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Are Use Statements Useable?

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Posted by Harvey on May 3, 2002 12:13:38 UTC

Hi Mario,

***H: It is like going before a jury in court to convict a criminal of a crime and saying to the jury "if we assume this man is guilty, then we can convict him, and since we assume this man is guilty, therefore you should convict him". But, this is exactly what you wish to prove, that the man is guilty. M: Nonsense. We're not "convicting" anyone here. Science makes NO absolute statements. All that's said is "given this amount of evidence, we suspect that he's guilty." There's NEVER any need to make an absolute verdict.***

That's the point. We have no evidence tying him to any crime unless we assume the evidence we have serves this function, but we cannot make this assumption without justification - we don't have justification.

***H: If you assume that with your core beliefs that you are providing approximate truths, then why isn't the theist allowed to assume that their core beliefs that they are providing truth? Is it only because science assumes it is providing approximate truth instead of absolute truth? But, why can you assume approximate truth in the first place? M: It's all about approximations as opposed to absolute statements. Why can we suppose approximate truth in the first place? Because of the connected use statements. As I said, we must be at least in the ballpark with atomic theory, or we'd have to nuclear reactors.***

This is not a valid justification. There's too many examples in history where humans were able to make use of their models only to find out later that the models gave wrong predictions. In any case, the key matter here is justification and the problems that are inherent in the Inference of Best Explanation (IBE) to defend scientific realism (also called the Miracle Argument by Hilary Putnam). The IBE has a few inherent flaws that do not obtain any justification (i.e., the use statements are invalid). For example, in order to say atomic theory is approximately true since the best explanation for nuclear reactors is if our atomic theory is approximately true is to beg the question. What do you mean by best explanation? How do you choose one explanation from among alternatives? If you cannot justify your statement, then there is no reason to be committed to that statement.

***We must be aiming in the right direction in our understanding of waves, or we'd have no television. Now, you can tell me that these observations have no bearing on the underlying truth statements, or that we don't know exactly what is being described (i.e. if we're all part of the Matrix then we have no nuclear reactors anyway) but I disagree.***

Mario, we are talking about an external reality that all of our arguments cannot determine if we know it - even approximately. All we have to go on is sensory data and a history of failed theories. What's to say that the future will be an infinite future of accepting theories and dumping them once their range of approximation is reached? What justifies our hominid beliefs about the unobservable?

***With regard to the first statement (about truth statements) use statements can influence, change, or eliminate truth statements. When the theory of relativity came about, people discarded the assumption that there was no universal speed limit, or that time was a constant. The underlying assumptions are constantly evolving.***

And herein lies the point. We can't use our success in technology to justify our obtaining approximate truth since our knowledge is changing and many of our former beliefs have been mostly discarded as approximate truths. We can just accept the Miracle Argument as our reason to believe in us knowing truth, but then we are in the same boat as the theist who accepts God's existence because of a miracle argument (i.e., how can 'all of this' be just so?).

***With regard to the second, it doesn't matter if we're describing what we think we are, or if it's part of something bigger, or more complex. Whether or not we're describing actual atomic theory or describing a small subroutine in the coding of the Matrix, we're describing SOMETHING with genuine bearing in the outside world.***

You justify that because of the Miracle Argument. However, a theist could say that we are describing Something with their version of a miracle argument. Of course, we could all be wrong. You could be describing a primitive 21st century understanding that in the 450th century is in the Ptolemic Musuem of False Ideas of Primitive Humans (located on Mars - admission fee $4).

***The observed validity of the use statements derived from the underlying truth statements is a good test to find out how valid those underlying truth statements are. With science's multitudes of evidence and usefulness with regard to the outside world, I postulate that we're headed in the right direction. Religious faith has no such external bearing.***

I'm glad that you are so confident in your postulations. Perhaps if you become famous enough you will have a posted quote right next to Lord Kelvin in the Ptolemic Musuem. The point is that you do not know. You have absolutely no justification for making these statements other than your belief in a Miracle Argument which a number of leading philosophers do not accept as valid. I believe even Hilary Putnam who formally introduced it no longer accepts this argument as valid.

***H: Faith is that which takes us over the hurdle of justification and simply takes it for granted that our core assumptions are just M: Yep. Which is why I avoid faith. You bypass the problem and forget about it, while using faith's own flaws to try and attack reason. That strikes me as suspiciously convenient.***

On the contrary, I don't want to delusion myself thinking I know something when in fact I do not know it. What I know is that there is a permanent and unpenetratable dark wall between us and reality/truth. We can't know we approximate it, and we cannot know if we are on the right track. All we can speak of is in terms of our pragmatic success and what is ultimately meaningful to us humans. Is that worth taking that hurdle and having faith, yes, I think it is. Otherwise I should be an antirealist.

***H: It [faith] wants to make the world as meaningful M: If the only way to accomplish that is to believe you're right from the get-go, I want to part of it. And I don't understand why you do.***

Because otherwise we must assume no truth (or approximate truths) of the world. If that is so, then I think we miss out on many opportunities. Realism might not be right, but it helps in making the world more meaningful which actually pushes our 'knowledge' forward. The belief itself has pragmatic virtues.

***H: We could quite easily limit our assumptions by denying an external world, but that would be sacrificing a great deal of meaning in terms of our interaction of the world. M: Fry my hide. NOT deny an external world, just admit that we don't know whether or not one exists. That doesn't harm anything: on the contrary, it assists you by avoiding any absolute statements.***

Oh, I admit that there may not be an external world (contrary to all my experiences), but not to assume it isn't actually there? Nah. I'll take my chances and assume away.

Warm regards, Harv

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