein is that he did all of this.

--Brant

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Aristotle was not a scientist, except, perhaps, in a most general and basic way (philosophy of science). Scientists gather and interpret data. It can be someone else's data. No data, no science. Theoretical leaps are okay, if they eventually result in data. My layman's understanding of Einstein is that he did all of this.

--Brant

Aristotle dissected biological specimens and studied both their insides and their outsides as carefully as could be done without a microscope (lenses were not invented then). That makes Aristotle a biologist. Aristotle wrote on weather and the atmosphere. That makes Aristotle a meteorologist. Aristotle proposed hypotheses accounting for motion. That makes him a physicist. Aristotle gets an A for going to look at the world. He gets a C minus for checking his hypotheses empirically.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Aristotle was not a scientist, except, perhaps, in a most general and basic way (philosophy of science). Scientists gather and interpret data. It can be someone else's data. No data, no science. Theoretical leaps are okay, if they eventually result in data. My layman's understanding of Einstein is that he did all of this.

--Brant

Aristotle dissected biological specimens and studied both their insides and their outsides as carefully as could be done without a microscope (lenses were not invented then). That makes Aristotle a biologist. Aristotle wrote on weather and the atmosphere. That makes Aristotle a meteorologist. Aristotle proposed hypotheses accounting for motion. That makes him a physicist. Aristotle gets an A for going to look at the world. He gets a C minus for checking his hypotheses empirically.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Thank you.

--Brant

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Concerning #7: In some cases observation wasn't an option, so Aristotle had nothing to test against. One example is his argument that action at a distance is impossible. Today we know about electricity, radio waves and gravity, but nobody did back then. Another is the impossibility of atoms. The evidence didn't come along for another 2000 years.

(Where did he formulate modus tollens?)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

THE DUEL BETWEEN PLATO AND ARISTOTLE

power and plunged the Western world into the Dark Ages. Aristotle's ideas of an objective reality perceivable by our senses and of happiness as "the good" helped the West to rise out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance.

Aristotle's errors and even more so the refusal of Aristotle's intellectual heirs to see his errors held back physics science for over a thousand years. Aristotle's basic error was his failure to check his conclusions experimentally or by observation.

I don't think this Aristotle bashing is fair, it's certainly not Aristotle's fault that most people in the west in the middle ages after him simply chose to abdicate their own ability to reason and learn and instead hand over the responsibility to thinking to Aristotle, Aristotle certainly never argued that his knowledge was absolute and that everyone for the rest of history must follow everything he said. It's clear that reading Aristotle work and life that he was a brilliant man who undertook serious and sincere efforts to understand the world. Isaac Newton, in realizing how contradictory laws of force and acceleration were to Aristotelian dogma (the dogma of the people who worshipped Aristotle without critical thought and forced those opinions on everyone else) wrote in his notebook, paraphrasing Aristotle's break from Plato, that "Aristotle is dear to me, but dearer still is the truth" taking a very obvious lesson from Aristotle himself, that truth is to be valued above any claims of authority.

Most of Aristotelian science was common sense of the time, as was much of his philosophy for anyone who values life and reality above mysticism. To the casual observer, heavier objects did fall faster, since all the obvious examples available made it seem reasonable to think that. Additionally Aristotle was one of the first great adherents to observation, it was his mindless bandwagon through the ages that abandoned observations with reality.

For instance he was the first Hellenistic philosopher to present observational evidence suggesting that the Earth was a sphere. Where his predecessors, Plato and Pythagoras considered the Earth must be a sphere because the sphere is a perfect shape, Aristotle said look at the shadow cast on the moon during a lunar eclipse, it is always rounded something that would be very difficult for a disc shaped object to continually do. He also pointed out that a water droplet will pull itself into a spherical shape, that it was the naturally tendency of 'stuff' to pull together, and the shape would be a sphere (an amazingly prescient observation!!) Aristotle also noted that travelers going south see southern constellations rise higher above the horizon.

Aristotle's assement of motion was also a common sense and intuitive one to anyone of that day, that the natural state of objects was to be at rest, and forces must be applied to move them, when the force is removed, the objects degrades back to being at rest, eventually. We know of friction and inertia, but in the absense of these different conceptions it does seem all objects are naturally at rest. Newton wrestling with this very idea appealed to Aristotle love of truth in order to finally overcome Aristotle's claim on motion.

Aristotle argued that the Earth did not move and things rotated around it because the Earth was so damn big, and anyone who tried to move large objects learned pretty quickly that they did not move. It was reasonable enough within the context of that day to presume the earth was stationary and everything else appeared around it, and it wasnt until the advent of telescopes that could detect stellar parallax from the relative change in the position of the earth that the final nail was hammered into the coffin of a geocentric earth. As a side note, Copernicus was in fact an Aristotelian and was trying to remove the conservation of angular momentum that Ptolemly had introduced in order to restore the uniform circular motion of the Aristotelian heavens, in doing so he destroyed both frameworks. Tycho Brahe’s observations took *decades*, Kepler's analysis of Brahe's data took nearly 5 years, and were certainly not obvious to anyone who would spent a casual afternoon or two investigating the question that the Earth moves around the Sun. If it is that easy to prove the Earth rotates around the Sun with casual observation I would be interested in seeing how you would accomplish it. To most people at that time it was reasonable to think the Earth stationary and everything rotating around it.

As you correctly note, Aristotle was the son of a physician and seems to have loved examining organisms of many kinds. To suggest he despised, as is common now, empirical edification, is entirely wrong. It is pretty clear that where it was possible or reasonable he appealed to empirical examinations, where it was impractical, or seeming to rational people at the time, not worth the effort to disprove he appealed to logical arguments.

It's easy in hindsight to look at what Aristotle did and didn’t do and insist that we would have been much wiser, but to look at the context of the world which Aristotle lived reveals how truly monumental his contributions were. To skip over his incredible contributions in nearly every human endeavor and chide him for making a mistake or two is ridiculous, and to hold him accountable for the brain dead 'Aristotlean-droids' is even worse intellectual dishonesty. Nobody should be held responsible for what people did 'in their name' a thousand years later.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tycho Brahe’s observations took *decades*

I should add also that Tycho Brahe's, failing to observe any steller parallax after his decades of observations, believed in fact that the Sun revolved around the Earth.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tycho Brahe’s observations took *decades*

I should add also that Tycho Brahe's, failing to observe any steller parallax after his decades of observations, believed in fact that the Sun revolved around the Earth.

Quite so. However his numbers on the orbit of Mars were sufficiently good to give Kepler the material he needed to work out a good first approximation to the kinematics of Mars. Tycho's observations were good to within two degrees and that turned out to be precise enough for Kepler to conclude that fitting to circular orbits would not work.

Kepler's work was very fortunate. It give Newton a hint. Kepler's three laws taken together hint at an inverse square law for gravitation.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Matus:

>To skip over (Aristotle's) incredible contributions in nearly every human endeavor and chide him for making a mistake or two is ridiculous, and to hold him accountable for the brain dead 'Aristotlean-droids' is even worse intellectual dishonesty.

The problem for Objectivism is not in admiring Aristotle - there is indeed much to admire - but that his methodology is fundamentally unworkable. This is a major, if somewhat hidden, problem because Rand adopted so much of his methodology wholesale. As a result his problems inexorably become hers. As it happens I've just put a lengthy post up on this very issue, "Aristotle's 'Secret Revolt' Against Reason." which may be of interest.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ba'al

>Kepler's work was very fortunate. It give Newton a hint. Kepler's three laws taken together hint at an inverse square law for gravitation.

I remember it was someone like Arthur Koestler who said that one of Newton's finest feats was extracting this from Kepler's often highly obscure works.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Matus:

>To skip over (Aristotle's) incredible contributions in nearly every human endeavor and chide him for making a mistake or two is ridiculous, and to hold him accountable for the brain dead 'Aristotlean-droids' is even worse intellectual dishonesty.

The problem for Objectivism is not in admiring Aristotle - there is indeed much to admire - but that his methodology is fundamentally unworkable. This is a major, if somewhat hidden, problem because Rand adopted so much of his methodology wholesale. As a result his problems inexorably become hers. As it happens I've just put a lengthy post up on this very issue, "Aristotle's 'Secret Revolt' Against Reason." which may be of interest.

Daniel I started reading the essay but I couldn't help but point out some basic glaring errors in logic made in the essay. For example in the essay the following proposition is made: "in science, we never have sufficient reason for the belief that we have attained the truth."

I would like to ask what exactly do scientists think they attain if not the truth? Falsity? And if there is no sufficient reason to believe in science you have attained the truth, how can that statement be accepted as the truth? Most of the essay relies on this fallacy of the stolen concept and I'm wondering why anyone would seriously consider this to be a good critique of Aristotle? Some basic glaringly obvious logical fallacies are present in the critique and thus make it not terribly convincing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

[

I would like to ask what exactly do scientists think they attain if not the truth? Falsity? And if there is no sufficient reason to believe in science you have attained the truth, how can that statement be accepted as the truth? Most of the essay relies on this fallacy of the stolen concept and I'm wondering why anyone would seriously consider this to be a good critique of Aristotle? Some basic glaringly obvious logical fallacies are present in the critique and thus make it not terribly convincing.

As Pontius Pilate asked: what is truth.? There is the truth as revealed by the phenomena and there is the truth of what is beneath the phenomena as they are currently known. Our best instruments still leave us fifteen orders of magnitude from Planck Length.

All science is based on hypotheses which explain the phenomena. The predictions of a theory are empirically tested in the realm of the phenomena. Not only that we have a finite and limited set of observations to go on. Have we observed ALL of the cosmos? No we haven't. Are there things Out There which we have not (yet) encountered. Most very likely yes. Given that, one can hardly say a theory that accounts for the phenomena, as currently known, is guaranteed to work under every circumstance, particularly circumstances not yet encountered.

For 200 years it was believed that Newton's Law of Gravitation was true (or True). Observations revealed that the motion of the planet Mercury were not fully accounted for by Newton's Law. We now know that Newtonian Gravitation as given by Newton's Law is a first approximation to a more complete law of gravitation as set out in Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. And even with this we run into anomalous motions of stars which are currently accounted for by a type of matter that is not observable (or not yet observable), so-called Dark Matter.

So our best scientific theories, while verified as far as they go are not likely to be complete. At thus juncture we do not have a single theory that accounts for both quantum phenomena and gravitation. What we have are theories that account for what has been (so-far) observed and have not been empirically falsified. Is this truth? Yes. It is part of the truth about the cosmos. Is it all of the truth. Not likely. We are in for some surprises yet.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As Pontius Pilate asked: what is truth.? There is the truth as revealed by the phenomena and there is the truth of what is beneath the phenomena as they are currently known. Our best instruments still leave us fifteen orders of magnitude from Planck Length.

Your critique is essentially saying that since we do not have an absolutely perfect description of reality, and we are not omniscient (we cant view everything everywhere all the time) that there is no such thing as truth. As Johnny points out, is that a true statement? It is most reasonable to assume science asymptotically approaches a completely 'true' and accurate description of an objective reality. It may never reach it completely, and even if it did, we wouldnt know it, because that in itself would require omniscience, yet our devices work better and better, and our predictions continually increase in accuracy. Relativity did not disprove Newtonian mechanics, it created a more accurate understanding and description where newtonian mechanics is was innacurate, similiarly any theory which unifies Relativity and quantim mechanics will not invalidate either, but create an even more accurate description where those things fail (the extremely massive yet extremely tiny) What is 'truth' a perfect description of objective reality? How would you know its perfect and complete? The only way we can determine how accurate our descriptions and understandings of reality are is to compare than against the ultimate arbiter of truth; objective reality. Where they coincide with reality, they are true to the extent which they coincide, where they deviate they are innacurate to the extent that they deviate.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As Pontius Pilate asked: what is truth.? There is the truth as revealed by the phenomena and there is the truth of what is beneath the phenomena as they are currently known. Our best instruments still leave us fifteen orders of magnitude from Planck Length.

Your critique is essentially saying that since we do not have an absolutely perfect description of reality, and we are not omniscient (we cant view everything everywhere all the time) that there is no such thing as truth.

Not at all. There is partial truth, the kind associated with observing the phenomena. And all we ever see is a finite subset of what is Out There to see. Then there is the Whole Truth, i.e. what the Cosmos is right down to Ground Level. Since we are quite far removed from Ground Level, and we never see ALL of it, we are not at the Whole Truth.

So we do what we can with partial truth. One does not have to know everything to know something.

We manage to get from birth to death with only partial knowledge so it can't be all that bad.

And so it goes.....

Bob Kolker

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm sorry Barnes are you now back tracking then on the original statement that never in science is their sufficient reason to believe you have attained truth? So which is it, partial truth or never truth?

Perhaps the problem here is you erroneously define "truth" as "omniscience". It is not what the word means. A truth, is a statement that conforms to reality. A belief is confidence in a validity of a particular statement. So in fact, in science one can definitely have sufficient reason to believe one has attained truth. Otherwise just answer the question honestly, did you make a true statement or not? Is the statement one can never attain truth a true statement? Or do you think maybe you are contradicting yourself?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Johnny:

>Daniel I started reading the essay but I couldn't help but point out some basic glaring errors in logic made in the essay. For example in the essay the following proposition is made: "in science, we never have sufficient reason for the belief that we have attained the truth."....I would like to ask what exactly do scientists think they attain if not the truth? Falsity?

Sorry, but this is not a logical error, Johnny! Why do you think it is? What is the matter with finding theories to be false? Does that not count as knowledge?

>I'm sorry Barnes are you now back tracking then on the original statement that never in science is their sufficient reason to believe you have attained truth? So which is it, partial truth or never truth?

Although I'm sure you felt absolutely certain you were talking to me at the time you wrote this, it turned out you were wrong!...;-)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maltus:

>It is most reasonable to assume science asymptotically approaches a completely 'true' and accurate description of an objective reality. It may never reach it completely, and even if it did, we wouldnt know it, because that in itself would require omniscience, yet our devices work better and better, and our predictions continually increase in accuracy.

There is nothing wrong with this Maltus, it is a description of approaching the truth by approximation, knowing however that it is highly unlikely we will ever reach the absolute truth - and even if we did, as you quite rightly say, we wouldn't know it. This is a standard skeptical position.

However you may have missed the memo on just how terrible it is to be "non-absolute", trapped in "the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all..." :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bob,

I am becoming increasingly aware of two types of knowledge: the philosophical and the scientific. Although this might sound superficial, there are some fundamentals I have discerned.

Let's call philosophy the identification of entities at the mid-range level of observation. This means at the level of observing the world with eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, and the other organs of primary awareness (for things like gravity), with a brain to process and identify it all, and without any instruments. There is only one basic means of obtaining this knowledge: observation and using both induction and deduction. (There is seed-like pre-wiring in the brain for things like affects for some basic knowledge, but that is not what I am discussing here.) Induction is more basic for this form of knowledge (philosophy) due to the size limitations of information input and survival requirements of our very beings.

When philosophy tries to use deduction from principles to explain many things other than entities, you often get absurdities like postulating that the universe is finite or that there is ultimately a basic "stuff" at the bottom of the reduction chain. Neither of these things are known as fact, yet going the philosophy route, I have seen them both postulated as absolute truths. Both expansionism and reductionism can go on infinitely as far as I am able to discern.

I am reading OPAR right now and I have come across where Peikoff postulated a basic "stuff" at the bottom while scoffing at it as if it were a replacement for philosophy, calling this basic stuff "puffs of existence." How does he know that he will get to a bottom? He doesn't. Here merely projects from a philosophical principle that what he does know about all entities is that they have a specific size.

Then we get to scientific knowledge, which uses induction to derive hypotheses, but deduction to carry out the work of breaking up parts of entities, verifying their properties and forming new ones. This entails devising instruments to vastly expand our mid-level forms observation both outward and inward. This has produced outstanding results. Science is deduction heavy, but the truth is that without induction, there would be no formation of intelligent hypotheses. In fact, you do see this problem in the science world at times with some absolutely bizarre experiments, the outcome of which any child would be able to predict. This gets really wacky when induction is removed from experiments of social behavior.

I have seen the science be-all-and-end-all itch need to be scratched and some strange theories formed like the big bang or the string theory drawn up to explain the start of the universe from principles belonging to subparticles. These are and can be nothing but speculations based on selectively massaging data and math.

I have yet to see anything from this approach that convinces me so far on how subparticles decide to stop interacting to create new stuff and a complete entity finally gets formed. (I speak metaphorically for simplicity of understanding.) What causes them to stop? This especially gets tricky with life. Why stop at one point and get a tiger or a bacteria, for instance, instead of another and get a super-duper tiger or bacteria with many more characteristics? But the fact is that specific entities with specific characteristics not only get formed, they are formed as a fact and we encounter them as they are, not as they were before being formed.

The "deductive knowledge only" approach is not of much use when a man encounters a tiger in the woods. He knows from induction that all tigers eat people if they are hungry, so he runs like hell and survives. His knowledge is correct and absolutely true for that purpose. Yet going the scientific route only, you put aside the danger and wonder if all tigers eat people and how to test for falsifiability.

Dum-da-dum-dum. End of query.

(To be fair, if you use induction, make provisions against the danger and have a sufficient number of enemies at hand that you have captured, you can test this knowledge for falsifiability. I don't know what use that knowledge would be if it is found that one tiger or another does not eat a person when hungry and when your enemy is offered to it on a plate, but I suppose it is possible to make the experiment and prove something, sort of.)

Both forms of knowledge not only complement each other, they are both essential to survival and to further understanding the universe. I see proponents of each side constantly clash with each other by mixing up the different functions. Science states that so long as we can keep reducing elements, we cannot know anything for sure and all knowledge potentially can be overturned. This is true. Technology is proof. Philosophy states that we must be able to know some things with absolute certainty about entities in order to survive at all. Tigers will always eat people when they are hungry if nothing else is available and a person is at hand. Your life depends on you knowing that if you ever come across a tiger.

Both positions are correct.

The mistake I see is science-trumps-all people trying to use knowledge arrived at deductively and tested under controlled conditions to replace and invalidate entity-level knowledge. It can't. Tigers eat people regardless of any falsifiability experiment. And the philosophy-trumps-all people constantly make huge mistakes through oversimplification by applying entity-level knowledge as absolute to reduced parts (or even to agglomerations on a macro level), thus going to the absurd length of telling science that what has been observed doesn't exist.

One can point to logical fallacies in both positions. But the truth of the matter is that one form of knowledge is not more important than the other as a universal law—only specific items of knowledge can be compared. Philosophy and science overlap and complement each other. Sometimes philosophy holds more weight (like fundamental axioms) and sometimes science turns entity-level knowledge on its head, like quantum physics. The world is a better place for human beings because of knowing both.

I think that a true defense of reason will postulate the proper identification and use of both methods, induction and deduction, without this silly competition.

Michael

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Johnny:

>Daniel I started reading the essay but I couldn't help but point out some basic glaring errors in logic made in the essay. For example in the essay the following proposition is made: "in science, we never have sufficient reason for the belief that we have attained the truth."....I would like to ask what exactly do scientists think they attain if not the truth? Falsity?

Sorry, but this is not a logical error, Johnny! Why do you think it is? What is the matter with finding theories to be false? Does that not count as knowledge?

That's not what is said in the essay. The statement is "in science, we never have sufficient reason for the belief that we have attained the truth"

Just answer the question, is that a true statement or not?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.