Thursday, May 11, 2006


Part One
Part Two
Part Three

And here's part four.

So with definitions of facts, conclusions and judgments in hand, I'm going to talk about how we can come to arrive at accurate statements. By statements, I mean text or speech intended to convey or express information of any kind. Exactly what I mean by accuracy can wait for a later date, though a useful working defition is simply "truthful."

I know after all this it must sound like I'm a total reductionist - as if everything we do that could be called "truthful" is made from bits and bytes of information. I actually don't necessarily believe this, however. I'll explain more about that later. Probably when when I'm back in school and feeling more academic, I'll do a post on Heidegger and empiricism. For now, I'll just leave all that in the background and say that I don't think anything I've said here contradicts the idea of Dasein, which I am a fan of.

What I do believe, however, is that all the statements that we actually make about the world and ourselves are reducible to bits and bytes of information. It all comes from information gleaned through our five senses. Even a deeply introspective statement is still dependent on a certain (historio-cultural specific) vocabulary, and that vocabulary was learned through the senses.

So we have big, unorganized piles of information lying around; how should we organize it all? The basic method is that of questioning. We ask a question: what relationship does one conclusion have to another? We then seek an answer - we seek to form a judgement. Some judgements are more accurate than others; there are principles that help form judgements that are truthful.

One good principle is that of simplicity. I don't quite mean Ockham's Razor, here, though that's another good principle. What exactly I mean by simplicity is that conclusions and judgements should be as free of "wild card possibilities" as possible.

Let's say you have conclusion 1 (C1) and conclusion B (C2). You are having a hard time forming judgement 1 about CA and CB. However, there is an ambiguous group of facts that you may form an ambiguous conclusion from them - ?C3. ?C3, if accurate, can provide a valuable missing link between CA and CB.

The problem: C1 + C2 + ?C3 = ?J1, always. ?C3, because it is ambiguous, cannot object (the object objects). While C1 and C2 made be solid, connecting them with ?C3 inevitably creates a vacuum within the judgement - and that vacuum is either filled with skepticism or credulity, depending on one's presuppositions.

Tbe vacuum created by ambiguity is a deeply frustrating thing to people. The flight from ambiguity is partly responsible for the inability to say "I don't know." I think there is a brand of skepticism that has no limits (no object can ever object to it) and is rooted in a particular psychology rather than a philosophy. The ability to readily admit ignorance, however, is different - understanding that facts can be scarce is a matter of responding to the physical world as it is. Refusing to admit a lack of facts and information is one of the worst abuses of the word "faith."

Another strategy used to avoid this vacuum is an abuse of induction. Particular + particular = general. It is a simple matter to gather a few facts and conclusions and then claim that you have discovered a larger pattern. This necassarily involves overlooking the possiblity of exceptions. For example, it is common in some circles to make certain claims about genders. Males have trait X, while females have trait Y. One can parade a seemingly endless number of males acting under the influence of trait X, and then claim that trait X is someone "inherantly" male. Maleness is the decisive factor in whether or not someone has X. Trait X can then be set up as a virtue for males to perfect.

However, as I said, this ignores that it is inevitable that some males will not exhibit X to any degree. This fact absolutely objects to the judgement that maleness is the decisive factor in whether or not someone has X. Therefore X cannot be inherantly male.

I am not knocking induction per se. It is a useful guide when predicting the future; if a statistically large portion of males have X, then it is reasonable to expect to encounter X from a male. The problem comes when one insists that X is inevitable and/or desirable. It is also a problem when one uses the expectation of X as the primary basis of their relationship to a male; in a practical sense, that is the same as believing X to be inevitable. It is just as wrong, and will result in some kind of paranoid/controlling relationship.

Induction has a great deal of value for the natural scientist as well, but I'm going to leave that for a future post. That discussion will follow a similar pattern to this one.

A corralary to simplicty is explanatory power. We have a pile of raw facts, and we need to fit those facts into an interpretive framework. We need to explain as much of our sense data as we can; otherwise the physical world itself would become unnavigable and we would again quickly find ourselves being smashed by trucks on the highway.

Now, explaining facts is a subset of our hermenutical interpretation of the world. That larger topic can wait for a later date; here I am concerned with the practical, pre-theoretical ways of forming useful conclusions and judgements.

Let's say we have conclusions C1 - C10. We want to understand how these conclusions relate to each other - we want to form a judgement.

Man X develops J1. J1 incorporates C1 - C8, but cannot account for C9 and C10.

Man Y, however, uses J2 and is able to account for the whole group of conclusions. However, he is required to incorporate an eleventh conclusion - ?C11. J2 is therefore actually ?J2.

How to decide between J1 and ?J2? Partly, more observation is required. Other facts and conclusions need to be brought to bear. Also, ?C11 needs to be examined. How ambiguous is it? What facts are in question? Which judgement is simpler?

By striving for simplicity and explanatory power, I really do think we can make valid, truthful statements about the world (ourselves being a subset of the world).

The more I write about this, the more I think I've bitten off more than I can chew. I'm not defining simplicity or explanatory power to my own satisfaction, which means I'm not explaining how I decide what's right and wrong very well.

I'm going to try and avoid doing multiple posts on the same topic from now on... it's just too long between posts. Gotta stop being lazy about it, too.

For now, I'm going to leave behind this epistemology stuff. I'll come back to it after I read what others have had to say about it a bit more.

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