Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Philosophy use and abuse

I just received the new issue of Adventist Today for Summer 2013. I began by reading the editorial by J. David Newman. The issue invited 10  people total  (Alden Thompson is added in reference to his column) to write on the meaning of life, how do we know the meaning of life and what does it mean to be human. Newman writes the following:

There are five basic ways by which we know, and each one has its pluses and minuses. Most of us know because we were taught by someone, and so we appeal to authority. We know because of the testimony of others such as parents, teachers, and friends. Even
after graduation, we rely on the media and on books for much of our knowledge. It is impossible for us to verify everything we are told, so we accept by faith what we are told unless we begin to suspect that not everything is the truth.

There are many challenges in accepting what authority tells us. First, why should we accept any authority? And if we appeal to a second authority for verification, then where do we stop? What do we do when authorities disagree? How do we then decide what is correct?

This is really a poor piece of information or more properly misinformation. "Most of us know because we were taught by someone, and so we appeal to authority." Being taught is not an appeal to authority. For example I was taught how to read. It is not an appeal to authority because I read it is based upon the conventions and standardized interpretation of symbols that create meaning. An appeal to authority is defined as: 

Argument from authority (also known as appeal to authority) is a fallacy of defective induction, where it is argued that a statement is correct because the statement is made by a person or source that is commonly regarded as authoritative. The most general structure of this argument is:
This is a fallacy because the truth or falsity of a claim is not related to the authority of the claimant, and because the premises can be true, and the conclusion false (an authoritative claim can turn out to be false). It is also known as argumentum ad verecundiam (Latin: argument to respect) or ipse dixit (Latin: he himself said it).
On the other hand, arguments from authority are an important part of informal logic. Since we cannot have expert knowledge of many subjects, we often rely on the judgments of those who do. There is no fallacy involved in simply arguing that the assertion made by an authority is true. The fallacy only arises when it is claimed or implied that the authority is infallible in principle and can hence be exempted from 

Just being taught information is not an appeal to authority. In fact it is highly unlikely that your teachers, parents, friends, media and books ever agreed on more then a few points of information. The clear sky appears blue, water feels wet. Those kind of things.

Newman's article begins by falsely asserting that ones education in life is an appeal to authority.

I have no great love for philosophy I find it to be mainly filled with obscuring attacks and redefinitions of what other philosophers have said. In fact Spectrum has a series of articles on philosophy that are very demonstrative of this. Much of the confusion is because they have words which they only use...much like theology but a whole lot more. Consider this section from Newman's editorial:

A third way of knowing is rationalism. We have minds to think and reason, and we have the ability to use logic so that we can search for ultimate truth. This seems, at first glance, the best way to arrive at how we know. But it too has its share of problems. “Several criticisms have been leveled at rationalism. It has been argued by a large body of philosophers that an apodictic starting point can never be the basis for a comprehensive theory of knowledge since it must either be (a) a tautology or (b) incapable of elaboration by deductive techniques. The class of tautological statements would contain propositions such as ‘1+1=2,’ ‘A is A,’ and ‘Bachelors are unmarried males.’ It has been argued that such statements, while true and absolutely certain, are not informative about the world. If this be so, then such propositions can never be the basis of empirical knowledge.”2

Apodictic? When was the last time you used that word. In fact the word just means "necessarily or demonstrably true; incontrovertible." The whole sentence he uses is pretty meaningless. consider that reasoning is actually based upon inductive and deductive reasoning. Both forms are necessary for meaningful reasoning. So to state that one form of reasoning can't be used does not have much meaning as it could be true for either inductive or deductive forms of reasoning. A quick and easy explanation of inductive versus deductive reasoning is found here:

Deductive reasoning is a basic form of valid reasoning. Deductive reasoning, or deduction, starts out with a general statement, or hypothesis, and examines the possibilities to reach a specific, logical conclusion. The scientific method uses deduction to test hypotheses and theories.

In deductive reasoning, if something is true of a class of things in general, it is also true for all members of that class. For example, "All men are mortal. Harold is a man. Therefore, Harold is mortal." For deductive reasoning to be sound, the hypothesis must be correct. It is assumed that the premises, "All men are mortal" and "Harold is a man" are true. Therefore, the conclusion is logical and true.

It's possible to come to a logical conclusion even if the generalization is not true. If the generalization is wrong, the conclusion may be logical, but it may also be untrue. For example, the argument, "All bald men are grandfathers. Harold is bald. Therefore, Harold is a grandfather," is valid logically but it is untrue because the original statement is false.

Inductive reasoning
Inductive reasoning is the opposite of deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning makes broad generalizations from specific observations. Even if all of the premises are true in a statement, inductive reasoning allows for the conclusion to be false. Here’s an example: "Harold is a grandfather. Harold is bald. Therefore, all grandfathers are bald." The conclusion does not follow logically from the statements.

Inductive reasoning has its place in the scientific method. Scientists use it to form hypotheses and theories. Deductive reasoning allows them to apply the theories to specific situations.

So now I will get to the other articles. But clearly we are not off to a good start by the editorial.

No comments: