Empiricism - is it tenable?

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Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby Asparagus on December 17th, 2017, 11:39 am 

Empiricism's roots are in medicine. Contemporary medicine continues this tradition. Your doctor is more interested in whether his or her prescription works for you than why it works. It's not that your doctor doesn't know the latest theories, it's just that the measure of success is found in your wellbeing and not the elegance of a theory. This is the character of an empirical approach. There is suspicion and possibly skepticism about purely rational answers. This suspicion carries echoes of Locke's perspective on religious violence. The empiricist says "I don't care what strikes you as rational, show me facts."

Philosophical empiricism takes the next step. It says that if not all knowledge, at least all scientific knowledge must be based entirely on experience. It says that any ideas present in science from first principles to grand theories must be based on experience (possibly with a language game?)

Challenges to empiricism include the problem of induction and identification of innate knowledge by Quine and Chomsky. In spite of these challenges do you see empiricism as alive and well? If so, I've got questions for you. If not, I've got questions for you. Thanks for your time!
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby TheVat on December 17th, 2017, 1:15 pm 

A bit rusty, but it seemed to me at one time that Quine's holism, and naturalized epistemology, saved empiricism. The problem of induction seems best treated with a robust "web of belief," where we understand that we are not in the business of proving isolated unitary facts or propositions about reality but rather adding reinforcement to an extended universe of interconnected ones - often from different fields of science.

I hope Lomax, and others fresher on these topics than I am, will stop by. Alas, NoShips, a former member probably best equipped to field some of your questions, is not longer with us.

(if you are a newbie to this kind of website platform, the Tag function (in the full editor) alerts other members to your mention of them)
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby BadgerJelly on December 17th, 2017, 3:29 pm 

I have a question.

What is Empiricism. By this I mean what exactly are we talking about when we're talking about "knowledge" and "experience".

Having read neither Quine nor Chomsky I'd like to see what kind of common ground there is. If we're defending either "knowledge" or "experience" then what does that mean?
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby wolfhnd on December 17th, 2017, 4:24 pm 

The problem is how you define experience. If you accept that the evolution of every creature is a result of how life experienced the environment then empiricism is pretty safe. This becomes confusing only because life is part of the environment. The same process of feedback loops between the physical and cultural account for human intelligence. Unless you opt for a spiritual explanation experience is everything.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby Lomax on December 17th, 2017, 5:58 pm 

Badgerjelly and Wolfhnd - you both accurately identify ambiguities in the question, and both are sides of the same coin. Taking "knowledge" to mean something like "justified true belief" we might say the question is "what justifies belief?" and take empiricism to be the idea that observation (or perhaps, more broadly, experience) is the sole answer to that question.

The debate between Chomsky and Quine was over whether some of our knowledge is a priori. Chomsky believed his arguments for the "language module" - the idea that we are able to learn language in spite of the fact that sense-data alone doesn't give us enough to go on - vindicated "rationalism" (in the Cartesian sense) over empiricism. Quine alternatively believed that we can only justify beliefs empirically, and that in spite of the probable language module, meaning is "underdetermined" (which is to say we don't know for sure that we're all using language the same way, and experience can't prove that we are, but that's just the way it is), and that the meaning (or "significance") of statements lay in their predictive power. He drew on Skinner's behaviourism to support this theory. For my part I think Chomsky misses the point - we may well be born with true beliefs but this doesn't mean we have any justification for them. Wolfhnd seems to identify a potential problem here - if they have evolutionary value then we might well call that "justification". By the same argument a calculator would be "justified" in saying that 2 + 2 = 4, because it has been programmed that way for a good reason. The question is: how do we know that?

BiV - I'm not sure it's quite accurate to say that Quine saved empiricism, except possibly from himself, because Logical Positivism still had quite a large following at the time Two Dogmas was published. I think the biggest problem we have with confirmation holism (which I do support) is the one posed by Quine's student Davidson - if we're going to have some way of understanding when and how new data forces us to revise our "web of belief" - some way of matching the web to the world - then we must have something a priori which allows us to do so, lest we infinitely regress. In short we must have a proof theory.

Asparagus - notwithstanding that troubling thought: yes, I do see empiricism as alive and well.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby Lomax on December 17th, 2017, 6:13 pm 

By the way, I'm glad to see this survey is still up. It takes a sample of some 3,226 respondents, mostly philosophy professors and graduate students, and finds that 71.1% believe in a priori knowledge while only 35% count themselves as empiricists. (I am curious about the >6% who must have said yes both times.) Perhaps oddly, then, Hume is the most popular dead philosopher and Quine ranks fifth.

My fellow countrymen compared to the world at large are 8.3% less likely to be empiricists, 7.2% more likely to believe in "objective" aesthetic values, 13.6% more likely to believe in the analytic-synthetic distinction and 16.5% more likely to believe in a priori knowledge. Proving once again that we think we just know everything.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby wolfhnd on December 17th, 2017, 7:42 pm 

Why do we have to make everything so complicated. Animals have instincts, humans are animals, humans have instincts.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby Lomax on December 17th, 2017, 7:51 pm 

It's alleged that Wittgenstein once asked "why do people always say that it was natural for man to assume that the sun went 'round the earth rather than that the earth was rotating?"

The reply came: "Because it just looks as though the Sun is going 'round the Earth."

"Well", asked Wittgenstein, "what would it have looked like if it had looked as though the Earth was rotating?”

The point is that we can't always trust our instincts, evolved though they may be. It is only by empirical means that we know the calculator is a fine device.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby wolfhnd on December 17th, 2017, 8:50 pm 

Ok I get it but there are serious real world issues involved here. The blank slate theory has not only wasted considerable resources but has failed to help many who needed help the most. Head Start was pretty much a failure and sending millions of kids to college that shouldn't be there has produced a student loan crisis, not to mention considerable misery. Social engineering in general seems to have an unending list of unintended consequences. We need to work smarter not harder. I prefer evolutionary psychology for ultimate explanations so my bias is pretty clear. Yes environmental factors are important but the tweaking needs an empirical explanation, facts being in limited supply.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby Lomax on December 17th, 2017, 9:08 pm 

We don't need to argue for the tabula rasa in order to argue for empiricism. This is why I say Chomsky missed the point. By all means we are born with mental mechanisms, instincts and presumptions. The question is how we know which of them are true. I should also add that the social value of a theory speaks nothing of its truth. If religion made people behave better it wouldn't mean that Allah is watching.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby Asparagus on December 17th, 2017, 9:49 pm 

BadgerJelly » December 17th, 2017, 3:29 pm wrote:I have a question.

What is Empiricism. By this I mean what exactly are we talking about when we're talking about "knowledge" and "experience".

Having read neither Quine nor Chomsky I'd like to see what kind of common ground there is. If we're defending either "knowledge" or "experience" then what does that mean?

BadgerJelly
Just to add to Lomax's remarks, I'd ask if we necessarily have to have knowledge defined in order to ask how it comes into being. But for the sake of the thread, I'd say it's the type of the thing science is supposed to produce.

I consciously chose the word experience to avoid talking about sense data. What does experience mean to you?
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby Asparagus on December 17th, 2017, 10:02 pm 

Lomax » December 17th, 2017, 5:58 pm wrote:
Asparagus - notwithstanding that troubling thought: yes, I do see empiricism as alive and well.

By this, do you mean it's defendable?

Quine and Chomsky both argued that apriori knowledge of the know how variety exists. Ironically, Quine's conclusion that the ability to apply logic to new situations is apriori knowledge was based on a logical argument. To draw conclusions in that way is a rationalist maneuver which, as you say, lumps him together with Descartes and Leibniz. Chomsky, on the other hand, evaluated evidence.

I think inscrutability of reference dumps science in a ditch and walks away. There's no point in reading about the latest issue of Popular Science if there's no telling what it's actually saying. Right?
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby Asparagus on December 17th, 2017, 10:05 pm 

wolfhnd » December 17th, 2017, 7:42 pm wrote:Why do we have to make everything so complicated. Animals have instincts, humans are animals, humans have instincts.

So that's a vote against empiricism?
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby wolfhnd on December 18th, 2017, 12:08 am 

Asparagus » Mon Dec 18, 2017 2:05 am wrote:
wolfhnd » December 17th, 2017, 7:42 pm wrote:Why do we have to make everything so complicated. Animals have instincts, humans are animals, humans have instincts.

So that's a vote against empiricism?


No it's a vote against the idea that existence is not experience. I'm hostile towards the idea that things are more than the sum of their parts in the emergent properties sense. The parts are infinitely divisible and more complex than we can imagine. The mind is in the brain but the power of the brain comes from culture. More exactly culture is the cause of the brain through co evolution. It isn't just a case that environment and nature are both important but that they are in some sense the same thing. I take a strong stand against dualism.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby wolfhnd on December 18th, 2017, 12:24 am 

Lomax » Mon Dec 18, 2017 1:08 am wrote:We don't need to argue for the tabula rasa in order to argue for empiricism. This is why I say Chomsky missed the point. By all means we are born with mental mechanisms, instincts and presumptions. The question is how we know which of them are true. I should also add that the social value of a theory speaks nothing of its truth. If religion made people behave better it wouldn't mean that Allah is watching.


So religion is not the product of experience? Why do we think that culture isn't subject to a form of natural selection. How many generations does it take to get rid of bad ideas or bad genes. That is without dealing with how to define good or bad. Isn't it the case that it often requires an extinction event for new species to emerge. It seems to me that we may be defining truth too narrowly. Truth may be nothing more than fitness. Fitness being reasons without a reasoner. Honestly I don't know.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby BadgerJelly on December 18th, 2017, 1:38 am 

Asparagus -

I consciously chose the word experience to avoid talking about sense data. What does experience mean to you?


I think if you talk about experience you must necessarily talk about sensibility.

To answer your opening questions. Yes, empiricism can be defended just not in any absolute way. The problem is the same one which has sprung up in the last several discussions I've been involved in on this forum; the holding to ideas of pure objectivity and pure subjectivity - which is essentially a limitation set up in order to gain further understanding.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby BadgerJelly on December 18th, 2017, 4:23 am 

To add,

I think most rational people understand that the question of "nature or nurture?" is limited. By this I mean the line of division can be shifted given the context. It is like saying my past exists because of my future, which it does in a hindsight way, but not in a physical way. In one sense this statement makes sense, and in another it does not. We just have to do our best to avoid confusing these two interpretations and not make them out to be anything like the same thing.

This is the same species as the thread posted about ontological proof of god. I would even say the theme here is almost indentical because we find the very same questions being brought up in regard to "source" and "being".

As a biological question it is easier to handle, and has different level of application from society, species, organism right down to the cellular level.

I would also ask what does "innate knowledge" mean? Of course it makes some kind of sense to me, but if we're being as precise as we can possibly be can we really say knowledge is innate? What does this mean? I really don't want to get into Kant again, but he made the famous comment (so famous I forget it verbatim!)

Experience begins. Knowledge arises after experience. Prior to experience there is no "knowledge" in the common sense of the word. If there was then we may as well start saying the cup was invented before drinking, or that food comes from supermarkets.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby wolfhnd on December 18th, 2017, 5:41 am 

BadgerJelly » Mon Dec 18, 2017 8:23 am wrote:To add,

I think most rational people understand that the question of "nature or nurture?" is limited. By this I mean the line of division can be shifted given the context. It is like saying my past exists because of my future, which it does in a hindsight way, but not in a physical way. In one sense this statement makes sense, and in another it does not. We just have to do our best to avoid confusing these two interpretations and not make them out to be anything like the same thing.

This is the same species as the thread posted about ontological proof of god. I would even say the theme here is almost indentical because we find the very same questions being brought up in regard to "source" and "being".

As a biological question it is easier to handle, and has different level of application from society, species, organism right down to the cellular level.

I would also ask what does "innate knowledge" mean? Of course it makes some kind of sense to me, but if we're being as precise as we can possibly be can we really say knowledge is innate? What does this mean? I really don't want to get into Kant again, but he made the famous comment (so famous I forget it verbatim!)

Experience begins. Knowledge arises after experience. Prior to experience there is no "knowledge" in the common sense of the word. If there was then we may as well start saying the cup was invented before drinking, or that food comes from supermarkets.


Nice post

All you have to do now is incorporate how "knowledge" changes experience.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby Asparagus on December 18th, 2017, 10:48 am 

wolfhnd » December 18th, 2017, 12:08 am wrote:
Asparagus » Mon Dec 18, 2017 2:05 am wrote:
wolfhnd » December 17th, 2017, 7:42 pm wrote:Why do we have to make everything so complicated. Animals have instincts, humans are animals, humans have instincts.

So that's a vote against empiricism?


No it's a vote against the idea that existence is not experience. I'm hostile towards the idea that things are more than the sum of their parts in the emergent properties sense. The parts are infinitely divisible and more complex than we can imagine. The mind is in the brain but the power of the brain comes from culture. More exactly culture is the cause of the brain through co evolution. It isn't just a case that environment and nature are both important but that they are in some sense the same thing. I take a strong stand against dualism.

I'm getting mixed messages from you. Are you an eliminative materialist or an idealist?
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby Asparagus on December 18th, 2017, 10:57 am 

BadgerJelly » December 18th, 2017, 1:38 am wrote:Asparagus -

I consciously chose the word experience to avoid talking about sense data. What does experience mean to you?


I think if you talk about experience you must necessarily talk about sensibility.

To answer your opening questions. Yes, empiricism can be defended just not in any absolute way. The problem is the same one which has sprung up in the last several discussions I've been involved in on this forum; the holding to ideas of pure objectivity and pure subjectivity - which is essentially a limitation set up in order to gain further understanding.

Maybe down the line I could start a thread on the Argument from Illusion or something like that. I wasn't looking for an absolute defense (something indubitable). For starters, how do you address the problem of induction?
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby TheVat on December 18th, 2017, 11:06 am 

Badger, doesn't Chomsky give examples of innate knowledge that are pretty clear? As Kant earlier suggested, it's not so much knowledge of particular things that is innate, but how we structure the input from the external world, and thus how experience can be categorized. Whatever lies outside our categories could remain noumenous, unavailable to the various kinds of structuring we naturally apply. Chomsky used the example of innate semantics - e.g. even a tiny child, once it knows the concepts "blue" and "house," knows that when others say "the house is blue," they mean the OUTSIDE of the house is blue. If mice could talk, their innate semantics might construe the same sentence to refer to the interior of the house only. And for bats, "blue" would reside in the noumenon.*

*until anti-Kantian bats formulate a theory that bat science will one day devise instruments that allow them to perceive colors and thus transcend the innately determined categories of perception.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby BadgerJelly on December 18th, 2017, 11:39 am 

Asparagus -

I don't see a problem unless you're looking for an absolute defense. What works, and can be applied in various ways to other fields of interest, is knowledge. Newtonian mechanics works. Maybe tomorrow they won't work, maybe the apparent absolutes we use in science (such as the velocity of light) are variable and that our short snippet of experience is not in any position to notice any discernable change?

It boils down to logic and this limited means of communication we are using now. I cannot give over to you the absolute subjective experience that I have yet I doubt you'd refute my existence.

At the furthest reaches of our current knowledge, be this taken as subjective or inter-subjective (basically what we commonly refer to as "objective"), things fall apart because we don't have enough of a construct to adumbrate such a sparse and/or scattered selection of data.

Anything that can be understood as problematic is knowledge. The question is more about the range of application of certain sets of knowledge, where areas overlap, and the "betweenness" that we break away from to frame 'experience as it is' (so to speak.)

You mentioned something about the trick of language earlier (paraphrasing a little there.) I think I have said elsewhere using a commonly stated problem "If an unstoppable force meets an immovable object what happens?" To which the blatantly obvious answer is we either create a new concept based on appreciate of this phenomenon, or we alter the current one's we have - strangely enough can we really say either solution is any different.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby Asparagus on December 18th, 2017, 12:02 pm 

BadgerJelly » December 18th, 2017, 11:39 am wrote:Asparagus -

I don't see a problem unless you're looking for an absolute defense. What works, and can be applied in various ways to other fields of interest, is knowledge. Newtonian mechanics works. Maybe tomorrow they won't work, maybe the apparent absolutes we use in science (such as the velocity of light) are variable and that our short snippet of experience is not in any position to notice any discernable change?


And I think that's probably satisfactory to scientists as an isolated community. It's a methodological attitude. It doesn't support scientism, but more importantly, it conflicts with engineering. If we strap an astronaut into a rocket, we're demonstrating supreme confidence in natural law. The problem of induction is really more about that confidence that even children demonstrate, as Hume pointed out. The question is: why do we have that confidence?
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby BadgerJelly on December 18th, 2017, 12:09 pm 

Biv -

My honest view is that emotions precede experience, and therefore precede knowledge. I have no idea what Chomsky says, but your explanation using "blue" and "house" simply takes the question to a convenient point where it can be answered by defining "innate" in a certain context. Meaning we certainly don't need an objective language to experience "blue" or "house". We don't need a semantic marker at all in order to have experience, yet a great deal of what we call "knowledge" (as the refined thing we possess today) is advanced way beyond the subjective perspective due to the ability to share common markers.

The syntax is nothing without semantics. Or rather they are not separate at all, merely another line of division in order to create a greater set of limits.

Of course we can just refer to the problem as a biological one. Once the sperm hits the egg "experience" begins. Prenatal effects can alter a great deal about how an organism experiences the world it is opened up to after birth. What appears at birth, of any organism, is a construct ready to deal with a fresh environment and equipped with the appropriate tools (senses) which have already been active prior to departing the womb.

When push comes to shove we're only ever able to talk to each other directly by causal symbolism - meaning the holism of the experiencing being is never given over, it is merely mimicry 'as if'. Since the better part of our lives are framed as 'part of', be it part of a tribe, a pack, a nation, a family, or simply other beings, we have developed communication. Communication requires the "eidetic" (combined singular parceled "experience") to be broken up into pieces for easy consumption - change is captured as a procedure of happenings and from this innate process order and form emerge.

This is the limit of our understanding right now. And ironically the means of communication is precisely the thing that covers up the "innate", because we live about a community and thus we live and know by means of understanding the world as a bunch of casual relations not singular but in order, one after the other rather than as parallel. We don't possess the faculties to go very far with "mere" language.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby BadgerJelly on December 18th, 2017, 12:19 pm 

Asparagus -

Nope, not just science. It is a matter of practicality. What hurts us we avoid. We then learn that moving beyond our position of comfort can furnish us with great rewards. We move through life with hesitation pushing out here and there, and receding here and there. Once some force impacts upon us we revert to tried and tested procedures before examining the problem from a position of relative comfort.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby Asparagus on December 18th, 2017, 12:28 pm 

BadgerJelly » December 18th, 2017, 12:19 pm wrote:Asparagus -

Nope, not just science. It is a matter of practicality. What hurts us we avoid. We then learn that moving beyond our position of comfort can furnish us with great rewards. We move through life with hesitation pushing out here and there, and receding here and there. Once some force impacts upon us we revert to tried and tested procedures before examining the problem from a position of relative comfort.

If you experience any comfort at all it's because you have confidence in contiguity past to future.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby BadgerJelly on December 18th, 2017, 12:49 pm 

Asparagus -

Sounds like you want to chase your tail. Does some being experience confidence or bodily possess it? To know confidence I must know beyond it.

What is more you seem to be referring to our present adult condition? I am talking about an infant, or even prenatal baby which possesses no verbose language. For newborn we understand they mimic right from birth, and we understand that infants react with astonishment when object disappear and then don't reappear.

Where does "confidence" come into play in the life of a baby? If anything there are inbuilt mechanical functions that prevent early death, but over all the sensory system is set up to explore as best it can. Given that locomotion is not an issue there is no harm in observing the world, there would be certain expectations (babies are startled by sudden changes and become either intrigued or upset), but I don't see "confidence" as a tangible term to use here.
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby Asparagus on December 18th, 2017, 1:26 pm 

BadgerJelly-

Why are you talking about infants? Why not talk about tree stumps? "That stump is demonstrating a lot of confidence in the law of gravity."

Are you saying you don't have confidence in contiguity past to future?
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby TheVat on December 18th, 2017, 1:32 pm 

I often don't follow Badger, but I've found it's worthwhile to keep badgering him. As long as he doesn't turn to jelly.

SIDEBAR - Grue and Bleen

I tend to view induction as not really a problem, when approached in a pragmatic framework where we study things with a background context. (we reasonably to claim knowing all emeralds are green not just because we keep digging up green emeralds, but because of background knowledge of chemistry, geophysics, optics, quantum physics, etc.) I started browsing in SEP and was reminded of the Grue Paradox, which was discussed here (and greeted with massive confusion and/or dismissal) a while back. I'm not sure this snippet is worth your time, but it may at least get some readers to focus on why they think the paradox doesn't matter and why induction seems to work unreasonably well....

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/induction-problem/#GruParNewRidInd
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Re: Empiricism - is it tenable?

Postby TheVat on December 18th, 2017, 1:55 pm 

Maybe I should bring up Charles Saunders Peirce, famed for both spelling his last name funny, and for DIA - deduction, induction, and abduction as the 3-legged stool of TSM...so here's another hashtagged segment from SEP...

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/peirce/#dia

I may be speaking only for myself on this, but I find this kind of stuff worth reviewing because a lot of philosophy tends to evaporate from my brain if I don't keep revisiting this kind of material. I'm a science guy, not a philosopher, so I lean towards the pragmatic and wince and shy away from the highly abstract.
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