Review: Popper, Otto Selz and the Rise of Evolutionary Epistemology by Michel ter Hark

In “Popper, Otto Selz and the Rise of Evolutionary Epistemology” by Michel ter Hark argues that many of Popper’s ideas about evolutionary epistemology were inspired by the writings of the psychologist Otto Selz. Far from being a later add on evolutionary epistemology was important in Popper’s philosophy from the start. Also, despite Popper’s claims that he came up with some of his ideas as early as 1919, he was still an inductivist as late as 1928. Who is Otto Selz? I hear you cry. He was a psychologist who proposed not only that people and animals decide what to do by trying out ideas and rejecting them if they don’t work out, but also said that science works that way. Popper’s contribution was to use these ideas to come up with a new epistemology. Michel ter Hark explains all this much better than I just did with lots of quotes and historical context, and if you want to know about it you should read the book.

A quick critical comment: on p. 152, ter Hark argues that Popper’s epistemology rests on his psychology rather than the other way around. I am not convinced that this is true, for if all I had was the theory that people do in fact create knowledge through conjectures and criticism, I could still say “but really they ought to create knowledge by induction.” But if I have a logical argument to the effect that this is impossible I can no longer make that argument. So it seems to me that having good psychology is dependent on having good epistemology rather than the other way around.

Something good about the book: Chapter 6 prompted me to have another look at “The Self and Its Brain” (co-written with neuroscientist John Eccles) in which Popper allegedly endorsed Cartesian dualism according to philosophical legend. Actually, his position is a lot less clear than that, not least because he states at the start of the book that he is not offering an ontology, and also because in Section 48 he explicitly trashes Descartes’ theory of mind. Popper sometimes endorses a dualist position as when he critically discusses Ryle’s book “The Concept of Mind”, saying that if Ryle disagrees with the two worlds theory (the physical and mental worlds) presumably the three worlds theory is even worse, but he is not a Cartesian dualist. (Popper’s three worlds are the physical world, the world of mental states and the world of objective knowledge.) As ter Hark points out, the question of the merits and problems of Popper’s philosophy of mind should be re-examined.

“Popper, Otto Selz and the Rise of Evolutionary Epistemology” by Michel ter Hark is historically interesting and philosophically provocative.

This entry was posted in biology, epistemology, evolution, logic, science. Bookmark the permalink.

61 Responses to Review: Popper, Otto Selz and the Rise of Evolutionary Epistemology by Michel ter Hark

  1. Rafe says:

    A useful reminder!
    Buhler has got most of the credit for Popper’s views on psychology and there is no doubt that any contact with the Buhlers during the golden age of their institute would have been a wonderful experience.

    http://www.the-rathouse.com/K_and_C_Buhler.html

    My main source is John Wettersten who focussed on Kulpe as the antecedent of Buhler.

    http://www.the-rathouse.com/2008/Wettersten-on-Kulp-and-Buhler.html

    Buhler’s contribution is well documented but Kulpe has been almost entirerly overlooked in the philosophy of science and by Popper as well. He died in 1914 at the early age of 53 with only one volume published of a four-volume project. His two closest associates also had their careers cut short, Selz murdured by the Nazis in the 1930s and Buhler forced to leave Austria shortly after, a move which effectively ended his major project with only one of three proposed books in print.

    For a comparison, one is tempted to speculate how the ideas of the Austrian (Carl Menger) school of economics and social theory would have fared without the advocacy of Mises and Hayek through their long and active lives while the mainstream of the profession resolutely turned its back.

  2. Jan says:

    small correction, I believe the author is called Michel Ter Hark.

  3. With respect to which has priority, epistemology or psychology.
    Quine (1969) argues that one should base one’s knowledge on psychology, presumably cognitive psychology, to assure us that what we think we know is at least something for which there is some mental state capable of drawing well reasoned beliefs. I think that Tark is probably not talking about psychology in the broader sense, but rather, is confined to cognitive psychology – how a human can have cognizance of anything.

    I discuss this in my own blog, and there I explain that the foundation of epistemology is an innate idea of equivalence and difference (inequivalence). From this one can develop modern Cartesian Rationalism, which aims to take Critical Rationalism out. (Insert evil genius laugh here). I would be interested in what you think.

  4. Alan Forrester says:

    D’oh! Corrected.

  5. Alan Forrester says:

    In reply to Stephen. Your blog seems to indicate that you think we should start from secure foundations and build everything up from them. The particular foundation you pick is an innate idea that some things are the same and some things are different. This doesn’t seem likely to get us very far. Also it doesn’t seem to me that it matters whether an idea is innate. Innate ideas are just ideas created by biological evolution, which doesn’t guarantee the truth of its products. Also the idea of foundations is itself irrational since you are saying there is something you cannot prove and do not leave open to argument.

    The move Popper made is far better. No idea is ever proven, or made more probable and we should stop trying to do this. Instead we should seek to notice problems with our current ideas, propose solutions and then criticise them according to non-justificational criteria, like whether they solve the problems they are meant to solve, whether they conflict with other theories, whether they conflict with experimental results and so on.

  6. In reply to Alan.
    I have copied your comment on my own blog, as it deserves a new post. My answer is at:
    http://universalorigin.blogspot.com/2010/07/why-science-and-empiricism-is-not-well.html

    I would point out that it is unimportant how we gain innate ideas. All that is important is whether we have a basis for rational thought that is innate. This provides us with access to a particular proposition that is indefeasible. If it is indefeasible, then it is indefeasible. If this then leads to a rich, secure ontology, then this has priority over any other.

    Anyway, see the blog, which deals with each issue in turn.

  7. Rafe says:

    Indefeasible propositions? Give us a break:)

  8. Here I am using ‘indefeasible’ in the same context as used by Newman, meaning ‘immune to rational doubt’. See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/descartes-epistemology/
    As for there being indefeasible propositions, ‘I think, therefore I am,’ is an example. There is only one other at the outset of an inquiry.

  9. Elliot says:

    Stephen: This is a Critical Rationalist blog. We’re all fallibilists. You’ve come here to advocate a variety of infallibilism. I think “Give us a break” is a reasonable reply to that, which doesn’t indicate failure to understand your terminology. Popper gave plenty of compelling arguments against what you said, that we’re familiar with, and which you have not answered. If you’d like to learn about Popper’s arguments, please add this blog to your RSS, and feel free to ask questions in the comments.

    As to Descartes, it’s quite easy to doubt that proposition. It uses complicated concepts like what thinking and existence are, which are controversial to this day. Taking a controversial issue and saying you’re side is right *beyond reasonable doubt* is unreasonable: it’s declaring millions of people irrational/unreasonable just for disagreeing with you.

  10. Hi Elliot
    Thank you for your clear comment. I admit I did not understand the ‘give us a break’ to mean that you simply reject out of hand, due to convincing but non-well founded argument, that there could be indefeasible propositions. I am quite aware of Popper’s arguments and have great respect for his reasoning, and, when I have completed my work, his efforts will come back into fine focus and still have a place in philosophy. But his work was a response to Positivism, which was a response to Kant. So, if there is certain knowledge, then all these views become out of date.

    I wonder how you deal with the proposition: ‘There are no indefeasible propositions.’ Is this not immediately a contradiction? Now it is easy to get bogged down in what terms might mean, and then we have to go through the whole Quinean discourse and will never get anywhere. Rather, ditch all that, and first begin at the beginning, which is with yourself.

    Are you arguing that you do not exist? Does this not require that you exist to do the arguing? Rather than relying on contradiction, your ability to argue is ontologically dependent on your existence. What constitutes ‘thinking’ and ‘existence’ can only be considered if one first recognizes one’s existence and ability to think.

    As Descartes points out, because the objects of the world are dubious, one must begin with internalism, and from an internalist approach, words are unimportant except as place holders. No river of words can convince you of my being right, but you can easily find my argument to be true for yourself, if you will make the step. Keep your critical rationalist clothes, for these are very useful, even to me as I go about my job as physicist, but wear the underpants of the modern meditator for a little while.

    I think. In doing so, I do not need to know what thinking is. I am, and I do not need to understand what existence is for this to be. As a modern Cartesian meditator, due to internalism, it is only the thinker that can properly know the objects of his thought.

    Now, you have said that this is a blog for the Critical Rationalist. But I’m sure you do not intend for this to be a club of people who all agree, and therefore know they are right, independent of how things might actually be. Popper himself would point out that this is against the ethos of Critical Rationalism.

    Popper’s arguments begin in the middle of the discourse, and he is floating in Neurath’s ship. He cannot pull the boat apart while at sea to fix the problems of philosophy (though he uses a rather wonderful pitch to fill the holes). By contrast the modern Cartesian meditator is in dry dock. He just doesn’t have a ship yet and has to get building. He can do so best if the people in Neurath’s ship lend a hand.

    I want to say that at the end of my arguments, when they are finally out there, Popper’s Critical Rationalism keeps a valid place in the world of philosophy in that most of science remains empirically based. Besides, you have to admit that this blog is getting plenty of attention.

  11. Elliot says:

    > I wonder how you deal with the proposition: ‘There are no indefeasible propositions.’

    I consider it conjectural knowledge and tentatively accept it.

    > Are you arguing that you do not exist?

    I’m arguing that I (and you too) may be mistaken about what “existing” is.

    > As Descartes points out, because the objects of the world are dubious, one must begin with internalism

    Internal things are dubious too. We’re made of atoms. Atoms jiggle. False memories and halluciations are common, among other things.

    But, as Popper explained, we don’t need justified, certain, foundational, or non-dubious starting points. There’s nothing wrong with unsupported, fallible, conjectural knowledge.

    > I’m sure you do not intend for this to be a club of people who all agree

    Correct.

    > Besides, you have to admit that this blog is getting plenty of attention.

    Huh? I have no idea how much attention it’s getting. But I’d be interested to know.

  12. Rafe says:

    Let’s try it another way. If “I think, therefor I am” is the answer, what is the question?

    That is what Bartley would call a “check on the problem”.

    Another question, assuming that you find an indefeasible proposition, what follows?

  13. Lee Kelly says:

    I once read that “there is thinking” would be a more faithful translation of Descartes famous revelation. Insofar that propositions exist which must be true, I agree. That we have correctly identified any such proposition is another matter. It seems to me the logical consequences of any proposition are infinite, but our ability to grasp them is not. Who knows what is lurking around the corner of our next deduction? Perhaps we may discover that a proposition we thougt must be true, might be false afterall.

    In any case, the “therefore” in “I think, therefore I am” is redundant, since I am a thinking thing, and a thinking thing is. Any such valid deduction is necessarily circular (either in part or whole), so it is better to render the actual claim as a proposition instead. Such a proposition as “there is thinking” is interesting, since it need not necessarily be true as a matter of pure logic, but rather because its negation is contradicted by our thinking it.

    But whatever, as Rafe rightly said: why should we care? A criticism that can be brought against everything, ought not to be brought against anything. The charge of being unjustified (or open to doubt) is one such criticism, and so it really ought not to be considered a problem.

  14. Elliot
    Conjectural knowledge. Why not tentatively reject it, at least on the basis that it is self contradictory? Then there is no knowledge here, conjectural or not.
    Recall that Popper’s view was that there are no ultimate sources of knowledge (from Conjectures and Refutations). But Popper’s topic centered on scientific knowledge.

  15. Alan Forrester says:

    “There are no indefeasible propositions” is a consistent position.

    Popper’s theories apply to all knowledge, not just scientific knowledge. For example, there’s a chapter in Conjectures and Refutations on metaphysics.

  16. Rafe
    ‘If I think therefore I am is the answer, what is the question?’
    You cannot ask a question if you do not exist. Indeed you cannot challenge a proposition if you do not exist. It has nothing to do with higher level questions such as what existence is. That said, what it means to exist can be explored once my second indefeasible proposition is accepted. But this is a fair way into the discourse, and will soon enough be on my own blog (http://universalorigin.blogspot.com/2010/05/it-is-unfortunate-if-often-useful-fact.html)

    An important aspect of philosophy, to me as meditator, is to establish a position from which to consider the ontology. This is the first thing that must be established if one is to do metaphysics at all (and from there, to build a wider philosophy). It has nothing to do with science, or questions of the nature of what it. First one must establish a position from which to consider the world at all. This is what Descartes established, but after that the meditator is on his or her own.

    ‘Another question, assuming that you find an indefeasible proposition, what follows?’
    An indefeasible proposition is necessarily a model of a condition of the world (if you at least accept that if something is indefeasible ought to be accepted by the skeptic). What follows depends on what the indefeasible proposition implies. In the case of the General Principle of Equivalence, it implies that the world must have a unique origin. Then it implies that the world grows, bringing new structure. It implies an iterative development, and this implies a time like metronome. It implies the existence of space in all dimensionality, and provides a well-founded basis for mathematics, free of Godel’s incompleteness theorem.

    But to expect to get all this at the outset asks too much.

    Lee and Elliot
    Your comments on existence. Indubitability “[C]oncerns not “the power of the human mind to enter into a state of doubtfulness about a proposition,” but instead the condition whereby “it is impossible both that the proposition be false and that I be doubting whether it is true” (Broughton 2002 p. 100) . Seeking to build an argument on false memories etc. makes no sense. As you know, this is another reason why we employ the method of doubt. I find it a bit unexpected that, whereas Cartesian skepticism is the most stringent form of skepticism, yet you challenge it, and want to replace it with ‘pick a view and call it knowledge’.

  17. Alan Forrester says:

    An important aspect of philosophy, to me as meditator, is to establish a position from which to consider the ontology. This is the first thing that must be established if one is to do metaphysics at all (and from there, to build a wider philosophy). It has nothing to do with science, or questions of the nature of what it. First one must establish a position from which to consider the world at all. This is what Descartes established, but after that the meditator is on his or her own.

    Why do we need to establish a position from which to consider the world? And if we do need such a position then how did anyone get anything done before you came along to reveal The Hidden Secret Foundation of Everything?

    Indubitability “[C]oncerns not “the power of the human mind to enter into a state of doubtfulness about a proposition,” but instead the condition whereby “it is impossible both that the proposition be false and that I be doubting whether it is true” (Broughton 2002 p. 100) .

    Just to clarify. Does this mean that your indubitable propositions are just propositions such that if they were false I wouldn’t exist? There are lots of statements like that and those propositions are not epistemically privileged. For example, it’s not possible for intelligent life to evolve except by natural selection, so it is impossible that evolution is false if I doubt that it is false because there couldn’t be any intelligent life to doubt anything unless natural selection was true.

    The trouble is when you say “I exist” you either mean something specific, complicated, interesting and doubtable, or you mean something so vague that it’s difficult to work out what you’re saying or why anyone should care.

  18. Elliot says:

    > want to replace it with ‘pick a view and call it knowledge’.

    No, I want to replace it with Critical Rationalism.

    > Conjectural knowledge. Why not tentatively reject it, at least on the basis that it is self contradictory?

    What self contradiction?

    > Recall that Popper’s view was that there are no ultimate sources of knowledge (from Conjectures and Refutations).

    That’s right.

    > But Popper’s topic centered on scientific knowledge.

    Yes, Popper wrote about (conjectural) scientific knowledge. What’s your point?

  19. Alan
    I see you are using skeptical font. So, to your questions:
    1. You ask: Why do we need to establish a position from which to consider the world?
    The context is that of Fine’s Constructional Ontology (which I have put up on my blog). He says that an ontology consists of all that is accepted. A physicist accepts matter and energy into their ontology. But one can just accept anything into an ontology that one likes with or without good reason. The scientist accepts the presenting world into the ontology because it makes good sense to accept that there is such a world (that such a world in some way exists). Same for mathematics, based on the axioms of maths. The bother is that these ontologies might properly refer to the world, or they might not. This was Popper’s point. But his argument, as with Kant was that one cannot, can never, know whether one has a proper model. Consequently there is no certainty of knowledge, only conjecture and verisimilitude.

    Instead, the meditator has a different kind of problem. The criterion of acceptance is that what is accepted includes only that which is indefeasible. Fine provides a terrific ontological framework to support philosophers. He introduces a ‘possible ontology’ and an ‘actual ontology’. Simply put, the possible ontology includes all possible ontologies – all that might be the case. Each stance can pick and choose from these to populate their ontology. For the Critical Rationalist, I guess if you accept something into your actual ontology and then find it cannot be, you could put it back. But for the modern meditator, the world begins essentially empty, for one must first look among the possible objects of the possible ontology to find something that is certain. Then this can be, indeed ought to be accepted into the actual ontology. Being indefeasible, no matter the arguments that might be brought from less secure stances, these indefeasible items remain accepted. One is the meditator himself, and this makes sense, for in the context of Fine’s ontology, a meditator cannot go about constructing an ontology by picking and choosing, if the existence of the meditator is in doubt. Such a simple question; apologies for the length of the answer.

    2. You ask: And if we do need such a position then how did anyone get anything done before you came along to reveal The Hidden Secret Foundation of Everything?

    They achieved great progress by a guess and check method. I teach it to my Year 8 maths students, but it is both inefficient, and lacks finesse. You probably think this to be harsh. But philosophy is in ruins – consider the megaton of conjecture, none of which has proven even the simplest thing. What everyone has sought to do is to explain why it is too hard (e.g. Kant). But it’s not hard, just very, very abstract. Contemporary mathematics has proven itself to be incomplete, and, according to Hilbert, one of the most revered mathematicians, it is ‘glutted with inanities and absurdities’. This flows over into physics, and the most revered physicists point at infinities that occur in the most unwanted of places (requiring ‘renormalization’) and say that no one knows why they occur, or why it should be that fixing it fixes the problem. It is all a very deep problem of physics, mathematics and philosophy that we can describe things without end, yet at no point has anyone said ‘And this happens BECAUSE…’ For example, we attribute the falling of a stone to gravity, but really we are saying ‘All stones fall. This we call gravity.’ Einstein does this at a very high level, but at no point does he give an account for space. I am not saying that his equations aren’t right, just that they are description, not explanation.

    My plan is parallel to these. I aim to provide explanation. At some point the ends ought to meet.

  20. To Alan
    Phew. Would that your complex questions could be as easily answered as they are to put.
    You say:
    The trouble is when you say “I exist” you either mean something specific, complicated, interesting and doubtable, or you mean something so vague that it’s difficult to work out what you’re saying or why anyone should care.

    Please don’t put words in my mouth. When a meditator says ‘I exist’ they mean something specific, extremely simple (that needs no further consideration indeed), interesting (because it validates the right of a person to continue the investigation) and indubitable. My investigations are as simple as you can get, though they are abstract. Consider this. Say the world has an origin (just say). How could it begin complicated? How could it choose to be one way or another? It couldn’t. It begins by existing. The nature of that existence comes as a consequence of my General Principle of Equivalence (and, if you are struggling with the simplicity of your own existence, you are gonna really burr up about the GPE). But none of this do we need to deal with at the outset.

    As for how we got along without the hidden secret foundation of everything – it isn’t hidden, it’s right in front of your doubting nose. It isn’t secret – it’s right in front of you and you shouldn’t need me to explain it because you are just as capable as I. And, really, from a philosophical perspective, we got along very poorly indeed, for we are still stuck in trivial argument about the meanings of words, when, in an exploration based on foundations, there were no words at the origin.

  21. Lee Kelly says:

    Knowledge isn’t “built from a foundation” by raciocination.

    The problem is one of logical strength. Deducibility is a transitive relation, i.e. if A entails B, and B entails C, then A entails C. In other words, the conclusion of a valid argument cannot entail anything that is not also entailed by the premises. Although this is quite elementry stuff, it seems to be frequently ignored when discussing “epistemic foundations.” Nothing is actually “built” upon the “foundation,” since all that is entailed is merely restating, whether in whole or part, the original set of premises. Thus the foundation is, in fact, the whole building from the get go, since the foundation cannot be logically weaker than the set of all it entails.

    The metaphor of construction so frequently used in epistemology is terribly inappropriate, and it has many problematic consequences. I do wish people would stop falling into its many traps. The notion of “building from a foundation,” when applied in this context, merely cuts off creativity and diversity–it reduces epistemology to merely unpacking the logical content of a few “apodictic” propositions. What does one achieve by such an exercise? Very little, almost nothing is produced but restatements of common beliefs–I exist, there is thinking, etc. Such truths were arrived at first by other means and solve no problem.

  22. Elliot says:

    So, can you define “exist” as you use it? Also “I”? With *no vagueness* at all, please. And no undefined terms. And keep it simple, since you said this stuff is simple and non-vague. Good luck 🙂

    PS Alan isn’t a skeptic anymore than Popper was.

  23. Brian Scurfield says:

    @Lee: Deductive arguments are fallible, one cannot have certainty that the chain of reasoning is correct. For this reason, in any real argument, there is no necessary truth equivalency between premises and conclusions. You are right that there is no “building from a foundation” going on, but it should be added that it is not even guaranteed that anything is transmitted from premises to conclusions.

  24. Elliot says:

    Doing anything with deduction relies on creating valid arguments — invalid ones won’t do. That relies on being able to identify/detect valid arguments in order to know if we’ve got one or not. That relies on identifying/detecting, basically, truth — valid arguments are ones with no mistakes. But we can’t do that, other than fallibly and conjecturally.

    Since all deductions have fallible conjectures backing them, they are best thought of as conjectural arguments not as “deductions” which is a word that tries to mean something more than conjecture. And, of course, as Brian says, it means they only fallibly (and conjecturally) transmit anything.

  25. To Elliot
    Deduction relies on the laws of thought. The law of the excluded middle is regarded as the origin of many impossible results (well known, and led to Intuitionism). Your conclusion is right, if your foundations are right. But your foundations, while ‘self-evidently true’ have revealed themselves at many levels to be suspect in some areas (usable, cool, but suspect). This provides a basis for Popper’s fallibilism, for if a theory is found to be false at some point, then the whole theory is false (Oddie’s ‘Truthlikeness’ on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
    This bother, as well as Quinean circularity, and Hume and Kant’s arguments that one cannot know the world as it is in itself, disappears if one begins from an appropriate foundation.
    Given that your arguments seem to go on indefinitely, yet move no further forward (which I think is the purpose of philosophy), then it is easier to put my idea out there, than to argue against your interesting, but incomplete arguments.
    viz:
    (1. please make sure you understand the ontological shift, 2. to do this you have to be very careful of your preconceptions, which are invisible to most of us ). Then:
    Let an omnet be anything at all – things, thoughts, nothingness, propositions…doesn’t matter. It does not matter what you claim is an omnet for you cannot properly suppose to understand it anyway, for all kinds of reasons (that is one part of Kant and Popper’s arguments, and I agree).
    Let an asset be anything an omnet has – properties, relations, parts…doesn’t matter, for the same reason as before.
    In other words, completely ditch your preconceptions, just let there be a placeholder for what there is, and what what-is has. (Figure out for yourself what ‘has’ means. It is just there to help the reader come to the understanding).
    Then:

    Every omnet, that has all the assets of that omnet, is that omnet.

    Now, if you have properly ditched all preconceptions, this should present as not only self-evidently true, but also that this is indefeasible exactly because every proposition, to be that proposition, must have all the assets it purports to have, and not other than these assets, otherwise it is not the proposition it purports to be. Then any proposition that expresses doubt against the above statement, is reliant on it being true for it. Hence all propositions (true or false) are epistemologically dependent on the truth of the proposition I just put – the General Principle of Equivalence.
    Note also that this GPE is no more than an expression of one’s innate idea of equivalence and difference.
    Then (given that someone asked what use this might be) because this is true, then all tautologies are necessarily true, not because they are self-evident, but because the GPE makes it so due to necessity (this does not imply that the supposed content of the tautology has a referent of course, but that is a story for another time).
    Further, this implies that there is a condition of the world that is properly modeled by the GPE.
    Further, because all propositions are epistemologically dependent on the GPE, then the GPE noumenon (the condition that the GPE models) must be, can only be, first cause.
    🙂

  26. The more fun question is, how does this bring us a world?
    😉

  27. Brian Scurfield says:

    > Given that your arguments seem to go on indefinitely, yet move no further forward (which I think is the purpose of philosophy),

    Haha – that is some accusation to be leveling against Elliot, of all people.

    > Every omnet, that has all the assets of that omnet, is that omnet.

    How does one know what all the assets of an omnet are, particularly when, as you correctly assert, we cannot have complete (and i would add certain) understanding of it? Also, if one can’t completely and certainly know an omnet then you can’t with definiteness assert that two omnets are one and the same. Perhaps I have missed the point.

    > The more fun question is, how does this bring us a world?

    I like fun, so go on then…

  28. Elliot says:

    Hey Brian, is this email address still valid for you?

    Brian Scurfield

  29. Elliot says:

    It didn’t like the angle brackets so much…

    briankscurfield@yahoo.co.uk

  30. Elliot says:

    > Given that your arguments seem to go on indefinitely, yet move no further forward (which I think is the purpose of philosophy), then it is easier to put my idea out there, than to argue against your interesting, but incomplete arguments.

    Stephen,

    Are you saying that criticism does not move us forward?

    Are you saying that you’re ignoring outstanding criticism of your position and think that’s OK and it doesn’t matter too much if your position is criticized and the important thing is to press onward?

    If it’s not about criticism, then what is it about?

    BTW all arguments are incomplete, so if you want to object to some subcategory of “incomplete arguments” it’d help if you said which one. (Is this an example of what you think does not move us forward? I don’t understand how we’re supposed to move forward without clarifications and improvements like this. This kind of thing is necessary for understanding each other, isn’t it?)

    As to deduction, you’ve presented a non-Popperian view. I think we can both agree deduction fits in very nicely with non-Popperian views. The point of my comments on the subject was to speak to a Popperian about deduction — I think for him it does not work so well.

    I don’t mean to retreat from argument, I’m just saying this is none other than a debate about “Is CR true?” and I’d rather approach it in that clearer form than on this small sub-issue. I would propose that you begin your criticism of CR — if you’re interested in making it — by posting some quotes of Popper explaining his ideas and pointing out mistakes in them. Alternatively you could post quotes of Popper criticizing non-Popperian ideas, and then explain how the ideas actually can stand up to this criticism (e.g. you could show the criticism is false, or misses the point, or modify the ideas to retain most of their content but so the criticism is no longer applicable). Those are your basic two options: criticize Popper’s views or defend your views against Popper’s criticism. If you have a serious interest in this subject, please do one of those *using Popper quotes* to help reduce how much you accidentally misrepresent CR. On the other hand, if you do not post a criticism of CR, then please don’t be offended if I am not always interested in replying to your arguments that assume CR is false.

  31. Lee Kelly says:

    Brian,

    A valid argument is infallible, by definition. If we discover that an argument is invalid, then the argument was always invalid, even if we previously had mistakenly categorised it as valid. What is fallible is our categorisation of valid and invalid arguments, since every new proof intoduces potential for erring.

    Likewise, a true proposition is infallible, by definition. The fallibility is ours, not a proposition’s or argument’s.

  32. Brian Scurfield says:

    @Lee: By valid deductive argument I take it you mean that every step in the chain of reasoning is correct and not just that the conclusion is true. Then truth transmits from premises to conclusions. All arguments rely on unstated background knowledge and undefined terms. If one where to unpack this it would be found to be infinite. So, for a deductive argument to be valid, all this auxiliary knowledge has to be true with everything neatly defined. To me, this seems to render the concept of validity useless. What we should care about is truth, not validity. Point taken that we are the fallible ones (though I seem to have a conflicting intuition that it is not wrong to talk about fallible conjectures – need to think about it).

  33. Lee Kelly says:

    Brian,

    For an argument to be valid, it is not necessary that any “auxiliary knowledge” be true or statements “neatly defined.” The validity of an argument is a matter of its logical form, rather than its specific meaning. It is for this reason that we employ variables–meaningless symbols–when assessing an argument for validity.

  34. Elliot says:

    Lee,

    Would you give an example of a valid philosophical argument which doesn’t rely on auxiliary knowledge?

  35. Lee Kelly says:

    Elliot,

    An argument is valid by virtue of its form, not the truth of any “auxiliary knowledge.” The truth of a set of premises relies only on the truth of all their logical consequences, i.e. themselves. Of course, the premises may not be consistent–if that is all you mean to say, then I agree.

  36. Elliot says:

    Can you give an example of that for us to consider?

  37. Lee Kelly says:

    I suspect we are just talking past one another, because your request makes no sense to me. Any valid argument would do, in my opinion. Since you obviously believe otherwise, why don’t you give me an example of a valid argument that relies on auxiliary knowledge? Also, please explain.

  38. Elliot says:

    From wikipedia:

    Major premise: All men are mortal.
    Minor premise: Socrates is a man.
    Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

    This argument uses auxiliary knowledge about what “is” is. And about the relationship between “men” and “man”. And tons more.

  39. Lee Kelly says:

    The argument may be meaningless without such background knowledge, but its validity does not depend on what “is” is, or the relationship between “men” and “man.”

  40. Elliot says:

    Some meaningless arguments are valid? What good is that?

    How can validity not depend on the meanings of the terms in the argument? If “is” was defined to mean “does not have the attribute”, for example, wouldn’t that be relevant?

  41. To all
    My goodness, what a lot to have to respond to. So I will do this as a number of comments so that they don’t get all scrunched together.
    >How does one know what all the assets of an omnet are, particularly when, as you correctly assert, we cannot have complete (and i would add certain) understanding of it?

    You don’t know what assets there are, at the outset of the inquiry, and, from an empiricist stance, you simply can’t. But then, there are no properties, relations, tropes or whatever that the empiricist could ever know anyway, for the many reasons outlined by Descartes, Berkeley, Kant, Popper (more or less) and others. For example to say that my Red Setter is red, is not true if I am moving toward him at half the speed of light – he would be a Blue Setter. Going away from him, he would be an infrared setter. Replacing what things have with assets is useful in bringing the meditator to look away from the distraction of a world that so stridently imposes its appearances on us, exactly because these cannot be approached other than abstractly.

    I need to slightly correct something I said. When I said we cannot have complete understanding of any particular omnet, I meant we cannot have complete understanding of an omnet UNTIL we have developed a world view founded on the GPE, and at first any particular about omnets or assets, as specifics, is unimportant, because of the problem of bundling, which I will touch on for those who are not familiar with it.

    As you may know, the problem of bundling is that, if we regard a thing (in this case omnet which is then completely general) as a bundle of its properties (in this case assets, which again is completely general) there seems to be nothing that can hold the world together, in that every property is different to every other. There is one thing that can hold the world together – the condition of the world that the GPE models; but recognizing this is a bit further on in the argument. Without this, the world ought to fall apart according to the problem of bundling. One could simply ditch the idea of bundling, but this seems odd, in that things are either complex or simple. There are complexes, so there must be simples (Leibniz). The question is, what are these simples. David Armstrong warns us not to fiddle with the idea of universals because they are (he says) necessary to hold the world together. To remove any universal could have unwanted results. In Armstrong’s words ‘The damage might ripple on further. So beware!’ I prefer a braver route, and it leads to an answer.

    His arguments are incomplete – if there are universals, then every universal is different to every other, so the universals themselves ought to collapse into simples. Once more the world should fall apart. Grupp considered that there must be some special properties that hold properties together, but he find that his just enters infinite regress, with more special properties required to hold these to that which they are meant to connect to. It will be clear then, that because the GPE is completely general and accommodates whatever there is, and whatever it has, then immediately the meditator is obliged to accept that, unless there is some necessary condition of the world that holds it together, all omnets collapse to the minimal possible omnets.

    Now, these minimal omnets are windowless to the meditator, as Leibniz recognized in a parallel analysis. Consider: to somehow magically enter them (which would be difficult, given that they cannot have extension) they would no longer be simple. That is, they all look the same to the meditator, and there is no other stance that can even consider them with certainty. Consequently, no matter the number of omnets you began considering, or the number or nature of assets (even if this includes the name or names of an omnet) under the GPE, because this expresses what is as a being composed of what it has, the endpoint is that the nature of what is, reduces to a number (1 to infinity, it doesn’t matter) of minimal omnets that all look the same to the meditator. That is, the meditator cannot distinguish between any minimal omnet and any other. Conclusion: the world begins as the equivalent of (meaning equivalence under the GPE) a single minimal omnet.

    Only then do you need to ask the question ‘What is the nature of this omnet?’
    And that is the next step. At least we have an origin for structure in the world.
    Again, the next step is more fun.

  42. So, Elliot,
    You said:
    Are you saying that criticism does not move us forward?

    It depends on the nature of criticism. In and of itself, Popper’s arguments themselves began by showing that knowledge founded on empiricism is out of reach. In this context, all the criticism in the world leads to no end, for, as you guys say, it is all conjecture. Under the GPE, conjectural knowledge is conjectural knowledge, and that is only knowledge by definition. I think you agree that this is not knowledge – there is at least one asset missing to make it knowledge in its historical sense (say justified true belief, by I, as modern Cartesian meditator say justified truth worthy of belief – the difference is subtle but important).

    You said:
    Are you saying that you’re ignoring outstanding criticism of your position and think that’s OK and it doesn’t matter too much if your position is criticized and the important thing is to press onward?

    No. I’m happy for well-founded criticism, not criticism founded on history. For example to say, ‘You are wrong because Kant says you are wrong’ as opposed to saying ‘You are wrong because, as Kant points out…’ The bother is, that his, Popper’s, you name it (Parmenides and Zeno excepted) argue from an empiricist perspective. They have already dismissed pure rationalism as a source of knowledge (and don’t bring Hume into this. He was so massively wrong I would need to write a hundred books to try to straighten out his pompous arguments).

    You said:
    If it’s not about criticism, then what is it about?

    Thank you (genuinely). It’s about finding the answers, not messing about with ill formed problems. The criticism is important because answering each brings people to consider the very special perspective that the modern meditator offers. But here is a problem, which took me a while to work though. Simply this. If I answer each criticism in turn, it moves me no closer to proof, for criticisms are endless. Rather, if all possible doubts are addressed in one single (indeed simple) argument, then further criticism just means that whoever is criticizing is entrenched in an old system.

    The proof I put, above, is global. Check it. GLOBAL. Then criticism of the GPE is at an end. All criticisms you bring, rely on the GPE be true each. Questions such as ‘If we can’t know the specifics of a particular asset, blah, blah, blah…’ are interesting and need to be addressed (as I have begun to do here, though my own blog will provide a richer treatment) but these are not criticisms and ought not be regarded as such. It is like the ancients who dismissed Parmenides, not seeing that his argument was valid (with a single further step he would have done all this GPE stuff and ended up with a world. So would Leibniz. So would Descartes.)

    By comparison the questions I bring are not ‘You can’t be right because [insert argument that is irrelevant once you recognize that the GPE is necessarily true].’ What I ask is, ‘Given that the GPE is necessarily true, and true for everything, at every level, yet it implies that the world falls apart, and yet here we are, then, how can this be?’ Then progress happens with remarkable rapidity.

  43. Brian Scurfield says:

    > All criticisms you bring, rely on the GPE be true each

    Clarification please: Argument by contradiction assumes the truth of what one is trying to criticize.

  44. Elliot says:

    Are you defining “moving forward” as “helping us acquire justified, truth worthy of belief”? If not, then what do you mean by it?

    To me, moving forward means creating conjectural knowledge and correcting mistakes. Criticism is crucial to that — it’s the only method of correcting mistakes.

    Which of my criticisms was not well-founded?

    I haven’t brought Hume or Kant into anything and don’t intend to.

    I disagree that criticisms are endless. It’s possible to generate infinitely many bad criticisms, but that’s not what people do in general, and it’s not my goal. I have generated a handful of criticisms and questions that I think are relevant to significant points of disagreement, and that I think at least one of us would learn from resolving, and often that I think might clarify the debate.

    I think answering criticisms (sometimes several dozen for a big enough debate) is how people learn from each other and come to agree. How am I supposed to accept anything you say when I see flaws in it and you don’t tell me the solution? I too look for ways my criticisms may be wrong, but sometimes I don’t find any. It seems to me that ultimately it’s up to you to defend your views or it’s pointless to keep posting them because they aren’t persuasive without explanations of how they stand up to criticism.

    I know you want to be constructive, but what’s the point in building on unstable foundations? What’s the point of constructing the second floor based on the first floor if I’m saying “no way i’m taking the stairs up to the second floor until you fix the problems down here”?

    Also, when you try to answer criticisms, you might sometimes discover actually you were wrong and change your mind. It’s a great opportunity in that way. Or if you can answer substantial criticisms, maybe I’ll change my mind. Or maybe it will expose a further disagreement which we should address.

    As to the GPE, can you point out what I said that’s wrong b/c of GPE, and why? (I’ll understand better with an example.) Also clarify what GPE is and why it is true please. (This kind of request for clarification I consider very important. I don’t think it’d make sense to keep saying stuff based on GPE without some agreement about what it means.)

    PS I (and Popper) like Parmenides (though that may well mean different things to you and to me).

  45. Brian Scurfield says:

    @Lee: I don’t know if you now accept the points that Elliot and I made above concerning auxiliary knowledge and meaning, but here is another take: You want to ascertain the validity of an argument by considering it as a purely abstract structure. To consider it this way, you will need to represent the argument symbolically and to have rules for manipulating the symbols. Now symbol manipulation is an inherently physical process, dependent on the physical laws governing the multiverse and dependent on the fact that those laws allow universal computation (see David Deutsch’s “The Fabric of Reality”). Understanding symbol manipulation therefore requires deep knowledge about physics and about computation. This knowledge of how symbols work *is* significant and fallible auxiliary knowledge upon which any argument about validity must rely.

  46. Lee Kelly says:

    Brian,

    A logical form may be valid, even if there exists no being capable of evaluating it for validity.

  47. Brian Scurfield says:

    But then how does a claim to validity help with anything? Making a fallible claim to certainty seems nonsensical.

  48. Lee Kelly says:

    Brian,

    A true proposition is infallible, i.e. it is not a tiny bit false. However, a particular claim that a proposition is true may be mistaken. This isn’t about making a “fallible claim to certainty,” but recognising that it is us who are fallible.

    A theory does not claim it is true, and an argument does not claim it is valid. It is we who claim such things–it is we who are fallible.

  49. Elliot says:

    Lee,

    Why do you need the special word “valid” instead of just saying (completely/perfectly) “true”? What purpose does valid serve as opposed to true?

  50. Lee Kelly says:

    Elliot,

    An argument may be valid without being true, but an argument cannot be true without being valid. This should not need stating.

  51. Elliot says:

    If you take arguments to be “IF premises THEN conclusion” then you can just say they are true, or not, without needing validity. Yeah? And you can also say a given set of premises is true and there’s no confusion.

    > This should not need stating.

    According to Popper, nothing is obvious and communication is hard or in other words, nothing “should not need stating”. I was hoping to have discussions here along Popperian lines with more emphasis on clarity than denying the need for clarity, and with eagerness to write views explicitly so as to expose them to criticism.

  52. Brian Scurfield says:

    @Lee: About the thing that doesn’t need stating 🙂 Let X be an argument for the proposition that “it is necessary for any argument be true that it be valid”. Suppose the premises of X are true and that X is valid. Do you agree that we cannot use these to facts to establish the truth of X for that begs the question? So here we have a case where the validity of X is no use in determining the truth of X?

  53. Lee Kelly says:

    Elliot,

    You can say that if you want. You can say anything if you want. The conclusion of an invalid argument may be true, and you can always assert a material implication instead. This doesn’t mean validity is irrelevant or uninteresting. In fact, validity is vital in all critical discourse, since falsity is only retransmitted from conclusion to premises when an argument is valid.

  54. Brian Scurfield says:

    Edit of above comment to fix a “to” that seems to have wandered:

    @Lee: About the thing that doesn’t need stating 🙂 Let X be an argument for the proposition that “it is necessary for any argument be to true that it be valid”. Suppose the premises of X are true and that X is valid. Do you agree that we cannot use these facts to establish the truth of X for that begs the question? So here we have a case where the validity of X is no use in determining the truth of X?

  55. Brian Scurfield says:

    Ah well you know what I mean 🙂

  56. Elliot says:

    All we can ever do is guess and criticize. So what’s the point of all this?

    What difference does it make if falsity is retransmitted if we don’t know which arguments are valid? We’ll never know when it was or wasn’t retransmitted, we’ll just guess. Why not guess what’s true directly, and come up with good explanations and arguments? Why the detour through validity claims and retransmission claims?

    CR doesn’t work by determining what arguments are valid, and using retransmission. It works by conjecture and refutation.

  57. Lee Kelly says:

    Brian,

    The “question begging” character of valid arguments is not in question, and is quite irrelevant to any point I have been making.

    As an aside, I will say that whether a valid argument begs the question really depends upon the intent of the arguer, rather than the argument itself. If you do not intend to justify the conclusion with the premises, then no question is being begged.

  58. Lee Kelly says:

    Elliot,

    It also involves exploring and analysing the logical content of conjectures, and their logical relations to other propositions. The issue of what is and isn’t entailed by a particular conjecture is of the upmost importance to critical discourse. You’re demonstrating that in this very argument.

  59. Elliot says:

    We can guess the logical content of conjectures, and their logical relations to other propositions, and criticize those guesses. No more than that. Do you agree?

  60. Lee Kelly says:

    Elliot,

    All knowledge is guesswork, in a manner of speaking. I agree with that, and I fail to understand its significance in this context.

  61. Elliot says:

    What do you mean “in a manner of speaking”? Why weaken it? All knowledge is guesswork, full stop, isn’t it?

    The relevance is:

    > This doesn’t mean validity is irrelevant or uninteresting. In fact, validity is vital in all critical discourse, since falsity is only retransmitted from conclusion to premises when an argument is valid.

    I disagree with this. We don’t use retransmission via valid arguments because validity is about guarantees we never have. We only using guesses and criticism. Validity has no role in the method of knowledge creation by guesses and criticism, only argument-without-guarantees does.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

please answer (required): * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.