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Kruel
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2008 8:16 am 
 

It is a view that nothing is certain. The argument is pretty simple.

If somebody claims to know something, he must give a reason for it to justify it. But even if he gives a reason, he would have to give another reason to justify the reason he gave, and so on ad infinitum. The way to stop this infinite regression is either to assume that some things are self-evident, or make a circular argument. However, neither of them work. To assume something to be self-evident would be arbitrary, and to give a reason for that proposition would be to re-enter the infinite regress. Circular arguments don't work because there could be many circles of arguments, some of them contrary to others, and you cannot decide which circle is the "better" one. To assume so would be the same as assuming a proposition as being self-evident, but only with the proposition replaced by a circle of propositions in this case; it will be arbirary.

For a specific example, consider this: A man claims that he has hands. The skeptic asks "why do you think you have hands?" and the man says "because I can see my hands." Now, the skeptic asks "why do you think you have hands?" The man can 1. Say it is self-evident that he sees his hands 2. make a circular argument, saying that he thinks he sees his hands because he has hands 3. give some other reason, like "the image of my hands is perceived through my eyes and the neurons give a signal to my brain that they are hands."

Option 1 fails because it is arbitrary. Option 2 fails because there can be other circles, for example "the man doesn't have hands, and thus he cannot see it. He cannot see his hands, so he does not have hands." Intuition will suggest that he has hands, but remember that intuition itself can be questioned and will result in this trilemma. Option 3 is simply to continue the regress and doesn't solve anything.

An interesting point is that this is paradoxical, in that one cannot be certain if skepticism itself is true. I am uncertain (:D) about whether this invalidates skepticism, though it seems like it won't, since skepticism is more accurately a refusal to assent to every proposition, including the proposition "nothing is certain" or "skepticism is true."
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greysnow
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2008 1:41 pm 
 

Kruel wrote:
If somebody claims to know something, he must give a reason for it to justify it. But even if he gives a reason, he would have to give another reason to justify the reason he gave, and so on ad infinitum.


This demand gives too little weight to knowledge derived from perception. If I claim to have hands and am prepared to present them for inspection to anyone who doubts it, I don't need to provide further proof. The tenet that for a claim proof has to be supplied is of course fundamental, but the further demand that this proof always has to be proven in turn is excessive. It depends on what the claim is. If it is a claim whose proof depends on anything other than actual perception, this 'anything other' has to be corroborated by other established knowledge, until, in a kind of reverse causal chain, we come back to sensory input, that is, to data.

The Pyrrhonist stance seems to be that we can gather no actual data, not even by seeing and touching it. While this may be logically unassailable (but would lead to an extreme form of solipsism if followed to its conclusion, where I cannot even trust my own body), I think that one of its premises goes too far and that this radical form of skepticism is armchair philosophy of no particular use to epistemology. The antidote is common sense. Marcello Truzzi and before him Laplace and Hume, I think, had it right:

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He is credited with originating the oft-used phrase "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof," which Carl Sagan then popularized as "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." [9] However, this is a rewording of the Principle of Laplace which says, "The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness." [10] This, in turn, may have been based on the statement "A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence" by David Hume.[11]
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Scorpio
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2008 8:41 pm 
 

Quote:
This demand gives too little weight to knowledge derived from perception. If I claim to have hands and am prepared to present them for inspection to anyone who doubts it, I don't need to provide further proof. The tenet that for a claim proof has to be supplied is of course fundamental, but the further demand that this proof always has to be proven in turn is excessive. It depends on what the claim is. If it is a claim whose proof depends on anything other than actual perception, this 'anything other' has to be corroborated by other established knowledge, until, in a kind of reverse causal chain, we come back to sensory input, that is, to data.


If you make a claim and provide evidence, I think you have to justify your evidence, if you expect your claim to be 'absolutely certain.' Otherwise, there's the possibility (however small it might be) that your evidence is not well-founded.
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greysnow
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 05, 2008 7:43 am 
 

Scorpio wrote:
If you make a claim and provide evidence, I think you have to justify your evidence, if you expect your claim to be 'absolutely certain.' Otherwise, there's the possibility (however small it might be) that your evidence is not well-founded.

The question is where to stop the infinite regress of providing evidence for evidence. If we don't want to give up completely on collecting usable knowledge that we can half trust to be the foundation of more knowledge, there has to be such a limit. I would draw the line, perhaps arbitrarily, at sensory input. This is not failsafe -- there are hallucinations, after all, and you may not see the color red as I do -- but it's workable and gives us the possibility to build on it. Pyrrhonism doesn't help us with anything.
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Stormalv
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 05, 2008 7:57 am 
 

This is how I've always thought, I didn't know it had a name. But what about things like math? 2 plus 2 can't be anything other than 4, can it?
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Corimngul
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 05, 2008 9:21 am 
 

I agree with greysnow that pyrrhonism isn't helpful, but in essence - unless you accept the idea of axioms - they are right..

My view is that circular arguments should be shunned, but the self-evident things - the axioms have their worth. The most famous example is of course geometry. Euclid penned down a couple of axioms and proved all his theorems from them. His axioms do of course only form the basis for a model of reality.

One can take his parallel postulate - which basically says that parallel lines never meet - and change it to that parallel lines meet at infinity. The model is still correct in the logic sense, since it's free from contradictions and it's legitimate in the sense that is gives us valid results (if we make sure that we translate the results into a geometry we understand).

The change doesn't necessarily make it self-evident anymore, as Euclid's definition and popular opinion want axioms to be. In logic, a statement can be taken as an axiom as long as the theory is consistent, that is, free of contradictions.

So there you go, neither is proven and we're unable to travel to the point of infinity to prove or disprove number two. Yet their worth, especially Euclid's variant, is immense. I don't think the idea of axioms fail at all, they are perfectly logically acceptable. One has to accept though, that they are points which won't be proven.

Stormalv wrote:
This is how I've always thought, I didn't know it had a name. But what about things like math? 2 plus 2 can't be anything other than 4, can it?

It certainly can - if you redefine Peano's axioms. As long as the theory is logically consistent it is alright. Of course this would only apply to your re-defined theory, not the "normal" one.
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Scorpio
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 06, 2008 2:11 am 
 

greysnow wrote:
The question is where to stop the infinite regress of providing evidence for evidence. If we don't want to give up completely on collecting usable knowledge that we can half trust to be the foundation of more knowledge, there has to be such a limit. I would draw the line, perhaps arbitrarily, at sensory input. This is not failsafe -- there are hallucinations, after all, and you may not see the color red as I do -- but it's workable and gives us the possibility to build on it. Pyrrhonism doesn't help us with anything.


It is workable, yes; however, it is not absolutely certain because the evidential chain that justifies a claim might break down at some link, in which case all of the subsequent pieces of evidence that rest upon the faulty link are faulty, too. The main point to take away from this form of skepticism is that our definition of knowledge must not demand that we have absolute certainty. Otherwise, little or nothing will qualify.
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iiz50p
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 5:56 am 
 

Anyone who is familiar with Rene Descarte's meditations would understand the principle of a Decieving Demon. It is always perfectly possible that there is an omnipotent creature akin to a God who is capable of decieving us so prefectly that everything in our univers is a lie etc etc. I cant really bother going into detail as it is quite a lengthy esay but if you want to know more just search for Descartes on wikipedia for more info.

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NeglectedField
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 11, 2008 8:48 pm 
 

Although we can't prove that there isn't some grand deception, I tend to regard those who are inclined to such beliefs to be neurotic. Furthermore, given the deception would be so grand and all-encompassing, it is irrelevant as to whether such a deception exists or not, as the way we perceive things (i.e. what we are capable of perceiving things) is the only platform we will ever use for sensing anything.
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Noobbot
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 11, 2008 11:34 pm 
 

Scorpio wrote:
greysnow wrote:
The question is where to stop the infinite regress of providing evidence for evidence. If we don't want to give up completely on collecting usable knowledge that we can half trust to be the foundation of more knowledge, there has to be such a limit. I would draw the line, perhaps arbitrarily, at sensory input. This is not failsafe -- there are hallucinations, after all, and you may not see the color red as I do -- but it's workable and gives us the possibility to build on it. Pyrrhonism doesn't help us with anything.


It is workable, yes; however, it is not absolutely certain because the evidential chain that justifies a claim might break down at some link, in which case all of the subsequent pieces of evidence that rest upon the faulty link are faulty, too. The main point to take away from this form of skepticism is that our definition of knowledge must not demand that we have absolute certainty. Otherwise, little or nothing will qualify.


Not necessarily. Not all "chains of evidence" are a perfectly linear and singular sequence. There are often multiple pieces of evidence/logic leading to the next. Thus, if one piece of evidence crumbles, the rest may not; think of it in the context of a janga block. If a nonvital piece is removed, the structure is not quite as stable (though it must be noted that nothing is perfectly stable), but by no means is it fully collapsed.

As with Greysnow and others, I do agree that evidencial skepticism can safely end at the point of sensory input. This extreme disbelief, as they also pointed out, is a philosophical brick wall that is itself circular in nature. In stating that nothing can be assured to be true, their own philosophy can fall under that all-encompassing judgment as well. There are certain things that must be assumed, for, as also previously established, not everything can rest upon evidence more than (seemingly) tangible ones.

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Fungicide
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 16, 2008 12:07 pm 
 

The answer is a new theory of truth. This is one of the problems that Pragmatism seeks to adress. Read Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature by Richard Rorty for a discussion of problems like this.
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Scorpio
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2008 5:28 pm 
 

Noobbot wrote:
Not necessarily. Not all "chains of evidence" are a perfectly linear and singular sequence. There are often multiple pieces of evidence/logic leading to the next. Thus, if one piece of evidence crumbles, the rest may not; think of it in the context of a janga block. If a nonvital piece is removed, the structure is not quite as stable (though it must be noted that nothing is perfectly stable), but by no means is it fully collapsed.


It's easier to make the point with the simplest case, but no generality is lost. For example, let A be a claim that is justified at the next level of the hierarchy by a set of n statements. Apply the argument to any member of that set. Either that statement is accepted as self-evident or else it is justified by some other set having k members. So pick out any one of the k elements. Either it is accepted as self-evident or else it is justified by some other set....

As far as I can tell, it makes no difference whether the claim under consideration is justified by 1 or 1 thousand pieces of evidence.

Quote:
As with Greysnow and others, I do agree that evidencial skepticism can safely end at the point of sensory input. This extreme disbelief, as they also pointed out, is a philosophical brick wall that is itself circular in nature. In stating that nothing can be assured to be true, their own philosophy can fall under that all-encompassing judgment as well. There are certain things that must be assumed, for, as also previously established, not everything can rest upon evidence more than (seemingly) tangible ones.


The skeptic's view is not 'I know that nothing can be known' -- this is ludicrous. Rather, his philosophy can be stated 'it does not appear that anything can be known for the following reasons ....., but I cannot be certain because those reasons also prevent me from suggesting that I know that skepticism is correct.'
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Fatal_Metal
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 18, 2008 3:36 pm 
 

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This is not failsafe -- there are hallucinations, after all, and you may not see the color red as I do -- but it's workable and gives us the possibility to build on it. Pyrrhonism doesn't help us with anything.


Well, I think the problem of hallucinations can be circumvented. A says he has hands, and says so because his eyes perceive them. He asks B and C (or a larger sample of people, if you may) whether they see his hands and they say they do. Now it's quite unlikely that many people will suffer from the same hallucination - the probability is high that A's hands do exist, isn't it? As the probability of A's hands not existing is minuscule - we can conclude A does indeed have hands.

While I know the above piece can be misused in egregious ways - the logic in it relies on the sanity and the honesty of the people concerned. Therefore, if the people lie - it certainly cannot be used.

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greysnow
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 19, 2008 7:33 am 
 

Fatal_Metal wrote:
Quote:
This is not failsafe -- there are hallucinations, after all, and you may not see the color red as I do -- but it's workable and gives us the possibility to build on it. Pyrrhonism doesn't help us with anything.


Well, I think the problem of hallucinations can be circumvented. A says he has hands, and says so because his eyes perceive them. He asks B and C (or a larger sample of people, if you may) whether they see his hands and they say they do. Now it's quite unlikely that many people will suffer from the same hallucination - the probability is high that A's hands do exist, isn't it? As the probability of A's hands not existing is minuscule - we can conclude A does indeed have hands.

While I know the above piece can be misused in egregious ways - the logic in it relies on the sanity and the honesty of the people concerned. Therefore, if the people lie - it certainly cannot be used.

Hallucinations, or less dramatic, perceptional mistakes are a problem in cases where a perception that functions as a piece of evidence for a hypothesis cannot be replicated. Under laboratory conditions it is certainly possible to repeat an experiment, and if I'm not mistaken, the reason that replicability of an experiment is a prerequisite for acceptance of a scientific paper is exactly that there is a possibility of false perceptions in a one-off experiment.

However, the question becomes important when replicable evidence is not available, as in testimony in court. I trained as a legal clerk and have had some insight into how much the testimony of separate witnesses of the same offense, i.e. a single non-replicable event, will differ on some occasions, and not because the witnesses lie (well, some may) but because they remember the incident differently. This can be a result of "subconscious lying" or perceptions/memories filtered by your expectations, e.g. you might not remember that it was your brother who started the brawl, not the other guy. We have every reason to be wary of (what we remember of) our sensory input, but, as I said, it's the only thing we've got.
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Scorpio
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 20, 2008 5:03 pm 
 

Fatal_Metal wrote:
Well, I think the problem of hallucinations can be circumvented. A says he has hands, and says so because his eyes perceive them. He asks B and C (or a larger sample of people, if you may) whether they see his hands and they say they do. Now it's quite unlikely that many people will suffer from the same hallucination - the probability is high that A's hands do exist, isn't it? As the probability of A's hands not existing is minuscule - we can conclude A does indeed have hands.

While I know the above piece can be misused in egregious ways - the logic in it relies on the sanity and the honesty of the people concerned. Therefore, if the people lie - it certainly cannot be used.


That is how we reason in real life and it works well for us, but it won't succeed against skepticism because the skeptic will ask for A to justify the testimonial evidence. If A asks someone else if he has hands, he relies on his senses. The reason that the testimony confers justification is that he believes that his senses are reliable; otherwise, the people telling him that he has hands might as well be figments of his imagination. But that's precisely the issue being considered. A can't support the claim that his senses are reliable when he perceives his hands by assuming that his senses are reliable.
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