Saturday, April 22, 2006

Another mile down the road. . .

In the previous post, I spoke of empirical facts and empirical conclusions. Here, I'll offer definitions of both and problematize their relationship.

Empirical facts are objects that make up the physical world. Even more specifically than that, they are the objects that make up one's own experienced world. The mouse beside your hand, the chattering people in the room around you, the air you breathe, and - significantly for future posts - the words on the computer screen you're reading now. Observed human behavior, also significant for future posts, also counts as being a fact. We all operate in the world of empirical facts; this is our common ground. We can all be killed by the truck on the highway.

Empirical conclusions are accounted-for sets of empirical facts. These conclusions do not share the same unavoidable nature(remember, the object objects) as the facts they are built with. Different facts are highlighted for us to different degrees according to the interests of our imago. Person 1 is interested in facts A, B and C, but is uninterested in fact D and is unaware of fact E. Person 2 is interested in facts B and C, but is uninterested in A and unaware of both D and E. Person 1 and person 2 will come to hold different conclusions, even if they strive to be empirical.

It is important to maintain the distinction between facts and conclusions. Conclusions are mistaken for facts on a fairly regular basis. Facts are atomistic; that is, they are the basic constituents of the world around us. The photos of New York City I have seen are facts; the existence of the city itself is a conclusion. This computer I see in front of me is a fact; the existence of others "like" it is not.

To a certain extent, we all live in the world of empirical conclusions, even if these conclusions are articulated in a completely different way. We all live in a world that includes New York City and Compaq laptops. However, because we are all interested in and aware of different facts, there will always be a multiplicity of conflicting conclusions and bodies of knowledge (a definition of knowledge can wait).

I should make clear that my idea of the "fact" is descriptive and really just a tautology. My idea of the "conclusion" has both an element of tautological descriptiveness and an element of proscription. We all use empirical conclusions, some are just more circumspect and less thorough-going than a committed empiricist. Examples would be rationalists and fideists.

I think I've already laid out a respectable and convincing case against this, however. To beat a dead horse, incorrect empirical facts and conclusions can get you killed must faster than incorrect rational notions, thus leaving your side of the debate voiceless.

So, what exactly is the path from facts to conclusions? Well... why we travel from facts to conclusions to whatever your system defines as knowledge is one thing. At base, it's about power. Knowledge is power. I think it is an easily observable human trait - an empirical conclusion - that humans want their worlds to be a systematic, ordered place. Even Buddhists develop complicated metaphysics. Blindspots in our knowledge not only resurrect our childlike/evolved fear of the dark, they also cast doubt on the quality and value of our personal centre. Ignorance makes us afraid of the world, and it makes us feel bad about ourselves. That's why we travel from facts to conclusions to knowledge. Rationalists, fideists and empiricists do it the same way. Why is a matter for psychology and an anthropological philosophy.

How we make that journey is an entirely different question. A description of this would itself neither be a fact or a conclusion. It's not a physical object or an observed behavior pattern, and it isn't an accounted-for set of facts. How can we move past that question of why - which if fail to do, we will most certainly end in a naive relativism?

So what is that description? Looks like we need a third epistemological concept. Look at the above paragraph about why; can you see where I am speaking of conclusions and where I am speaking of something else entirely?

Look! If you come to the same answer I do, then I'm leading you just fine.

Hmm. I feel like I'm about to write myself into a corner. I'm going to go eat dinner... I'll pick this up at another time.

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