Advanced Search

Is there a way to confirm a premises truth? When I looked it up I found two ways suggested. The first was the idea that a premise can be common sense, which I can't compartmentalize from the idea that appeals to consensus are considered a fallacy. The second was that it can be supported by inductive evidence, which to my knowledge can only be used to support claims of likelihood, not certainty.

The answer will vary with the sort of premise. For example: we confirm the truth of a mathematical claim in a very different way than we confirm the truth of a claim about the weather. Some things can be confirmed by straightforward observation (there's a computer in front of me). Some can be confirmed by calculation (for example, that 479x368=176,272). Depending on our purposes and the degree of certainty we need, some can be confirmed simply by looking things up. (That's how I know that Ludwig Wittgenstein was born in 1889.) Some call for more extensive investigation, possibly including the methods and techniques of some scientific discipline. The list goes on. It even includes things like appeal to consensus, when the consensus is of people who have relevant expertise. I'm not a climate scientist. I believe that humans are contributing to climate change because the consensus among experts is that it's true. But the word "expert" matters there. The fast that a group of my friends happen to think that...

Is there any way to prove that you are telling the truth when it seems false to others?

My answer is bound to disappoint, but here goes anyway. The obvious options for proving that I'm telling the truth are 1) to give reasons for thinking what I say is actually true, 2) to give reasons for thinking that I'm honest and 3) to give people a basis for doubting their own reasons for doubting me. 1) The best way to prove that you're telling the truth is to give people good reasons to believe that what you're saying is actually true. Unfortunately, in some cases this is really hard. Suppose I really did hear John tell Mary that he planned to break into Sam's computer. That might really have happened, and I might have heard it. But I might not have any independent way of showing that John and Mary really had this conversation, and if it's my word against theirs, there's not a lot that I can do. 2) I might be able to provide evidence that I'm generally honest, and that I don't have any special motive for lying about John. That would help my case indirectly. It would tend to show that I'm...

Debating with a theologian over the validity of biblical condemnation of homosexuality i've been offered a sequence of arguments that seem to me circular. First argument: Divine directives 1. God has given the directive to establish the eterosexual marriage 2. Homosexual acts are condemned in the BIble 3. Homosexuals brake the divine directive Second argument: Perverse heart 1. To brake a divine law willingly is perversion 2. Homosexual acts are condemned in the Bible 3. Homosexuals are perverse Third argument: social deviance 1. To diffuse behaviours that are condemned in the Bible is a form of social deviance 2. Homosexual acts are condemned in the BIble 3. Homosexual are social deviant To me it is obvious that all these arguments implies, as a second premise, the condemnation whose validity is in question. When i have made this observation i have been offered a curios answer: anyone has a worldview that starts from certain unquestionable premise, that are in themselves circular but not invalid....

Interesting. It's true that we do sometimes rely on assumptions, premises or whatnot that we simply take for granted. In fact, it's hard to see how we could avoid doing that; otherwise we'd end up in an endless regress of justifications. We could use the term "worldview" for broad premises that we use this way, but I'm not sure the term adds much so I'll leave it aside. But there's another question that leaves an ambiguity in what you're saying. Is the theologian offering an argument that s/he think should persuade a non-believer? Or is he offering arguments that a believer might accept whether or not anyone else does? If your asking this person "Why do you believe that homosexuality is wrong" then pointing out that it's a consequence of other assumptions that the person accepts and sees as more basic is fine. In that case, he's simply setting forth the internal logic of his view. Whether or not you accept the first two beliefs, there's no circularity in saying "The Bible represents God's...

If i define philosopher as lover of wisdom, how can i be sure that its a rational,critical and systematic investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct(one of nowadays favoured definitions of philosophy, it seems to me)that brings wisdom? It seems quite bit too dogmatic to me. It seems like these epithets are implying the only way through one can gain wisdom, but what if there are others means to gain wisdom?

If word origins were a good guide to the nature of a profession, a secretary would be a keeper of secrets and a plumber would be someone who works in lead. That suggests we have some reason to be suspicious at the outset. Even if we grant that "philosopher" comes from the Greek for "lover of wisdom," that doesn't tell us much about what the discipline of philosophy actually is. Let's take the philosophers who think of themselves as systematically, critically examining principles of being, knowledge and/or conduct. Do they see themselves as engaged in the pursuit of wisdom? Some might, but I'd guess most don't. They're trying to sort through interesting and abstract questions of a particular sort, but no wise person would think of abstract theoretical understanding as amounting to wisdom nor, I submit, would any wise person think that wisdom requires abstract, theoretical understanding. I'd side with the wise here. Wisdom isn't easy to characterize in a sound bite, but I think of a wise...

Why do smart people disagree about fundamental questions about life?

How about because they're hard questions? Okay, maybe that's a bit quick. But it's close. When a question doesn't have an obvious answer, it's no surprise that people disagree. And if there's no agreed-upon method for getting the answer, it's even less surprising. A lot of what most people would count as fundamental questions about life are like that. For that matter, so are a lot of questions that most people would have a hard time getting excited about. (A good chunk of what you'll find in academic journals deals with questions that hardly count as fundamental issues about life, but the answers aren't obvious and the methods for getting at answers aren't obvious either.) For some such questions, there's another sort of reason: picking an answer depends on how we rank competing values. Many of the familiar differences between liberals and conservatives are of this sort, for example. And it's not just that questions of value can be hard or that there's not always a clear way to settle them. It...

Some people have argued that because people's choices are often influenced by factors that are not relevant to rational decision making, people do not have free will. For instance, people are much more willing to register as an organ donor on their driver's liscenses if this is presented as the default option ("check this box to be an organ donor" vs "check this box to opt out of being an organ donor"). Does a person need to be rational in order to have free will?

I'd like to suggest that it's not an all-or-none affair, but yes: rationality is part of free will. One way to think about it is to ask what kind of "free will" would be worth caring about. A will that's not able to respond to reasons is one I wouldn't want to have, and any sense in which it would be "free" seems to me to be pretty Pickwickian. This point doesn't settle the question of how free will and determinism are related. Robert Kane's version of libertarianism, for instance, doesn't call up any obvious conflict between free will and reason. That's partly because reason doesn't always dictate a single course of action. It would be reasonable of me to work on my administrative duties for the rest of the afternoon, and also reasonable to spend the time on research. But it wouldn't be reasonable to tear off my britches and run naked into the street, and I don't think the fact that this would be beyond me (absent a very good reason) to mean I don't have free will. So yes: little glitches in our...

Hume showed that belief in induction has no rational basis, yet everyone believes it and in fact one can't help believing it. How then can one criticize religious belief, the person who says "I know my belief in God has no rational basis, but I believe it anyway"?

At least part of the answer to your question is hidden in the way you phrased it. Suppose that I'm wired so that there's really nothing I can do about the fact that I think inductively. As soon as I put my copy of Hume down, I revert straightaway and irresistibly to making inductive inferences. We usually 't think it doesn't make sense to criticize people for things they have no control over. If we can't help making inductions, then criticism is pointless. But we don't think that all non-rational beliefs are like this. On at least some matters, we're capable of slowly, gradually changing the way we think until the grip of the irrational belief weakens to the point where we can resist it. For example: someone might realize that they're prejudiced against some group. They might come to see that this prejudice is simply irrational. That might lead them to think they should try to change the way they think and react, and they might well succeed . Or to take a different example, when cognitive...

Suppose it's your birthday, and you get your Aunt (who has an infinite amount of money in the bank) to mail you a signed check with the dollar amount left blank. Your Aunt says you cash the check for any amount you want, provided it is finite. Assume that the check will always go through, and that each extra dollar you request gives you at least some marginal utility. It seems in this case, every possible course of action is irrational. You could enter a million dollars in the dollar amount, but wouldn't it be better to request a billion dollars? For any amount you enter in the check, it would be irrational not to ask for more. But surely you should enter some amount onto the check, as even cashing a check for $1 is better than letting it sit on your dresser. But any amount you put onto the check would be irrational, so it seems that you have no rational options. Does this mean that the concept of "infinite value" is self-contradictory? If so we have a rebuttal to Pascal's Wager.

I hope that some of my co-panelists who think more about decision theory will chime in, but here are a few thoughts. Cheap first try: it seems plausible that even if every additional dollar brings some marginal utility, by the time we reach, say, a trillion trillion dollars (a septillion dollars) the utility provided by the septiliion+1th dollar is so tiny that the utility cost of worrying about it exceeds the utility it could provide. Of course, that's not really an answer to your question. What you have in mind is a scenario on which it's not just that each additional dollar adds utility, but on which the total area under the utility curve goes to infinity. But it's worth noticing that these are separate ideas. Even if each additional dollar adds value, the infinite sum might still converge to a finite number. So we can restate the problem this way: there's an infinite well of utility available, and you can choose to have any finite amount of it, but you have to specify the quantity...

What are some real-life examples using reason (deductive or inductive) in a sound and valid manner and coming up with a false statement of reality? In other words, I'm trying to prove that reason is not always a reliable way of knowing.

It might help to start with some definitions. As philosophers and logicians use the term "valid," a piece of reasoning is valid, roughly, if it's impossible for the premises to be true unless the conclusion is also true. That means that any argument with true premises and a false conclusion is automatically invalid. And as philosophers and logicians use the word "sound," a sound piece of reasoning is valid and has true premises. That means that any sound argument automatically has a true conclusion. Of course, valid arguments can lead us to bad conclusions. That happens when they start with false premises. The following argument is valid, but the conclusion is false: Some whales are fish. All fish have gills. Therefore, some whales have gills. The problem, of course, is the first premise. But the reasoning isn't at fault. So far, we've talked about deductive reasoning, and we can say that there are principles of deductive reasoning that are reliable in this sense: when applied to true...

Pages