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The value of empiricism

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Posted

I think I've mentioned in the Auditorium how I've been reading a book called Ego and Instinct, and early on in the book the authors detail how Freud's psychoanalysis evolved through his lifetime. I can see how, through empirical findings, Freud was forced to change his views over time. He ended up believing things that he didn't want to believe.

And I think that is probably the main value of empiricism. Though, this evaluation shouldn't be taken too far, there is no such thing as a purely empirical science. But when you look at the products of intellect that society has produced, it can be divided roughly between those views that the intellectual wants to believe, those views that he is indifferent about, and those views that he doesn't want to believe. And if we suppose that the emotions rule the intellect, then it becomes clear why empiricism is so important. It's too easy to give in to the temptation to simply rationalize our solemn beliefs and expectations. Freud's work is a great exhibition on to what lengths a soul will go to defend itself against disagreeable opinions and worldviews.

In comparison, wherever we see a lack of empiricism (religion, philosophies, ideology) we usually always see the same indulgances. People end up proving to themselves what they have always believed. That doesn't make these beliefs false, but I hope at this point that to enough people these sorts of beliefs begin to smell bad. Truth in no way furnishes the value of a belief (assuming, of course, that there is some way of determining what the truth is), but rather what had to be given up in order to believe. The value of a belief is a function of the intellectual courage needed to acquire such a belief.

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Posted

Why do "religion, philosophies [and] ideology" involve "a lack of empiricism"? It seems more likely to me that the first and last typically involve a considerable experiential element, or more than your "lack" remark would suggest, and that empiricism is a philosophy like any other (and not justified or justifiable through empiricism).

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Posted

Why do "religion, philosophies [and'] ideology" involve "a lack of empiricism"? It seems more likely to me that the first and last typically involve a considerable experiential element, or more than your "lack" remark would suggest...

I don't see it, unless you're using the term "experiential" in it's loosest sense. In a way, everything we think, believe, feel, say, or do is an aspect of experience, but I don't think empiricism corresponds to a form of experience that broad. It usually refers to experiment, observation, and testing. From Wikipedia:

Empiricism comes from the Greek word εμπειρισμός, a noun meaning a "test" or "trial". The -pir- is ultimately related to the -per- of the Latin words experientia and experimentum, both of which mean "experiment," and from which our words "experiment" and "experience" come. (Interestingly, it is also related to the Latin word periculum, "essay, trial, danger," which gives the English word "peril".) Empiricism is therefore the philosophical doctrine (-ism) of "testing" or "experimentation," and has taken on the more specific meaning that all human knowledge ultimately comes from the senses and from experience.

But I don't really understand why I'm telling you what empiricism means :)

...and that empiricism is a philosophy like any other (and not justified or justifiable through empiricism).

Right. Which is why I didn't attempt to justify empiricism. I wrote about what the merit of empiricism is. Though, I didn't really consider empiricism in it's philosophical sense (Berkely, Locke, Hume). However, I like what Wikipedia came up with, empiricism means putting our opinions on trial.

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Posted

I think you're presuming a great deal in supposing that religions don't put their "opinions on trial", but if you "don't see it" then doubtless you won't agree. Still, you're right that i (hopefully) have a fair idea what empiricism is and even wrote about it for fun. Whether i made any sense is another thing.

I wrote about what the merit of empiricism is.

Sure, but you said that "[t]he value of a belief is a function of the intellectual courage needed to acquire such a belief" without allowing that religious thought includes struggle, too, and instead suggesting that "[p]eople end up proving to themselves what they have always believed". It's not clear to me why interpreting our experience via a holy book, an ideology or a philosophy (of which empiricism is just another, of course) is not also "putting our opinions on trial", unless you privilege empiricism from the outset as the only true test - at which point the merit of empiricism becomes a question begged.

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Posted

I think you're presuming a great deal in supposing that religions don't put their "opinions on trial", but if you "don't see it" then doubtless you won't agree.

Maybe if you can provide an example. When I see Christians, for example, they are praying to a God they can't see, and they believe in things that can't be falsified. Where is the test? I'll concede this point to you if you can give a good example.

Still, you're right that i (hopefully) have a fair idea what empiricism is and even [url=http://www.galilean-library.org/int20.html]wrote about it[/url'] for fun. Whether i made any sense is another thing.

Yes :) I was kidding with you.

Sure, but you said that "[t]he value of a belief is a function of the intellectual courage needed to acquire such a belief" without allowing that religious thought includes struggle, too, and instead suggesting that "[p]eople end up proving to themselves what they have always believed". It's not clear to me why interpreting our experience via a holy book, an ideology or a philosophy (of which empiricism is just another, of course) is not also[/i'] "putting our opinions on trial", unless you privilege empiricism from the outset as the only true test - at which point the merit of empiricism becomes a question begged.

Okay, hold on here. I said that the value of a belief is the function of the intellectual courage needed to acquire such a belief. And I also said that empiricism results in testing our beliefs according to evidence, therefore I consider beliefs formed through empiricism as valuable. Notice that in this syllogism empiricism itself isn't valuable as it can't be formed through empiricism :) So no, I'm not priviliging empiricism.

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Posted

Where is the test? I'll concede this point to you if you can give a good example.

Why do i have to provide "a good example" for you on a plate, rather than you look for yourself for a deeper understanding of religion? What is the value supposed to be in this simplistic dismissal of religion as without tests? Your own testimony of what you've seen Christians do is just that: your own. How hard have you tested it, given that "the value of a belief is the function of the intellectual courage needed to acquire such a belief"? I suspect some Christians reading your description of "what Christians do" would find it offensive and certainly bearing no relation to the struggles they experience as a result of their faith. Even so, suppose i'm wrong and Christians don't test anything: why do i have the belief that they do (and indeed must)?

In any case, you can find your example whenever a natural disaster occurs. If you don't consider these a test of religious opinions then i doubt any example would be of use in convincing you.

And I also said that empiricism results in testing our beliefs according to evidence, therefore I consider beliefs formed through empiricism as valuable. Notice that in this syllogism empiricism itself isn't valuable as it can't be formed through empiricism :) So no, I'm not priviliging empiricism.

Er, yes you are. Your belief that "beliefs formed through empiricism" are "valuable" is not formed through empiricism and therefore not valuable, unless you beg the question or else allow some (unspecified and unargued) meta-justification for empiricism that could be extended to other standards of value. If your belief is of no value then why should anyone pay any attention to it at all?

Anyway, i notice you didn't respond to my remark that "It's not clear to me why interpreting our experience via a holy book, an ideology or a philosophy (of which empiricism is just another, of course) is not also 'putting our opinions on trial'", probably because it's plain that it is. It strikes me in addition that you could provide an identical argument for beliefs requiring a conflict with reason before they can be taken as having any value, which would fail for the same reasons (ironically enough).

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Posted

Why do i have to provide "a good example" for you on a plate, rather than you look for yourself for a deeper understanding of religion? What is the value[/i'] supposed to be in this simplistic dismissal of religion as without tests? Your own testimony of what you've seen Christians do is just that: your own. How hard have you tested it, given that "the value of a belief is the function of the intellectual courage needed to acquire such a belief"?

I've offered it here, haven't I? :) And I think I've sacrificed much in the light of your engagement.

But seriously now, if Christianity was genuinely empirical, then there would circumstances under which the Christian would find his views falsified. I don't deny the "struggle" as you call it, but the struggle is of a different character. For example, it could be a struggle to maintain one's faith, or a struggle to live free from sin. But at what point can a Christian find some evidence, or lack of evidence, that forces the Christian to conclude god does not exist? Of course, the Christian says that such evidence doesn't exist. But that's only because god has been placed in the transcendental, beyond even the point where his mode of being could even be familiar.

I suspect some Christians reading your description of "what Christians do" would find it offensive and certainly bearing no relation to the struggles they experience as a result of their faith. Even so, suppose i'm wrong and Christians don't test anything: why do i have the belief that they do (and indeed must[/i'])?

Well, I don't usually post with the intention of not offending anyone. If what I say isn't true about Christianity, then they don't have anything to be offended about. I am simply mistaken. But if it is true, then they deserve to be offended.

In any case, you can find your example whenever a natural disaster occurs. If you don't consider these a test of religious opinions then i doubt any example would be of use in convincing you.

This is the second time you've insinuated that I don't listen to reason, but before you give up on me altogether hear me out. Every natural disaster refutes the all good, all powerful god. The theologian's response? "God works in mysterious ways." Or they can use semantic ploys, saying that goodness or powerful don't mean the way we think it means. Which is all possible. But then under what circumstances could it be safely said that the Christian god does not exist? If you know an example, then Christianity is empirical.

And I also said that empiricism results in testing our beliefs according to evidence, therefore I consider beliefs formed through empiricism as valuable. Notice that in this syllogism empiricism itself isn't valuable as it can't be formed through empiricism :) So no, I'm not priviliging empiricism.

Er, yes you are. Your belief that "beliefs formed through empiricism" are "valuable" is not formed through empiricism and therefore not valuable, unless you beg the question or else allow some (unspecified and unargued) meta-justification for empiricism that could be extended to other standards of value. If your belief is of no value then why should anyone pay any attention to it at all?

There's a sucker in every group :)

Anyway, i notice you didn't respond to my remark that "It's not clear to me why interpreting our experience via a holy book, an ideology or a philosophy (of which empiricism is just another, of course) is not also 'putting our opinions on trial'", probably because it's plain that it is. It strikes me in addition that you could provide an identical argument for beliefs requiring a conflict with reason[/i'] before they can be taken as having any value, which would fail for the same reasons (ironically enough).

I was going to, but I was worried about responding too broadly. But the holy book, for the religious, isn't interpreted in such a way that it can be falsified. In fact, you'll find very liberal interpretations of scripture, many that disagree with each other. As for ideology, I don't think ideology could be understood apart from a regime of ideas. The authority of these ideas is taken for granted by the ideologue. Rather, the struggle of the ideologue is against competing ideologies. The fundamental ideological views themselves are rarely falsifiable.

But, aside from that one parenthetical remark in my OP, I like to think that I've provided a novel approach to the issue of empiricism. It depends on a sort of psychological view that human beings are inherently intellectually dishonest, and that we always are in pursuit of certain pleasing opinions rather than the truth for it's own sake. Empiricism then provides a sort of check against this human nature, it means we need to provide theories that surround the evidence. Rather, this avoids the issue of proving empiricism, and empiricism itself fades away in importance.

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Posted

But seriously now, if Christianity was genuinely empirical, then there would circumstances under which the Christian would find his views falsified.

Well, you may want to look at the history of some Christian doctrine (say, the Trinity or the nature of Christ or pick anything, really) and see how it has changed in the last couple thousand years. They certainly haven't remained static.

I don't deny the "struggle" as you call it, but the struggle is of a different character. For example, it could be a struggle to maintain one's faith, or a struggle to live free from sin. But at what point can a Christian find some evidence, or lack of evidence, that forces the Christian to conclude god does not exist? Of course, the Christian says that such evidence doesn't exist. But that's only because god has been placed in the transcendental, beyond even the point where his mode of being could even be familiar.

Are you suggesting that no Christian has ever fallen away from his or her faith due to "evidence" (or lack thereof)?

Well, I don't usually post with the intention of not offending anyone. If what I say isn't true about Christianity, then they don't have anything to be offended about. I am simply mistaken. But if it is true, then they deserve to be offended.

What offends me is not that you think Christians don't put their beliefs to a test since I hear that all the time. What offends me is that people still think God is a proposition or a theory that should be proven or disproven in the latest philosophy journals.

Now, you do have somewhat of a point in that not all Christians go around questioning their beliefs everyday and perhaps some may never do so. But I would argue that this is probably true in general for most people of most belief systems. And usually when the questioning does happen it isn't because of some "test" that they've planned out but because of some sort of "existential crisis" or maybe their views just gradually change after a long series of events without that person and they realize they don't really believe what they used to. In either case, I'm not sure these are really "tests" in the empirical sense.

This is the second time you've insinuated that I don't listen to reason, but before you give up on me altogether hear me out. Every natural disaster refutes the all good, all powerful god. The theologian's response? "God works in mysterious ways." Or they can use semantic ploys, saying that goodness or powerful don't mean the way we think it means. Which is all possible. But then under what circumstances could it be safely said that the Christian god does not exist? If you know an example, then Christianity is empirical.

Is that really THE theologian's response or is it A response? There are, of course, responses where theologians respond in exactly the way you are looking for: "that the Christian god does not exist." And that's an emprical fact. :wink:

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Posted

But seriously now, if Christianity was genuinely empirical, then there would circumstances under which the Christian would find his views falsified.

Wouldn't that be true only if the views are actually false? If a belief is actually true can there be any actual circumstances that would falsify that belief. On the other hand, it is quite possible that a Christian (or any other believer) might abandon particular views because of a false belief that those views have been falsified. The conviction that a belief has been falsified is not, in and of itself, proof that the belief was false. Likewise, the conviction that a belief is true is not, in and of itself, proof that the belief is true.

Every natural disaster refutes the all good, all powerful god. The theologian's response? "God works in mysterious ways." Or they can use semantic ploys, saying that goodness or powerful don't mean the way we think it means. Which is all possible. But then under what circumstances could it be safely said that the Christian god does not exist? If you know an example, then Christianity is empirical.

Your use of the terms "semantic ploys", as a description of the theologian's response to the problem of evil, is prejudical in the extreme. It is tantamount to accusing the apologist, in advance, of practicing deception by refusing to allow you to define the terms of the debate. By this reasoning any argument that does not support your conclusions is already damned as some species of ad hoc temporizing.

Taking your last question literally, the only circumstance under which it could be be safely said the God does not exist, would be the circumstance of God's not existing. If God does exist, then it is never safe to say that God does not exist. If you are asking what it would take to convincingly demonstrate to the believer that God does not exist, I am sure that any number of former believers could provide you with any number of examples. For myself, the answer would be that I would be convinced if God himself told me that he didn't exist. But wait, that would mean that.... :huh:

Angakuk

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Posted

Somehow, my thread on mysticism turned into a discussions of science, and my thread on science turned into a discussion of mysticism :) In response:

Are you suggesting that no Christian has ever fallen away from his or her faith due to "evidence" (or lack thereof)?

No, otherwise I wouldn't be here. None of this was meant in it's all inclusive sense. What started all this was what I thought was an innoculous parenthetical comment:

In comparison, wherever we see a lack of empiricism (religion, philosophies, ideology) we usually always see the same indulgances. People end up proving to themselves what they have always believed.

I keep looking back at that and I see it can be interpreted in two ways. Either I'm talking about those religions, philosophies, and ideologies that lack empiricism, or I'm saying all religions, philosophies, and ideologies lack empiricism. I don't want to waffle and play my own semantic ploy, but isn't the last interpretation absurd on the face of it?

What offends me is not that you think Christians don't put their beliefs to a test since I hear that all the time. What offends me is that people still think God is a proposition or a theory that should be proven or disproven in the latest philosophy journals.

Thank you. But that all depends on what "god" means, which is a subject for philosophy journals.

Now, you do have somewhat of a point in that not all Christians go around questioning their beliefs everyday and perhaps some may never do so. But I would argue that this is probably true in general for most people of most belief systems. And usually when the questioning does happen it isn't because of some "test" that they've planned out but because of some sort of "existential crisis" or maybe their views just gradually change after a long series of events without that person and they realize they don't really believe what they used to. In either case, I'm not sure these are really "tests" in the empirical sense.

Right, what I wrote wasn't intended on being just a swipe against religion, but it's more or less my view of all human beings, and I include myself in this awful lot (including this thread, just to be consistent). What Hugo has been saying that empiricism is just one philosophy among many is true, except that I haven't been using empiricism in any sense in which it is a philosophy to be believed in. Most empiricists I would say don't believe in empiricism, it's just the manner of their work. It's not a foundation or justification for their science, but it makes their work more honest all the same.

Is that really THE theologian's response or is it A response? There are, of course, responses where theologians respond in exactly the way you are looking for: "that the Christian god does not exist." And that's an emprical fact.

Who? Where? Not that I don't believe you, but I thought I'd Google for him :)

Wouldn't that be true only if the views are actually false? If a belief is actually true can there be any actual circumstances that would falsify that belief. On the other hand, it is quite possible that a Christian (or any other believer) might abandon particular views because of a false belief that those views have been falsified. The conviction that a belief has been falsified is not, in and of itself, proof that the belief was false. Likewise, the conviction that a belief is true is not, in and of itself, proof that the belief is true.

Well, no. The criteria of falsifiability is more about logical possibilities. Like if this theory about god is true, then the universe should be this or that way. The theologian has always been in an unsafe position. For most of the history of theology, it seems to me that the theologian has usually had to defend himself against religious people, he had to convince people that there is room for reason in faith (I mainly have Augustine and Aquinas in mind here). So it's probably odd in the last several hundred years that he'd be criticized by philosophers for the way he has used reason.

Your use of the terms "semantic ploys", as a description of the theologian's response to the problem of evil, is prejudical in the extreme.

Fair enough.

Taking your last question literally, the only circumstance under which it could be be safely said the God does not exist, would be the circumstance of God's not existing. If God does exist, then it is never safe to say that God does not exist.

Right. But it is exactly because of this that disvalues the belief in this sort of god. It's impossible to prove that god does or doesn't exist. Because of this, god will forever be kept in purgatory between the states of known to exist and known not to exist. Pascal's Wager, it seems to me, says the very opposite of what he wanted to conclude. Maybe god only allows atheists into heaven? How much are you willing to risk in your belief in god? Remember, only risk what you're willing to lose. But I suppose that death is the real empirical test for many religions.

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Posted

Parody,

You wrote, "if Christianity was genuinely empirical, then there would [be] circumstances under which the Christian would find his views falsified. " I took that to mean that for Christianity to be genuinely empirical there must exist circumstances which result in the Christian actually finding his views falsfied. My response was that for such a statement to be true, those views must be actually false. It appears that I misunderstood the intent of your sentence. You seem to be saying something more along the lines of the following. If Christianity was genuinely empirical, then the articulation of its beliefs ought to include the conditions under which those beliefs could be falsified. I might be inclined to grant you that premise if; 1) you can demonstrate that falsifiability is a necessary constituent of empirically grounded beliefs, 2) that adherence to such a system of belief entails the obligation to specify the conditions for falsification, and 3) you can solve the problem of false falsifications.

Angakuk

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Posted

I might be inclined to grant you that premise if; 1) you can demonstrate that falsifiability is a necessary constituent of empirically grounded beliefs, 2) that adherence to such a system of belief entails the obligation to specify the conditions for falsification, and 3) you can solve the problem of false falsifications.

As to your first requisite, I think it is implied in the meaning of empiricism. I'll fail your second requisite, as I don't think that empiricism requires that a person admit to anyone else what circumstances is required to falsify the belief. And I don't know what the problem of false falsifications is.

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Posted

As to your first requisite, I think it is implied in the meaning of empiricism.

I think that statement requires some supporting argument.

In regard to "the problem of false falsification" I should, perhaps have used the term 'apparent falsification'. Have your read Hugo's essay on True and Apparent Falsification? Or his essay on Falsificationism?

Angakuk

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Posted

Have your read Hugo's essay on True and Apparent Falsification? Or his essay on Falsificationism?

Not yet. But I think what needs to be remembered is that I'm not even proposing that empiricism provides any sort of justification for knowledge. My argument is a lot simpler than that. It's just that I don't anyone is reading me eye to eye because what I'm proposing is what I think could be something new (or alternatively, it could be seen as merely commentary to one of Nietzsche's aphorisms).

If you look at the third post in this thread, I quoted the Wikipedia on where the word empiricism comes from. It comes from a word meaning "test" or "trial". And I don't think I'm saying anything too absurd when I say that for there to be a test, there needs to be some way of failing the test. Otherwise, however, the meaning of empiricism has veered away from it's origin, which is the nature of all words. Today it means knowledge based on experience, after the philosophy of Locke. I wonder why he would choose the word empiricism to describe such a philosophy? Or did he?

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Posted

But when you look at the products of intellect that society has produced, it can be divided roughly between those views that the intellectual wants to believe, those views that he is indifferent about, and those views that he doesn't want to believe. And if we suppose that the emotions rule the intellect, then it becomes clear why empiricism is so important.

I always feel like I'm being a wet blanket (and slightly uncharitable) when I point out that statements like this cannot be empirically derived or verified and, so, are counter-productive.

Is it coincidental that my posts often appear to be "thread killers?"

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Posted

However, I like what Wikipedia came up with, empiricism means putting our opinions on trial.

Definitions are always problematic, but indespensible.

You appear to be confusing "empirical," i.e., the testing or proving of things in experience, with "empiricism," which is a belief system, i.e., that all knowledge comes through experience.

Of course, the first cannot be maintained unless the second has first been established.

I'll jump ahead to the falsifiability issue as regards Christian-theism. Since CT is based on Revelation and not experience, falsification by experience is meaningless.

As I have argued elsewhere, CT, as with all presuppositions, cannot be tested directly by assuming a contrary presupposition. So, the "falsification" of CT would require the validation of an alternate belief system. Such examinations are accomplished through an "internal critique" of the system.

If you want to "test or prove" something empirically, you must first know that your test is valid.

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Posted

Well, I don't usually post with the intention of not offending anyone. If what I say isn't true about Christianity, then they don't have anything to be offended about. I am simply mistaken. But if it is true, then they deserve[/i'] to be offended.

Well, I'm not offended that you would question Christianity; answering such quesitons is the whole point of Christian apologetics.

In that regard, I would simply point out the non-empirical nature of your last sentence, i.e., they "deserve" to be offended. This is, of course, an ethical assessment, not an epistemological judgement. Please explain how you arrived at this value empirically.

Every natural disaster refutes the all good, all powerful god. The theologian's response? "God works in mysterious ways." Or they can use semantic ploys, saying that goodness or powerful don't mean the way we think it means.

Okay, I am offended at this unsupported generalization. In fact, it is not only unsupported, it is false. It assumes an abstract idea of "the good," ala Plato, and presumes to hold God accountable to that.

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