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Semiformalishmaybe

Peeling the Label

Intrigued by a side mention in Neusner's book of the british tradition of the "gentleman-scholar", which he laments is a cultural role that did not make it to the United States. He notes that they pursue "among diverse hobbies, scholarly questions". I've been unable to find information about this from other sources, but it sounds interesting and I wonder if it's true that we lack that (or perhaps if it takes a different form that was culturally invisible to him before he wrote the book) in this country. I suspect society in general is fairly opaque to individuals no matter what role we fill - subcultures are probably most visible to other subcultures that border on them with the more distant ones possibly being invisible. How many subcultures exist, I wonder, of which I am totally unaware? It would be difficult for anyone to know and understand all of them, were we even to agree on reasonable criteria for naming/distinguishing them - even the most active social networkers have needs, norms, and desires in socialisation that presumably act as soft borders.


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Been feeling quite bleh recently, thinking about the terms and categories we use to help us thnk about various ideas in metaphysics. I find it easy to forget the terms in some areas and need to re-look-them-up every so often, even though I have a fairly nonstable set of ideas about reality. Describing anyone's set of ideas of this sort would probably cut across conceptual borders in a few lines, e.g. "Jane is antirealist on topics X,Y, and Z, realist on B and C, and takes a unique stance on K".I believe in a divide between ideas/concepts and physical reality, and that the former is all inside people's heads in a "world of memes". Ideas and concepts (which includes math, art, morality, scientific theories, etc) are all creations of humanity made for different purposes, and are not part of the nature of things except sofar as they represent patterns encoded in the brain.

I hold that reality is fundamentally unknowable - there are no paths to knowing that we exist or that the universe exists. We must take pragmatic, unprincipled steps to move beyond solipsism and create "first principles"/perspectives (likewise for many other disciplines). Through such means, I have reached the (pragmatic) conclusion that there is a material universe in which I and many other people reside, and I have come to, based on my understading of both the hard sciences and psychology, dismiss non-materialist ideas as wishful thinking.

In relation to that reality, I hold that science as a social and individual process is an attempt to add a certain amount of structure and self-correction to empiricism. Given that we assume a physical reality, empiricism seems to be the best path, based on our understanding of the history of philosophy and human inquiry, for understanding that reality. Science is structured empiricism that extends beyond the individual. The scientific method, carefully considered, is just one part of science, being neither the sole tool for inquiry nor self-correction. I reject the stronger forms of reductionism as being unproductive for empirical inquiry - trying for deep theories gives us theories that seem to be more powerful than restricting ourselves to shallow ones, regardless of if we think we're getting closer to truth.

I do not consider math or logic to be part of the truth of reality - I both reject Platonism and suggest a strong anti-realist position on those matters. I believe math, logic, and statistics to be empirically created and potentially useful tools to aid us in understanding the nature of things, as well as being a potentially interesting base for aesthetic explorations. The notion of truth within logic/mathematics/statistics is useful for those disciplines, but it is not the same sort of truth we are looking for when describing things that corrispond to reality and placing it above truth-in-corrispondence-to-reality would be an error.

I consider morals/ethics/values to be perspective-laden, and there to be no moral conclusions that can rightly be called truths (except within a value system that overloads the term truth in ways smilar to how logic/math/statistics do).

I characterise attempts at a priori knowledge as being emotionally-driven and as faulty as most arguments towards moral absolutism - because it would make us feel more secure in the conclusions we've made by historically pragmatic methods, some people recharacterise those basic conclusions as being necessarily true rather than necessary.

I adopt a layered approach to reasoning on philosophical matters - I believe the appropriate forms of argument on the reasonability of a structire in a layered philosophy are generally limited to congruency with ideas in prior (and sometimes current) layers, with the earliest layers being very difficult or impossible to reason about because they are much more pragmatic than principled. I also reject formalism as being necessarily a path to truth - at most, formalism is pragmatically useful in some cases.

In accordance with that last paragraph, I can't justify (in the hard sense) much of this. I could make an aesthetic argument - suggesting that the concepts fit together in a pretty way, but doing more would likely be impossible. I reject attempts to assert that Occam's Razor is more than a pragmatically useful idea, or to formalise it in a way that would pretend it is more useful that way.

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