|I wrote, "In fact, our recognition of past error presupposes our present recognition of the truth, without which we couldn't legitimately say that we're in error." |
No, no, our present recognition of the "truth" is what I called the "pragmatic truth", that what to the best of our knowledge is the truth, but which is not necessarily the "real truth". But that distinction is itself based on the argument that past error presupposes the possibility of present error, which in turn is based on the recognition that it really is true (not just "pragmatically true") that your past conclusions are in error. If you're going to base your distinction between pragmatic truth and real truth on that argument, then you can't assume the distinction as part of the argument itself. Otherwise, you're begging the question. To properly make that argument, you have to acknowledge that the conclusion that your past conclusions were in error is really true, not just pragmatically true. Then, assuming the argument to be valid, you can make the distinction between real truth and pragmatic truth. However, as you know, it is my contention that since the argument isn't valid, the distinction isn't either.
I wrote, "Enough evidence? How would you know whether or not there is enough evidence that this 'pragmatic truth' does not correspond to the 'ideal truth', if you can never know what the ideal truth is anyway?!" Cal replied,
Sorry, my formulation was confusing - I meant to say that to the best of our knowledge there is enough evidence that was previously our pragmatic truth does not correspond to the real truth and that we now found what the real truth is. Huh?? This formulation is even more confusing. What are you trying to say here?
The catch is again "to the best of our knowledge" - we assume that we now know the real truth, but we must remain open to the possibility - no matter how infinitesimal it may seem now - that we're wrong. But why do you "assume" that you know the real truth, if (according to you) the real truth can never be known? What grounds do you have to make that assumption? And what, on your epistemology, could it mean to say that the possibility that you're wrong is "infinitesmal"?? Infinitesmal, relative to what standard of knowledge? It can't be omniscience, because you couldn't calculate probabilities based on a deviation from omniscience.
It's rather a waste of time to qualify our statements every time to admit that possibility as it always exists - it's a background we normally ignore - until we get new evidence that causes us to reconsider our previous conclusions. Why would new evidence cause you to reconsider your previous conclusions, if you don't consider it to be knowledge? Would someone's arbitrary assertions cause you to reconsider your previous conclusions? No, because you don't consider them to be knowledge or to have any bearing on your previous conclusions. So why would "evidence" that you don't consider to be real knowledge, because it could be illusory or misleading, have any rational bearing on your previous conclusions?
I wrote, "If you're going to say that there are no grounds for claiming 100% certainty, because we're not omniscient, then by the same token, there would also be no grounds for claiming 99% certainty versus (say) 89% or 79%?" Cal replied,
I don't claim that you can assign exact values for the degree of certainty of your conclusion - you should read these somewhat like: 50% certainty: may be true, but I'm not sure about it, 99% certainty: it's very probably true, etc. Such rough estimates can be based on the strength of the evidence that you have for your conclusion. But don't you see, the "strength" of the evidence assumes that such evidence constitutes knowledge -- that it is evidence of actual facts. If you can't know any actual facts for certain, because, as you claim, you're not omniscient, then on what grounds would any new "evidence" have a bearing either for or against your previous conclusions?
I wrote, "Nor would there be any genuine scientific discoveries, because you could never know whether or not you'd actually discovered something. Maybe it's not a genuine discovery after all; maybe it's just a mistaken identification." Cal replied,
Indeed, it has happened often enough that what once seemed to be a genuine discovery turned out to be wrong (and please don't start again that argument of how we can know now... etc. I've answered all that in my previous posts). So, then, you can't say it's a genuine discovery, right? And if it's not a genuine discovery, then how could it possibly count as evidence one way or the other?
I wrote, "Nor could you say that it's even highly probably that the discovery is genuine. How do you know it's highly probable. What could 'highly probable' even mean here?"
That's the old strawman again: "if we can't 100% sure we can't know anything". This is a non sequitur. What I'm saying is that in order to know that a proposition is true, you have to be 100% certain of it; otherwise, your conclusion doesn't constitute knowledge. But if, as you seem to be saying, empirical propositions are never 100% certain, because we're not omniscient, then the empirical evidence that you claim has a bearing on your conclusions cannot qualify as reliable either, because you can't be sure of its authenticity.
I wrote, "There is no 'pragmatic' versus 'ideal' truth. When I flip a coin into the air, I don't say that it's pragmatically true that there's a 50% chance it will land heads (or tails). I say it's true, period."
Not at all. How sure are you that this is a "fair" coin? Small variations in form and or composition may influence the odds. Perhaps there is a 51% chance that it will land heads. You can only test that by flipping the coin many times. The more flips, the better the estimate of the true probability, but you'll have to flip it an infinite number of times to be 100% sure. All we mean when we say that there's a 50% chance that a coin will land heads (or tails) is that we have no reason to believe that it is any more likely to land on one side than on the other. And in the case of a standard coin, this is true; it is absolutely true, not just "pragmatically" true. In reality, of course, the coin's trajectory is governed by the laws of physics. If we could determine the precise force that is applied to it and the path that it will take and knew that it would land heads, then we wouldn't say that its probability of doing so is 50%; we'd say it's 100%, because we would know how it's going to land. Similarly, if we knew that the coin was weighted, we would have more knowledge about it than if we didn't know this. So, in that case, the probability of its landing heads (assuming it were weighted on the tail side) would be greater than 50%, because our knowledge of the coin is greater. Probabilities refer to our lack of knowledge about the occurrence of an event, not to its occurrence independently of our knowledge. So if the coin is weighted, but we are not aware of this and believe it to be fair, then we can still say that the probability of it's landing heads is 50% and that our statement is absolutely true, because what that statement means is that we have no reason to believe that the coin is more likely to land on one side than on the other, which is true: we don't.
I wrote, "It was false. Look, Cal, to say that, because they had no reason to doubt their conclusion, they were not justified in admitting the possibility of error, is not to say that they could not have been wrong. A person can have no reason to believe that he could be in error and yet be in error." Cal replied,
This is really gibberish to me. If he can be in error, why should he have no reason to believe that he could be in error? Because there's nothing to indicate that he could be. Again, the fact that he erred in the past is not an indication that he could be in error now. I've made mistakes in arithmetic in the past. Does it follow from that that the arithmetic I'm doing now could be mistaken? I've made errors of identification before. Does it follow from that that any identification I make could be in error? No and no.
That only shows that he has a firm grasp of reality. Wait a minute! I thought you said that we could never have a firm grasp of reality, because we're not omniscient.
He realizes that even while all the evidence seems to point unambiguously to one conclusion and he therefore has to accept this conclusion, there always remains the possibility - how unlikely it may seem at that moment - that he is in error. Beware of people who think they can't err. We have to distinguish here between the possibility of error involving snap judgments, opinions and tentative conclusions, and the possibility of error involving propositions of which the person is fully convinced. If a person firmly believes that a proposition is true (e.g., that the earth is round), then it makes no sense for him to say that he could nevertheless be mistaken about it, simply because people have been mistaken about such things in the past.
I wrote, "Indeed, in order to be in error about one's beliefs, they must actually be one's beliefs. One cannot be in error about a belief, if one doesn't actually hold it as a belief, and if one believes that a particular proposition is true, then one cannot simultaneously admit that it could be false."
Of course one can. Only a dogmatist thinks that he can't be wrong. Any realist is aware of the fact that he is convinced that a certain proposition is true is no guarantee that it is really true. Well, if he's convinced that it's true, then he already believes that he has that guarantee; otherwise, he wouldn't be convinced. I'm convinced that the earth is round, because I believe that the truth of that proposition is guaranteed by the evidence. More to the point: how do you reconcile the two statements:
(1) "X is true," and
(2) "X could be false."
I don't see these as compatible. Do you? The statement "X is true" precludes X being false. If X is true, then it cannot be false, whereas the statement "X could be false" does not preclude X being false. The latter statement (2) allows for the possibility that X actually is false, whereas the former (1) does not, since a proposition cannot be both true and false. So, if I'm convinced that X is true, then I cannot in logic believe simultaneously that it could be false.
(Edited by William Dwyer
on 8/09, 7:14pm)
(Edited by William Dwyer
on 8/09, 7:33pm)