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Posted by Harvey on May 14, 2002 03:27:48 UTC


Rather than rehash our last dialogue, let me just post where we left off. This will hopefully settle this issue.


Hi Mario,

***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. H: 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. M: Harv, I keep refuting this, and you keep saying this. I KNOW science's answers are not totally accurate. We used to assume the world was flat, since it seemed like it. We used to assume that the earth was the center of the universe, because it seemed like it. We used to assume that the orbit of the planets was circular. So, yeah, our current estimation is almost certainly wrong.***

My reply was directed at the principle of justifying scientific realism using Putnam's miracle argument. Whether the miracle argument is a pleasing argument or not, one cannot show that this argument justifies a belief in realism. There are other explanations other than some tie-in between our successes with physics/technology and our theories being approximately true. How do you select which explanation is better? You have to resort to pragmatic measures on justifying one explanation over another (e.g., simplicity, unification, etc), but all of these pragmatic approaches only tell you why the explanation is more meaningful to us (not whether our theories are approximately true).

***But your solution to this problem strikes me as insane. You bypass the reason and say with bold confidence "The world is flat." Harv, don't you see that the destruction of scientific theories is science's strength? You criticize science for being inaccurate, but don't apply those same standards to yourself. You don't hold yourself to the same restrictions that you impose on me.***

I don't criticize scientific theories for being inaccurate. I am merely saying that you cannot use the miracle argument as justification for realism of our theories. The miracle argument relies on the IBE, and we don't have any objective means to select the best explanation. We have no idea what the best explanation is outside our own subjective (i.e., pragmatic) experience. However, that's not good enough to say that scientific realism is approximately true about the world.

***H: 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? M: How is that begging the question? (by begging the question I assume you mean that I'm assuming what I claim to prove from the outset)***

You assume you have answered the question by concluding that the IBE is 'atomic theory as approximately true', but the premise here is that IBE reasoning is applicable to unobserved reality (e.g., what theories are approximately true).

***If our understanding of atoms was completely totally wrong, we couldn't perform fission. Agreed? Similarly, if our understanding of fluid dynamics was completely incorrect, we wouldn't have airplanes. (lift) The very fact that we have functional technology as a result of our scientific theories would tell us that those theories have tangible bearings in the outside world.***

You are mixing up 'theories have [pragmatic benefits] in the outside world' and our theories being approximately true. These are two different issues. You can infer all day as to why our theories have pragmatic benefits, but justification doesn't come from explanation. Explanation is certainly a desirable feature of a theory, but in science the end all of be all is empiricism. We don't give Nobel prizes to theories with good explanations, or theories considered the best inferred explanation to a phenomena.

***Of course, it's only an approximation. But unless you propose an alternative, it's the best we can hope for.***

An approximation of what? Of truth? This is the problem. How do humans justify that they possess truth or even an approximation of truth. There is no means that I know of to obtain this kind of result. If there were such a justification, it should never be wrong. But, theories have been wrong (not just approximately true - but just plainly wrong). Obviously a theory can't be approximately true one moment and fully wrong the next. What was 'approximately true' was our belief of approximate truth and not it being approximate truth.

***Your "solution" is to not deal with evidence and make assumptions without the benefit of use statements. Harv, why don't you agree that use statements can be used to approximate related truth statements?***

Use statements stand on their suppositions. We consider the suppositions to be valid beliefs based on our pragmatic considerations, and from there we make justified statements (or use statements) from those believed-to-be-true-of-reality that are obtained from our pragmatic acquisitions. You cannot justify a position which thinks that our axioms of reality (truth statements) are justified, if that were the case, then we would have absolute knowledge.

***H: 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 M: Harv, I have never EVER said that I believe I know truth. You don't seem capable of accepting that. I am relatively certain that science doesn't know any truths. But the point is, we are much closer now than we would be without reason and investigation (again, because of related use statements)***

Much closer to what? If you are much closer to truth then you must know truth to know that you are much closer to it.

***H: 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 M:
The pragmatic success (external 'confiration' through use statements) qualifies as an approximation. I don't understand why you don't seem to think so.***

Use statements are justified reasoning. We don't have many justified statements about reality (if any). Certainly the core beliefs of science are not justified statements of reality. Therefore, we cannot know we are getting closer to the truth, we cannot know we are more justified in saying something scientific about reality, and we certainly cannot know that we have approximate truth. We have pragmatic success from science, that's all that is justified in our statements of science. However, we have reason to believe in truth, in laws, etc. The question is are we justified in believing (having faith) in certain core assumptions if we are pragmatically justified in doing so.

Warm regards, Harv

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