Semi-Scientists

  1. Les Sleeth

    Les Sleeth 2,202
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    Okie dokie, let’s get it on.


    Regarding this idea of “exactness,” do you think there is a way that inexactness could be of benefit to exactness? Godel, a celebrated mathematician, suggested that the greater truths are arrived at primarily through intuition, after which we apply our exacting methods to make sense of them or ready them for practical use. Of course, his theorem also demonstrated there is no formal system in which every mathematical truth is provable. So maybe ultimately there is no such quality as perfect “exactness” in reality (which seems confirmed by quantum behaviors).

    So here we are, and we have a website where we can trade ideas and learn. Your suggested criterion for types of forums is “exactness.” Why is that? Is it that inexact methods of thinking have no place in the world of science? Or is it that you personally like things neat and tidy, decided, without openings, without variation . . . ? If so, is that because that’s what’s best for being a good thinker, or is it because precision helps you feel more secure or competent or some other personal-comfort preference?

    It is common for people who've specialized in an area of knowledge to evaluate egocentrically. Sometimes they justify their views by giving a brilliant account of their own position juxtaposed against some superficial account (at best) of what they are viewing with disdain. Tell the truth, how much exactly do you know about philosophy, or even how it has shaped the practice of science which you esteem? Maybe you've only been exposed to poor philosophy. If I got my science from my friends at my racquetball club, I'd think science was everything from psychic phenomena to time travel.


    It seems strange to me that you are concerned about philosophy being “open to a lot of possible discussions.” If you step out of your world of physics and look around, you can see the vast majority of people are engaged in activities other than science. But I'd bet you would agree that most people would be better off, and the world too, if they did know more science. How do we get science more infused into the general population? I think two things are needed. The first is that people need to see the relevance of science to their everyday lives. Toward this end our growing dependence on technology, as well as efforts by the media for the last decade, have been helping substantially. Some of the Nova, National Geographic, Discovery Channel etc. specials, along with newspaper and magazine articles, help to make science both more palatable and demonstrate its relevance to our everyday lives.

    The second thing I believe that needs to happen is where philosophy can play a role, and that is people need to understand how to reason with an empirical mind. Just being realistic about this, most people are not going to study science much beyond what’s required to graduate from school, or think about it as much as they do what it takes to live. In everything they do, and that includes work, raising children, diet and exercise, religious issues, socializing, voting, etc., they have to think. How do they make decisions? Do they know how to think about the variety of issues in their lives using facts and reason together? Do they know how to decide what is genuine evidence? Do they understand the force their own psychology, social conditioning, competitive pressures, etc. can have on objectivity?

    We have the scientists busy in their laboratories, and we have a world population roaring along using what science discovers but without the intellectual skills that were employed to develop those tools. We can take that technology and decimate a country in months or even days, but have we employed good thinking in deciding to do so?

    Getting back to philosophy, in the past philosophy has been rationalistic, meaning people believed one could arrive at truth by reason alone. They thought some truths were self-evident, and that just by virtue of existing we could understand reality if our reason was correct. When empirical concepts hit the philosophy world, the fate of the old rationalistic approach was sealed. IMO it never contributed much to human knowledge to begin with (other than logic and to practice thinking “outside the box”), so the contrast to achievements through empirical methods exposed rationalism’s impotence.

    There are still plenty of “formally” rationalistic believers around, they show up at PF periodically (if you want to see a site packed with them, try philosophyforums.com). Also, I believe the average person is “informally” rationalistic in that they think too much with what’s in their head, and without sufficient reference to reality. It has been my personal goal (unauthorized to be sure) to fight it here because I think it is a dead end. I think we have an opportunity at PF to elevate philosophy to new standard, one where philosophies are linked to evidence. I admit my standard for evidence is broader than most scientists. I’d allow any consistently reported experience to serve as the empirical aspect from which to philosophize (e.g., certain “inner” experiences), while scientific empiricism is based solely on sense experience.

    You are right, that is far from the “exactness” of the practice of science, but so what? Don’t you want to see people’s ideas for this planet more influenced by evidence-based thinking? I am suggesting that the clannish empirical thinkers at PF come out of their “exact science” cave and join humanity with all its inexact issues which nonetheless need (in some cases, desperately) clearer thinking and better decision-making.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. jcsd

    jcsd 2,226
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    Marlon's point about medals is that philoisophy is subjective and anyone is equally qualifed to make philosophical statements in the general sense (obviously iof we are talking about somenithng like formal logic this does not hold true)whether they are a professor of philospohy or if they have never read book on the subject.
     
  4. Les Sleeth

    Les Sleeth 2,202
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    Well, I am saying Marlon's view is incorrect. Philosophizing can be subjective in the sense that a person can live in their own little world and profess beliefs without properly examining the nature of the reality they are giving opinions about. That doesn't characterize the formal field of philosophy or any other scholarly field. That's just a freewheeling exchange of opinions, and has little to do with the solid thinking people are capable of with a disciplined and informed mind. Your attitude is like me being afraid you are going to welcome pseudoscientists into PF because you are inviting scientific thinking. Might I not recognize that you can decide the sorts of discussions that will be allowed, and can discourage nonsense?

    As I said to Marlon, I also think the implications of science go beyond the actual practice of science itself. Why not let -- hell encourage! -- people to think about what science might mean to their lives, how they view the universe, what it might mean to their beliefs about God, etc. It can only make people smarter to incorporate into their understanding what science is discovering to be true about the nature of reality.

    Beyond that there is the question of if having philosophy here at PF helps or hurts. I say it helps because it offers a "softer" place to land in the midst of a robust science realm for those who don't really understand enough science to participate in the "hard" areas. Unless you want to have just a little elite club here, I cannot understand why every science lover in the world wouldn't want to attract as many people as possible, however peripherally or elementarily, to science. :confused:
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2004
  5. jcsd

    jcsd 2,226
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    hhm I'm still skeptical as objectiev thinking is something I have simply not seen at all in modern philosophy, thoguh don't forget this is coming from someone who advocates rounding up all the philosophers and forceing them to push a big wheel like the one in Conan the Babarian.
     
  6. Les Sleeth

    Les Sleeth 2,202
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    Healthy skepticism is a good thing, but there is a bit of contradiction in your doubt. If you are concerned about improving objectivity, that is area where traditionally philosophy has had something useful to say.

    Beyond that, I am sure you realize that ultimately all conscious experience is subjective, so even the practice of objectivity is a subjective activity. So, do you think being a science enthusiast or scientist automatically makes one objective? If so, check out some of the political discussions around here. If science training guaranteed perfect objectivity, it seems to me everyone would agree. Scientists are human, and like everyone else their views are subject to having been conditioned by their upbringing, society, etc.

    In a thread at the old PF, I remember endearing myself I'm sure to hard core empiricists around here with my very sensitive thread "Why Materialists Can't Think Properly." :biggrin: My point was that the practice of externalization science requires could orient a person away from certain inner experiences that might give one a broader perspective of reality, and thereby could affect conclusions one comes to about reality. Just a thought. :cool:
     
  7. ZapperZ

    ZapperZ 30,330
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    Oh no? Post-modernism isn't a "formal field of philosophy or any other scholarly field"? You have people like Irigaray who would spew things like

    "Is E=Mc^2 a sexed equation? Perhaps it is. Let us make the hypothesis that it is insofar as it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us. What seems to me to indicate the possibly sexed nature of the equation is not directly its uses by nuclear weapons, rather it is having privileged what goes the fastest...." (Irigaray in "Sens et place des connaissances dans la societe" p.110).

    .. and there are more nonsense from where this came from so much so that Alan Sokal decided upon himself to reveal that these people are really not wearing any clothes.

    So tell me how this is "helpful" for the general public "to think about what science might mean to their lives"?

    Sheldon Glashow, in his essay "Immanuel Kant versus the Princes of Serendip:...." ended his discussion in a way that I think correctly reflects a current practice of science:

    So what should you conclude from these disjointed incidents of travel through the history of science? Perhaps you may begin to understand why modern scientists rarely consult the classical philosophers. Whereas Kant believed that "reason must not approach Nature in the character of a pupil who listens to everything the teacher has to say, but must act as an appointed judge who compels the witness to answer questions that he himself has formulated," we would put it somwhat differently: "Although reason may sometimes act as an appointed judge and compel Nature to answer well-posed questions, reason must always listen carefully to everything Nature has to say."

    NOw don't get this wrong. This is NOT a debunking of the whole field of philosophy. However, it is acutely misleading to espouse the fallacy of what you just said that philosophical discussion of science, even within strict academic guidelines, does not do any harm and only do good! Postmodernism IS taught in schools, and the bastardization of science DOES occur, and people ARE told these garbage!

    So you will understand if I do not buy your claim that such a discussion can only "help" people to understand science and scientific methodology.

    Zz.
     
  8. chroot

    chroot 10,426
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    Umm, hello folks -- can we keep this on topic? This is obviously not the right place to discuss philosophy. Do I need to split all this philosophy stuff to a new thread?

    - Warren
     
  9. Nereid

    Nereid 4,014
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    Yes please, into HPS, and a good discussion it will be too! :smile: :approve:
     
  10. Chronos

    Chronos 10,136
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    Les, you have more length than substance. Skepticism is not a philosophy, it is the art of weighing facts against imagination. When in doubt, go with the facts. Arguing subjectivity is irrelevant. All observations are subjective. In science, that is called Quantum Theory.
     
  11. Les Sleeth

    Les Sleeth 2,202
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    Did I suggest skepticism is philosophy? I said that objectivity, which was JCSD's concern about having philosophy at PF, is traditionally a subject of philosophy. I went on to point out that science experts are not necessarily free from bias (i.e., from being influenced by up bringing). Just resorting to facts does not free one from bias because facts are always embedded in an interpretative foundation.

    I see bias incessantly from the science enthusiasts here the second they venture outside talking pure science. Look at Zapper's emotional outburst above and tell me being a scientist ensures one is perfectly objective at all times. Responses like that is why I asked Marlon a couple of posts earlier if some people here ". . . like things neat and tidy, decided, without openings, without variation . . . because that’s what’s best for being a good thinker, or is it because precision helps you feel more secure or competent or some other personal-comfort preference?"

    In other words, DON'T TALK ABOUT ANYTHING THAT TAKES ME OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE! It's called "projection" in psychology, where one projects one's fears, shortcomings, etc. into reality, and then often as a follow-up behavior has opinions about the way things should be in shared situations (like PF) based on that projection. Instead of realizing it is themselves they should be developing, they want to stifle things for everyone, just so they feel safe, or competent, or whatever.

    So my point to JCSD was that we cannot escape our humanity. Sometimes people try to escape by burying themselves in books or the lab, and then when you talk to them they have little understanding about their own lives. Over and above that, I have also been saying that bad philosophy isn't REAL philosophy, just like bad science isn't real science. Also, I have suggested that a science site that encourages people to see what empirical thinking can do for one in everyday life issues might be a positive thing both for the general population and for science. I mean, is it a good idea to imply to people that science is only for the very, very smartest people? Is it just for elitist geniuses, or do you think maybe there's a way to make science approachable by everyone?
     
  12. ZapperZ

    ZapperZ 30,330
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    I noticed that rather than address the points that I made against your suggestion that philosophical discussion can only do tremendous good to science, you decided to attack my.... what... perceived psychosis from your perspective? I didn't know you also have a licence to practice psychoanalylsis on the internet.

    Take note that I NEVER, ever mentioned that scientists are objective! I challenge you to find where I actually said something like this. So your gleeful attack on me was completely unwarranted.

    Again, established, mainstream philosophy contains many aspects which not only misrepresents science (I was given The Tau of Physics to read IN a philosophy of science class), but also outright bastardization of science, as taught in many postmodernism classes throughout the world. I was not the one who said scientists are always objective. However, YOU are the one who want the rest of us to believe that established philosphical discussion can't do any harm. This is as accurate as Irigaray's view that E=mc^2 is nothing more than a phallic symbol!

    Zz.
     
  13. arildno

    arildno 12,015
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    "This is as accurate as Irigaray's view that E=mc^2 is nothing more than a phallic symbol!"
    1)Wasn't she the one who retracted her statement that "Principa Mathematica" was a "rape manual"?
    2) I also think she was the one who meant that the reason why the mechanics of solids was so more developed than fluid mechanics, was simply that solid objects are phallic, whereas fluids are more feminine?
     
  14. Les Sleeth

    Les Sleeth 2,202
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    I didn't answer you earlier because events here have kept me from getting to it. I'll answer your other post next.

    Why do you assume it is the fault of philosophy that such dribble exists? Are you trying to blame all the stupidity in the world on philosophy? I don’t know for certain, but it sounds like you are saying we should suppress free thinking out of fear of someone proposing something stupid.

    Let me ask you something. Do you think there is a scientific basis for freedom? Can humans live under any psychological conditions and thrive, or is there something in the nature of consciousness that needs freedom to flourish? When American colonists started talking seriously about designing a government which included greater freedoms, they had no scientific studies to consult, to guide them. What they had was a feeling, and they had reason with which to translate that feeling into a governing system which helped preserve the feeling. Now today, tests done confirm that humans do have psychological needs, but I for one am very happy that American patriots trusted their feeling and reason even if there were no scientific studies to confirm that they were correct.

    If this world ever becomes a place where all we do it wait for science to okay every damn thing, or where the only discussion about life issues allowed are those dependent solely on “facts,” I hope it’s after I am dead so I don’t have live in such a bleak zombie habitat.


    Honestly? No, I do not understand your logic at all.

    I like Glashow’s take on things, I too think we have to pay attention to nature (if that means reality) over what our preconceptions tell us “must” be true. Of course, as I’ve debated here extensively, it seems to me that most people only want to look at those aspects of reality that confirm their personal theories, and that is every bit as true for, say, the physicalist scientist as it is for anyone. The person with a truly broad education and an open, objective mind is very rare find indeed.

    My problem is I don’t see in your attitude a practical option for how we get from where people in general are intellectually, to that point where they are good thinkers. No matter how much science discovers, it still has to be absorbed by humanity. You aren’t going get most people to delve into science to the extent you have, that is simply not a realistic expectation. And you can’t instantly make people stop believing and imagining all the nonsense they do, or thinking as clearly as Socrates.

    So how do one get the message out? Well, I say we involve people in dialogue about the issues that affect their lives, what they think and care about daily. In my opinion, the reason Dr. Phil is so successful is because he takes the most result-oriented factors of psychology and shows people how it applies to their everyday lives. Rather than making someone get a PhD in psychology, he’s taking psychology to them, in terms they can understand. It’s strange to me that some of my friends with grad degrees in psych at first complained Dr. Phil’s psychology was watered down pop stuff. I said, “well, don’t you think people need to understand their own psychology better? So isn’t it a good thing he’s helping people who’s had no exposure to psychology do that?” Funny too is that later I found out none of them had actually watched the show!

    Anyway, it isn’t up to me whether there is a philosophy area at PF. If Greg and others decide it is to be, then it is. If it is to be, then I don’t know why you wouldn’t want the commitment of people who believe in the value of empirical thinking to help steer PF’s philosophy section in that direction. At least I care about it enough to stick my neck out so some of you guys can take turns bashing it. It’s not like I have nothing other to do with my time. You are making me feel like telling you to have your little playpen just the way you want it.
     
  15. ZapperZ

    ZapperZ 30,330
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    Yup, she's the one!

    Zz.
     
  16. ZapperZ

    ZapperZ 30,330
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    Again, where I did I do such a thing?

    I was addressing ONE very specific thing that you did - spewing the idea that philosophical discussion can do nothing but ENHANCE one's understanding of science. Your argument was that all these so-called crackpot ideas are not part of mainstream philosophy as a subject matter and does not represent it and any other field. I disagre by bringing up one very specific area of philosophy (postmodernism) and a very specific incident (Sokal hoax). These clearly shows where you are wrong - where in fact a large and promient branch of philosphy does nothing but twists, misinterprets, bastardizes, and outright LIES about science, and physics in particular. I clearly asked you how this would "help" others in their understanding of what science is, or how it is practiced?

    Somehow, from this, you took it upon yourself to analyze my ability (or inability) to interact with others outside my field? Or that I am blaming the whole of philosophy for all the faults of the world? Or that I believe science can explain all the problems of human civilization? What kind of an induced coma that allowed you to make such a leap?

    Being a physicist is one of the most HUMBLING profession one can ever undertake, because we know what we can and cannot be certain of, and that boundary between the two must ALWAYS be double checked since it moves! It is why physics does NOT deal with "consciousness" and "intelligence" and the likes, because it is BEYOND what it can talk about. Heck, these things are not even unambiguously defined! Asked 20 experts in the field and you get almost 20 different definitions for what a "consciousness" is! Such ambiguity is meaningless to be address in physics. Yet, it never stops any philosophers from tackling such a thing.

    My point? You can speculate, extrapolate, philosophize, metaphysicize, etc. all you want. But don't fool yourself and others into thinking that by doing so, you can't do no wrong and in fact, doing science a favor. You may, in fact, be doing the opposite thing.

    Zz.
     
  17. hypnagogue

    hypnagogue 2,265
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    While this may be a valid concern about the relationship between philosophy and physics at large, I think we have created the kind of environment at PF where issues like this one need not be a concern at all. Some group of people who call themselves philosophers might consider the question of 'sexed' equations seriously, but you can bet such an idea would be locked or deleted on sight if it were to make its way to one of PF's philosophy forums (or anywhere else on PF, needless to say).

    So long as we enforce the ideal that philosophical discussion be logically consistent with the findings of science, and furthermore respect various aspects of what science is and how it is conducted and so on, I think the kind of harm you are worrying about will be mitigated to a large extent if not eliminated entirely, and thus productive philosophical discussion can take place.
     
  18. Les Sleeth

    Les Sleeth 2,202
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    Get a grip, do you think you are talking to all those postmodern guys? The last thing I need is a lecture from a disrespectful, opinionated you about the stupidity found in people's theories, whether they are "major" or not. I am here, participating in the philosophical area, very specifically because it is sheltered, or at least constrained by, science principles. Your emotional, self-absorbed, dreadfully over-generalized opinions are insulting.

    So there's lots of dumb ideas floating around in the world? It's not my goddamn fault. Get over it, it’s going on and you can’t stop it. What you could do is support a more empirical brand of philosophy here at PF, except you are so consumed by hatred for things outside your little world you can’t manage to talk like a human being. I don’t know where you learned your skills for trading ideas with others you might not agree with, but I can say it’s been a most unpleasant experience interacting with such a mean-spirited debater.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2004
  19. hypnagogue

    hypnagogue 2,265
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    Please, let's try to keep the discussion calm, respectful, and focused on the issues instead of getting upset.
     
  20. It is unrealistic to downgrade science at the same level with miths (only that an elaborated one).I'm afraid Quine thesis is not enough,the possibility of strong underdetermination irrespective of data certainly exist but there are no sufficient reasons to think that it is a fact.

    It is true now that we have to make sometime the difference based entirely on nonempirical facts.In fact science does it from the good beginning when preferring as the standard of knowledge at least a form of weak realism,by rejecting both epistemological and ontological variants of idealism.We simply have more 'positive' reasons to prefer the realist position (there exist an external reality independent of Mind which we can percieve using the senses and understand it,at least partially).

    It is true also that further (after accepting at least a weak form of realism) we cannot grant to a (minimal) scientific method based on falsificationism (it has also manifest weaknesses) a perpetual epistemological privilege.Duhem's thesis,the 'weak' underdetermination,is more than enough to justify this (observation itself comes with auxiliary assumptions).

    Still it is clear that,overall,we have more 'positive' reasons to back the 'progress' stance of science and to grant to a minimal scientific method an fallible epistemological privilege.Even if the acception of realism is basically an axiom of science.Unfortunately there are too many now who jump from the existing epistemological limitations of science (Feyerabend is very good at pointing them) directly to pure relativism.

    This step is totally unjustified,the existing difficulties at most can be the base of a rational skepticism but they do not count as sufficient reasons against the fallible epistemological privilege of science.So far,at least,science and a minimal scientific method (going well beyond the 'naive' empiricism of Popper anyway) has proved to be our best 'tool' to make sense of the observed facts.

    On the other hand we have (too many) 'quasi religious' scientists who believe that science is some sort of enclave,totally separated from the philosophy of science,considered inferior.Even if they are a small minority the reality is that many scientists believe that we have sufficient reasons to think that science is a continuous,always 'upward',acqusition of knowledge,building over previous knowledge with some minor changes,and that we are left only with some minor details to fix,if possible.In short that the strong version of scientific realism is the default and that a rigid scientific method has a perpetual epistemological privilege,granting us 'the right path'.

    Unfortunately there are no sufficient reasons now to grant the epistemological privilege for a falsificationist scientific method at all further times,the philosophy of science has clearly rejected this view.That is we simply are not in a position now to grant it a perpetual epistemological privilege.If we were then no one would still bother now to try to give justification to induction (probabilistic one included).

    Popper's proposal involve a choice based on the common sense,logical,expectation that a good model of the universe must have internal unity and coherence,must make novel,testable,predictions and to resist severe attempts at potential falsification ('corroboration' of the theory).

    Though he does not talk of the individual truth or approximative truth of our particular physical theories he sees in the degree of 'corroboration' a clear sign that we have sufficient reasons to prefer the stance that there is progress in science,in the sense that fallibilistic science do,overally,approach truth.

    Unfortunately as other philosophical accounts showed well there are problems with 'corroboration',with 'naive' empiricism in general (as Lakatos labeled it).Mere fecundity does nor suffice since weak underdetermination is a fact,strong underdetermination is possible (there are no sufficient reasons against) and that we can only interpret facts (even the results of experiments).

    At most we are entitled,as Lakatos' said well (having more positive,entirely logical,reasons),to consider that the fecundity and the capacity of new paradigms to unify facts,previously considered as unconnected,is enough to warrant the further pursue of such scientifc programmes.

    We can extend this to the entirety of fallibilistic science (including other epistemological, methodological aspects),the method of deciding what is objective knowledge,having at base fallibilism,is still 'progressive'.

    Its fecundity and the previous success of Mill's methods,as the norm,the absence of other serious methodologies (it is our best 'tool' so far to make sense of phenomenological aspects of reality) still warrant pursuing it,we can still grant to a fallibilistic method a provisional epistemological privilege (that is we have for the moment more,logical,'positive',reasons to prefer the 'success' stance of science).

    Empiricism alone is not enough indeed to make the difference but in conjunction with purely logical arguments we are in a position to grant a fallible epistemological privilege to a minimal scientific method.And to the stance (also fallible) that,overall,science does approach the truth in spite of the fact that non trivial changes do occur sometimes.

    Of course we should choose a variant of the fallibilistic methodology which is the most open to possible 'progress' (fecundity) doing also justice to scientifc practice.I do not think this is Popper's methodology.

    As a side note it is exactly this inability of the fallibilistic methodology,as a whole,to grant an 'absolute' epistemological privilege to a scientific method (that is to provide sufficient reasons to think that science do at least approach truth) which brought about the revival of interest for finding a sufficient justification for a general inductive method.Not successful so far.

    Thus in the absence also of any (proper,counting as a sufficient reason) justification of induction we cannot grant an absolute epistemological status to a scientific method.

    I label the stance that a scientific method (inductive or not) has an absolute epistemological privilege 'dogmatic scientism' for we do not have yet proper justification for such a hard line.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2004
  21. Les Sleeth

    Les Sleeth 2,202
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    I agree, and that's why I believe we still need to be exploring inductive avenues. It is too soon to close the door on the subject of what might give us knowledge, or what sort of model would explain all the facets of creation. But I also think that since we do have a method, empiricism, which we know works quite well, we should strive to interface with it whatever new inductive techniques are developed or new information that might be included with models.
     
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