Answering Questions about Empiricism as Foundational: Knowing that We Know

I recently wrote a piece on empiricism as being foundational to philosophical approaches to epistemology. See Noevo got involved and gave a rare substantive comment.

I’ll try a comment.
Perhaps my much younger 61 year old mind, which broke free from atheism about 28 years ago and became ever more Catholic starting about 20 years ago, can add something. There’s actually very much that could be written and has been written on these
subjects, but I’ll try to keep this short. Some points and questions to ponder:

1)
Jonathan talks of “our rational nature”.
– But how does a non-rational process (i.e. evolution) produce a rational nature?
– How would the very first supposedly rational creature know it was rational?

2)
Jonathan writes what may be the most revealing line here:
“The Empiricism thesis does not entail that we have empirical knowledge. It entails that knowledge can only be
gained, if at all, by experience.”

– You see, Jonathan admits that he does not know that he can know anything at all.

Even if he won’t admit it, I think he knows only that he has faith that he can know. He has faith that reality exists outside of himself. He has faith that his senses are giving him a relatively reliable impression of that reality.
– But Jonathan’s faith differs from mine in that his faith rests on nothingness, or more specifically, on an inexplicably
originating and meaninglessly evolving cosmological and biological matter.

3)
Jonathan states “The question that we really need to ask is, “How do I measure how good or useful logic is?””

Poor Jonathan. He doesn’t seem to realize that there is no such thing as “good” in his worldview. Only meaningless matters of what “tastes” he likes.

4)
Jonathan ends with “It appears to me that empiricism lies at the heart of the consideration and evaluation of all
things.”

Jonathan hopefully realizes that empiricism by itself is useless without rationality. One needs both.

It’s kind of like how the Catholic Church says faith alone is no good and reason alone is no good. It says you
need both faith and reason.

If you’d like to read something more substantial than Jonathan’s ramblings, you could try this:

http://w2.vatican.va/conten…

I replied to question 1) in “Answering Questions about Empiricism as Foundational: Our Rational Nature“. See Noevo was found seriously wanting. I will now continue by looking at his next comment.

2)
Jonathan writes what may be the most revealing line here:
“The Empiricism thesis does not entail that we have empirical knowledge. It entails that knowledge can only be gained, if at all, by experience.”

– You see, Jonathan admits that he does not know that he can know anything at all.

Even if he won’t admit it, I think he knows only that he has faith that he can know. He has faith that reality exists outside of himself. He has faith that his senses are giving him a relatively reliable impression of that reality.
– But Jonathan’s faith differs from mine in that his faith rests on nothingness, or more specifically, on an inexplicably originating and meaninglessly evolving cosmological and biological matter.

So I admit that I do not know anything at all (which is what that distills down to)? I don’t know how he got that from the quote he gave. See is clearly just picking up on issues he thinks I have based on his agenda and tries to shoehorn them into his conversations.

The thing is, this depends on how you define “know”. If it is the Cartesian “know” then See and I are in the same boat – cogito ergo sum – we only know (indubitably) that the thinking “I” exists, subjectively. Everything else is probability. And as he should know, probability kind of depends on empiricism. That I know that the sun will rise tomorrow is inductive and depends upon loads of data experienced by myself, either first, second or third hand. My experience of someone else’s experience is also experiential and inductive. I create a probabilistic proposition.

Let’s have See imagine he is born (and ignore all inductively derived sensory data taken in utero) into a void. He can’t see, hear, feel or smell anything. He experiences no data. Ever. How could he know anything? How could his brain develop?

See wouldn’t develop into anything. He would remain as this entity without even the capability of insisting that he was able to become some great thinker without empiricism.

And this is what I mean to say that empiricism is foundational. Without sense data, we would be nothing. It is how all living entities exist – interacting with the world about them. Perhaps See is imagining some kind of heaven where entities exist in an immaterial world. But they would still need to be sensing other things, other entities, in order to have some kind of meaningful existence.

He has faith that reality exists outside of himself. He has faith that his senses are giving him a relatively reliable impression of that reality.

This is in part true. But it is true for him as well. I don’t get why See is aiming all of these things at me with some idea that he is immune from having to answer these questions. Descartes was a Christian and these were the questions he was forced to pose and try to answer in order to set out an epistemological framework.

I have faith that we do not live in The Matrix or Descartes Evil Daemon. But I can also use other techniques to try to establish that I am indeed really living this life. One thing is parsimony. Another is that whilst the Evil Daemon is possible, I have no good reason or evidence to believe it is the real  state of affairs. Together with Ockham’s Razor, I can, therefore, give something that approaches a preferable probability for a real existence outside of The Matrix.

Has See done this? Has he thought about this? Or does he pose these questions thinking he will try to ensnare me without the first idea that his questions are equally relevant to him, irrespective of worldview?

– But Jonathan’s faith differs from mine in that his faith rests on nothingness, or more specifically, on an inexplicably originating and meaninglessly evolving cosmological and biological matter.

Our faiths (See and myself) that this universe is real and we are not brains in vats must pretty much rest on the same kind of logic. Because if he defers to belief in God to form a foundation, then I can ask how he knows God exists and that it is not something implanted in his brain by the Daemon. What is his faith based on? Well, we get back to some form of empiricism, because if he had never heard of (sensed) Jesus, if he had never read the Bible or spoken to believers, and if Jesus had not empirically existed and interacted, and if God had not empirically interacted with the world such that people used their sensed to collect data on him, then what the hell kind of belief does he have? It’s a castle in the air.

So our belief that we are not brains in a vat is axiomatic (a self-evident truth) that we will end up using the same arguments to establish. God helps him out not one jot with this one. He needs to realise this (Descartes, of course, tried to use this to argue to God, but his arguments are not convincing in this, and ideas of perfection are problematic).

Fideism (the doctrine that knowledge depends on faith or revelation) still defers to evidentialism if it is to be meaningful at all. And See’s own existence from birth, as mentioned, necessarily relies on empiricism and data collection.

Of course, I believe in a far more parsimonious framework that does not require another layer of complexity. The universe. As opposed to the universe + God. And I also use logic and evidence to support my position. Lots of it. I even write books on this. So I take his last comment there, dripping with condescension, with a pinch of salt. A mountain of salt.

Again, See is found to be wanting.

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