Tag: philosophy

The problem of the growth of knowledge

The central problem of epistemology has always been and still is the problem of the growth of knowledge. And the growth of knowledge can be studied best by studying the growth of scientific knowledge.

And yet, I am quite ready to admit that there is a method which might be described as ‘the one method of philosophy’. But it is not characteristic of philosophy alone; it is, rather, the one method of all rational discussion, and therefore of the natural sciences as well as of philosophy. The method I have in mind is that of stating one’s problem clearly and of examining its various proposed solutions critically. [Preface, 1959]

The problem of the growth of knowledge (2)

Thus I see the problem of knowledge in a different way from that of my predecessors. Security and justification of claims to knowledge are not my problem. Instead, my problem is the growth of knowledge: in which sense can we speak of the growth or the progress of knowledge, and how can we achieve it? [37]

Germany’s lack of liberalism

Charakteristisch für die deutsche Szene ist die Tatsache, daß ein breiter philosophischer Hintergrund für liberales Denken zu fehlen scheint oder daß jedenfalls Ideen dieser Art hierzulande kaum auf eine erhebliche Breiten- und Tiefenwirkung rechnen können. Die deutsche Ideologie bewegt sich zwischen Konservativismus und Revolution, zwischen unkritischer Hinnahme von Gegebenheiten und totaler Kritik am Gegebenen.

Kuhn’s progeny

Unlike the positivists and the Popperians, Kuhn did not postulate an end to science other than what satisfied the con­straints laid down by the dominant paradigms. Thus, post-Kuhnians have come to accept scientists’ working assump­tions at face value, including the counter-intuitive implication that reality consists of many distinct worlds, each roughly corresponding to a scientific discipline. For example, whereas Lakatos had called on historians, philosophers and soci­ologists to master the technical details of contemporary science so as not to depend on scientists’ own ex cathedra pro­nouncements about the merits of their research programmes, Kuhn’s progeny master such details in order to impress scientists that they are sufficiently competent to be taken seriously at all. Kuhn’s reduction of the ends of science to the trajectories already being pursued by particular sciences has now inspired two generations of philosophers to believe that they should be taking their normative marching orders from the sciences they philosophise about, and hence do not question them unless the scientists themselves have done so first. [86]

They simply are

When we speak of the truth of something, the first point to note is that this something has to be a statement or an assertion; contrary to frequent usage, it makes no sense to speak of the truth of a fact or of a property. “The ‘facts’ themselves … are not true. They simply are,” William James reminds us. To insist on this is not pedantry or hair-splitting. Formulating an assertion is attempting to communicate and therefore requires transmissible concepts and langugage: truth thus cannot be separated from human concepts and our linguistic apparatus. [203]

The meaninglessness of a criterion of meaning

The positivist dislikes the idea that there should be meaningful problems outside the field of ‘positive’ empirical science—problems to be dealt with by a genuine philosophical theory. He dislikes the idea that there should be a genuine theory of knowledge, an epistemology or a methodology. He wishes to see in the alleged philosophical problems mere ‘pseudo-problems’ or ‘puzzles’. Now this wish of his—which, by the way, he does not express as a wish or a proposal but rather as a statement of fact—can always be gratified. For nothing is easier than to unmask a problem as ‘meaning­less’ or ‘pseudo’. All you have to do is to fix upon a conveniently narrow meaning for ‘meaning’, and you will soon be bound to say of any inconvenient question that you are unable to detect any meaning in it. Moreover, if you admit as meaningful none except problems in natural science, any debate about the concept of ‘meaning’ will also turn out to be meaningless. The dogma of meaning, once enthroned, is elevated forever above the battle. It can no longer be at­tacked. It has become (in Wittgenstein’s own words) ‘unassailable and definitive’. [29-30]

Scientific objectivity

The words ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ are philosophical terms heavily burdened with a heritage of contradictory usages and of inconclusive and interminable discussions.

My use of the terms ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ is not unlike Kant’s. He uses the word ‘objective’ to indicate that scien­tific knowledge should be justifiable, independently of anybody’s whim: a justification is ‘objective’ if in principle it can be tested and understood by anybody. ‘If something is valid’, he writes, ‘for anybody in possession of his reason, then its grounds are objective and sufficient.’

Now I hold that scientific theories are never fully justifiable or verifiable, but that they are nevertheless testable. I shall therefore say that the objectivity of scientific statements lies in the fact that they can be inter-subjectively tested. [22]

How can we know?

It may, therefore, be a subject worthy of curiosity, to enquire what is the nature of that evidence which assures us of any real existence and matter of fact, beyond the present testimony of our senses, or the records of our memory. This part of philosophy, it is observable, has been little cultivated, either by the ancients or moderns, and therefore our doubts and errors, in the prosecution of so important an enquiry, may be the more excusable; while we march through such difficult paths without any guide or direction. They may even prove useful, by exciting curiosity, and destroying that implicit faith and security, which is the bane of all reasoning and free enquiry. The discovery of defects in the common philosophy, if any such there be, will not, I presume, be a discouragement, but rather an incitement, as is usual, to attempt something more full and satisfactory than has yet been proposed to the public. [14-5]

Rationality’s handmaiden

[Hans Albert: Kleines verwundertes Nachwort zu einer großen Einleitung]

Eine Dialektik, die der Logik entraten zu können glaubt, scheint mir einen der gefährlichsten Züge des deutschen Den­kens zu unterstützen, vermutlich ganz im Gegensatz zu den hinter ihr stehenden Intentionen: die Tendenz zum Irratio­nalismus. [339]

Knowledge without dogma

I have tried to show that the most important of the traditional problems of epistemology — those connected with the growth of knowledge — transcend the two standard methods of linguistic analysis and require the analysis of scientific knowledge. But the last thing I wish to do, however, is to advocate another dogma. Even the analysis of science — the ‘philosophy of science’ — is threatening to become a fashion, a specialism. Yet philosophers should not be specialists. For myself, I am interested in science and in philosophy only because I want to learn something about the riddle of the world in which we live, and the riddle of man’s knowledge of that world. And I believe that only a revival of interest in these riddles can save the sciences and philosophy from narrow specialization and from an obscurantist faith in the expert’s special skill, and in his personal knowledge and authority; a faith that so well fits our ‘post-rationalist’ and ‘post-critical’ age, proudly dedicated to the destruction of the tradition of rational philosophy, and of rational thought itself. [xxvi]