Norris’ Epistemology Ch1, II-III

Book Discussion of Christopher Norris’ “Epistemology: Key Concepts in Philosophy”

Chapter 1: Staying for an Answer: Truth, Knowledge, and the Rumsfeld Creed –
Sections II-III.


These sections deal with Michael Dummett and what has come to be called Dummettian anti-realism. The Verification Principle gets a new twist with Dummett’s three arguments: acquisition, manifestation, and recognition, but also TIME (knowledge of the past; history) and backwards causality of answered prayer is brought up-so this is going to be a fascinating discussion (which will hopefully not get too off-track) even if I’m only talking to myself. Also discussed are ‘testimony’ and Mill’s defense of the validity of induction. Norris brings Rumsfeld’s comments back up again, but I think we can look at this topic w/o referring to them.

II

Disputed class: hypotheses, conjectures, speculative statements, unproven theorems, etc. … “statements for which we lack any means of formal proof (in mathematics or logic) or empirical verification (in history or the natural sciences).”

Realists: statements in the “disputed class” can and do possess objective truth-value “just so long as the sentence in question is well-formed and truth-apt.” Statements can be “truth bearers” (if they “refer”) and the portions of reality to which the statements refer are “truth-makers” (they make the statements true). This means reality is a truth-maker even if no statement is made (truth is knowledge-independent, verification-transcendent, epistemically unconstrained). Reminds me of Russell-I like Russell. “A well-formed statement…will have its truth-value fixed by the way things once stood in reality quite aside from our lack of certainty.”

Anti-realists: Dummett: “truth” should be replaced with “warranted assertibility” and “restricted to just those statements for which we possess some bona fide means of proof or verification.” The word “truth” keeps being used, though. Again, the anti-realist position is that we shouldn’t be able to say “this is true” (or false) if we cannot also say “this is verified” (or falsified). “Statements [in the disputed class] cannot have a truth-value since it is strictly inconceivable that truth should exceed the limits of assertoric warrant.” He has three arguments to support this:

1. Acquisition-argument. I’m just gonna quote: “we could not possibly acquire a working knowledge of language except via a grasp of the truth-conditions (more precisely: the conditions for warranted assertibility) which apply to the various sentences endorsed by members of our speech community.”

2. Manifestation-argument. “such knowledge must be manifestable in our own speech-behavior and thereby exhibit that working grasp-our understanding of the relevant conditions-in a way that enables other people to correctly interpret our meanings and beliefs.”

3. Recognition-argument. “no sentence can legitimately count as true or false unless we are able to recognize those same conditions and hence interpret as falling within the scope of our best available knowledge concerning what would qualify as adequate grounds for asserting or denying its validity.”

So (per Dummett) when we “assert the existence of objective truth-values for statements belonging to the ‘disputed class’…[it] would amount to the self-refuting claim that we know something to be the case despite our not having acquired the capacity torecognize the conditions under which such a statement is warranted or to manifest our knowledge of those same conditions in a manner acceptable to others in possession of the relevant standards and criteria.”

Norris notes Dummett’s three arguments amount “to a more sophisticated, logico-semantic version of the Verification Principle.” The chief problem with the Verification Principle was that “it met neither of its own criteria for meaningful statements, i.e., that such statements should be either empirically verifiable or self-evidently valid in virtue of their logical form.” So Dummett attempts to shift the debate by raising it “as a topic within the philosophy of language and one that has to do with our warrant (or lack of it) for adopting a realist view of some particular area of discourse. … For the Dummettian anti-realist…there is no making sense of such claims [in the disputed class] since they involve the appeal to an order of verification-transcendent truth which ex hypothesi exceeds the furthest bounds of epistemic warrant.”

Where this gets really interesting is that Dummett claims that any gaps in knowledge must also be gaps in reality. “…there cannot be a past fact no evidence of which exists to be discovered, because it is the existence of such evidence that would make it a fact, if it were one.” “Equally strange-from any but a hard-line anti-realist viewpoint-is the claim that our evidence (or lack of it) is ‘constitutive’ not only of our state of knowledge with respect to those events at any given time but also of their very reality, i.e., their having actually occurred or not. In which case, quite simply, the historical past must be thought of as a highly selectively backward projection from whatever we are currently able to find out and hence as including lacunae-‘gaps in reality’, as Dummett says-corresponding to our areas of ignorance.”

III.
So, one example Norris uses of Dummett thinking we can bring about the past by a change in our present knowledge, is retroactively granted prayer request. To Norris, this is Dummett agreeing that “wishing (praying) makes it so”. I used to use this example (not Dummett’s-didn’t know about Dummett) when I would think about time and God’s sovereignty over it. I think differently about it now, because, unlike Dummett, I think everything in the past, present, and future is fixed/complete from God’s perspective (according to Einstein’s relativity, they ‘are’ fixed)-all affirmatively answered prayers were answered (in our past, present, future) before it all began (from His perspective). So the guy’s prayer about what already happened-isn’t “retroactively” granted (nothing changes in the past from God’s perspective-the past, present, and future are fixed/complete)-but “eternally” granted (from beyond time). And this is not a case of the guy changing the past with his knowledge, because nothing changes, and even if it does, it isn’t his “knowing it” that changes it (he does not know how it turns out when he is praying about it), but God Himself that changes it (if that were possible, and it isn’t-it’s all fixed). So “praying makes it so” is not equivalent to “wishing makes it so”.

At any rate, when you’re talking about knowledge that makes the past real, you bring up the time travel paradox of the closed causal loop. Now that I’ve said that, I’m wondering if it has anything to do with causal realism. If you (the reader) don’t know what a closed causal loop is, here’s an example based off the TV series LOST (I won’t get the details exactly correct, so it is only “based off” of it-it isn’t the exact situation). In 2007 Richard gives John a compass and tells John “The next time you see me, give this back.” John goes back in time and meets Richard again sometime in the 1950s, and gives Richard the compass, saying, “The next time you see me, give this back.” Richard gives it back to John in 2007-the event we started with. So–who is the original owner of the compass? Who even manufactured it? Applying that to Dummett’s reverse-causality powers of knowledge: If I make the past real with my knowledge-what made my knowledge happen? Shiver me timbers!

On to math. “Dummett’s intuitionist conception of truth in mathematics…whatever we are able to prove or ascertain by the best formal methods at our present or perhaps (on his more liberal account) our rationally optimized or future-best disposal. However, this leaves it a mystery how mathematical discoveries could ever have occurred unless through the proven capacity of thought to find out truths that went against currently accepted standards of proof or verification. What counts as epistemic, probative or assertoric warrant in such matters is always and in principle subject to disconfirmation by that which lies beyond our present-best powers of proof or epistemic warrant.”

Skepticism’s false dilemma: either truths that cannot be known (verified) (leading to “the skeptical impasse-the unbridgeable gulf between truth and knowledge”), or a redefinition of truth putting it in the bounds of knowability. This is a version of anti-realism’s false dilemma, which results from confusing ontological with epistemological issues. [not sure how the two differ]

There are viable realist alternatives (paragraphs are numbered for convenience, not to denote different alternatives):

1. Gödelian realism-

From discussion w/ hughw (thankyou) in Philosophy Chat Forum‘s chatroom:
Godel’s incompleteness theorem is simply that each system has its own axioms that cannot be challenged from within that system– since that system is based upon those axioms

therefore if you are going to challenge those axioms they have to be challenged from outside the system itself
challenging those axioms is one way to demonstrate that the system itself does not hold up– since the axioms it is based upon are faulty
so the ‘realism’ part is the system-transcendence?
yes— because from within the system those axioms will always be held

From Prof Norris (thankyou) via e-mail:

Strictly speaking, it holds that for any mathematical, logical or other such formal system beyond a certain (fairly basic) level of complexity – e.g., first-order logic or basic arithmetic, there will always be one or more axioms within the system that cannot be proved using the logical resources of the system itself. But of course Goedel claims (and is generally agreed) to have formally proved this unprovability-theorem, which is a bit of a puzzle (to say the least). Hence the claim of some – Goedel himself, along with people like Penrose – that this demonstrates that human knowers have access to truths or ways of knowing (or proving) certain things that go beyond anything provable by purely formal means, such as the procedures instantiated by digital computers. This is what is usually meant by ‘Goedelian realism’, and – as Goedel was happy to accept – it amounts to a form of platonism about mathematics & the formal sciences.


2. “You can’t prove there are no WMDs” is like “You can’t prove there is no God”. “…although it is the case…that absence of proof is not proof of absence, still we are entitled (on probabilistic but nonetheless rational grounds) to draw a negative conclusion [when] non-existence can justifiably be maintained as a matter of inference to the best, most rational, or least credibility-stretching explanation.” “…it is a necessary presupposition…that there are truths which may or may not be discovered in the course of diligent enquiry and, moreover, that their standing is in no way affected by the extent of our knowledge, ignorance or uncertainty about them. Such is the starting-point or default assumption of any dispute-outside the realms of metaphysics or philosophy of language–…Beyond that, it is a matter of rationally weighing the evidence and attempting to reach an informed estimate which takes in as much of that evidence as possible, along with due allowance for the motivating interests of those whose judgements (or overt professions of belief) may always be subject in varying degrees to the pressure of ideological commitment or political self-interest.”

3. Scottish Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Reid (commonsense realism): “…testimony of various sorts plays a large and philosophically underestimated role in a great many aspects of human knowledge and experience.” … “can and should place trust in its various sources and means of transmission just so long as they stand up well to critical and methodological scrutiny.”

4. “…wide range of reliably knowledge-conducive procedures which no doubt fall short of absolute, indubitable truth yet which nonetheless offer sufficient grounds for rejecting the kind of anti-realist ‘solution’ currently on offer.” The skeptical/anti-realist false-dilemma is “another version of the fallacy that John Stuart Mill detected in Humean and other skeptical arguments against the validity of induction, that is to say, the mistake of imposing inappropriate (deductive) standards of truth on modes of reasoning-such as inference to the best explanation-that involved much wider, more practically accountable, sources of knowledge and evidence.”

Chapter two “shall unpack some of the arguments and concepts that philosophers have lately developed by way of providing those additional resources.” Nice segue.

*****

Dummett, nor his arguments, nor the term ‘disputed class’, nor anti-realism, are mentioned in my “Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective” (Geisler/Feinberg)–at least not in the index. In the chapter “How Do We Perceive the External World?” — Dualism (Representative Perception, Phenomenalism) and Idealism (weak, strong) are mentioned as alternatives to Realism (extreme/primitive, common-sense). Skepticism is also discussed. I’ve heard Norris say “representative perception” I think…but, if I did, I failed to mention it in my threads. Too bad his book has no subject index.

Mill is mentioned as relating to induction, but not directly as ‘the’ dude who defended induction against skepticism (instead, Frederick Will and Antony Flew are mentioned, as being only two of a group of philosophers…love this sentence: “The skeptic, then…is unhappy simply because induction is not deduction!”)–oddly his thoughts on logical and mathematical knowledge are also mentioned in such a way as to cast an interesting light on this discussion–“John Stuart Mill made it quite clear that he was not sure of the truth of the laws of logic. He wrote that the laws of logic are empirical generalizations, and, as such, are open to correction. He argued that just because we cannot conceive of another set of logical laws, it does not follow that another set of logical laws is impossible.” Reminds me of this from my Intro/SectionII thread on Quine: “So there is no ‘crucial experiment’ which can decide one of rival theories or hypotheses. In short, we can always make excuses for the results…even revise ‘laws’ of logic.”

Go here for some more info. on the Verification Principle: http://ichthus.yuku.com/topic/82. It’s a paragraph in one of my replies.

Geisler/Feinberg discuss a lot of stuff I wonder if Norris will discuss.

I’m not going to post induction stuff yet ’cause I just have this weird feeling I should save it for later.

*****


Adding this to section on Godel. From Professor Norris (thankyou very much)–

Strictly speaking, it holds that for any mathematical, logical or other such formal system beyond a certain (fairly basic) level of complexity – e.g., first-order logic or basic arithmetic, there will always be one or more axioms within the system that cannot be proved using the logical resources of the system itself. But of course Goedel claims (and is generally agreed) to have formally proved this unprovability-theorem, which is a bit of a puzzle (to say the least). Hence the claim of some – Goedel himself, along with people like Penrose – that this demonstrates that human knowers have access to truths or ways of knowing (or proving) certain things that go beyond anything provable by purely formal means, such as the procedures instantiated by digital computers. This is what is usually meant by ‘Goedelian realism’, and – as Goedel was happy to accept – it amounts to a form of platonism about mathematics & the formal sciences.

Also–one should wiki Dummett.

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About Maryann

Maryann Spikes is the past President of the Christian Apologetics Alliance. She blogs at Ichthus77, and loves apologetics and philosophy. In particular she loves to study all things Euthyphro Dilemma and Golden Rule. A para-educator (autism) for five years, she holds a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, an AA in Humanities via Modesto Junior College, and moonlights as a freelancer. You can follow her on Twitter @Ichthus77, connect with the Ichthus77 community on Facebook, or look her up on Google+.
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