Monday 11 December 2017

Metaphysics comes before Epistemology - we need to assume the nature of reality before we speculate on how we know what is true

For the past century and a half, metaphysics (the philosophy of ultimate assumptions concerning the nature of reality) has been ignored, ridiculed, asserted to be unnecessary; and the philosophical focus has been on epistemology - that is, the question of knowledge (how we can known anything, or know any specific thing).

Thus, it has been common since Logical Positivism for modern thinkers to claim - incoherently - that do not have any metaphysical assumptions, but 'instead' base their beliefs on 'evidence' (thereby including the assumption that they already-know what counts as valid evidence and they already-know to interpret it validly...).

Anyway - we should acknowledge that metaphysics is necessary, and an explicit metaphysics is necessary in modernity because metaphysics Will Be Challenged.

So - anyone can state a basic assumption, something about which we say: It Just Is; and the proper question is how may metaphysical assumptions be evaluated? 

Ultimately personal evaluation is an intuitive process, by which our true-self (our real-divine self) grasps the proposition entire and makes a solid evaluation. But that comes at the end of a process of clarification - that is, we need to come to that state of simplicity and clarity before we can evaluate it as-a-whole.

One help is to assume the truth of the assumption, then ask: Does this assumption make sense of the fact that I know it? 

(In other words, does this metaphysics support a coherent epistemology?)

If the assumption is (assumed to be) true,

Then could we, personally, know-that it was true?

Many metaphysical assumptions cannot sustain an epistemology by which they could be known.

This would incline me to reject them - how about you?


Most mainstream metaphysical assumptions are incoherent wrt. epistemology. As examples:
      If natural selection is assumed metaphysically true, as the only and sufficient explanation of Man; then human reason must be a product of natural selection; which means that human reason can never know anything (because natural selection is about differential fitness, not about truth).   
     If it is assumed that the universe is assumed to be a combination of randomness and determinism; then we personally could never know this - because we personally would be a combination of randomness and determinism and could never know anything. The universe might actually Be random/ determined - but if so, we personally could never know that. 



Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I'm with you overall but have a quibble with the final example. If the contents of our minds were random, then of course we could never know anything, but the same would not necessarily be true under determinism. If the contents of our minds were determined by actual states of affairs, that would be knowledge, would it not? In fact, it's hard to know how ideas that were NOT determined by actual states of affairs could count as knowledge.

If our ideas can be knowledge, one of the following must be the case: (1) our mental states are caused by factual states of affairs (i.e., common-or-garden determinism), (2) states of affairs are caused by our mental states (i.e., we are uncaused causes who think the world into being), or (3) states of affairs and our mental states are both caused by some external agency which sees to it that they correspond (as in Leibniz's "pre-established harmony").

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I think I see your point. A deep question!

I think you are contrasting determinism with arbitrariness - such that anything not determined is disconnected. Therefore knowing (since it is not arbitrary) is interpreted to be a sub-category of determined things.

Whereas I am assuming that knowing can only be undetermined. We cannot be made to know. I am assuming determinism is a 'mechanical' process, which we must stand-outside in order to know.

Thus, we may know (we may recognise or hypothesise) that something is determined, but our knowing of that cannot be determined. Knowing is an active grasping. Determinism is then a sub-category of things-known.

But in fact, I think that determinism doesn't actually exist in my metaphysical system - (exactly like 'randomness') 'determinism' is merely an expedient 'model' which is created by persons for pragmatic predictive/ control purposes; it is never really-real.

In an animated universe, inside of creation; all that happens is ultimately a matter of purposive relationships between beings. because that is the nature of creation.

I am building here on the understanding that I got from Steiner, that 'mind' (consciousness) is involved in all knowledge. This seems to imply that both randomness and determinism are non-existent (just models, potentially expedient for particular purposes), since both (try to) exclude mind/ consciousness.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I'm not sure I understand the meaning of the sentence, "Many metaphysical assumptions cannot sustain an epistemology by which they could be known." I suspect that "they" refers to the conclusions validated by the epistemology, rather than the metaphysical assumptions, which must be assumed in advance of the epistemology validating some conclusions as true. Logically, it should never be the case that the metaphysical assumptions can be validated as "known" by the epistemology they sustain.

The idea of a deterministic machine having "knowledge" is a sticky problem. A deterministic machine can have programming, machine states that correspond to a modeling process which is part of a decision process that leads to behavior. This is not "knowledge" in the classic sense, it is only information. The information can be generated through devices which turn variations in the environment into signals which are then systematically transcribed into the inputs of the information processing elements of the machine, but nothing about the machine "knows" what is happening, there is no consciousness in the process.

The perception of consciousness is closely associated with the perception of autonomous volition, and this seems to be through the mechanism of voluntary belief in propositions. That is, believing something is a choice, if not so, then it is not belief. Another way of saying that is that the truth value of propositions must be estimated in terms of how we can use those propositions to predict which actions will bring about results we find desirable. If nothing about a proposition ever allows us to act in relation to any results that are desirable to us (even mere avoidance of outcomes we find undesirable), then that proposition cannot have truth value. Consider the proposition of an intangible, invisible, inaudible elf on your shoulder who will never become able to affect your life in any way, but watches everything you do. What exactly is the point of believing or disbelieving in such an elf? What difference does it make whether the proposition is true or not? If you could know what difference it would make, then you could find out whether it was true or not and there would be a point in knowing before the final evidence was presented.

Conversely, if you cannot know what difference it would make, then there is no truth value in the proposition that this elf exists or does not exist. That is to say, there is no reason to believe anything about the elf until there is some desired objective that can be served by one belief and thwarted by the other. You must have a motive to believe something about the elf as a means to estimate the likely course to some desired end before it is meaningful to believe anything about the elf.

Let's say that instead of the elf, it is an invisible and inaudible (but very tangible) tiger, one that will kill you if you do not shoot it. Believing that the tiger exists leads to a different course of action than believing that it does not exist, assuming that you don't want to die of a tiger attack (nor endanger yourself by shooting at imaginary tigers, much to the displeasure of your neighbors). Now you have a reason to believe something about the tiger, and a clear preference for believing what is true about it.

A mere deterministic machine cannot have desires. It only has programming. The programmer may make the machine emulate desires, allow it to have objectives, create a feedback loop that allows the machine to generate copies of itself if it meets certain conditions which it is programmed to bring about, or stop functioning if it does not meet those conditions. This is a common element in what is known as "ALife", an interesting and powerful computation method which has implications for biological laws. But perhaps this comment is already overly long.