Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Proof of philosophical ideas?

  1. Mar 17, 2004 #1

    why do we demand proof of philosophical ideas. when, by definition, they can not be proven.

    a philosophy is an idea or concept. wouldn't we get much further here if we exchanged ideas and asked for explanations of an opinion, rather than, asking for proof?

    i make a motion that the next member asking for proof, be given a big purple to be attached to his/her soul for at least one week.

    do i hear an amen?

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 17, 2004 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Prove it!

    (Well... someone had to say it...)
  4. Mar 17, 2004 #3
    as the very wise man once said '"everybody likes a little ass, but nobody likes a smartass" LOL

  5. Mar 17, 2004 #4
    The second Absolute truth of Creation is "You Cannot Prove anything"...because "all" is simply 'subjective testimony'

    The First (absolute!!) Truth is "The Proof" (itself)...
  6. Mar 17, 2004 #5
    Hi olde drunk,

    I might have misunderstood your post, but I'll respond in the way I took your meaning -- so sorry if I got you wrong.

    I think that when we ask for proof we are really just making sure that any idea put forth (even if it's just an opinion) holds facts that are consistent with everything else that we already accept to be "true" (now there's a whole can of worms in itself), so that there's some sort of congruence or consistency in our body of knowledge.

    Becasue if we don't do this (i.e. verify consistency with established ideas), then the alternative is to painstakingly confirm and verify everything from first principles, and that (besides being impossible/ impractical) throws out the window one of the prime directives of Western philosophy and science, which is to establish a body of knowledge for the very reason of avoiding having to learn everything from first principles.

    (Newton alluded to this element of epistemology when he said "If I have been able to see so far, it is only because I have stood on the shoulders of giants"... where he was referring to the groundwork previously laid down by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler et. al.)

    However, one of the dangers in building a system of knowledge this way is the possiblity that the current body of knowledge might be internally self-consistent and still be wrong (i.e. its models don't exactly corroborate with physical reality), and that's when science (heuristically) undergoes occasional Kuhnian revolutions (i.e. massive paradigm shifts) -- like the Copernican revolution, the Newtonian, Darwinian, and the latest two revolutions in the 20th century, the relativistic and quantum mechanical.

  7. Mar 23, 2004 #6
    There's something closely related to this that I think should be pointed out...

    Before the enlightenment, the common understanding was that things COULD be proven through logical argument alone. You can easily see this in methodology the Dialogues of Plato for example, where they would seek to prove things by starting with some "truths" and then logically deducing a long line of if/then's until they arrive at various conclusions. This was considered to have "proven" the conclusion. Both philosophy and religion used this methodology. It was during this pre-enlightenment period that folks like Thomas Aquinas presented their "proofs for god" and so on.

    However, during the enlightenment they began to realize that this methodology was flawed. They finally figured out that logical rules allowed for an argument to be both logically valid and false at the same time! Basically, if an argument is illogical in structure it likely has a false conclusion, but if it is logical in structure, the conclusion could be true or false. In other words, there can be many possible stories that fit the facts and are logical but contradictory. This is why you'd have Socrates starting out with a sentence like "we all know birds can fly correct?" and have his audience at a point an hour, after a chain of conclusions, later saying "therefore the soul must be immortal!"

    So the solution was to understand that logic is useful for ensuring your argument is on track, and it is great for handling and processing the data you have, but that data must come from somewhere - it must come from actual empirical observation. This was the birth of the scientific method (and all the wonders that came from it which we take for granted). Finally we got the process right and the result was all of the things mysticism had promised - flight, remote communication, future prediction, healing the sick, etc.

    So the key here is that logic alone cannot prove things - you have to have empirical physical evidence in order to provide "proof" of anything. Sadly, many religions, mystics, new agers, and pseudoscience doesn't seem to have caught on to this realization and still believes that they can conduct meaningful exploration of the universe without a laboratory, using nothing more than logical argument without the physical evidence to back it up. I'm not trying to be critical here, just laying out the history of the philosophic developments as I understand them.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook