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Re:ontological Bias

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Posted by Harvey on August 18, 2002 17:10:22 UTC

Hi again Luis,

***H: "Every statement, everything you say about anything . . . all stem from an ontological bias" L: Suddenly youíre calling ontology a bias. An admirable maneuver (and probably not a typo, as youíve used this new phrase at least half a dozen times), but if you donít mind, or wish to amend your position, I think Iíll stick to your original definition: "Ontology is simply a discussion of 'what is'."***

Ontology is a discussion of 'what is'. It can also be a deeply held bias if one is locked into a particular ontological view. Some biases are deeper than others. For example, I might have a deeply held bias that objects exist and might not even question that bias. Other biases we might be much less committed - such as whether there are tachyons. I'm of W.V. Quine's opinion that you cannot have language without having an ontological commitment. This commitment forms a bias.

***you assert that our ability to know ontology (epistemology) is separate from ontology itself! I mean, if ontology is "simply a discussion of 'what is'," then why should we even possess the term "epistemology" unless we premuse something else is out there, doing a better job at contemplating 'what is' than we?***

I'm not sure why you said "our ability to know ontology (epistemology)", but let me elaborate. We all hold an ontology as language-speaking creatures. As we become aware of our ontology at an early age, we begin developing that ontology in the form of stating our own opinions about the world (e.g., I believe there are angels, I don't believe there are angels, etc). In an attempt to support our ontology (e.g., a belief in angels), we find ourselves in the precarious position of having to develop reasons for our ontological beliefs. In the process of developing reasons, many of us have come to see a certain pattern in our justifications. The pattern is often logical thinking, the use of evidence, etc. The pattern, or method, will often take a higher prominence than the pre-ontology which we originally held. This focus becomes an epistemological focus in developing our beliefs. Mind you, we never become free of our ontological driven past (i.e., even an epistemologically centered person still has ontological commitments), however without a strong justification of one's beliefs, many people become skeptics of any ole' ontological commitment. Again, such skeptics still have ontological commitments, but they feel they are more epistemologically justified in holding those commitments than other ontological commitments. I hope this answers much of your questions.

***If you can never discuss "ontology" beyond our ability to know (and thus describe) "ontology," your insistence upon "epistemology" is an assertion that our own consideration of reality is inferior to another consideration of reality that doesn't exist unless there is someone else to effect this very consideration.***

The problem with ontology is that we are both chained to it via language, and at the same time unable to 'know' since we do not have access to the world that is 'out there'. The best we can do is take on reasonable ontological commitments that seem correct and are meaningful. That is, the ontological commitments must not contradict our epistemological concerns. For example, if the physical evidence is strongly against the existence of God, then we might want to re-think that ontological commitment. On the other hand, if we have no refutation of an ontological commitment, then we have to focus on those commitments which provide meaning to our interaction with the world. The need for meaning is very powerful since this is the reason that we have language. Ontological commitment provides meaning. Even full-blown skeptics hold ontological commitments that provide meaning (e.g., the belief in empiricism).

***Remember, knowledge requires sentience, and if we cannot know ontology beyond the limits of epistemology, then separating the two concepts is ipso facto an assumption of God.***

We cannot know a correct ontology even within the limits of epistemology. Epistemology is about providing justification of a belief. Justification is not knowledge. For example, I am justified in thinking that the quark model is worthy of our acceptance (epistemology), I am not necessarily justified in thinking that quarks actually exist (ontology). Yet, I must hold some kind ontology to just even justify the quark model as worthy of our acceptance, thus with or without epistemology we are stuck with ontology.

***After all, if we cannot know a thing beyond our ability to know that thing, then how in the world can we keep a straight face and say that we know there is something beyond our capacity to know? The only way your line of thinking can maintain a logical equilibrium is if you presume reality is beyond our ultimate ability to know it.***

Reality is beyond our ultimate ability to know it! But, we are not in a position to avoid having beliefs about that which we cannot know (i.e., reality). This is my main point. We are stuck with having ontological commitments. We can eliminate ontological commitments by utilizing the epistemological practice of eliminating beliefs that appear invalid (e.g., based on logical fallacies, contradicted by substantial evidence, etc). However, as much as we try, we can never know whether the remaining ontological commitments (that are not washed away) are true or not.

***The more you respond to this objection of mine, the more it seems to me that you cannot escape this logical snare. Bias or basis, one philosophical "action-category" is appropriate for the balanced consideration of the philosophical "thing-category" (reality), not two. When you split our knowledge into itself and our ability to know knowledge, you're creating a train of thought that looks suspiciously like a circle. Youíre forced to build any and every stance from a premise that will always arrive back at itself.***

Your objection appears to be based on a premise that epistemology provides real ontological knowledge. I totally reject this premise. My view isn't circular since I am only saying that we arrive at more pragmatically suitable ontologies - we do not necessarily arrive at truth (even though it might look true). We simply cannot know if we have arrived at truth (full correct knowledge) or just another fiction for future generations to bring up in their debates of past erroneous views of the world.

Because of this inability to know that our ontological commitments are correct, it might be tempting to abandon ontological commitments whenever possible. However, this defeats the whole purpose of ontological commitments: to make our experience of the world meaningful. This pragmatic concern for meaning and language requires that we hold ontological commitments. No human is immune to holding ontological commitments, so if someone had such a goal to eliminate all ontological commitments, it would be quite unrealistic.

***"How can you be so sure that your biases are absolutely correct?" According to my version of the English language, "bias" is never correct (maybe you have committed this typo throughout the post?). Indeed, the division of knowledge into ontology and epistemology IS bias. Ideally, the pursuit of science continues without confusing itself with such biases.***

A bias doesn't have to be incorrect. For example, I have a bias toward pleasant conversations. Is that an incorrect bias? I don't think so. It is a good bias. Biases, if they blind us, can lead us down the wrong path. I like to think of a bias as a filter that aids us in processing information. Sometimes the filter serves a useful purpose and sometimes it hinders. Science is full of bias, and often times those biases are well-served. There are numerous incidences in the history of science where bias prevented fruitful insights (e.g., Einstein was able to remove the bias toward ether and therefore able to revolutionalize the physics of his day).

***A personal basis for knowledge is only a philosophical problem for those who can't assimilate the notions we're not perfect and reality appears to be perfect. But remember -- reality is only perfect insofar as it matches our own description of it.***

I'm not sure what you mean. In any case, I want to ask you again, Luis, how do you know that your psychologism is an absolutely correct bias?

Warm regards, Harv

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