Science Is Not That Simple (Part 2)

(For the first part of Science Is Not That Simple click here.)

Chalmers argues against the common idea that facts precede and are separate from theory. Chalmers starts his argument out against this common idea by explaining the ambiguity of the term “fact”.

It can refer to a statement that expresses the fact and it can also refer to the state of affairs referred to by such a statement.  For example, it is a fact that there are mountains and craters on the moon.  Here the fact can be taken as referring to the mountains or craters themselves.  Alternatively, the statement “there are mountains and craters on the moon” can be taken as constituting the fact.  When it is claimed that science is based upon and derived from the facts, it is clearly in the latter interpretation that is appropriate. Knowledge about the moon’s surface is not based on and derived from mountains and craters but from factual statements about mountains and craters.1

 Chalmers also distinguishes between statements of facts and perceptions. 

For example, it is undoubtedly the case that when Darwin underwent his famous voyage on the Beagle he encountered many novel species of plant and animal, and so was subject to a range of novel perceptual experiences.  However, he would have made no significant contribution to science had he left it at that.  It was only when he had formulated statements describing the novelties and made them available to other scientists that he made a significant contribution to biology.2

There are statements, not perceptions, in the minds of those who base their knowledge upon facts.  That is, by facts these people mean to say statements rather than perceptions.  Mountains and craters are perceptions; that mountains and craters are found on the moon is a statement about these perceptions.  This is problematic for the idea that facts are given to unprejudiced observers through the senses since facts are not themselves sensed.  Unlike perceptions, observation statements do not come to people through the senses. 

Additionally, observation statements are accepted or made utilizing the proper application of concepts surrounding what the statement is about.  Chalmers supports this by describing the way that children learn about the world and learn how to describe the world.

The parent shows the child an apple, points to it, and utters the word “apple”.  The child soon learns to repeat the word “apple” in imitation.  Having mastered this particular accomplishment, perhaps on a later day the child encounters its sibling’s tennis ball, points and says “apple”.  At this point the parent intervenes to explain that the ball is not an apple, demonstrating, for example, that one cannot bite it like an apple. Further mistakes by the child, such as the identification of a choko as an apple, will require somewhat more elaborate explanations from the parent.  By the time the child can successfully say there is an apple present when there is one, it has learnt quite a lot about apples.3

 What is to be noticed here is that the child in the illustration cannot be said to observe facts about apples and then base knowledge about apples upon those observations since the child cannot even know how to identify an apple correctly in many circumstances unless he or she is first given a great deal of knowledge about apples.  The child has not derived his or her knowledge from observable facts.  When facts about apples are made into statements they are made upon a rather large amount of prior knowledge about apples.

Chalmers again shows that this is directly applicable to science as well and not just how children learn about apples.  He provides the example of being on a trip with a botanist.  The botanist will make more observations and be able to explain them much better than Chalmers would be able to.  This seems rather obvious and provides strong support for Chalmer’s argument that conceptual schemes are needed for observation statements.

The botanist has a more elaborate conceptual scheme to exploit than myself, and that is because he or she knows more botany than I do.  A knowledge of botany is a prerequisite for the formulation of the observation statements that might constitute its factual basis.4

According to Chalmers, when observable facts are recorded much more is involved than the eye being given stimuli through light rays.  As shown in this part of Chalmer’s argument, knowledge of concepts and how they are applied is necessary for recording observable facts.

Statements of fact are not determined in a straightforward way by sensual stimuli, and observation statements presuppose knowledge, so it cannot be the case that we first establish the facts and then derive our knowledge from them.5

1. A.F. Chalmers. What is this thing called Science? 3rd Edition. Hackett Publishing Company Inc. Indianapolis/Cambridge. 1999. Pg. 10.

2. Ibid. Pg. 10.

3. Ibid. Pg. 11.

4. Ibid. Pg. 12.

5. Ibid. Pg. 12.


8 Comments

Dawson Bethrick

Man, this Chalmers guy is confused. And his confusion is contaminating your own understanding, Chris. Observe:

Chris: “Mountains and craters are perceptions; that mountains and craters are found on the moon is a statement about these perceptions.”

Correction: Mountains and craters are objects of perception, not the perceptions themselves. The mountains and craters exist whether anyone perceives them or not. Again, existence has metaphysical primacy. That the mountains and craters are found on the moon is a fact, once they have been found there. We identify this fact by formulating statements, and we need concepts to do this. So again, a theory of concepts is vital here.

Chris: “Unlike perceptions, observation statements do not come to people through the senses.”

Really? Then why bother writing those statements down? No one should need to read them to have awareness of them if they “do not come to people through the senses.” How else do your observational statements come to me?

Regards,
Dawson

Dawson Bethrick

Chris: “As shown in this part of Chalmer’s argument, knowledge of concepts and how they are applied is necessary for recording observable facts.”

I’m curious, Chris. As a Christian, where do you suggest one go to find this knowledg of concepts and how they are to be properly applied? I’d really like to know.

Regards,
Dawson

C.L. Bolt

“The mountains and craters exist whether anyone perceives them or not.”

How do you know?

“That the mountains and craters are found on the moon is a fact, once they have been found there.”

That mountains and craters are found on the moon is a statement about perceptions.

Chris: “Unlike perceptions, observation statements do not come to people through the senses.”

“Really? Then why bother writing those statements down?”

That is the problem, isn’t it?

“No one should need to read them to have awareness of them if they ‘do not come to people through the senses.'”

What do you mean “should”? What sense data do you base this statement on?

“How else do your observational statements come to me?”

Red Herring.

“I’m curious, Chris. As a Christian, where do you suggest one go to find this knowledg of concepts and how they are to be properly applied? I’d really like to know.”

The Holy Scriptures of Ayn Rand. Those who lived prior to her were just out of luck.

Dawson Bethrick

I wrote: “The mountains and craters exist whether anyone perceives them or not.”

Chris asked: “How do you know?”

By the primacy of existence.

I wrote: “That the mountains and craters are found on the moon is a fact, once they have been found there.”

Chris replied: “That mountains and craters are found on the moon is a statement about perceptions.”

Just to be clear, are you saying that it is not a fact that mountains and craters are found on the moon, that only the statement identifying this state of affairs is a fact?

Chris wrote: “Unlike perceptions, observation statements do not come to people through the senses.”

I asked: “Really? Then why bother writing those statements down?”

Chris replied: “That is the problem, isn’t it?”

On the view that you propose, yes, it is a problem. It appears it remains a problem for you as well.

I wrote: “No one should need to read them to have awareness of them if they ‘do not come to people through the senses.’”

Chris asked: “What do you mean “should”?”

This is basic English. Don’t you know? It indicates the propriety of action which it is used to denote.

Chris asked: “What sense data do you base this statement on?”

The sense data on which I ultimately base this statement are the symbols you’ve electronically transcribed onto your blog page.

I asked: “How else do your observational statements come to me?”

Chris responded: “Red Herring.”

No, not a red herring. This is a legitimate question given the position you have endorsed. If it is really the case that “observation statements do not come to people through the senses,” then it is only logical to inquire on what you would identify as an alternative to the senses as the means by which one acquires awareness of someone else’s observational statements.

I asked: “I’m curious, Chris. As a Christian, where do you suggest one go to find this knowledg of concepts and how they are to be properly applied? I’d really like to know.”

Chris replied: “The Holy Scriptures of Ayn Rand. Those who lived prior to her were just out of luck.”

Again, you seem confused. Ayn Rand did not author any “Holy Scriptures.” She wrote novels, essays, letters, newspaper articles, etc.

Are you saying that you have no specifically Christian source of knowledge of concepts and how they are to be properly applied?

Regards,
Dawson

C.L. Bolt

Since the “primacy of existence” is an assertion that the universe exists independent of consciousness and since it was offered in response to the question of how it is known that mountains and craters exist whether anyone perceives them or not (that is, independent of consciousness) the response does not answer the question. I cannot find where I said anything like “it is not a fact that mountains and craters are found on the moon.” The question of why the statements in view should be written down is potentially a challenging one for strict empiricists like Objectivists but not for those who do not adhere to that kind of epistemology. The statement, “No one should need to read them to have awareness of them if they do not come to people through the senses” is not based on “the symbols [I’ve] electronically transcribed onto [my] blog page” as is evident in that I did not write anything at all about whether or not people should need to read non-empirical propositions which still leaves me wondering upon what sense data anyone should accept “No one should need to read them to have awareness of them if they do not come to people through the senses.” If it is really the case that “observation statements do not come to people through the senses” then it may be ‘logical’ to inquire about what someone would identify as an alternative to the senses as the means by which one acquires awareness of someone else’s observational statements and I am interested in hearing what answers might be found. A Red Herring is nonetheless present in that the original statement in question does not pertain to acquiring “someone else’s observational statements.” The implication of the last statement is that we can do without Rand as a source of knowledge of concepts.

Dawson Bethrick

Chris: “Since the ‘primacy of existence’ is an assertion that the universe exists independent of consciousness and since it was offered in response to the question of how it is known that mountains and craters exist whether anyone perceives them or not (that is, independent of consciousness) the response does not answer the question.”

It does answer the question, and it does so definitively and directly. The primacy of existence is the recognition that existence exists independent of consciousness, and as such, it serves as a general principle which guides all knowledge, since it is axiomatic. Since specific cases are rightly integrated within the scope of the general principle which applies absolutely, it would miss the point to suggest that citing the primacy of existence does not answer your question. Moreover, such a suggestion would require you to provide some rationale for supposing that the primacy of existence would not apply, which you have not done.

Moreover, in order to attempt a defeater of the primacy of existence, one would have to employ it, thus confirming its truth. Since knowing involves a process of integration, and rational knowing involves integration of factual input according to an objective standard, the primacy of existence cannot fail as a general guide to rational knowledge.

Chris: “I cannot find where I said anything like ‘it is not a fact that mountains and craters are found on the moon’.”

I cannot find where you acknowledge that the state of affairs (as opposed to merely the statement) that mountains and craters are found on the moon is factual, independent of statements made about it. That is why I asked for you to clarify, one way or the other. You seem hesitant to answer my question, since I explicitly asked for you to clarify and you haven’t.

Chris: “The question of why the statements in view should be written down is potentially a challenging one for strict empiricists like Objectivists but not for those who do not adhere to that kind of epistemology.”

You group Objectivism in the category of strict empiricism without attempting any justification for this. Can you explain why you do this? What exactly do you mean by “strict empiricism,” and what makes you suppose that Objectivism is a species of this?

It’s becoming clear why you can never bring any sustaining challenge to my position. You have very little understanding of what it teaches!

Chris: “The statement, ‘No one should need to read them to have awareness of them if they do not come to people through the senses’ is not based on ‘the symbols [I’ve] electronically transcribed onto [my] blog page’ as is evident in that I did not write anything at all about whether or not people should need to read non-empirical propositions which still leaves me wondering upon what sense data anyone should accept ‘No one should need to read them to have awareness of them if they do not come to people through the senses’.”

Again, you have confused yourself. You asked me to identify the sense data on which I based my statement. By identifying the sense data, I in no way imply that there is no inferring going on. You do realize this, do you not?

Chris: “If it is really the case that ‘observation statements do not come to people through the senses’ then it may be ‘logical’ to inquire about what someone would identify as an alternative to the senses as the means by which one acquires awareness of someone else’s observational statements and I am interested in hearing what answers might be found.”

What answer does Christianity provide to this question?

Chris: “A Red Herring is nonetheless present in that the original statement in question does not pertain to acquiring ‘someone else’s observational statements’.”

Based on what you had originally written, how would one know that it does not pertain to acquiring awareness of someone else’s observational statements?

Chris: “The implication of the last statement is that we can do without Rand as a source of knowledge of concepts.”

Thanks for clarifying. What source of knowledge of concepts would you recommend? I’d love to examine it.

Regards,
Dawson

C.L. Bolt

The question has not been answered definitively or directly by mentioning the primacy of existence the first time and repeating the primacy of existence again still does not answer the question as the question is pertaining to how you recognize that the universe (specifically mountains and craters on the moon) exists independent of consciousness. The alleged consequences of the primacy of existence, the labeling of the belief as axiomatic, and the attempt to shift the burden of proof are likewise unhelpful in terms of definitively and directly answering the question of how it is known that mountains and craters exist whether anyone perceives them or not. The questions regarding the state of affairs and fact concerning mountains and craters on the moon miss the point of the original post. The questions about states of affairs and facts are already answered in the original post. The statement about me “never bring[ing] any sustaining challenge” to your position is another attempt to shift the burden of proof and your assertion that my understanding is somehow lacking with respect to my claim about the empiricism of Objectivism is unwarranted given that Objectivism teaches that there are no innate ideas, the tabula rasa, and that it is impossible to attack the senses without using the senses. There is no confusion on my part in requesting the sense data upon which you infer that “No one should need to read them to have awareness of them if they do not come to people through the senses” which is, by the way, another statement which evidences your empiricism. The rest of your statements offered in an attempt to shift the burden again are also implicitly fallacious argumentum ad consequentiam. Christianity does not take a strictly empiricist approach to knowledge.

Dawson Bethrick

Chris: “The question has not been answered definitively or directly by mentioning the primacy of existence the first time and repeating the primacy of existence again still does not answer the question as the question is pertaining to how you recognize that the universe (specifically mountains and craters on the moon) exists independent of consciousness.”

You are saying that the primacy of existence is not a guiding principle in knowledge acquisition. You do not explain why a general principle, made explicit at the axiomatic level of cognition, cannot be applied as a general principle in conceptual integrations about the objects of awareness. You simply repeat, without explanation or argument, that it does not answer your question. If the fact that existence exists independent of consciousness is recognized explicitly at the axiomatic level of cognition, then we have this principle at our disposal in all our identifications. It is not something that we need to establish on a case by case basis. Why? Because it’s a general principle. Since this recognition consists of axiomatic concepts (a specific type of concept), it is universal – i.e., the widest, most open-ended principle of all. Thus it cannot fail to apply in specific cases.

I’m guessing that either you do not understand any of this (including how basic principles guide the discovery and validation of specific knowledge), that you’re still prone to confusing the relationship between a subject and its objects (a consequence of embracing a worldview, like Christianity, which nowhere addresses the question of the proper relationship between a subject and its objects), and/or that you’re simply being stubborn (“Dawson must be deemed wrong at all costs!”).

Chris: “The alleged consequences of the primacy of existence, the labeling of the belief as axiomatic, and the attempt to shift the burden of proof are likewise unhelpful in terms of definitively and directly answering the question of how it is known that mountains and craters exist whether anyone perceives them or not.”

Again, you simply assert that citing the primacy of existence is unhelpful, without explaining why it isn’t, or arguing for your viewpoint. I can only surmise that you simply don’t know what you’re talking about, and are reluctant for some reason to discuss it.

Chris: “The questions regarding the state of affairs and fact concerning mountains and craters on the moon miss the point of the original post.”

How so? The question has to do with what properly qualifies as a fact, statements or the states of affairs they denote, which is one of the primary topics raised in your post. As a related issue which remains murky after attempts to get you to clarify your attention, it seems to be directly related to what you discuss in your post. How does it miss the point of the original post?

Chris: “The questions about states of affairs and facts are already answered in the original post.”

Then why not show how willing you are to clarify your position with regard to the question that has been posed and be consistent with what you say in your post by answering my question?

Chris: “The statement about me ‘never bring[ing] any sustaining challenge’ to your position is another attempt to shift the burden of proof”

What burden of proof? Whose burden to prove what? I’m simply asking you to clarify your position. How is that shifting a burden of proof? It’s your post, Chris. That means it’s your position to clarify and defend when your readers inquire or challenge it.

Chris: “and your assertion that my understanding is somehow lacking with respect to my claim about the empiricism of Objectivism is unwarranted given that Objectivism teaches that there are no innate ideas, the tabula rasa, and that it is impossible to attack the senses without using the senses.”

So how does this make Objectivism a species of “strict empiricism”? Again, what do you mean by “strict empiricism”? I asked this earlier, but I don’t see where you have answered it. Specifically, what distinguishes strict empiricism from other positions, including empiricism proper? Where does Objectivism affirm these defining characteristics of strict empiricism? The points which you mention above are not sufficient to qualify a position as strict empiricism as it is typically understood in philosophy texts. For instance, Objectivism nowhere claims that the mind is bound to the level of concretes, that it has no recourse to concepts, and this goes directly against what is commonly understood by “strict empiricism.” Also, strict empiricism typically characterizes the human mind as a passive faculty. But Objectivism does not teach this, not in the least. So you seem unfamiliar with either what strict empiricism is, or with Objectivism, or both. If you choose to persist in labeling Objectivism a species of strict empiricism, please cite your sources to support your case.

Chris: “There is no confusion on my part in requesting the sense data upon which you infer that “No one should need to read them to have awareness of them if they do not come to people through the senses” which is, by the way, another statement which evidences your empiricism.”

I’m not denying empiricism per se. It’s the part about “strict empiricism,” which has a very specific meaning. I’ve yet to see you justify labeling Objectivism as a species of strict empiricism. I don’t think you can, and I’m supposing you’ll try to weasel out of this now that you’ve been called on it.

Chris: “The rest of your statements offered in an attempt to shift the burden again are also implicitly fallacious argumentum ad consequentiam.”

You have a habit of making assertions without giving any back-up to inform or explain them. Why is that, Chris?

Chris: “Christianity does not take a strictly empiricist approach to knowledge.”

Neither is Objectivism. But, Objectivism does have an epistemology, including a theory of concepts. That’s something that I have yet to see in Christianity. See for instance here.

Regards,
Dawson


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