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Excluded Middle? - Keith?
Posted: 21 July 2008 12:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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Salt Creek - 21 July 2008 01:53 PM

I don’t think we can read history as other than a special kind of literature, because it often seems that history explains the way things are now in a literary fashion. That is, it is the history of people. Since people are an idiosyncratic feature of the landscape (having not always existed) scientific study of people must take that into consideration. If we had (as E.O. Wilson and others suggest) a large collection of planets upon which human civilizations were proceeding, each with its own unique origins and contingencies, a scientific theory of history might be possible. Studying one-of-a-kind histories is not science, although history gives many fine examples of the kind of events that happen to people. Mainly, these events are disasters.

What can be done is to use scientific methods to study history, and to consider various parallel developments in history, looking for common developments (shading into cultural anthropology).  At best, one ought to be able to say: given such and such a state of development, there are good probabilities of finding these characteristics in a culture.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 12:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 21 July 2008 03:01 PM

I am using knowledge in this sense: to describe the mentally justifiable conviction that something is so, that something is fact. Do you “know” that John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963?  How do you “know” that?  You were not there. Have you seen JFK’s corpse in person? Have you personally viewed the bullets or skull fragments? I assume the answer is “no” to all of these. But if I ask you when JFK was assassinated, you will probably respond, with some degree of conviction, that you “know” when it was - 11-22-63. You are not 100% certain of this, but you “know” it. Yet you do not know it scientifically.

Nevertheless, it is part of a coherent narrative including mention that JFK was the chief executive of the US during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that LBJ was the veep, up until November 22, 1963 (which was after the date of the Cuban Missile Crisis). The interesting part is that the personalities of JFK and LBJ were different, and the way LBJ might have handled the Cuban Missile Crisis would have been different from the way JFK did. I’m sure you could come up with something interesting, Bruce, if you were not busily grinding an axe.

So the brute fact that a prominent person was shot on 11/22/1963 is garbage all by itself. Lots of people were shot that day.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 01:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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Salt Creek - 21 July 2008 04:15 PM

Nevertheless, it is part of a coherent narrative including mention that JFK was the chief executive of the US during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that LBJ was the veep, up until November 22, 1963 (which was after the date of the Cuban Missile Crisis). The interesting part is that the personalities of JFK and LBJ were different, and the way LBJ might have handled the Cuban Missile Crisis would have been different from the way JFK did. I’m sure you could come up with something interesting, Bruce, if you were not busily grinding an axe.

So the brute fact that a prominent person was shot on 11/22/1963 is garbage all by itself. Lots of people were shot that day.

Excuse me, but now you are the one attempting to construct meaning out of history. My original point, which you unjustifiably crapped all over, was simply that there is such a thing as historical knowledge that is not scientific at all. I didn’t venture into woo-woo land or talk about meaning. My post was about brute fact, but from an historical, not scientific, basis. So you missed the point of what I was saying and assumed that I was talking woo-ese. Then, in this post, you get all meaningful on us, interpreting the brute facts. At least be consistent.

Again, there are ways of knowing things that are not scientific. And history is one big chunk of that. Furthermore, the brute fact that the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, was assassinated on 11/22/63 is not garbage all by itself. It is one of those events that nudges history in a particular direction. But now I’m getting meaningful, so I’ll stop.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 02:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 21 July 2008 05:34 PM

It is one of those events that nudges history in a particular direction. But now I’m getting meaningful, so I’ll stop.

Any claim that an event nudges history in a direction does not qualify as knowledge because it amounts to opinion, although a reasonably informed one based on historical fact. We cannot say with any degree of certainty how US history would have turned out if JFK had lived. That would amount to simply a fascinating exercise in speculation. Certainly that doesn’t stop people like Oliver Stone from claiming that Kennedy would have gotten America out if Vietnam much sooner. However, the strong likelihood is that Oliver believes this because of his strong emotions about both Kennedy and Vietnam.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 02:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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Carstonio - 21 July 2008 06:12 PM

Any claim that an event nudges history in a direction does not qualify as knowledge because it amounts to opinion, although a reasonably informed one based on historical fact. We cannot say with any degree of certainty how US history would have turned out if JFK had lived. That would amount to simply a fascinating exercise in speculation. Certainly that doesn’t stop people like Oliver Stone from claiming that Kennedy would have gotten America out if Vietnam much sooner. However, the strong likelihood is that Oliver believes this because of his strong emotions about both Kennedy and Vietnam.

I agree, that’s why I stopped. All I wanted to say was that we can know, with a reasonable degree of certainty, certain raw historical facts, wholly apart from the scientific method, which involves repeatable experiments.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 05:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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Salt Creek - 21 July 2008 01:53 PM

I know not many people are going to read this here, so eventually I am going to try to build my own web site with these ideas.


Just FYI, I checked and,surprisingly, the following domain is still up for grabs.

http://www.fuckoffyoudementedpretentiousself-importantfuckwitandifthisoffendsyouyoucanbitemywrinklynutsack.com

(.org is also free, but .net is sadly already taken)

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Posted: 21 July 2008 05:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 21 July 2008 02:33 PM

In essence, what you have done here is put all history outside the realm of science, for every event that ever occurred in the existence of humanity was one-of-a-kind. This includes not only disputed events such as the resurrection of Jesus,

There is a euphemism for you.

Somehow I don’t think this kind of talk will go over very well in your other life, Bruce, when you face a judge.
But then again, that is the whole point isn’t it? These lives are not connected.

“Your honor, since the body of Ms. Butterfield has never been found I request that this witness be excused with this court’s deepest apologies as even though he admitted to sawing off her head it is entirely probable that she got up and walked away.”


Case dismissed.

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From the autobiography of A.A.Mills, ‘The passage of time, according to an estranged, casual tyrant.’

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Posted: 21 July 2008 06:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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Sander - 21 July 2008 09:50 PM

But then again, that is the whole point isn’t it? These lives are not connected.

Like events in history, Sander, you are unique, one-of-a-kind, outside of science. According to SC, you don’t even exist, because he cannot subject you to repeatable experiments (although, he would like the chance, oh yes).  But I believe in you, because I have experienced you (on a social level only, of course).  That was also a unique experience. But, very non-scientific, and in SC’s mind, basically non-existent.

I look forward to having a unique, non-scientific, non-existent chat with you when I pass by Chicago in early August. Perhaps we will drink a non-existent beer.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 06:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 21 July 2008 06:18 PM

All I wanted to say was that we can know, with a reasonable degree of certainty, certain raw historical facts, wholly apart from the scientific method, which involves repeatable experiments.

“Wholly apart from the scientific method” is not accurate, since historical research still involves evidence. I suspect the principles of evidence there are very similar to the non-laboratory parts of scientific research. These principles may also be similar to the ones used in criminal trials. The whole point is that opinion or belief does not qualify as knowledge.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 06:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]  
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burt - 21 July 2008 04:01 PM

consider various parallel developments in history

I been in the right place
But it must have been the wrong time
I’d of said the right thing
But I must have used the wrong line
I been in the right trip
But I must have used the wrong car
My head was in a bad place
And I’m wondering what it’s good for

I been in the right place
But it must have been the wrong time
My head was in a bad place
But I’m having such a good time
I been running trying to get hung up in my mind
Got to give myself a little talking to this time
Just need a little brain salad surgery
Got to cure this insecurity

I been in the wrong place
But it must have been the right time
I been in the right place
But it must have been the wrong song
I been in the right vein
But it seems like the wrong arm
I been in the right world
But it seems wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong

Slipping, dodging ,sneaking
Creeping hiding out down the street
See my life shaking with every-who I meet
Refried confusion is making itself clear
Wonder which way do I go to get on out of here

I been in the right place
But it must have been the wrong time
I’d have said the right thing
But I must have used the wrong line
I’d a took the right road
But I must have took a wrong turn
Would have made the right move
But I made it at the wrong time
I been on the right road
But I must have used the wrong car
My head was in a good place
And I wonder what it’s bad for

Dr. John, “Right Place, Wrong Time”

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Posted: 21 July 2008 07:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]  
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Bruce, you said “...we can know, with a reasonable degree of certainty, certain raw historical facts, wholly apart from the scientific method, which involves repeatable experiments.” Yes, you’re absolutely right. There are “other” ways of knowing things that don’t involve test tubes and a white lab coat.

But isn’t there a difference between believing that JFK was shot in Dallas in 1963…..and believing that JFK was the son of the almighty God (if the history books had said that JFK made this claim)? The former is a puddle-jump of faith, and the latter is a giant leap. Like Sam Harris has said, there is a huge difference between jumping a puddle and walking on water.

Bruce, you can easily believe that I exist without PHYSICAL proof. But what if I claimed that low-fat yogurt could make me invisible? Would you believe THAT without any proof?

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Posted: 21 July 2008 11:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]  
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CanZen,

Thanks for your kind comments. You seem to have understood both ‘Truth?’ and the John / Keith argument pretty well. In particular, you are asking John in your second and third paragraphs for the same thing that I have been requesting virtually from the outset of our discussion. To wit: some selective criteria or procedure that we can both understand to be capable of distinguishing only some proposals, from the much larger pool of all conceivable proposals, as knowledge. I think that John is too smart to be consistently misunderstanding this request; or, as I have also explained to him several times, why we must make it. I must therefore understand his avoidance as an admission that he cannot comply. Starkly: That he cannot suggest any test/procedure through which his proposals can be justified as knowledge. From here there has been no point in continuing our debate; because we have no ground from which either participant could be motivated to change his mind. 

I also agree with you that John is perhaps exaggerating the threat that my request [to abandon our truth concept] really poses to his knowledge. It does not seem to me, as it apparently does to him, to rule out any of our non miraculous historical knowledge. I would say that I am as convinced as John that most of the thousands of events stretching back over the past 5000 years that are recorded in Bernard Grun’s ‘Timetables of History’* actually did take place. For example: That Ceasar really did lead his army across the Rubicon river in 49 BC. This has no trouble in qualifying as knowledge through the kind of hierarchical selection process outlined in ‘Truth?’s point #4. It was independently reported by a number of people who were writing (histories, journals, letters and so on) at the time, and who we cannot see to have had any vested interest in fabricating it. It is also consistent with both our understandings of the behavior of armies and generals (it’s exactly the kind of thing that we are aware of them still doing) and with all of the rest of our observation based knowledge (we can readily understand, in the context of this knowledge, how armies and generals are capable of doing such things). Sadly, none of these points can be made for a number of John’s proposals. As you understand, we cannot open our knowledge selection gate wide enough to admit them without simultaneously admitting an almost infinite number of other and logically exclusive proposals. And if we do this – in effect, abandon TEM – then the gate disappears entirely. Any proposal whatsoever can now be justified as knowledge.

But to return to my assertion that John might not loose as much as he seems to fear if he were to accept my invitation to cross the threshold of Poppers Inversion; let me go back to the old saw about the only distinction between atheists and theists being that the atheist has given up one more god. I cannot really accept John’s claim to believe simultaneously in the miracles – and so, by necessary implication, the ontologys – of all of our logically exclusive theisms. His mind just seems to me to be stronger than that. But I can accept his generous claim to be able to find some meaning, value and inspiration in these other systems. I am merely inviting him to move the one that he now embraces as reality also into that category. Not to give it up, or forget about it, but to go ahead and recognize it as a myth like all of the others.

*Btw, by far the best coffee table book ever published.

CanZen - 21 July 2008 05:28 AM

What I guess I am trying to say John, is why do you have this fear that past “truths” might be lost completely if we accept keith’s conditions?  Perhaps like phlogiston and the ether, new formulations will destroy the mythological/theological “truths” anyway simply because they were just speculations.


I also understand your point about us (humankind) making the same mistakes in the future that we have already made in the past simply because we were oblivious to our history.  This is where we need the interpretive experts like yourself to assist us in establishing a fruitful future.  It is people like yourself John who can help us avoid the wasted time of groping around in the dark because your insights can illuminate paths that we don’t recognize or reveal pitfalls that we haven’t noticed.

Bob

We agree here too. I am all for John’s brand (npi) of historical and mythological scholarship. I would never suggest that it is without value.

BR,

Keith

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Posted: 22 July 2008 06:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]  
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keith - 22 July 2008 03:50 AM

I would never suggest that it is without value.

Unless you are willing to expand on this for the benefit of your rapt audience, you make a mockery of the word “value”. If you cannot, the value of such stuff is only a liturgical recitation of the phrase “I would never suggest that it is without value.” In that respect, it permits one to make friendly grunting noises at other organisms of one’s species.

I have an alternate approach: The experiences that make people construct myths are:

1) Feeling that life is ineluctably beautiful
2) Feeling that life is unbearably painful

In many cases the experience makes a person feel like taking his skin off with a vegetable peeler, the better to come into direct contact with whatever it is that is sooooooo beautiful, or simply to get rid of the pain, once and for all. It never works.

Ordinarily, day-to-day experience should not cause this type of reaction. The important thing is to develop the vocabulary necessary to say, simply, “I feel intense emotions about whatever-it-is”, admit that one is a social animal, and have done with it. People who write dissertations about “peak experience” got sumpin’ goin’ on, but you don’t want to know what it is, unless you also like writing the same sorts of dissertations.

[ Edited: 22 July 2008 06:38 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 22 July 2008 09:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]  
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Josh - 21 July 2008 11:35 PM

Bruce, you said “...we can know, with a reasonable degree of certainty, certain raw historical facts, wholly apart from the scientific method, which involves repeatable experiments.” Yes, you’re absolutely right. There are “other” ways of knowing things that don’t involve test tubes and a white lab coat.

But isn’t there a difference between believing that JFK was shot in Dallas in 1963…..and believing that JFK was the son of the almighty God (if the history books had said that JFK made this claim)? The former is a puddle-jump of faith, and the latter is a giant leap. Like Sam Harris has said, there is a huge difference between jumping a puddle and walking on water.

Bruce, you can easily believe that I exist without PHYSICAL proof. But what if I claimed that low-fat yogurt could make me invisible? Would you believe THAT without any proof?

I’m talking about historical facts - i.e.: a man named Jesus lived, he was crucified, etc. I am not addressing faith claims - i.e.: Jesus is the Son of God.

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Posted: 22 July 2008 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]  
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Hi, Bob … I like the direction you are giving the conversation between Keith and myself especially at the end of your post (see below).  I want to ask for some clarification, however, regarding some of your preliminary remarks.

CanZen - 21 July 2008 05:28 AM

John,
You begin with this statement, “the mythology/philosophy/theology out of which arises our current post-structural swamp is unable to meet Keith’s knowledge criteria ... because it is as it is there is no way to go back and change its nature so that it becomes acceptable to Keith given his current framework.”

In other words it does not meet with keith’s knowledge test based on: evidence, observation, coherence, TEM, and consistency.  However, the test keith applies is non-controversial and has the added feature of being universally applicable.

When you say, ‘the test Keith applies in non-controversial’, you have to mean ‘within a given [scientistic] framework.’ Not every scientist would reject poetry, mythology, philosophy and theology as nonscientific. For example, Stephen Jay Gould separated natural science from other disciplines but recognized the value of both:

“science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists … Science can work only with naturalistic explanations; it can neither affirm nor deny other types of actors (like God) in other spheres (the moral realm, for example)” (Impeaching a Self-Appointed Judge, 1992)

Further, Gould recognized that half of his colleagues viewed science and religious beliefs as compatible:

“Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs—and equally compatible with atheism, thus proving that the two great realms of nature’s factuality and the source of human morality do not strongly overlap.” (Ibid.

However, Dawkins et al are promoting a radically different view (and this is what you and Keith are advocating as well) where science defined as natural science becomes the criterion by which all knowledge claims are judged.  For example, Francis Crick writes:

“eventually one may hope to have the whole of biology ‘explained’ in terms of the level below it, and so on right down to the atomic level ... The knowledge we have already makes it highly unlikely that there is anything that cannot be explained by physics and chemistry” [Of Molecules and Men (Seatle: University of Washington Press, 1966), 14, 98].

Mikael Stenmark [Scientism: Science, Ethics and Religion (Aldershot, England:  Ashgate Publishing Company, 2001)]  isolates four theses put forward by Scientistic views which limit both knowledge and reality:

T1 The only kind of knowledge we can have is scientific knowledge.
T2 The only things that exist are the ones science can discover.
T3 Science alone can answer our moral questions and explain as well as replace traditional ethics.
T4 Science alone can answer our existential questions and explain as well as replace traditional religion.

For example, E. O. Wilson writes: “Scientists and humanists should consider together the possibility that the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of philosophers and biologized’ [Sociobiology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), 562]

Given that incentive …

How universal is the incentive?  What percentage of scientists use criterion such as evidence, observation, coherence, TEM, and consistency to reject pre-scientific texts?  For example, back in 1916, James Leuba conducted a survey of active scientists who were asked specifically whether they believed in a God who actively communicates with humanity and to whom one may pray “in expectation of an answer.”  Roughly 40% did believe in this kind of God, 40% did not and 20% were not sure.  The survey was repeated in 1997, using precisely the same question, and found a similar pattern. The number of those who believed in such a God stayed at 40% while the number of those who did not increased to 45%. This means that 15% are agnostic.  Given the results of this survey, what percentage of scientists advocate the scientism summarized by Theses 1-4 above?  What percentage would want to defend the boundary you are advocating?

… I’d like to know what kind of test you would envision in deciding on the acceptability of claims to knowledge?


Let’s first ask the question:  What is philosophy about? According to Daniel Robinson, philosophy deals with three major concerns: 

(1)  The Problem of Knowledge
(2)  The Problem of Conduct; and
(3)  The Problem of Governance.

Classically, philosophy starts with the human being asks “what kind of being is (wo)man?”  When this question has been answered, question number two and three above can be answered: Given what (wo)man is, how ought we conduct ourselves?  what kind of government would this kind of (wo)man best prosper under?

The final test for deciding on the acceptability of claims to knowledge regarding conduct and governance then, is (wo)man.  What corresponds to (wo)man?  In the same way that music is harmonious or discordant based on human hearing, so conduct and governance depend upon the response of (wo)men. Central to the studies of Jonathon Haidt, Rollo May and M. Scott Peck is the human response reported in scientific repeatable testing of human beings.

Whereas keith’s criteria can rule out negative human tendencies to mendacity, exaggeration, and delusional grandeur - how can your test somehow similarly streamline the agenda of acceptance?

Keith’s criteria rule out almost all pre-scientific records of human relationship.  He looks to the future for the validation of his criteria.  In doing so, he ignores the fact that past claims to knowledge also looked to the future for validation.  What was future to these practitioners of knowledge is now the past to us.  How did their knowledge claims fair?  We are unable to tell because these validations are reported in terms that are unacceptable based on Keith’s criteria. 

What is non-controversial is that you already do accept Keith’s criteria as containing acceptable knowledge, but you are not willing to accept those as the boundaries.  You wish to widen the scope of what passes for knowledge.  Your two compromises, “(1) avail ourselves of scientific validation of ancient knowledge” and “(2) endeavor to understand the Western historical development”  cannot be let through the doors in their present form (reminded of your Trojan Horse comment to me earlier) without destroying (compromising) the epistemic structure we are building. Your compromises depend heavily on interpretation and hermeneutics, and like the concept of truth itself they are fuzzy in the meaning department.  Even though science might still contain some interpretive errors - at least the method is refined enough to contain these to a minimum. There may come a time when a scientific validation of historical knowledge does pass the test, but at present we do not have the tools to arrive at such an evaluation.

Your last statement represents what percentage of scientists?  You and they will be waiting while others will continue fruitful research based on criteria that are developed within their various schools.

I do understand your worry that once we accept keith’s prognosis (re:truth) we must wholly reject all (or most) of human knowledge prior to 250 years ago.  And in addition we might have to leave to “scientistic thinkers” the job of determining our values and our ethical boundaries.  Philosophers like Husserl (circa. 1900) had these same sorts of fears stirred by the rise of positivism, so he attempted to formulate a new science and a more comprehensive and inclusive methodology.  He developed a rigorous method centered on meaning rather than on truth (and this is sort of akin to keith’s project), but ultimately his project failed.

Failed in the eyes of what percentage of scientists?  A whole school of humanistic psychology emerged as a result of the studies of Husserl. The research of this school continues and will continue while you and the percentage of scientists who await further knowledge criteria sit and ignore the human relationships that will need to form the basis of knowledge about how human beings should conduct themselves and how they should be governed.

What I find so egalitarian (re: value) about keith’s rejection of the truth concept is that while we retain it (the traditional idea of truth) then Quine’s nightmare is possible.  If however, we accept that meaning is at the core of our knowledge and we can put some universally acceptable boundaries on our validation of ‘the meaningful’ - then we move from a knowledge hierarchy to a broad and inclusive domain of knowing.

Your use of universally acceptable must be appealing to the human being as the final arbiter of what is to be regarded as meaningful.  Why do you not accept current scientific research in the realm of psychology?

Here’s a thought on how a scientific approach might even explain something like human ‘conscience’ in a reasonable and rational manner.  What if we discovered that the same cognitive conditions that are foundational to our moral sense (the development of a conscience - knowing intuitively what is the proper action in a situation) are mapped onto the same cognitive conditions that allow us to use language in the way that we do.  These cognitive innovations (that we might have inherited and then refined from our ape ancestors) might include:

1)  An explicit awareness of yes (agree) and no (disagree) - choice.
2)  An ability to escape (dreamlike) from the present - freedom.
3)  An explicit awareness of intersubjective engagement (aware of a shared domain between self & other).
4)  An explicit awareness of time (recognition of a past and a future).

If these conditions create a particular cognitive blueprint that allows us to become linguistic creatures - then perhaps it is this same cognitive blueprint that also makes us into morally cognizant creatures.  So language itself (as a foundational cognitive process in humans) might also form the basic matrix of our ethical comprehension.  When we are faced with an ethical dilemma, our conscience (our linguistic cognitive structure) leads us to formulate a moral decision. Obviously, there is a Golden Rule at play in our ability to use a language that has to do with shared meaning.

How different will this cognitive blueprint look when compared with current blueprints of the human psyche developed in the realm of psychology?  These questions are being addressed by scientists in these fields.

Now if such a theory (or something similar) could pass the test, it might launch us into a new way of examining our moral behaviour, our moral capacities, and our moral complexities within a rigorously scientific method.  These kinds of investigations and experimentations are already happening (Ramachandran, and Marc Hauser).

How do these studies differ from the studies of humanistic psychology?

(continued in next post)

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